Tag Archives: tradition

Objective Reality?  Some Thoughts In The Context of Being Pro-Life

Red Letter Christians has an article out called, “Becoming Truly Pro-Life” by Greg Dill. This is the old, “you’re not truly and genuinely pro-life until you’re for all of life not just life inside the womb.” The part that really gets me is when Dill says, 

“But, as I grew in my faith, matured a bit more, and learned what it means to truly follow the peace teachings of Jesus, something changed. I had to take a step back, give pause, and closely examine myself and what I believed. And this self examination led me to reassess what it means to be pro-life in the most fullest sense. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I mostly had it all wrong.”

Think about this. What are you REALLY saying when you say this? That you learned to TRULY follow the peace teachings of Jesus. That you had it MOSTLY WRONG. You are deducing that before this “enlightenment” you WEREN’T TRULY following the peace teachings of Jesus–that before this enlightenment, you mostly had it all wrong. And in saying that, any pro-lifers or Christians that believed what you believed or did what you did were NOT TRULY following the peace teachings of Jesus and that they “mostly had it all wrong.” 


I cannot tell you the how much the condescension is strong in this one. “Hey, I thought about it and I discovered I was mostly wrong about everything. Which, if I was objectively wrong, that means that so are all these other pro-lifers and Christians!”  

Any time you start out like this it’s a turn off for me. I pretty much tune you out. It’s like you’re trying to be nice to my face while being a dick at the same time. Please, just be the dick about it. Outright. Or try to put it like this:
“I believed this before. I believe this now. I don’t somehow stand ‘outside from above reality’ as if I have a bird’s eye view on things. So I can’t say that I’m objectively right or wrong on something or another. The best I can do is say, “This is how **I** see it. Others genuinely see the issue different from me. The reason why is because, let’s face it, there are other traditions out there and I may not have all the relevant information to boot.”

You see. I can live with there being other traditions. I can live with them opposing my particular view of things. With Christians opposing my particular view of things–with each other. I’m not saying one shouldn’t try to discuss and attempt to persuade others. Just don’t do it while putting those others down in the process. We may find that we can oppose each other on some point of disagreement–on this or that point of disagreement while working toward the same goals, such as in this case, fighting against the evil that Dill speaks about, ie., cutting back on abortion, lower the rates of death amount African American males, etc.


God in the Wasteland

I want to do this one more time. My buddy Dwayne Polk brought this to our attention today.

In pointing this out, he hashed tagged with, #evangelicalwasteland and #disgusted. These hashtags are my biggest problem because by using these hashtags there’s a strong sentiment against evangelicalism or the evangelical community. You know, “The evangelical subculture is pretty #%+? up.”

Now, in a conversation with a couple of my scholarly friends on facebook last week it was assumed that if those on the side that say that Christians and Muslims DON’T worship the same God would simply read Feser’s piece here it would be self-evident that indeed Christians and Muslims DO worship the same God (correct me if I misunderstood). But here’s the point that I wanted to make and that I want to make again. Apparently, according Francis Beckwith, there are a number of scholars in which it is NOT self-evident that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

So. If that is the case, then:

A. Wheaton is not being THAT paranoid about it’s concerned over statements made by Dr. Hawkins. They fall within the “no” camp that these other scholars that Beckwith talks about. This is simply something they believe. This is something Hawkins DOESN’T believe.
B. Why then, are there these ad hominem remarks? Are we to say that McKnight and Molher , Wheaton et al., are the purveyors of an evangelical wasteland or merit disgust? Christianity IS tribalistic. Especially in its Protestant and evangelical manifestations. I HIGHLY doubt that it is ever going to be the case that it won’t be. So why the ad hominem? Why can’t we just accept this tribalism for what it is? Why can’t we just accept that there are different camps and leave it at that?

