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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Roger Olson, "Review of Apostles of Reason by Molly Worthen," Part 2




Part II - To Evangelize the World

Amazon.com book link
In Part II Worthen continues to hit the right notes. Here is how she ends this Part and Chapter 7 “Renewing the Church Universal”:

“By the final decade of the twentieth century, commentators who insisted on drafting all American evangelicals into “red state” ranks did so only by ignoring the diversity, ambiguity, and contradiction among believers who had learned to produce so many versions of their own history that one self-described ‘evangelical’ barely resembled the next.” (173)

How true. And yet, I would add, diversity has always existed among evangelicals. Again, I return to my suggestion that historians of evangelicalism learn to distinguish between an evangelical “ethos” and evangelical movements including the neo-evangelical, postfundamentalist movement this book is mainly about. Much confusion could be avoided if people simply recognized and worked with that distinction.

What unites all evangelicals is a spiritual-theological ethos marked by five hallmarks (thanks to David Bebbington with the fifth added by me):

1) biblicism,
2) conversionism,
3) crucicentrism,
4) activism, and
5) respect for basic Christian orthodoxy.

Even each hallmark takes on a somewhat different flavor among different evangelicals.

In Part II Worthen surveys the twists and turns within the postfundamentalist, neo-evangelical movement during the second half of the twentieth century. Many of these twists and turns presented challenges to the hegemony of the (mostly) Reformed, rationalistic spiritual-intellectual habits of the movement’s founders and leaders. For example, she writes about

  • the evangelical discovery of imagination and the arts (Wheaton College’s Clyde Kilby is her main case study),
  • the neo-Pentecostal and charismatic movements and their impacts on American evangelicalism,
  • the evangelical discovery of the importance of anthropology for missions,
  • some evangelicals’ love affairs with liturgy (“bells and smells”) (including some evangelicals’ conversions to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy), and
  • evangelicals’ shaky encounters with ecumenism.

Worthen’s main point in this Part seems to be that the fragmentation of the neo-evangelical movement was inevitable as evangelicals left fundamentalist isolation behind and began to open up to the wider Christian and secular worlds. The neo-evangelical movement founded by Ockenga, et al., was primarily an intellectual-theological movement to enrich fundamentalist orthodoxy and shake off its cultic features. But an unintended consequence of this openness was defections from the fundamentalist habits of mind and heart the neo-evangelical founders and leaders kept from their fundamentalist backgrounds.

For example, the movers and shakers of neo-evangelicalism wanted (and still want) passionately to emphasize:

  • the propositional nature of revelation, verbal inspiration of the Bible and its factual inerrancy,
  • Christianity as the only coherent worldview (Weltanschauung),
  • rational apologetics (either presuppositional or evidentialist),
  • premillennial eschatology,
  • calm, reasonable, orderly evangelism and worship, and
  • a rather detailed vision of Christian orthodoxy tied to the “stout and persistent theology of Charles Hodge” (David Wells).

Unrecognized by them was the degree to which this idea of evangelical Christianity was Western, white, male, Enlightenment-based and even American (or at least Anglo-American).

Their rejection of fundamentalist isolation from culture and disdain of science and anti-intellectualism in general, however, led inexorably to a fraying of the edges of this monolithic and often totalizing evangelical narrative.

One case study of this that Worthen focuses on is the change wrought in evangelicalism by Bible colleges’ search for accreditation throughout the 1960s and 1970s. (I was in an evangelical Bible college when it went through this controversy with many conservative constituents and not a few students warning that accreditation would inevitably lead to a loss of the college’s distinctives.) Accreditation pressures eventually caused many fundamentalist-founded evangelical Bible colleges to either become liberal arts colleges (and then universities) or sink back into isolation and often oblivion. In the process of becoming liberal arts colleges and universities evangelicalism’s institutions of higher education imitated secular colleges and universities and absorbed elements that changed them and through them evangelicalism.

Neo-evangelical leaders both promoted and resisted such changes. This is, I believe, the basic paradox of American evangelicalism in the last half of the twentieth century. Its leaders craved respectability within the larger culture but at the same time resisted such respectability when it required changes in their founding vision of evangelicalism. They claimed to transcend fundamentalism in biblical interpretation (being more open to biblical criticism so long as it did not depend on naturalistic assumptions), openness to the arts and science, cultural engagement, intellectual life, etc. But as soon as any of this began to challenge neo-evangelical (often fundamentalist) sacred cows they reacted negatively in often very ferocious ways.

