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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Rejecting Political and Religious Spectrums, Part 2 of 2

 
On tossing out the evangelical spectrum: Part 2

by Roger Olson
January 27, 2012 
 
Types of evangelical theology: replacing the “spectrum”

In part one of this series I talked about the limitations of attempting to place every theologian somewhere on a spectrum defined by “right,” “middle,” and “left.” It’s a habit of evangelical theologians that’s hard to break. That spectrum was originally tied to modernity. Theologians to the “left” were those who accommodated to modernity; those to the right rejected modernity; those in the middle worked with some kind of synthesis of moderate adjustment to modernity where necessary while remaining faithful to the “received evangelical heritage” of Protestant orthodoxy.

One problem with that spectrum is its use of modernity as the norm; it assumes that every theologian is somehow responding to modernity—with either rejection or accommodation or moderate acknowledgment within basic faithfulness to orthodoxy. Not all theologians (I used Hauerwas as an example) are responding to modernity. Holding fast to that spectrum can end up with some very strange anomalies. Some postmodern theologians reject modernity without affirming orthodoxy. Where would they be on the spectrum?

Contemporary evangelicals have migrated toward a somewhat altered spectrum. On this one theologians are located along it based on perceived adherence to or willingness to revise the “received evangelical tradition.” This was clearly the spectrum Millard Erickson was using in The Evangelical Left. For him, as for many others like him, an evangelical is “left” on the spectrum to the extent he or she revises traditional evangelical doctrinal and ethical commitments and “right” to the extent he or she holds fast to them. One problem with that is, of course, what happens to the extreme “right” of the spectrum? Who goes there? Erickson and others like him claim to occupy the center of the spectrum (of course). But if “left” is revision of the received evangelical tradition and “right” is faithful adherence to it, that distorts the spectrum. It only has a middle (the right) and a left!

Of course, what actually happens is that self-identified evangelical moderates, centrists, like Erickson place fundamentalists off to their “right” on the spectrum. But if the middle is faithful adherence to the evangelical tradition and left is revision of it, what causes someone to be placed to the right of the middle? If strict, faithful adherence to the evangelical tradition is the middle, then what’s to the right of the middle? Fundamentalist think they outdo the moderates in holding fast to the received evangelical tradition—as it was sometime in the distant past, anyway (e.g., young earth creationism). That’s why, with this spectrum, fundamentalists can rightly claim to be the middle and even Erickson, who is not a young earth creationist and is an egalitarian who believes in women’s ordination, is “left.”

Also, where does someone like Donald Bloesch belong on that spectrum? Or Kevin Vanhoozer? Or Alister McGrath? Or any number of evangelicals who are simply not concerned with defending some preconceived “received evangelical tradition” but are also not concerned with revising doctrines?

There are multiple problems with those “right to middle to left” spectrums. I have come to think that the main purpose of the evangelical spectrum is political. Administrators of evangelical institutions (colleges, universities, seminaries, publishers, etc.) are not always theologians or able to take the time to investigate for themselves candidates’ theologies, so they rely on someone they trust to tell them “where the person belongs on the evangelical spectrum.” “To the left” is usually the death sentence for being hired or getting tenure. There’s one notorious case I am very familiar with where a candidate for tenure at an evangelical seminary was denied it simply because a well-known evangelical theologian told the seminary’s administration the person is “postmodern.” In fact, the person is an expert on postmodernism, much more than the theologian who caused him to not get tenure! And he is not a relativist or cognitive nihilist or radical pragmatist or any of the things the seminary’s administrators probably think “postmodern” means.

I‘ve been in this game (viz., the evangelical subculture and its habits) for a long time. I’ve taught at three evangelical universities. (Not everyone at those universities calls themselves “evangelical” but they all clearly are in the broad sense of the word.) I’ve been editor of a leading evangelical scholarly journal supported by fifty (mostly) evangelical colleges. I’ve been an editor of a major evangelical magazine for years. I’ve worked with several evangelical book publishers. I was chairman of the Evangelical Theology Group of the American Academy of Religion for two years. All that is to say I think I know this subculture very well, almost as well as anyone. What I have observed is that many, perhaps most, executives of evangelical organizations have someone they consider “safe” to advise them about hiring and tenure decisions. That person (or two or three persons) can blackball a candidate very easily simply by saying he or she is “to the left” on the evangelical spectrum (or something to that effect). Of course, the person saying that is “to the left” of someone else on that same spectrum! But evangelical administrators too often don’t stop to question it; they just take the well-known, influential, “safe” evangelical theologian’s word for it and the candidate never knows why he or she didn’t get hired.

