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

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Mutable Immutable God of Creation

The God who Moves and Responds and Acts 

by J.R.D. Kirk
May 4, 2012

One of the most significant ramifications of working out one’s theology from the starting point of Jesus Christ is that the actual involvement of God in the world curtails pious-sounding abstractions that, if true, would make God so distant and other as to be of no earthly good.

Because, let’s face it friends, on the day that we learn of the death of the great MCA of the Beastie Boys, we need to know that our God is not a pious abstraction, but a God who can and will and does act. (Can I get an amen?)

Barth's God Immutably Loves Mozart

God’s constancy is not a constancy of one who is unmoved or unmoving. God’s life is “difference, movement, will, decision, action, degeneration, and rejuvenation” (Barth, Church Dogmatics §31.2).

With this litany of divine attributes, signaling what, exactly, God’s constancy looks like, Barth launches into one of the best discussions of divine identity and attributes I’ve ever read.

In the [popular/modernistic] world of theological abstraction, God’s “immutability” becomes “immobility.” But in the [biblical] theology developed from the self-revelation of God in Christ, “immutability” becomes, instead, God’s constancy of action, as God chooses to act, in accordance with God’s desire to be in relationship with the world God created.

God is life.
"We have also to understand it as a proof and a manifestation of God’s constant vitality that God has a real history in and with the world created by Him. This is the history of the reconciliation and revelation accomplished by Him, by which He leads the world to a future redemption."
God has tied himself to a history, bound himself to a story.

We know all this because as Christians we don’t start with abstractions about the identity of God and attempt to figure out how such abstractions make sense within our story. We begin with God’s actual revelation in Jesus and Christ and learn from there who this God is who is at work.

Two highlights from later in the chapter include small print sections on prayer and on the Philippians Christ-hymn.

An immutable God might lead one to believe that prayer can have no effect on the divine. “It’s all about changing us, not getting God to act.”

Wrong.
…the prayers of those who can and will believe are heard; …God is and wills to be known as the One who will and does listen to the prayers of faith… So real is the communication that where it occurs God positively wills that man should call upon Him in this way, in order that He may be his God and Helper.

The living and genuinely immutable God is not an irresistible fate/force before which man can only keep silence, passively awaiting and accepting the benefits or blows which it ordains. There is no such thing as a Christian resignation in which we either have to submit to a fate of this kind or to come to terms with it.
God acts. God acts in love. This is what we learn of the immutability of God as God is revealed in Jesus Christ. The God of love acts on behalf of God’s people. More specifically:
It is because God was in this way one with the creature in Jesus Christ, that there was and is fellowship between God and the creature.
No, the God of all did not need to bind Himself to humanity. But he did. In God’s freedom, God has bound himself to all humanity in Jesus Christ.

So when God is immutable and constant, that changelessness will be for us as our salvation, for the maintenance of the relationship God has created anew. [And when God is mutable and changeable it is for us the result of our relationship with a living God in relation with us. - res]

The surprise in this is that it is in self-giving, self-humbling love that “Christ is Christ and God is God.”

The upshot for us, of course, is that only in such self-giving, self-humbling love and “In it alone can Christians be Christians” (p. 518).



The Wounding of the Body of Christ

Jesus Beyond Jesus

by J.R.D. Kird
May 5, 2012

One thing evangelicals do well is our incessant hammering on the need for each of us to continually respond in faith to the God who is reaching out to us in Christ. We insist on personal accountability before God.

But if the down side to this has been that we’re slow to realize the fully communal implications of our faith.

As I’ve said before, I used to shrug off the old hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Because, NEWS FLASH!, I wasn’t! I was a couple thousand years too late for that one.

But then I started to realize that the body of Christ is all around me every time I gather with God’s people. And I began to realize that these were people I had wounded, people whom I had judged and rejected and injured. I had become an instrument in the wounding of the body of Christ.

So yes, I was there. And I am there. I participate in the crucifixion when I judge and reject and injure those who are, themselves, members of Christ’s body.

When Jesus places His name on someone in baptism, he takes this identification with them with utmost seriousness. It’s not just that the person is bound to the story of Christ (something else we need to learn more deeply than we have) but that Christ is bound to the person of this story.

And so Jesus tells his disciples:
Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me. (Mark 9:37, CEB)
The disciples weren’t too sure about this whole, “name of Jesus” thing. So they pressed back a bit:
We saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us. (Mark 9:38, CEB)
Wrong answer.

Everyone who’s not against us is for us. In fact,
I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded. (Mark 9:41, CEB).
We too often fall into the trap of thinking that our relationship with God is one thing, and our relationship with people is something else. Sometimes we’ll acknowledge the connection by saying something like, “When my relationship with God is askew, it messes with my relationships with people, too.”

