Frankly, I don't follow Christianity Today (CT) any more. I use to care greatly about what they thought and published but since my "rebirth" from my evangelical stupor over the past dozen years and more I have found CT, its contributors, and its selective readings of today's theological issues, topics, and ideas, naïve at best, and dissembling at worst.
verb (used with object)
1. to give a false or misleading appearance to; conceal the truth or real nature of: to dissemble one's incompetence in business.
2. to put on the appearance of; feign: to dissemble innocence.
3. Obsolete . to let pass unnoticed; ignore.
Today's article from October 22nd more than proves my point. Here, Christena Cleveland gives an agreeable argument for the necessity of embracing Christian unity in its diversity of cultural ideas, theology, and adaptation of Christianity, uplifting difference and dissimilarity as admiral marks of any mature organization, religion, or faith. And in reply comes CT's officious proclamation under an amanuensis (sic, a person employed to write what another dictates, or to copy what has been written by another; a secretary.) that these ideas are agreeable to a point before marking off uncrossable sanctioned barriers. Barriers which, if crossed, makes a Christian anathema to their (evangelical) faith, to be described in whispered tones of being (or becoming) a false prophet carrying an unchristian gospel only worthy of biblical rebuke, reproof, condemnation, judgment and wrath. Where such a one is to be abandoned from the hallowed halls of the body of Christ unless an acceptable level of "homogeneity" is restored in balance with the general beliefs and tenets of evangelicalism's main ideas and message.
Hence, while Cleveland argues for the idea of unity within an enlarged Christian fellowship beyond the more restrictive definitions of its borders and boundaries, CT's reviewer rejects this auspicious idea by warning that it is a ruse, or a trick, to get Christians to betray their faith:
"While I find this "trick" beneficial, it does not fit every scenario. As an evangelical theologian committed to ecumenical unity framed by grace and truth, I wish Cleveland would have helped distinguish more clearly between areas where theological reconciliation is possible and areas where it is not." - CT
In effect, to bear the attitude of a general Christian acceptance of a (non-evangelic) brother or sister falls under the Halloween-like guise of conveying a godly "love and unity" which is basically a slick authorial "trick" or rubric that would open up any culpable reader to the dangers of moving away from the bastions of evangelical Christendom. The reviewer goes on to suggest that to take the author's attitudinal perspective would be like departing from the "narrow road" cautiously travelled unto an exiting off-ramp leading to a "larger road" of certain spiritual death, misleading ideas, and a disingenuous Gospel. Though the idea is good, it is not good enough when it leads to unsanctioned biblical ideas and teachings.
"Take, for example, 1 John 4:18 ("There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear"), to which Cleveland refers briefly in her treatment of the culture wars. The epistle's emphasis on love in chapter 4 appears only after a renunciation of teachers who deny the Incarnation. While doctrinal differences can be used to humble, strengthen, and enhance our perspectives, they often convey unbridgeable boundaries. "Perfect love" insists on certain rightful boundaries between truth and falsehood. This is not because we "fear" those on the other side, but because out of love we don't want them to be deceived." - CT
In sanctimonious unction the reviewer than proclaims the preferred "contextual" reading of 1 John 4 by qualifying Jesus' admonition to love one another with the apostle John's further admonition to hold to Jesus' incarnation (v.15)... or, in modern evangelical parlance, to only love those who are of the same doctrinal "brotherhood." Suggesting that all other Jesus-followers are not of God, but false and untrue. To this arena of demarcation we then get the unstated rubric of the three kinds of biblical "love" in the Bible - eros, phileo, and agape (translated: deeply passionate love; brotherly love within the church's fellowship; and godly love for those outside the church; as it is normally described).
The idea being here of carefully qualifying who is "in" or "not in" the true church's fellowship. And in this sense, to beware of deceptive ruses suggesting indiscriminately love in Christ as a binding blinder so that its participants become unaware of the false gospel that it conveys. A gospel bourne of false prophets and teachers. Not that this reviewer suggests that Cleveland is a charlatan, just that her idea contributes to the unqualified idea of an indiscriminate love that can be hazardous to evangelicalism's stricter theological walls of "biblical truth." Choosing always for truth over love, rather than love over truth. For those who wish this latter course, beware the larger consequences of becoming proselytized to a more worldly, less "Christianized" ideas beyond one's current fellowship. It is a message of fear. And unduly so as I will explain.
For the "trick" here is actually a "treat" not cooked in a witch's brew of discord and canker, but in the delights of discovering a newer, unbounded land of freedom shed of its religious blinders and deceptions. Which brings me to my reasons for leaving the attitudinal boundaries of my more restrictive evangelicalism, to a broader definition of what my Christian faith should bear. Yes, I believe in an incarnate Christ. It is one of the bedrocks of my faith. But I no longer qualify my faith by an adherence to evangelicalism's ideas of strict inerrancy, spontaneous creation, a dipolar God, a gospel of wrath, judgment, and exclusivity, nor any other dozens of qualifiers.
I have decided to "progress" beyond my formerly closed theological boundaries to a more open center-set nexus of a Jesus-centered faith. That is, a faith in which Jesus is first, and not my beliefs about my Christian religion first. To be marked as a Jesus follower rather than a follower of my temple, my church, my dogma, doctrine, or religious tribe. It is less rigid, more reflective, more open and accepting of postmodernism, and of science in general. It grants to biblical studies a historical, narrative theology and multi-vocal biblical hermeneutic, that leads out in unconditional, non-qualifying love that is inclusive and not exclusive. That serves others and not itself. And does not lead out in judgment and condemnation, or by denominational drivers or doctrinal barriers.