Let me throw another issue out there. Baptism. Nobody makes a deal out of the fact that there are different schools of thought on it, that, well, we have not been reconciled on it and we have learned to live with differences while carrying on with the work of the Kingdom, not in spite of those differences but THROUGH those differences.
You do realize that there are people who believe that children and infants should be baptized right? You do realize that there are some who believe in “believers baptism” right? There are some who believe in in both. And then there are folk like myself who believe that non-believers can be baptized! Yes! There are those of us, who deep down believe that!
I’m not worried that someone doesn’t believe what I believe. I certainly don’t worry about what they believe. People evolve over time with regard to much of what they have come to believe. I simply, walk in that belief and carry out the work of the Kingdom through it. Maybe someone was baptized as an infant and will switch over to believers baptism as they get older because that is what they genuinely and sincerely have come to believe and they don’t think that their earlier baptism was in a sense, “enough.” Can God, through the revealing of the Holy Spirit not lead people down a particular pathway? And especially can God not work through what is now seen formally as an “error” to bring people to him/herself, ie., God using less than ideal theology ie., health and wealth gospels, modalism, theonomy, YEC, ECP (eternal conscious punishment) etc? Yes, God works through broken vessels-always has-to bring us to greater and greater light and even still we may move yet again.

So, I say, let the tribalism be. Recognize it for what it is. God will sort it all out in the end but quit the whining and bemoaning. Serve God by the lights you have received and don’t worry about the guy beside you.

The Scandal of Particularity

“The scandal of particularity.” I first read those words in a book put out by Intervarsity Press (IVP), “The Nature of Confession” in an essay by Alister McGrath. At this point in his essay, he was talking about those who were believers in such pronouncements as universal religious experience. For McGrath, along with Lindbeck, universal experience itself, is also what has “explanatory and revelatory significance.” Thus, accordingly, evangelicalism will coincide with this aspect of the post-liberal program McGrath says. Whether theology, both historical and present “describes” objective reality or not is not the point that I’m trying to make here. The point I want to make concerns this issue of particularity.

As (Miroslav) Volf says in the next chapter:

“I therefore have strong sympathies not only with what Lindbeck has aptly termed “ecumenical sectarianism” but also with the methodological correlate of such non-sectarian ‘sectarianism,’ the critique of “translating” the biblical message into extra-biblical categories.”

That is, as he says later on:

“In contemporary de-Christianized, pluralistic and rapidly changing Western cultures, only those religious groups that make no apologies about ‘difference’ will be able to survive and thrive.”


“Hence it is not enough to recognize, as Lindbeck does in a good post-liberal fashion, that there is no NEUTRAL STANDPOINT, that we are always shaped by traditions of beliefs and practices. An adequate methodological proposal must also take into account THAT THERE IS NO PURE SPACE ON WHICH TO STAND EVEN FOR THE COMMUNITY OF FAITH. ECCLESIAL NON-NEUTRALITY IS ALWAYS ALREADY SHAPED BY THE CULTURE WHICH THE CHURCH INHABITS because to inhabit a contemporary culture means, to use Jean-Francois Lyotard’s formulation, not to inhabit a single, ‘grand Narrative’ but to live within a complex and mobile ‘fabric of relations.'”

Now compare this to what Stanley Hauerwas says. In his book, “Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America” Hauerwas tells the story of how one Easter morning in Dallas, TX, Billy Dick blurted out while the teacher was speaking of the crucifixion, “If Roy Rogers had been there, those dirty S.O.B.s would not have been able to do it!”

What Hauerwas is doing is speaking about how Americans are held captive to an “American Jesus.” Further down, Hauerwas states:

“That we think we would have stood with Jesus against the crucifixion, that we think that we would recognize him after the resurrection are extraordinary presumptions.”

And further down,

“The story of the Emmaus road neatly challenges our presumption that a resurrected Lord would be readily recognizable.”

