Monday, January 31, 2005

Honestly, is there any group that loves power more than us?

You may have seen it by now, but my pastor just passed it my way today- the new Time magazine with the cover story "The 25 most Influential Evangelicals in America." In all honesty it is a pretty good report. When the reporters surely could have cast judgment on the individuals they merely explained their nature of influence. Some of the names and faces are familiar (Graham, Hybles, and Warren) while some were new, at least to me (Ahmanson, Barton, and Coe). There were some notes of optimism: Warren saying the Saddleback Network will be taking up a social agenda that does not include abortion and gay marriage, but rather "poverty, disease, and ignorance." Yet, some of the aforementioned scaries of evangelicalism also appeared like our dear Mr. Dobson. Lastly, I'm sure it left out some individuals in part to only mentioning those associated with President Bush (though that makes me wonder what Ralph Winter is doing in the issue- a man who came out against the war).

All in all the article doesn't lead me to judge the positions of certain individuals, but begs the question, "Why do Christians want power so badly." Twice mentioned in the article is a weekly conference call held with President Bush by these influential Evangelicals. I wonder what that might go like:

President Bush: Good Morning everyone.
Random Influential Evangelical in America: Hail Chief.
PB: So support of our war is going down, but it's obviously ordained so what can we do about it?
RIEA: We'll I've decided to do a series called "40 days on a Crusade!" It will cover why God appointed America as His mediator, and why the democrats, French and UN stand in the way of our divine mission. And don't worry we've proof texted the baby to the brim so nobody can disagree.
PB: Glad that's taken care of...

Sorry for being dumb, I'm just frustrated. In the end I don't think the 25 mentioned have any real power. It seems more likely that Bush and Co. are using most of them for support, and nothing more (this is evidenced to a degree in Dobson's bio).

So what's the better model? The thinking seems to be “Let’s go to the top, and get a better reach for social change,” but that is evidentially wrong. Yet to stay out of politics all together denies a reality about how the world works. I've got plenty of opinions, but I'm hoping more for suggestions so I'll leave it at that.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Proceedings: Academic Exercises Part 2

For what it's worth, and before anyone starts commenting, here are some highlights from the highlights of the meeting:

The concerns of Faculty were expressed in a petition to cease all proceedings regarding John Sanders employment, signed by 30 people. (I'm working on figuring out percentage of total faculty)

The concerns of students were expressed in a petition from 100 students.

Many personal letters were written by current and past students to the board members.

President Dowden expressed "frank remarks and presented several recommendations." In support of Sanders, apparently.

The Board has committed to praying for Sanders and family.

The Board will pay Sanders one years salary as a lump sum if he finds a job next year, otherwise he will get two years salary as a lump sum.

The Board will make "steps" toward preventing this from happening again, etc. (more on this later).

And finally, I quote:
"The Board requested that faculty, staff, and trustees not make any public statements, including statements to the media, relating to Huntington College personnel matters and that all public inquiries regarding this situation be referred to the President’s Office and the Chairman of the Board. "

Apparently this is stemming from a rather embarrassing episode (for some people) dealing with Jim O'Donnell and a public address regarding the economy. Unfortunately for the board, so far as I know this is not a legally binding "request" and hopefully many "faculty, staff, and trustees" will not be afraid to speak their mind. As much as I respect the frankness with which Pres. Dowden has dealt with the issue in the press, it would make sense for certain publications (Chronicle, CT, Huntington Herald Press, etc.) to talk with certain faculty members, especially those who have been recently dismissed. Hopefully faculty members will act according to their convictions and represent the history of academic freedom by responding in apropriate but blunt ways to this decision.

The Firing of John Sanders: Academic Exercises Part 1

For anyone who hasn't seen it yet, Here's the statement from the Board of Trustees at Huntington regarding the dismissal of John Sanders.

For over a century, Huntington College has enjoyed the evident blessing of God in fulfilling its mission and vision for the future, its physical and human resources, and increased growth. The College has experienced a growing reputation for honoring Christ in scholarship and service.
The responsibility of the Board of Trustees is to insure that the direction of the institution continue in the theological traditions of the College and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.

"The Board of Trustees is committed to maintaining the College’s earned reputation and historic identity, rather than being identified by theological controversy or becoming known as a center for a theological position inconsistent with our past. During the past four years the work of the college has been impeded and the focus of the college community has been diverted by the controversy around open theism as promoted by Professor Dr. John Sanders.

