According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The End of Evangelicalism 2 & 3

The End of Evangelicalism? 2

by Scot McKnight
April 27, 2011

David Fitch, in his new book, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Theopolitical Visions), thinks evangelicalism’s influence is more or less over, that it needs to reexamine itself, and that it needs to rediscover what it could be in our world.

Here are the problems for evangelicalism today according to David Fitch:

1. Its presence in American politics has declined precipitously.
2. It’s cultural influence has fallen on hard times.
3. Popular perception of evangelicals has turned for the worse.
4. There is lots of internal criticism of itself.

What are evangelicals trying to do in response? Some say return to a purer form; others propose getting beyond it into post-evangelicalism; others push for a more socially just evangelicalism; others draw up manifestos; some call us back to the ancient faith.

David Fitch proposes we examine evangelicalism as an ideology: “a set of beliefs and practices that bind a people together into a functioning community” (8). We need to ask what kind of people this kind of evangelicalism is producing, and ask if the people it is producing is faithful to its beliefs.

His theory is that its major three ideas (inerrant Bible, decision for Christ, and Christian Nation) were changed into de-personalized concepts, reified, and became a matter of political alliance that no longer spoke into a changing culture.

Each of these ideas was fashioned during modernity to respond to issues in modernity. Inerrancy out of the modernist fundamentalist debate; evangelism in the missionary movement; and activist stance as a response to the social gospel.

Here’s his view:

evangelicalism, in reaction to the modernist-fundamentalist controversies, pursued a strategy for survival via a defense based in the autonomous structures of modern reason and politics. In the process, we gave up the true core of our Christian politics — the person and work of Jesus Christ – and set ourselves up for a fall in essence becoming a form of ‘religious ideology’” (17).

*****

The End of Evangelicalism? 3
http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/05/04/the-end-of-evangelicalism-3/

by Scot McKnight
May 4, 2011

David Fitch, in his new book, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Theopolitical Visions), thinks evangelicalism’s influence is more or less over, that it needs to reexamine itself, and that it needs to rediscover what it could be in our world.

At the core of David’s project is the philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s analysis of “ideology.” I will do my best to sketch in brief terms David’s own sketch and use of Zizek.

Before I do that [let me first make a small remark].... I’m involved at times with groups that want to coordinate and to cooperate, but what I find almost every time is argument about theological foundations. Everyone wants their pet idea represented — it reminds me of the Democrats in the Reagan years. Everyone seemed to think their idea had to be on the platform. Monday I posted the first in a series on The Cape Town Commitment. I can cooperate with anyone who wants to settle on that statement, and I can think of a number of others similar statements on which meaningful center-set (and even boundary-lined) articulations can be the agreed basis for unity and mission. But evangelicals are nearly incapable of agreeing across lines, and that is why evangelicalism is both too often an empty politic (Fitch’s category) and fragmenting. It can’t seem to let historic church markers be what they are. Evangelicals have an incurable need to make sure “they” gets set over against “them.”

{now] to Fitch’s book... which means [reviewing] Zizek. At the core of ideologies - and Fitch will examine evangelicalism as an ideology - is social conflict and "ideology" is the way of coping or managing or controlling with [that] conflict. It establishes how “we” are framed over against “them.”

Here are Zizek’s big categories:Master-signifiers: a conceptual object [idea, belief, etc] around which a group forms. For Zizek these are often fantasies that more often than not give people the sense they are committed to them but really are not. At the core of master signifiers is antagonism that enables a person to find an idea that forms an “us” vs. “them.”

Irruptions of the Real: occasional and glaring events, etc, reveal, however, that what is at stake is not so much the idea/master signifier but antagonism and group allegiance. These irruptions deconstruct the master signifier as a cloak of the antagonism. Irruptions are obvious in over-identification: when someone is so committed to the master signifier that it looks like a farce. The fanatic is the over identifier. Jouissance, a French term for enjoyment, which is as often perverse as it is good, is the feeling people get when they sense their master signifier is the true one — jouissance then can be triumphalism.