For example, Fuller Seminary’s shaking off of inerrancy as an evangelical essential brought about the over reaction of Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible and the ensuing battle over the Bible among evangelicals.

For example, the 1960s and 1970s “young evangelicals’” social activism brought about harsh criticism from Carl Henry and other mainline neo-evangelical leaders for allegedly flirting with socialism and reducing the gospel to ethics.

For example, the 1980s flowering of “new paradigm churches” and “signs and wonders” and “spiritual warfare” brought about knee-jerk rejection from many evangelical leaders.

For example, “church growth” movement’s emphasis on using marketing methods to create “seeker sensitive churches” and grow them into mega-churches brought about harsh criticism from many evangelical leaders.

Perhaps the example Worthen offers that hits closest to home for me is neo-evangelicals’ reaction to the Jesus People Movement. Here’s an example. It was Easter weekend, 1971. I traveled with our college’s dean to the Tri-state Youth for Christ “rally” (convention) in Evanston, Illinois. Many colleges set up booths to recruit students there. The rally was held in a large arena and was organized and led by local Youth for Christ officials and pastors of supporting evangelical churches. Among the invited musicians were Larry Norman and Crimson Bridge. Almost all the musicians were radical “Jesus Freaks.” Larry Norman sang “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” and the youthful crowd went wild. Eventually the convention turned into a Jesus People event with lots of emotional praise and worship and hands waving in the air and even some speaking in tongues. Although Keith Green was not there, the event was a precursor to his style of music and worship. (If I recall correctly Green converted after this.) On Saturday afternoon the YFC leaders tried to shut down the event because of the non-traditional style of worship that was happening. One of the Jesus Freak musicians gently pushed the YFC official (in suits and tie) aside and took the microphone saying “Jesus isn’t done here yet!” The crowd applauded and shouted approval loudly and stayed long into the night. The YFC leaders left.

I witnessed this and now, looking back on it, I realize it was a microcosm of the tension Worthen is talking about—evangelicals seeking dynamic change and adjustment to God’s moving outside the confines of neo-evangelicalism while at the same time withdrawing as soon as things began to get out of their tight control.

I can personally resonate with Worthen’s argument about this tension within the neo-evangelical movement. The college I attended sought and gained accreditation but strongly resisted academic freedom. An adjunct professor who was hired because of his graduate degree(s) in psychology was let go because he taught behavior modification as legitimate (without naturalistic assumptions). An academic dean (the one who took me to the YFC rally in Indiana) was hired because he had a graduate degree from a mainline evangelical seminary but was fired because the president, who did not, was threatened by his intellectual prowess and openness to new approaches to hermeneutics (that he learned at the mainline evangelical seminary).

Almost every movement within the evangelical movement Worthen touches on in Part II has touched my life somewhere along the way. But most importantly, Worthen’s interpretation of all these events and their impact on the neo-evangelical movement (which I have been part of for much of my life) and neo-evangelical leaders’ reactions to them (which I have felt) resonate with me experientially as well as intellectually.

So what’s the “take away” for me? Some people view me as an “evangelical doyen (the senior member, as in age, rank, or experience, of a group, class, profession, etc)” (to quote one critic). I don’t see myself that way, but I guess I have some influence among evangelicals. I do not want to make the same mistakes the neo-evangelical movement’s founders and movers and shakers made in the face of loss of control of the movement as younger, differently thinking evangelicals came up through the ranks and challenged their hegemony.


continue to:

My response to Neo-Evangelicalism -

The Oracles of Postmodern Theology Must Reinterpret Scripture


or


continue to Part 3 of this series -

Roger Olson, "Review of Worthen's Apostles of Reason," Part 3





Brueggemann: The OT Law Pertaining to the Year of Release - The Forgiveness of All Debts

The Most Important Command in the Old Testament isn’t what you think
In Deuteronomy 15, you get a law about seven years. It’s called the Year of Release. It says that at the end of seven years, if a poor person owes you money, cancel the debt.
Uh, what? That’s the most important? A law about releasing debts? What about the Shema? The 10 Commandments? Whatever. If you break this seven-year-release law, the United Methodist Church won’t even put you on trial.
 
