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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Roger Asks the Question, "Who is a REAL Evangelical?"



"In Bebbington's major textbook is a newly researched historical study of Evangelical religion in its British cultural setting from its inception in the time of John Wesley to charismatic renewal today. The Church of England, the Church of Scotland and the variety of Nonconformist denominations and sects in England, Scotland and Wales are discussed, but the book concentrates on the broad patterns of change affecting all the churches. It shows the great impact of the Evangelical movement on nineteenth-century Britain, accounts for its resurgence since the Second World War and argues that developments in the ideas and attitudes of the movement were shaped most by changes in British culture. The contemporary interest in the phenomenon of Fundamentalism, especially in the United States, makes the book especially timely." - Amazon 


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Who’s a “Real Evangelical?”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2014/09/whos-a-real-evangelical/

by Roger Olson
September 7, 2014

I had to laugh when I read a comment here (responding to one of my blog posts) calling me a “fauxevangelical.” The prefix “faux-” means “fake.” I’m not sure why the commenter didn’t just say “fake evangelical.” Maybe he thought calling me a “fauxevangelical” was less offensive and/or made him sound more intelligent.

In any case, this was just the most recent on a long series of accusations that I’m not a “real evangelical”–whatever that means.

Why do I care? Well, for one thing, there are people whose job it is to categorize and label theologians. Take Patheos for example. Do I belong here–on the “Evangelical Channel”–or on the “Progressive Channel?” There are publishers who prefer only to publish evangelical scholars (although they may occasionally step out of that mission and publish something by a non-evangelical if his or her book is judged to make a contribution to evangelical thought). Many colleges, universities and seminaries will only hire evangelicals.

But beside-and-above the economic reasons for it, I insist that I am an evangelical because that’s my identity. I may add qualifiers, as most evangelical scholars do, such as “postconservative” or “progressive,” but I never mean that I am something other than evangelical.

My whole professional life and before that began has been wrapped up in my evangelical identity (I’ve expressed how and why here many times before so I won’t belabor that or repeat all that history).

The Evangelical Quadrilateral

So is there any standard or universal definition of “evangelical?” In my book The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology (Westminster John Knox Press) I listed and describe six distinct meaning of “evangelical.” The one I mean when I call myself “evangelical” is provided by Mark Noll and David Bebbington–the so-called “evangelical quadrilateral”–four hallmarks of being evangelical.

Noll and Bebbington assume they are talking about Protestants who take Christian orthodoxy seriously–trinitarian Christians who believe in justification by grace through faith alone.

Added to that, to make one “evangelical,” are:

1) conversionism,
2) biblicism,*
3) crucicentrism (cross-centered devotion and preaching), and
4) activism.

*"biblicism" at this blog site is to be broadened out away from the normal wooden, literalistic reading of the Bible to a reading of its pages that is contextual, historical, grammatical, and narratival using the best resources at hand to derive both a practical and spiritual understanding of God's Word. - R.E. Slater

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Wikipedia [an excerpt]

David W. Bebbington (born 1949) is a historian who is Professor of History at the University of Stirling in Scotland and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. An undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge (1968–71), Bebbington began his doctoral studies there (1971–73) before becoming a research fellow of Fitzwilliam College (1973–76). Since 1976 he has taught at the University of Stirling, where since 1999 he has been Professor of History. His principal research interests are in the history of politics, religion, and society in Great Britain from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, and in the history of the global evangelical movement.

Bebbington quadrilateral

Bebbington is widely known for his definition of evangelicalism, referred to as the "Bebbington quadrilateral", which was first provided in his 1989 classic study Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s.[1] Bebbington identifies four main qualities which are to be used in defining evangelical convictions and attitudes:[2]

  • biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages)
  • crucicentrism, a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross
  • conversionism, the belief that human beings need to be converted
  • activism, the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort


Bebbington (along with Mark Noll and others) has exerted a large amount of effort in placing evangelicalism on the world map of religious history. Through their efforts they have made it more difficult for scholars to ignore the influence of evangelicals in the world since the movement’s inception in the eighteenth century.[3]

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"We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible.And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the begotten of God the Father, the Only-begotten, that is of the essence of the Father.God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.Who for us humanity and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate, was made human, was born perfectly of the holy virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.By whom He took body, soul, and mind, and everything that is in man, truly and not in semblance.He suffered, was crucified, was buried, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven with the same body, [and] sat at the right hand of the Father.He is to come with the same body and with the glory of the Father, to judge the living and the dead; of His kingdom there is no end.We believe in the Holy Spirit, in the uncreated and the perfect; Who spoke through the Law, prophets, and Gospels; Who came down upon the Jordan, preached through the apostles, and lived in the saints.We believe also in only One, Universal, Apostolic, and [Holy] Church; in one baptism in repentance, for the remission, and forgiveness of sins; and in the resurrection of the dead, in the everlasting judgement of souls and bodies, and the Kingdom of Heaven and in the everlasting life."


