Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gospel in a Pluralist Society: Revelation in History (ch. 6)

Newbigin discusses the philosophical issues related to God’s revelation in history. This chapter is a little confusing, but it settles with the fact that God can reveal Himself both generally to the entire world (in creation, or otherwise) and specifically to a particular group of people (the Jews). In the “friendship” of this particular revelation, the knowledge of God and His ways are clearest because of the close relationship, but others can observe the work of God to know Him from afar. When put into this “friendship” context, this is a quite logical perspective on particularity. Newbigin also notes that there is no logical reason why God would choose Israel over Japan, but He has, and He must be particular in “full” self-disclosure, which is the argument in the next chapter.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Gospel in a Pluralist Society: Reason, Revelation, and Experience (ch. 5)

Reason and revelation have come to be known as competitors, opposites, but Newbigin disagrees. They are intimately related if understood correctly. Two views can both be utterly opposed and still be “reasonable” because they have come from such different starting points. Newbigin seems to offer that God reveals to people (even if they think “I’ve discovered it!”) and reasoning moves forth from that point to make sense of our experience in the world. Those who do not see God’s revelation in science (or any discipline) will obviously have different patterns of reasoning – which is most of the world. The Christians’ response to this reality is to be firmly planted in both worlds (“God revealed” and “I’ve discovered”) and engage in personal dialogue within oneself and with others to make sense of the world we live in.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lent for Evangelicals

I know some people in our evangelical environment get a bit freaked out by Lent. Here’s a link to a series of articles (just started) by an evangelical and why he embraces Lent. Full disclosure: I’ve only skimmed the first one, but this is a timely issue and he’s a trusted source in my book.

Mark D. Roberts on Lent

By the way, I'm giving up facebook and sweets. What about you?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gospel in a Pluralist Society: Authority, Autonomy, & Tradition (ch. 4)

Newbigin eschews the Enlightenment trend of rejecting tradition and looking at things “critically” as impossible. We are all subject to our tradition and use it as a starting point for moving forward in the various fields of knowledge. Every field, even hard sciences dismiss much that is outside the “tradition” unless it comes from someone respected within the tradition. And something that does not fit the tradition is not a threat to the tradition unless it builds up and ends up answering more questions about life than its predecessor. Something is not dismissed if it does not make sense; it is only dismissed if there is something to replace it. This is why evolution is still hanging on – there’s no atheistic replacement.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gospel in a Pluralist Society: Knowing and Believing (ch. 3)

Again the dichotomy that culture makes between something that is factual and a personal belief is at issue. But in this chapter Newbigin demonstrates how non-scientific Russell’s definition of scientific method is; how intuitive it is – sometimes like faith. This makes us wonder what knowing is and if we can ever connect with ultimate reality. Newbigin offers that we look through the lenses of our current experiences and culture to “feel” reality. We see through our experiences to reality – or a perception of it – and that perception adjusts as we dialogue with others about their reality and make appropriate adjustments based on what makes more sense.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gospel in a Pluralist Society: The Roots of Pluralism (ch. 2)

I’ve got a good bunch of studying to take care of over the next week or two before I get back to Niebuhr or the Apocalyptic Literature series (remember that?). Until then, here are some Newbigin summaries from when I read it several years ago. Here’s the first post. Here's the summary...

The issue boils down, it seems, to what can be proven. If it can be proven in a lab, it is a fact. If not, it is a value and, while values may be good, they are personal and have little, if anything, to do with facts. Because knowledge is observational, it can only guess at purpose, there is no knowledge of it. That being the case, how things ought to function are only opinions, not objective facts. Newbigin then deals with the fact that we all trust something as objective and any doubts we have about something are based on things we think to be truer. Where all of this ends up in the religious sphere is the triumph of sincerity, not whether something actually “is” or not.