During this time the Board of Trustees has made multiple, exceptional arrangements while monitoring the issues. The Board of Trustees has concluded that the issue is distractive and divisive and that the time has arrived to instruct the President of the College to resolve the employment issue by conditionally offering Dr. John Sanders a one-year sabbatical with full salary and benefits for the 2005-2006 academic year and requiring that his employment be terminated at the end of that academic year while honoring his current contract.

We are concerned for the welfare and future of Dr. John Sanders and his family and trust that God will lead him to use his considerable intellectual and pedagogical skills in another institution of higher education.

We also understand and acknowledge the concerns of various constituencies comprising the college community during this period. We remain committed to support academic freedom as an institution of Christian higher education. As a Christian community, we must rely on God’s grace and trust Him to provide healing, recovery of a sense of trust, shared values and community.
The priority of the Board of Trustees is to prayerfully refocus our time and energy on advancing the future vision and mission of the college."

I'll have something to post on this later.

Monday, January 24, 2005

CT says: College is dirty!

Well, for those of you locked away in Huntington's sex-deprived culture, Christianity Today is here to provide what "regular college life" is like in explicit detail. Here's the scoop: it's just like late night cable movie channels only dirtier. I'm not sure what it's like "out there" but from I've seen at a place like Northwestern, apparently people are having sex with each other, but the way these articles make it sound, dorm life at these schools is one giant amazing orgy.

Vigen Guroian starts the report, representing what happens to a professor of theology with conservative leanings who enters a Liberal Arts (actually liberal, not in name only) academic institution. He contrasts his experiences in the pure days of the 1960s to the moral depravity he sees daily at Loyola in Baltimore. Titled "Dorm Brothel" and subtitled "the new debauchery and the colleges that let it happen," you would think that Gurojan's experiences at the University of Virginia happened in the 1860s, not the 1960s. Although he alludes to some sexual activity that his frat mates participated in, he points out all of the self policing and parenting that went on amongst his friends. Weren't the 60s what started it all?

The article is long and not all together interesting, but he goes on to describe the dorm set up at many urban institutions and how they no longer afford the valuable walk of shame that make it public knowledge which girls were "easy" and which ones were not, apparently a form of "self-parenting". As the article wraps up, the thesis is apprently this: "It is not that what this student describes was unheard of in the 1960s. Frankly, I can tell similar stories about my college experience. Nevertheless, this was the exception rather than a commonplace occurrence. For colleges made it clear to young men and women that such behavior was unacceptable, and had in place living arrangements with rules and sanctions that discouraged it." Sex at college goes way back, but now everyone is doing it? or maybe just the college gave up fighting it.

Here's an especially interesting quote: "In the new culture that our colleges incubate and maintain, everyone is a "guy." Everyone is "familiar." Young men and women who have never seen anyone of the opposite sex naked or in underwear, other than family members, now must get used to being seen by and seeing others—perfect strangers—in just such a state. Everyone is available to everyone else. It would be antisocial not to be." This is a perfect quote for the other article of note, the more interesting to read but the less substantial, "What to Say at a Naked Party" by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Frederica confirms the previous aritcles whore storries by alluding to an alluring social gathering where the only requirement for admission is nudity. Implying that these are happening at every college and have thousands in attendance, Frederica paints a picture not all too different from Wright Hall. What is interesting about this piece, written by someone on the "frontline" of college purity is the strategies they see employed, practical, romantic, and objective morality. The only answer, she believes, is evangelism. "I believe that the only conversation that will currently make sense begins with faith in God. The best we can do is speak passionately about our own experience—our own transformative contact with God, and how it has reordered actions and relationships, and empowered ever-greater deeds and greater love." I hate to say it, but she may be right, and as such, we should plan on seeing a lot more sex at college because college students, famously short sighted, will no doubt take the accessible body over the difficult work of faith.

The point of posting this on here was to remind everyone that conservative evangelicals love a good sex story as much as the next person. Further, I would suggest that such stories serve as the mental stage setting for those who fear what happens to a place like Huntington if it continues to "turn liberal." No doubt, they would see the men and women floors in Baker and M/M as the next step from all dorm naked parties and non-stop sexual experimentation.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Dobson Strikes Again...

Hey guys, one of my RAs forwarded me this article...I think it is important to take this to heart.

