Archives For November 2010

A fish swims in the sea,
while the sea is in a certain sense
contained within the fish!
Oh, what am I to think
of what the writing of a thousand lifetimes
could not explain
if all the forest trees were pens
and all the oceans ink?
– from “The Dryness & The Rain” by mewithoutYou off of the album Brother, Sister

The Dryness & The Rain by Mewithoutyou
Listen on Posterous

I’ve flown through the first half of Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science. In it the author is making a case for revisiting the way that we view organizations and structures, especially in light of new scientific advances. She asserts that we have been using outdated scientific metaphors that are causing more frustration that clarity (locs. 506 & 630). If we are to continue to draw metaphors from the scientific community, we should update those metaphors to include the discoveries and advances since the time of Sir Isaac Newton.
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Here Be Monsters

November 28, 2010 — Leave a comment

In this 15-minute TED talk, Kristina Gjerde expounds upon the legal and logistical implications of creating an internationally shared commons out of the 64% of the world’s oceans that lay outside any government’s jurisdiction.

Pulling insights from her background as a lawyer, from social scientists and economists, Gjerde proposes 3 things that must exist for any shared commons:
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What Would Wesley Think?

November 26, 2010 — 4 Comments
Today is Black Friday in the US. It is the second day of gorging. Yesterday we gorged ourselves on food. Perverting the original Thanksgiving feast that celebrated the wonder that any of the Pilgrims were still alive, Americans have taken to an annual day of eating themselves into a stupor, watching football (American, that is), and then unfairly blaming their resultant sloth on tryptophan. Today, we gorge on goods. It is a day of mythic retail sales, long lines, and ridiculously early store openings. Much like pie and turkey, it is a tradition for many families.

I've been reading a lot of John Wesley's Works recently. He had some harsh things to say about the over-consumption of his time:
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Religious Squatting

November 24, 2010 — Leave a comment
“Revelation is what God wants human beings to know and to do, and faith is the authentic response to that revelation from the midst of human lives. Religion, then, is what we make of the revelation.”
-Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, An Introduction to Ecclesiology

“Does Christianity buttress a way of life that everyone is seeking, or is it an alternative
way of life that orders the rest of life, and benefit others?”

-Dr. Jason Clark in an online chat, 11/22/2010

In my previous post on Kärkkäinen’s book, I ended by noting my unresolved tension between my conversionism oriented Baptist upbringing and the “rootedness” I longed for finally being found in the Eastern Orthodox church. Yet there is a sense in which I feel like a voyeuristic foreigner whenever I seriously consider the possibility of converting to Orthodoxy. I have not yet been able to resolve the draw that I have toward the Eucharistic celebration of the Divine Liturgy with the Free Church indoctrination which still governs my own ministerial raison d’être. And I’m not the only one in that boat. My colleague and friend Russ Pierson notes a similar tension in his reflections on the same book. He asks,

Might we someday all meet around the Eucharist? And might this Eucharist be led for us by an Orthodox bishop?

Somehow, I think we might, but after reading the third part of Kärkkänien’s book, I believe it will become because those leading the church lead forward with eyes in the back of their heads. Allow me to explain. Continue Reading…

I Started Out Baptist…

November 21, 2010 — 2 Comments
“This has always been the main task of theology: to reflect on and makes sense of what is happening in Christian churches.”
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Introduction to Ecclesiology (Kindle Location 52)

Recently I’ve been getting some kind-natured ribbing from my DMINGML colleagues suggesting that I am, or should be on a path toward converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. While I think it is meant in jest (except perhaps for Tom who might run there with me) it highlights some very real tension that I’ve felt as I’ve navigated my own mixed-theological and ecclesiological journey.
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…And Might End Up Orthodox

November 21, 2010 — 5 Comments

(This is the continuation of the post “I Started Out Baptist…” which, together with this post, contain some reflections on the first two parts of Kärkkäinen’s Introduction to Ecclesiology. Please read the other post first and then come back here!)