Reading this again, I'm not sure this even makes sense! What do you think Newbigin means, or what are your thoughts on the implications of it?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ ABOVE Culture (synthesists), part 2 (Critique)

The Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One” makes this view attractive to most, if not all, believers, according to Niebuhr. This seems to be the preferred view of Niebuhr thus far because he is short on critique, but he does note that this view necessarily collapses into a provincial theology of Christ and culture. There must be a significant reinventing of the system as culture changes. I suppose it would have to be constant, but its proponents often become defenders of the culture instead of re-contextualizing. This view seems to require an institutionalization because Christ and culture are synthesized, but this institutionalization wars against further synthesis. An attractive view, but pretty difficult to see played out in reality.

Another critique is that this view does not handle human sinfulness seriously enough. This is raised by those Niebuhr calls “the dualists.” They’re our next view so we’ll see what they mean by this critique next.

[Suggestion: If this is even moderately interesting to anyone but me (and that’s even questionable sometimesJ) DA Carson has written Christ and Culture Revisited that has nice summaries of these views by way of introduction as he seeks to move the argument forward. You may want to check his book out and continue reading forward. I just cracked it and I’m looking forward to diving into it after I finish Niebuhr.]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Never Mind that Never Mind. He's coming.

USS Mariner on Junior

Umm ... Never Mind that Imminent Arrival ... For Now

Check out Larry Stone's piece in the Seattle Times.

Christ and Culture: Christ ABOVE Culture (synthesists), part 1 (View & Its Champions)

Given that this is a middle point between the two previous views, it may be understandable that this is a difficult view to articulate. Given that there are two other views that are in the middle, the distinctions are going to be a little more difficult. This view seems to lean toward the accomodationist position (Christ OF Culture), but there are clear distinctions.

This view recognizes Jesus as Lord of both the church and culture. His commitment to Jesus as Lord is greater than culture will generally allow and yet he is unwilling to abandon culture as fundamentalists might be. He sees God as Creator and must meet the demands of creation: sex, social relationships, intelligence, and laws. He cannot neglect culture because it, too, is God’s.

Clement of Alexandria is the example Niebuhr holds up as the earliest proponent of this view. While he gets into some odd details with his cultural law-giving as a churchman, the best picture of his thinking is how he discusses a rich man entering heaven (see Bible text). The rich man, in this position must not trust in his riches. Instead he must be grateful to God and care for others with those riches. Wealth isn’t evil, but it comes with great responsibility that flows from Christian love that, in this case, aligns with Stoic philosophy. Clement doesn’t worry about making Jesus fit culture, but chooses what is best in culture to train believers to maturity and Christ uses culture for His own ends. Niebuhr succinctly states:

“His Christ is not against culture, but uses its best products as instruments in his work of bestowing on men what they cannot achieve by their own” (p. 127).
Aquinas, according to Niebuhr, is the greatest of these synthesists. Nobody has ever done it better, and Niebuhr doubts anyone ever will. His appraisal of Aquinas:

“In his system of thought he combined without confusing philosophy and theology, state and church, civic and Christian virtues, natural and divine laws, Christ and culture” (p. 130).
Perhaps an example would best illustrate how this works. That man should not steal is both biblically revealed and culturally reasonable, but that a man should give all he owns to the poor is a virtue that goes beyond what culture could reasonably expect. Similarly, private property is a good thing based upon reason, but that it would be used greedily or to oppress others is wrong – both biblically and by way of reason. In short, the believer cooperates with the laws of the land, but they are expected to supersede them due to their biblical standards.

Those who are avowed Thomists today, or recently, actually don’t hold this particular view of synthesis. They’re more fundamentalist in their approach as they are seeking to maintain a culture centuries past. This view must change with culture, but not in the accomodationist sense. We’re talking about two factors that synthesize – and one is always changing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Christ and Culture: The Center Positions

The next three chapters deal with more centrist positions than the two extremes we’ve looked at. It faces the reality that, while the extremes may be clear, most people operate in the grey. This is not because they’re wishy-washy (though this may be the case for some). They are theologically grounded on the fact that God created the world and sent Christ to it (so it ought not be abandoned) and yet it is fallen and in need of grace (so it ought not be exalted). This view recognizes sin and the need for grace and obedience (even if all don’t agree on what it looks like – e.g., Catholics and Protestants). One cannot love God without loving his neighbor, which he sees, thus caring for the world. The views to follow are here called synthesists, dualists, and conversionist. Each will be titled by Christ’s relation to culture as we move forward.