There’s truth in that.

But there’s a more profound truth that such statements skirt; namely, our relationship with other people in the body is, itself, our relationship with the Christ whose name is upon them.

Before us is Jesus beyond Jesus.

God has determined to renew each of us after the image of the firstborn Son.

And so, what we do to them, those who bear the son’s image, is done to the son whose image they bear. When we engage the one who is Christ’s, for blessing or for curse, we bless or curse the Christ to whom they belong.



Placing Value on the Theologians Amongst Us


A “Favorite” Pet Peeve: “Asking Oprah (or Dear Abby)…”
May 3, 2012
Comments

In a recent column a Christian woman asked “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips) about God and homosexuality. Her son came out to her and she was afraid to ask her pastor about God’s attitude toward gay people because she was afraid of what he would say. So she wrote to “Abby” asking her how God views homosexuality. Abby’s response was predictable–that science had shown the Bible to be unreliable on this subject and that entrance to heaven depends on a person’s character only.

This illustrates a pattern I see among Americans including many American Christians. The Christian band “Casting Crowns” has a phrase in one song urging Christians to “stop asking Oprah what to do.” Amen to that! And I add (for Christians, at least) ”stop asking Dear Abby or any other advice columnist or TV talk show host (etc.) what to do!”

Why do people, including some Christians, think that a person can give competent theological advice just because he or she writes a nationally syndicated column or hosts a television talk show? That simply baffles me. It baffles me so much it leaves me bewildered.

A few years ago someone wrote to ask a nationally syndicated columnist what makes a life worth living. Her answer was (paraphrasing) that a life is worth living so long as it produces more than it consumes. Didn’t anybody else notice that that was the very belief that led to the Nazi program of killing thousands of people in German hospitals during the 1930s just because they were deemed incapable of contributing to society?

Also, did nobody else notice that her (the columnist’s) answer is right if there is no God? And that only someone who does not believe in God could say such a thing?

I have been a Christian theologian for almost 30 years. I think I have a reputation for making theology relatively simple to understand. And yet, throughout those years of teaching in church-related institutions and churches I have rarely been asked a theological question by anyone except students in my classes (or former students).

And I know that’s not only my experience. Most theologians I have talked to relate the same experience of rarely being asked for theological advice or insight or even guidance (to finding answers).

Once a church I belonged to appointed an ad hoc committee to consider a major change in membership requirements. I volunteered to serve on the committee but was excluded (twice). When I asked several people associated with the process why no theologian was on the committee I was informed it wasn’t a theological issue. Huh?

Now, maybe in my case it’s just me. That is, maybe I’m just not the kind of person lay people or pastors feel comfortable approaching for advice. I don’t think so, but it’s possible. But this isn’t just about me. I notice that many Christians (to say nothing of non-Christians!) ask theological questions of people who have no theological training at all.

I would venture to say that America’s leading theoogians are people like Joel Osteen (I’m not aware of any formal theological training on his part), Oprah Winfrey, and Dear Abby. “Christian” bookstores’ shelves are full of books on theological subjects by people with no formal biblical or theological training. I can’t begin to tell you how many “testimonies” I have heard from people spouting theological ideas based on “This is what I heard God saying to me.”

American Christianity is sunk in a swamp of subjectivism and individualism–theological and religious populism–where everyone’s opinion is as good as everyone else’s and better if they are nationally read columnists or talk show hosts (or musicians or whatever).

Is there a solution to this? Well, obviously, the desired solution would be for columnists, talk show hosts and others to defer to theologians. But I doubt they know any. A better solution would be for pastors and other church leaders to place more value on their theologians–the ones in their own congregations and/or educational institutions.



SELECT COMMENTS


Dean says:
I think it’s obvious why this is the case, Americans consider themselves very religious people (at least that’s what the polls consistently say), but that religion clearly isn’t Christianity. It’s moralistic therapeutic deism, and MTD has no theology, it’s a sociological phenomenon. But even the vast majority of church going Christians out there have no interest in theology at all, I can personally attest that because about a year ago, that was pretty much me. I have been a Christian my “entire” life, and I had very little understanding of the Arminian/Calvinist debate (I had never even heard of Arminius), never heard of Pelagius either for that matter (although I had heard of Calvin), didn’t realize there were other theories of the atonement besides penal substitution, had never heard of Christian inclusivism, had a very dim understanding of the bodily resurrection, did not know what preterism was, assumed the “Rapture” was a settled biblical concept, and just two weeks ago, two weeks, I read a book about open theism and it just about made my brain explode.

