Matthew Lee Anderson founded MereOrthodoxy.com in 2005. He is currently a financial planner, and has worked as a writer, educator, and editor. As an advocate of new media, Matthew was influential in organizing the first convention for Christian bloggers. Matthew contributed a chapter to The New Media Frontier and has been published by The City. He and his wife of four years live in St. Louis, where they enjoy classical music, reading, and spending time together.
With that in mind, then, I offer the following reflections on evangelicals and adoption.
1) The conference was deeply theological, which was a good thing. Yet the main stage speakers focused almost exclusively on the motivations for adoption and orphan care, rather than the shape of adoption or orphan care. While the breakouts were primarily practical, the divide gave off the implicit feeling that theology ends precisely where reflection about what adoption should actually look like in practice begins.
But the Gospel does not simply provide us the proper set of motivations to do what everyone else in the world does. Instead, it provides us unique insight into the structure of morality (Christ is our wisdom), such that we can open up new possibilities for action rather than staying within the framework provided to us by the world around us. The Gospel is not only an internal reality that helps us to get our hearts in the “right place” with respect to adoption. It is an external reality that should help us discern who we adopt and how we go about it.
In other words, I would have loved to have seen some theological ethics with respect to adoption being worked out. A lot of people are very passionate about adoption, and that’s great. But not all attempts at helping those in poverty actually succeed, and it is the task of theological ethics to help those who are considering adoption discern how their proper motivations should take shape in the world. Some people will (rightly) say “no” to adoption, and theological ethics will help those in the adoption movement counsel those couples and churches wrestling with the practical dimensions more effectively.
2) It is a perennial temptation, I think, to frame the doctrine of adoption as a fundamentally individualisticdoctrine (as opposed to a doctrine about individuals). In adoption, God saves us as individual persons. But he saves us within a web of relationships with others, with the world, and even with myself. Like it or not, that web that simply does not go away at the moment of adoption (which is why, I think, in Romans 8 our adoption is framed as the final redemption of our bodies). Consequently, the line between the “old man” and the “new man” is a lot more blurry than we might like. We are never autonomous, never free-floating about the relationships that defined us (even when we deny them in order to follow Jesus).
In other words, orphans are not autonomous individuals, or atoms that have somehow achieved social isolation. They still exist within a social network, even though their birth parents are no longer around. In fact, the orphan is defined not by social isolation but by that absence, an absence that new parents simply will not fill in the same way. A new spouse may stand in the same relationship as the first, but as long as the person is different than some absence will be noticeable.
In that sense, then, I worry our language about adoption is too individualistic, that we are not attuned to the fact that adopting the person means bringing that web of relations into our home. The closest someone got to acknowledging this on the main stage was Bryan Lorrits, whose excellent talk highlighted the fact that adoption doesn’t make a black child any less black. And the unique set of social relations that come with that simply do not go away. (more…)
It’s a fair question. I suspect that you can draw a line between more traditional evangelicals and the so called “young evangelicals” based on how they want to read Genesis. And if I may unfairly stereotype for a moment, both sides of the movement tend to emphasize their preferred aspects of the book.
So on the one hand, old-school evangelicals discover both sanction for traditional sexual arrangements therein and that making the text compatible with evolution is extremely tricky, if not impossible. On the other hand, the younger set takes their sexual cues from the resurrection (preferring not to think about the so-called “order of creation”) while using Genesis to highlight their culture-making activities and their environmental concerns.*
Of course, each side might want to claim elements of the other side for their own. The above is simply what both sets tend to emphasize in their interpretations of the book. (more…)
At his New York Times blog, Ross Douthat has been doing a yeoman’s work, making me almost regret my critique of his essay on gay marriage by offering a patient, sophisticated case for preserving the “ideal” of heterosexual marriage.
