Tag Archives: evangelicals

Sunday Worship is a Celebration

It’s not very often that a sermon stays with me for an entire week. But for some reason the sermon I heard last week keeps popping back into my thoughts. For the past two weeks our pastor has been explaining the “why” behind our service. The first week he talked about the first half of our service (liturgy of the Word), and last week he talked about the second half (liturgy of the Table). He made this observation: Everything we do on Sunday morning in the service is a celebration. It’s a party. It’s time to bring out the best linen and the best plates  because it is no ordinary day, but a celebration day.

Sunday worship is a celebration. So simple, yet so profound.

And yet, if this is the case, why do our church services feel more like funerals? I get that there is a goal of being reverent, but too often, the attempt to be reverent misses and it becomes depressing instead.

Hymns that are played a half a beat (or even more) too slow.

Songs that have no joy.

Songs that are not singable by the congregation.

Songs that are theologically correct but have no heart, no depth, and no emotion.

There’s been a lot of bashing of evangelicalism lately on the blogosphere, with lots of talk of how evangelical churches do things wrong, even how they do worship wrong by dumbing it down.

And yet, I’m finding myself more and more appreciative of evangelical worship. Good evangelical worship has heart.

There are songs that are happy-clappy.

There are songs that you can’t help but tap your toes to, and you leave church still humming.

Yes there are fluffy songs, but there are also songs that are theologically profound.

There are songs that cause me to throw my hands up in praise and surrender at the majesty of the Risen King.

There are songs that touch my heart and cause me to cry tears of joy.

There are songs where the only proper response afterwards is a sanctuary-filling “AMEN!”

And so I find myself trying to figure out how to marry the best of both worlds. How do I embrace the liturgy and tradition of the church that I’m attending and yet still nurture that need for joyful worship that is found in the evangelical tradition? As much as I can put Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Paul Baloche on my playlist and plug in my earphones, it’s not the same as corporate worship.

Maybe this is just evidence that I’m not as far down the Canterbury Trail as I had assumed.


Review: Paul In Fresh Perspective

Paul: In Fresh Perspective by N.T. Wright is based on a series of lectures delivered between 2004 and 2005. His aim, through these lectures, is “to let in some new shafts of light on Paul” (p. ix). He does this by dividing his lectures into two sections: themes found in Paul’s writing, and structures of Paul’s theology. While this book, in part, builds on his previous work on Paul, (notably, What St. Paul Really Said, Climax of the Covenant, and his commentary on Romans), it also points to Wright’s next project, namely the fourth volume in his series, Christian Origins and the Question of God.

In chapter one, Wright introduces the world, or more specifically the worlds, of Paul: Judaism, Hellinism, Rome, and the ekklesia. Wright argues that the narratives of these different worldviews all influenced Paul’s theology and thought, and that the focus in Pauline studies on narrative structures “is one of the most significant developments which the ‘new perspective’ revolution has precipitated” (p.8). Wright briefly outlines the shift from the “old perspective” to the “new perspective” and argues that many of the ideas in modern Pauline scholarship were/are born out of specific cultural and interpretative contexts that are now being evaluated and brought to light. (For example, he talks about how Ephesians and Colossians being seen as pseudo-Pauline arose out of a very specific context: German existentialism).

In chapter two, Wright explores the interconnectedness of the themes of creation and covenant. Building off of Psalms 19 and 74, Wright presents three Pauline texts (Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Cor 15; Romans 1-11) that display the same pattern of fusing creation and covenant together, even when the terms “creation” and “covenant” aren’t specifically referenced in the text. Wright’s thesis is that the Old Testament, and thus Paul in retelling the narrative in light of the work of Christ, portrays God as the creator God who is the covenanting God, and vice versa (p.24).

In chapter three, Wright focuses on the themes of Messiah and the Apocalyptic. He argues that this pairing of themes demonstrates that for Paul, the “apocalypse of the Messiah as Israel’s king and therefore the world’s true Lord challenges…the grand claims of the pagan empire” (p.40). Wright rightly challenges the modern misunderstandings of “Christ” that downplay the Jewishness of Jesus’ title. Wright then looks at the themes of Gospel and Empire in chapter four. Wright argues that not only was Paul discussing the Gospel as fulfillment of Israel’s narrative, but he was also subverting (implicitly and explicitly) the ideology of the Roman Empire (pg. 59).

Wright then shifts from themes in Paul’s writings to the structure or shape of Paul’s theology. Wright critiques previous attempts to structure Paul’s theology, because they ended up emphasizing certain doctrines at the expense (or outright dismissal) of other doctrines. Wright suggests the adoption of a three-fold Jewish framework that would categorize Paul’s theology under “one God,” “one people of God,” and “one future for God’s world”, and then tweaking it to focus on the Messiah and the Holy Spirit (p.84). Chapters five, six and seven look at each of the three aspects in turn, and these chapters form the beginning sketches of Paul’s exploration of the Christological and pneumatological foci of each category.