The Five solae or five solas are five Latin phrases that emerged during the Protestant Reformation and summarize the early Reformers' basic theological beliefs in contradistinction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of the day:

Sola scriptura - by Scripture alone
Sola fide - by faith alone
Sola gratia - by grace alone
Solus Christus / Solo Christo - by/through Christ alone
Soli Deo gloria - glory to God alone

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Born Again

Evangelicals are (mostly) Protestant orthodox Christians (orthodox as defined by the Nicene faith in the deity of Christ and the Trinity and by the Reformation solas) who believe that authentic Christian existence necessarily includes being converted to Christ–an experience (whether felt as an experience or not) of transformation from a life of sin and self to a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ through which one is brought by the Holy Spirit into “new creation” (justification and regeneration). In other words, nobody is “saved” by being born into a certain nation-state or family or church or through any sacrament or ritual without personal commitment to Christ.

High Regard for Scripture

Evangelicals are also people (I won’t keep repeating “mostly Protestant orthodox Christians…) who have a special regard for the Bible as God’s written, inspired, authoritative Word whose authority stands above tradition and experience–the highest “court of appeal,” so to speak, for faith and practice.

Some evangelicals think the Bible must be “inerrant” to be authoritative, but they disagree among themselves about what “inerrancy” means. I agree with those who define the Bible’s perfection as “perfect with respect to purpose” (e.g., John Piper).

Evangelicals also have a special relationship with the Bible as not only a textbook of correct doctrine but also as God’s living Word to be read devotionally–a sacrament, if you will, of God’s gracious love.

Cross-Centered Lives

Evangelicals are also people who bring nothing to God in their “hands,” so to speak, but cling only to the cross as their sole hope in life and death (for having a living relationship with God that includes forgiveness and acceptance). Evangelicals have a special place in their hearts and minds and worship and devotion for the cross. The atonement of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and trusted as humanity’s only hope for peace with God and for a meaning filled life in relation with God. For evangelicals the cross, the atonement of Jesus Christ that happened there, is the centerpiece of devotion and proclamation.

Christian Activism

Evangelicals are also people who believe in, and practice, Christian activism to approximate the Kingdom of God among people through missions, evangelism and social action. They disagree among themsleves about the best means and possible ends (within history as we know it before Christ returns), but they agree as evangelicals that God calls them to be active in the world for the cause of God.

Additional Hallmarks Unmentioned

I do not think Noll’s and Bebbington’s quadrilateral is exhaustive or even sufficient. I suspect they would agree. These are hallmarks, but not exhaustive traits or characteristics. For example, I would add (and I hope they would as well) that being evangelical necessarily includes belief in Christ’s bodily resurrection and bodily return in glory.

What being evangelical does NOT necessarly include is a literalistic interpretation of the Old Testament:

  • Evangelicals have always disagreed among themselves about how best to interpret the creation accounts in Genesis and how to reconcile them with modern science.
  • They have always disagreed among themselves about how best to interpret the prophets’ proclamations of a coming messianic reign on earth.
  • They have always disagreed among themselves about how to read the Old Testament in terms of Christ–whether Christ is typified in the Old Testament or not. What I mean is: Is the primary meaning of certain passages in the Old Testament Christ or is Christ appropriately read back into the Old Testament by Christians? There has never been consensus among evangelicals about Old Testament interpretation. That is not a litmus test of evangelical identity. Never has been–in spite of fundamentalists’ claims.

When someone calls me a “fauxevangelical” I know I am dealing with one or both of two things: someone who doesn’t know me well (hasn’t read very much of what I’ve written) and/or a fundamentalist.


Review of "Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer," by Charles Marsh


Dietrich Bonhoeffer on a weekend getaway with confirmands of
Zion's Church congregation (1932) | Wikipedia biographical link


The Journey of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/09/01/the-journey-of-dietrich-bonhoeffer/