Specifically, I was pleased to see him affirm my point that the legal affects the culture in addition to reflecting it, a point often lost on my peers. One of my favorite moments is when he turns the civil rights narrative on his opponents to prove the point:
Second, I think that most of Greenwald’s examples of cultural norms that aren’t legally enforced actually tend to back up my belief that law and culture are inextricably bound up, rather than his case that they needn’t be. A stigma on racism, for instance, would hopefully exist even in a libertarian paradise, but it draws a great deal of its potency from the fact the American government has spent the last 40 years actively campaigning against racist conduct and racist thought, using every means at its disposal short of banning speech outright. The state forbids people from discriminating based on race in their private business dealings. It forbids them from instituting policies that have a “disparate impact” on racial minorities. It allows and encourages reverse discrimination in various settings, the better to remedy racism’s earlier effects. It promulgates public school curricula that paint racism as the original sin of the United States. It has even created a special legal category that punishes crimes committed with racist intentions more severely than identical crimes committed with non-racial motivations. In these and other arenas, there isn’t a bright line between the legal campaign against racism and the cultural stigma attached to racist beliefs; indeed, there isn’t a line at all.
Douthat suggests that as gay marriage is legalized, the stigma against those who have old-fashioned views of marriage will increase and the line between culture and law will continue to blur. That’s near the center of the social conservative anxiety over gay marriage, despite the Constitutional protections that are in place to preserve the “freedom of religion.” Like freedom of speech, the ability to practice our religion doesn’t seem to be absolute when the “harm” of other individuals is in question.
But the heart of Douthat’s case—so far—is his description of heterosexual relationships as “thick,” which I joked over at Mere Orthodoxy is a term philosophers use when they have nothing else to say. The argument is that the gender differences and procreative impulses add an additional layer of complexity to heterosexual relationships that distinguishes them from homosexual relationships, which inevitably have to be characterized by “love and commitment”—and nothing more.
After reviewing some of the key historical, biblical, and theological considerations that have been a part of the moral discussion of cremation within the Judeo-Christian tradition, ultimately the practice must be viewed as an adiaphora issue [i.e. an issue that Scripture is indifferent on]. This being said, however, it seems legitimate to draw the following three conclusions. First, church history witnesses considerable opposition toward cremation with the normative practice of the church being burial. Second, while Scripture is silent on the specifics of how to treat the deceased, both the example of biblical characters and the general trajectory of related passages seem to be in a pro-burial direction.Third, the body is theologically significant; thus, both the act of and the imagery conveyed by the treatment of the deceased ought to be weighed carefully. (emphasis mine)
At first glance, it’s a judicious conclusion. It does allow for freedom in the individual believer’s decisions, while still preserving a place for Scripture as counsel.
Jones seems to suggest that it’s ultimately an adiaphora issue because there is no clear prohibition against the practice within the pages of Scripture. Fair enough. But what of slavery, where there is also no clear prohibition in Scripture?
Let’s rewrite the second of his mitigating points.
“Second, while Scripture is silent on the specifics of [whether to abolish slavery], both the example of biblical characters and the general trajectory of related passages seem to be in a [pro-abolition direction].”
This is the exact argument that is often made to suggest that slavery is, in fact, not a “Biblical” practice. The anthropology of Scripture undermines the institution, and any consistently Christian society or individual would work for abolition. Or so the argument goes.
If that argument is correct–and like a lot of folks, I think it is–then it’s hard to see how the Bible is indifferent toward slavery as an institution or a practice. There’s a moral judgment against it that is biblical, even if Scripture doesn’t explicitly prohibit it.
There are, of course, relevant differences between slavery and cremation, the most significant of which is that the one treats humans who are alive, and the other treats humans who are deceased. My point here is also not about the morality of cremation (or slavery) per se.That conversation is still going on of at my other internet home, and there’s no reason to repeat that all here.
Instead, I want to know (and this is a real question): If we adopt Jones’ conclusion that cremation is an adiaphora issue, despite the pro-burial trajectory within Scripture, must we also say the same thing of slavery?
The virtue of Gerald McDermott’s The Great Theologiansis that it condenses the central contributions of eleven of history’s most influential Christian thinkers into a readable and accesible format.
And McDermott makes this seem easy.
The Great Theologiansintroduces a rather diverse crew of theologians, from controversial but invaluable Origen, to the monumental Karl Barth. The selection alone might be enough to raise eyebrows in some quarters: can we really learn anything from Friedrich Schleiermacher?McDermott answers with a cautious “yes,” patiently discerning the shape of their central ideas while pointing out minefields as they arise.
It would be easy in adopting McDermott’s format–a highly organized structure that is repeated in every chapter–to view the theologians as titans whose work was independent of the others and whose thought is isolated from the broader stream of church history. But McDermott will have none of that. He repeatedly locates the contributions of later authors in the context of their predecessors, creating a chorus of voices that offer distinct contributions, even where there is significant disagreement.