After all, we aren't born A-gay, we are Born Again...Thanks Saved!

Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon SpongeBy DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK Published: January 20, 2005
ASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - On the heels of electoral victories barring same-sex marriage, some influential conservative Christian groups are turning their attention to a new target: the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.
"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results.
SpongeBob needed no introduction. In addition to his popularity among children, who watch his cartoon show, he has become a well-known camp figure among adult gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."
Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."
The video's creator, Nile Rodgers, who wrote the disco hit "We Are Family," said Mr. Dobson's objection stemmed from a misunderstanding. Mr. Rodgers said he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 attacks to create a music video to teach children about multiculturalism. The video has appeared on television networks, and nothing in it or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity. The pledge, borrowed from the Southern Poverty Law Center, is not mentioned on the video and is available only on the group's Web site.
Mr. Rodgers suggested that Dr. Dobson and the American Family Association, the conservative Christian group that first sounded the alarm, might have been confused because of an unrelated Web site belonging to another group called "We Are Family," which supports gay youth.
"The fact that some people may be upset with each other peoples' lifestyles, that is O.K.," Mr. Rodgers said. "We are just talking about respect."
Mark Barondess, the foundation's lawyer, said the critics "need medication."
On Wednesday however, Paul Batura, assistant to Mr. Dobson at Focus on the Family, said the group stood by its accusation.
"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said. "It is a classic bait and switch."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Me and Jim Dobson.... A Love Affair

I think Jake and I might have an astral connection. I've been ruminating about Dr. Dobson all night; seeing Jake's post only affirmed that we are soulmates. The following came out on my blog earlier tonight. Hope you guys don't mind reposts.


There's this Beastie Boys song from Licensed to Ill that I really like, called "She's Crafty." I was listening to it tonight, and it reminded me of an article about James Dobson in the latest issue of U.S. News. Because like Lucy in the song, Dr. Dobson is crafty like ice is cold.

I should tell you that I have a history with Jim. I grew up with him in a way. My parents read a couple of his books, so he helped raise me. They still get his Focus on the Family newsletter and magazine, and I'm pretty sure they give him money every year.

For the longest time, that was all we had. Then college happened. First off was my trip to the annual Evangelical Theological Society conference in the fall of 2002. ETS was a bit of a bummer, with not a few theologians bashing the crap out of John Sanders, who was one of my professors at the time. They seemed to have this unseemly condition where they failed to separate the man from his theology. Consequently, it became standard practice to question his faith and character every time they questioned Open Theism. (Read Christianity Today's coverage of the event here.) Strike one for evangelicalism if you're keeping score.

While attending the conference in Colorado Springs, another old professor of mine, Dr. Chris Leland, was kind enough to give myself and Jake a tour of the Focus on the Family headquarters. Dr. Leland has been there since the summer of 2002, and as far as I know, enjoys teaching at the Focus Institute quite nicely. The building was big and expensive and a foreshadowing of HC's own Science Building, albeit on a smaller scale. Suffice to say, I was both impressed and uncomfortable with it all. Let's call that half a strike.

The following spring of 2003, our relationship took another turn. The National Religious Broadcasters had recently appointed Wayne Pederson as president of their organization. (NRB is a sort of association of evangelicals in the television, radio and print industries.) Not long before he would have been introduced at their annual convention in Nashville, Dr. Pederson made some comments to the effect that perhaps the emphasis of NRB would be better spent on the Gospel than on politics. He was concerned that religious broadcasters were putting more and more of the their faith in policy battles than in the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Enter me and James Dobson.

We were both at that convention in Nashville. I was there to accept an award for an essay I wrote, ironically sponsored by Focus on the Family. They gave me a plaque and a $1,000 for school. I read my paper to a bunch of college students and their professors. I got two job offers and three personal sales pitches from graduate schools. (Where are they now?) Life was good.

I never saw Jim, except from afar. We may have nodded politely, but probably not. The man had no idea who I was, even though he had just given me 1,000 bucks. Dr. Dobson was there for one reason -- to make sure Pederson never become president of NRB. He took Pederson's comments personally, and wasn't about to allow someone who put the Gospel over politics to rise to such a prominent position in the evangelical community. In a closed door meeting in the Opryland Hotel, Dr. Dobson made his case that Pederson was not fit for the job -- that the evangelical church was a major force in American politics, and that we needed an NRB president who toed his party line.