But I guess the sad part about this journey is that the only person in my life right now who can even understand the words that are coming out of my mouth (as Chris Tucker would say) is my sister who is a graduate of Fuller theological seminary and who has given me most of the books I’ve read on these subjects. I guess my question for Dr. Olson is how important is theology for the average Christian? Does any of this really matter? Christians have been out and about building the kingdom for 2000 years, and for most of that time, the vast majority of them were illiterate. Not everyone can go to a theological seminary and certainly not everyone should. Are all these theological debates really of any value at the end of the day? I’ve found that most Christians just don’t care, and I guess I’m not really sure they’d be any better off if they did. As fascinating as it has been for me, at the end of the day it is a confusing morass with seemingly no satisfactory resolution for much of these issues, which explains the surrealism that descends upon me when I read that Arminius lived in the 16th century and that book on open theism I read was written in 8 years ago, it really does detract from some of the novelty of it all for me. I guess I’m at a place right now where I feel like it’s a rabbit hole and I’m wondering why I thought it was a good idea to jump in in the first place.

rogereolson says:

Repost: How Postmodernism has helped Evangelical Christianity


"...They have not known nor understood: for they have shut their eyes and cannot see;
they have shut their hearts and cannot understand." (Isaiah 44.18)

In this article Kyle Roberts shows the benefits of postmodernistic theology in its confrontation with Evangelic theology as he urges its followers to become more authentic in their Christian heritage; more engaged with minority theologies and suppressed Christian voices; more accepting and embracing of the richness of plurality within Christianity's global church groups; and more willing to show an epistemic humility when doing the work of hermeneutics and theology.

Furthermore, Evangelic Christianity have been given a tremendous advantage by postmodernistic Christianity's pronounced objectives of bringing to an end evangelicalism's absorption of modernity which needed destroying and replacement in its egoistic Age of Rationalism; its entitlement attitudes before all other Christian and religious groups; its oppressive posturings proclaiming restrictive fiats and dogmas in condemnation upon non-Calvinistic brethren; its over-confident proclamations of creedal and systematic propositions in apprehension of the Divine personage and mystery; and, its willingness to embrace a form of cultural supremacy that has led to idolatry among Evangelic Christians in this Age of Enlightenment known as Modernity. Accordingly, Postmodernism has restored a rightful and necessary re-balancing to the Age of Modernity as the Church enters into a new era in the 21st Century perhaps to be known as the "Age of Authenticity" replacing both modernity and postmodernity as their cultural equivalents.

Lastly, I would note that though Emergent Christianity has embraced postmodernism, it is not, however, fully defined by postmodernism. Rather, a broader definition of Emergent Christianity would be that of forward-looking Christians wishing to leave Evangelistic modernity and actively exploring fuller expressions of God and their personal relation to the Divine, to one another, and to the world at large, in the 21st Century. So that whether this new era is known as "Postmodernism," or as "An Age of Authentication" or even as "An Era of Participatory Community," it will have the following distinctives:

  • it will have examined modernism in relationship to postmodern Christianity;
  • moved to a more authenticating form of Christianity within its belief structures; and,
  • centered its efforts in participatory communities celebrating the life of Jesus to both the world as well as within its own faith fellowships.

So that by whatever era or time period the Church is in (or, entering), Emergent Christianity is positioning itself to speak within that epistemic/philosophic period to bear Christ to the nations through ministry and proclamation.

R.E. Slater
September 12, 2011


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


Postmodernism: Still Alive, Still Prophetic
http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Postmodernism-Still-Alive-Still-Prophetic-Kyle-Roberts-09-07-2011?offset=0&max=1

If we are really entering the twilight of postmodernism,
there may still be time for evangelicals to learn its lessons.

by Kyle Roberts
September 6, 2011

Every now and again, someone declares that this year the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl or the Cubs the World Series. Eventually, given enough time and enough predictions, someone is likely to be right. (Well, perhaps not about the Cubs.)

Similarly, now and again someone declares the "death of postmodernism." Someone will eventually be right. Collin Hansen, taking his cue from a recent Prospect essay, "Postmodernism is Dead," is the latest evangelical to happily proclaim its demise. Hansen's piece raises a number of points for potentially fruitful dialogue, as church leaders consider whether or not the age of postmodernism is over and done, or whether it still has some prophetic and instructive work to do.

In the Prospect essay, author Edward Docx suggests that an upcoming art exhibit at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, "Postmodernism—Style and Subversion 1970-1990," signals the demise of an era. In the field of art, Docx notes, postmodernism was a flurry of subversive irony. Its energy couldn't last, as lesser lights sought to carry the torch and as criteria for aesthetic judgment gave way to the almighty dollar. On a grander scale, he notes, postmodernism was an intellectual and cultural movement that emerged in response to dissatisfactions with modernity. It was, Docx says, a "high-energy revolt, an attack, a strategy for destruction."