There’s the basic theory. Evangelicalism has three master signifiers: The Inerrant Bible, Decision for Christ, and the Christian Nation. Each of these was formed in an antagonistic context (modernist vs. fundamentalism and the fear of cultural collapse vs. holding true to Christian ideals/morals). At times irruptions manifest fanaticism and jouissance, revealing that what is at stake is more than the idea — what is at stake is lining up with the right people in the antagonism of culture. The master signifiers are inherently elusive in meaning and that elusiveness permits different people to import different meanings, enabling a belief in commitment to a common master signifier but which is inherently so undefined they are often not committed to the same idea.

David isn’t a cynic, and he’s not arguing that these ideas are bad, or that these ideas have to be jettisoned. From what I can tell he affirms the theological legitimacy of each but argues that how each is used today in evangelicalism as master signifiers opens the lid on an antagonism that is passing away. These master signifiers then belong to a culture war and not just to theology. I think David Fitch in this book is peeling away some skins that reveal a serious issue at work in evangelicalism.

Example 1: Inerrancy, if you follow the discussion, applies only to the “original autographs,” which we don’t have and won’t have and it applies only to “authorial intent,” on which we often can’t agree — and have you seen the variety of groups that affirm inerrancy? … so … what have we got? Fitch suggests we might just have an empty and elusive signifier around which we can rally over against the liberals who don’t believe in inerrancy. Irruptions occur in the lack of fidelity to clear teachings in the Bible for instance. Over idenitifiers — he points to Hal Lindsey and Al Mohler (on creationism) and Jack Hyles [and David Otis Fuller] (on King James) and to Bart Ehrman’s biography of abandoning orthodoxy. And the jouissance (triumphalism) occurs every time someone finds something in archaeology that we think upholds the inerrantist claim. (Does this really change how we live or is this antagonism’s revelation?)

Exmple 2... I won’t examine each, but it is not hard to see how the evangelical demand for personal decision is a master signifier that reveals often enough that evangelicals have made the “decision” but have not necessarily changed because of it (do we care to admit the recidivism rates?), that they are charged up every time someone (famous) publicly says they have made a decision, and over identification is so obvious when folks are willing to say the decision is all you really need, etc..

Example 3... and on the [topic of] "Christian Nation" — think Falwell, Kennedy, Greg Boyd, Jim Wallis and what this might mean and how clear the antagonisms are – there is a very similar set of Zizekian observations.


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Calvinism and TULIP

Here is a short synopsis stating what is no longer obvious. That Calvinism is larger than its flawed TULIP system and why it should not be thought of by this popular, but faded, flower's analogy.

You may reference some of these discussions in previous postings but the larger picture of Calvinism goes back to its epistemologic hermenuetic, its covenant theology, and its rich heritage firmly planted in the Protestant Reformation, to name a few.

skinhead
May 4, 2011

* * * * * * * * *

Calvinism’s TULIP
May 4, 2011
 
Many of us, and I would include myself in this number, were taught that Calvinism’s theology is TULIP theology. That is, Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Ken Stewart’s new book, Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition, shows why this way of framing Calvinism is neither the most accurate way and is, in fact, a late comer in how to frame Calvinism. In fact, he goes further: he suggests that this way of framing Calvinism belongs to the margins of Calvinism.

Here’s how his approach works:

First, Loraine Boettner, in 1932, used TULIP but evidently his use was putting into a print a common acronym. His book began the common approach to Calvinism as TULIP theology.

The earliest known usage, from 1913, reveals that at that time this was not at all the standard way of framing Calvinism. But from 1932 on this became one standard way of framing Calvinism’s theology. TULIP then is a 20th Century development.

Questions: I’d like to hear how Calvinists “frame” Calvinism? How do you summarize it for someone who asks “What is Calvinism?”

And another one: If it could be demonstrated from Scripture that a believer could “lose” (forfeit, walk away from) salvation, would Calvinism be disproven? [Are central ideas so interwoven that this would unwind the whole?]