There was no vote that I know of at the convention -- Pederson decided to resign before things got ugly. One professor of mine who was allowed in the meeting because of his standing in IRB (the college division of NRB) later confessed to me how sad the whole process had been. This from a man who usually had nothing but good to say about Dr. Dobson. Something about the whole process had left him disenfranchised. As far as I was concerned, that was strike two and a half. (CT covered this one, too; one of my favorite pieces they've done.)

Lately, Dr. Dobson's words would seem prophetic, as his organization's support of President Bush was enough to offset increased voter turnout among youngsters voting for John Kerry. The NRB affair was only a spring training game compared to the main event last November. His role in the Arlen Specter affair was even less subtle. Jim expects much, and "God drops" in policy speeches won't suffice. He wants action from Bush, and he's let our president know.

So does Jim own George? Not hardly. But he could raise one crazy Focus on the Family hurricane should Bush move to the center in an effort to work with Democrats on the Hill. Meanwhile, due to the influence of Jim on myself, evangelicalism, the movement I grew up in, is half a strike away from falling to pieces. So that's my story. That's the tale of me and Jim Dobson. We go way back, and I have a feeling we're not done with each other yet.

Monday, January 17, 2005

It's a bad sign when...

As evidence that its a good thing, in some cases, that Christians don't think their believes should lead to action, James Dobson appears to have taken the charge to be politically active with a commitment that matches the like of Jim Wallace. Shortly after the election, identified Dobson as someone to "keep an eye on." That article pointed out that the comforting conservative evangelical who has made a killing off of the marital and parenting problems of all of our families has turned his attention to Washington and, although leary of the results, sees himself as taking over where the Christian coalition dropped off.

Whatever reservations the man had back then must be overcome now, just look at this picture leading the NY Times article about his latest proposal. To say the least about his new political perspective, things have to be pretty bad when Chuck Colson (how does he keep coming up around here in a positive light?) is calling you out on it.

"In the aftermath of the election, some of Dr. Dobson's allies are warning their fellow evangelicals not to be seduced by political deal-making. In "an open letter to the Christian church" last month, Charles W. Colson, the born-again Nixon aide and another influential Christian conservative, warned against listing demands of the president or other elected officials.
"To think that way demeans the Christian movement," Mr. Colson wrote with his associate Mark Earley. "We are not anybody's special interest group.""

Needless to say, the extent of Dobson's activities are predictable. Taking credit for something he may have not really done (chasing Tom Daschle out of office) and claiming to do the same to everyone who would oppose the appointment of strict conservative judges, specifically to the supreme court. He names names, threatens, and what not. So the question is this: which is worse, bad discipleship or no discipleship? Either way, if I were Dobson and Colson were calling me out...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

God's Way

Every month I get a couple of catalogs with the newest Christian junk that is being offered at my local Christian junketeer. I make myself look through it and read the descriptions of where publishers and record producers are trying to get people to find hope because that old fashioned Jesus just isn't producing... This month though I found an amazing new book that I think we all need to check out given our current financial situations. Here's exactly what I saw in the catalog, with a bit of bold print to bring out the parts that make me laugh/cry.

Becoming a Millionaire God's Way will reveal practical biblical techniques to acquiring great wealth, explode the myth that Jesus was poor, challenge the belief that the Bible teaches poverty, help you become financially literate, define once and for all the prosperity message, and teach the body of Christ that wealth is God's will. Growing up in a line shack in Loretta, Wisconsin, Dr. Anderson knows what it is to struggle financially. In Becoming a Millionaire God's Way he shares the principles, learned through diligence, hard work and personal experience, that brought him from poverty to abundance.