My journey away from the faith was, in retrospect, largely due to an overwhelming feeling that I just could never measure up. I never doubted the efficacy of my salvation. There is a “once saved always saved” doctrine of assurance within the Baptist tradition that gave me confidence that nothing I could do would ever nullify my eternal resting place. However, I continued to sin despite my best efforts to the contrary. This was disobedience in the highest and called into question the depth of my love and gratitude for the savior who’d died for me. We called such bouts “backsliding” and they were usually combated by redoubling one’s efforts to be “in the word” and withdraw from “the world.” Continue Reading…

In this Pop! Tech talk, neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman talks about the conventional poles set up in the scientific community regarding religion:

“I don’t pretend that we [the scientific community] have it all figured out. I have felt, sometimes, that perhaps we know too little to commit to a position of strict atheism. At the other end of the spectrum, we know way too much to commit to any particular religious story.” Continue Reading…

So You Want to Go to Seminary?

November 10, 2010 — 1 Comment

Oh dear. It hurts so good…

I can't claim credit for this, though in parts, I wish I could.

One of the recurring themes in Bebbington’s book Evangelicalism in Modern Britain is that throughout its existence, Evangelicalism has been greatly shaped major philosophical, political, and cultural movements. At different points, Bebbington refers to these as, “the temper of the age,” “learning of the age,” “historical awareness of the age,” “taste of the age,” “thought of the age,” “dominant ideas of the age,” and “sensibility of the age.” Of the nearly two dozen such references, nearly one-third of them appear as the phrase, “the spirit of the age.” Some of Bebbington’s most assertive statements in the book (and most controversial) include this turn of phrase. For example:

Evangelicals were integrating their faith with the rising philosophy of the later Enlightenment. They were in harmony with the spirit of the age (loc. 1560).

The leaders of Evangelical opinion were swayed by the fashionable Romantic assumptions of their day. The gospel was being remoulded by the spirit of the age (loc. 2653).

The holiness movement ushered in a new phase in Evangelical history. . . . The holiness teaching that caught on in these years, though having many and various antecedents, was primarily an expression of the spirit of the age. It was a Romantic impulse, harmonising with the premillennialism and faith mission principle that had similar origins (loc. 4468).

Taken individually these statements, and others like them, reflect the author’s deep scholarship and ability to tie the historicity of the Evangelical movement in with broader historical shifts. Yet seen together they become a thread of doubt about Evangelicalism’s claim that their version of Christianity, along with the theology and doctrines associated with it, has unbroken, Apostolic-era roots. Bebbington says as much when he writes,

Nothing could be further from the truth than the common image of Evangelicalism being the same. Yet Evangelicals themselves have often fostered the image. They have claimed that their brand of Christianity, the form once delivered to the saints, has possessed an essentially changeless content so long as it has remained loyal to its source. . . . the movement did not manage a total escape to a world of eternal truths. It was bound up in the flux of events (locs. 6667 and 6679).

In opposition to the claims of most Evangelicals – that the movement they associate with can be traced back to the Apostles in an unbroken, if sometimes obscured, fashion and that it has functioned largely as a light to the surrounding world, instead of being changed by the world – Bebbington asserts that Evangelicalism is, relatively speaking, a new and evolving player in the broad history of Christian movements. This undercuts Fundamentalist claims to a priori doctrinal authority, especially in matters related to the nature and interpretation of the Bible. It also challenges their perception of their seat at the table, as it were. Instead of being seen as wizened stalwarts of the faith, Evangelicals might now be seen as precocious adolescents inventing history in a misguided attempt to gain authority and credibility on the world Christian stage.

What can be missed in all of this, unfortunately, is the upside of Evangelicalism’s history. She has an uncanny ability to ferret out, from an early stage, the next wave of dominant philosophical and high cultural shifts. Rising leaders in her ranks swell to the front with new ideas of how to adapt Conversionism, Biblicism, Actvism, and Crucicentrism in light of these shifts. Yet internally this becomes messy. What often results is schism and separation. New denominations form because the current ones set their faces against the new tides. Because they haven’t embraced their history of adaptation and interpretation, each generation of Evangelicals sees the rising generation and their “new” ideas as a threat to “historical” Christianity. One need only look to the virulent debates surrounding the Emerging Church and Evangelicalism to see a contemporary example.