So c’mon, how on earth is this the most important commandment? Brueggemann continues:
I’ll give you a little Hebrew grammar–I know you’ve been waiting for this. Biblical Hebrew has no adverbs. The way it expresses the intensity of the verb, it repeats the verb. So if it says give and you want to say “really give” it says “give give” right in the sentence–”give give.” 
This law about the Year of Release there are five absolute infinitives that you can’t spot in English. There are more intense verbs in this law than anywhere else in the Old Testament. This is Moses saying I mean this
[The law] says to not be hard-hearted (or tight fisted) about granting poor people space to live their lives, because you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord God brought you out into the good place.
So grammatically, the Old Testament scripture with the most emphasis as in “you must must must must must do this” is a passage about forgiving debts.
 
Fascinating.
 
 
=====
 
Is it the greatest command? Clearly not, I completely agree with Jesus on this point.
 
But the command in the Bible that warrants the most emphasis, the most literary focus, the crescendo that storytellers and givers of oral tradition gave the biggest exhortation to…is a little passage about releasing debts in the seventh year.
 
To Brueggemann, this emphasis means that for a society composed of God’s people that there should not be a permanent underclass but the economy should be organized so that everyone has a viable chance. So that every seven years, there’s a chance for the people to get a leg up and have past errors forgiven. It’s the original social safety net, and it’s more painful to the rich than any progressive tax code in American history.
 
To me, it means that we follow a God who knows our sins, who knows our hard-heartedness, who knows our short memory, who knows that we bully those most like us, who knows that the mighty will always try to hide injustice behind fairness.
 
And we are always called to live a life that follows God’s pattern: to strive for six days a week, and relax on the seventh. To build up for six years, and release it to be whatever it ought to be on the seventh. And to trust that our plans, our schemes, and our dreams should always be planned with space for God to work among us in that chaotic, uncontrollable seventh day, year, or moment…because that’s how a life centered on God just is.
 
Do you? Thoughts?
 
 
 

How to Read Torah in Light of Paul's NT Reading

To Comprehend Paul, Read This
 
by Scot McKnight
December 12, 2013
 
I have long thought Paul’s thought needs to be seen at work in particular passages and that his whole theology comes to expression all at once — dense, to be sure, but all there. One such passage is Galatians 2:15-21, which I quote here so you can see how Tom Wright explains it in his Paul and the Faithfulness of God. In his explanation below, there are plenty of points to observe but some of this will be controversial for some.
 