Commence cursing.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Absolutism and Ministry Models

a few comments. although I commented on the conversation going after Jonny's post, I would like to endorse his identifying not only our desire but perhaps our small steps towards talking about things in a way that will transform the way we are involved in the church. Part of this will be to analyze and discern the different ministry models that are out there.
It is at this point that I choose to part company with an overwhelming ethos that is developing on this page that I will call Ministry Model Relativism. I can agree with "there is no one right ministry model" if this means that "there is no right ministry model" in that there is nothing about ministry models that is even remotely related to following Jesus. by this, I mean that ministry models are derived from business culture in NA and cannot be expected to apply to a timeless mysterious community formed by almighty God. For us to think that Billy Hybles, the Pope, or anyone else would have more to say about the way we are to be followers of Christ than Jesus himself is ridiculous. To andy's valid point, these people are all needed to articulate and guide the church. There is a "ministry model" that is the absolutely best, and by this I mean only, model for how to be disciples and that is the life of Jesus Christ.
The task for the church is to be disciples and the literature comes in when we try to make sense of what that means. Thus, we can take someone like McLaren, Warren, myself, whoever, and ask if s/he is being a disciple of Jesus Christ, knowing that because he is a different person than us it may be not be identical to how we are disciples but knowing that ultimately his discipleship will have to bear fruit and can be "judged" accordingly based on the fruit Jesus calls us to exhibit in our lives (read: doing things).
We are to evaluate the church not based on income, numbers, lifes changed, etc. but only on the faithfulness to the call of Jesus Christ which requires ecclesial bodies both locally and globally that talk openly about what this means and how they are doing it. We must be willing to surrender our "right" to self-determined discipleship, minsitry models, etc. and allow the Holy Spirit to determine where this leads us. All this stuff to say that relativism regarding ministry models is as dangerous for the church as relativism regarding truth. We have a ministry model; it it is the Way of Jesus Christ (also, conveniently enough, a book by Moltmann that you all should read, if you are at all still interested in what anyone has to say about this.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


I was reading an article online today about the different commerical weight loss programs and their success rate, and I was hilariously reminded of our "conversation" about ministry models. I have been known to try and loose a few pounds, and have even tried my hand at the old weight watchers point system with various ammounts of success, but like most Americans who want to shed a few lb's(or 50) I would rather find the plan that's right for me, one that is easiest and makes the most sense for my lifestyle and the foods I like to eat. The only problem is, only one of them seems to be working, the rest just offer false hope, or quick success that fades as real life slowly creeps it's way back in.

I'm not sure if there is only one model that is "right" for the church. I do see a lot of people searching for what they believe is the proper approach to church is. I think that Dusty may be right when he says "we need a prophet." What if what the church really needs is prophets and apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. In most churches there is only one person with any kind of influence. Churches get uncomfortable when they're getting anything except pastored. I'm wondering if the problem is less with the models in place and more with how much we allow the holy spirit to lead and guide the church.

I wonder if until we insert that "key" into the current ministry models if all of them won't just be like all the other weight loss plans. It's like my guy Dr. Phil says... "there's no magic pills or quick fixes... you don't loose weight until you stop eating the wrong foods, and start eating the right foods."

On how we are awesome.

Exploring our own roles within the midst of a fracturing Church.

Andy, I liked what you had to say about the Church undergoing an identity crisis. There are a handful of evangelicals who have succeeded in building large churches, and feel compelled to write and/or speak about how they did it (even if they lay out disclaimers beforehand about how they shouldn't be imitated, only incorporated). With all these success stories, it's hard to tell which direction is the "future" direction of the evangelical church.

For all Warren's success, and his Pastor of the Year status in CT, his "Purpose Driven Church" philosophy isn't by any means the evangelical standard. The same could be said about the Willow-based seeker-sensitive model. It's hella popular, but it's not the standard. The Emergent church stands to run into the same problem. The Church (especially the American Protestant variety) is fractured. It is in the midst identity crisis, only made worse by a glut of books, articles and other media on how to make it better. It's like we can't completely explore one model before we hear of a "new and improved" model, which we incorporate for a while until we read about "the next big thing." On and on.... Our modern culture of instantaneous gratification applied to ecclesiology.

And there's nothing inherently wrong with these models; I'm not one to say we should reject them all and "get back to being a NT church," because I truly believe that all these models are striving for that. I really don't know how the church is to get through this crisis, other than realizing it's in crisis, and sticking with what Jake said, "Life is for living, doing, and being disciples of Jesus Christ." I agree with Dusty that it can get discouraging. I've only been interested in ministry models for a few years now, and I'm already tired of it -- seeking out every new model, dialoguing with it, exploring it's Biblical basis, then incorporating or rejecting it. It just seems really pointless when so much of the NT is being left untouched.

But I don't think we need another "new" model, though we're guaranteed to see more. We just need to stick to the original template of discipleship no matter which model or tradition our local church is associated with. In short, I'm pretty sure what we're doing here is worth something, as long as we don't give into the modern mindset of elevating our model or tradition as the new standard. Unwittingly, we've stared a "Link Institute" of our very own, only with less impressive credentials and no John Paff to get the word out.

