According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, 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
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Journey Out of Inerrancy to a Broader Hermeneutic


Seeing the Son in a new Light

Relevancy22 was purposely created three years ago to debate the idea of Calvinism as the most sufficient explanation of God's free-willed universe. It does also debate the idea of inerrantism as the most proper foundation for biblical study. The following paragraphs will be hard to read - especially as it was for this author here when coming from his own inerrantist-informed Christian faith. However, as hard as it is to read these following paragraphs it must be said with as much grace and candor for those, like myself, who find themselves driven to discover a greater enlightenment of God's Word and divine will than the one provided by this line of biblical interpretation.

As such, an inerrant theology, or a hermeneutic of inerrantism, is a type of theology that occurs upon  an "inerrant" foundation where the Bible is literally read and believed. One subjected to ideas and beliefs about God, sin, man, and the bible, that are already pre-formed and classically bound, but are not coherent with contemporary science nor philosophy except to debate, criticise, and ostracize.


Weathering storms of uncertainty

Moreover, the term "intellectual" when used of the inerrant position has become a specious term used only by inerrantists of their own internally driven scholarship. More rather, the term "intellectual" outside of these conservatively dominated circles connotates the idea of a "religiously pre-informed church body" that has established its own hermeneutical rules (that is, rules of "knowing and epistemology") by conservative religious standards, preference, and prejudice. Rules based upon a set of closed systems, a closed bible, and a closed constituency unopen to contemporary theological construction. This has been spoken of in the sectional sidebar entitled "An Open Faith and Open Theology." I have also written a similar article earlier this month entitled, "The Problem of Faith and Religion in Christianity," and another a year ago entitled, "Voices of Dissent - Unfolding God's Love Within the Heart and Conscience of Humanity."

Accordingly, an inerrant study of past church history and theology, such as is done using "biblical word study" methods, or in a compendium study of systematic theology, will be arranged to support an inerrantist foundation with in-vogue subject matters. Appeal to the "outside world" of science, archaeology, church history, etc, is selective, uses nuanced circular reasoning, and is driven by systematic logicism, dogma, church folklores, and traditions. (And yes, all this has been discussed ad naseum in the past to help give  definition to what is meant by being Christianly orthodox without being inerrantly orthodox.)


Sailing the tradewinds of God's grace

As such, the inerrantist worldview construction is difficult to break from and usually cannot be accomplished by mere insiders alone. And when doing so, those wishing to break free may feel as if their God has become "unreal," while at the same time causing all church doctrine-and-theology to become similarly "untrue" as they each strained against their inerrant moorings. At once, great doubt and skepticism can arise to personally destabilize (or scandalize) the erstwhile believer burdened to move beyond time-honored Sunday School lessons and sincere biblical rhetoric by pastor or prof, family or friend, teacher or synod. This was mine own experience and it required the persistent presence of the Holy Spirit to get past so many of these fundamental barriers that had theologically-tethered my soul to its hard-fastened reef. Like a ship at anchor in safe harbor I did not expect to depart from my conditioned past to the siren shores of an unknown land. Nor to navigate across unfamiliar sea lanes on my own without a proper captain and provisions. Or to weather the storms of  fear and uncertainty so loathsome to my Christian faith but so necessary to its renewal. Especially because I would then become my own navigator which is never a very good idea to start an exploration upon when facing wreck, ruin, and foreordained apostasy.

However, the Lord continued to burden me without respite or relief. Who caused me to set sail and explore the oft neglected (or is it oft forgotten?), but very orthodox church doctrine, of Arminianism (think, basic Wesleyanism)... which is the polar opposite to the Calvinism I grew up within (note: Jacob Arminius was a contemporary of John Calvin). At once, when prayerfully coming across this doctrine, I could feel the inner release of the epistemological anchors that cabled mind-and-soul straining to break free of their more comfortable shore-bound moorings. And then, with the unlooked for help of science and process theology, the all-knowing (and much revered) philosophical notion of inerrantism had begun to be released from within to put me underway through newly discovered non-inerrantist philosophies (I will tell of these in a moment). One of the first was the approach of continental philosophy that proved most helpful in providing the foundational elements necessary for a theology known as process-relational thought. A philosophy that was opposed to the analytic thought that I grew up with in my Reformed tradition (think formulaic creeds and confessions). One that stressed existential thought and questioned all personal, social, and institutional motives, values, and beliefs. Even those of the authors of the sacred biblical text and leaders of the church.