In his concluding chapter, Wright looks at some of the corollary questions that arise from his proposed restructuring of Paul’s theology. First, Wright examines the supposed dichotomy or polarization between Jesus’ message and Paul’s message. Wright argues that both Jesus and Paul saw the world through the same set of themes (as explored in chapters two through four), but their functions were different.  Paul was not attempting to modify or better Jesus’ theology, instead Paul saw his role as being the conductor who simply conducts the music written by the composer, that is, Jesus (p.155). But, if this is the case, Wright asks, what should be done about the apparent discrepancies between Jesus and Paul, in areas like teachings on the Kingdom of God, justification by faith, and Christian ethics? Wright, briefly explores each of the issues and concludes that the solution lies in understanding that Jesus and Paul had two different vocations that served the same over-arching vision (p.161).

While this book has a very conversational tone, and is aimed at more of a general rather than an academic audience, Wright would have been better to have offered more endnotes with references and clarifications to help the reader along. As well, the endnotes that merely reference Scripture should have been changed to parenthetical references to make it easier for the reader who has to continuously flip from the chapter to the endnotes at the back of the book. In terms of Wright’s overall presentation of his perspective on Paul, a reader who is familiar with Wright’s more academic works would understand the summaries and overviews that he gives, but for the reader who is unfamiliar with Wright, the summary nature of Wright’s arguments may actually be overwhelming and disorienting.  As someone who has read Wright, I found his chapter on messiahship to be a good review of his fuller discussions of messiahship as found in Jesus and the Victory of God. On the other hand, his chapter on Paul and Empire was actually confusing instead of clarifying, and as such readers would be better off reading his essay “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire.” That being said, this book serves as a way for evangelicals to re-read Paul with new insights, and to understand the narratives that Paul is using and retelling in his presentation of the Gospel.

Given the introductory nature of these “shafts of light,” and given that the book is written to a general, rather than academic audience, I would suggest that judgment and evaluation of Wright’s re-thinking of Paul be held in reserve until the more complete volume is released. The danger in critiquing Wright at this stage is that, because Wright does not set out to “prove” his re-thinking but rather to gather people together to begin to re-think with him, the reader is in danger of attributing issues or implications to Wright that may or not actually be indicative of Wright’s thought.

As a theologian, I find Wright’s suggested structure for exploring Paul’s theology to be both intriguing and useful, especially in a post-modern context that has moved, and is moving, away from the modernistic structures of systematic (particularly Reformed) theologies. I would suggest that Wright’s proposal could be the beginning of a bridge between biblical studies and theology, and specifically between the fields of biblical theology and systematic theology, especially if there was a way to subsume the systematic categories under the broader structure that Wright proposes.

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Theology Round-Up January 2013

Barth, Barth and More Barth:

Marc Cortez reminds us that theology is not a leisure activity, by pointing us to the wise words of Karl Barth.

Roger Olson’s quest to find out if Barth summed up the Gospel with “Jesus loves me this I know…” has possibly found fulfillment.

And check out the great posts this month over at Barthian Pentecostal.

oprah_theologyGender, Women in Ministry, Christian Sexual Ethics:

Kevin Davis is doing a series on gender and theology:

1. Introduction

2. Serene Jones and Feminist Theory

3. Karl Barth on Man and Woman

4. Implications for the Homosexuality Debate

Brian points us to a couple of podcast series regarding homosexuality and Christian sexual ethics, including a series being done through Dallas Theological Seminary.

Owen Strachan has been named the new executive director of CBMW.

Sarah Moon looks at equality and gender roles.

Leslie asks if men and women approach apologetics differently.

The Heretic Husband takes on John Piper’s understanding of complementarianism.

Kristen Rosser ponders the idea of marriage being an illustration of Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5.



Nick Phillips reviews Phyllis Tickle’s Emergence Christianity.

Leslie reviews A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World and Imaginative Apologetics.

Paul Miller reviews Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling, by James W. Sire.

Kait Dugan asks several critical questions of George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine.

Laura reviews The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung.


Ecclesiology, Life of the Church, Evangelism, and Culture:

Scot McKnight continues his series looking whether or not evangelicalism is coming to an end.

Michael Halcomb did a series on a Christian theology of guns.


Calvinism and Arminianism:

Roger Olson is frustrated with Calvinist theologians who a) misrepresent Arminianism, and b) don’t engage with Arminian literature in their critique of Arminianism. In this post, he takes a look at A. T. B. McGowan’s treatment of Arminianism.

Ken Schenck looks at the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, and at Wesleyans and the doctrine of inerrancy.


Life of a Grad Student; Life of an Academic:

Can evangelical colleges and seminaries be truly academic institutions?

John Hawthorne, professor of Sociology, has started a blog to look at Christian higher education. In his first post he suggests that Christian schools “run the risk of making Christian Higher Ed increasingly irrelevant to larger and larger numbers of young people.”

Darren offers his thoughts, based on his experience this semester teaching intro to theology, on teaching about the doctrine of Scripture.

