Tag Archives: christianity and culture

Graduation Blessing: A Husband’s Prayer For His Seminary Wife

Grad letter and writers blockToday the seminary held a “Blessing of the Grads” chapel service. Each grad was honoured to have a blessing read out from a loved one. What follows below is Charles’ letter to me. I am so thankful for  a husband who has supported and actively encouraged this educational journey.

*************

Amanda, as I have watched you tackle the challenges of graduate study while dealing with the challenges of work and home, I have been continually reminded what an privilage it is to be your husband.  You have been and continue to be a blessing to me and to our children.  My prayer is that God will open doors for you to develop the immense potential that we see in you.  My prayer is that our children will learn to understand what an amazing mother they have, and will look to you as an example of what a powerful woman of God can be.

Lord, make Amanda an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let her sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

 

O Divine Master, Grant that she may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

Amen.

Reading Barth, Not Reading Barth, and Reactions to the Barthian Industry

Karl Barth

There has been a fascinating discussion going on in the blogosphere this month about reading Barth.  It started with Janice Rees talking about her own personal resistance movement where she was deliberately choosing to not read Karl Barth:

“…my commitment to not reading Barth arose because of my concerns regarding the institution of Barthian scholarship and my understanding of identity for theologians on the margins. By not reading Barth I was, and have been, engaging in what I believe is a form of resistance; a small gesture that I could manage as I tried to find a voice and place beyond tokenism.  There are several ways in which I have understood this to be resistance.”

Peter Kline wrote about his choice to no longer read Karl Barth and his personal therapy of choosing to not go to Princeton for a PhD program:

“The previous summer I had been invited to contribute to an online blog conference on Barth that would take place in October. The conversation that unfolded in response to my essay was painful for me. People I thought were my friends at Princeton treated me with a callousness and condescension that I found disgusting. But I realized that this was nothing new really, that I had been around this toxicity for years but hadn’t had the distance to see it. This is what talking about Barth sounded and felt like, a pious pissing contest. These are the kinds of conversations Barth’s discourse generates, and I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of them, even if I was good at them. After that essay, I decided not to write on Barth anymore, beyond what was required of me as a grad student. What I decided to walk away from was a whole Princeton-Barth culture that bred arrogance, pseudo-friendships, and a very limited set of theological possibilities.”

 Kait Dugan wrote about her reasons for reading Barth:

“I wish there was space within the theological academy for women to critically engage and appropriate Barth in ways that brought him into desperately needed conversation with other critical theologies. And I’m not talking about the token engagement that can pass in certain projects. I’m interested in profound and rigorous bilateral dialogue between Barth and other critical theologians in order to create something new. [4] The most ironic part of all of this is when I realize just how “radical” Barth is on certain issues and the lines of continuity that can be drawn between him and other theologians who most within confessional boundaries might typically render “not serious” or “unorthodox.” [5] To my surprise, when I read Barth, I see him as an incredible support and ally for many basic theological concerns within theologies of race, gender, and sexuality.”

 

Today, David Congdon has weighed in on the conversation:

“But it is has become fashionable to stop reading Barth for other, far less compelling, reasons. In the first of two recent statements on the matter, we discover that “not reading Barth” is not really a rejection of Barth himself so much as a rejection of “the institution of Barthian scholarship,” “a means to resist the production and control of ‘serious scholarship’” in favor of contextual theology, a rejection of “the way in which ‘Barth’ is invoked as the magic word for ‘orthodoxy,’” a way of resisting “institutional powers,” since “Barthian scholarship seems a power unto itself.” These are all different ways of saying the same thing: “not reading Barth” = resisting the oppressive institutional powers of church and academy. We hear more of the same in the second, more personal, statement, in which “not reading Barth” = the rejection of “a pious pissing contest” and “a whole Princeton-Barth culture that bred arrogance, pseudo-friendships, and a very limited set of theological possibilities.” Of course, by the end, we learn that the author has exchanged one culture for another, that of critical theory, which “is every bit as much an industry as the former with unspoken but obvious clubs and entrance requirements.””

And my thesis supervisor made this observation on Facebook this afternoon:

“Telling people why we may have stopped reading Barth (which is, of course, perfectly a legitimate choice) is one thing, but telling others why we may have stopped reading Barth with the strong implication that their readers should ALSO stop reading Barth sounds a little bit too much like a form of censorship for my comfort.”