But there were other epistemological drivers that helped to continue my journey across the turbulent seas of doubt and fear. One was the idea of  postmodernism that helped to "deconstruct" 19th century church enlightenment while providing a much needed antipathy for 20th century secular modernism which gripped my evangelical past. Though this idea of postmodernism had been much maligned within my fellowship for the past decade or two, I found the elements within postmodernism especially helpful in breaking free of the dogmatic certainty an inerrantist would feel to his or her's unquestioning (dogmatic) beliefs. Specifically, it helped to externalize my personal sense of self-awareness, group-awareness, and basic belief structures. And when once done, could re-position all within a post-modern, post-structural, post-foundational, framework. This was not an insignificant task especially as each area relates to specific personal beliefs and descriptors of one's confidences, assurances, values, and philosophies.


Discovering new Streams of Living Water

To these many areas I next approached the subject of God and man relationally through God's love as a theologically sufficient basis in which to throw off the last mooring lines of inerrantism. The idea of an open future (rather than a closed future of wrath and judgement) as a sufficient eschatological teleology found its home in open theism (while not denying the former, but simply altering its emphasis upon all of theology). And all the while I labored to constructively criticise inerrantism's self-contained system by  pointing out its basic weaknesses and deficiencies that would hold its faithful participants back by fear and uncertainty, divine wrath and condemnation, self-doubt and distrust, including a withering sense of personal retribution to any who may hold to a wider, broader, more relative world of post-foundational theology.

Hence, my seafaring journey over these past three years has been done sympathetically in knowledge of other similarly burdened wayfarers struggling with their own personal inerrantist positions. Who, perhaps, may not knowing which sea lanes to navigate upon to break free of its chaining bonds, nor may be able to find a more adequate sense of self-release (or personal respite) against past theological positions. Thus it is that I write of mine own discoveries by journaling of its theologic progress. In place of a inerrantist hermeneutic I now hold both an anthropologic - and relational - hermeneutic. One that must be Jesus-centered in all things. The one uses existential thought to interpret both the Bible and the would-be interpreters of the Bible of any era or time period. While the other focuses on God's grace and love as the primary passion and reason for His divine relationship with creation (remember the slogan, "Love Wins!?" Eh, verily!). It took many years to accomplish this task with any kind of sufficient theological argument or authentic biblical support against the austere religious background I was immersed in. And was done with great personal difficulty and struggle as core centers and foundations moved. But at the last, when the torrent broke I found myself writing feverishly (not perfectly, nor with full knowledge) by "journaling" of my steady progress out of the lands of conservative fundamentalism and evangelicalism, unto the broader planes of freedom's lands which held more promising - and theologically relevant - Jesus-centeredness. Jesus missional witness. And, Jesus-based pathos and service. One that was not centered upon its own theologies but upon a theology that could appropriately question itself as to its motives, values, and basic social drivers. For a theology that cannot question itself is a theology not worth knowing.