On the whole, I’m inclined to agree with this. As Pat Apel says in “Nine Great American Myths: Ways We Confuse the American Dream With the Christian Faith“:

“The problem arises, as Calvin pointed out, when we assign to Jesus a character different from that which He received from God. In the derision of Jesus during the passion, the Roman soldiers dressed Him in purple as king o the Jews. They were using Jesus to mock the Jewish insurrectionists of the day. Halford Luccock writes that “this indignity has been inflicted upon him again and again. More than once has he been…clad in costumes that do not fit his personality, with the result that the man who walks before us has been so completely disguised as to be unrecognizable.”

However, I do think there can be problems with what Hauerwas is saying because these are generalities. And the reason why has to do with what Volf says above–the sectarianism.

Let me explain. Does Jesus look like the Roman Catholic Church with it’s non-ordination of women and all male priests? Does he look like the Mennonites or Amish who are totally pacifistic and non-violent? Does he look like some Methodist Churches that are all-inclusive? What about marriage? No divorce or remarriage? Divorce but no remarriage? Divorce and Remarriage for adultery or abandonment? Any number of reasons? Let’s add to this as these have mostly to do with ethics (though I would definitely not rule out that the two are inter-related (even if in-directly). What about this? Would Jesus look like a Pentecostal or Baptist or Presbyterian? Would he look preterist or is he futurist? Calvinist or open theist? Infant baptism or not? I’m talking doctrine as well as worship styles.

We may have our list of priorities and so we may feel that this or that issue is more important than others. Regardless, the list is practically endless. Now, would I say that those who don’t hold to my litmus test are SOMEHOW any less of a Christian? I’m not saying that Hauerwas comes right out and says this, but he definitely moves in that direction via saying, that we presume that we would recognize Jesus in American Christianity.

My problem is that I can’t help but recognize that Jesus IS recognizable IN and THROUGH these different forms and practices of North American Christianity. I’m not attempting to say that all of them are “correct” or “the true version.” THAT would be presumptuous! But if James K.A. Smith is correct and truth is pluriform, then we should (dare I say, MUST) let these things be. Accept that this is the way Christianity is. It’s VERY sectarian. I only recognize Christ through the particularities.

Let me make a suggestion. Hauerwas is a pacifist (to what degree I’m not sure, I haven’t read enough of him, though I have several of his books). I’m not. Now, we know that the issue can be quite complex. We may start off simple enough, but as the noetic structure expands into a weblike direction we begin to see that there are other presuppositions based on all sorts of things and connected to other presuppositions. Everything from history to theology to grammar and etymology– arguments from silence and so forth. A lot of this is built on “what ifs”–things that are not that clear. Something may not be clear in that it could go this way or that way and THAT makes at least somewhat of a difference in the way you would go in your direction say with regard to a particular issue, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

So, what do I do? Am I stuck? Well, not really. My suggestion is that we come to a peaceful acceptance of this state of affairs and not necessarily try to change those who are not on your team in the ballpark (it’s hard enough for me to change myself and ideas through such things new information, never mind whole groups of people, etc. Sociologists tell us that very rarely do all people fall on one side of the fence and not the other on social issues. I don’t think it’s different with the Church). So how does that work? I think it works via listening and searching. Listening to what the other team is saying and approaching them and their understanding of things with humility. Could I, as a non-pacifist, not learn something from my pacifist brothers and sisters? Do they not have something to teach me, especially when things become far too one-sided, i.e., the power politics of the Religious Right? Could their voice(s) not be prophetical? This is why, though we have our sectarian differences, I need them. Even the much despised “fundies” if for nothing else but to recognize my own personal history. What about progressives? Progressives who are inclusive of same-sex relationships? Surely, there is something I can learn from them as well isn’t there? Something I can learn deeply about Christ and how he might respond with such a question. Yes, you’ll worship in your camp with your distinctives and ethics. And I will in mine which may not be as inclusive as yours. You will be very sectarian and so will I. We may cross paths (it’s hard not to do that these days with social media). We may converse about these things. We may walk away with a renewed understanding and changed heart and mind. We may not. People and churches and branches of Christianity have their own “theological consciences.” I just don’t want you to say that your team is THE ball-park or that others don’t recognize Jesus in their particularity.