As an MA student doing my thesis on Karl Barth, I have been reading the ongoing conversation carefully and prayerfully. I don’t have anything profound to add to the conversation, but what follows are a few of the ideas that are floating around my Barth-addled brain.

  1. I have been edified and challenged by Barth.  It was an invitation to a Barth reading group in Caronport when we had just newly moved here, that allowed me to meet people and be intellectually challenged. I would later take a seminar class on Barth that, though it was one of the most challenging classes of my seminary career, was the most rewarding. I have learned that Barth is best read in the context of the church. He was writing to edify the church, not to edify the academy. If a person reads Barth merely as an academic exercise, then they are doing a grave injustice to the writing and spirit of Barth’s scholarship.
  2. While Barth is a profoundly important voice for Christian theology, he is not the only voice, nor the final voice.
  3. You don’t need to like Barth to appreciate Barth’s contribution to theology. Confession: I really, really dislike reading Augustine. If I have a choice between reading Augustine and anything else, I will choose anything else (including the dreadful Twilight series). But, I also know that it is important for me to read Augustine as he has (for good or for evil or both) profoundly influenced western Christian thought.
  4. Peter’s observation of Barthian scholarship being a “pious pissing contest” is spot on. As I read for my thesis I have begun to be able to tell just from the introduction of a book which Barthian “camp” the author identifies with. Too often I have found otherwise intelligent scholars failing to understand, listen to, or fairly represent the arguments from a scholar from the opposite camp simply because they are from the “wrong side.”
  5. Given the way that Barthian academy works, I am learning (very quickly) that I am not smart enough to be a Barth scholar. As I read “provocative” and “creative” interpretations and interactions with Barth, I find myself asking: “are we reading the same text?!” “is all this academic twisting and interpreting being fair to the spirit and purpose of Barth’s writings?” and “are the “innovative” readings of Barth merely a means for the scholar to get name recognition?”
  6. Criticizing Barth for not anticipating the conversations or the postmodern assumptions in Christian theology that developed after his time is at best a cheap-shot, and at worst, unethical and sloppy scholarship.
  7. While it is true that in classes and at conferences, I am usually the only or one of only a few women in attendance I have not experienced any problems being a woman who studies Barth. This is probably due in large part to the fact that I am just a mere student and not a scholar trying to contribute to the academy.

I may never end up in the hallowed halls of the Barthian academy (very probable). I may get to the end of my thesis and not want to read Barth for a very long time (highly probable). I may discover that Barth is not the best dialogue partner for my theological journey (very possible). Or I may discover that Barth is the coolest of all the cool theologians and that my life’s dream is to become a Barthian scholar (unlikely, but who knows?)

Whatever the case, Barth offers all of us, whether we are student or teacher, pastor or teacher, some very wise counsel: the work and call of the theologian is a gift of grace. “To become and be a theologian is not a natural process but an incomparably concrete fact of grace.”  While some may say that this idea lends itself to a sort of arrogance, as if the theologian has been endowed, Barth is quick to point out that this gift of grace is a mystery, for “if anyone supposed he could understand himself as such a receiver of grace, he would do better to bid theology farewell.”  With this comes the need for humility. All of our theological presuppositions are grounded, not in the logical consistency of a theologian’s argument, but in the “reality of God’s self-communication to us in Jesus Christ.”  As such, theological statements, be they from Barth or any other theologian past or present, “are true only in so far as they direct us away from themselves to the one Truth in God” and that Truth is Jesus. 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Ariel, Merida and “the alienation of a young generation of Christians”

In light of the explosion of discussion and responses to Rachel Held Evans’ article at CNN on why millennials are leaving the church, I thought I would re-post my discussion from last year on millennials and their relationship to the church. Enjoy!

****

I have a love/hate relationship with the Disney princesses. On the one hand, Belle was my absolute favourite princess when I was young, and she still is. On the other, as I have gotten older and now have daughters of my own, I struggle with the message that the Disney princesses give, especially how they are marketed (it irks me to no end that the Mulan princess doll is done up in froof when that was the part that she hated the most and was one of the reasons she ran off to fight in her father’s stead).

And yet, I wonder if comparing and contrasting two Disney princesses would help me to make sense of a trend in north American Evangelicalism. MSNBC has a story about how the gay marriage issue is driving away an entire generation of Christians. And while the story does cite Matthew Anderson as an example of one young Christian who doesn’t think so, the majority of the article seems to lean towards Rachel Held Evans’ thesis. Denny Burk has weighed in on his, and it has of course made the rounds on the Twitter feed.