by Scot McKnight
September 1, 2014

There are a number of very important biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, none more complete or significant than the one by Bonhoeffer’s friend, Eberhard Bethge (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography). Bethge’s biography is complete though not exhaustive (even if at times a bit exhausting) and takes serious commitment to finish. The prose is not captivating. Alongside Bethge is F. Schlingensiepen’s solid and recent biography (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Those two describe a similar journey for Bonhoeffer (see below) while Eric Metaxas (Bonhoeffer) told a different story, a more evangelical one, which is why so many evangelicals have found Bonhoeffer in the last five years. Mark Thiessen Nation provides in his study (Bonhoeffer the Assassin?) a different journey for Bonhoeffer (see reviews by Scot McKnight and Roger Olson).
But the best written description of Bonhoeffer’s journey is now by Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Why use the word “journey”? Because people have made meaning out of Bonhoeffer’s life and theological development according to the scheme they find in his story. The fork in the road or the place of decision is right here: When Bonhoeffer returned to Germany after that aborted visit to Union Theological Seminary in the summer of 1939, did his theology shift from a pacifist Discipleship and Life Together direction toward a more Niebuhrian realism/responsibility vision? That is, did he enter into the Abwehr (double agent) in Hitler’s National Socialist party as one who was seeking the downfall, assassination, and replacement of Hitler, or was his life as a double agent a ruse for his continued life in the ministry of the ecumenical movement?

The standard journey is the journey from a rather naive and optimistic hope for church renewal through intense commitment to discipleship toward a more realistic, even compromising, assumption of responsibility (this term is big in this discussion and must be connected to Reinhold Niebuhr at Union) all reshaped in his decision that the best way to act as a responsible Christian under Hitler was to assume the guilt of the nation and seek his country’s collapse. Maybe the best way of all to frame this is to say Bonhoeffer took leave of Discipleship by the time he was writing Ethics. That, at any rate, is the most common journey told of Bonhoeffer’s theological development. I have already covered Mark Thiessen Nation’s proposal and this post is about Marsh’s study, but it appears to me Bonhoeffer’s pacifism can remain in tact in spite of his realism since he saw entrance into the resistance as guilt (personal and national).

Bonhoeffer did come by his ecclesial faith naturally: his father was not a believer, his mother was and led family devotions in the evening. The family did not attend church frequently though he went through confirmation and was both spiritually and theologically curious when young. Most of his siblings were not Christians, and even having completed his theology degree at Berlin (where as a liberal he encountered Barth) Bonhoeffer still was not much a church goer. His position as assistant pastor in Barcelona engaged him for the first time in serious church work. After his return to Germany he was committed to the church — but as much to the ecumenical church, to conferences, as he was to local parish ministry.

Bonhoeffer embraced Barth’s theology deeply and this is one reason for Marsh’s general approach to Bonhoeffer’s journey: Barth is present in his dissertation on the communion of the saints, in his habilitation on German philosophical history (Marsh thinks this book was “one of the great theological achievements of the twentieth century”), but it is profoundly present in Ethics. The first “chapter” of that book could be taken from Barth’s theory of revelation in dialectical thinking (and unfortunately dialectical method in writing!) in its unifocal concentration on God in Christ as the true revelation by which all things are measured — including the world. Furthermore, Bonhoeffer here has embraced some of Barth’s universalism for the thematic center of that first chapter is about the reconciliation (ontologically) of the world in Christ already. Marsh keeps Barth before the readers of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Bonhoeffer’s twin sister, Sabine, married a Jewish man (who had been baptized). That fact opens up a window that tosses light deep into Bonhoeffer’s theology: he was deeply committed to the brotherhood and sisterhood of the church and Judaism, of Christians and Jews, and therefore of Jews and Germans. When most were circling the wagons or wondering what was really going on, DB saw through to the heart of what Hitler and the National Socialists were setting up to accomplish in Germany and beyond. If he was anything, he was highly principled and so he refused to budge or surrender an inch to the National Socialists. Bonhoeffer’s balking at both The Bethel Confession and The Barmen Declaration, the former he had an early hand in, concerned their lack of commitment to solidarity with Jews — believers or not. Seemingly ahead of everyone else in theological circles, including Barth, Bonhoeffer saw the Jewish Question as the Christian Problem. He helped his sister and brother in law escape from Germany to England through Switzerland. They survived the war, Dietrich did not. Marsh’s Bonhoeffer is probing pluralism in affirmative terms, and Marsh is accurate.

Marsh has exceptional sections on Bonhoeffer in the USA fascinated by African Americans, their theology and spirituality (and songs), and this experience (at Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem) shaped Bonhoeffer’s thinking about what it takes to be a gospel Christian and what racism does to a people and nation. He not only introduced his students in Zingst and Finkenwalde to Negro spirituals, but he saw racism in Germany more intensively than others because of his time in NYC. No one is more attuned to racism’s impact on theology and the need to combat it than Charles Marsh, so his sections here are more sensitive and insightful than other sketches of Bonhoeffer.

Marsh, in my view, downplays Discipleship and Life Together because, again in my view, he sees a different journey for Bonhoeffer: it is one that sees the highlight years in DB’s life not in the outside-the-system seminary (they weren’t underground until the end) writings and spirituality but in the more “responsible” political theology of the Ethics and his Letters and Papers from Prison. His sketches of DB’s theology after his return to Germany and while in prison were a highlight for me.