Words like "revolt" and "destruction" have captured the imagination of postmodernism's detractors, many who do not sufficiently distinguish between culture-making practices like art, cinema, and literature and their intellectual backdrop, postmodern thought. The cultural practices and the "isms" informing them are sometimes distinguished as "postmodernity" and "postmodernism," respectively.

Postmodern thought is an array of attitudes, objectives, and standpoints notoriously difficult to pin down, not so much because it is "fuzzy" but because it is complex and variegated. In the popular Christian imagination, postmodernism is rather simple (and as Hansen suggests, even "all-encompassing"): it's the deconstruction of truth and the exaltation of relativism, the abandonment of meaning and the glory of nihilism, and the loss of the word in favor of the amorphous image. For its admirers, postmodernism is the savior of authenticity, dialogue, and serenity; for its critics, it's the enemy of truth, biblical revelation, and of Christianity.

Hansen can't seem to decide, however, whether postmodernism runs against the notion of biblical revelation or whether it has aided in its recovery. On one hand, he says, "thanks to the effects of postmodernism, no longer do Enlightenment philosophies claim they can compile all human knowledge by means of reason apart from revelation." On the other hand, he warns, Christian advocates of postmodernism have lost the basis for truth. This basis, Hansen suggests, can be found in Scripture. Critics of postmodernism, however, often forget that it was Modernism that undermined trust in revelation; higher criticism, Rationalism/philosophical skepticism, deism, etc., were Enlightenment enterprises. While certainly not all postmodernists are Christians (or even theists), postmodernism on the whole has made room for revelation, paradox, and mystery.

For many thinkers and church leaders, postmodernism has been a friendlier cultural and intellectual context for Christianity than was modernism. Aspects and attitudes emerging from the postmodern turn include epistemic humility, tolerance of diversity and difference, hermeneutical richness and complexity. Numerous postmodern thinkers (if not the most radical ones) repeatedly argue that "standpoint epistemology," multiple discourses, and hermeneutical indeterminacy does not amount to relativism or lead to nihilism. Among those who have accepted the postmodern turn, the recognition of contextuality, epistemic finitude, and the significance of perspective enabled a breakthrough in engagement with minority theologies and formerly suppressed (and oppressed) voices.

Hansen glossed over a striking concession in Docx's essay: postmodernism, by de Marginalized and subordinate groups were given voice, in large part thanks to the postmodern turn. In this respect, it is not contradictory, as Hansen suggests, to find postmodernists seeking justice. For the patriarch of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida, "deconstruction is justice."

Hansen is certainly correct that it is, in the end, the Gospel that matters. The paradox of the God-man and the salvation he offers to the world is our central concern, our focal point as Christians. But if anything, postmodernism as applied to Christian theology has helped evangelicals remember that Christ is just that: a paradox who offers himself to be appropriated by faith (not by Rationality). And he offers himself first and foremost as a person, not a proposition.

Postmodernity, at least as it has been appropriated within evangelical Christian theological discourses and church practices (e.g., the Emergent Church), has aimed toward authenticity; patience with plurality; contentment with hermeneutical limitations and theological incompleteness; in sum, toward epistemic humility. These qualities are not inconsistent with a Gospel-informed life of Christian discipleship.

It is tempting for evangelicals to triumphantly declare that the wicked witch is dead, so we can go back to the Kansas we once knew. But dead, dying, or still kicking, the prophetic lessons of postmodernism should not be forgotten in the face of the inevitable increase of plurality and difference in our neighborhoods, towns, and urban centers. Postmodernism has given us conceptual tools with which to fight against our natural tendency to have the last word, to lean on our own presumed certainty of knowledge, and to subsume particularity under a totalizing homogeneity. If we have entered the twilight of postmodernity—which may or may not be the case—it would be a shame if it came and went without really understanding it.

Postmodernism will indeed eventually give way to something else. If it is, as Doxc suggests, the "Age of Authenticity," then it will be, at least in part, due to postmodernism's persistent critique of our natural tendency toward idolatry (cf, Peter Rollins, "The Idolatry of God, Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction"). In this sense, the lessons of postmodernity are consistent, as Hansen rightly acknowledges, with the teaching of the Apostle Paul: we see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). We are finite, fallen, and broken. And we are still not in Kansas anymore. But if we are really entering the twilight of postmodernism, there may still be time to learn its lessons.

For further resources geared toward Christians engaging and understanding postmodernity, see:



Kyle RobertsKyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Lead Faculty of Christian Thought, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN). He researches and writes on issues related to the intersection of theology, philosophy, and culture. Follow Kyle Roberts' reflections on faith and culture at his blog or via Twitter.

Roberts' column, "Theological Provocations," is published every second Tuesday on the Evangelical portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.