Friday, June 30, 2006

Controversial Things

Last week I offered an open thread for things to discuss. I will now weigh in on those things.

Church Conflict

Josh suggested, "Some people aren't happy without trouble and controversy in their church because that kind of activity is the only thing that passes for "life." What does it mean if a church member is looking for strife?"

Honestly, Josh, I've not really known those people yet. But I would punch them in the face and deny them the sacrament.

And that's why I'd be a great priest.

But seriously, I wonder if that's one of the pitfalls (keeping in mind that this is a human brokenness thing for a start) of an ultra-democratic church polity. In my experience of Baptist life, for instance, there's almost no practice of a binding spiritual authority saying to someone, "You don't get to do what you're doing. Stop it or there will be serious consequences for your life in Christ's Church." I think that's a problem.

Mind you, one would have to be pastoral - seriously. People who do that are messed up and need healing, and I do believe that this is to be found in the fellowship of Christ and his Church - but it is the urgency and reality of the healing that insists we cannot let people behave however they wish.

See also my thoughts on excommunication.

Doin' the Limbo

Robbie suggested, "what about babies in limbo? People get freaked out when you say they don't go to heaven."

Robbie is referring to common Roman Catholic conjecture on the fate of unbaptized babies, rather than the popular party game. While this is surprising to some Protestants, it has never been an official doctrine of the Church, and Benedict XVI has recently moved to push it out of the picture in a formal way. The official teaching of the Roman Church is that unbaptized babies (along with all those who have not heard the gospel) are commended to the mysterious ways of a merciful God. The bottom line is, "we don't know, but we know that God loves us very very much." And when you really believe that God loves people, I think that can be good enough.

You can find some media coverage here:

NPR Audio: Catholic Doctrine on Limbo and Baptism Revisited
Kenneth Woodward, Wall Street Journal: Stuck in the Middle No More (HT: TitusOneNine)

Protestants, Gremlins, and other supernatural creatures invented to frighten children

Ben asks about "Christians, particularly protestants, who seek or claim to seek unity yet divide and multiply more than Gremlins."

Hmm. That one's outside my experience. I never met a Protestant very interested in unity. Hee hee!


Chris offered, "Toilet paper rolls with the initial sheet hanging on the inside or outside - nothing quite fires up a crowd like that one!!"

I have no idea what the difference could possibly be, or why anyone would care. Anybody else?

Anyway, the floor is open on all of the above...

Anglican Political Commentary, III

So presently, several conservative diocese of the Episcopal Church have appealed to Rowan Williams for "alternative primatial oversight." I think at this point they are Fort Worth, San Joaquin, [edit] South Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Central Florida. What this means is that these diocese have declared that they do not consider Schori to be their metropolitan (think "ranking senior bishop in a geographic area"), and they want Williams to assign them another.

In the land of Anglican polity, this is huge. There's no precident for it, and it appears that these dioceses may declare themselves (and I believe some have) to be entirely separated entities from the Episcopal Church. I don't think one necessarily follows the other, but we shall see. It is my understanding that the basic unit of dfmsT(P)ECusa is the diocese, and that the "national church" is a kind of club membership; it doesn't control dioceses.

(I'm a bit over my head on this bit in case someone who knows wants to chime in...!)

What I find interesting is that regarding this denomination of 2 million (maybe) that's been hemorraging members for two decades, are they really going to be known in the American culture for being the denomination that makes individual churches and dioceses pay through the nose for refusing to be part of them anymore?

Oh, and Williams has said some noteworthy things about an Anglican covenant, which some folks suggest might mean a two-tiered Anglican "Communion." I've not read it yet, frankly, so I don't know.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

More Anglican Political Commentary

Okay, so last time we talked about how the new Presiding Bishop of dfmsT(p)EC[usa] is openly female and theologically just a little bit past her due date (produced by modernity, and launched into paganism by postmodernity) and why that's a problem for some others in the Anglican Communion.

Richard de Chico was kind enough to provide us with the above acronym (again, see the previous post on the matter for our rationale). He also pointed out that we find ourselves with some hilarious dueling archepiscopal metaphors. Outgoing PB Frank Griswold is often fond of referring to that which holds the Church together (yes, something we take entirely on faith) as a "forcefield of love." The new PB has spoken of our Mother Jesus giving birth to the Episcopal Church, which she has also described as conjoined twins, which a doctor ought not ethically separate unless both can live full lives. (Does that mean she's not pro-choice?) So, as Richard de Chico has suggested, our Mother Jesus has given birth to a mainline Protestant denomination conjoined with a funny kind of catholic/evangelical mutant and only Rowan Williams has the skill to separate them.

