M-o-m!!

Hope43

It began with Scott Culpepper attacking the American syncretism of “Christianity”. An important discussion but one that left out a key detail. As Cyprian noted, “one cannot have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother.” Christianity, however understood, must come with an ecclesial structure; the problem with American syncretists may not be their thinking but their lack of groundedness in the Church.

Enter reader RLG who complains

 It’s the church that has gotten Christianity into so much trouble, from the beginning to the present. The Jewish mentality was, you weren’t a true Jew unless you belonged to the Jewish community. And Jesus, certainly, did not support such a concept. How many verses can we quote that suggests that a Christian believe and be a member of the church and he/she will be saved? How many can we quote that suggests, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved? It’s kinda like saying, you need a marriage certificate to really be married.

Contrary to this, the question is whether we can live separately, apart from each other; we are constituted as social beings. Individual commitment stands as part of an ongoing life of the community. Not only are we linked to each other in the present, but we are those who also remember; memory and imagination connects us across time. So we read a Calvin, an Aquinas, an Augustine in part as our contemporary even as we understand them to be distant — this is what empathy, imagination and memory produce. And if we’re honest, we also understand how our current life has been shaped by this remembered past.

Christianity then is not some sort of free-floating, perhaps Kantian entity, but an embodied reality. We start there.

Here’s where Scot is correct. The Christianity is always deeply permeated by cultural assumptions. Always. The Church, tacitly or explicitly functions as a counterbalance to this cultural capture; thus, we cannot speak about Christianity without speaking about the form that Christianity takes. (Note also, the idea that we can drop the label — apart from its rhetorical impossibility — belies the fact that even in disobedience we remain with our identity; it’s much stickier than that.)

And while Scripture may not prescribe the exact nature of this community, there is no doubt that we exist together, linked, a church. Take the vine and branches in John; consider Psalms, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the House of the Lord” (and all the Psalms of Ascent); consult Hebrews where we are not to  forsake the gathering together. Or simply consider the plural when Paul addresses his letters. It’s all there. We belong together, and that shared life informs and on occasion challenges the cultural form of faith we understand as Christianity.

The counter to a syncretistic American Christianity is not a countering piece of theology, but a better church.

 

Scott Culpepper, Let’s Stop Calling it Christianity, The Twelve.
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Remember?

Jeff Munroe considers the ways of memory and forgetfulness at The Twelve. Over against our forgetfulness, is God’s remembering. As he concludes:

Our value in this hyper-cognitive world doesn’t come because we remember, but because we are remembered. Certainly we hope in a material way our families remember us as we age. More than that, Christian hope is in God’s memory. The scripture says “God remembered Noah,” “God remembered Abraham,” “God remembered Rachel,” and “God remembered Hannah.” He remembers you and me, too. We are remembered. Therefore, we are.

This leaves me wondering. To nudge Jeff, is this really Christian hope?  After all, when Scripture speaks of God remembering it often comes in response to the fear that somehow God has forgotten, that we are left alone, stuck in our exile, our oppression, or in the prison of of our own bodily weakness. Remembrance comes with an act, God delivers. Christian hope does not lie in the idea that God remembers, but that God has remembered and come to us as Savior (cf. Luke 1.54). In the wake of that, we are called to remember, to make memorial; the sign that God has remembered us is the Feast. And there, no one is forgotten.

Flat Earth?

Over at The Twelve, Joshua Vis keeps exploring the theme of Lent but not Easter. That is, we all have a tendency to read Easter back into the story, to think of Easter as a miracle that does not really touch our lives. (Put another way, even the resurrected Lazarus still dies — miracles are not forever). Here is how addresses the issue:

The message of the triumphal entry is that we should reject the idea of a fantastical and mercurial God who occasionally breaks into our world to save someone from pain and suffering. Likewise, the cross says “no” to that version of God. Instead it asks us to find the courage to hope in each other, in our acts of love, mercy, and kindness toward one another—not because God has abandoned us, but because God has empowered us.

God urges us to choose to love one another. God will not be experienced through miraculous interventions. Rather, God will be experienced through acts of justice, graciousness, kindness, mercy, and love.

On level, he’s right, God is not experienced through miraculous interventions, but seen another way, the experience of knowing God does leave open the possibility of the miraculous. While the narratives of rationalism (per Hume) or of apophatic theology want to rule out divine intervention, the people of God have also held other narratives where God in-breaks, and where that in-breaking is known. Vis only gets to his position by starting with an assumption about what narratives are to be listened to.

The embodied life of faith knows that the universe has a surplus of meaning, that there is more to our lives than our own particular frame. “Miracle” is one of the ways that this reality gets proclaimed, that “justice,” “mercy” and “love” are in fact possibilities for people generally and not simply for our kindred. Indeed, justice requires an open universe, one larger than the imagination of the status quo, for only in that universe can forgiveness be shared and the wrongs be restored.

So today, on Palm Sunday, the Triumphant Entry is not so much a hope of cheap grace, but a prophetic act, a pointing away from the Palace and the Temple to the purposes of God. There is another story being written, a good story: God’s purpose for us and for our communities is not played out.

 

Pyrrhic Victory?

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The twentieth century struggle in American Protestantism was defined along the Fundamentalist/Modernist front. While the mainline reigned at mid-century, by the closing decade the conservatives had the upper hand, at least in professed believers. Some part of this growth was a Boomer phenomenon and the shift of population to the Sun Belt. One can mix in a bit of sexual anxiety that was the subtext of the 80s and90s — the prime family years of  the Boomers.

This religious growth was widely spread but it came with a catch: the growing conservative wing of Protestantism was also the wing for But something else was in the wind. Thsomething of a puritan movement had taken place.

these forces had been part of the fundamentalist community, particularly those in S California (see Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt). It was a potent stew: highly separatist adherents, a militant anti-communism, a Plain Folk distrust of elites; this was the gift of Orange County to the world.

But once you get past Reagan, what was the impact of this religious nationalism? More respectability, yes, and a new name (Religious Right) but still largely a failure argues George Hawley

(The Religious Right) was an effective fundraising tool for Republican politicians, but its lasting victories in terms of social policies are difficult to name. Stopping the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s was perhaps the movement’s sole permanent achievement. And that victory occurred before most of the major institutions of the Christian Right were even established. On abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and other social issues, conservative victories were typically fleeting.

But if it was a failure politically, it was worse for Christianity as a whole. The very political energy of the movement drove out the moderate  and liberals, not simply sending some to the mainline congregations, but completely out of the religious game. To the sidelines. As Hawley notes, “the finding that it expedited the decline of Christian identification and affiliation is a damning indictment.”

 

 

 

Can the Middle Be Claimed? part 2.

Carol Howard Merritt at The Christian Century will have none of Tim Keller. Keller had been selected as the recipient of the Kuyper Award for Excellence in Reformed Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, until faculty, students and friends furiously objected.

But Keller’s position on women and LGBTQs in the church, by comparison, would silence at least half of Princeton’s student population. And that’s the issue. I have not and cannot keep Keller from preaching. A PCA church can and does restrict women from preaching.

The student body and alumni had every right to protest the award. That is free speech.

Churches (and other entities) face the double challenge of purity and hospitality. One seems to invalidate the other. Take our pick: be true, or be welcoming, which will it be? Here the Lenten theme comes to bear: sometimes inclusion means, even demands seeing (and including) the enemy. We include, not because of some sentiment like “hospitality” or “inclusion” but because of a cross. In the poisonous partisan world, this reality claims our tongue, and it should claim our welcome.

Walking Away (but keeping the memory)

 

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Matthew Loftus links to Peter Beinart’s article, “Breaking Faith” and asks

What if being secular makes you more tolerant towards things like gay marriage or pot legalization, but makes you more intolerant towards other groups? If you thought the Religious Right was bad, wait ’til you see the Post-Religious Right:

For decades, liberals have called the Christian right intolerant. When conservatives disengage from organized religion, however, they don’t become more tolerant. They become intolerant in different ways. Research shows that evangelicals who don’t regularly attend church are less hostile to gay people than those who do. But they’re more hostile to African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims. In 2008, the University of Iowa’s Benjamin Knoll noted that among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and born-again Protestants, the less you attended church, the more anti-immigration you were.”

One is tempted to reference those who “have the form of religion…” This cultural faith, of course, is always there. And when it’s connected with one party, then the other side is likely to reject the entire apparatus — good riddance! 

On both sides, the secularists think that religious faith is primarily a matter of culture, and so a matter of politics. Yet the practice of the religious community points in another direction (as does its own moderation). Faith always lies askew of the culture, and so the church provides an alternate affirmative good of community. the shape of this community is not built on the internal values of that community (what it does in gathering), but on its appeal to the transcendent. This “otherness”, this faith gives us permission to walk away from ourselves, our natural “tribe.” Otherness gives a breadth, a counter-cultural narrative, that is not only theological, but experiential. This aching need for connectives is all around us. Old guys long for it and often die for lack of it. Likewise there was a terrific article a couple weeks ago on the Epidemic of Gay Loneliness on the Huffington Post — read subtly, there was still this longing to connect (the folks at Spiritual Friendship have it right). We thirst.

Partisanship, this divide, feeds off of a lack of inner life. When all we are left with is our externals, than it is easy to appeal to the stuff of the tribe.

On orthodoxy and community

Rod Dreher is concerned about the relationship between orthodoxy and the current emphasis on community within the church in  Christianity without Orthodoxy, in doing so he perhaps has two questions in mind.

First, there is the matter of practice,

How do you decide right from wrong on a controversial church teaching? . . . How do you determine that now is the time for you to stay when a divisive issue comes up in the church community, or when the line has been breached, and your understanding of truth requires you to leave on principle?

In his southern context, the question of race (and Jim Crow) lurk right below the surface, if that. And then there is a second, not-quite-the-same question, one certainly more global in nature:

We are so accustomed in our culture to not applying reason to religious experience, to only thinking of it in terms of emotional resonance, that to draw those lines seems somehow, well, un-Christian to many. How any religion survives the loss of a sense of the need for orthodoxy, I don’t know.

Both questions are rather protestant in nature, the former being the classic practice flowing from conviction (typically biblical). The latter one would appear to imagine the existence of a common orthodoxy, expressed across very diverse traditions. A fundamentalism, if you will (we differ but we all believe the same core truths). A more honest approach may be to acknowledge that what the Eastern church means by “orthodoxy” is not the same as what Rome means, let alone what an Evangelical may believe. This would be a functional definition of orthodoxy rather than a specifically theological one.

Of course, Dreher could be thinking of the more specific and normative meaning of orthodoxy as that practiced by the Eastern church (aka the Orthodox Church).

As to the relationship of orthodoxy and community, the relationship is surely dialectic. Orthodoxy explains what the community is about, it interprets the historical experience with God. The shape of the community  expresses some convictional norm, an orthodoxy at least of culture if not of theology/ideology. These convictions may be expressed explicitly in statements, and more often or in parallel, by narratives — the stories we tell about where we have come and how we got here.

In similar fashion, the practice of the community reflects or exegetes the convictions of the community. Hence the charges of dead orthodoxy or of hypocrisy when the practice of community appears at variance with the statements of formal orthodoxy or belief. What we state we believe exists as a hypothesis to be demonstrated in how we live. Practice and conviction walk together.