Second, Stewart sees two kinds of Calvinism in the resurgence groups, a “sovereign grace” approach that champions God’s purposing an omnipotent electing grace — and TULIP is sacrosanct (Steele-Thomas, Seaton, Custance), and an “apologetic” approach that focuses on sharper understandings of TULIP ideas (Palmer, DeWitt, Sproul, Nicole, Mouw, George).

Third, these two groups are both wedded somehow to the appropriateness of TULIP as the way to frame Calvinism. Stewart says this is “unwarranted” — and that the Canons of Dordt are better framed than with TULIP.

Fourth, loyalty to TULIP is based on misunderstanding; fixation on TULIP enshrines emphases that are “off”; use of TULIP fragments [divides] when we should aim at inclusion.

Finally, Calvinism needs to engage the Canons of Dordt to frame its theology most accurately.



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The King's Speech

The Pastor's Speech
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/movies/commentaries/2011/pastorsspeech.html?start=1

How 'The King's Speech' resonates with this stuttering preacher

by Dan Wallis
April 29, 2011

Like the Oscar voters who named The King's Speech the best movie of 2010, I loved the movie (which just released to DVD) not just for its excellence, but for a particularly poignant reason: I am a stutterer. And I'm a pastor, which means my problem, like the king's, is often quite public.

I prefer "stutterer" to "stammerer" because of the onomatopoeic irony: the word sounds like the sound. It's a term fraught with consonant-rich pitfalls for those inflicted with the impediment. You can tell a lisper by how they "lithp." You can tell a stutterer by how they "st-st-stutter"—and sometimes that yields embarrassing and painful moments, especially for a child.

I remember in school when we were all required to read aloud. I cannot express the dread that would sit, knotted and grotesque, in the pit of my stomach as I waited for the death knell signifying my turn to read. Usually, I was mercifully given small parts, usually one sentence, but they grew all out of proportion in my mind, becoming the enemy. I would flip forward in my book, counting the pages till my part, inwardly pleading for the bell to ring—signifying the end of class and my reprieve from a fate worse than death. In one class, there was a boy who delighted in tormenting me because of my stutter and the ensuing facial contortions. His impersonations weren't that great, but still they were like a knife to my heart. One time he mocked me and, driven by irrepressible rage and impotent outrage, I punched him. The manliness of my just onslaught was somewhat offset by the fact that I was crying like a baby. But beggars can't be choosers. And even though I hit him, he got in trouble. For that instant, life was sweet. (Plus, girls thought my stutter was cute. Which would both thrill me and infuriate me.)

Oh, and I hated my name. I wished I was Oliver or Sam, a name that lacked the curse of the hard first syllable. While others dreamed of being a celebrity or a Mighty Morphin' Power Ranger, I dreamed of simply saying, "Hi, I'm Sam." I dreamed of speaking without facial contortions, tricks, or run-ins to say what I wanted to say.

Crashed and burned

It's ironic that I'm now a preacher [assistant pastor at Cornerstone Wesleyan in Ontario]. That I can stand in front of people and speak, read, enunciate, articulate, and express myself is a gift I revel in and do not take lightly. Stutterers often have a good vocabulary; it helps to be a veritable walking thesaurus of all the alternate, and easier, ways of saying things.

I've always been the witty one, the one with insight and the clever comeback. But no one knew it except me. As a stutterer, I am like an extrovert trapped inside an introvert's body. I've been imprisoned behind my own tongue, making Psalm 51:15 more than mere metaphor to me. It's more like a literal scream of desperation: "Loosen my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise."

Of course, the pain and embarrassment of stuttering don't fade away with childhood. When I stand before our congregation, I treasure this gift of (mostly) fluency, but it's not always smooth sailing. A recent Sunday was my worst, eloquence-wise, in a long time. I was tired (strike one), I was nervous (strike two), and I took on too much responsibility in the service (strike three).