While admitting that we (evangelicals) are addicted to the spectrums—the first one for the broader theological world and the second one for “us”—I am increasingly uncomfortable with them. They simply suffer too many anomalies and abuses. They are too simplistic and easy to manipulate. They make it too easy not to engage seriously with someone’s theology. I observed this with my friend Stan Grenz-inerrancy! The whole reason he was labeled “left” was his post-foundationalist epistemology which, contrary to critics, did not lead him into “cultural relativism” (a stupid claim).

My preferred alternative to these spectrums is for people to seriously engage with others’ theologies and not take the easy way out by simply relying on someone they trust to tell them where they are on the evangelical spectrum. I’m enough of a realist, however, to know that’s not likely to happen. But I urge it anyway.

I have an alternative model in mind for “placing” evangelical thinkers (theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers of religion, etc.) in relation to each other: a colorful mosaic. From a distance a colorful mosaic looks like one color, but the closer you get the more clearly the different shades of color begin to appear. Compared with the larger theological world, evangelical theology appears relatively monochrome. For example, if you attend the annual national meeting of the American Academy of Religion, as I did in San Francisco in November and have at its various locations for about twenty-five years, the evangelicals in attendance appear relatively homogenous theologically.

I’ll use an imaginary illustration. Imagine a large panel of religious scholars who call themselves “Christians.” It includes: a black theologian, a feminist theologian, a radical postmodern theologian, a process theologian, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, a revisionist Roman Catholic theologian, a Tridentine Roman Catholic theologian, a narrative theologian, and a “Christian atheist.” (I have specific people in mind for each category and I know they attend the AAR, so this panel could happen!) What do they all have in common? Only that they are human beings, religious scholars and self-identified Christians. Even from a distance the differences stand out in stark relief.

Now imagine a panel of evangelical theologians—a fundamentalist, a postconservative, a confessionalist, a “generic evangelical” (those are the four found in the recently published book Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism). Add any well-known, self-identified evangelical thinker to the panel. Compared with the first panel, this one will appear homogenous from a distance. (I’m asking you to imagine here that theological orientations are like colors.) These theologians have much more in common than those on the first panel. They are human beings, religious scholars, self-identified evangelical Christians, biblicists (in some sense), conversionists, believers that salvation is only through Jesus Christ and his cross, and activists (in the sense of believing in evangelism). Sure, there are distinct differences in the details, but if someone walked in to a large room with the first panel they would see, even from a distance, contrasting colors. If someone walked into a large room with the second panel they would see, from a distance, a mosaic of colors, but it would be difficult to distinguish them without getting very close.

The second mosaic, the evangelical one, is like some of those you see in hotel room bathrooms. Often there’s a mosaic of tiles in the bathtub/shower enclosure. It might just be a stripe of shiny, colored tiles going around the middle of the enclosure. From a distance it looks like one color, but when you get close up you see subtle differences. One tile is more purple than the tile two or three down from it that is more green, etc.

Compared with the larger religious academy, including its “Christian” theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers of religion, etc., this evangelical world of scholars is like that almost but not quite monochrome stripe of tiles.

A close inspection of the evangelical mosaic reveals differences: paleo-orthodox, postconservative (not anti-conservative) or progressive, fundamentalist, Pentecostal, dispensationalist, high federal Calvinist, charismatic, Third Wave, emergent, Pietist, etc. If you put your face right up to the mosaic these differences seem very striking, but if you step back and look at it the differences pale in comparison with what the tiles have in common and in comparison with the splash of bright colors in the “mainline” mosaic.

And, of course, some tiles have some of two or three colors in them. One tile is simply purple and another one is simply green. (But to keep the analogy going, they’re both muted, not terribly bright, so that from a distance they don’t look all that different.) But most tiles are some mixture of both or of two other colors.

The mosaic of evangelical theologies is like that second one. There’s no “right” or “left” or “middle.” There’s just (limited) variety. Using this model, an evangelical administrator will pick up the individual “tile” (a candidate for hiring or tenure) and put it up to the whole mosaic and say either “Yes, I see this color there. This tile’s coloring fits the mosaic. There are others like it” OR “No, this bright pink tile is nothing like those in the mosaic; it doesn’t fit at all.” Of course, this assumes the administrator has taken the time and trouble to learn about the evangelical mosaic and that’s one of the flaws in my alternative model. However, I will argue that a person should not be the administrator of a trans-denominational evangelical organization without knowing evangelical history and theology, unity and diversity.