P.S. Sure, there may be those who hold to their sectarianism to the exclusion of all others and so why should what I’m saying here be something they should listen to or accept or heed? I’m not really speaking to that crowd though. There will always be those folk. They’ll still get to live within their particularity, regardless. I’m speaking to those who recognize that there are legitimate differences between ourselves in this ball-park called, Christianity.

The Church As A Garden: A Metaphor And Some Practical Advice

Roger Olson has a great blog concerning all of the different interpretations within evangelicalism here. The e-mailer he refers to in his blog sees this as problematic. Personally, I welcome this state of affairs.

Anyone who is aware of James K.A. Smith’s work would recognize that he wrote specifically about this state of affairs in his book, “The Fall of the Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic” where he speaks of truth not as being uniform but rather pluriform. This has been talked about for years now by folks like Robert Brow, here.

If it is the case that there ARE serious differences within Christianity in general, I would still agree with Goldingay who says that Christians have much more in common than they do differences. But this commonality also means something else. It seems that a lot of Christian, when they speak about “the church” (usually some sort of negative criticism) they speak about it monolithically. This happens mostly among evangelical Protestant types. And so, all, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox are bunched together to form a single whole and then the church is criticized for having a blind spot here or there or what have you.

When this happens, I see this as having a “thin” theology and not a “thick” one (to borrow from either Mirsolav Volf or McGrath, I can’t remember). By that I mean that there are distinctives between the different branches of Christianity plus distinctives WITHIN the branches themselves so as to result in different schools of thought, denominations, etc. That is, they are thick enough such that there are deep theological/philosophical roots to these differences, not differences that are not that important. This is why I would refer to the Body of Christ as a garden. There are roses, daisies, orchids, tulips, iris’ and so forth. This is God’s desire. So one flower or set of flowers in God’s garden can’t say to another flower or set of flowers, “We don’t need you” or “You don’t belong here.” That’s God’s business not yours or mine and He’ll sort out who belongs in the garden and who doesn’t.

That being the case, I get more than a little perturbed when someone from one tradition bemoans what is going on in another tradition because:

A. They are not a part of the particular tradition they are at odds with (which is probably why they are in another tradition altogether anyway). It’s really a family feud, not an outsider’s.
B. Each tradition should be allowed to exist without criticism. What I mean by that is
i) NOT that I can never look at another tradition and say, “I don’t agree with that.”
ii) What I mean is that I can look at that tradition and say, “I don’t agree with that but that is _____ tradition.” and fill in the blank with whatever particular tradition you may be referring to.

So there are a couple of things to say about the individual and (their relationship to) particular religious traditions.

A. I would say that it is not so much a case of, “Hey, why all the differences?” as much as it is a case of jumping into the deep end of a particular tradition. That is, in large part, find out why a particular tradition does what it does–teaches what it teaches. You just may find out that things can get pretty complex. Commit yourself to a particular tradition while being open to the idea that you don’t have the corner of truth on theology. That you may have something to learn and possibly change your position (no matter how strongly felt) on from/concerning another tradition. In other words, it is faith seeking understanding (which pretty much means growing in a pietistic faith not mere head knowledge). At the end of the day, you are responsible for your faith. You stand before God and are responsible for why you believe and practice what you do.
B. When you realize that there are “thick” differences between traditions, that is cause to be a little more understanding than offering some possible misdirected complaint about said tradition. Each one will be allowed to exist in the world without your shoving the so-called, “dirty laundry” before an unbelieving world. I put dirty laundry in quotes because many times what is perceived as “Christian Culture” and what doesn’t belong to “truth faith” is actually an outworking of a deep theological understanding of faith. It allows you to recognize the differences for what they are and that fellow Christians can live out the Gospel (as they perceive it), in different yet refreshing ways.

Karl Barth and C.S. Lewis on the Birth of ‘Chronological Snobbery’

An interesting post from an online buddy of mine that is worth the read.

Karl Barth and C.S. Lewis on the Birth of 'Chronological Snobbery'.