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
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Thursday, June 9, 2011

“Missio Dei” in historical perspectives, part 3

Perriman's "Missio Dei" articles (Parts 1, 2, 3) seem to me a good example of what a "whole bible meta-narrative" might look like as we enter into this postmodern age of "grand storytelling" (not in the mythic sense, but in a true historic sense). It proposes what seems legitimate origins, plots, storylines, conflicts, resolutions, and conclusions to the purposes of God in this world utilizing biblical covenants, themes, salvific events and progress, personal/tribal/national narratives, redemptive histories, eschatological hope, apocalytic progress, and secular human history as supports for its arguments. Old and New Testament Introductions and thematic Biblical-Theological Studies have said as much and I would expect yet more contextualized "Grand Narratives" to come forward as theologians revisit church and world movements post-Messiah (or pre-Parousia!).

To this I question Barth's claimed influence, Constantinople's "Christianized" empire, or Europe's "Christianizing" cultures beyond anything more than gross acclamations among other critiques. But Perriman's overall theme and concluding thoughts show themselves to be a good working propostion, in that the world has now heard the gospel of Jesus and that the church is in the early postmodernistic stages of expanding the Creator God's rule and reign over all aspects of human culture and civilization. It is then, a narrative theology that restuctures the church's mission, and one that could align itself with the propositions and practices of the newly arising "emergent church culture."

Overall, we should not be suprised that popular church movements bear some relationship to the worldly culture that we know and to grand propagandized themes (in a positive sense) "reforming" its at-large enterprise or activities. For Christian movements are just that, and hopefully, if they are reflective of the "better themes of the bible" (like grace, forgiveness, peace, harmony) we can find personal identification with them and with past historical truths that previous church ages have uncovered, testified of, and submitted to. This then keeps such a movement from being overtly "sectarian" or altogether "cultic" and misleading.

R.E. Slater
June 9, 2011
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“Missio Dei” in historical perspectives, part 3

Andrew Perriman

The Christendom narrative


Historically speaking, the victory of Israel’s God over the pagan world through the faithfulness of Jesus and of those in him was the conversion of the empire under Constantine and Theodosius. This, I think, brings the driving narrative of scripture to an end. There remains a sketchy outer narrative about the continuing witness of the descendants of Abraham to the renewal of creation as the basis for the blessing of the nations. But the core narrative of how this people came to inherit the world (cf. Rom. 4:13), with all its crises of judgment and salvation, has been told (keeping in mind that a significant part of it has been told prophetically).

So what happened to the missio Dei under Christendom? I would suggest that in effect it took the form of the creation of a European Christian society, a politically underpinned assertion of the lordship or “kingdom” established at the end of the biblical narrative, with a coherent, rational and universalized Christian worldview, that would eventually be exported to the rest of the world, held accountable internally (as ancient Israel had been) by movements of dissent and renewal.

That may not be how we would now choose to characterize the mission of God during that period; and I would not want to suggest that the New Testament foresaw how the success of the witness of the early church would turn out. But I think it represents roughly how the European church from Constantine onwards would have formulated its understanding of the missio Dei.

Missio Dei after Christendom

Here is what we have so far. As a biblical people we must frame everything with a story of the God who created and who will re-create. Within that frame we have the response of YHWH to the rebellion of humanity in the form of the calling of Abraham to be the progenitor of a new humanity through which the original blessing of creation would be recovered. But that calling already has the seeds of the central biblical story about the defeat of the gods of “Babylon” in the end through the experience of redemptive suffering.

This dominant biblical narrative is then followed by the story of the development, expansion, and eventual decline of the European church—the troubled and glorious story of western Christendom. It is not a finished story, and there may be some pages, perhaps even chapters, still to be written. But I think that just as Rome put an end to second temple Judaism, so modern secular rationalism has put an end to the Christendom paradigm, and the people of God finds itself again in a wilderness of transition.