As I was reading this intro to the next few chapters, I thought, “I’m in this group.” But I’m curious to see where I land among the three positions.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Best Books of 2008, part 2

The first part of this post, my fav books of 2008, was posted a few days ago.

Simple Church
This is my favorite leadership/pastor book of the year. There are a couple others that were really good (Breaking the Missional Code, The Big Idea, and Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars), but this one scratched where I was itching. I sometimes feel like we do too much, that we’re overwhelmed with activity in the church. So much so that we don’t engage the culture around us. Maybe it’s just me. The authors make it clear it isn’t just me and point out how the most effective churches in America are simple. Worth looking in to.

The Emotionally Healthy Church
Generally I’d avoid a book with a title like this like the plague. Seems too touchy-feely. Not sure what made me pick this up, but it was a powerful book based on the premise that we can’t be spiritually mature if we’re not emotionally mature. Discipleship involves the transformation of the whole person, which means we need to deal with our emotions. We need to deal with stuff in our past that we’d really rather not deal with. But great fruit awaits in our own lives and in the life of our church. Specifically, health from the top down.

The Problem with Evangelical Theology
This was a tough book to work through, but it was compelling. Ben Witherington III walks through the distinctives of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism and points out how they are flawed systems in those very areas where they are most distinct. I’ll need to walk through it again to really grasp the book, but he seems to be a careful exegete and he helped me look at things in categories I hadn’t thought of before. If you like theology, you may enjoy this one.

Honorable Mentions: Better Together by Rick Warren (a great devotional for an introvert like me); unChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons (challenging cultural insights on young adults and Christianity); The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller (the parable of the lost son – from beginning to end).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ OF Culture, part 2 (Defense & Critique)

See Feb. 12 for the first part of this post.

Niebuhr starts with an interesting angle that casts the Christian liberal and the fundamentalist in the same light. Both can fit under this perspective. The question is which culture they think is best that Jesus has baptized. Some think today’s is best, some want the 13th century.

This view, in Niebuhr’s view also has something to do with the growth of the early church. It wasn’t just martyrs that won the day, but the fact that Jesus was relevant to His time. People saw the best of their culture in Him. Greeks saw Socrates in Jesus. I guess this is similar to Don Richardson’s Peace Child and the idea of redemptive analogies in missions. There’s eternity in their hearts to prepare them for the gospel. Maybe the seeds of it, but it doesn't go far enough.

Whether one agrees with this view or not (and appreciation of other views, if not agreement, seems to be one of Niebuhr’s goals), it is fair to note that this view has kept the church grounded and engaging the culture when some might be tempted to make Him so other-worldly that He’s of no earthly good. And, while this view is susceptible to people creating Jesus into their own image, it also brings out facets of Jesus’ character that, while perhaps exaggerated in most cases, are true to who He is and give us a more complete picture of Him.

The first critique was just addressed. This view tends to distort the New Testament Jesus. This was written in 1951, but this is happening today as surely as it was in the 50s, perhaps even more so with the likes of the Jesus Seminar. But the biblical story smashes these odd constructions that we come up with. Niebuhr states, “He [Jesus] is greater and stranger than these portraits indicate” (p. 109).

The next critique is that this view puts reason as the highest value and makes Jesus an idol that serves the end of reason. Revelation is the realm of fools (low I.Q.s in Niebuhr’s words). But just as those who exalt revelation can’t get away from reason, so the Christ of Culture adherents can get rid of revelation. There’s no abstract “reason” for Jesus to die for our sin or that He is the Christ rather than a moral teacher. The Christian cannot escape revelation – even if their prime value is reason.

One more critique is that this view has an extreme view of sin and purity. Sin is in evil institutions or ignorant religion or structures that promote greed, but purity is found in the human spirit. While that is over-simplifying it, Niebuhr states, “The divine action of grace is ancillary” (p. 113).

Niebuhr’s introduction to this point is worth concluding with. This view has not been any more successful in gaining disciples than “Christian radicalism.” And given the almost 60 years since the book has been written, it’s clear that it has been far less effective as mainlines are taking a dive – unless there’s a turnaround that I haven’t heard about.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine’s Day

My wife is truly God’s amazing gift to me. It is clear I’ve married way over my head and I’m grateful she doesn’t constantly emphasize that fact.

And I love my other Valentine’s, too. Ellie, Viv, and Cael are the greatest kids ever and I can’t wait to see them tomorrow!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Best Books of 2008, part 1

OK. Maybe not the best, but the ones that stood out in my reading based on no set criteria. I know this is late, but, hey, maybe there will be something that might catch your eye. By the way, these weren’t published in 2008. That’s the year I read them. I read (or finished from the previous year) more than 25 books. This is just a list of the top five standouts (in no particular order), though there could have been at least 7 or 8. Here’s the first two.

Undaunted Courage
I am slowly working my way through US history via biographies and key events. This was the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. A thoroughly enjoyable adventure story, these guys were some tough, determined, gifted men. If you like history and frontier stuff, you’ll like it.

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
I think I initially heard Dave Ramsey talking about this book on a podcast. It was great. Dads are often portrayed as hapless oafs in popular culture, but our influence on our daughters’ lives is huge. I was stunned, humbled, and terrified to see how important.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Imminent Arrival?

I was ticked when he left, but I have to admit I'm a sucker for nostalgia and a little bit excited.

Keep up with the rumors: Seattle Times, Prospect Insider, & USS Mariner

Christ and Culture: Christ of Culture, part 1

Coming from more fundamentalist roots, Niebuhr indicates that this view is not referring to those who have rejected Christ for culture. Rather, they see Christ aligning with the best parts of their culture – “the fulfiller of its hopes and aspirations” (p. 83). They, opposite of the Christ Against Cutlure folks, quite comfortable with Christ and culture. This view does not seek to sanction everything about culture, but it does try to discern those aspects of Jesus that are “rational and abiding” and to separate it from “the historical and accidental” (p. 84).

The Jesus of the Christ and Culture perspective is an educator or philosopher or reformer. Someone who shows us how to live. The carriers of this perspective would be the Gnostics – ancient and modern. These are the ones that seek to reconcile the gospel with the science and philosophy of their time. It may be evolution or it could be to “disentangle the gospel from its involvement with barbaric and outmoded Jewish notions about God and history; to raise Christianity from the level of belief to that of intelligent knowledge” for the ancient Gnostics (p. 86). This made Jesus the savior of one’s soul, not the Lord of life. He was the best, but not the only – and can lay no claims on anyone’s life in a significant way. Jesus in the Gnostic’s life was a private and spiritual thing and didn’t affect what he thought about war or idol worship or emperor worship. The one holding to this perspective is selective what they take from culture and Christ. They embrace what they believe is noble and reject the ignoble. This view, in Niebuhr’s opinion, is held by Abelard as well. (Honestly, I only remember the name from my church history class, but not details.)

This perspective, in modern times, could take the title of Dan Kimball’s recent book They Like Jesus, But Not the Church (I have it on my shelf. Looks good, but I haven’t gotten to it yet). Jesus is a great moral teacher in this view, but the church messes up His teaching to try to make it authoritative for today. Instead, Jesus is the one who comes into social situations and brings eternity with Him. He, in a sense, baptizes whatever we’re involved in. There are, in this view, two foci of faithful living: Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and attaining a perfect society. These are not thought to be in conflict. In fact, one who has embraced Jesus cannot but help to engage in civic work for the common good. Much of this section is based on the work of Ritschl.

I think there’s some good in this, but some brutal blind spots that frighten me because, as I seek to be missional, I see myself moving toward more civic engagement. The next post on Niebuhr will deal with the defense and critique of this position. But until we get there, any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gospel in a Pluralist Society: Dogma & Doubt in a Pluralist Society (ch. 1)

I'm running behind on my Christ & Culture posts, but I remembered I had read Leslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, which is a related work - or at least similar issues. As I'm trying to get back to Niebuhr, I'll intersprese a summary of each chapter of Newbigin that I wrote as I was reading his book a few years ago - pre-blogging. Take them for what they're worth, but they're not doing much good in my "My Documents" folder. Enjoy.

Newbigin argues that our world celebrates pluralism in the sense that nothing is absolute for all people – unless it can be scientifically proven. People may have preferences, but to believe something is true for everyone is unforgivably arrogant “dogma.” Newbigin specifically says, “The purpose of these chapters is to examine the roots of this culture we share [pluralistic] and to suggest how as Christians we can more confidently affirm our faith in this kind of intellectual climate.” He gives four principles to start on in relation to dogma: 1) it is not unique to the church – everyone takes something as given; 2) every society has “plausibility structures” and the gospel gives rise to a new one!; 3) Christians may not possess all truth, but they are on the right path toward the complete truth in Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Great Bible Nerd Site!

I was listening to Mark Driscoll's sermon online from a week or two ago and he was encouraging people to study and learn their Bible. As one of the resources he mentioned a glorious site that rates a ton of the commentaries out there. I don't know how it all works in terms of ratings and what not, but it has potential to be a great help, particularly in these times where there's less money to waste on a mediocre commentary. The site:

In the past, and I'll likely still use it, I've used Tremper Longman's Old Testament Commentary Survey for finding my OT commentaries and the Top Picks put out by the Talbot School of Theology staff for my NT commentary choices. Both are, at least until I figure out how to get more reviews out of, more helpful in giving reviews - even if just a few lines long.

Enjoy. Or roll your eyes if you can't believe what an incredible nerd I and my ilk are.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Social World Behind the Apocalyptic Literature

Apocalypticism isn’t necessarily a response of oppressed people. It is much more complex than that. It is grounded in worldview. Biblical apocalypse is not unhinged, but is closely tied to biblical revelation that has gone before it. The key element of the worldview that drives apocalyptic literature is hope. The hope is that there has to be more to life than what is currently experienced. There is a promise of more. The current reality cannot be all there is to life. Cook goes through some cross-cultural examples that indicate this worldview can engage both oppressor and oppressed.

This seems counter-intuitive to me on one level. It makes sense that the oppressed would be seeking more, but the key element of hope is helpful in the sense that there is more to this life than the current existence. I can see how that would be compelling to a whole people group rather than just the oppressed.

In the next chapter Cook begins to discuss the apocalyptic texts of the Bible and he begins with sections in the OT prophets – Ezekiel, Zechariah, Joel, Isaiah, & Malachi. Daniel will get his own chapter. In support of his thesis that apocalyptic literature can come from upper or ruling classes, he notes that all of these prophets were either priests or closely related to priests. Hardly an oppressed people within Israel.

(Note: I’m not summarizing each of these prophets because the sections are so short that I’d essentially have to copy word for word. If you want that, buy the book).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Christ and Culture Updated

I just signed up for a e-newsletter from Lausanne World Pulse in the missions class I'm taking. I stumbled upon this article, which is related to the Christ and Culture series of posts. Probably makes what I'm going to do obsolete in this series of posts, but, as I mention at the headline, I do this to help me think through issues and read carefully. I think this is worth reading.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A New Search for the Literal Sense of Apocalyptic Texts

Cook now embarks on the task of seeking the literal sense of apocalyptic texts, but he is careful to distinguish it from a rigid literalism that flattens the text, harming its “original idiom.” He goes on to state, “A search for the Bible’s literal sense is different. It sees apocalyptic texts as symbolically rich, inspired literature that invigorates the imagination, offering readers new orientation and resolve about the life of faith.” And later he notes, “The transcendent world is already starting to impinge on the mundane world, the world of the here and now” (p. 63). How do we develop this nuanced “Literal Sense”?

Formulate a Canonical Approach
First, the building blocks of apocalyptic literature are biblical images and ideas. The amount of quotations and allusions to the previous canonical books are tremendous. They correct some exaggerated views of some texts. Next, the literature is rich with symbols and images. It takes mythic elements from the OT or even mythic and pagan images and breathes new meaning into them that have eternal significance. It is important to note this is not to reduce apocalyptic to mythology. It uses mythology. Finally, there is a transcendental reality that connects to life on earth and this tension (or better, multidimensionality) ought not be flattened. This view recognizes that there is an historical spiral at work here. Our times may look like the end times, but it is like a road around a mountain. There may look like times when we’ll go over the cliff, but God keeps us on the road – until the time He doesn’t. That’s the end. In this way we can learn from apocalyptic whether the time is ready to end or not.

Theological Contributions of Apocalyptic Texts
Apocalyptic reminds us that salvation isn’t just an individual deal. It involves creation and even space and time. God is bringing all things to consummation. It also shows us that things aren’t going to get better; they’re going to get worse. On the other side of the coin, God’s salvation will set things right. There is a plan to all of this and God will ultimately send the forces of evil running and be shown our Hero.

Apocalyptic Texts and Liberation
There is a “setting right” of all things ecological and as pertains to oppression as well in apocalyptic. This does not mean we ought to disengage from seeking justice. Rather, we are sowing the seeds that will one day come to fruition apocalyptically.

Do these ideas adjust your understanding of apocalyptic at all? Does it bring some clarity to what was confusing, or does it add confusion to already difficult texts?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Domesticating Apocalyptic Literature Continued

Domestication #2: Futuristic or Historicized Readings
This is the domain of fundamentalists and liberals, respectively, according to Cook. The basic issue is the idea that apocalyptic literature is coded and one must decipher the code for it to be valuable. This fails the futurist readings because the texts, to endure, had to say something for the people of their time. They aren’t a “message in a bottle” to be picked up in the 21st century. While this fundamentalist perspective is certainly my heritage, I’ve always been bothered by this concept and the way Daniel and Revelation are read. We seem to use them like a crossword puzzle – making everything fit “just so” to create our model for history. I don’t mean to be overly negative with that critique and I can’t offer a better hermeneutic. That’s just what bothers me about it.

On the other hand, the liberal error of making the text totally historical also fails. The writers weren’t simply describing their historical circumstances. They were anticipating the end of time. It obviously didn’t come when they hoped or anticipated, but the biblical texts make no promises of “this is the date.” In short, there’s more than history described in apocalyptic texts. They’re looking to the future, too.

Domestication #3: Overly Credulous or Overly Suspicious Readings
The overly credulous readers of apocalypse are eager to appropriate the text to their current situations, which can be particularly dangerous to cross-sections of people who may arouse their ire. Revelation 17 has been used as a rationale for burning witches and Malachi 4.1-3 was used for killing thousands of Native Americans in colonial times. Cook corrects the “overly credulous” saying,

“These images are transcendental realities of suprahuman proportion. As such, they are completely stereotyped and excessive by their very nature. They sum up and embody inclinations, qualities, and characteristics in a way that now historical person or group ever could. To reduce them to finite persons is pure domestication” (p. 54).

The related error is, again, the opposite extreme – being overly suspicious of the apocalyptic texts and not letting them say enough. Perhaps because parts of the text are offensive by current standards or used to abuse others throughout history (see witches, Native Americans above), some interpreters are dismissive of some challenging parts of a text, or try to re-construct the text altogether. They end up, often, being dismissive of a re-creation, seeing it as a bad thing rather than the renewal that the text (at least Revelation) intends to communicate.

I think I can tend to be overly “earthly minded” and not let the realities of God’s consummation of history grip my heart to the degree that it should. Do you lean one way or another any of these “domestication” dangers?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Danger of Domesticating the Apocalyptic Texts, Part 1

Cook gets a hearty “Amen” out of me at the start of this chapter. He says many want to domesticate the apocalyptic texts, particularly teachers so they can bring some sanity to them. These texts, to be honest, terrify me. I’m glad I have to teach them; I’d avoid them, otherwise. Cook continues: “[Domesticating the texts] means shifting the focus in reading away from a serious grappling with their over theological witness about God’s fantastic future work of re-creating reality” (p. 40). Since I don’t want to do that, I best listen to these three ways apocalyptic texts get domesticated.

Domestication #1: Spiritual and Symbolic Readings
Because most of us, at least in the West, don’t see much in terms of miracles, we may be quick to explain away the fantastic elements of apocalypse as simply symbolism and not having any real, tangible expression. They are signs of something big coming, but they’re exaggerated images of a less dramatic reality. But Cook, pointing to a reading from the Dead Sea Scrolls and then some Native American apocalyptic beliefs, argues that apocalypse is anticipating a creation-altering event. It is not exaggerated symbols; something tremendous is going to happen that will change reality. Set it to rights.

More questionable ways of reading apocalyptic texts forthcoming. Any thoughts on this one?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ Against Culture, part 2 (Critique)

I won’t say I’m necessarily enjoying this book. It’s not a thriller by any means, but I love how Niebuhr introduces his critique. It makes me think this will be an edifying and educational read. He calls it a necessary and inadequate position. There’s plenty of critique, but before that he mentions that this perspective reveals a clear passion by its adherents to honor Christ. Their priorities are evident. Beyond that, this perspective has done much to keep Christ and Caesar separate. The commitment to obeying governing authorities (Rom. 13) is held in tension with spurning the world (1 Jn.) by all of us because of the work of this perspective.

The problem with this perspective is that we can’t fully get out of our culture. We think in cultural terms and reject cultural realities. Unfortunately, the ones we construct hold traces (or even foundations) from that culture we’re supposedly rejecting. The Bible was revealed in culture and we cannot return to that culture, which makes it possible to be totally anti-cultural in our world – even if we’re trying to construct it on our own.

Next he moves into theological issues with this perspective. He talks of revelation and reason in conflict, but I found the most compelling the theology of sin. This perspective, in many ways, acts as if sin is an external issue that contaminates the people of God (remember Tertullian’s thoughts on children), but this group also is highly disciplined because it knows the reality that sin dwells in each of us. In this effort to quench the sin that rises up within, however, they can kill the mission of taking the gospel to everyone. There were more objections, but I found this the most compelling and the others were, to be honest, more difficult to articulate than I’m up for tonight. Hope you aren’t following for insightful commentary here.

Do you find these objections fair? What other objections might you offer to this Christ Against Culture perspective?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Christ and Culture: Christ Against Culture, part 1 (Biblical Support, Historical Proponents)

Niebuhr starts this section by noting it has some strong biblical warrant and the support of the early church. He sweeps through 1 John and notes the importance of God’s love for us, our love for God, and then the importance of loving our brother. But the emphasis is on our love for our brother in the faith. In contrast to this love, we need to stay away from the world that corrupts. The most popular early church writings agree with this interpretation of John – Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, & others. He also notes how Tertullian had strong opinions about how culture was how we were corrupted. Niebuhr argues that Tertullian basically believed a baby would grow up innocent if not for the corrupting nature of culture. Tertullian, much more than he put into practice, argued for a withdrawal from the world’s institutions and largely had contempt for philosophy. Tertullian is the epitome of the anticultural Christian.

In modern times, this would show up in groups like the Mennonites and Society of Friends who withdraw from public institutions, according to Niebuhr. His personal model of this, however, is Leo Tolstoy who, after his conversion rejected almost all of his previous literary accomplishments as bad art, along with all other art that didn’t align with Christian beauty. He essentially embraced some key points of the Sermon on the Mount, focusing on nonresistance, and entered into a rigorous life of trying to adhere to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He had no use for government or churches because they were corrupt with the pursuit of power rather than trying to live what Jesus taught. His rigor, according to some, lacked the internal fire and love for Jesus that early proponents of this perspective exhibited (Tertullian and the early church).

What’s compelling about this perspective? What’s wrong with it? The next post will have Niebuhr’s critiques.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Go Cardinals!

Happy Super Sunday! It's an unofficial holiday in our country. We might as well recognize it. It hurts to say, since they’re in our division and their victory will make us the last in our division to not win a Super Bowl. They’ve been easy to pick on, too. But that already has to end since they’ve been in the Super Bowl more recently than we have.

But I’m a sucker for the underdog. Can there be a bigger ‘dog than the Cardinals? And who’s a bigger individual underdog than Kurt Warner. (Plus, I'm still bitter about the Seahawks loss to the Steelers in SBXL.) So I’ll be cheering for the Cardinals … unless I get a chance for a nap!