After leading worship, I began reading the text from which I was preaching. I stumbled over one word and, like an over-extended runner, I began to trip, flail, overbalance—and I eventually fell gracelessly to the proverbial verbal ground. Then it went from bad to worse. I must have stuttered every sentence. I clawed my way on all fours toward the finish line, and when the final word of communion was u-u-u-uttered and the congregation dismissed, I sat exhausted in the sanctuary, too emotionally frail to meet my friends' concerned smiles or well-meaning encouragements.

I hung around for a bit, and then went home and inwardly collapsed. I'm thankful my wonderful wife knew me enough to send me off—alone—to Starbucks to read my book in quiet. Just what the doctor ordered.

This is what I wrote in my journal that afternoon:

"I feel frustrated. I feel broken. I could not face people after the service; their pity or confusion or well-meaning encouragement. Lord, I feel like I let You down, but I can't help feeling like You let me down … My greatest desire is to allow Your Spirit to convince others through my words. It's a fire burning in my bones; I cannot keep it in. See fit to free me for honest expression. I know there is a lot of self in these requests; but I had hoped that our interest in my fluency might be mutually beneficial."

The next morning, I spent a couple of hours on my own in the sanctuary, re-preaching the sermon to empty pews, so that I might be able to put into the hands of the people who graciously made it through the sermon on Sunday the intended result. Did I preach the whole sermon again for God's glory, or for the sake of my reputation? I don't know. Perhaps both.

Deciphering God's will

At times like this, I question the will of God, too beat up to pray for a miraculous healing (which I know God can do). I wonder whether the best I can expect is to stumble through life, unfulfilled in what I think is my calling as a preacher. Perhaps my best work will be done on paper. Perhaps I should leave the ministry and instead work with my hands. I'm married with three kids, so becoming a monk vowed to silence is no longer an option.

Who knows, perhaps God will raise me up, loosen my lips, and I'll become the greatest expositor of Scripture this world has ever known. I doubt it, but it's nice to dream. But that's the problem—stuttering makes one a realist. Life never is more real than when you've stalled your way through an agonizing preaching of God's Word, followed by a backfiring observance of Holy Communion. If it wasn't so sad, it would almost be funny.

I still have my King's Speech moments, when the stars seem to align and the words seem to flow and heaven seems to rejoice—when people's minds are changed and the church becomes a little more inspired toward holiness. But right now I feel like I'm embroiled in the cursing scene of the movie, frustrated at my inability to articulate what I think would glorify God.

I vacillate between two poles—hope for what God can do in and through me, and the familiarity of self-loathing. I am grateful that my life is lived largely at the former pole, with occasional days spent obsessing over the latter. I remember my childhood despair and rejoice that God has brought me thus far.

I know my stutter has been formative, making me who I am. I know it's driven me to read and write, because I need an outlet. I know it's given me empathy toward people who struggle. I know it's helped tune my radar to those on the periphery. I know it's provided me with a sense of gratitude for what to many is a given: fluency. And when I do preach well, I know it's not me!

My stutter may be my equivalent of Paul's thorn (1 Cor. 12:7). It may be part of God's inconceivably great plan; his ways and thoughts are definitely higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9). Whatever it is, I am (mostly) thankful for it. Even now, still reeling after that sermon, as face my stuttering self. Even as those childhood feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness resurface. Even as I wish, hope against hope, that this stuttering would cease and I could share from the side of victory.

Even with all of this, I have a sneaking suspicion that this bane of my life might actually be my greatest blessing—the means by which I am constantly driven back to the throne of grace. It's my quickest reminder that I'm not "all that," when I'm tempted to think I am.

After a recent study group in which we discussed the persecution of Christians (both historical and current), I wrote this in my journal this week:

Lord, I ask whether it is enough for me to know that You are Yahweh. Would it be enough for me to know that you are glorified in my stutter, even if You never intended to take it away. O God, I long to be free from it; to know the freedom of an untroubled tongue. Yet, my soul finds rest in God only. My hope is in You.

To that, I say a-a-amen.