But like we've all said here at one point, our conversations are trivial unless they find an outlet in the ministry of our daily lives. Not even John Paff can help us with that.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Emergent is Dead

Recently I've found much criticism for McLaren and his host of emerging men, (I'm not talking about the actual reviews found here by my Jake and Jonny) and I've kind of been saddened by them. It's a lot like when someone tells you that your favorite band really sucks and then lists a lot of reasons that are really just insults cloaked in poorly made points. For some fun reading check out Christian Music Superstar Steve Camp's thoughts on the submerging church led by McSharin

However I recently read Andy Crouch's article from CT and found the reason so many people are taking shots at the "emerging church." In said article McLaren drops many qthese gems...

"I don't think we've got the gospel right yet. What does it mean to be 'saved'? When I read the Bible, I don't see it meaning, 'I'm going to heaven after I die.' Before modern evangelicalism nobody accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, or walked down an aisle, or said the sinner's prayer. I don't think the liberals have it right. But I don't think we have it right either. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy."

"Right now Emergent is a conversation, not a movement," he says. "We don't have a program. We don't have a model. I think we must begin as a conversation, then grow as a friendship, and see if a movement comes of it."

I think that Jake responded correctly to these quotes here minus a few words...
"if you share McLaren's presuppositions that Evangelical Christianity is a failed movement and that being like American culture is unsatisfactory DO SOMETHING. Sell your automobile, quit your job, move, start a... revolution, but do not simply claim to have a "conversation" about the presuppositions that are at play in the conventional forms of life as we know it. This is what TV is for. Life is for living, doing, and being disciples of Jesus Christ. We not only need to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified but live it. That is what emergence is missing. This is what the church is missing. They preach a fuller gospel than conventional churches. But if the conviction is there then the lifestyle must match it"

I believe that we've hit the nail directly on the head with this conversation. The difference between the "emergining church" and the "willow-driven church" is the style of music you worship to and the "TARGET MARKET".

I believe that this is what we see in every aspect of American Christianity. We see how things are "meant" to be, but when the going gets tough we just fold back in with the pack and call it something different. You can call it post-modern church, you can call it emergent, you can call it seeker centered, or purpose driven, but what you really have is a Church with an identity crisis.

If only we were as [cool, relevant, hip, fun etc.] as the rest of the [world, MTV, Jonny Depp, Dr. Phil, Jimmy Eat World, Dan Brown, Oprah].

More on this "conversation"