The operation has taken many years so far, and lots of blood has been lost. And more importantly, money. Souls? Screw that, who cares?

The other Big Problem is that Gene Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire, is gay. Did you hear me? Gaaaaaaaaay! Specifically, Bishop Robinson is partnered with a man, and the lifestyle of a bishop is meant to be a model for the whole Church, and a focus of unity as well. Accepting Bishop Robinson as someone qualified for episcopal orders is a de facto endorsement of same-sex unions as a valid sacramental category. For the most part, American Anglicans are cool with this. A vocal minority are not.

Note: we get more opinionated from here.

The best logic on the "left" is that for men and women who are faithful Christians and understand themselves to be homosexually oriented, this is a faithful way of living with that reality. It must be remembered that nobody really knows why some people are erotically and emotionally attracted to persons of the same sex. The worst logic comes from folks who insist that it's all a matter of "inclusion" and "exclusion" rather than a question of ethical behavior. I think it's essentially about buzzwords.

For folks on the "right," the best I hear is that heterosexual, sacramental marriage, and celibacy under any other circumstances is the scripturally appropriate way of living in consistency with the biblical witness to the continuity of creation and redemption. Some folks, however, like to talk about what is or is not "natural" (a theological dead end if there ever was one), find homosexuals to be "gross," and with minimal hermeneutical reflection, want to proclaim that they know "what the Bible says," and why, and that's that. I have little respect for those arguments.

It also must be remembered that while some conservatives are conservatives because they are bigots and homophobes and some liberals are liberals because they have no desire or ability to interpret the Scriptures, they aren't usually the people who are having conversations about it anyway, and assuming these very worst things of your conversation partners is the best possible way to kill any fruitful debate. (see also Weekend Fisher: Pet Peeves in the Homosexuality Debate)

Mind you, this is a kind of flippant, Cliff's Notes version of what is actually a complicated and deeply nuanced debate. There's my disclaimer, do with it what you will.

Here's the problem with the rest of the Anglican Communion: Anglicanism on some level tries to understand itself as catholic, which means at the very least that one must consult with those with whom one is in communion, and in mutual submission allow oneself to be limited (protected?) by the consensus of the faithful. Some things people can agree to disagree about, but there must be consensus about the things that can be disagreed upon. The concept is in the Windsor Report (dum dum dum) and it's called "adiaphora."

Folks on the left generally have said, "We can agree to disagree about this development in our sexual ethics." Some say, "This is a question of justice, and we can't actually agree to disagree."

However, most on the right have replied something like, "We can't agree to disagree because one's position on sexual ethics actually affects one's entire vision of the creation/redemption project and how we determine what behaviors are within those boundaries." That is, to what extent does the New Testament dictate to us what those boundaries are, and in what ways (if any!) can we 1) move past it and 2) move in a way that seems to be against it. Conservatives/Traditionalists/Reasserters might be able to work with the first, but can't defensibly work with the second.

However, some conservative evangelicals (and of course lots of liberals) think they are justified in making "pastoral provisions" that allow people to be divorced and re-married and not be excommunicated, but would never dream of making such allowances for homosexual persons. I call that hypocrisy, and have moaned about it at length elsewhere. Serial polygamy is certainly not consistent with creation and redemption.

So ultimately, the American province did consult, but did not allow themselves to be bound by the results of that consultation in the face of a consensus that disagreed with them. That's the problem - not homosexuality or sexual ethics directly.

But who am I anyway? (wink, wink)

On Being Postmodern

I was talking to one of them critters a few months ago. You know, one of those conversations - with a post-evangelical deconstructionalist. Ahem.

My interlocuter insisted that it was silly for Christians to wear a cross around their necks:
"Don't people realize that it was an instrument of execution? It's not pretty! If Jesus had died in an electric chair, would you wear that around your neck?"

"Well, probably. That's kind of the point."
It's the new postmodern hobby. People just like to "deconstruct" things, even they don't know quite what or why or how. The implication being, of course, that I do think I know what I'm doing, hee hee! Look at me! Look at me deconstruct things! I'm postmodern and naughty!
"In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross."

- Tertullian of Carthage, c. AD 200

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Anglican Political Commentary

Ordinary Time

My many Anglican readers (you know I like both you guys) have been demanding that I provide my own insightful commentary on recent events in the Communion. So get ready. Mind you, this will be insightful - not necessarily responsible or substantiated.