It was if my Pauline-driven doctrines had to be completely reset and re-orientated around Jesus and not simply God's Word (curious as that may sound!). And when once done, would find their Lord and Savior in greater proportion to the Pauline theology I had learned to apply and believe. Not one orientated around the church, but very God Himself. Not one orientated around man's preferences, but around the dissettling missional witness and pathos of Jesus. Nor one centered around my own enculturated values, but one having a shared sense of appreciation for other social values and mores beyond mine own culture. And it was wonderful. For there were the new lands of discovery thriving with freedom, living, and joy. Which were full of new hope and bright promise. For myself, this surprised discovery made under so difficult a process helped soften the blow I had experienced for so many long years by my inerrantist position - especially my previously tightened construction of the world. It opened everything up and I was glad to do it with great thanksgiving and praise to the Lord, our Saviour and Redeemer. Thus Relevancy22 was born as an online resource and reference site to help move similarly estranged wayfarers from a world of inerrant evangelicalism to a post-evangelical view of God, man, and the world, with an openness to our future and missional responsibility. One that might be known as post-Reformed (or postmodern) orthodoxy but not neo-Calvinistic nor neo-Reformed (see the next article below for further explanation). One that hearkens to the age-old rhythms of the Reformation itself that deeply understood the pathos of the church to be always reforming: "Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda" ("the church reformed and always reforming"). Amen!

Peace,

R.E. Slater
May 22, 2014
updated May 27, 2014


"Yes, Virginia, newer is better."




Continue to -






* * * * * * * * * *



John Calvin

The Troubling Trends in America's 'Calvinist Revival'
http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/05/20/troubling-trends-americas-calvinist-revival/

by Jonathan Merrit
[select additional comments by R.E. Slater]

May 20, 2014

When Mark Oppenheimer declared that “evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival” in The New York Times earlier this year, he was only partially correct.

According to a 2010 Barna poll, roughly three out of 10 Protestant leaders describe their church as “Calvinist or Reformed,” a proportion statistically unchanged from a decade earlier. According to the research group, “there is no discernible evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over the last decade.”

And yet, Oppenheimer is correct that something is stirring among American Calvinists (those who adhere to a theological system centering on human sinfulness and God’s sovereignty that stems from 16th century reformer John Calvin). While Calvinist Protestants—including Presbyterians, some Baptists, and the Dutch Reformed—have been a part of the American religious fabric since the beginning, Oppenheimer points to a more vocal and visible strain that has risen to prominence in recent years.

They’ve been called the “young, restless, and reformed” or neo-Calvinists, and they are highly mobilized and increasingly influential. Their books perform well in the marketplace (see John Piper or Paul David Tripp), their leaders pepper the lists of the most popular Christian bloggers (see The Gospel Coalition and Resurgence), and they’ve created vibrant training grounds for raising new recruits (see Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).

This brand of Calvinists are a force with which to reckon. But as with any movement, America’s Calvinist revival is a mixed bag. None can deny that many have come to faith as a result of these churches and leaders. The movement is rigorously theological* [think, inerrant theology, or a hermenuetic of inerrantism here - res] which is surely one of its greatest contributions. Just as Quakers teach us much about silence, Mennonites teach us much about peace, and Anglicans teach us much about liturgy, so Calvinists spur us on with their intellectual rigor* [as debated at this website here, "intellectual" has become a specious term used only by inerrantists of their own scholarship - res]. And yet, from where I sit, there are several troubling trends that must be addressed if this faithful faction hopes to move from a niche Christian cadre to a sustainable and more mainstream movement. (*See my opening comments above - res)

ISOLATIONISM

One of the markers of the neo-Calvinist movement is isolationism. My Reformed friends consume Calvinist blogs and Calvinist books, attend Calvinist conferences, and join Calvinist churches with Calvinist preachers. They rarely learn from, or engage, with those outside their tradition. (My feeling is that this trend is less prevalent among leaders than the average followers.)

The most sustainable religious movements, however, are those which are willing to ask hard, full-blooded questions while interacting with more than caricatures of other traditions. When neo-Calvinists insulate and isolate, they hyper-focus on those doctrines their tradition emphasizes and relegate other aspects to the status of afterthought. The Christian faith is meant to be lived and not merely intellectually appropriated. This requires mingling with others who follow Jesus, are rooted in Scripture, and are working toward a restored creation.