I don’t really want to talk about the gay-marriage debate, but rather, I want to speak to the larger issue behind it: the post-modern 21st century generation of evangelical Christians who are disenfranchised with the older generations of the Church in general.

My question is this: what kind of princess is this young evangelical generation? Is it Ariel or Merida?

'Little Mermaid projections at Disney Animation' photo (c) 2009, Loren Javier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/The message of The Little Mermaid is disobey your parents because at the end there will be a rainbow and a handsome prince, and a father who will apologize because you were right and he was wrong. Reckless and head-strong is okay because it’s all about you and no one else and your parents will see that in the end and you will live happily ever after.

The message of Brave, on the other hand, is there are consequences to your head-strong opinions, and in the end your mom was actually right and knew what she was talking about. She may not have expressed it in the best of ways, but it’s not entirely her fault that you didn’t get it. Reconciliation is needed: Merida needed to repair the tear in the family that she had created; and the Queen needed to see that Merida had gifts and strengths and that she didn’t need to be “managed” and nagged at 24/7.

'BraveMerida' photo (c) 2012, Michelle Wright - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The Evangelical church in North America is young, very young, in the grand scheme of 2,000 years of Christianity. And yet on many issues the 21st-century Evangelical Church think that she knows what is best and that is okay to turn her back on the “old fogeys” of both the Evangelical tradition and the larger Church because they are absolutely wrong and she is absolutely right.

I don’t know what the cause of this is. Maybe it’s the rugged individualistic worldview of the North American culture. Maybe it’s what happens with each generation of Christians but in the age of social media it has become amplified and expanded. Maybe it’s because North America is quickly becoming a post-Christian nation and it is encouraging the Church to become post-Christian as well. I don’t know.

I guess what it comes down to is this: I wish there was a little more humility; a little more listening. I get the disenfranchisement of the young people in the church today, I really do. I am of that generation. I think the difference is that I didn’t grow up in the Church, so I didn’t have my rebel moment. I came into the Church at the age of 16 with my eyes somewhat open to what I was choosing. It was (through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit) my choice to respond to the gracious gift of Jesus; it wasn’t forced on me (“you have to be a Christian because that is what this family does”). Add to that, I have spent a lot of time reading Church history, listening to the elders who have gone before, and sitting under their wisdom. It has changed me. It has softened me. It has made me (somewhat) more patient with the foibles and frustrations of a Church that is made up of imperfect humans.

I am listening to the stories and concerns of this generation of evangelicals, but I can’t help but wonder, “Are you listening just as equally to the stories of your elders and of those who disagree with you? Are you willing to do your part in reconciliation or are you expecting the older generation to unilaterally cave to your way of thinking? What happens in 50 years, when the new younger generation of Evangelicals become disenfranchised and alienated from your ideas, experiences and politics?”

Canadian Christianity — The Anglican Church of Canada General Synod

The Anglican Church of Canada just completed their General Synod. One of the resolutions presented at this synod was for the 2016 General Synod to consider amending canon XXI on marriage to include same-sex marriage. At the moment there are nearly a dozen dioceses that have authorized same-sex blessings, and while it has been repeatedly emphasized that the blessings are not the same as marriage, critics have pointed out that it’s only a matter of time before the blessing ceremony is replaced with a marriage rite.

Malcolm, who attended the synod, notes that the process for voting on the resolution “went sideways”:

We had earlier dealt with a motion directing the Council of General Synod to initiate a process leading to a draft canon permitting Anglican clergy to solemnize same sex marriages. Several things went or nearly went sideways during the debate. Very conservative bishop Stephen Andrews and very liberal dean Peter Elliott combined to propose an amendment that outlined the consultative and theological work required. A brilliant bit of drafting, it offered some assurance to conservatives that their concerns would be heard. Unfortunately the original mover and seconded did not immediately understand what was being proposed and offered up a subamendment that would have cut the guts out of the very eirenic amendment. The subamendment, fortunately, was defeated.
After a very rational debate, the amendment passed. Then things decided to go sideways again.  A very few people called for question after almost no debate at all on the resolution as amended, the Primate called for the vote and off we went for a break.  When we returned, the Primate acknowledged this error, and also that he’d missed a valid request for a vote by orders….