So how do we reformulate the missio Dei? How do we now speak about the engagement of the one good creator God with his creation through the family of Abraham, which is called always to be a new creation, renewed through the Spirit and under Christ as Lord? It seems to me that we have to take these three factors into consideration:
  • The fundamental responsibility to acknowledge and worship the one good creator God and to affirm the created nature of all things;
  • The seminal vocation of the family of Abraham to recover the original blessing of creation and be the means by which the nations are blessed;
  • The large-scale historical narratives that have brought us to the present situation of the church: the biblical narrative of the victory of the marginal God of Abraham over pagan empire; and the post-biblical narrative of the rise and fall of western Christendom.
The good news that we have in this time of eschatological transition is that in different ways the creator God, who made all things through and for Jesus, is still active in the world—that there are abundant signs of reformation and transformation, that the churches are beginning to rediscover the scope of their new creational mandate, that a vision is emerging of a concrete alternative existence, in dynamic relation to the creator, which will function credibly as a prophetic counterpoint to the weighty distortions and injustices of contemporary global society. A new story is beginning to be told.


The advantage of relativizing the missio Dei in this way is that it forces the church to think much more deeply and contextually about its present condition and the opportunities and challenges that this presents. For the most part we have no wish to reinstate the imperializing “mission” of the Christendom era—that is now history, and we may be happy to see the back of it. But by the same token, we are not now engaged in the drawn out and painful contest between the seemingly inconsequential God of Israel and the powerful gods of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē.

I suggest that the missio Dei for the church in the age to come will have to be increasingly defined in creational terms as a response to the globalization of the challenges confronting humanity: damage to the environment, food and energy shortages, population growth, the struggle of incompatible cultures to co-exist in shrinking and depleted social spaces, and so on. It is now the creator God and the Son who is firstborn of all creation, through whom and for whom all things were made, and the re-creative, inventive Spirit who send the church into the world to embody—both actually and prophetically—the possibility of renewed humanity in the midst of the peoples of the earth.

Nurturing Grace in Our Lives

When grace is just a doctrine

by Rachel (GRACE!) Held Evans
posted June 09, 2011

Grace is my middle name.

Literally.

I was born Rachel Grace Held—named after my great-grandmother, Grace Burleson, who taught school in rural Appalachia during the Depression and who, when I was young and she was old, used to pull me onto her lap to tell me stories about the ghost that lived in the hen house at the old farm.

Flowers blurGrace is a good name, a gentle name, one I’d like to pass down to my own daughter someday.

In addition to that, grace is something that Christians really like to talk about. Indeed one could argue that grace is the thing that separates Christianity from all other faiths. This idea that God does not withhold his love from us, that he gives it freely in spite of our sin and rebellion, that it is ours to receive without condition or merit is indeed very good news.

And yet Christians have a bad habit of letting grace get stuck in our heads. It becomes a doctrine we defend rather than a virtue we exhibit; an idea around which we rally rather than the animating force behind how we live. Interestingly enough, Elizabeth Gilbert gets the essence of grace just right in Eat, Pray, Love when she describes a conversation she had with her sister:
A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.
I realized when I read this just how rarely I thought about grace as way of life, and how tragic it is that grace is often reduced to a proposition, a mere religious idea.

Now we could get into a rather ungraceful argument about the true meaning of grace, but as I see it, grace is about giving without expecting anything in return. It’s about cutting ourselves and one another some slack. It’s about letting go of grudges and extending love when it is not deserved. It’s about acknowledging all the brokenness within us and around us…and loving in spite of it.

The ultimate denial of grace, then, is not to misunderstand it theologically, but to withhold it. The minute we withhold grace because of some prejudice or fear on our part, it becomes nothing more than a doctrine.

Grace is just a doctrine when we withhold it from ourselves.

Grace is just a doctrine when we withhold it from one another.

Grace is just a doctrine when we withhold it from the world.

When I look ahead to my thirties, the quality I most want to nurture is grace—for myself, for the people around me, and for this planet I call home. I want to be less judgmental and more open. I want to be quicker to forgive myself when I make a mistake. I want to look for the divine under every stone, down every forgotten street, and in every puddle of rain. I want to give others the benefit of the doubt. I want to make more casseroles and give more time. I want to listen better to those who live differently than me. I want to forgive. I want to let go. I want to relax a little and let my guard down and not take things quite so seriously.