Gregory Alan Thornbury is a Calvinist Christian and president
of The King’s College in New York City. He encourages his
students to “read promiscuously.”
– Photo credit: New Southern Photography
Gregory Thornbury, a Calvinist and president of The King’s College in New York City, told me, “I think the ‘young, restless, and reformed” are different than the Dutch stream in that they tend to stay with authors and leaders that they know. It does run the risk of being provincial, but I don’t think it is intentional. There are universes where people stay, and they read the things they know.” [I tend to agree with this observation. I came from this same tradition and it takes some doing to read "outside" of one's comfort zone. - res]

To guard against this, Thornbury says he encourages King’s College’s students to be “intellectually gregarious” and to “read promiscuously.”

“People need to read outside of the tradition,” Thornbury says. “We say we want to have contact with people outside of our culture, but we ghettoize so easily.”

His words remind me of Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, who speaks of “thin” and “thick” expressions of religion:

“[Thin religion is] religiosity reduced to a single symbolic gesture. And once you reduce religion to that . . . you can project everything that you want onto that . . . [Thin religion] isn’t textured. It doesn’t have depth. It doesn’t have relief. It doesn’t rely on a long history of that religion with all the varieties of reflections that have gone on in the religion.”

Co-inhabitation with other Christians guards a movement against “thin” expressions of religion.

TRIBALISM

Another troubling trend I see in the movement is tribalism. This is the kinship tendency within a group to protect insiders while combating outsiders.

Several prominent Calvinists, for example, declined the opportunity to comment on this story due to fear that their words might be used to disparage the movement. Said one well-known leader via email, “I don’t want to be a brick in a wall that’s used against the tradition/movement I identify with.”

To be sure, neo-calvinists don’t shy away from controversy and aren’t reticent to critique those outside of the movement. (One might refer to some Calvinist’s blistering responses to Donald Miller’s announcement that he doesn’t attend church.) Yet these same leaders are often resistant, delayed, and then tempered with their critiques of other Calvinists who seem to stray.

An illuminating example of this might be the recent glut of Mark Driscoll controversies—from sexist comments to charges of plagiarism to proof that he bought his way onto the New York Times bestsellers list using ministry monies. Leaders in the movement were effectively mum until a select few broke the silence of late. The first accusations of Driscoll plagiarizing were revealed on November 21st, but the first truly critical response posted by neo-Calvinist mega-blog, The Gospel Coalition, trickles out on December 18th. One might compare this with the response to Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” that was in full bloom before the YouTube trailer finished buffering.

Even those who were brave enough to critique Driscoll were mostly moderate. And several Calvinists told me off-the-record that many who offered full-throated criticisms of Driscoll—like Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary—have been relegated to the margins as a result.

Tullian Tchividjian is pastor and blogger at The Gospel Coalition who has been challenging neo-Calvinists from within the ranks. He announced just this morning that what he calls “the powers that be” were forcing him to take his blog elsewhere. The decision was less than ideal, he said, and is a result of having “some differences with some of the other contributors.” Tchividjian said the decision was “probably over due” since “the messaging of The Gospel Coalition has morphed over the last seven years.”

Tim Keller is a leading Calvinist pastor
and New York Times bestselling author.
We might also make mention of Tim Keller, a paragon among neo-Calvinists if there ever was one. Keller is a part of Francis Collins’ Biologos and a theistic evolutionist. He holds many of the same views that triggered the forced resignation of Old Testament professor Bruce Waltke from Reformed Theological Seminary. Another Calvinist leader, Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler, has called theistic evolution “a biblical and theological disaster” and said that Biologos leaders were “throwing the Bible under the bus” with “ridiculous” logic.

Because Tim Keller has become something of a prize hen for Calvinists—New York Magazine called him “the most successful Christian evangelist in the city”—you won’t likely hear other neo-Calvinists mention Keller’s views. Tribalists attempt to “clean house” when it comes to outsiders but “sweep under the rug” when it comes to insiders.

As Roger Olson, Baylor University professor and author of “Against Calvinism“, told me, “[Neo-Calvinist's are] a tribe, and they’ve closed ranks. Somehow they’ve formed a mentality that they have to support each other because they are a minority on a crusade. Any criticism hurts the cause. I’ve seen the same thing among feminists and black theologians.”