What makes a scholar?

Advice on writing seminary papers.

John Stackhouse’s top 10 rules for reading course evaluations.

How blogging helped me write my dissertation by Maxime Larivé.


Conferences, Call For Papers and Announcements:

The first annual LA Theology Conference was a success. They have announced the themes for the next four years’ worth of conferences.

Registration for the April 2013 Open Theology conference is now open.

Call for papers for the Relational Theologies/Emerging Church section of the AAR meeting.

Calvin College is hosting a conference on Virtues, Vices, and Teaching. The call for papers is out, and abstracts are due in May.


Paul Copan talks about cultural emotivism, or the tendency to prize “I feel” over “I think”.

Eric Ortlund spends some time thinking about sanctification.

Sam Storm talks about how and why he moved from pre-millenialism to amillenialism.

Rod has a roundup of posts looking at African Americans Christians and Calvinism, and Jemar Tisby looks at 5 factors in the rise of Reformed theology among African Americans. Anthony Bradley argues that it is a myth that there is only one type of Reformed African American Christian, and that there are broadly three types.

Bo Sanders examines Radical Orthodoxy’s fatal flaw.

Was Jesus omniscient?

Kevin writes about the self-imposed suffering of God.

Steve DeWitt looks at the meaning of propitiation.



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A Waste of Time

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

We live in a world that has a hurried sense of time.

It’s always a rush to get out the door.

There are always looming deadlines.

There are always too few hours in the day to get everything done.

I think that is one of the reasons I find myself attracted the use of liturgy, the Christian calendar, and of structured prayer times as found in the Anglican Prayer book (BAS), for example. For just a brief time, I am transported away from a view of time that is pressed, hurried, and haggard. I enter into a space, where I am reminded that God’s time is so infinitely different from our sense of time.

In fact, liturgy wastes time on purpose. It is repetitive and reflective and does not just “cut to the chase.” It builds, slowly and patiently, to the goal of bringing us into the throne room of grace, even if only for 20 minutes, or an hour. It allows space for meditation and reflection. It pushes away the noisy calls for “relevance” and “pragmatism” and “purposefulness”.

Paul Griffiths says it this way:

Wasting time is, in ordinary English, a bad thing: want, we think, to make the best use possible of it. But in liturgical terms, time, considered as linear time that can be scheduled, divided into minutes and hours, filled up, deployed, and measured by chronometers, is exactly what should be laid waste, and effectively is….To enter into the repetitive patterns of the liturgy is to lay waste linear time with the radiance of eternity, and in that way to provide a foretaste of heaven.

And yet, even though I am being shaped by this “otherness” of time, it’s a constant battle to ignore the drum of our culture’s sense of “hurry up.” James K.A. Smith writes of his attempt to incorporate Christian practices into his pedagogy, and tells of his experience in his 200-level philosophy class. Because the class met twice a week during the lunch hour timeslot, he decided to start each class off with “Mid-day Prayer.”

A noble endeavour. I said to myself, thinking about how that would be such a powerful practice to include in a theology class one day. And then the pragmatist (given that I’m reading this book in order to think through educational pedagogy, pragmatic thinking is obviously going to occur) in me said, “but how much time does that take away from the allotted 75 minutes of lecture time?”

There it was: the pressure of our culture’s sense of time. That time devoted to mid-day prayer would take away precious time from lecturing on the actual course content.  It didn’t matter that the students reacted positively to this practice of starting the class with the Divine Hours. My brain automatically began calculating how much time was lost; how much time was wasted by starting the class with the liturgy of prayer.

I stepped back from the book, realizing the conflict I was having over the sense of time. I opened my prayer book, and spent some time praying through the Mid-day prayer. And then, in the quiet, in the stillness, I thought about a possible bridge. What if built into Christian educational institutions class time was 10-15 minutes added specifically for prayer? That way instructional time wasn’t “lost” and at the same time the formative Christian practice was kept.

Until the new heavens and new earth, there will probably always be a battle between our culture’s sense of time and the eternity of time.

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

 That’s okay, White Rabbit, this time, you can run ahead without me.

I Don’t Want to Be Just As I Am

Sometimes I miss the pentecostal tradition. I miss the fire and enthusiasm. But most importantly I miss the theology that God changes us. I miss the belief and practice that when we encounter the Holy Trinity through the power of the Holy Spirit we are not the same person we were when we walked in the door. I miss the testimonies of lives being radically changed. I miss worshipping and celebrating the God who heals.

I say this because I’m finding myself growing frustrated with the theology I am seeing in North American Christianity. It’s the “Just As I Am” theology. Yes it is true that we can come to God just as we are, but “Just As I Am” theology goes a step farther and advocates that we stay just the way we are.

This theology makes us dictate what God can and can’t do.

It makes us the boss over God. Here I am God, just as I am, I like it, you can’t change me, you just have to accept me as I am, because I am fine the way I am, and You love me just the way I am.