In fact, Marsh has all but convinced me of the Christian realism move of Bonhoeffer. But before I will go on board officially I want to re-read Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison, which I’m doing now. One thing has become clear to me: the conspirators were profoundly naive in planning to be those who would run Germany when Hitler was removed. Profoundly naive, if not delusional. I need to read more on this plot but that’s how it strikes me.

Marsh has complete control of the sources of Bonhoeffer’s life: he has obviously read them in German as well as in English (in fact I saw one or two mistakes in footnotes because he was referring to the German editions and not the English translations). Detail after details is pressed from the original sources, in a historically chronological manner, and for this reason alone Marsh’s Strange Glory stands among the best of Bonhoeffer biographies.

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I must mention one feature of this book because if I don’t it will emerge in the comments and this short explanation allows me a bit of more accurate expression. Marsh’s biography is undoubtedly the best biography to read (though nothing can replace Bethge’s fullness) but it will be remembered as the biography that suggested Bonhoeffer was gay or was romantically attracted to Eberhard Bethge. There is no explicit evidence - the relationship remained chaste; Bethge was engaged and then married and Bonhoeffer himself was engaged; there is Hitler’s extermination system that included homosexuals. There are suggestions according to Marsh: they shared a bank account; they shared Christmas presents; they spent constant time together; Bonhoeffer’s (not Bethge’s) endearing language in letters; Bonhoeffer’s getting engaged not long after Bethge got engaged; and Bonhoeffer’s obsessiveness with Bethge. OK, but it’s all suggestion, and this is complicated by Bonhoeffer’s obsession with clothing and appearance. [For a Marsh interview, see this.] Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t, but it seems their relationship could at least be explored in another context: male friendships among German intellectuals of this era, which maybe needs the reminder that friendships have been between same sexes for most of Western history. I quote here from Wesley Hill’s exceptional post on this topic about DB:

But, second, it also seems to me there’s an opposite danger that, in our effort to articulate and defend the existence of something like “close, non-sexual friendships between men” in past eras, we may overlook the importance of homosexual feelings in shaping those friendships. Yes, of course, “homosexuality” as we know it didn’t exist as a social construct until relatively recently, but that doesn’t mean the reality of persistent, predominant same-sex sexual desire didn’t exist and that it didn’t have a friendship-deepening effect for those who experienced it. Sure, Bonhoeffer wasn’t “gay” in our post-Stonewall sense. But what Marsh’s biography tries to explore is whether Bonhoeffer may have experienced same-sex attractions and how those attractions may have led him to look for ways to love his friend Bethge. Bonhoeffer evidently didn’t—and maybe didn’t even want to—have sex with Bethge (and presumably Bethge himself wouldn’t have consented anyway). But did Bonhoeffer’s romantic feelings for his friend, if indeed they existed (as Marsh believes they did), lead him into a pursuit of emotional and spiritual intimacy with Bethge that he wouldn’t otherwise have sought? I think there’s a danger in avoiding that question, too, even as there’s a danger in jumping to the conclusion “Bonhoeffer was gay.” [Wes has a very good review of Marsh's biography in the most recent edition of Books & Culture.]

In an earlier post on the same topic, Christopher Benson asked this powerful question with a brief comment:

Did Bonhoeffer ache for a romantic friendship with Eberhard Bethge or for the romance of a friendship that unites body and spirit, emotion and intellect? This is a distinction with a difference, and it is lost upon us because we are no longer in touch with “the tradition of late-antique and early-medieval Johannine Christianity, in which intimacy and understanding go hand in hand,” according to Samuel Kimbriel’s new book,Friendship as Sacred Knowing: Overcoming Isolation.

Perhaps then DB had same-sex attractions for Bethge but they were unreciprocated and the desires subdued by Bonhoeffer, but that those feelings had a “friendship-deepening effect.” That is at least a reasonable explanation of the letters between DB and Bethge. But there’s a bit more evidence that I had not known about prior to this post. In F. Schlingensiepen’s very complete and well-researched study of Bonhoeffer, on p. 393, there is a footnote in which Bethge responds to the suggestion that the authors of the letters (in Letters and Papers from Prison, most recent edition?) must have been homosexuals. Bethge says unequivocally Nein.

So maybe DB’s obsessions with Bethge deserve to be considered as expressions of a controlling, if not authoritarian, personality type. In fact, the Union professor, Paul Lehmann, said DB “simply took command, uncalculated command, of every situation in which he was present” (I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 42). Bethge himself said Bonhoeffer could sometimes be “imperious and demanding” (46).

Marsh knows that there’s some hagiography about Bonhoeffer, not least some of the descriptions of his last hours and minutes. He suggests Bonhoeffer was cruelly tortured for hours before he died.