Olson says that when he speaks to Calvinist leaders, they will often critique the movement and its other leaders in private, but never in public. My experience has been identical.

“There is a fundamentalist ethos in [neo-Calvinism],” Olson says. “You get pats on the back and merits for criticizing outsiders, but not for criticizing insiders. There is a system where if you are young coming up in the ranks, you get points for criticizing or exposing those outside the movement but it’s not your place to criticize those who are above you in the movement itself.”

This tendency is more curious given that neo-Calvinists claim to be rooted in the ancient rallying cry, “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” or “The church is always to be reformed.” You can’t maintain a constant state of reformation when you refuse to self-reflect, when you preserve for preservation’s sake, [when] your modus operandi is both “circle the wagons” and “fire the canons.”

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Calvinists should criticize themselves more harshly. Rather, I wish they might extend the same grace to others that they give to themselves.

EGOTISM

A final troubling trend I believe plagues America’s “Calvinist revival” is egotism. This one may sound like ad hominem at first blush, but I mean it more as an observation of the movement’s predominant tone. Talking so much of sovereignty and salvation and atonement can inflate the ego. It is the type of thing described in Helmut Thielicke’s book, “A Little Lesson for Young Theologians.” Attaining theological knowledge often leads to the idea that one is in a better place to understand God or more in tune with God.

As the ego inflates, the body rises and one begins to speak from above rather than from across. This is often seen in the way neo-Calvinists speak as if they are the arbiters of the term “gospel.” Search the term “gospel” on the web site of the Reformed publisher Crossway and you’ll see what I mean. Or listen to the way some neo-Calvinist leaders frame every ethical issue of the day, not as a difference of opinion among Christians of mutual goodwill, but rather an affront to the gospel itself.

“The perspective of many today is that if you aren’t a Calvinist, you don’t really have a grasp of the gospel,” Olson says.

Sometimes it seems as if Calvinists view themselves as judge, jury, and executioner of the Christian movement at large—determining who is faithful and not, who believes the gospel and who doesn’t, who is in and who is out. (One might call to mind John Piper’s iconic and infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” tweet.) Some within the movement talk of God’s sovereignty while seeking to control the destinies of other Christians and often speak of man’s depravity with a haughtiness that undermines it.

As Scot McKnight, professor at Northern Seminary told me, “Calvinists can give really strong impressions that those who disagree with them are both unfaithful and that they theologically and intellectually lack courage. And that trend is relatively new.”

A large ego often precedes a harsh tone—an surefire influence limiter. Scholar Martin Marty says the religious world isn’t divided into liberal and conservative, but rather “mean and non-mean.” Those who opt for a mean or arrogant tenor—whether real or perceived—have a short-shelf life in the span of history.

Bethany Jenkins, director of The Gospel Coalition’s faith and work initiative, thinks some of her fellow Calvinists’ tonal problems may be unintentional: “I think some Calvinists have come to think that in order to be faithful you have to be strident, but you don’t need to be. As Tim Keller has said, ‘We are a chosen people, but we are not a choice people.’”

I reflect on the Apostle Paul’s observation that “Knowledge puffs up.” Which is to say, egotism is a human problem rather than a Calvinist one. Yet, the vice seems to afflict this movement with consistency. If neo-Calvinists don’t get a rapid infusion of humility—and quickly—then perceptions of egotism will be an albatross around their necks.

Though these problems are serious, I am for any movement that lifts up Jesus and proclaims the Christian good news. I have many friends within the neo-Calvinist movement that challenge me with their commitment to scriptural fidelity and the supremacy of Christ. If America’s “Calvinist revival” turns out to be a resurgence, I hope they abound in grace–both inside and out.

Ah yes, grace. Another cherished Reformed virtue.

---

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and has published more than 1000 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Atlantic, and National Journal. He is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn.



"The Calvinist," by John Piper

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