I want grace to move from my head into my heart and my hands, so that I live up to my name.

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Rachel's Best Reader Comment
Graham Smith wrote: Have you ever read Franny & Zooey? It's my favorite Salinger book, the one I return to the most frequently…This post on grace reminded me of the climax of that book, the epiphany at the end when Zooey, exasperatedly and lovingly and full of all spiritual wisdom points out to Franny that Seymour's Fat Lady is Jesus Christ. And all the other idiots and hypocrites and insufferable clods she meets in her life, they're all Jesus Christ. The chicken noodle soup Franny's mom brings her is sacred soup. When I read your post it clicked in my head, grace is being able to see Christ in all these people and grace is treating them accordingly; it's being able to see the sacred when we eat, drink, walk down the street, whenever, in whatsoever things we do. 'There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady...And don't you know--listen to me, now--don't you know who that Fat Lady really is?...Ah, buddy. Ah buddy. It's Christ Himself. Christ Himself, buddy.' It still gives me chills when I read that passage. Thanks for the reminder.

What Is Fundamentalism?

From time to time I find it important to know our roots, and in the case of Evangelicalism, its outgrowth from late nineteenth and early twentieth Century Fundamentalism, as Roger Olson submits his review of Evangelicalism's progenitor. That said, I also found it reflective of how judgementalism is never very far away from our fears and uncertainties as a society and as individuals. May the Lord use this review to humble our hearts to be better human beings to one another and better servants of Christ our Lord. 

skinhead

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A wonderful new book about Fundamentalism

By Roger Olson
June 8, 2011

I capitalize “Fundamentalism” because here I’m talking about the movement. Increasingly I am adopting the practice of distinguishing between two senses of religious labels: the movement of that name and the ethos described by that label. For example, evangelicalism is an ethos shared by people in virtually every denomination. Evangelicalism (with a capital E) is the post-WW2, post-fundamentalist movement initially led by Billy Graham, Harold John Ockenga, Carl F. H. Henry, et al.

The wonderful new book that I highly recommend to you is The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family by Andrew Himes (foreword by Parker J. Palmer) (Seattle: Chiara Press, 2011): http://www.amazon.com/Sword-Lord-Fundamentalism-American-Family/dp/1453843752. Himes is the grandson of John R. Rice, one of the leaders of the Fundamentalist movement in the 20th century. This is the biography of a family that, through that family’s history, traces the origin and evolution of Fundamentalism in America. It is gripping, vivid, insightful, mostly accurate (I have a few quibbles with details) and especially emotionally moving to those of us who grew up in this religious milieu.

A few months ago here I engaged in conversation about “fundamentalism” and “Fundamentalism” with some folks. One challenged me to read this book and I agreed if he would send me a complimentary copy. I received it and read it in a few days. (I want to thank that person for sending it to me gratis, but I don’t want to name him here although he’s welcome to identify himself if he wishes.)

The book jumps around some, so at times it’s hard to follow the chronology, but it begins with the distant ancestors of the author and his grandfather John R. Rice, publisher and editor of The Sword of the Lord magazine who died in 1980 and age 85. His life, recounted in detail in the book (although it is not strictly speaking his biography), was inextricably entwined with 20th century Fundamentalism of which he was, with Bob Jones and Carl McIntire (unfortunately not mentioned in the book) one of the notable leaders.

Himes’ book alternates between vignettes of the lives of his ancestors and their fundamentalist friends and associates and mini-essays about American and especially Southern evangelical Christianity. It also contains chapters about Himes’ own life without being his autobiography.

My own interest in this subject and what kept me reading almost non-stop is more than my interest as a historical theologian especially interested in the history and theology of American evangelicalism (and Evangelicalism). Primarily it was the similarity between Himes’ family and faith community and my own growing up. (Himes left it as did I without it leaving us!) I grew up in Pentecostalism and many Fundamentalists rejected us, but we shared with this genre of American Christianity most of its ethos. (Movement Fundamentalists rejected us because of our belief in and practice of speaking in tongues, divine healing through the “gift of healings,” prophecy, etc. We rejected them because of their outspoken criticism of us AND because we were not as seperatistic as they. I grew up surrounded by adherents of the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches [GARBC] and we did not get along even though we shared a great deal in common.)