The American version of Anglicanism, this American province of the world-wide Anglican Communion (now availible in Alaska thanks to WiFi!) used to be called, once upon a time, The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Type "" and just see what happens if you don't believe me. Well, I think "Missionary" got embarrassing, so they cut off that bit, and sometime in the 70's, they took the "Protestant" bit out. I imagine that the Anglo-Catholics rejoiced, the evangelicals felt kinda nervious, and the larger liberal population felt a little more legitmate while the charismatically-renewed probably didn't notice. So now it's "ECUSA." The problem being that the province encompasses several provinces in US territories as well as Central America, so the "USA" bit is kind of a misnomer. The General Convention decided to call themselves "The Episcopal Church" (or TEC) instead. Of course, we move to an even more generalizing name, which seems to be a very American arrogance to manifest. Many clergy I've known just refer to it as "The Church" anyway, so I think they should just make it official.

Every province/national church in the Anglican Communion has a regional Metropolitan/Primate/Archbishop, but since here in the colonies they like to avoid any notion that your co-religionists might tell you what to do, the American approximation is the "Presiding Bishop," who guards some kind of "forcefield of love," as Frank Griswold likes to call it. Don't ask me to explain this.

The recent Big Development is that the new Archbishop Presiding Heresiarch of TEC (!) is a girl. Like, blatantly a girl. There are two problems with this.

1. Not only is she a lefty, but she's on the left forefront of every policy in the TEC, like same-sex marriages. And maybe divine raisin cake liturgies, who knows? I think I read a commentator call her a Spongian the other day, but since she refers to "Mother Jesus," she does apparently affirm some kind of personal deity, which means she can't be Spongian. Yes, "Mother Jesus." And I'm pretty sure not in the Dame-Julian-nurses-at-the-metaphorical-breast-of-christ-our-mother way, but rather the god-is-androgenous-and-don't-even-ask-me-about-the-trinity kind of way. But I'm not real clear on it; anybody want to speak to that?

2. Some Anglicans don't think women can be priests or bishops. Most of them have Agreed to Disagree. This is an important concept to which we will return later. It's called "Adiaphora," and the left wing of TEC apparently believes it to be some kind of drain cleaner rather than the operating premise of the Windsor Report. The problem is that when a female bishop (or "bishop" if you prefer) starts consecrating other bishops, you've got a bunch of bishops running around who aren't recognized to have valid episcopal orders. Tomorrow I'll talk more about the Windsor Report, That Ridiculous Resolution, and why the whole thing is gonna blow up.

As a disclaimer, I do as a matter of fact think that bishops can be women and that women can be bishops and just maybe even Anglicans can be bishops (but alas not all bishops can be Anglicans). I'm just saying why it's a political problem.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

New Photos

Ordinary Time

Brad and Ruth and I.

Matt, Jim and me!

There's some new stuff up on my photo page.

Roger and I survey the terrain.

More photos of the cookout are on Alan's page.

Open Thread

Ordinary Time

I feel like I should write about something controversial. Suggestions, anyone?

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Flannery O'Connor

Ordinary Time

The good doctor Myers has posted my short introduction to Flannery O'Connor in his series, "For the Love of God: 20 Theologians and Why We Love Them."

Check out "For the Love of God: Why I Love Flannery O'Connor" at Faith and Theology.

My other favorite theologians discussed in this series include Rowan Williams, Stanley Hauwerwas, Jonathan Edwards (who said that?), and Jürgen Moltmann.

Other fun resources on Ben's site include a recent podcast on a "biblical sketch of creation," links to lecture pages from various profs, and resource pages on several theologians.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Perichoretic Trinity: Participating in God

Ordinary Time

As you know, Trinity Sunday has recently passed. Matt led a good discussion of the history and meaning of the Christian teaching on the Trinitarian god, as well as some of its implications (and applications) for our lives here and now. I recommend giving it a listen; the podcast can be found over at his blog.

See also To the Quiet: "The Holy Trinity and Icons."

And if you think this was late, I still have links for Corpus Christi...

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Leaving Oxford: more liveblogging

Ordinary Time

9:17am. I'm packing this morning. I don't know quite why, but I was only able to sleep for about two hours last night - not really happy about that one.

9:33am. I have a big stack of papers I need to pack somehow. Not real sure how I'm going to do that. My clothing has fit rather well in all the right places, though.

I gave the homily in worship with the hOME Community last night. I enjoyed working with the ideas I was pulling together, but it was one of those moments when I was like, this really isn't working as a sermon. Happily, one of the joys of being part of an "emerging" community is that it's perfectly acceptable to move into discussion mode. I'll post my manuscript later in the week, but it will suffice to say at the moment that it was about moving from an understanding of salvation and spiritual growth centered on the "individual," and working instead on the level of the whole community and God's plans for the entire world.

Somebody might have said something about "no salvation outside the Church." I'm not sure, I can neither confirm or deny that...

It's very hot today. And I'm listening to Linkin Park. Grrr...

11:15am. I think all my stuff will fit, but only just. And I've moved back to Fall Out Boy.

12:07pm. Did I finish clearing up after Saturday's party? I'd better go check...

12:40pm. Okay, that's better. Now time for lunch...

1:56pm. Coffee in the MCR. This is what life is about. That, and teasing Brad, who strained some neck muscles at yesterday's picnic. He can't move around very well, and that's funny, in a macabre way. I wonder if Chris will be surprised to find that I've used the vacuum cleaner to blow baking soda under his door.

2:47pm. So sleepy! Havin' dinner at Nando's tonight. Last time for awhile. Sigh.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Anglican News

Ordinary Time

Not that any of you come here for that kind of thing.

+Katharine Schori, bishop of Nevada, has been elected by the House of Bishops to be the next Presiding Bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Kendall Harmon's news site seems to have collapsed under the present rate of traffic.

You might check out Ruth Gledhill's reporting.

I don't have a particular opinion, only that in terms of the larger issues that ECUSA and the Anglicans face revolves around the two key words of catholicity and adiaphora: upon what issues must there be a consensus in order to be united in faith and practice, and what in what matters can there be a happy diversity of opinion and practice?

Will it really be an issue ecumenically? I don't think so; not for a church/communion that already ordains women to the episcopate. ECUSA doesn't consider it's P.B. to be quite the equivalent of a primate/archbishop/metropolitan anyway, so far as I can tell.

Meanwhile, I'm packing. Wheee!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Saturday Night World Cup

Ordinary Time

I'm posting this just so I can say that I'm liveblogging the World Cup. This will be my first ever attempt at sports commentary. Remember, you saw it here first!

Man, I love that United States' first goal was practically score by Italy. Oh, the humanity! At halftime both United States and Italy have each lost a player due to red cards, and are matched 1-1.

Well, that's that. Have I ever mentioned that I played soccer for two years in high school? It was pretty sweet. I remember the first goal our team ever scored was on ourselves; our goalie was kind of stocky and overweight and didn't have a neck, and he managed to bicycle kick the ball behind his own head and into the goal while trying to get it out of there.

This is the night of my final party at the Mish; it's early yet, and at the moment I'm just watching the game with Chris, Patrick, Darron and Symi.


9:05 Update. Another red card for the Americans! What the heck?

9:38 Update. Brad and Jim have arrived, so the fury quotient of the room has increased exponentially. And we're still 1-1 and 81 minutes into the game. Darron is challenging me to use phrases like "Blessed Sacrament" in my sporting analysis, and Jim is upping the ante with "humeral veil." Edith, Laura and Ruth have retreated to the kitchen to avoid shrapnal when Brad and Patrick break things.

9:51 Update. A tie. Well, it means we're still in the game. Where can I buy a US jersey? They're not around the shops here for some reason...

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Regarding Apostasy

Ordinary Time
"Of the friends of mine who have abandoned Christian faith, very few of them stopped believing in Christ because of intellectual problems with the Bible or because they were seduced by some other worldview or belief system. Rather, they tend to abandon Christian faith because of the irrelevance, judgmentalism, internal dissension and a lack of compassion they experience within the Christian community. Rather than finding the church to be the community that most deeply encouraged them in their struggles, they lost heart in their discouragement and lost their faith in the process. Rather than experiencing the church as the site of the most profound hospitality, love and acceptance, they felt excluded because of their doubts and struggles."

- from Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, 130.
This resonates with my own experience, of course. This probably happens more than any of us likes to think about, and I suspect that when it doesn't to happen very much, it's because such a large proportion of Christians haven't gone deep enough in the community to make themselves vulnerable to that kind of disappointment. Some people never say a word so they won't have to face the judgment and condemnation of their co-religionists.

So what do we do about this? What kind of people do we determine to be, and what kind of things will we choose to do, to demonstrate to God and anybody listening that this is a serious problem? Will we order or re-order our lives to that end?

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Scripture and Tradition

The Feast of Corpus Christi

Not unrelated our recent discussion in the nature of Scripture's authority in relationship to "tradition," which is actually a question of how the believing and bible-reading community works in the interpretation of texts.

What does tradition mean, and what is it for? I posted this on Alan's blog:
I would say that Jesus was criticizing the obedience to human tradition that has set itself up against scripture. It doesn't look to me like a case of Jesus saying, "You guys shouldn't have traditions, you should read the Bible instead."

On an important level, "tradition" is the history of the church's bible reading, it's attempts to be faithful to the text (and moreover the god to whom it attests!) throughout history. We continue to tweak our traditions of theology and praxis as we go back to the text and always try to read it together with the opened eyes and burning hearts he gives to us.

For my own, kinda-protestant, kinda-catholic purposes, I'd define "Tradition" as those readings which are permanantly privileged, e.g. the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Chalcedonian Definition - just for a start.

On a practical level for me, it means I have to have dialogue with the Fathers and all kinds of people (even the Reformers!) to some degree as I consider what the Scriptures "mean" just as I must do so with my own local, covenented, sacramentally-bound community.
What do you think about that kind of definition, and sense of tradition's "authority"? Mind you that I'm not suggesting by any means that there are somehow two "streams" of authority, Bible and Tradition, with one pitted against the other. (Remember that particularly in debates like this, sometimes what isn't said is as important as what is.)

Also, Alan has asked a direct and perhaps challenging question you might want to go tangle with:
If in the Bible, it NEVER says that it (the Bible) is the sole authority in life and doctrine, then how is it that many of us believe such a thing?
Go get all up in that.


The Feast of Corpus Christi

Tantum Ergo Sacramentum

Down in adoration falling,
Lo! The Sacred Host we hail.
Lo! o'er ancient forms departing,
Newer rites of Grace prevail:
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

To The Everlasting Father
And The Son Who reigns on high,
With The Spirit blessed proceeding
Forth, from Each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.


- Thomas Aquinas

See also "Ignatius of Antioch: Regarding the Eucharist" for my reflections on what the Christian rite is and might mean.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Evangelical Grammar

+Basil of Caesarea
Ordinary Time

And now for a little grammar lesson. Mind you, my tongue is just a bit in my cheek, but just the same...

Evangelism is an activity. "Evangelistic" is a word that describes a behavior. Evangelical is descriptive of theology, and not behavior: is the kind of thing that you either is, or you isn't. If you aren't on board with those four things, you isn't, and if you are, you is.

Bob is an evangelical.

Correct: Bob is very committed to evangelism.
Also Correct: Bob is very committed to evangelistic practices.
Permissible: Bob is very evangelistic. (the rest of the sentence, "… in his practices" would be implied, though it's very sloppy of you.)

Bob is very evangelical.

The same rules apply if one is speaking of a particular church or denomination.

Correct: First Baptist Church is very evangelistic. (That's good.)
Incorrect: First Baptist Church is very evangelical. (It sounds like you don't know what that word means.)

In addition! Please continue to read and contribute on the conversations below, and note that Michael Lee at Addison Road has offered some notions as to what a broadly evangelical stance on the Scriptures might look like, written with his usual wit: "Why I am (still) an Evangelical."

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Does "Evangelical" Matter?

Evangelicalism works well as a descriptor of some aspects of one's theology. It can be a good thing to have a theology that is evangelical, but that theology should cover more than what is encapsulated in that word. Specifically, to be an evangelical Christian does not necessarily imply a particular theology of sacraments, practices of spiritual formation, ecclesiology and church order, or even a particular eschatology. Christians need those things on at least a notional level, so "evangelical is not enough," and not just for the reasons Thomas Howard argues. To be an evangelical ought not require stopping at those four distinctives; it was never meant to engender theological minimalism. Maybe for that reason, it's a category mistake to suppose that "evangelical" can be a basis for one's theology, and rather one needs to have a tradition first, and then assess whether it's "evangelical" or not.

When "creeping fundamentalism" insists that "evangelical" must connote notions of inerrancy and the rapture and the utter lack of sacramental theology and only a "gathered" ecclesiology and a haphazard revivalistic conception of spiritual formation, it's just trying to steal a word and use it to draw up barriers between Christians who could otherwise be united on some basic concepts, which is the very antithesis of what evangelicalism set out to be historically. When one has to believe bullet points "A" through "R" to be an "evangelical," and the highest good is to be an "evangelical," the whole enterprise of the name has become pointless and the original movement has been lost. One kind reader has suggested that if we absolutely must be adding things, does it really do us any good to have the word?

On that note, I would suggest that the word itself isn't worth fighting for, and might not be worth even "reclaiming."

In addition, because some folks have done such a good job of redefining evangelicalism as a divisive movement best known for what it's against, I don't find it at all helpful to call myself an "evangelical" when talking with other Christians or anybody else. It would be nice, however to take that word back. I think if I were asked if I'm an evangelical, I would have to answer something like, "tell me what you think it means first," and maybe talk about what I think is important rather than using the label.

There's a good post at To the Quiet suggesting how we might wish to take all such discussions with a rather large grain of salt: "Pantybundled."

What do y'all think?

(Be nice, now. Please know that I don't consider myself to be attacking anyone or anything in this, but I'm suggesting that a particular word might not be useful anymore. I'm sure that good, faithful, intelligent brothers and sisters in the faith will want to keep the word; I just don't happen to know why.)

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Monday, June 12, 2006

What is Evangelical Christianity?

Ordinary Time

That's right. I went there. I become increasingly fearful that the word "evangelical" has been so misused both by those who claim it and those who label others with it that it no longer communicates anything at all. Mainline Christians often confuse it with Fundamentalism, and some evangelicals aren't really clear on what makes it different, either.

For a start, I'd like to recall a wonderful piece that Aly at Addison Road wrote back in February, reminding us that an evangelical is someone who "loves good news." I'd like to offer that if that's not indicative of an evangelical's temperament, something has gone wrong with him or her.
“Evangelical” means “people who love good news,” and even though the word has become synonymous with “people who want to run your life” or “people who think they have a corner on the market of morals,” I choose, probably foolishly, to hope the word can be redeemed and we can once again become good news lovers, instead of bad news makers.
I'm going to offer a very brief overview of what evangelicalism is theologically and historically; my source is Alistair McGrath's Historical Theology, and the basic distinctives are supported by David Bebbington, and I'm pretty sure Marsden (yes, I'm too lazy and busy to find the citations right now, but if you really want me to, I could). I've not read Noll on his definitions specifically, but you might check those folks out for a wider bibliography.

Fundamentalist Christianity was a reaction against Modernity. It emphasized differences between Christian denominations and is defined not only in terms of theology, but its contentious character, hyperrationalism, and siege mentality (see Marsden). Evangelicalism emerged from that as Christians sought to engage with the challenges of Modernity, particularly in terms of science, culture, and biblical criticism. While there is an overlap of beliefs (such as the Virgin birth, the veracity of the gospels' "miracle stories," and the bodily resurrection of Christ), Fundamentalism is narrowly committed to doctrines that many evangelicals find peripheral or irrelevant (such as dispensationalist or "rapture" theology).

was and remains transdenominational and ecumenical; one can find evangelicals who are also Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists, and of course there are various denominations of Calvinist or Wesleyan emphases that are thoroughly evangelical in their distinctives. It also must be remembered that Fundamentalism is a reactionary, counter-cultural movement, while evangelicalism exists in the cultural and academic mainstream.

These are, according to McGrath and Bebbington, the distinctive theological marks of Evangelical Christianity:
  • The authority and sufficiency of Scripture
  • The uniqueness of redemption through the death of Christ upon the cross
  • The need for personal conversion (relationship with Jesus kind of stuff)
  • The necessity, propriety, and urgency of evangelism - the proclamation of Jesus' Lordship
I'd like stop here for a moment and see if anybody wants to discuss it. Later on I will offer some thoughts on what might be meant by "creeping fundamentalism" (a popular phrase these days), and some of the difficulties with identifying oneself as "evangelical." Oooh, and maybe a word on grammar…

Thursday, June 08, 2006


Ordinary Time

I sometimes get a little suspicious when people talk blatantly about trying to be ecumenical - that is, referring to inter-denominational relationships among Christian churches. When I hear that word, I usually think of mainline church leaders getting together to draft statements about things that probably no one will read (is that cynical?). I'm starting to think ecumenism is something I ought to at least think about, because it does seem important to some folks.

I think it's possible that "top-down" ecumenism confuses me because (I think) I experience it at the grass roots already. I'm not saying that it's because I'm so cool, or I really do anything to make this happen (maybe I do, maybe I don't), but it's got a lot to do with the people I know.

I have good friendships with people who are Southern Baptists, former Southern Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, former Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Independent Christian Church folks, holiness type groups (like the CMA), former Pentecostals, Quakers, and have almost never had the opportunity to barricade myself in a little group in which everyone has the same theological convictions. If I want to talk about faith and life with my friends, I will around my own dinner table (or theirs!) have a fairly diverse set of perspectives to work with, at least in the context of Western Christianity.

My first church community was a little Southern Baptist congregation in my little town on the Ohio River, in northeastern Kentucky. The pastor would periodically reiterate his policy of not talking about other Christian denominations in the pulpit. As far as he was concerned, he had a responsibility to "preach the word," not to criticize or judge other brothers and sisters who weren't even part of the same conversation. I have always respected that. I hope to have that kind of integrity some day.

My question wouldn't be, "how does one do ecumenism," but rather, "how in the world would one avoid it?"

Come back at me on this: I would enjoy your response to my thoughts, as well as your reflections on your own relationships (or lack of them?) with Christians of other traditions.

P.S. Darn it, the Roman Catholic Church is not the whole of Babylon. I am the whore of Babylon.