Now, of course, IF the evangelical organization is tied to a specific denomination or confessional tradition, the administrator will have to use two mosaics—the larger evangelical one and that of his or her own denomination or confessional tradition. But that’s why administrators get paid the big money! They’re expected to know a lot. It seems like evidence of little knowledge and poor judgment ability when an administrator has the old spectrum in his head (or in that of his favorite evangelical theological advisor’s head) and uses it to make these decisions.

Of course, I think it would be a good idea for an administrator to have people who advise him or her on these personnel matters, but such people should not have an axe to grind.

I hope by now you’ve caught on to my main motive for arguing against the old spectrum approach. It has become a political tool among evangelicals. When open theism first appeared among evangelicals, some self-identified “conservative evangelicals” (read “safe”) labeled it “liberal” or “left” on the evangelical spectrum. And yet some of its most prominent proponents were anything but “liberal.” One was and is charismatic or New Wave and believes strongly in real spiritual beings, demons and angels, who are engaged in spiritual warfare invisible to us (most of the time). Liberal? Left? I strongly believe his critics’ attempt to place him and other open theists on the “left” end of the spectrum was nothing more than a political ploy to marginalize him and them and set them up for being fired from their teaching positions. At least the early reactions by self-identified “conservative evangelicals” to open theism was simplistic. It didn’t engage with what they were really saying but caricatured their views (“ignorant God”). One critic of open theism told me it’s wrong because it’s not traditional. He happened to be a five point Calvinist teaching in a seminary that had never had a five point Calvinist on its faculty before him!

I digress, but this is my blog, so…

The whole controversy over open theism changed my life forever.

I heard and read blatant dishonesty, conscious, knowing distortion, mean-spiritedness and overt attempts to destroy people’s reputations and careers—all on the side of open theism’s critics. (I’m NOT saying all critics participated in this!) One self-identified conservative evangelical theologian publicly accused open theists of “worshiping the goddess of novelty.” Others equated open theism with process theology. One publicly called open theists “Socinians.” One wrote that open theists “admit” to being influenced by process theology, but the open theist book he cited to support that said the opposite! I was myself sucked into this maelstrom of controversy and threatened with being fired just for being open to open theism and defending my open theist friends. Lies were published about me. One critic of open theism published an article attributing a quote to me I never said or wrote. (There was no chance this was a matter of confusion; the quote was fabricated.) Several claimed publicly that I was an open theist when I knew they knew I was not. When I wrote to them they wouldn’t answer me. This was a witch hunt among evangelicals and I truly believe its main motive was to take over evangelical institutions. (To a very great extent it was a reprise of the inerrancy controversy launched by The Battle for the Bible in 1976.) I see the villains in that controversy (and I’m NOT saying all critics of open theism were villains) as having gained the upper hand with evangelical institutional leaders. They created enough fear, even if only of controversy, that they would only hire people they thought the pot-stirring heresy hunters would approve of or at least not exclaim “J’accuse!” over.

I see the old evangelical spectrum as little more than a tool in such theological-political warfare. Since the mid-1990s I have not known what someone means when they say an evangelical theologian is “left” or “liberal-leaning.” I know for a fact it often means nothing more than “I disagree with him [or her].” But if you get enough influential people to say it sufficiently loudly and create enough fear of “creeping liberalism” it can ruin careers and do real damage to families and institutions.


Differences between Evolutionary Creationism and Darwinian Scientific Naturalism



by R.E. Slater
January 30, 2012

Here is a short premier on competing theistic systems within the evolutionary system itself....

The Christian position of Evolutionary Creationism separates itself apart from the atheistic/agnostic position of Darwinism, sometimes called Scientific Naturalism.

Evolutionary Creationism accepts natural selection but understands that a Creator-God has been intricately involved within this process. Both the positions of Classic & Relational Theism (see this blog's sidebars for further discussions on these subjects) also agree with this assessment, however, the older theological doctrine of Classic Theism was developed at a time when evolutionary science was little understood and thus the church taught of a God who created immediately (or instantaneously) - without utilizing any of the processes of the sun and moon, stars and earth, time and energy, indeterminacy and event. In counterposition to this biblically imposed ideology, Relational Theism taught of a mediated creation that used the elements of "time and process" that is commonly accepted by evolutionary science today. This latter view is only now being accomodated by the contemporary Church because of its variant traditional heritages and past, older dogmas.

(As an aside, it should be further noted that Relational Theism is Classic Theism's updated, postmodern twin, without the panentheistic base of a Process Theology that accompanies it. And that there are elements of process theology that are true biblically but cannot simply be held captive by process theology's non-classic theistic base. This is the difference between substantive and pervasive elements better discussed here - Seeking a Postmodern Redefinition of Classic Theism).

Darwinism, on the other hand, claims no knowledge of God's involvement. In fact, it is either doubtful (agnostic), if not down right skeptical (atheistic) of God's existence and mediation. Holding then to a belief in the position of a non-Creator God while questioning the very fact that creation itself is proof of an eternal Creator-God's existence and mediation. Whereas the Christian position sees creation and affirms that it is from God, sustained by God, and directed by God, both in the ages past as will be true of the ages to come (which curiously may have been Darwin's personal view against the scientific system that was spawned by his followers). Thus, Naturalistic science is no less a belief system than its Christian-science twin (cf, Alvin Plantinga's similarly declared observation this past fall re: Emergent Christianity and a Calvinistic Philosopher's Assertion for Theism and Evolution).

Thus, within the commonly accepted scientific theories of evolution are two variant belief-systems. One Christian, and the other, agnostic, or atheistic. One is described as Evolutionary Creationism (the older term is Theistic Evolution) and the other described as Darwinism or ("scientific") Naturalism. Each sees the same evidence but arrives at differing conclusions and juxtaposed epistemologies.

Further, Evolutionary Creationism understands God to have used time-and-process to mediate creation whereas Classic Theism's Immediate-Creationism model, made popular amongst conservative churches and organizations today, see creation as unmediated by time-and-process through subjectively-derived models. However, it is important to note that both systems are theistically-based as opposed to Darwinism's agnostic/atheistic Scientific Naturalism model.

Consequently, it is important to understand that not-all-evolutionists are unbelievers nor are all-believers anti-evolutionists. Within both theistic and anti-theistic systems stand scientific propositions at odds with one another ideologically (or is it philosophically?). Each sees the same systems but each sees it differently from the other.

Lastly, (i) modernistic Christianity's more popular Evangelic position of Immediate Creation should then allow their disbelieving brothers and sisters the position of evolution without deeming (or demeaning) those brethren as mere anti-theists. This would not be true on the basis of Relational Theism.

Secondly, (ii) one could further argue that the concept of Evolutionary Creationism would be more rightly accreted towards the Christian understanding of evolution than the bald label of Darwinism, or Scientific Naturalism, carrying with them their own epistemologies of scientific and social import. (Such as that of Social Darwinism which gave birth to Marxism, that gave birth to Fascism, Arianism, Nazism, Leninism, Stalinism, and the garden variety of inhumanly practiced communisms observed from China to Latin America during the days after WWII) ... It's no wonder than than the term "evolution" gets a bad rap because of popularly discredited associations and inflammatory usages.

In conclusion, I've listed below just a few articles that we've reviewed this past year to help in further delineating the much misunderstood Christian position of Evolutionary Creationism.

R.E. Slater
January 30, 2012

 
God's Role in Creation

Image for: What role could God have in evolution?


Is God Just Playing Dice?

Evolution: Is God Just Playing Dice?

How Could God Create Through Evolution?

How Could God Create Through Evolution?: A Look at Theodicy, Part 1



    For Even More Information

Go to the "Science" sidebars -->




Addendum

No sooner had I published the article above when I stumbled across the following video and discussion below that dovetails brilliantly with the our observations made above, so that I must share these added insights as well. And making me to finally believe that what I've been sensing for awhile (and I'll use an evolutionary example this time by way of illustration) that just as homo sapien man entered into the genetic charts en masse as a population, so too will emergent Christianity enter into the mainstream of contemporary Christianity en masse, no matter its size and proportions.  Why? Because as I am writing here on this blog I am finding many others writing on the same and similar topics on other blogs and websites.... And with the same, or similar, sentiments as myself, each having similar concerns and criticisms that have been largely ignored or unwanted by our more conservative religious brethren. And each of us isolated from the other, yet each of us perceiving the needs of the church in similar ways. It gives me pause to actually be witnessing God's active leadership to His Church during our present day-and-age. Even when - from within, and without - and while defying various and sundry forces opposed against it, in repression and persecution. Yet still it grows. Praise God for His faithfulness to His people.