If you want to hear the “new” perspective in one simple post, this is it. (Question: How does the old perspective read this passage? Hint: personal anthropology is at the forefront, not Jewish history.)
If I were going to pick one passage to make my present point about the Torah, it might well be Galatians 2.15-21. This is all about redefinition, the radical redefinition that can only be captured in the dramatic picture of someone dying and coming up a new person: 
"(19)Through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. (20) I have been crucified with the Messiah. I am, however, alive – but it isn’t me any longer, it’s the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I do still live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2.19-20)
Here’s a very important point for the old perspective and one that illustrates the new perspective — the “I” here is not human experience but Paul’s own theology in autobiographical terms:
Paul is not here recounting his own ‘religious experience’ for the sake of it. He is telling the story of what has happened to Israel, the elect people of God – and he is using the rhetorical form of quasi-autobiography, because he will not tell this story in the third person, as though it were someone else’s story, as though he could look on from a distance (or from a height!) and merely describe it with a detached objectivity. It matters of course that this was indeed his own story. No doubt the experience Paul had on the Damascus Road and in the few days immediately afterwards may well have felt as though he was dying and being reborn. But what we have here is not the transcript of ‘experience’, as though he was appealing to that (curiously modern) category for some kind of validation. Peter had ‘this [reborn] experience’ as well; so did Barnabas; so, not least, did James and the people who had come from him in Jerusalem. So, of course, did the Galatians. By itself, ‘experience’ proves nothing. ‘Yes, Paul’, they could have said; ‘That’s what happened to you, but for us it was different.’ No: what mattered, for Paul, was the Messiah, and the meaning of his death and resurrection in relation to the category of the elect people of God (852-853).
What’s the issue, then?
The issue at stake in Antioch consisted, quite simply, in the question: were Jewish Messiah-believers allowed to sit and eat at the same table as non-Jewish Messiah-believers? (230) Paul’s reconstruction of what happened goes in four stages. 
First, the church in Antioch had been used to eating all together. They had made no distinction among Messiah-believers on the basis of their ethnic origin. We may assume, from the sequel, that this was a fairly radical move for Jews who had previously held to some form of the taboo which required them to eat separately from Gentiles. (231)
Second, Peter comes to Antioch and is happy to join in with the practice that has thus become established. Paul appears to regard this as in line with their earlier agreement. 
Third, ‘certain people come from James’, in other words, from Jerusalem. Paul is careful not to say ‘James sent certain people’, leaving open the question of whether they represented James’s actual views. When they arrive, Peter changes his policy – whether because of something they say, or simply because Peter knows what they may think, or imagines what James might well say – and ‘separates himself, being afraid of the circumcision people’ (Gal 2.12). 
Fourth, the rest of the Judaeans present (except Paul himself, we under- stand!), go along with Peter: Paul’s word for this is ‘co-hypocrites’, fellow play-actors (Gal 2.13). A note of sorrow enters: ‘even Barnabas’, who had shared Paul’s early missionary work and (according to Acts) had been of great help to him at a difficult time, went along with Peter and the others (854). 
It is important to be fully clear on what the issues were. This was not a matter, as some have absurdly suggested, of people ‘learning table manners’. (233) The question was as central as anything could be: is the community of Messiah-believers one body or two? Which is the more important division: that between Jews and non-Jews (because Messiah-believing Jews would still be able to eat with non-Messiah-believing Jews), or that between those who believed and those who did not? Was Messiah-faith simply a sub-set of Judaism, leaving the basic structure untouched, or did it change everything? (854-855)
And now this means “justification” is redefined — notice this:
Paul would be up for the quarrel. He knew the moves. The opening statement says it all: 
(15) We are Jews by birth, not ‘gentile sinners’. (16) But we know that a person is not declared ‘righteous’ by works of the Jewish law, but through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. 
At a stroke, Paul has told us what it means to be ‘declared righteous’. It means to have God himself acknowledge that you are a member of ‘Israel’, a ‘Jew’, one of the ‘covenant family’: the ‘righteous’ in that sense. Yes, ‘righteous’ means all sorts of other things as well. But unless it means at least that, and centrally, then verse 16 is a massive non sequitur. ‘We are Jews by birth, not “gentile sinners”’; to say that, in the setting of a dispute about who you can eat with, and in the context of a statement about people ‘living as Jews’ and ‘living as Gentiles’ where what they have been doing is eating together (or not), leaves no elbow room for the phrase ‘declared righteous’ to mean anything else at its primary level. The whole sentence, in its context, indicates that the question about two ways of ‘being declared righteous’ must be a question about which community, which table-fellowship, you belong to. Do you, along with your allegiance to Jesus as Messiah, belong to a table-fellowship that is based on the Jewish Torah? If you do, says Paul, you are forgetting your basic identity. What matters is not now Torah, but Messiah. Justification is all about being declared to be a member of God’s people; and this people is defined in relation to the Messiah himself (856).
I predict this next paragraph could be contentious for some, perhaps many:
Paul’s overall point, throughout Galatians 3 and 4 is narratival, as we saw in chapter 6. Once you understand how the story works, the great covenant story from Abraham to the Messiah, you can see (a) that the Torah was a necessary, God-given thing, with its own proper role within that story, and (b) that the God-given role of Torah has now come to a proper and honourable end – not that there was anything ‘wrong’ with it, but that it was never designed to be permanent. The latter is what Paul specially needs to stress, but the former point is vital (despite the long and loud chorus of dualistic readers) to avoid any slide towards Marcionism [(a Gnostic ascetic sect that flourished from the 2nd to 7th century a.d. and that rejected the Old Testament and denied the incarnation of God in Christ)]. Granted (b), any attempt to go back to Torah would be an attempt to turn back the divine clock, to sneak back to an earlier act in the play – and thereby to deny that the Messiah had come, that he had completed the divine purpose, that in him the Abrahamic promises had now been fulfilled. It is the same choice that faced Peter: either belong to the redefined elect family, the people of Abraham, or rebuild the walls of Torah around an essentially Jewish ethnic family – which would imply that the Messiah would not have needed to die (2.21) (862).


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