Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Slow Work of Grace

Slow-Down1In the minds of many, grace is a legal concept – an expression of the kindness of God in the forgiveness of sins. As such, grace is instant and complete. This fits well within the legal conceptions of salvation. In the classical understanding of the Orthodox faith, salvation can indeed have a quality of “suddenness” – the thief on the Cross found paradise “in a single moment” according to the hymns of the Orthodox Church. But for most people – salvation is a life-long process in which we “work out our salvation from day to day in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). That experience, like most of life, has a slow quality to it.
From Prayer by the Elder Sophrony:
At times prayer seems over-slow in bringing results, and life is so short. Instinctively we cry, “Make haste unto me.” But He does not always respond at once. Like fruit on a tree , our soul is left to scorch in the sun, to endure the cold wind, the scorching wind, to die of thirst or be drowned in the rain. But if we do not let go of the hem of His garment, all will end well.
We live in a culture of fast food . . .


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Political Magic of C.S. Lewis

Credit John Chillingworth/Picture Post/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images
WHEN I was on Christmas break from college in 1980, I wrote a letter to the editor of my hometown newspaper, The Tri-City Herald. It was published soon after I began to embrace Christianity, a gradual rather than a dramatic process that didn’t come all that easily.

The letter was a response to a man who had written that Christians were obligated to support a long list of conservative policies. (This was in the immediate aftermath of Ronald Reagan’s election and the rise of the religious right.) “Mr. Mays appears to believe that Christianity and his personal views are synonymous,” I wrote. “Conceivably, they are not. Christianity does not identify with a political ideology or party.”

I was politically conservative at the time, and believed that my religious faith, carefully understood, should inform my politics. Yet I was also troubled by what I believed was the subordination of Christianity to partisan ideology — the ease with which people took something sacred and turned it into a blunt political weapon. It was only years later that I learned that one of the seminal intellectual figures in my journey toward faith, C. S. Lewis, shared a similar approach and concern.

In 1951, Lewis — the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Oxford don, medievalist, lecturer on philosophy and the leading Christian apologist in the 20th century — declined an offer from Winston Churchill to recommend him for an honorary Commander of the British Empire. “There are always knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance on the Honours List wd. of course strengthen their hands,” Lewis replied. He would not allow vanity and misplaced political ambitions to discredit his public witness.
As this dispiriting election year has shown, there are many politically prominent Christians today who should think and act more like Lewis.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Scandal of the Liberal Mind Anti-intellectualism: it ain't just for the Evangelicals

Posted September 22nd, 2016 by Alex Wilgus & filed under Religion.

American Christians, especially Evangelicals have long been taken to task for rejecting the life of the mind. Mark Noll’s 1995 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and most recently Alan Jacobs’s much discussed piece for Harper’s “The Watchmen: What Became of the Christian Intellectuals?” tell a story of withdrawal from academia and intellectual pursuits. The long and short of it seems to be that yesterday’s fundamentalists and today’s evangelicals make up the religious wing of Richard Hofstadter’s famous assertion of American “anti-intellectualism” and the national preference for sloganeering over sophistication. The evangelicals, like their fundamentalist forbears, shrunk from the intellectual calling because of some animus toward smartypants types.

But there is a different way to tell the story. By the first quarter of the twentieth century, the world was in a scientific mood. New industry and technology had dramatically reshaped the experience of everyday life. New products, cheap and available electric lighting, cars, huge sea vessels, all bolstered by efficient manufacturing made it seem that science had actually delivered the signs and wonders that religion and myth had only promised. In the colleges, and even churches, every kind of knowledge needed to comport with data-driven methods and scientific ways of knowing. This wasn’t a gradual development. Sociology departments were hastily set up in universities and divinity schools alike. Foundations were set up in cities, not for simple charity, but with explicit scientific purposes, like Graham Taylor’s Chicago Commons Social Settlement House in Chicago. Understanding human beings could no longer be the province of religion or even philosophy. Somehow, the forces that had transformed the industry and the market had to be brought to bear on the human condition if any moral progress was to be made. Science could master anything. Why not the human being?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Which of These is “the Gospel”?

“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” – Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws

“I’m a bastard, you’re a bastard but God loves us anyway” – Will Campbell, rouge Baptist preacher

“Here’s the Gospel: You’re more sinful than you ever dared believe; you’re more loved than you ever dared hope” – Tim Keller, PCA pastor

“You are accepted – Paul Tillich, liberal theologian

These four statements reflect in their own ways and parlance the default American version of “the Gospel” across the theological spectrum.

“The Gospel is not a religious message to inform mankind of their divinity or to tell them how they may become divine. The Gospel proclaims a God utterly distinct from men” – Karl Barth

Barth contests this default version of “the Gospel.” Rather, it is something about God in distinction from us.

“The time is fulfilled and the reign of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” -  Jesus (Mk. 1:14-15)

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ” – Romans 1:1-6

Jesus identifies “the Gospel” with the advent of the “reign of God.”

Paul identifies “the Gospel” with Jesus, his victory over death in the resurrection by the Spirit to serve his larger ends of bringing the Gentiles to “the obedience of faith.”

If we accept that Paul’s and Jesus’ understanding of the Gospel should be our guide, how do we account for the pervasive “default version” the first four quotes illustrate?

Five (reinforced) fundamentals for an evangelical future

In an article on the Christianity Today website Ed Stetzer dismisses the doom-sayers and gloom-mongers who say that the church is in terminal decline and puts forward five fundamentals for an evangelical future. I am of a naturally cheerful disposition, but I think his analysis and proposals are superficial and na├»ve. Jeremiah warned Israel against the complacency of the false prophets who said that the people would never go into exile, or if they did, that it wouldn’t be for long, a couple of years at the most (Jer. 7:1-15; 28:10-16). Sometimes the pessimists are right.

Stetzer is confident that the sky is not falling for evangelicals: we just need to “face some truths and change some behaviors to reach the world with the message of the gospel”. He is looking five to ten years down the road, but I think that is short-sighted. That sort of outlook just keeps us trying to do the same things only slightly better.

Historically speaking, Christianity in the West is where classical paganism was in the fourth and fifth centuries. It’s on the way out. It’s had its day. It’s a thing of the past.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A peacemaking God?
9.6. 2016 Posted By: Drew Hart 2 Times read
Drew G.I. Hart is Professor of Theology at Messiah College, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Drew is the author of  Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views RacismHe blogs for The Mennonite. 

While humanity frequently experiences God’s goodness, including good creation, we also experience waves of devastating violence and brutal oppression. And when we consider the complicated ways that our own lives are directly and indirectly intertwined and implicated in systemic violence, it is hard for me to understand what it means to call oneself a pacifist.

Of course, people have defined pacifism in a range of ways, many which are much more complicated than my own definition. In doing so, there are ways of considering pacifism without it being purist and doctrinaire. Yet still, the term has never been helpful for me, especially given its common usage.

Even more challenging than considering my own participation in a violent world is to consider our frameworks for understanding God’s character, presence and activity among us.


Monday, September 5, 2016

The Doctrine of Re-creation or Resurrection in Christ as the Foundation for Everything in the Theologies of Barth and Torrance

Leave a commentPosted by Bobby Grow on September 5, 2016
I thought I would quickly share this from Dawson as well; on Barth’s doctrine of resurrection. For some reason I love this concept, it’s probably because it is so distinct from the usual ways I have thought of resurrection. As an evangelical resurrection has always been a touchstone related to apologetics and/or historiography in the field of higher critical Jesus Studies. It is more than refreshing to come across a theologian like Barth who simply approaches resurrection as a non-analogous novum; something for which all else in the created order hinges. It is refreshing to come across resurrection as a doctrine of re-creation, as if we must, as Christians, start all of our thinking about God and created reality (including ourselves) from there. This has to be one of the most ground breaking earth shattering things Barth has bequeathed to Christian theology; i.e. his doctrine of re-creation, or resurrection.