We not only tell the Church (pastors, elders, official church teaching) that they can’t tell us that we’re wrong, that we’re broken, (who are you to judge? we tell them), but we also tell God that He can’t tell us we’re wrong, we’re broken.

Where does this come from? Does it come from our doctrine of making a decision for Christ? Do you believe? Say this prayer, say these words. Now you’re in. That’s all that matters. It’s a head thing, and an emotional heart thing. But it’s not a life-changing thing.

Does it come from an overemphasis on justification by faith? We are justified by faith, Jesus’ blood covers over us but doesn’t change us, because what matters is that his blood just covers. We are sinners, we always will be sinners, now we’re just justified sinners.

Where is our doctrine of sanctification? Where are our celebrations of how God has changed us, how he is still changing us, and how he will change us? Where is our proclamation that the Holy Spirit indwells us, that the new is come, the old has passed away? Where is our robust doctrine of baptism, that proclaims that through the waters of baptism we have died to our old selves, died to sin, and are raised to new life through Christ?

What happens when we say to God, come in and do what you need to do? Will it hurt? Probably. Will it be a struggle? Sure. But by not opening ourselves to God’s cleansing fire we’re also missing out on the incredible blessing, the incredible intimacy that comes from the Holy Spirit washing us through and through.

I remember who I was and what I was like before Jesus got a hold of my life. I don’t want that. If I had said “Just as I am and you can’t change me” to him 16 years ago, two things are certain: One, I’d be a very different person today. And two, I probably wouldn’t have stayed in the Church, I wouldn’t have stayed a Christian. I am a Christian because I am a new creation. I am a Christian because the God of the Universe loved me so much to not leave me “just as I am.” And he continues to love me and not leave me “just as I am.”

God heals.

God transforms.

God renews.

I don’t want to be just as I am.


This post was originally written March 21, 2012.


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The Danger in Talking About Why We Should be Involved in a Church

In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith argues that too often we come at an understanding of the church from a consumerist mentality. We are shaped by the shopping mall, and that in turn affects how we approach church and the Christian life. That is:

“I go to church because it fits what I need.”

“I go to church to feel this…”

“I go to church to receive that…”

“I go to this church for this ministry, and this church for that ministry…”

“I go to church because it’s all about me.”

“I don’t need to go to church, I can just listen to a podcast of xyz mega pastor.”

Too often our arguments for why someone should go to church don’t counter this, but instead feed it. Take for example this recent list of 10 Reasons to Be Involved in a Church. The author, David Roach, is writing to those who used to go to church but don’t anymore. He exhorts them to give church a second chance, and then offers his reasons why:

If you’re among these millions, please give church another chance.  By getting involved, you’ll discover that what you once viewed as a chore is actually a blessing. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Gathering with a church encourages believers to love others and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).

2. A church is the main venue for using your spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). God has given you abilities and talents intended to help other Christians. If you’re not involved in a church, others are being deprived of what you have to offer.

3. A church helps keep you from abandoning the faith. According to the author of Hebrews, the antidote to developing an “unbelieving heart” that leads you “to fall away from the living God” is to “exhort one another” (Hebrews 3:12-13)—an activity that occurs most prominently in the church.

4. A church helps you defend Christianity against those who attack it. When Jude told the early Christians to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), he directed his instruction toward a group of believers, not a scattering of lone-ranger Christians. Answering challenges from coworkers, friends, and family members is always easier when you can ask fellow church members for help and wisdom.

5. A church is a great venue for pooling resources to support missions and benevolent works (2 Corinthians 8:1-7; 3 John 5-8). Your money combined with that of fellow church members can do a lot for Christ.

6. A church helps its members maintain correct doctrine (1 Timothy 3:15). You might begin to adopt unbiblical ideas without realizing it yourself. But you probably won’t adopt unbiblical ideas without someone at your church realizing it, and they can help you get back to the truth.

7. After your family, a church is the best group of people to meet your physical needs in an emergency (1 John 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 5:3-16).

8. A church supports you when you face persecution (Acts 4:23-31; 12:12-17). You may not be imprisoned for your Christian beliefs like the apostles were, but a church family is still a great source of comfort when you face stinging words or unfair treatment.

9. A church is where you can be baptized and take part in the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Ephesians 4:4-6). These two ordinances are a vital part of any believer’s walk with Jesus.

10. A church provides the setting for corporate worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Though it’s a blessing to praise God alone, there is a unique joy that accompanies singing God’s praises with an entire congregation of Christ followers.

The list, as presented by Roach, starts with the individual, and makes them the consumer. It’s all about “me” and anything external to “me” is secondary. This list is a perfect example of the consumer mentality that is overtaking North American Christianity.

Are there benefits to being involved in a church? Absolutely. But these benefits should be secondary to the real reason we go to church. We go to church because we are the church. We go to church because God, through Christ, has called a body of believers and not a group of individual Christians. We go to church even when, and precisely because, it’s not all about us. It’s about Jesus, who laid down his life and calls us to lay down our lives (and desires, and possessions, and feelings) for the sake of the Gospel.

Unfortunately, the way this list reads, if I replaced the word “church” with “community group” or “parachurch organization” or “group of Christians meeting weekly at the pub” the same benefits would still apply to most of the list. This list is more accurately “10 reasons to be connected with other Christians” and not necessarily specific to the church.

(And that’s not even taking into account the justifications Roach that gives for each of the reasons, which are either very superficial theology or in some cases really really bad theology. While Roach does provide proof-texts, some of the proof-texts actually betray his very own explanations.)


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Spiritual vs. Consumerist Reading

There was a book that I had to read in one of my seminary classes that was an absolute beast. Boring, small-font, tedious. I remember getting to the end of the course and on the class evaluation writing, “The prof needs to replace this book the next time he teaches the course. It is not helpful, and, if anything, will turn students off of Barth completely.” Here I am two years later and I’m about to write my thesis on that very book that I found so horrible to read. What changed?

Well, the big thing was that I re-read it. I was working on a project for another class, and as dreadful a read as that book had been, I knew that it would be useful for the paper I was writing. The re-read, in light of further study not just in Barth but in theology, gave me a new appreciation for it.

David Smith, in his essay “Reading Practices and Christian Pedagogy: Enacting Charity with Texts“, looks at two ways of reading: spiritual reading, and consumerist reading. Spiritual reading does not mean reading spiritual texts, or texts with religious content. Rather, spiritual reading is an act in which “the act of reading seeks personal transformation through attentive encounter with significant texts,” and is characterized by “applying disciplined attentiveness, reading slowly, repeatedly, contextually, and with humble care.” Consumerist reading is the opposite of spiritual reading. Consumerist reading is when “texts are read only once and are disposable after the information has been extracted…The main goal is information or pleasure, and the text should inform rather than transform the reader.”

Smith goes on to suggest that our culture has encouraged and created consumerist readers, and that even in educational institutions, like colleges and universities, the consumerist model is prized. The reading list for class is sometimes so huge that all the student can do is read through the material once, and only pull out the relevant data needed to write the paper, pass the exam, or dutifully swear that they had indeed “read all the course material” in order to get the “reading marks”.

The problem with this, is that then the student is making evaluative statements or critical analysis of a book which he has only superficially read. And that is not the way to shape critical thinkers. Smith spends the rest of his essay talking about how he experimented with fostering an atmosphere of spiritual reading instead of consumerist reading in his survey course on modern German literature.

For my internship, I am focussing on pedagogy, and I’ve been reflecting on Smith’s experiment and wondering how it would apply in a theology class context. The more I think about it, the more I like what he suggests. Theology is a discipline that requires spiritual reading. Especially given how complex and nuanced theological arguments can be, a cursory “for information only” reading not only does injustice to the original author, it actually opens the door for the student to misappropriate and misinterpret the reading to justify his own theological presuppositions.

Smith suggests and experiments with assigning “re-read assignments” in which the student has to re-read the text and write a reflection paper based on the second reading. What a brilliant idea!

Now I will admit, that there are books that I have read for seminary, that I will probably never read again. But, some of the most formative reading I’ve done has been when I’ve had to re-read the texts. Usually, this is done in the context of research for another class. Sometimes I do it voluntarily, realizing after the class that I need to go back and re-read the text in light of what was learned in class. And sometimes, the re-reading doesn’t happen until years later (thinking about some of the college readings I’ve gone back to re-read). What would have happened if this “re-read” was built right into the course?

I think of that Barth book that I hated. Not only has it become a pragmatic tool in my thesis, it has also profoundly shaped my Christology, and my approach to theology in general (that is, even though I am not thoroughly a Barthian, I am almost definitely Chalcedonian). Had that book stayed on the shelf never to be read again, my entire posture, both as a Christian, and as an aspiring academic, would not have been bent and molded and shaped and changed.

Which leads me to reading in general. How much of the contemporary “Christian literature” out there is written for the consumerist reader? I would say the majority of it is meant to be consumed and then discarded. And I think this in turn leads to Christians reading the Bible consumeristically where “I have gotten what I need from the text” is more often the common posture to daily devotional reading, rather than “Scripture is changing me.”



Emergence Christianity

I received a copy of Phyllis Tickle’s new book, Emergence Christianity, from the publisher. I thought I would be excited about the book. I like reading Tickle, even when I don’t agree with her, but I struggled to get through this book. (I’ve been reading some beastly books this semester and not one of them was as tedious a read as this book) It’s not because it is poorly written. Rather, I struggled with ennui as the question of “so what?” hung over my head. Had this book been published five years ago it would have been brilliant. But let’s face it, the emergent/emergence Church is effectively dead. Now of course, Tickle does address the issue of where emergence Christianity is going, but it failed to alleviate my “so what?” If anything, the publication of this book seems more like the swan song of the movement, rather than a catalyst to get the conversation going again.

Indeed, as Michael Patton notes, no one talks about the emerging church anymore, and suggests that the problem with the  emerging church is that it had no “landing gear”:

I suppose that one could say that the plane never landed. The emerging church asked Christians to re-think their faith. They asked us to deconstruct our beliefs. They asked us to doubt everything. They asked us to take a ride in the emerging plane and fly for a bit. This was to gain some perspective and let us know that we Evangelicals were not the only ones out there. They asked us to look at Christianity with new eyes. Many of us jumped on this plane with great excitement. Many of us were already on a plane very similar to this. We all wanted to gain some perspective. However, the emerging plane never landed. It soon became clear that there was no destination. There was no runway on which to land and the emerging plane did not even have landing gear. The deconstruction happened with no plans of reconstructing. The emerging journey became an endless flight that did not have any intention on setting down anywhere. Many people jumped out, skydiving back home. The rest, I suppose, remained on the plane until it ran out of gas.

In honour of the book, and of Phyllis Tickle’s legacy in general, a conference was recently held. Holly Roach notes the irony, that it was “invitation only” to a conference devoted to being as inclusive as possible, and that the take-away from the conference includes a private facebook group to discuss how the emergent church should go forward:

Sadly, the follow up from this meeting includes the creation of “secret” Facebook group called “Emergence Christianity (Memphis) Visioning Group.”  I can’t stress enough how out of alignment this private conversation is. I urge the folks involved to open up the conversation to the wider movement and create the feedback loops needed to make this process transparent. I am told the meeting was recorded and copious notes were made. I encourage the people involved to make this documentation widely available online and end the exclusive manner in which this meeting was planned and carried out.   In order to continue to evolve into this role, the Emergent movement needs to embrace transparency and openness or it will fail.


Julie Clawson has been blogging about her experience at the conference, starting with a post on the conclusion of the conference where Tickle blamed the fall of Christendom on the emancipation of women:

As she described it, when mom is not at home weaving the stories of scripture and the church calendar into her day to day activities in front of her children, they do not receive the basics of the faith. One cannot apparently have a sacred family meal over Papa John’s pizza picked up on the way home from work the same way that one can if one is baking bread, doing family crafts, and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Phyllis ended the session by encouraging us to discover ways to be back in the kitchen with our children and finding crafty ways to import the rhythms of the church year to them. Essentially to focus on the family and all that. That is the great emergence. The end.

Julie follows up with a post on those who are still “other” in Christianity and emergent Christianity: the disabled:

During the Q&A time with Phyllis Tickle at the Emergence Christianity gathering a woman who uses a wheelchair asked what I thought was one of the most important and telling questions of the event. She commented that even though emergence Christians talk about LGBT folks being the last great “Other” that the church needs to accept, in reality it is people with disabilities who are still otherized the most by the church and asked Phyllis what can be done about that.

I applauded her question.

That’s the thing to do in these sorts of gatherings. When someone dares to bring up the elephants in the room or be a voice for unrepresented voices one applauds if one cares.

I was the only one in a cathedral full of people who applauded her question. It was literally just the sound of one hand clapping.

Phyllis responded that disability is not a truly otherizing or controversial concern for the church because it doesn’t challenge the conception of sola scriptura, next question.

Ryan Robinson, over at Emerging Anabaptist, writes about the hole in the emerging church, namely that emerging Christians are failing to engage Reformed, conservative evangelicals into the conversation. True, the emerging church talks about this tradition, but it does not engage and invite members of that tradition into their dialogue:

If we believe in a god who wants to restore all people and not a minority arbitrarily chosen, we must act out of a similar desire to restore all people including those who are often promoting the exact opposite. When we simply argue that our understanding of God is better or more biblical than theirs, we are actually operating on the same modern framework that we critique. Our priority in that mindset, like theirs, is getting our theology right no matter what the cost to the humanity of those who we are engaging with.

So what do you think? Is the emerging church movement effectively over?

Review: Barth and American Evangelicalism

Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism. Edited by Bruce L. McCormack and Clifford B. Anderson. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011, viii + 387 pp., $38.00 paper.


This book is a collection of papers presented at the 2007 Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary. The goal of the book is to explore how evangelicals have been critical of Karl Barth’s theology, how their critiques may have been misplaced due to the influence of Cornelius van Til’s critique of Barth, and how evangelicals are re-evaluating their understanding of Barth in the new millennium. As well, this book aims to point out areas in which evangelicals can learn from Barth, or at the very least be sympathetic to his theology. The book is divided into three parts: historical context, philosophical and theological analysis, and contemporary trajectories. The historical context includes two essays that look at how evangelicals have historically reacted to Barth. The first essay, by George Harinck, looks specifically at the influence of Cornelius Van Til, and attempts to answer the question of how Van Til became an opponent of Karl Barth. Harinck argues that Van Til was largely influenced by Dutch pastor-scholar Klaas Schilder’s critique of Barth. The problem, as Harinck sees it, is that Van Til appropriated Schilder’s critique of Barth without understanding the context in which Schilder was writing (namely, a post-Christian European culture), and transposed Schilder’s ideas into an American context without adequately adjusting for the relevant contextual differences. Harinck concludes that Barth became the paradigm for all that Van Til opposed, specifically the theology and trajectory of Princeton Theological Seminary and American Presbyterianism in general. D.G. Hart focuses in on the issue of inerrancy within evangelical circles, particularly in the 1960s and 70s, and how the ongoing battle between the Barthian Princeton and Van Tillian Westminster influenced not only the Presbyterian traditions in the United States, but all of evangelicalism. Hart argues that Barth became an entry point for neo-evangelicals (represented by Fuller Seminary) to explore the issue of inerrancy, providing a middle ground between more fundamental inerrantists and mainline liberal Protestants.

The second section, on philosophical and theological analysis, contains essays on philosophy, Christology, Ecclesiology, and universalism.  In each of these sub-categories there are two essays. And while the essays in this second section do not all answer the question of the relationship between Barth and evangelicalism, they look at specific theological and philosophical issues in Barth that can, and have, been raised by evangelicals as being problematic. Both of the philosophical essays focus on the influence of Kantian or neo-Kantian philosophical theology. John Hare’s essay is perhaps the weakest essay in the book, but only in so far as, at the end of his essay, the reader is left with unanswered questions. Specifically, why did Hare only look at one of Barth’s writings (Protestant Theology in the 19th Century), and does his presentation of the differences and similarities between Barth and Kant hold if other works are examined, such as Barth’s commentary on Romans, or the Church Dogmatics? Thankfully, because each sub-section has two essays, the second essay on philosophy, by Clifford Anderson, addresses Barth’s use of Kant in Romans and the Dogmatics.  In this case, though, Anderson is not focused on Kant’s philosophical theology, but instead specifically on transcendentalism, that is, the relationship between personal experience and knowledge.

In the section on Christology, Michael Horton compares and critiques Barth’s Christology against the covenant theology of the Reformed tradition. Horton concludes that Barth appears to approach Christology from a central dogma, making the text and stories fit the central dogma, rather than allowing the text to be held narratively, wherein they lead up to, point to, and climax in the person and work of Christ. Horton, while critical of Barth, emphasizes his appreciation for Barth’s contribution to theology. Adam Neder’s essay on Barth’s Christology focuses on the hypostatic union, specifically on the communio naturarum between the divine and human natures in Jesus.

The section on Ecclesiology contains perhaps the strongest and most useful essays of this book. Both essays, one by Kimlyn Bender, the other by Keith Johnson, look specifically at the lack of a developed ecclesiology in evangelicalism, and suggest ways in which evangelicalism can benefit from Barth’s ecclesiological reflections to shape a more robust ecclesiology. Bender looks at how Barth would probably critique evangelical ecclesiology by using Barth’s reaction to the Oxford Group Movement in the 1930’s as a model. Keith Johnson suggests that Barth’s ecclesiology may offer an ecclesiological model that would allow evangelicals to remain evangelicals, and not have to necessary convert to Roman Catholicism in order to discover a robust ecclesiology.

The section on universalism looks at the profound disagreements evangelicals have had with Barth’s doctrine of election and whether or not the conclusions that Barth was indeed a universalist are accurate. Bruce McCormack rightly notes that for many evangelicals, universalism is a “deal-breaker”. McCormack’s goal is to address the issue of universalism from Scripture, focusing on Paul’s eschatology and Barth’s understanding of Paul’s eschatology as he expounded on his doctrine of election. McCormack argues that Barth’s doctrine of election, namely that Jesus is both the electing God and the elected man, is firmly grounded in the story and witness of Scripture, that evangelicals need to be careful that their theology of election does not supplant, but instead continually submits to, the witness of Scripture, and that rather than dismissing Barth on the basis of his doctrine of election and the possibility that he was a universalist, they can learn from his reading of Scripture. Suzanne McDonald looks at Barth’s doctrine of election from a pneumatological perspective, and also offers an “outside” perspective, given that she is writing not from an American evangelical context but from a British one. McDonald suggests that what needs to examined is not the issue of universalism per se, or even the Christological nature of Barth’s doctrine of election, but instead, the Trinitarian and “pneumatological dynamic of election.”

The most intriguing section of this book is the section on contemporary trajectories. Here, the essays put Barth in conversation with Postliberal theology, Radical Orthodoxy and the emerging church. Jason Springs looks at the dialogue between C.F.H. Henry and Hans Frei with regards to the issue of historical reference, asking if and how Frei diverges from Barth on this issue. Springs argues that in actuality, Frei’s understanding of historical reference is consistent with Barth’s critical realism, and he concludes that through an analysis of Frei’s interaction with Henry, Frei is seen to be in agreement with Barth regarding the authority of the scriptural witness. John Franke aims to not look back at historical evangelical understandings and interactions with Barth, but instead consider “future possibilities for fruitful engagement.” As a test case, Franke looks at the Emergent Village, an organization that was at the epicenter of the emerging church movement, and suggests that Barth’s “nondogmatic dogmatics” is a useful resource for Christians who are part of the emerging church. Further academic interaction with Franke’s essay is needed, given that some scholars have argued that the death knell has already been rung for the emerging church, or at the very least the emerging church is no longer in ascendency within evangelical circles. Both of the essays by Kevin Hector and Todd Cioffi place Barth in dialogue with Radical Orthodoxy. Hector looks primarily at John Milbank, and focuses on Barth’s “covenant ontology”, while Cioffi focuses on Stanley Hauerwas and his appropriation of Barth’s theology specifically as Hauerwas develops his understanding of the relationship between the church and the world. Cioffi argues that, while Hauerwas uses Barth extensively, evangelicals reading Hauerwas may not be aware of different ways to interpret and understand Barth, or of how Hauerwas may not accurately present Barth’s theology in his attempt to advance his theology of church and culture.

This is not the first book on the intersection between Barth’s theology and the evangelical tradition (see Karl Barth and Evangelical Theology, edited by Sung Wook Chung) but Barth and American Evangelicalism is the academically stronger work. As well, the overall quality of the essays contained in this work is more even than in the previous book.  That said, the weakness of this current book is that, while it devotes an entire section to contemporary church issues, that is, the emerging church and radical orthodoxy, for the most part the contributions come from the Reformed tradition of evangelicalism. There are no essays that, for example, put Barth and the Wesleyan-Holiness-Charismatic tradition together in dialogue. Given the resurgence in the interest in Barth’s theology in this new millennium, this book contributes to the ongoing rediscovery of Karl Barth’s theology, and the influence his theology has had on contemporary Protestant (and evangelical) theology. This resurgence can be seen even in the Evangelical Theological Society itself, with seven Barth related papers presented at the 2012 annual conference in Milwaukee, and the announcement that starting in 2013 there will be a specific session at the conference devoted specifically to exploring the theology of Karl Barth.


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Theology Round-Up December 2012

Reviews and Publishing News:

Nick Norelli reviews The Development of Christology during the First Hundred Years: and Other Essays on Early Christian Christology 

Ben Myers looks at the most important publishing events in 2012 in the field of theology.

Rod reviews Unfinished Business by Keri Day.

Jon Coutts reviews Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

TC reviews the edited book Relational Theology: A Contemporary Introduction.

Stephen reviews Cold Case Christianity.

Michael Bird points us to a bunch of reviews for the Zondervan e-book series on Women in Ministry.

The International Journal of Systematic Theology has announced that Matthew Levering has been added to the journal’s editorial board.


Tim writes about how reflecting on the incarnation humbles him.

Gavin looks at Irenaeus’ doctrine of recapitulation and at Athanasius’ as well.

Brian LePort ponders the issue of overlap between Christian doctrine and pagan mythologies and how we should approach them.

Hermeneutics, Interpretation:

Brian offers three hermeneutical paradigms to use when studying the doctrine of the virgin birth.

Melanie Kampen argues that “that a preoccupation with historical accuracy in biblical interpretation is detrimental and stifling to a community of believers.”

Allan talks about the relationship between theology and history.

Life of a Professor; Life of a Grad Student:

Gavin offers his outline of how he would structure a course on Systematic Theology.

Kyle Roberts writes about how PhD programs need to start preparing its students to work outside the academy.

Mark Stevens on 10 things that seminary never taught you.

Ecclesiology, Life of the Church, Evangelism, Discipleship:

Why Wesleyans aren’t fundamentalists.

Brian wrestles with Ignatius of Antioch’s ecclesiology.

Leslie wrote about why just telling your “story’ is not necessarily the best way to share the gospel. Fred took her to task for her post, and Leslie wrote a followup post about what she learned from the criticism.

Conference Announcements, Other Announcements:

Stephen lets us know that the Apologetics Canada Conference is scheduled for March 1-2, 2013 in Abbotsford, B.C.

Knox Seminary has launched a D.Min in Theological Exegesis.


Frederick Smith writes about the danger of a Build-A-Bear Theology.

Rod offers his thoughts on omnipotence, theodicy and postcolonialism.

What is the relationship between theology and biblical theology? Matt Emerson also looks at the intersection of biblical theology and systematic theology.

Mike Wittmer ponders the Trinity and the doctrine of Simplicity.

David Bish declares that the“Trinity is unavoidable if we want to know who Jesus is.”

A humorous post on 10 movie proofs that Calvinism is false.

Michael Patton on the Irrationality of Calvinism.

Roger Olson posts a letter he received from a student who read “Against Calvinism”.

Christian Brady asks what is repentance?

Collin Hansen offers his top theology stories of 2012.

The Danger of Theological Novelty by Michael Patton.

Timothy Dalrymple reflects on James Dobson’s theology.

Did Barth really sum up his entire theology by quoting the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me”?

Gerald Ens considers the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and why it matters.



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