I think that Jonny's post and forthcoming comments deserve to be responded to in a full post because this is important.
1. Bonhoffer is exceedingly poetic. Read Life Together. Read letters and papers from Prison. Read Ethics. Read anything other than what is required of you in Huntington College ministry classes (Cost of Discipleship) and you will not only see why he is poetic but why he matters as a great theologian. It is nothing but poetic theology. This hits on Jonny's point exactly, everyone in that list does what McLaren wants to do/claims to do. Their all doing Theology of/with Language in a way that is enviable to every theologian who takes a more rationalist approach to their work. Jonny is right that McLaren is painfully stuck in a spot that most of us aspiring poetic/theological/whatevers find ourselves- neither really good at poetics nor really good at rationalistic theology yet equally passionate about both and somewhat unsatisfied with the idea of being silent.
2. Jonny- you are mostly right when you said: "Generous Orthodoxy is an argument without form or substance. It's not knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It's a thought experiment that goes nowhere." It is an argument without form or substance, mostly. It is a thought experiment that goes nowhere. yet I am convinced that enough other people are being convinced by it that the piece itself is knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Something is happening here, people who should know better find him to be one of the most promising Christian writers around, and therefore I am still convinced that, if we possess the intellectual fortitude, it must be examined and responded to. The rest of your critique is correct, and serves as the prescriptive mood of my critical descriptive response.
3. Eric Snider's comment hits the Emergent issues right on the head. Emergent is a comfortable bed-fellow with the very thing it is trying to overthrow- conventional evangelicalism. They seem to be somewhat aware of the shortcomings and ultimate failures of their context yet either too comfortable or unable to truely seperate and try something different. They are like the pissed off youngest son of a CEO I know that hates everything about his father's employment and capitalism as a whole but continues to take thousands of dollars a year from his parents. They are the perpetual college student, self-critical, ironic, and not afraid of the contradictions between their statements and their lifestyles. Nothing is satisfactory about anything they are around and there is nothing that will be done about it so I'm going to download 3,500 songs onto my hard drive. This is not a person-by-person description but rather a blatently modern generalization for a blatently modern movement that fails to see the necessary connection between doctrine and practice that is supposed to be characteristic of what they are claiming as post-modernism. This is what makes Emgerent things interesting: the irony of it all and the representation of what is American culture- when those who are "post-modern" perpetuate the "modernism" that is still the cultural norm. The Emergent movement can rest assured of its long standing place within Evangelicalism so long as it refuses to make actual changes to the very substance and structure of its churches. So long as there is a reason for self criticism and disapointment with evangelical churches there will be a market for McLaren and his friends to sell, sell, sell. Nothing could be more detrimental to McLaren's position within evangelicalism than for Christians to take some of his claims seriously and, as I suggested, follow his complaints to the logical conclusion of joining back with the Catholics or going the way of the Radical Reformation and putting to death evangelicalism and its perpetual commitment to the American way of apparent cerebral criticism married to a set of practices that seek efficiancy, practicality, and cultural normality that characterize the Emergent movement as much as the Evangelicalism it is responding to.
I reiterate- if you share McLaren's presuppositions that Evangelical Christianity is a failed movement and that being like American culture is unsatisfactory DO SOMETHING. Sell your automobile, quit your job, move, start a fucking revolution, but do not simply claim to have a "conversation" about the presuppositions that are at play in the conventional forms of life as we know it. This is what TV is for. Life is for living, doing, and being disciples of Jesus Christ. We not only need to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified but live it. That is what emergence is missing. This is what the church is missing. They preach a fuller gospel than conventional churches. But if the conviction is there then the lifestyle must match it or else the validity of said conviction will necessarily be questioned.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Out with the old, in with the something else that sucks just as bad

More Thoughts on Brian McLaren
A Companion Piece to Jake's review of A Generous Orthodoxy

A couple of months ago, Jake asked me to read a couple of books, then engage the texts from a critical standpoint to really understand the intentions and the methods of their respective authors. And I tried, but I couldn't. Mostly, because I can't stand crap.

There are two reasons I read. One is purely mechanical, for informational purposes. This type of reading kind of sucks sometimes, but it's good to know things. So it's got to be done.

The other reason I read is because I like the English language. Some writers just have an incredible grasp on words, and how to connect them with economy and clarity and a voice that is all their own.

I pick up Brian McLaren every once in while for the first reason. I want to know what the Emergent Church is, not because I'm desperate for a new tradition, but because I want to understand why so many evangelicals are so excited about his writings. But, to be totally honest, he doesn't say anything to me. Generous Orthodoxy is an argument without form or substance. It's not knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It's a thought experiment that goes nowhere.

As a writer, McLaren wants so badly to be in the second category. I can sense it, because I feel the same way. He writes not just to make a case, but because of his love of English and of God. But his language is flat, his ideas don't connect, and his words don't propel me from sentence to sentence, desperately wanting to know not just what he will say next, but how exactly he will say it.

In the end, I can't read McLaren. I don't have the discipline to read a book to simply understand a man or his "movement" without having something invested in what's at stake. And I can't read books whose authors love English....but not enough to know when to stop writing.

I think we evangelicals would be better off if we'd just pick up Bonhoeffer, Buechner, Manning, Yancey and Lammot -- and fall in love with authors who hide their points amongst the tall grass of poetry and grace. When Jesus spoke, it was never easy to understand. But it was beautiful and it was startling and it was vital. It was divine revelation hidden among the mud and the clay of planet earth. It wasn't a silly attempt to be everything to everyone. It stood out and said, "Everything else is dung."

I don't see the Emergent Church as offering of this. But to be fair, I don't see many other churches offering this either. We don't need new whats-its and whos-its. We don't need to hear about how we're on the verge of a new epoch in human thought. And we desperately don't need to surf the trends of armchair philosophers. We just need to preach Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Resting not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. In the majesty and bloody guts of the Gospel story.

(And I've got more. If you want to hear me complain about free Christmas-gift subscriptions to Relevant Magazine, read on.)