The Anglican Journal has reflections from both sides, including Gene Packwood’s concern:

…changing the marriage canon to allow the marriage of same-gender couples in church would only hasten the decline in membership and revenues of the church. “I come from Alberta, and when the ELCIC [Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada] made a decision just for the same-sex blessings, 35 congregations left in Alberta alone and their budget declined by 25 per cent.”

Also, two blogs (Anglican Essentials and Anglican Samizdat) associated with Anglicans who are affiliated with the Anglican Network in Canada, have posted comments, including Peter’s observation that:

I do remember how many folk on the other side of the argument about 10 or so years ago were at pains to point out this was about blessings, not marriage – marriage was not going to be touched. We were not fooled by that, even then.

As someone who is new to the Anglican tradition, I find all of this fascinating and perplexing. I’m left with so many questions.

Is it truly inevitable that the definition of marriage will be altered?

Is it possible to have two definitions of marriage on the books? Or does that become a logistical, theological and pastoral minefield?

If the resolution passes in 2016 and 2019, and the definition of marriage is changed, what does this mean for the conservative parishes and dioceses? Will more churches decide to align with either the ANiC or the Catholic Ordinariate?

What does this mean for the relationship of the ACoC with the broader Anglican Communion? Will this hasten the acceptance of the ANiC as a valid Anglican tradition in communion with Canterbury? Or will it further fracture the cracks in the broader Communion?

Is the definition of marriage merely a “non-essential” or does it in some way reflect larger, “essential” theological disagreements?

I’d love to hear thoughts from Anglicans from both sides of this issue.

 

Canadian Christianity — C&MA Ordain First Female Pastor

On Sunday, the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination in Canada ordained their first female pastor, Eunice Smith. Last year, the denomination voted to change the bylaws regarding ordination to allow for women to be ordained. From the news release:

Eunice has served the C&MA for more than sixty years. She has served in the Canadian Midwest District, the Caribbean Sun Region and the Canadian Pacific District. Eunice was ordained in Richmond Alliance Church, in Richmond, B.C., the church that she currently serves and calls home.

Rev. Jon Coutts, lead pastor of Richmond Alliance Church, deemed Eunice’s ordination “a celebration of God’s faithfulness to and through her over the years, as well as a meaningful, formal affirmation of her gifts and calling for ministry in the church.”

Eunice’s son, Rev. Dr. Gordon Smith, President of Ambrose University College, declared that Eunice’s ordination affirms the seeds planted through her teaching and preaching of the Scriptures, anointed by the Holy Spirit.

Eshet Chayil! A woman of valour!

 

The Role of the Church in Postliberal Thought — The Problem of Antirealism

Welcome to the second post in the series on postliberal ecclesiology. The first post can be found here.

 

One of the main charges leveled against postliberalism is that, at a philosophical level, it is inherently antirealist.  That is, it has been suggested that the cultural-linguistic approach needs no external referent.  Part of this is because Lindbeck is reacting against the cognitive-propositionalist approach that “stresses the ways in which church doctrines function as informative propositions or truth claims about objective realities.”[1]  Lindbeck does not deny that cognitive aspects of doctrine can be important, but he argues that they are not the primary purpose of doctrine.[2]  The criticism is that, in making doctrine to be rules rather than first-order propositional truth claims, postliberalism is antirealist.[3]

Alister McGrath, for example, argues that Lindbeck “seems to suggest that conceiving theology as the grammar of the Christian language entails the abandonment of any talk about God as an independent reality…”[4]  Jeffrey Hensley, on the other hand, argues that Lindbeck is “metaphysically neutral” and therefore it is possible for postliberals to be realists.  He suggests that Lindbeck makes a distinction between meaning and existence, and that it is meaning that is “conceptually relative.”[5]  Thus, what Lindbeck is doing is not necessarily offering an antirealist metaphysic, but is instead “simply pointing out that the frameworks through which we view the world deeply influences the way in which we understand its nature and existence.”[6]  Stanley Hauerwas, in interacting with the works of Hans Frei, likewise argues that postliberalism is not antirealist because it is impossible to isolate the biblical narratives from reality, just as it impossible to consider statements of “truth and falsity [apart] from the context of their utterance.”[7]

This becomes important in the discussion of the role of the Church, because it too does not have an external referent.  It is antirealist in that it does not need a propositional reality, and the community ultimately fails to “be accountable to something beyond itself.”[8]  In other words, if the community determines doctrine, what determines the community?  For evangelicals, cognitive-propositionalists and postconservatives, that external referent is Scripture.  The problem, as identified by critics of postliberalism, is that by making the community the final authority, doctrine becomes relativized or dependant on the whims of the community.  Vanhoozer suggests that this postliberal emphasis of the community being the final authority has been picked up in evangelical churches, resulting in churches that have adopted cultural practices “that owe more to managerial, therapeutic, consumerist, and entertainment cultures…”[9]  Ultimately, by making the community the centre, it increases the likelihood of deformed practices and corrupted traditions.[10]  In this way, the cultural-linguistic approach is closer to the experiential-expressive approach.  Where the classic liberal position of the experiential-expressive grounds truth in the ‘common human experience’, the postliberal approach grounds truth in the ‘common community experience.’

Next up: Definition of Church


 

[1] Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, 2.

[2] Ibid., 21.

[3] Donald Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 211–212; Jeffrey Hensley, “Are Postliberals Necessarily Antirealists? Reexamining the Metaphysics of Lindbeck’s Postliberal Theology” in Phillips and Okholm, Nature of Confession, 73–74.

[4] Alister McGrath, The Genesis of Doctrine: A Study in the Foundations of Doctrinal Criticisms (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 29.

[5] Jeffrey Hensley, “Are Postliberals Necessarily Antirealists? Reexamining the Metaphysics of Lindbeck’s Postliberal Theology” in Phillips and Okholm, Nature of Confession, 76.

[6] Ibid, 76.

[7] Stanley Hauerwas, “The Church As God’s New Language,” in Christian Existence Today: Essays on Church, World, and Living in Between (Durham: The Labyrinth Press, 1988), 59.

[8] Fackre, 129.

[9] Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology, 26.

[10] Ibid., 22.

The Role of the Church in Postliberal Thought — Introduction

Welcome to the first post in a series on postliberalism and Ecclesiology.

What is Postliberalism?

            Postliberalism is a twentieth-century theology founded on the narrative theology of Hans Frei, and George Lindbeck’s theory of doctrine.  It attempts to offer a corrective to the relativistic bent of liberalism by affirming the importance of Scripture in the life of Christianity, bringing liberal theology in closer relationship to more conservative strands of Protestantism (such as evangelicalism).  Meaning and truth are “determined by the intratextual subject matter of Scripture.”[1]  Becoming an adherent of a religion is a process similar to learning a language or learning to adopt a new culture.

In postliberalism, the authority resides in the community, and in how the community uses and interprets Scripture to formulate doctrine.  While there is much to be appreciated in adopting a postliberal ecclesiology, the placement of authority within the Church, rather than in Scripture, can become a stumbling block for conservative Protestants.  I would suggest that the benefits of postliberal ecclesiology can be adopted by evangelicals, so long as the authority remains with Scripture rather than the community.

Limitations

            In approaching this topic, a few limitations need to be addressed.  First, while George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine was foundational for postliberalism, Lindbeck was not a systematic theologian.  Added to this, while there is much commonality between his work and the work of fellow Yale professor, Hans Frei, Frei died shortly after the publication of Lindbeck’s book, which means that, while scholars pair the two together as the founders of postliberalism, there was in actuality “a lack of substantive methodological followup.”[2]

Second, there seems to be disagreement about who is actually a postliberal scholar.  Postliberalism is also known as “Yale Theology” but this does not necessarily mean that students of Frei and Lindbeck are necessarily postliberals.   As George Hunsinger has noted, there seems to be a randomness to who is considered postliberal and who is not.  Indeed, scholars like Stanley Hauerwas are considered postliberal even though he did not belong to the Yale tradition.[3]  As well, the “Yale Theology” is significantly less “Yale-y” given that the major scholars associated with current postliberal thought are working at schools other than Yale.  As William Placher notes, “Yale itself is no longer clearly a centre of postliberal theology.”[4]  Also, there is a question as to how postliberal Lindbeck actually was, with Hunsinger suggesting instead that Frei was postliberal, while Lindbeck was more precisely ‘neoliberal.’[5]

Recognizing that there is debate about what constitutes postliberal theology, I am assuming a standard broad understanding of postliberalism and its major contributors as found in most dictionaries on 20th century theology.[6]  For the purpose of this series, the focus will be primarily on two of Lindbeck’s writings: The Nature of Doctrine,[7] and his essay “The Church,”[8] as well as the various interactions and critiques that have been offered by scholars.

 

Cultural-Linguistic Approach

            Lindbeck proposes an alternative to what he sees as the two dominant ways of understanding doctrine.  In contrast to the cognitive-propositional approach, and the experiential-expressive approach, Lindbeck offers the cultural-linguistic approach.  This approach is influenced by modern cultural anthropology, as well as the theory of language as presented by Ludwig Wittengenstein.

In a cognitive-propositional approach, the truth of a doctrine is found in concrete propositions grounded in reality, while in the experiential-expressive model the truth is found in a common human experience or feeling.  In the cultural-linguistic model, truth resides in the community.  To become a Christian is to learn and adopt the language and practices of the Christian community.  It is not enough to know the ‘facts’ about Christianity, for there are many non-Christians who know what Christianity is.  Instead, it is about learning the language and grammar of the Christian faith.  More specifically, “to become a Christian involves learning the story of Israel and of Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one’s world in its terms.”[9]

Scripture plays a key role here, as it is the framework within which Christians experience and affirm the faith.[10]  And while the surrounding culture will influence the life of a Christian, ultimately “what is important is that Christians allow their cultural conditions and highly diverse affections to be molded by the set of biblical stories that stretches from creation to the eschaton and culminates in Jesus’ passion and resurrection.”[11]  In the cultural-linguistic model, Scripture “absorbs the universe” and provides the interpretative framework by which Christians understand all reality.[12]

And yet, despite the heavy emphasis on the role of Scripture in formulating doctrine and shaping the community, one of the main critiques of the cultural-linguistic model, and postliberalism in general, is that ultimately, it is the community that has the final authority without being answerable to anything else.  Salvation is found in the community.  The community teaches the language that characterizes the Christian faith, and the community interprets the Scriptures to define the doctrines of the community.  Thus, within postliberalism the answer to the question, “how is Scripture authoritative?” is “according to socialization in the community’s conventions, which are subject to revision with continuing community engagement.”[13]

Next up: The problem of anti-realism.


 

[1] George Hunsinger, “Postliberal Theology,” in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, ed. Kevin Vanhoozer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 44.

[2] Paul DeHart, The Trial of Witnesses: The Rise and Decline of Postliberal Theology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2006), xiii.

[3] Hunsinger, “Postliberal Theology,” 42.

[4] William Placher, “Postliberal Theology,” in The Modern Theologians: An Introduction to Christian Theology in the 20th Century, ed. David Ford (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), 354.

[5] Hunsinger, “Postliberal Theology,” 44.

[6] e.g., Alister McGrath, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1995); Placher, “Postliberal Theology.”

[7] George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

[8] George Lindbeck, “The Church,” in Keeping the Faith: Essays to Mark the Centenary of Lex Mundi, ed. Geoffrey Wainwright (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).

[9] Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, 20.

[10] Ibid., 66.

[11] Ibid., 70.

[12] Ibid., 103. For an in-depth philosophical analysis of Lindbeck’s use of “absorb the universe,” see Bruce Marshall, “Absorbing the World: Christianity and The Universe of Truths,” in Theology and Dialogue: Essays in Conversation with George Lindbeck (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), 69-102.

[13] Gabriel Fackre, “Narrative: Evangelical, Postliberal, Ecumenical” in Timothy R. Phillips and Dennis L. Okholm, eds., Nature of Confession: Evangelicals and Postliberals in Conversation (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 129.

The “Unsuccessful” Church

By all modern measures, the little church would be considered a failure. It never grew past 50 in attendance. Its demographic was always heavy on the seniors, with only a handful of people under the age of 25. For twenty years the church gathered in a rented facility, a youth centre, and all of the church’s belongings, from the pulpit, to the collapsible communion table, to the hymnals and coffee supplies, fit snugly into a tiny closet. (People used to joke that the little church would be ahead of the game if Christians became a persecuted minority in Canada because it could be packed up in less than fifteen minutes) In the last decade, the church began to die, literally. Every year at least one member went to be with Jesus. With the majority of the members being retired and on fixed incomes, the church operated on a lean budget. As the congregation shrank, the pastor offered to drop down to part-time status to help on expenses. More than one person asked the pastor why he kept ministering there; it wasn’t like he was making a ton of money as a full-time pastor, and now as a part-time pastor he was making bread-crumbs. His response, every time, was so long as people kept showing up, he would continue to pastor. This was a pastor that took joy in ministering to seniors, and in the ever-increasing race for “families and young people” more and more churches were neglecting their elders. This pastor wouldn’t do that to them. Seniors needed pastoral care just as much as young families.

The church was eventually dissolved. 20 years of ministry and it died. It was merged with another tiny congregation.

“Unsuccessful.” Or was it?

It was the church that I was discipled in. While I was saved through a large Pentecostal youth ministry, it was this tiny, dying church that took me under its wing and helped me grow in the faith. The pastor’s wife picked me up from home every Sunday morning, and drove me to church. I learned about being a Christian, and a woman, and a servant during those car rides. I didn’t say much, but I just listened as the pastor’s wife ministered to me through the stories of her life experiences. I learned about serving by helping to set up the rows of chairs every morning, by placing a hymnal and bible on each chair, by helping to put everything away at the end of the service. I learned about suffering and struggle as I prayed with members who were suffering from cancer, dementia, or the loss of a spouse. I learned about joy as I shared in the celebrations of 50th wedding anniversaries, birth announcements of grandbabies and great-grandbabies. It was in this church that I was baptized. It was in this church that I got to cut my teeth on leading worship and preaching. It was by this pastor that I was married, and that my first child was dedicated to Jesus.

The church may be gone, and church growth experts would say that it was an “unsuccessful” church, but they would be wrong. It’s not about numbers.

It’s about proclaiming Christ crucified and resurrected.

It’s about faithfulness.

It’s about service.

It’s about obedience.

It’s about caring for one another and discipling each other.

It’s about changing lives.

And that’s what this church did. It changed the lives of seniors who would have otherwise been forgotten by larger churches. And it changed my life. I learned about the long road of the life of faith, a life that is marked not by successive mountaintop experiences, but by the slow and steady walk of decades of faithful discipleship.

 

Tips for Practicing Lectio Divina as a Student at a Christian College

It is a hazard that is inevitable for biblical studies/theology students: the more you study Scripture as part of your program, the more devotional reading of Scripture plummets. Sometimes it takes years after graduating for the practice of daily Scripture reading as a spiritual discipline to be reincorporated into a student’s life.

A few years ago, a friend recommended Lectio Divina as an exercise for me to try to reclaim devotional reading during my studies.

Lectio Divina is comprised of four components or stages:

Lectio – reading – What does the text say?

Meditatio – meditation – What is Jesus saying to me in and through this text?

Oratio – prayer – What do I want to say to Jesus about this text

Contemplatio – contemplation – How will this text shape/change me?

 

I tried it. Over and over, I tried it. And I failed horribly. I could never get past the “lectio” stage. I would read the text and begin mulling the exegetical issues. I’d think about parallel passages. I’d think about different scholars’ opinions on the interpretation of the text.

 

After a year of trying and failing to practice lectio, I realized that maybe I needed to tweak my approach. I didn’t change stages, but instead I worked on changing the environment of the stages.

 

  1. I chose a different translation than what I used for my studies. For class and papers, I use the NASB. For lectio divina I chose a different translation, usually a more contemporary one. This helped separate this exercise from the daily exercise of studying Scripture as a part of my program. For the most part I would use something like the NLT, but sometimes I would experiment with a paraphrase like The Message.
  2. I chose a different space to read. Instead of doing lectio divina in the same place where I studied and wrote papers, I would find a place where I could assume a less academic posture. Instead of sitting at a table or a desk, I would sit in an oversized chair. Sometimes I would find a closet or a corner away from busyness.
  3. I chose a different text. If my coursework was focused on the Old Testament, I would choose a NT text for my lectio reading. If my theological work was focused on Christology, I would choose a passage of Scripture that was about ecclesiology or pneumatology.
  4. I asked someone to pray for me. They didn’t need to be praying at the same time that I was doing lectio, but knowing I had someone interceding and praying that the Word would speak through the word helped especially if I found myself struggling in the oratio stage.
  5. I limited how often I practiced lectio divina. Sometimes it was only once a semester. Sometimes it was once a month. But in limiting how often I practiced it, it made the act and time of lectio divina sacred, focused and purposeful.

Christians and Game of Thrones

How should Christians interact, respond to, or embrace pop culture? It’s a question that I wrestle with regularly, given that my interests include not only theology but also science-fiction.

And let’s face it, there are good ways and bad ways to interact with pop culture. Take Game of Thrones for example. The Song of Ice and Fire series is fantastic (even if I do have squabbles with the quality of A Dance with Dragons), and HBO has translated the novels into a highly successful television series. How do Christians, who appreciate the novels, respond to the television series especially given HBO’s propensity to “sex it up”? Not all of us are comfortable with the graphic sexual content of the show, and yet we still understand that there is something powerful to the narrative of the television series that cannot be ignored.

There are a plethora of examples of Christians responding to Game of Thrones (be it the novels or the television series) well, with thought, reflection and respect for the world that Martin has created. Here are just a few:

A Morally-Complex Game of Thrones

Ben Witherington’s review of Season One

My posts can be found here, here and here.

But then, every once and a while you come across an example of how not to interact with Game of Thrones. Take the article at Christianity Today. Jonathan Ryan attempts to contrast Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings. Which is fine, so long as it is recognized that they are two very different worlds and worldviews. The problem comes when Ryan tries to compare Tyrion Lannister to Gollum:

Martin paints this grimness in the portrait of Tyrion Lannister. Tyrion is a small and deformed figure born to a powerful and noble family in Westeros. Years of poor treatment and outright abuse leads Tyrion to drink more and more deeply from the corruption around him.If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, you can’t help but compare Tyrion to Smeagol, the hobbit who becomes Gollum after becoming corrupted by Sauron’s ring The difference comes in Frodo’s attempt to redeem Gollum. That attempt has no parallel in Martin’s world, nor is there anything like Gandalf’s admonition to treat Gollum with kindness. Tyrion has no Frodo, and he never will. No one reaches out to him; no one tries to save or redeem him.

Ryan fundamentally misunderstands and misconstrues the character of Tyrion. In fact, I would argue that Tyrion is in fact one of the most honourable characters in Westeros, with the understanding that the rules of morality in A Song of Ice and Fire are very, very distinct from the rules of morality in something like The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, it is this honour-in- spite-of-all-he’s-been-through that makes Tyrion one of the more beloved characters to readers (and viewers). The same endearment cannot be said of Gollum.

In trying to compare Tyrion to Gollum, the author overlooks all the good things that Tyrion has done. (There is now a note at the bottom of the article that the article removed an important plot point from the article because it would be a “spoiler” to those who are new to the series, but even eliminating discussion of the plot point does not mean that at this point in the TV series Tyrion fits well with Gollum).

CS 65 Friday 22nd October 2010First, a few comparisons. Gollum was consumed by lust for the ring. And it was this lust that transformed him into a hideous monster. Tyrion was broken and starved for affection because he was born deformed. His brokenness did not transform his appearance, but instead, his appearance and neglect actually gave him space to better see the complex politics of the world for what they were. Tyrion’s deformity meant that people left him alone, and underestimated him, and he used that to his advantage to study and to learn and to influence events in the kingdom (even if it was often only behind the scenes). For Tyrion, it’s not about gaining power, which is the drive of the rest of his family. Indeed, Tywin’s and Cersei’s quests for power are so single-minded that they don’t actually understand the bigger picture beyond their own ambitions. Gollum’s solitude, on the other hand, led to a devolution and little understanding of the world around him.

So what are some of the “noble” things that Tyrion does? (while I will try to remain vague, it should be noted that for some people, what follows might constitute spoilers).

Tyrion befriends Jon Snow. He rescues Sansa from a fate worse than death if she were to stay in King’s Landing. He protects the kingdom from Joffrey, by reining him in as best he can.

Does Tyrion do awful things? Yes. But while they are not inexcusable, they are understandable. Yes he kills two people close to him. But his action does not come from some kind of bloodlust, but rather from the raw emotion of being deeply betrayed and emotionally abused.

And as for Ryan’s suggestion that Tyrion has no Frodo, I would suggest that Tyrion does in fact have a Frodo, she just hasn’t been introduced in the television show yet (and I worry that she’ll be one of the characters that HBO drops in their attempt to streamline the novel). By the last novel, Tyrion is definitely on a redemption arc, as much as there can be a redemption arc in Martin’s universe.

If anything, Tyrion is the most human of all the characters in Martin’s universe, and I would suggest that the character of Tyrion could be a reflection and a jumping off point for discussing Christian understandings of the human condition, both in its brokenness and its value despite its brokenness.

Enhanced by Zemanta