However, if Bebbington’s history is accurate (and with nearly 400 citations in every chapter of his book, I hope that it is) Evangelicals have always acted this way. Methodism split from the Church of England as a result of Enlightenment influence. Romanticism’s influence on premillenialism led to the founding of the Catholic Apostolic Church and the Brethren. Holiness teaching birthed the Salvation Army and the Pentecostals. Modernism gave rise to charismatic renewal. On it goes.

In the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are in the midst of another philosophical, cultural, and technological shift. If recent history is any indication, Evangelicalism will continue to be rife with conflict and schism throughout the shift. Yet, it doesn’t have to be so. Bebbington’s thorough history and analysis of Evangelicalism offers its adherents the opportunity to be proactive about the next chapter. By embracing the novelties of Evangelicalism’s history, especially her proclivity to lead into new eras with Kingdom imagination, Evangelical Christians might be able to separate themselves from the derisive fanaticism of Fundamentalism (which has become synonymous with the word “Evangelical”) and return to her actual roots.

First released in 1989, David Bebbington's Evangelicalism in Modern Britain has become one of the standard texts relating to the history of the evangelical movement. It has not reached its place of esteem without provoking some significant criticism (see, for example, Kenneth Stewart's 2005 article in Evangelical Quarterly). Chief among the grievances are Bebbington's quadrilateral of evangelicalism and his assertion that evangelicalism has no cogent history per se, earlier than the mid-eighteenth century. Heavily influenced by the spirit of its age, argues Bebbington, the evangelical movement was "an adaptation of the Protestant tradition through contact with the Enlightenment" (loc. 1395) adding that, "the conviction that the pattern of cause and effect, the scientist's natural assumption, underlies all phenomena was to pervade Evangelical thinking long into the nineteenth century" (loc. 1555). This wedding of an emphasis on the innovations of science, specifically inductive reasoning and the empirical method, with the theology of the day led to evangelicalism's most novel development, the doctrine of assurance.

Prior to this period, the consensus among dominant theologies was that a believer could not "know" for certainty the condition of her salvation in the same way that one might "know" that if it was raining out side he would get wet. It was possible, however, to get a general sense of one's state by observing the works of his life. A believer growing in sanctification, it was held, would show that in the way she lived her life. The doctrine of assurance, however, claimed that such certainty was possible because it could be evidenced not only by outward works, but by an inward "sense." In this way, the doctrine of assurance was seeking to align itself with other sense-derived Enlightenment movements. Here, however, proponents like John Wesley were adding a sixth, innate "moral sense" to the five sense drawn upon by scientists (see locs. 1315-1316).

The doctrine of assurance is important because two of Bebbington's four characteristics of evangelicalism flourished under it. Conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed through the act of turning in repentance from sin to faith in Christ, and Activism, the strong emphasis on leading other people to instances of conversion, are both rooted in the firm principle that, "once a person has received salvation as a gift of God, he may be assured, according to Evangelicals, that he possess it" (loc. 259) and, hence, "Evangelicals were animated in their outreach by the expectation that salvation was widely available" (loc. 1567).

What I find particularly interesting to me personally and professionally is Bebbington's use of "Crucicentrism" to describe Evangelicalism's focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross. The focus of Christ crucified as the fulcrum for Evangelical theology is so strong that Bebbington feels compelled to assert that any to make any other theme more dominant than the cross is to "take a step away from Evangelicalism" (loc. 473). I've recently been becoming more and more aware of the effects of Evangelicalism's focus on propitiatory atonement. It often leads to a denigration of the resurrection, that singular event through which God both accomplished and promised the restoration of all Creation to an eternally sinless state.

In terms of discipleship, an exclusive focus on the atonement of the cross often leads to a kind of survivor's guilt. We lament, along with Paul, in the sin we still commit even as we understand the sacrifice endured that we might not remain in our sin. Our discipleship often lacks hope and instead turns into at attempt to atone for the atonement. We dress this up in flowery language and say that our good works are motivated out of "gratitude for what Christ has done on the cross," but often that gratitude is intellectual assent to the understanding that we ought to be thankful.

I am beginning to explore what discipleship rooted in a theology of hope based on the resurrection might look like. Does this, as Bebbington asserts, put me outside of Evangelicalism? I don't know. Perhaps. If it does, where does that leave me?