It is postmodern, emergent, and progressive in traditional Christian orthodoxies by updating one-and-all with today's newer research and biblical discoveries. Importantly, it is willing to critique its former idea of itself by deconstructive and reconstructive philosophical elements. Is unafraid of its doubts about God, His Word, or of the church in general. Does not have the incessant demand of needing answers and solutions to every event or mystery uncovered in the Bible or within our lives (that is, it tries to be non-apologetic realizing that all apologies but support their own narrower epistemologies even as I am doing now in this apology for my faith :/ ). Is critical of itself, its epistemologies, and its pride, and is properly confessional where, and when, this is possible. It is active in Christian love and reclamation of people in humanitarian projects; this Earth in ecological restoration; and in philosophic discussions. At the last, it is an apocalyptic Christian faith that doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but to become in our midst."
Though CT's reviewer likes the idea of unity within the Church it must be a unified church around his own ideas of what the Christian faith is - as set out in its dogmas and doctrines. By this admission, unity is a good thing, but it can also be a lamentable thing should it disrupt and destroy the fabric of evangelicalism as it is presently understood by its official organs of media dissemination (churches, schools, seminaries, and so forth).In the process, it refuses genuine discussion and openness to biblical movement and sway, preaching fear instead of hope; blind allegiance to its binding agencies; and exclusion to any unlike itself. It has become its own templed bastion similar to the Pharisaical Jewish laws and teachings in Jesus' day needing its pillars broken, and dividing curtain ripped in twain, that the Word of God's good news can be released to all of mankind, and not to the elected few.
So then, what does it mean to be unified in Christ? Is it a trick, or is it a treat? For many Christians they see it as a trick. But for some, they have unexpectedly discovered it to be a great, sumptuous treat that will last far beyond the sugar-rush of evangelical doctrine. It is become a hollowed celebration of freedom and not a Halloween of dungeons and dragons, if I may misuse the adage. To those few adventurers, be worthy of your exploration to God's unknown lands of bounty awaiting you. As Joshua's spies soon discovered, they dwelt in a land of "milk and honey," though they rightfully feared the "giants" of their day. For such explorers our giants have become bound Christian tradition against a rampant atheism set abroad and about. It will take the wisdom of God to search out and reclaim by the power of His Spirit in loving proclaim.
October 31, 2013
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Why Don't We Recognize God's Gift of Diversity?http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/channel/comments/allreviews.html?id=112413&type=article
by Paul Louis Metzger
October 22, 2013
Christena Cleveland examines the cultural differences
that frustrate the quest for Christian unity.
Christians value Jesus' prayer that they—his followers—may be as one (John 17:22–23). But valuing Christian unity is not the same as realizing it. Sometimes we settle for bland homogeneity rather than delighting in the church's mix of cultures, ethnicities, and social backgrounds. Those like me who work deliberately to cultivate Christian unity face trials and failures along the way. Despite our good intentions, we end up getting mean and nasty, or just plain weary, hurt, and discouraged. Why?
Individual personalities, faults, and sins are not the only factors. Group dynamics also make a difference. "Sometimes," according to social psychologist Christena Cleveland, "we are affected in hidden ways by those around us. The values and perceptions of the groups with which we identify can have a covert effect on us."
Where can we turn for assistance? In Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart (InterVarsity Press), Cleveland helps readers view people of diverse cultural backgrounds as God's gifts, not thorns in the flesh. She provides invaluable insights, practical recommendations, and tools to help the Christian community identify and address the dynamics that fracture Christ's body.
Cleveland's analysis tackles difficult questions about the social forces that frustrate our quest for unity. What leads people to associate with those who are similar, while distancing themselves from diverse others? What causes us to categorize other groups in distorted ways? How do social identity and self-esteem play into group perceptions of others? How do "cultural threats" lead us to approach other groups with hostility? And how do cultural influences shape beliefs and practices in limiting and divisive ways?
Cleveland does not discount substantive ideological and cultural differences or deny how hard it is to discard our various "labels." She agrees that principles and theological convictions are important. But "the trick is to wisely use our Christian friends' ideology to humble us, strengthen us, and enhance our understanding of God and the role we're called to play in his kingdom."
While I find this "trick" beneficial, it does not fit every scenario. As an evangelical theologian committed to ecumenical unity framed by grace and truth, I wish Cleveland would have helped distinguish more clearly between areas where theological reconciliation is possible and areas where it is not.
Take, for example, 1 John 4:18 ("There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear"), to which Cleveland refers briefly in her treatment of the culture wars. The epistle's emphasis on love in chapter 4 appears only after a renunciation of teachers who deny the Incarnation. While doctrinal differences can be used to humble, strengthen, and enhance our perspectives, they often convey unbridgeable boundaries. "Perfect love" insists on certain rightful boundaries between truth and falsehood. This is not because we "fear" those on the other side, but because out of love we don't want them to be deceived.
My hope, ultimately, is that Disunity in Christ will create new momentum toward fulfilling Jesus' prayer for unity amongst his followers. Those involved in building and supporting multiethnic Christian communities will be moved by Cleveland's stories, perspectives, and gracious spirit. Her book will, I hope, help us resolve generational, economic, political, and theological differences—and teach us to see that, truly, we are better off together.
Paul Louis Metzger is professor of theology at Multnomah Biblical Seminary. He is the author of Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Eerdmans) and coauthor of Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction (Brazos).
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