Update: Jim did the inter-faith thing last week.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Weekend Fun

Ordinary Time

While we have a few fun holy days and commemorations coming up soon (e.g. Trinity and Corpus Christi), the Church has entered Ordinary Time. Fr Alan has offered us a helpful explanation and meditation on the "season."

And some thoughts on my weekend, written while waiting for the train yesterday:

I've had a great weekend with David and family, and I'm waiting for my train overlooking a bank of trees along the rails. I hope to get some work done on the journey, as I don't expect to be in Oxford for another… four and a half hours.

My coffee came with a little cookie in a magenta wrapper labeled "Stupid Little Biscuit." How every postmodern. I've been served an experience of irony, right here at the train station. That makes me smile. I always enjoy my friends' hospitality, and it's nice to get away to a house and a place where the nature isn't completely covered over with concrete, at least for a weekend. Nicola roasted a joint of lamb, and it was amazing. I've uploaded photos of some of the touristy things we did: Morwellham Quay was a copper exporting town active about a hundred and fifty years ago that's been to some extent preserved and restored. We drove around the Dartmoor region, as well as the notorious prison; I understand that it's something like a British Alcatraz.

Hm. The Stupid Little Biscuit is gingerbread.

David is the ecumenical coordinating chaplain at the University of Plymouth, which means (as you might expect) that he coordinates the work of various chaplains with students and staff at the University. The team includes ministers/chaplains of several Christian traditions and other faiths, including an Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and Muslim clerics. There's an odd Buddhist around as well. I hung around the chaplaincy yesterday to meet some interesting folks and to serve as a "beast of burden." Yes, in addition to being charming, I do alright at picking things up and putting them down in other places.

I am literally afraid of scones. They just aren't right.

Oh, and look for my blog to get controversial this week...

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Remaining in Christ

Monday after Pentecost

What follows is a development of the homily I delivered among the hOME Community a few weeks ago. It's germane to present themes of John 15, the Feast of Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday, which is coming up this weekend. This is not a thorough treatment, and that's intentional, as I would enjoy discussing some of the points.

"Remain in me"

The Trinitarian persons have a life that consists in the fact of their relating to one another. The Christian conception of God is one of three persons as one essence: God is a community. Ancient Eastern Christians used the metaphor of perichoresis - circle dance - to talk about the divine life of "persons" mutually indwelling and interweaving. These Johannine passages themselves have a particular cadence: to love is to remain which is to obey, and this is what it means to love. You are my friends, and friends of god, and you are my friends because I have loved you. The danger of this strange repetition is that it does little for the clichéd ways in which we understand love, even Christian love.

We spoke last week about this strange picture of a vineyard. In prophetic language, the people of God were a vineyard, and as Yahweh tended it, he expected good fruit. When his vineyard failed to produce, or did so poorly, Isaiah tells us he was prepared to uproot it and begin anew. Jesus had carried through this metaphor; a lot of branches have been already cut back in judgment upon their unfruitfulness, and as the vineyard of Israel is replanted, Jesus himself is the vine, and we are all the branches.

For those of us who have been baptized into Christ, we have a life that is made up by the way we live together. How can we know if we're being obedient to God? We look around and see if we're obeying this one foundational command: are we loving one another?

The Grand Sweep

There is the implication of judgment in this: if we do not love one another, we do not remain in Christ's love. It cannot mean that we cease to be objects of his love, but it does mean that we are separated from its benefits. In talking about love and obedience and our failures in these things, we must be very clear. I don't think we can start by talking about judgment and alienation and heaven and hell and all of that. It has to fit in somewhere, but not the very beginning.

When we talk about salvation, we're talking about a life. More specifically, we're talking about God bringing God's own life into ours - infusing our lives with his own healing presence, so that our lives become part and parcel with his own broader movement in healing and recreating the entire world. Salvation is a broad sweep, and those of us who been baptized into Christ are caught up in it. When we get caught up in that, he infuses our lives with his own, and who we are changes: we become the kind of people who learn to love others well, the kind of people who can and do lay down our lives for our friends - for God's friends - and learn to be friends of God in turn. To frustrate that in a willful and continual way would be to step out of this work and to hinder salvation in our lives: we are not remaining in Jesus.


What does this frustration look like? It is the nature of sin, and an unhealed, "unsaved" human state to be concerned with my own life, my own interests, and my own happiness. It is only a minimal conversion - at best a beginning - when we move from that to an interest in "my relationship with God." Conversion to Jesus will bring with it a radical reorientation of our entire lives: toward him, his Church, and his work of restoration and recreation in the world. A Christian life, a "remaining in Jesus" life, will be characterized by a continual reorientation of one's goals from self-fulfillment and self-actualization toward loving one another as we understand our lives as grounded in him, in the Christian community, and in this learning to love God's world.

This is a gradual and ongoing turning, and it's important to understand it as such. It is important because it makes it alright to suck at it. It should never surprise us that we fail extravagantly and often in the work of loving one another. We've been a selfish, self-centered people who are learning not to be, who are being made into something else. Let us be surprised by grace and not by failure, for our kind Lord expects more failure from us than we could ever imagine - he's much more realistic than we. The life of the Christian community together cannot stand or fall on how well we get it right, but how willing we are always to turn to one another again, to learn to forgive one another, to make restitution, and to continually build our lives together. What's so important is knowing how to deal with things appropriately when we do fail one another. That's the stuff of wisdom, maturity, and grace.


Let's talk about this "remain in me" business. This is the Johannine "eat my flesh and drink my blood" Christ. This is a Jesus who is unavoidably and unabashedly mystical. This is also good news. Jesus is not offering us the hope of cognitively appropriating some fact about himself, but the mystical experience of a metaphysical reality that is not limited to what we can see and feel and think about and comprehend. This is a mystical "heart knowing" and not just a cognitive "head knowing," this "remain in me" business.

It means that the practices of "remaining" might have a limited apparent benefit, but if we can give God permission not to make sense to us, we can be changed. We remain through our life in the community, being together for the long haul, through prayer, and of course, the Eucharist. Again, the Johannine Jesus has in mind that we eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Thomas Aquinas' ancient "Hymn to the Blessed Sacrament" (and I know I'm pushing some buttons, I just hope it's understood to be kind) sums up the formation element of Christian mysticism: "Faith for all defects supplying, Where the feeble senses fail."

Jesus will not be trapped by our thinking about him, any more than he will ultimately be hindering by our faltering, halted attempts to love.

There's one reason that this is true: the Trinitarian god is deeply, passionately, ridiculously, madly, bat-shit crazy in love with each and every one of us. If we don't get that, none of it makes any sense at all. Only with a solid understanding of this, and the experience of "remaining," can we start to understand what judgment is.

Further Reading:

Vindicated:"Thoughts on the Eucharist"
Alan Creech: "Remain in Me" and "We Have to be Mystics"
Vindicated: "Risking Love" and "A Matter of Trust"

I'll return to Oxford tomorrow afternoon, to congratulate Edith and Matt on the completion of their finals and greet Brad and Patrick after the long week(s) they've been gone. And where in the world is Chris…?

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Friday, June 02, 2006

This Week


As the poet once asked, "What's goin' on?" My writing has been sparse recently, which means I'm going to post some disconnected thoughts.

I depart for the United States on June 20. I am terribly anxious to be with my friends at home. At the same time, it is very painful to leave my friends here, for this has also been home. I couldn't have asked for a better year here. I will throw at least two more parties before I leave.

Jim is a recent addition to our little circle here. He's a dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, and all kinds of fun. One can have some real conversations with him, about such things as fiddleback chasubles and chapel architecture. In a particularly embarrassing episode, we got all confused and thought yesterday was the feast of Corpus Christi.

Stop mocking me!

I've been spending a lot of time in the Radcliffe Camera, so I don't have much to report about that. Our finalist friends are stressed, but we've been having a good time just the same, when they can come out and play. I had Indian food with Jen and Steve the other day, and saw X-Men with Jim and Laura last week. You know, I knew the X-Men had to win, but I hoped against hope that Magneto would emerge victorious all the same. I was all like, "Go, Magneto, kill those bigoted humans!" and everybody was all like, "Hey, you need to be quiet."

See, when I watch films with my friends, I note two distinct philosophies at work. One of those is "Hey, I'm really funny," and the other is, "Kyle, sit down and be quiet." The two are only barely compatible.

My fellow Regent's students did an amazing job with "The Importance of Being Ernest" last night. I swear, it was typecasting. We went for drinks at the Lamb and Flag afterwards. I feel so very... Oxonian...

I gave the homily amongst the 'hOME Community' two weeks ago; I'd have a recording for you, but alas, it seems I didn't turn my mic on. How odd that nobody told me...! I will work up my notes and post them soon, however. I'd hate to have a thought that wasn't widely publicized.

I'm going to Plymouth for a long weekend with David and Nicola. It will be 87 kinds of fun.

I saw DVC with the graduates this week. It was boring. It was too long. The plot twists were confusing, melodramatic and pointless. And the papal tiara in the flashback just looked cheap. Although the historical reconstruction of the Council of Nicea was very funny. What is less funny is that people are going to sit there and say, "Ooh, there was a flashback. It must be true." It's amazing what people think we can and can't know about history. They're usually wrong. Typically, I'm right. Just so we're clear on this.