I was almost moved to tears by some of Himes’ memories about growing up in a church where he often didn’t feel completely comfortable–especially in his later teen years. But more of that later.

Himes’ book begins with the “Scots-Irish” immigration to the colonies and migration into the Appalachian region. His distant ancestors were mountain men and women whose descendents moved to Texas. Himes recounts in vivid detail, based on intimate research (family records, memories and journalistic records), his ancestors’ social and religious contexts in the South including their [regrettable] memberships in the Ku Klux Klan. (His great-grandfather was a member who also served for a time in the Texas legislature. His grandfather, John R. Rice, was not a member or sympathizer of the KKK.)

One theme running throughout The Sword of the Lord (the book under review here, not the magazine) is the close connection between early Fundamentalism and racism including anti-semitism. Himes tells in vivid details and with many quotations from journals, diaries and sermons about lynchings and hate speech aimed by fundamentalists against blacks, Catholics, Jews and other minorities. A theme of the book is that Fundamentalism, including his own beloved grandfather, did not do enough to counter that current of hate among its ranks. One could easily draw the conclusion from the book that Himes believes Fundamentalism (at least until recently) was inseparable from ultra-conservative social attitudes that embraced and fostered racism. He provides quotations from his grandfather’s and his grandfather’s Fundamentalist associates demonstrating conclusively that, if they did not personally hate blacks and Jews, they did not sympathize with their struggles for equality. John R. Rice believed in the equality of all people, but he harshly criticized the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s and especially Martin Luther King, Jr. (who he called an infidel and socialist, etc.).

According to Himes, the Fundamentalist movement was riddled with ironies and inconsistencies. Many of its leaders were the most loving, gentle and kind people to everyone around them (including in his grandfather’s case, blacks) while at the same time spewing vicious epithets and rhetoric of exclusion against everyone who disagreed with them. Especially interesting are his insider’s accounts of his grandfather’s falling out with Billy Graham in the 1950s and then his grandfather’s falling out with Bob Jones in the 1960s. One thing is clear about that. Himes believes that John R. Rice’s rejection of Billy Graham, with whom he was very good friends, was NOT only over the latter’s inclusion of “modernists” in his crusades beginning with his New York crusade in 1957. It was ALSO over Graham’s [racial] integration of his crusades even though Rice did not state that publicly as a reason for their parting of the ways. Apparently Rice believed in the principle of “separate but equal” but was not entirely consistent in his own practice because he invited black church choirs to sing at some of his own evangelistic crusades.

This book is not a scholarly examination of Fundamentalism; it is a family history written from an insider’s perspective relying on lots of good research to fill in the details. The one major problem I have with the book is the absence of Carl McIntire. McIntire was a major leading of American Fundamentalism along with John R. Rice and Bob Jones and others mentioned in the book. I don’t see how it is possible to give a 300 plus page account of American Fundamentalism and not even mention him. One reason that’s an oversight is that, unlike Rice, McIntire separated from the “neo-evangelicalism” of Ockenga right at its beginning in the 1940s. It took Rice and Jones and others until the 1950s and 1960s to separate from, for example, the National Association of Evangelicals.

One thing this book rightly makes clear is the key, cornerstone, distinctive doctrine and practice of Fundamentalism that separates it from Evangelicalism is “biblical separation.” Rice and other Fundamentalist leaders believed it wrong for evangelicals to have Christian fellowship with heretics and people living unholy lives (as they defined holiness). Jones and Rice fell out over the doctrine and practice of “secondary separation” with Jones emphatically advocating it and Rice being much less enthusiastic about it. Secondary separation is the refusal of fellowship with fellow Christians who are having fellowship with heretics, modernists, unholy people, etc. (I can remember overhearing debates about this among GARBC people in a Christian bookstore in the midwestern city where I grew up.)