R.E. Slater
January 30, 2012


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


From Kurt Willems
[This is the] first video blog I’ve made in a couple years… with the
exception of the Compassion Water Video. I hope the fact that it is
only 3 mins and ask a direct question keeps you interested!


http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2012/01/12/preaching-against-evolution-in-evangelical-churches-creates-atheists/

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Creationism chases people out of church
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/01/21/creationism-chases-people-out-of-church/

by Fred Clark
January 21, 2012

"Ken Ham is slowly killing the American church," writes Joel Watch at Unsettled Christianity.

Kurt Willems agrees, posting a video at his Pangea blog in which he says “Preaching Against Evolution in Evangelical Churches Creates Atheists.”

I’d qualify Willems’ statement a bit. Preaching against evolution in evangelical churches doesn’t create atheists — it creates not-evangelicals. They were told that if evolution were true, then their faith would be a lie. And then they learned that evolution is true. Some of them may go on to become atheists. Others may go on to become Episcopalians. But some just stagger on for years with little identity other than not-evangelical.

But the basic point both Watch and Willems are making is an important one. The creationism of Ken Ham and Al Mohler is not true and therefore belief in it is not sustainable. I’ve made this argument quite a bit, as in “The Bible vs. The Facts?” where I wrote:
When Christian teachers like Mohler insist that the non-negotiable tenets of the faith include beliefs that can be and have been proven false, they set their followers up for inexorable crisis and calamity. It turns Christians into ex-Christians with industrial efficiency.
Or see “Hold on to the good” or “The walls came tumbling down.”

I’ve written about this a lot because I’ve met so many people over the years whose Christian faith was chained to some idea of young-earth creationism that dragged it down like a millstone.

And yet the more people are driven from the church by the unsustainable, unbelievable lies of creationists, the more desperately the creationists cling to those lies and insist on their centrality to the faith.

Roger Olson recently posted an essay from Michael Clawson that I think offers some insight into why the collapse of creationism is making its proponents ever-more vehement. In “Young, Restless and Fundamentalist: Neo-fundamentalism Among American Evangelicals,” Clawson argues that the anti-science defensiveness of late 20th-century “neo-fundamentalists” echoes the laager mentality of their early 20th-century ancestors:
Some conservative evangelicals are reacting to the contemporary influences of postmodernity in much the same way that the original fundamentalists did towards the influences of modernity a century ago — namely through hostility towards the broader culture, retrenchment around certain theological doctrines, and conflict with, or separatism from others within a more broadly defined evangelicalism.

… The driving force behind neo-fundamentalism, as with historic fundamentalism, is a “remnant mentality.” Neo-fundamentalists believe they alone are remaining true to the fullness of the gospel and orthodox faith while the rest of the evangelical church is in grave, near-apocalyptic danger of theological drift, moral laxity, and compromise with a postmodern culture – a culture which they see as being characterized by a skepticism towards Enlightenment conceptions of “absolute truth,” a pluralistic blending of diverse beliefs, values, and cultures, and a suspicion of hierarchies and traditional sources of authority. 
Because of this hostility toward postmodern ways of thinking, neo-fundamentalists have little tolerance for diversity of opinions among evangelicals on any issues they perceive as essential doctrines – which are most of them – as opposed to the broader evangelical movement which historically has allowed for a much wider range of disagreement on disputable matters. Neo-fundamentalists thus respond to the challenges of a postmodern culture by narrowing the boundaries of what they consider genuinely evangelical and orthodox Christianity, and rejecting those who maintain a more open stance.
Clawson’s description of this “neo-fundamentalism” is particularly interested in light of the fatal flaw that Watch, Willems and I all identify in the links above. Creationism, like all forms of this neo-fundamentalism, is championed as a militant defense of the church against the world. Yet in practice, creationism drives people out of the church.

It has the opposite effect from the one these neo-fundies are hoping for.

Clawson mentions John Piper, Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll as prominent examples of this neo-fundie “remnant mentality.” For an illustration of this, check out the poster promoting Mark Driscoll’s latest book, highlighted by Hemant Mehta and vorjack of Unreasonable Faith.

The poster emphasizes hierarchical gender relationships, suggesting that this is an essential belief if the church is to survive in the big scary postmodern world. It concludes by saying:
My grandchildren will worship the same God as me, because my children will worship the same God as me.
Vorjack’s cheerfully atheist response:
My grandfather was raised Southern Baptist.
My father was raised Southern Baptist.
… Hi.
It’s not just that the neo-fundie project doesn’t work, but that it’s counter-productive — that it accelerates the problem it imagines it is addressing. By emphasizing untenable doctrines like creationism or the divine right of husbands, and by insisting that these are central, requisite beliefs, the neo-fundies are chasing people out of the church.


See also: