According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A "Call to Faith by Breaking Faith," by Ross Douthat, NYT

From the tenor of this article it seems that postmodern Christianity has a lot of issues to work through - its history, its message, its mission, its ministries, it teachings. One that will require the many hearts, hands and minds of Christiandom around us. And that fact alone makes me confident in Christianity's future after coming through so large a parade of this past 20th Century's (including modernism's!) foibles and follies. Rather than despair at the great task set ahead of us it should be look upon as one of providential opportunity and blessing. One filled with possibility and encouragement. For there can be no despair for the world - nor for Christians specifically - when Jesus is the focus of our discussions and our relationships with one another. Surely, the only despair can come from our errant perceptions and idolatries surrounding Jesus in what we deem Christianity to be - or should be - rather than what it really is, and can be. Let us learn from the past, listen to today's critics, and discover a more substantive faith that can comport with today's global environment and mutli-cultural issues, problems and greatness.

We need Christians who can re-vision the world around us - not Christian revisionists who stick their heads in the proverbial sand like an ostrich and refuse to update their faith and their people! People of God who understand how to minister and preach to the needs of humanity without losing the soul-and-spirit of the biblical themes of God's love and redemption, and the grace and forgiveness found in Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord. Several of the people we have been following here in this web blog are mentioned below (sic, Dr. Roger Olson and Miroslav Volf). And it is to this wisdom of God's discerning body of believers that will come the Church's future directions and goals through providentially placed thinkers and contemporary theologs.

Be at peace then and know that God is bigger than us. That God's Kingdom will surely invade the Age of Man to lead humanity out from its sin and woe by a heavenly Child come to be our Savior-Messiah. Be as little children then. And be at peace in your child-like faith. For God is great and can do marvelous things beyond our imaginations.

R.E. Slater
April 28, 2012

Breaking Faith

‘Bad Religion,’ by Ross Douthat
April 27, 2012

From “God’s Controversy With New England,” Michael Wigglesworth’s 1662 call to repentance, to the latest campaign autobiography by a presidential aspirant, the jeremiad has been one of the most durable literary forms throughout American history. Typically, the author identifies some golden age, one just now dissolving in the rearview mirror; recounts the slippery path of declension; and then prescribes an amendment of ways in order to avert further disaster.

Ross Douthat’s contribution to this genre, “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” laments the departure from what he calls “a Christian center,” which “has helped bind together a teeming, diverse and fissiparous nation.” Absent a national church, he argues, Christianity “has frequently provided an invisible mortar for our culture and a common vocabulary for our great debates.”

Douthat’s halcyon age is the postwar period, especially the 1950s. Mainline Protestantism was flourishing, and Roman Catholics, having demonstrated their patriotism in World War II, enjoyed new status as part of Will Herberg’s ­“Protestant-Catholic-Jew” America. “A kind of Christian convergence was the defining feature of this era,” Douthat asserts, and he cites the work of Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham, Fulton Sheen and Martin Luther King Jr. as evidence that “the divided houses of American Christendom didn’t just grow, they grew closer together, re-engaged with one another after decades of fragmentation and self-segregation.”

Or did they? Niebuhr snubbed Graham during that evangelist’s storied 16-week revival at Madison Square Garden in 1957, and Graham did not participate in any of King’s civil rights marches or demonstrations. Bishop Sheen’s television popularity notwithstanding, Protestants continued to take shots at Catholicism; witness the runaway success of Paul Blanshard’s “American Freedom and Catholic Power” (11 printings in as many months) and the religious opposition that very nearly cost John F. Kennedy the presidency in 1960. Douthat, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, extols Dwight Eisenhower’s laying of the cornerstone at the Inter­church Center in Upper Manhattan on Oct. 12, 1958, as “a celebration of Christian convergence and institutional vitality,” but he neglects to mention the temple bombing in Atlanta earlier that same day, a tragedy that even the president managed to acknowledge amid his platitudes about religion as the “firm foundation” of the nation’s character.

But a jeremiad, almost by definition, will not let thorny details stand in the way of a good romp, so let’s set aside these cavils and play along. Douthat locates the end of “the postwar moment” in 1963, just after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. American Christianity, the author says, was at the height of its influence; Richard Russell, the segregationist senator from Georgia, would complain that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed only because “those damn preachers got the idea that it was a moral issue.”

Douthat’s narrative of decline implicates the sexual revolution; globalization (by which he means exposure to non-Christian religions); and the Vietnam War, which bifurcated American Christianity. Seminary enrollments declined, denominations faced budgetary stringencies and the elites “understood that the only reason to pay attention to traditional Christianity was to subject it to a withering critique.” Add to that the ordination of women, the growing acceptance of divorce and the destigmatizing of homosexuality, and you have a traditionalist’s nightmare.

Douthat, himself a conservative Catholic, believes that evangelicals generally hewed to the resistance model. By the 1980s, he insists, “what vitality remained in American Christendom was being sustained by the unexpected alliance between evangelicals and Catholics,” although he acknowledges that the religious right’s identification with George W. Bush tarnished its reputation.

The plunge into heresy, Douthat believes, can be traced to theological developments like the revisionist Jesus Seminar and the unlikely trinity of Elaine Pagels, Bart Ehrman and Dan Brown. Douthat accuses them of discrediting Christian orthodoxy in the interests of remaking Jesus in their own image, often for political ends. Debunking the debunkers, Douthat concludes that “they speak the language of the conspiratorial pamphlet, the paranoid chain e-mail — or the paperback thriller.” The currency of these ideas has given rise to what the author calls the “God Within” movement. “A choose-your-own-Jesus mentality,” Douthat writes, “encourages spiritual seekers to screen out discomfiting parts of the New Testament and focus only on whichever Christ they find most congenial.”

The “God Within” malady has infected evangelicals as well, as seen in the so-called prosperity gospel. Douthat harvests a lot of low-hanging fruit in this section, and who can blame him? The pablum peddled by Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer and countless others surely represents an adumbration of Christian orthodoxy, but Douthat also criticizes Michael Novak’s defense of capitalism for being a betrayal of traditional Catholic teachings. All of this leaves us sinking into a morass of gluttony and narcissism, which has been inflected into the political arena as American ­exceptionalism.

Although Douthat’s grasp of American religious history is sometimes tenuous — he misdates the Second Great Awakening, mistakes Puritans for Pilgrims and erroneously traces the disaffection of American Catholics to the Second Vatican Council rather than the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae” — there is much to commend his argument. Yes, the indexes of religious adherence are down, and the quality of religious discourse in America has diminished since the 1950s, in part because of the preference for therapy over theology. Theological illiteracy is appalling; many theologians, like academics generally, prefer to speak to one another rather than engage the public.

But the glass-is-half-full approach, to borrow from the famous Peace Corps ad of this era, looks rather different. I’m not sure that the enervation of religion as institution since the 1950s is entirely a bad thing; institutions, in my experience, are remarkably poor vessels for piety. An alternative reading of the liberal “accommodationists” Douthat so reviles is that they have enough confidence in the relevance and integrity of the faith to confront, however imperfectly, such fraught issues as women’s ordination and homosexuality rather than allow them to fester as they have for centuries. I suspect, moreover, that Douthat has overestimated the influence of intellectual trends like the Jesus Seminar. The thinkers he quotes are important, but I would also recommend the lesser-known work of writers like Roger Olson, Jean Sulivan, Doug Frank, Miroslav Volf and David James Duncan as evidence of the vitality of Christian thinking; they may occasionally poke provocatively at the edges of orthodoxy, but most do so from well within its frame. Finally, the fact that we are having this conversation at all (much less in the pages of this newspaper) is testament to the enduring relevance of faith in what sociologists long ago predicted would be a secular society.

Like any good jeremiad, “Bad Religion” concludes with what evangelicals would recognize as an altar call. Douthat invites readers to entertain “the possibility that Christianity might be an inheritance rather than a burden,” and he elevates such eclectic phenomena as home schooling, third-world Christianity and the Latin Mass as sources for renewal.

Religion in the rearview mirror never looked better.

Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest and a professor of American religious history at Barnard College, is the author of a dozen books, including “Thy Kingdom Come” and “God in the White House.”

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