As you might expect in a book like this, McDermott’s own theological inclinations peak through. He seems to be, for instance, excited about deification as a theological concept in a way that I am not (and in a way that will make many evangelicals skittish). But such are the sorts of issues and conversations that arise when you begin discussing Athanasius and Augustine: that they bear witness to the truth of the Gospel in a way that tills the ground for “deification” means we should listen carefully before rejecting it.
But as an introduction to the Great Tradition, the sort of thinkers who (in all cases except perhaps Schleiermacher) adhere to the sort of “mere orthodoxy” we are fans of around here, The Great Theologiansis the best of its kind. For those who are attracted by Jim Belcher’s notion of “deep church” and the “deep tradition” that accompanies it, McDermott’s book is the logical starting point.
But it must–as McDermott knows and tells us–serve as a starting point. As he puts so well in his final paragraph, “We should not only readabout the great theologians, but the actual writings of these thinkers.” McDermott’s book will whet your appetite for them–it will be up to you to find satisfaction.
As an undergrad, she was drawn to his vision of a Christianity, which fuses intellectual robustness with piety and a lively imagination. She found in him a subtle challenge to the dominant regime of physicalism, a challenge made all the more attractive because it did not slip into the morass of relativism.
In short, Van Leeuwen was–and is–a fan.
Intellectual biography, yes. But it is pertinent, as Van Leeuwen uses it to frame her new book A Sword Between the Sexes, in which she explores Lewis’s most contested area of thought: his views on gender. Van Leeuwen positions herself as an insider, someone who understands Lewis’s appeal and appreciates it, yet has significant reservations about his approach to femininity and masculinity. (more…)
No. I shuddered because the news meant another round of conversations about evangelicals and homosexuality. And that is a conversation which is fraught with danger.
There will be the obligatory (and alas, necessary) posts about how evangelicals have failed to respect and act toward the gay community. There will be questions and discussion on the proper pastoral response to gay Christians, and even about whether that modifier establishes an oxymoron. And there will be attempts to walk that disappearing line between demonstrate grace toward those who need it without abdicating on the question of whether homosexuality is, in fact, licit.
In all this, Jennifer Knapp–the singer and songwriter–will likely be forgotten. Her status as a person, a person with sinful inclinations that obscure the radiant, recalcitrant image of God, will be pushed to the background as we focus on the only salient fact for us: that instead of simply being a minor Christian celebrity, she’s now a gay minor Christian celebrity.
Jennifer Knapp, object lesson. For whatever we want to say. Objectification happens in many forms–and turning someone into a flash card for our broader spiritual lessons is only one of them. (more…)
It’s a provocative name, and appropriately misleading. It’s just cheeky enough to get people to read the first chapter, where Joe and John Coleman begin their systematic rehabilitation of Christian argumentation and persuasion.
Michael has been in the Christian blogging community for a long time, and it’s no lie to say that his voice and witness are irreplaceable. He will be missed.
I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.
I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.
We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
But I don’t quite know why I’m so excited by his decision. After all, eight months is a relatively short amount of time, and I don’t know Piper at all.
But I suspect there’s a lesson here that all evangelical pastors and their churches need to pay attention to. And I hope that Piper’s influence can help them learn it.
Growing up within evangelicalism, I saw almost no emphasis on sabbatical periods for pastors, especially in those evangelical communities that have under 200 members and a small support staff. For them, sabbaticals require a greater level of sacrifice by the whole church community, as most pastors fill roles well beyond the pulpit.
But preaching the word of God every week, even when not writing a book a year, is (I have observed) incredibly difficult work and frequently spiritually draining. While Piper cites a growing pride, I suspect that many pastors who have labored long and hard have a sense of numbness to the power of the Word of God and its ability to transform their own lives.
I don’t know what kind of Biblical warrant there is for this sort of sabbatical (though I’ve always thought that if the land got a break from producing every seven years, we ought to allow our pastors the same). But it strikes me as enormously wise, and as bearing witness to the reality of God’s action in a significant way.
Within evangelicalism, we tend to expect a level of spiritual hyper-productivity from our pastors. And so we rarely, if ever, let them enjoy the sort of sustained rest from their labors that is truly required to replenish their hearts and their minds. Sabbaticals, in their core, are breaks from activity to let God be God, and to create space for him to work in us anew. So it is encouraging to see one of our most prominent relinquish his duties and simply enjoy the world and relationships that God has given to him.
I prayed today–and I don’t often pray for people I don’t know–for John Piper and his wife. And you should too.
But more importantly, I pray that evangelical churches around the United States will seek to follow his example and allow their pastors space to replenish, space to delight in their wives, space to seek the renewal of their hearts in their from their labors.
In case you missed it, folks have been listing the ten books that either influenced them, they liked the most, or are best in their category (like Dr. Sanders’ theology list).
Problems of determining ‘influence’ aside, then, here’s my list of ten books (plus two!) that left a sizable impression on me and my thinking:
Phillipians. I’ve said this recently, but Paul’s brief letter to the church at Phillipi is a masterful and intricate examination of joy, our eschatological hope in the face of suffering, and the transformation that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus begets. And for several years, it has functioned as a type of ‘home base’ for me, the book that I return to when I begin to forget the shape the Gospel should take in my life.
Orthodoxy. Is it a surprise, given that I write at a blog named for it? It’s not Chesterton’s finest book (that’s The Everlasting Man, if you’re wondering), but it’s a close runner-up. I first encountered this in a particularly rough patch, and it invigorated my sense of awe and wonder at existence and the Christian faith. (more…)
It is with a heavy heart that I bring my latest update on Michael. We have learned that his cancer is too advanced and too aggressive to expect any sort of remission. Our oncologist estimates that with continued treatment Michael most likely has somewhere between six months and a year to live. This is not really a surprise to us, though it is certainly horrible news. From the very beginning, both of us have suspected that this would prove to be an extremely bad situation. I don’t know why; perhaps God was preparing us for the worst all along by giving us that intuition.
Dr. Moore’s piece really needs to be read in its entirety, as he manages to thoughtfully engage the question without degenerating into overreaction or hyperbole. He is in favor of evangelical ‘engagement’ with culture, but cognizant of its limitations.
But what struck me was this bit near the end:
Often at the root of so much Christian “engagement” with pop culture lies an embarrassment about the oddity of the gospel. Even Christians feel that other people won’t resonate with this strange biblical world of talking snakes, parting seas, floating axe-heads, virgin conceptions, and emptied graves. It is easier to meet them “where they’re at,” by putting in a Gospel According to Andy Griffith DVD (for the less hip among us) or by growing a soul-patch and quoting Coldplay at the fair-trade coffeehouse (for the more hip among us).
Knowing Andy Griffith episodes or Coldplay lyrics might be important avenues for talking about kingdom matters, but let’s not kid ourselves. We connect with sinners in the same way Christians always have: by telling an awfully freakish-sounding story about a man who was dead, and isn’t anymore, but whom we’ll all meet face-to-face in judgment.
This is a crucial point, and similar to one I made while speaking to a group of homeschoolers. I argued that their unique experience as homeschoolers–a sometimes derided and disenfranchised population–would better prepare them for being comfortable in the discomfort that can come with believing and proclaiming the remarkable and surprising fact of the Gospel.
But for those of us who work in the church, Christian universities, or Christian non-profits, we tend to lose sight not only of the ‘freakishly bizarre’ nature of the Gospel, but also the weird nature of the lives that bear witness to it. I will never forget my first job as a mature believer in a secular environment, which was the first dominantly secular environment I had been in for a sustained amount of time since high school. There was simply no avoiding the reality: I felt, and was, odd. I didn’t live with my wife prior to marriage, I took religious holidays with the utmost seriousness, I was engaged in prayer and attempting to cultivate a meditative, thoughtful life….none of which fit well in my overwhelmingly unChristian environment. While not the Gospel per se, these behaviors are an outgrowth of it, and fit no better into most people’s framework than the reality that grounds them.
But attempting to build bridges also fell woefully short. Conversations about movies, music, and other cultural artifacts rarely proceed for most people beyond judgments of taste and emotional responses. They don’t lead to the sort of conversation that Paul had with a bunch of trained philosophers on Mars Hill.
But we are not without hope. The most meaningful tools we have to ‘build bridges’ are not the shared experiences of, music, or the news, but rather questions about family, frustrations, and the various dynamic that make up those aspects of our lives that extend beyond our entertainment choices. They are a listening ear, and a keen attention to discern the deeper dynamics of the heart that are always bubbling to the surface. We build bridges by cultivating a heart that listens to the movements of the Spirit in our own lives, and the lives of others.
And, as Dr. Moore points out, we build bridges most of all by talking honestly and candidly about the content of our faith, a faith which still has the power to command attention and inspire curiosity.
That is the starting point for Jamie Smith’s latest work, Desiring the Kingdom, in which he presents an important challenge to the dominant paradigm in Christian education. While I do not agree with all of Smith’s conclusions, Desiring the Kingdom is one of the most challenging and enriching books I read in 2009, and its proposals deserve serious and substantial consideration.
Smith’s project is similar to that of Spears and Loomis. But while he also wants to construct a pedagogy on top of a robust theological anthropology, his foundation and frame are considerably different. For Smith, most contemporary Christian education is too focused on worldview analysis and “integration.” Smith contends that such approaches rest upon a “reductionistic account of the human person—one that is still a tad bit heady and quasi-cognitive.” Smith contends that these accounts of pedagogy fail “to accord a central role to embodiment and practice.”
Drawing upon Augustine and the phenomenological tradition, Smith argues that instead, humans should be viewed fundamentally, though not exclusively, as lovers, and—post regeneration—primarily as lovers of the Kingdom. Because of this, our nature is to push us outside of ourselves, and so is inherently teleological.
But Smith argues that the fundamentally non-cognitive, affective nature of humanity entails that the telos of love must be construed as a picture, otherwise it will not actually move us. What’s more, Smith contends that these basic desires are “inscribed” into our “dispositions and habits quite apart from our conscious reflection.” Not surprisingly, Smith argues that embodied practices are crucial to forming these pre-conscious habits. He writes:
We feel our way around our world more than we think our way through it. Our worldview is more a matter of the imagination than the intellect, and the imagination runs off the fuel of images that are channeled by the senses. So our affective, noncognitive disposition is an aspect of our animal, bodily nature. The result is a much more holistic (and less dualistic) picture of human persons as essentially embodied.
What has this to do with knowledge and education? (more…)
The blue people do it better. Harmony with nature, respect for food sources, sensitivity to the earth, liturgical vitality, rites of passage, lifelong marriage commitments, horse whispering—all the key ingredients to a harmonious agrarian society. How could one not be attracted to the ideals so beautifully presented in this film? The problem is, Avatar is not describing how the world might be if Wendell Berry were president; it’s describing a world without a Fall.
Seen not only through 3-D glasses, but through the lens of Lewis’Space Trilogy, Avatar emerges not as a defense of Pantheism, an anti-American screed or as a vision of ideals realizable on this planet: Instead, it’s a depiction of Eden.
Rophie’s central point is that the current batch of American male authors lack the verve of their predecessors and, well, are simply more conservative.
The younger writers are so self- conscious, so steeped in a certain kind of liberal education, that their characters can’t condone even their own sexual impulses; they are, in short, too cool for sex. Even the mildest display of male aggression is a sign of being overly hopeful, overly earnest or politically un toward.
In their wild quest to overturn every conceivable taboo, in other words, the Great Male Authors of mid-century may have succeeded a little bit too well. By tearing down every possible stricture on fictional representations of sex, they abandoned their successors to the vicissitudes of a world where anything could be written, but nothing could really shock. Great art depends on walls as well as open doors, on constraints as well as cultural blank checks. And anyone who’s nostalgic for the exhilarating transgressiveness that once animated American literature should probably be at least a little bit nostalgic for the taboos that made transgression possible.
There’s a Straussian type point to be made about the virtues of cultural Christianity somewhere in here, but I’ll leave that aside.
In an artistic world that doesn’t have boundaries to eschew, the only rebellion left is to erect some new ones. Package abstinence in such a way that it not only becomes the blasé boredom of young men who have no imaginations, but the romantic rebellion against a world without standards. Make it not just the new ‘cool,’ but the only reasonable option for those with enough independence to assert themselves against the mollifying and subduing effects of the world.
Or, instead , just add vampires. And make them shiny.
This enthusiasm for a controversial topic is not only a familiar feeling for evangelicals, but for the church at large. The creeds came about through an internal conversation about the meaning of the Incarnation and the Resurrection–a conversation about nothing less than the identity of the Christian God, and derivatively the identity of his people.
It was, in other words, a clarifying moment where the church had to articulate what she meant when she spoke of God. As a Protestant, I think another such moment happened at the Reformation, where we had to clarify what we meant when we spoke of authority of the church, and of justification. One way to understand the effects of the emerging church conversation is through this lens: it has prompted us to reconsider and clarify how we shall speak of truth.
This is, I think, the value of the conversation about online church, which is why I hope evangelicals do not move on yet, but stop and consider what we mean when we speak of the church and of the human person. The question of online church and of video-venues depends upon our concepts of both, and in focusing our attention here we can learn to better live out the Gospel as humans.
Most pastors will never have to deal with the practical realities of online church. Their churches–or perhaps more importantly, their budgets–will never be that large. But meanwhile, evangelical discourse about church and notions of what shape it should take will be driven by those pastors whom they seek to emulate, and the criteria for being a “successful pastor” in America will continue to shift as well. As Saddleback and Willow Creek were for evangelicalism, so Bethlehem Baptist and Mars Hill have become, and thousands of pastors’ understanding of what the church is and does have been influenced accordingly.
The online church question is a sign of life and vitality, and an opportunity for greater clarity. In these clarifying moments, we explore how the Gospel intersects with our lives and culture. That we get so excited about them suggest an enormous interest in that question, which gives me reason to hope for the future of evangelicalism. Division isn’t a necessary result of any conversation, and certainly not this one.
So seize the online church moment–though when it passes, I am sure there will be another.
I have had my differences with Patrol before, but I enjoy dialoging with them and have found them to be gracious in listening to my critiques. I have dialoged with Jonathan extensively, and have found him to be warm, engaging, and very, very sharp.
Fitzgerald offers such an even-handed analysis that disagreements will inevitably come across as quibbling, which I have no desire to do. He is justly critical of the mega church movement and its emotionally-laden appeals, and happily affirms the notion of Christendom that Dr. Reynolds put forward in The City. He is at his best in highlighting the various ways and places that evangelicals are attempting to cultivate the life of the mind, and contends (rightly, I think) that the ‘intellectualist’ posturing of younger evangelicals is “merely be a way station on the path to rigorous thought.”
But Fitzgerald’s framing of the developments obscures the fact that a generation of evangelical Christians paved the way for younger evangelicals like us to value of the life of the mind. Noll’s book was published in 1994, well after the renaissance in philosophy was underway (which was based on the work of Alvin Plantinga and others). While this renaissance has yet to be replicated in every discipline, as someone close to the world of evangelical higher education, it is clear to me that we younger evangelicals are the heirs, and not the founders, of a renewed tradition of evangelical intellectualism.
But unfortunately, it seems that Fitzgerald cuts off his ability to inherit–and possibly, see–this tradition when he implies that the the road to a healthy intellectualism necessarily leads one out of the movement. He writes:
Christine Smallwood was less certain that [an evangelical intellectual] could exist. She asked: “Is there something anti-intellectual at the root of an experience-based movement?”
The answer is yes, and that must determine the course of evangelicals’ progression from decidedly anti-intellectual to intellectualist to intellectual. And, as this movement evolves from self-examination and moves into the public square, it may be that to fully achieve a robust intellectual culture, the “experienced-based movement” that is contemporary evangelicalism must recede, thus making way for Christendom.
Anti-intellectualism only goes “all the way down” if we discard the witness of those evangelicals, both now and throughout history, who wholeheartedly engaged the life of the mind while keeping the experiential character of their faith. Our man Wesley, we should remember, was an Oxford man.
What I would propose is not that the experience-based aspect of evangelicalism recede, but rather that it mature–and that we properly locate it in the context of sound doctrine, a robust ecclesial life, and the practices of the spiritual disciplines.
Let every heart be warmed, as they were for Wesley, and then let them go read as many books as Wesley read and pray like Wesley prayed. There is nothing intrinsic to evangelical theology or culture that suggests a properly evangelical intellectualism is impossible.
All this aside, Fitzgerald’s piece is a helpful and fair snapshot of the emergence of the evangelical intellect, and for that I commend it highly.
Let’s stop there a minute. This is madness. Is this where we have come to, with our Christian use of the web? Men who make careers in part out of bashing the complacency and arrogance of those with whose theology they disagree, yet who applaud themselves on blogs and twitters they have built solely for their own deification? Young men who are so humbled by flattering references that they just have to spread the word of their contribution all over the web like some dodgy rash they picked up in the tropics? And established writers who are so insecure that they feel the need to direct others to places where they are puffed and pushed as the next big thing? I repeat: this is madness, stark staring, conceited, smug, self-glorifying madness of the most pike-staffingly obvious and shameful variety.
As one of those younger bloggers, I particularly felt the sting of Trueman’s critique. Toiling in obscurity is difficult, and it’s tempting to get through that period quickly so that one can claim to have an audience. But the merits of obscurity shouldn’t be overlooked–I wrote a number of bad posts in my early days that went largely unnoticed, which makes me thankful that I had the opportunity to work out many ideas in relative anonymity.
But what strikes me more is that we had to wait for Trueman to say this.
I suspect if there was more intra-blogger accountability for such matters, Trueman’s critique would be less relevant and forceful. I have been enormously grateful for Joe, who has graciously given of his own time to read posts beforehand to make sure I didn’t sin in the publishing of them. But I suspect this sort of collaboration and accountability ‘behind the scenes’ does not happen nearly as much as it should.
Either way, read it all. It is a timely and convicting word.
I have been buried this week in thoughts about John Calvin’s theory of natural law, some of which you can find over at Mere Orthodoxy. Along the way, I came upon this excerpt by David Little, who does a fantastic job of encapsulating the implications of Calvin’s doctrine of natural law:
“In Calvin’s hands, this doctrine of the total transformation of the will plays down the importance of appeals to nature, and instead raises the status and indispensability of the Calvinist church as the locus of true righteousness, since it is there and there alone that, under proper teaching and organization, the human will at least begins to be “created anew,” thus establishing the foundations for achieving a true righteousness. As such, the church, truly certified “wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution,” becomes a necessary condition for upholding proper law and order in society. Without it, chaos and disorder are the likely result.”
Little is exactly right that the Church plays an essential role for the proper ordering of the state.
But we could go one step further. When the State is properly oriented toward the heavenly kingdom and acts in accordance with the principles of equity and the natural law, it functions as an arm by which the providence of God aids the Church. Specifically, civil government is “to cherish and protect the outward worship of God…[and] to defend sound doctrine of piety and the position of the church.” For Calvin, the heavenly kingdom is not opposed to the earthly, but transforms it and directs it to its proper end. While the Church is primary, our sinfulness requires a properly functioning State for the Gospel to go forward peacefully.
For Calvin, the political order is “initiating in us upon earth certain beginnings of the Heavenly Kingdom, and in this mortal and fleeting life affords a certain forecast of an immortal and incorruptible blessedness.” One of its duties is to “cherish and protect the outward worship of God,” and the magistrate is an “image of divine providence, protection, goodness, benevelence, and justice.” In rather shocking language to our modern sensibilities, Calvin even goes so far as to calls the magistrates “vicars of God.”
But all this is grounded in a political eschatology. Calvin writes:
“All of this I admit to be superfluous, if God’s Kingdom, such as it now is among us, wipes out the present life. But if it is God’s will that we go as pilgrims upon the earth while we aspire to the true fatherland, and if the pilgrimage requires such helps, those who take these from man may deprive him of his very humanity. Our adversaries claim that there ought to be such great perfection in the church of God that its government should suffice for law. But they stupidly imagine such a perfection as can never be found in a community of men.”
In short, it is precisely because the Church remains a church of humans that the state is needed. For now, until Christ Jesus comes again, Calvin insists on a separation and proper ordering of powers.
Sacred space, sacred speech, sacred behavior–our emphasis on intentionality and the universalizing aspect of the Holy Spirit’s presence make adopting such categories…difficult. ”Don’t judge the heart, which is the important part. I can worship God anywhere. Don’t limit him to a building. There’s nothing intrinsic to the words themselves.” Focus too much on externals, and someone will accuse you of adding law to the Gospel–without acknowledging the possibility that as humans, we are changed not only from the inside out, but from the outside in.
This is why profanity still matters. The sacred implies an element of mystery–which Paul calls marriage in Ephesians 5. To profane is to seize the mystery and lay it bare for everyone to see–to throw it out of the temple, as it were. What this means, though, is that only within communities where such mysteries have meaning can profanity have power. If there are no mysteries, nothing can be profaned.
I don’t wish to be crass, but most common swear words seem to have as their primary referents some action or thing that has historically been done or kept in secret. The chief exception to this rule is He who is the greatest mystery of all, our Lord Jesus himself. As such mysteries lose their force, so will (ironically) the force of the words associated with them. That many of us young evangelicals do not think seriously about the particular aspects of the words we deploy suggests our reverence for what originally made them profanities is on the wane.
I have no intention of restarting the wars over whether profanity is permissible or not. My interest is the conditions that make it possible, conditions that sadly seem to be increasingly rare.
Update: Two interesting addenda to note. First, from G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics:
A critic once remonstrated with me saying, with an air of indignant reasonableness, “If you must make jokes, at least you need not make them on such serious subjects.” I replied with a natural simplicity and wonder, “About what other subjects can one make jokes except serious subjects?” It is quite useless to talk about profane jesting. All jesting is in its nature profane, in the sense that it must be the sudden realization that something which thinks itself solemn is not so very solemn after all. If a joke is not a joke about religion or morals, it is a joke about police-magistrates or scientific professors or undergraduates dressed up as Queen Victoria. And people joke about the police-magistrate more than they joke about the Pope, not because the police-magistrate is a more frivolous subject, but, on the contrary, because the police-magistrate is a more serious subject than the Pope. The Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in this realm of England; whereas the police-magistrate may bring his solemnity to bear quite suddenly upon us. Men make jokes about old scientific professors, even more than they make them about bishops–not because science is lighter than religion, but because science is always by its nature more solemn and austere than religion. It is not I; it is not even a particular class of journalists or jesters who make jokes about the matters which are of most awful import; it is the whole human race. If there is one thing more than another which any one will admit who has the smallest knowledge of the world, it is that men are always speaking gravely and earnestly and with the utmost possible care about the things that are not important, but always talking frivolously about the things that are. Men talk for hours with the faces of a college of cardinals about things like golf, or tobacco, or waistcoats, or party politics. But all the most grave and dreadful things in the world are the oldest jokes in the world–being married; being hanged.
Second, an “obscenity” is, literally, that which happens off stage.
I love thinking about marriage because it is the nexus of so many different realms–the Gospel, sociology, law, culture. In fact, I have an article coming out in the next issue of The City (free subscription) on the meaning of marriage within evangelicalism. And no, I didn’t mention that for any other reason than shameless self-promotion.
But I like this video because it challenges so many evangelical shibboleths. We love technological mediation, and have a difficult time articulating why and where we should draw boundaries. We frequently appeal to Christian freedom (which I presume covers the way people do their weddings). Some of us self-consciously reject tradition, usually on grounds that it is akin to legalism. The traditional among us frequently appeal to it, but don’t have much of a grasp of why it was implemented in the first place.
And most evangelicals aren’t sacramentalists–at least, not with respect to marriage. So that line of criticism is out.
Yet, when watching this, I suspect most of us have a haunting suspicion that there’s something amiss with tweeting at the altar. The question is, what? And why?
So, I want to offer an unqualified “amen” to Kevin’s articulation. But I also want to include an “and,” which I admit may get me into some trouble. It strikes me that while our Lord Jesus is the grounding for our individual salvation, in procuring our salvation he defeated the principalities and powers that govern the world. And for Paul (and for Daniel), these powers exist and manifest themselves in a political context–that is, a political context, which encompasses both the social and the governmental (if that’s a word).
In a few weeks, we will celebrate the birth of our Lord, who the governing authority welcomed into the world by slaughtering infants. Herod understood that the Gospel destabilizes the world and its powers. As Oliver O’Donovan writes in Desire of the Nations:
Jesus, similarly, believed that a shift in the locus of power was taking place, which made the social institutions that had prevailed to that point anachronistic. His attitude to them was neither secularist nor zealot: since he did not concede that they had any future, he gave them neither dutiful obedience within their supposed sphere of competence nor the inverted respect of angry defiance.
This destabilization entails a kind of Godly indifference toward the political order, rather than a principled push for its eradication. Again, O’Donovan: