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.
RSS feed for this author
Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 7:54 PM
As Christians, we are a people who live in a present that is shaped definitively by the past and the future. The meaning of our present, of our contemporary lives and relationships, is fixed, but not yet revealed. We take shape only in relationship to the eternal, which Boethius famously defined as the “simultaneously whole and perfect possession of everlasting life.”
But this “everlasting life” that structures our lives’ meaning is not an abstract formula, but a concrete reality that took shape–and will take shape–in the historical presence of the man Jesus. As Christians in more liturgical orders proclaim in the “Mystery of Faith:”
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
It is this eternal that shapes the temporal, this history and future that defines the present. And as the people of God, this history is by extension and invitation our history. As we proclaim the mystery of faith, we affirm that by his graciousness we are able to identify with him and accept the meaning of his life as the meaning of our own. As the Apostle puts it, “It has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but when we see him, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
This Thanksgiving, then, I am thankful for my history. I am thankful for my parents, for their instruction in the faith and for introducing me to A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, and Andrew Murray. I am thankful for Biola, for John Mark and Torrey Honors, and the role they played in expanding my historical understanding of the Church and its role on earth. And I am most thankful for my all-too-brief history with my lovely wife.
But all these things are inevitably ordered, are structured, around that definitive and final history that is the history of Jesus Christ. And as such, I am most grateful that he has shared his “eternal life” with us, making all that we do in his name now and always.
Monday, November 16, 2009, 9:52 AM
Patrol Magazine has offered the latest salvo in the ongoing conversation about evangelicalism and its future. I am a little hesitant to characterize the website for those not familiar with it, as they have been a bit sensitive to some of my descriptions in the past. As best I can tell, they are a haven for post-evangelicals who are interested in asking questions that no other Christian website asks.*
There’s a lot to agree with in Patrol’s editorial. For instance, I think we can all agree that ‘evangelicalism’ is a movement that has always been hard to pin down. Conversations at this blog have made this obvious enough. And like Patrol, I have made my own arguments that evangelicals have inherited an unbaptized modernism (though I am skeptical that post-evangelicalism escapes it), and I think we can all agree that thinking too much about evangelicalism’s core is problematic.
But there are trouble spots in the essay, too. Consider Patrol’s dismissiveness of any sort of unifying core to evangelicalism. That might be true enough, except they seem to affirm Bebbington’s definition in the first paragraph. If that doesn’t point to a “unified, coherent tradition to which Protestants can return,” I don’t know what would.
More importantly, Patrol seems to be suggesting in this article (though I hope I am wrong about this) that we would do best to move forward without a doctrinal core at all. They write, “The fight to define evangelicalism in its latter days also operates on the mistaken premise that an imagined theological purity or conformance to a “lost” orthodoxy, rather than an emphasis on ethics, spiritual discipline and mystery, will revive the power of the Christian church. ” That they see fit to put an “or” where an “and” belongs suggests that they would like the one without the other. But why should evangelicals –or whomever–be forced to choose?
There are other indications of this, though, as well:
Adrift in the cultural sea, many turned to traditions and theological systems of the past, only to find those similarly unequipped to address the questions of our time. The only choice has been to begin the messy and at times overwhelming process of drafting something new.”
Surely many of the intelligent professors, students, writers and bloggers rushing to its defense have also felt the naggings of cognitive dissonance and the inkling that the world might make more sense if they abandoned some of their cultural presuppositions. But haggling over the details of theology provides a psuedo-intellectual haven from real-world questions, where evangelicals can exercise their minds without coming to any unsettling conclusions.
Why details of theology? Why not simply say that haggling over theology is “pseudo-intellectual?” All theology is details, as any student of church history knows. And while some details are more important than others–Athanasius died for the detail of an omicron, because he knew that our immortal souls were at stake–it’s not clear that one can think theologically without thinking about details. At least not for very long. (more…)
Thursday, November 12, 2009, 9:59 AM
For those of you on Twitter, I have put together a Twitter list for your convenience of all the Evangel writers that I could find on the platform.
Twitter is, of course, the social platform du jour. If you haven’t joined yet, you might consider it. The bar for entry is significantly lower than blogging, which is partly why it has infiltrated the general public more quickly. This list is a handy place to start.
If there are other interesting lists that have been created, feel free to mention them in the comments.
Monday, November 9, 2009, 12:29 PM
One of the common complaints against traditional evangelicalism is that it has been held captive by a distinctly Western approach to rationality that eschews mystery and narrative. The central target of this complaint is the “Enlightenment,” with its emphasis on reason to the detriment of revelation. Shane Hipps’ first book seems to walk down this road, though there are countless others.
As the emerging church conversation has focused on the nature and role of truth, the epistemological effects and aspects of the Enlightenment have been pretty well worn over (though I see John Franke’s latest will probably restart that conversation for a while). But as I have continued to read about the period, I have become convinced that it’s deepest impact was not on our theory of truth and its relationship to rationality, but rather on our concept of our relationship to nature. And unlike the Enlightenment’s focus on rationality, that aspect of the enlightenment has largely been ignored by evangelicals.
But consider the words of Joseph Priestley, an 18th century chemist:
Nature, including both its materials and its laws, will be more at our command; men will make their situation in this world abundantly more easy and comfortable, they will prolong their existence in it and grow daily more happy. . . the end will be glorious and paradisiacal beyond that our imaginations can now conceive.
Or Descartes in his Discourse on Method:
Friday, October 30, 2009, 2:53 PM
David Paul Deavel has a good write-up in Books and Culture of the resurgent interest in G.K. Chesterton. As someone who is attracted to Chesterton’s creative localism and his critiques of modernity (I once called Orthodoxy the most important book for the twenty-first century and write at a blog named for it), I am delighted to see him getting more much-deserved attention.
What was fascinating, however, about Deaval’s piece was his line that the head of the American Chesterton Society, Dale Ahlquist, was introduced to Chesterton by none other than…Larry Norman.
Yup, that’s this Larry Norman. And this one. And this one.
I’m no expert on Norman’s music, as he was “before my time” (though perhaps Joe could chime in on this point). But the fact that he gravitated toward Chesterton over Lewis is not terribly surprising. From what I can tell, Chesterton tends to appeal to people who take the arts seriously, and his populism seems in line with the sort of Jesus People evangelicalism Norman exemplified. Additionally, Chesterton co-opted the language of revolution, as the Jesus People and Norman attempted to do. In this way, they seemed to be natural allies.
One other point: growing up, Norman was a symbol to me of everything that was wrong with Christian music. It was too preachy, too obvious, and too much of an imitation of secular music. It’s interesting and chastening to read Norman’s own thoughts on the trajectory of Christian music. The revolution Norman started was all too quickly co-opted and commercialized–a problem that a healthy dose of Chestertonian localism might have helped avoid.
Deaval’s write up is worth reading if you’re not familiar with G.K., as I suspect that Chesterton will continue to serve as inspiration for evangelicals dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Call it second-wave evangelical Chestertonianism–joyful, intellectually astute, politically engaged without being conformist, and artistically aware and sophisticated.
Friday, October 23, 2009, 11:05 AM
Jared pointed us to Doug Estes’ piece on Out of Ur on the myths surrounding online church, and rightly criticized it. It is not his best work. All I can say is, read the book. From the excerpts I have read (2 or 3 chapters), Doug sincerely attempts to offer a reasoned case for online church that–and this is crucial–distinguishes the various meanings of the term. I found what I did read to be quite helpful.
I am on the record as being opposed to online church
. So I will simply point out that if the arguments for it aren’t persuasive, neither have been the critiques against it. Few seem to acknowledge the missional impulse that is driving it and explain why and how
we should appropriately constrain our missionary activity (Mark Roberts is an exception
–his treatment of it has been fair and insightful, which is what we’ve come to expect from him).
Additionally, as I argued at the Christian Web Conference, I have yet to see how those evangelicals who adopt video sermons as normal for their weekly worship gatherings have any grounds on which to defend those who want to move such gatherings online. Certainly the same Spirit who can overcome space and time for the preacher’s body can overcome space and time for the congregations’ bodies. Unless, of course, we want to make the pastor a special category. Online church seems to be the logical extension of models we have already adopted.
But more importantly, I think the whole conversation has reinforced for me that evangelicals are people who love fads. Church growth, seeker sensitive, emerging…and now we’re on to ‘online church.’ We love getting all worked up, talking a lot about it, and then we all eventually move on and keep doing our own thing.
Of course, that doesn’t mean such fads don’t have any impact. The center gets pulled in various directions as the people on the fringe’s make their case. Case in point: video sermons are now the center, while 5 years ago they were the fringe. But we are suckers for the next cool way of ‘doing church,’ a treadmill that is difficult to keep pace with.
Thursday, October 22, 2009, 10:50 AM
Frank’s argument that “Government is reformed when men are first reformed” is persuasive, and I doubt that anyone could seriously disagree with it. I was all prepared to raise the issue of Acts 16 and Paul’s strategic use of his Roman citizenship, but Dr. Beckwith got there first.
So instead, I’ll raise another passage that I take to be Pauline in nature: 1 Timothy 2:1-3, where Paul writes:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
I have frequently wondered whether Paul has some sort of causal relationship in mind between the ‘peaceful and quiet life’ and the fact that God desires all men to be saved (leaving aside for the moment the usual theological questions that are typically raised of this verse). It seems at first blush that there is some organic connection between the stability of the political order and the Gospel’s going forth. For all the injustices of the Romans, they also built roads like the world had never seen before.
If Paul’s vision is not political, then, it seems it exists within the context of the political and–we might go so far as to say–the political order ought be shaped in response to it. That is, I think, one of the central arguments of Oliver O’Donovan’s brilliant Desire of the Nations. While not a defense of Christendom per se, he argues that the political order is “intimately bound up in Christian mission”–that the Gospel destabilizes and temporalizes political power, thus demanding the obedience of rulers and the exercise of political authority on grounds besides power. Writes O’Donovan:
The rulers of this world have bowed before Christ’s throne. The core-idea of Christendom is therefore intimately bound up with the church’s mission. But the relationship between mission and Christian political order should not be misconstrued. It is not, as is often suggested, that Christian political order is a project of the church’s mission, either as an end in itself or as a means to the further missionary end. The church’s one project is to witness to the Kingdom of God. Christendom is response to mission, and as such a sign that God has blessed it. It is constituted not by the church’s seizing alien power, but by alien power’s becoming attentive to the church.
I might go one step further than O’Donovan, though, and say that the alien’s power attentiveness to the Church is additionally conducive to the Gospel’s spreading. At least that’s how 1 Timothy reads to me.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 4:07 PM
Jared has clarified his critique of evangelicals, which seems to be a sociological critique that, regardless of what we say at the end of the day, our orientation reveals that the political has in fact become an idol.
I think it’s worth bringing up at this point Joe’s post from way back when about evangelicals and political engagement, or rather our lack of political engagement. If anything, it seems evangelicals talk a good game that suggests that we’re politically captivated, but our actions speak otherwise. The small conservative evangelical church that I grew up in had one member who joined the school board, no one that ran for political office, yet gave all kinds of money to the local pregnancy shelter–all while indoctrinating the youth with David Barton videos.
I suspect–or maybe I just hope–that a similar pattern exists in evangelicalism, namely that our actions are much more benign and in line with the Gospel than our rhetoric.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, 3:28 PM
John Mark, if the question is going to be about having fun versus not having fun, well, then it is over before it begins in earnest. But that is a false dichotomy of your own creation, not mine or Hanson’s. Surely what’s not at stake is the enjoyment and delight in the “light and ephemeral” joys that form so much of the substance of human relationships. No one, I think, disagrees with you on that point.
Instead, where the question lies is the source of those light and ephemeral joys. I take it that–as a hypothetical–a life without Bugs Bunny and a life without Brett Farve is really not any worse off than a life with them. In fact, a life without them but with, say, Tinker Toys and the Pickwick Papers might have just as many ‘light and ephemeral’ moments as those provided to us by the entertainment complex.
But that is a way of putting it–”entertainment complex.” To perhaps reframe Hanson’s concern so it is more in line with Jacques Ellul, what we now understand as “entertainment” has become so radically alterted by our technical rationality and the deep problems associated with it that it is deadening in ways that we do not realize. Since we love ‘isms,’ I propose a new one: entertainmentism, which is our most popular path to finding meaning in a technocratic society.
I am, I think, as much a populist as anyone and cheer loudly when Chesterton defends the reading of bad novels. But I worry that those of us who are inclined to be boorish academics forget the very real, non-theoretical America (and American evangelicalism!) where entertainment is still the central virtue. You are worried that we shall conceive of life as simply sitting around and reading the Republic. I am more worried that we shall not have ever heard of the Republic at all, and that we shall not sit around reading anything.
My only hope is to listen carefully to the witness of Hanson, Ellul and others. Monasticism isn’t that bad. It only, you know, saved Western culture that many of us are so fond of. And it needn’t be dreary, either. There are, after all, other ways of having fun.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am late to watch last night’s Castle.
Monday, October 19, 2009, 11:18 PM
John Mark, I’ll take the opposite approach. I’ve been moving in Victor Davis Hanson’s general direction the last few months, having been impeded only by my own shallow convictions, deep habits, and a reticent wife.
But, for conversation’s sake, I’ll offer three tentative responses to the reasons for staying engaged that you gave:
1) There might be some good stuff being produced in our culture, but good relative to what? And whose responsibility is it to find it? So much of what is produced is ephemeral that it’s simply not worth sifting through to find the few gems. And even the good stuff is quickly forgotten. I like the Lord of the Rings movies, for instance. But I am dubious that they had any meaningful impact on anyone. No Country For Old Men, a brilliant film, is now lost–like all brilliant films–to everyone but the most ardent film students and devotees of the Coen brothers (may their numbers increase!).
2) Yes, understanding is important for communication. But cultural contexts haven’t changed that much, and it seems the best method of understanding any individual and his culture is to converse with him (as you do), rather than consume his artifacts. An hour in conversation with someone will tell, I suspect, any teacher more than 100 hours of watching their movies or listening to their music might. All that could be gained through consuming culture can be found elsewhere, only with more depth and greater ease.
3) I suppose people make decisions based on pop-culture, though I suspect that “decisions” is overly generous for how most people act. But I also know that if everyone in my Twitter stream is talking Tina Fey, I can watch the five-minute clip and be up to speed. And few cultural artifacts or shows have that sort of force–except for Amish romance novels. That’s culture that needs consuming. (But seriously, isn’t the attraction to the Amish way of life a sign that such ascetic approaches are, in fact, deeply attractive to our saturated lives?)
Pop culture just isn’t all that interesting, or that durable. The power of art and film seems to rest upon our memory, which most of us have weakened to the point of non-existence through over-consumption. Why not drop out and read old, deep, hard books that people have forgotten? I somehow doubt that doing so would lead to the dreaded state of irrelevance (though it might lead to unpopularity).
Monday, October 19, 2009, 4:56 PM
« Newer Posts
Allow me to pick out one common thread among the various posts today on this topic: Dr. Moore isn’t much interested in whether he’s actually an evangelical or not, pointing out that its meaning is largely contextualized. Frank Turk grants that some people need the label for sociological purposes, but doesn’t much have an interest in it otherwise and would prefer Proclaimers instead.
All well and good, and I largely agree with most of the substance of their points. But here’s my defense for why we should care: isn’t “evangelical” largely a term that the rest of the world uses to identify us, and don’t all our theological distinctions get lost amidst that? I don’t think I’m on board with the Jesus P.R. movement, but I’ll grant them this: the label matters because, like it or not, it makes people think certain things when they meet me. If it’s not a part of my self-identity, isn’t it a part of my identity in relation to the world? And don’t the sociological aspects of the definition matter as a result?
I’m not sure where I’m headed here, but it seems we potentially leave aside the sociological element of evangelical to our own detriment by allowing it to shape perceptions of us in particular ways (which the unChristian folks made worse, unfortunately).