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
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Broader History of Evangelicalism and Christian Orthodoxy


Russian Orthodox Dispute on the Confession of Faith, by Nikita Pustosviat

Too often I have felt the personal conflict of having to "chose sides" between the various branches of faith within my older days of denominational Christianity. As the chart below will show - and Dr. Olson, goes on to describe - these choices become further limited by our personal flexibility within the ecclesiastical arrangement of our doctrinal preferences, and by our participation or membership within a church, association, synod or denomination. For myself, I grew up Baptist. However, my Baptist heritage was planted strongly within the Reformed tradition making me preference that arrangement. But within that Reformed tradition my church did appreciate the strengths of Arminianism while also attempting to reconcile the TULIP doctrines of Calvinism (which for me was always schizophrenic at best). Hence my baptist church balanced between both strong views even as each were very separate in theological perspective from the other. One sees God as a God of love. The other as a God of judgment. One sees God's grace as elect for all to receive. While the other sees it effectually limited by divine election. One favors a free will creation as predestined by God. The other sees that free will as a fundamental divide that is plague-and-curse rather than divine blessing-and-gift.

One Baptist pastor once described this arrangement between the two doctrinal divides simplistically as "A Calvinist on our knees and Arminian by our witness." It was a statement based upon a hybrid of doctrinal ideas from two different church traditions that once were one before the Canons of Dort split them apart long eons ago. But this was also a statement that was conflicted in its observations and not at all as helpful as I once had thought when looking back on it. But because my dad was raised Baptist, our family was subsequently raised Baptist (and more specifically, a GARB Baptist, as a member constituent within the General Association of Regular Baptist churches). Consequently, we identified with the more conservative elements of Fundamental Baptists within the larger Evangelical tradition - a tradition that had begun several hundred years earlier though I little realized this historical fact until much later in life. What I did know was that Christian Fundamentalism was a religious reaction to early 20th Century scientism and secular modernism. And yes, I was a fundamentalist through my early adult years before becoming an evangelical one once leaving my Baptist church for a nondenominational bible church at university. And then later attending a formerly fundamental bible college that was transitioning, like myself, back towards the broader embraces of evangelicalism.

But it was a personal move that began in my university years and did not complete itself until I was married ten or twelve years later. Those were also years of great personal change and upheaval. And yet, even then, within those newer assemblies of faith, I still had the burden of processing my fundamentalist background against the evangelical predilections of my newer brothers and sisters who I thought too liberal in life and doctrine. Even so, I would later learn that fundamentalism was birthed out of the evangelical movement - and not the other way around - across the many branches of denominational churches during the Billy Sunday era of the early 1900s. While under the Billy Graham crusades of the 1960s-70s evangelicalism began to arise again. (A perceptive historian will note that each movement was birthed out of social disorder - the industrial age and depression for one; the civil unrest birthed by inequality of civil liberties and the Vietnam War for the other. Not unlike my own disorders that I was experiencing.) How curious, I thought, to have to re-learn things I thought I knew, and was so familiar with, and yet, I had the history of the event backwards!

Generally, evangelicalism tries to center itself around Jesus whereas fundamentalism will add some further do's and don'ts into the Christian life to help "sanctify" it a bit more (skirt lengths below the knees, no drinking, dancing, swearing, or going to movies with girls that do, etc). But even more curiously, the more conservative elements within today's evangelical churches are themselves moving back towards a hybridized mix of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. We would call this resulting movement a neo-evangelical movement into fundamentalism (neo = new). A movement that would reduce the breadth of evangelicalism to a stricter set of dogmatic particulars. Whereas historical evangelicalism once had spanned all Reformed denominations to even include non-Reformed church groups like Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Anabaptists, and Pentecostals. But always with Jesus at the center and church dogmas on the peripheries.

Even so, evangelicalism began to preference Reformed dogma, and more especially, Calvinistic dogma, as its congregants have been taught to fight scientism with skepticism. To refuse any adjustments to its closed hermeneutics of inerrancy. To pretext every context, and context every pretext. To lift up, and re-define, Calvinistic ideas of predestination and election into more excluding dogmas. And to generally exclude a lot of people different from itself (the cynic in me would also add the church's cultural alignment with "white, middle class values"). Thus the importance of Austin Fischer's book on neo-evangelicalism from a provocative Arminian perspective.... He calls this movement "the young, restless, and reformed" as lead by popular pulpiteers such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, and popular religious mediums like Christianity Today, the 700 Club, and so forth.

On the other side of the ledge was my mother's faith. She was raised in Lutheranism. Her mom and dad were from the old country of Sweden and they too were deeply aligned with Old School Lutheranism (with a flair of the Swedish culture added in for good measure). During my summers as a child, mom would take us to Trinity Lutheran Church were we would be catechised for several summers into the Lutheran doctrines of Christ. However, I was young and could not appreciate the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed doctrines and fellowships except to hear mom say from time-to-time that she could actually understand the words we sung out of the hymnal at our Baptist church. And having attended a Baptist church on a regular basis I could only see the larger cultural differences between "us" and our Dutch Christian Reformer  neighbors down the street - for we had no nearby Lutheran neighbors unless my mom's relatives were included. Little did I know that both the Reformed tradition and Christian Reformed tradition were so large and well represented in our "religious" city. Both had schools, colleges, seminaries, publishing houses, media centers, and national synods in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

My only knowledge was that on Sundays, being the Lord's day, we were not allowed to hunt, shoot guns (skeet and target practice), play basketball up at the tractor barns, use the snowmobile much, or go out to eat at area restaurants. Why? Because our Christian Reformed neighbors who lived a country mile away wouldn't like that. Whereas our Christian Reformed brethren did go out to eat on Sundays so that eventually we would do the same somewhere in my early high school years. More generally, we would come home from church and dad would go kill a chicken, boil and pluck it - as a small child this was traumatic to watch  as dad lop off the head with a hatchet and set the chicken running around the yard blood-and-all until its body collapsed. Then go about the business of boiling its body and plucking off the feathers before turning it over to mom who would make a great, home-made, chicken dinner complete with dumplings and gravy. Or, sometimes we would have squirrel or rabbit. But my favorite were the pheasant meals we had shot from the day before.

Now if your head is spinning like mine about all this religious doctrine stuff - and still is - well, no matter, you're in good company. A simple reading of church history from Dr. Olson's thick church history tomes will rectify all (there may be other volumes but here's several that come to mind):


    

Amazon link here

But today's article is not meant to clear these religious matters up. More actually I thought it would give to us a closer inspection of the fine differences between the Christian branches of the church from the perspective of a well-versed historical theologian. Afterwards a brief outline of Dr. Olson's descriptions should visualize the distinctions he's observing. And then we'll add one more article about neo-Calvinism's religious penchant for the fundamental ethos.

More generally, you will notice here at Relevancy22 that I have mostly reacted to Calvinism's TULIP doctrine by repeatedly describing how an Arminian (not, Armenian! which is an ethnic branch of the Eastern Orthodox Church) reading of the Bible (re free will and divine Sovereignty) quite nicely dovetails into the broader theological categories of open theism, relational theism, and process theism. I like the concept of divine free will as it struggles with our own human free will and what that means for our relationship with God, each other, and creation. Even as it brings divine hope and grace into all areas of life (and death) as it was meant to be in a proper view of predestination and election (and not the excluding view of Calvinism). I also like its emphasis upon living life rather than waiting for death to come. To appreciate this life than to deprecate it as some unholy thing. To live and use it fully and not casually or inconsiderately. To see this life as meaningful, and meaningfully wrought at the hand of God.

I am also struggling to find an acceptably broad hermeneutic (or anthropologic) to release me from my past conforming Reformed background. Hence, we have been looking into various philosophical strategies that may help from our European brethren of Lutheran and Catholic faith in France and Europe. This generally would be a form of German idealism as espoused by Kant, Kierkegaard, Hegel, and so forth, that have grown into the schools of Continental Philosophy to be recaptured by the theologian Karl Barth in his systematic tomes - which is why Barth seems to read and reflect on theology so differently than we do here in America. Opposite to Continental Philosophy is its opposing twin of Analytic Philosophy that subtends more to the Western mindset of logic and the scientific method. The first thinks about the existential and phenomenological relationships between God and man, and man to man,  and all to creation, while the second attempts to align human language and categorical thought with a mathematical precision irrespective of syllogistic import or linguistic ambiguity. Thus, Analytic Philosophy would appeal more to my Reformed background steeped in  its own systematic forms of exegetical statements about God and interpretive eisegesis of those statements into church life and practice. Whereas Continental Philosophy works better within the the newer biblical hermeneutics exploring an anthropologic-narrative theology of the bible which seemingly bridges the orthodox gaps with our sisters and brothers in the Lutheran, Anglican, and Roman Catholic faiths. Hence, one of the separators of the church is our regional philosophical differences. How we see and understand life (and perhaps try to force it upon others) to then describe it theologically into our church's life and creeds.

Recovering the Reformed Confession

The other thing we have concentrated on at this website is to describe a postmodern Christianity that is fast becoming post-evangelical and no longer either fundamental or evangelical. My more recent older term for this movement was Emergent (or Emerging) Christianity. But whether it is I who has moved more recently, or my sense of the movement's diminishment (some six months to a year ago by my count), I have taken all the good things from Emergent Christianity and am now purposely re-applying them towards a broader definition of progressive evangelicalism. Or, in my case, a post-evangelical Christian orthodoxy, with all the richness of its variegated Christian past. A past that we each must understand in order to appreciate its differences, while moving forward into a postmodern definition of Christian orthodoxy. One that might result irrespective of the many doctrinal-creedal confessions, councils, and synods across Eastern Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, denominational Protestantism, the Anabaptist or Pentecostal faiths, so that we might arrive at an orthodoxy that is broadly evangelical  and allowing for a unification of the church together with itself at its spiritual roots.

The aim and goal of a postmodern, post-evangelic orthodoxy then is to center all doctrines and dogmas, practices and traditions, in-and-around Jesus, as the Lord of our faith, and Saviour of man. Which means that restrictive doctrinal barriers and boundaries that would reduce the centeredness of that Christian faith to some other area must be recognized so that it can be re-circumscribed around Jesus, rather than the other way around. We don't wish to fit God around us, but ourselves around God. Which means a lot of stuff has to be unlearned before we can begin to re-learn a Jesus-centrism. Now an instance of this deconstructive-reconstructive effort for the evangelical Reformed faith was to reassert the Gospels of Jesus over the more popular doctrines of Paul. But, from the pen of N.T. Wright and the rise of the New Perspective of Paul movement (NPP), even that is being readily remedied so that doctrinal centrism around Paul is being properly replaced by doctrinal centrism around Jesus. This effort does also delight those Christians predisposed towards a Jewish informed Christian faith (even as it does myself), but should also temper their enthusiasms to not elicit a kind of Christian proselytism. Meaning that we are not Jewish Christians (unless by ethnicity and heritage) but Messianic Christians first and primarily. That one little distinction - Messianic - makes all the difference does it not? It sets the tone and tempo around Jesus.

Now what this means is that local church doctrines which have innocently excluded people from equality within their congregations (such as women in leadership, or inclusion of gays, or non-whites, or divorcees, into active membership, etc and etc) must expand restrictive polities and ministerial practices to be more inclusive - and less exclusive - to people. Which is a good thing. But a thing that takes lots and lots of time as congregants learn to accept the changes to their previously traditional church without thinking that its headed towards liberalism but a liberality within the body of Christ. Liberality carries a far different meaning than the word liberalism and must be the kind of distinction that can be appreciated for its distinctiveness and not feared for its wont-and-will in order for the church to move past sedentary religious folklores and undoctrinal church traditions.

But for a deeply ingrained former Calvinist like myself these doctrinal distinctions will take some time to re-envisage and apply (thus this blogsite here as we work it out together). But at its heart is the older Reformed (and orthodox) idea that Jesus is the midpoint of both salfivic history even as He is the midpoint of our lives. A place where all changes because Jesus is now there - from a life lived without Jesus as Lord and Savior to a life lived with Jesus as Lord and Savior. In all things. In all doctrines. In all practices. And so, this task may not be as hard as supposed if done with a willfulness of purpose that is willing to reconstruct Calvinism (or neo-evangelicalism) to its proper subservience to its Lord. For myself, reclaiming my Baptist Arminian heritage was the answer. It was also important for me to re-work learned dogmas and doctrines towards a fuller embrace of God's grace and love. To allow that simple concept to change all my past views of Reformed church doctrine. For others it may be something else. But let it begin, and begin now, towards Christ in all things.

Peace, my sisters and brothers, in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.

R.E. Slater
April 4, 2014
updated April 6, 2014


David Crowder - O Praise Him
Passion 2013) [HD & Lyrics]



Psalm of Thanksgiving

Turn your ear
To heaven and hear
The noise inside
The sound of angels’ awe
The sound of angels’ songs
And all this for a King
We could join and sing
All to Christ the King!

How constant, how divine
This song of ours will rise
O, how constant, how divine
This love of ours will rise
Will rise!

O praise Him!
O praise Him!
He is Holy!
He is Holy!

Turn your gaze
To heaven and raise
A joyous noise
The sound of salvation come
The sound of rescued ones
And all this for a King
Angels join to sing
All for Christ our King!

How infinite and sweet
This love so rescuing
O, how infinitely sweet
This great love that has redeemed
As one we sing!

Alleluia!
Alleluia!
He is Holy!
He is Holy!


For a larger picture click here


Is Arminianism “Reformed?”

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