I could go on singing the praises of this book, but instead I’ll just recommend that you buy it and read it. It’s well worth it if you have any interest in American Christian history and especially Evangelicalism including Fundamentalism. The material about J. Frank Norris and William Bell Riley alone is worth the price! (They were early associates of Rice’s and warhorses of the Fundamentalist movement in the 1920s and afterwords. Norris, pastor of Fort Worth’s First Baptist Church, pulled a pistol out of his church office desk drawer and shot an unarmed visitor to death! He was acquitted by a jury and lauded as a great hero by his followers!)

So, finally, a few words about why I resonate so strongly with this book. I didn’t grow up in the thick of THIS Fundamentalism, but my childhood religious milieu resembled it a lot. We did not think Catholics were Christians. We disliked blacks except the few we knew personally. (Our Pentecostal church had one black member and somehow she was always the exception to everything bad my parents said about African-Americans. “Sister Willa Jones” was viewed by my parents and our church members as not really “negro”–at least not like others. How ironic.) We viewed all “worldly entertainment” with suspicion. I remember when the Grand Ol’ Opry came to our city in the 1950s and my parents condemned it because it contained characters pretending to be drunk. My parents singled out young women in our church for special “counseling” when their skirts got too high (i.e., anywhere near the knee!). My stepmother didn’t wear pants until she was in her 50s and then only very reluctantly. We used the King James Bible only (in the 1950s, anyway) and the Scofield Reference Bible was considered authoritative (except for the footnotes dealing with the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit!). We didn’t participate in politics which was considered dirty and the playground of the devil. (I sometimes describe us as “urban Amish.”) Anyone who drove a big, expensive car was harshly criticized for “conspicuous consumption.” Tithing or even double tithing (with a tenth going to world missions) was expected. I remember my stepmother saying we would eat only popcorn if necessary to pay our tithes! (Thankfully it never quite came to that.) We took the Bible as literally as possible, believed in the immanent rapture, were anti-evolution and anti-communist. We were anti-Catholic and didn’t celebrate when President Kennedy was assassinated but neither did we cry over it.) We considered Martin Luther King, Jr. a false prophet stirring up violence unnecessarily and were not upset when he was killed. We regarded “mainline Christians” as false Christians unless they inexplicably came out openly and publicly as against their own denominations. My parents spent many hours trying to steal sheep from mainline Protestant churches and criticizing their pastors as “liberal” and “social gospel” which was about as bad as being communist. (I remember them singling out one Baptist pastor in town for special criticism because he was allegedly liberal. Years later I got to know him and I still have a special relationship with him in his 90s. He’s one of the most warm-hearted evangelical men I’ve ever known!) When the charismatic movement began my parents regarded it with great suspicion because its leaders (mostly Catholics and mainline Protestants) didn’t leave their churches and often continued to drink and sometimes smoke after being allegedly Spirit-filled. (Later, in the 1970s my parents embraced the charismatic movement cautiously.)

Enough said. My Christian childhood and youth was much like Himes’. But whereas Himes, by his own admission, fled as far from Fundamentalism as he could (to return part way in later life), I was rescued from both my fundamentalist religious upbringing and over reaction to it by my evangelical seminary professors (including strangely enough James Montgomery Boice who was my professor of homiletics!) and by my involvement in Youth for Christ (which was very ecumenical in the 1960s).

Although my childhood and youth were in a different kind of fundamentalism than Himes’ I resonated with his reminiscences and love-hate relationship with it. To this day, I cry when I watch a Bill Gaither Homecoming Video/DVD–especially if it includes the “old timers” of Southern Gospel Music. The songs of Albert Brumley, Jr., Ira Stanphill, Rusty Goodman, Stuart Hamblin, et al., still move me to tears when sung by groups such as The Speer Family who often came to our town for concerts at the Nazarene Campground or by the Goodmans or groups like that. Theirs was the only music allowed in our home and I loved it and still do. (Although, as a teenager I had my secret transistor radio that I kept under my bed so that I could listen to rock music at night and I still think the pop music of the 1960s has never been matched!)

Get the book; you’ll enjoy it if you have any interest in American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism.