Category Archives: Culture

NOT HEADING FOR THE HILLS!

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Scholars are rarely prophets and prophets are rarely scholars.  I was reminded of this in reading the much debated, The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher.

Rod Dreher, journalist and outspoken Christian, is decidedly on the prophetic side of the scholar-prophet spectrum. This, however, does not mean that he is incapable of helping us better understand the far-reaching and practical ramifications of something as arcane as nominalism.

We must say right out of the blocks that Dreher’s book is not a jeremiad screed to head for the hills.  Rather, Dreher advocates for “exile in place.”  The preposition is key.  We are to cultivate faithfulness with other like-minded folks not simply to hunker down in our religious enclaves.  We should form these counter-cultural communities to strengthen our capacity to engage, not escape, our world.  This is a clarion call by a gifted writer to let the church be the church.

I have my disagreements with some of Dreher’s analysis and antidotes.  With respect to the former, Dreher is insufficiently aware of what the Protestant Reformers meant by sola Scriptura.  As Keith Mathison memorably puts it, sola Scpritura does not mean solo Scriptura.  Among other things, leaning on the thesis in Brad Gregory’s Unintended Reformation made for a potted history.  Dreher would have been greatly helped if he had availed himself of the work of either Mathison or D.H. Williams, especially his Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism: a Primer of Suspicious Protestants.

As to antidotes, I don’t share Dreher’s sweeping denunciation of public schools.  For the record, our two sons attended Christian schools, had a few years of homeschooling, and went to public high schools.  All three have their strengths and weaknesses.  Sure, public schools can be a mess.  I saw incompetent teachers and weak administrators, but I also saw bogus rules, unprincipled administrators and mean teachers at the Christian school.  My experience, it needs to be noted, was both as a parent and a part-time teacher.

Dreher is rightly concerned about the corrosive effects of “moralistic, therapeutic, Deism.”  I share his concerns.  I also share Dreher’s conviction that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.”  As many have said, the church seems the most vital (and prophetic) when it works from the margins of power.  Notwithstanding its shortcomings, Dreher’s book is a good reminder of that reality.

MY FELLOW AMERICANS…READ THIS BOOK!

 

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I am coming to this terrific book about five years after its publication, so no long review here.  I will say it is an extremely well done piece of work, both witty and wise, entertaining and educational.  You will learn a lot about Scripture and yourself by reading it!

American Christians are especially in dire need of reckoning with this fine book.

https://www.amazon.com/Misreading-Scripture-Western-Eyes-Understand/dp/0830837825/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

THE BENEDICT OPTION

I trust several of you are wrestling with what Rod Dreher has dubbed The Benedict Option.  Much needed conversation, with quite a bit of feisty debate is being spawned by Dreher’s book. I will be reviewing Dreher’s book and a few others which are being called “alarmist” by some, but for now let me direct your attention to a terrific essay by Alan Jacobs (my gratitude to Bill Bridgman for bringing this to my attention).  If you don’t read the entire thing, then chew on this:

In 1974, when the great bishop-theologian Lesslie Newbigin retired from his decades of labor in the Church of South India, he and his wife decided to make their way back to their native England by whatever kind of transportation was locally available, taking their time, seeing parts of the world that most Europeans never think of: from Chennai to Birmingham by bus. Newbigin would later write in his autobiography, Unfinished Agenda, that everywhere they went, even in the most unlikely places, they found Christian communities—with one exception. “Cappadocia, once the nursery of Christian theology, was the only place in our whole trip where we had to have our Sunday worship by ourselves, for there was no other Christian to be found.”

If the complete destruction of a powerful and beautiful Christian culture could happen in Cappadocia, it can happen anywhere, and to acknowledge that possibility is mere realism, not a refusal of Christian hope. One refuses Christian hope by denying that Jesus Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, not by saying that Christianity can disappear from a particular place at a particular time.

As quoted in Alan Jacobs, “The Benedict Option and the Way of Exchange,” First Things, March 20, 2017

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2017/03/the-benedict-option-and-the-way-of-exchange

NO LONGER IN KANSAS

Random reflection from one of my writing projects:

Our cultural healers (Oprah, Tony Robbins, et al.) have no concept of sin and so can offer no real sense of redemption. Unfortunately, many Christians mimic the same approach of our cultural healers. Too many self-proclaimed Christians offer a superficial remedy and are increasingly embarrassed by the “ancient paths where the good way is.” (Jer. 6:14-16)

Is it any wonder that many of us Christians have no problem consuming and being influenced by large amounts of popular culture?

TOO SARCASTIC?

“No other country houses so many gorgeous frauds and imbeciles as the United States, and in consequence no other country is so amusing. Thus my patriotism is impeccable, though perhaps not orthodox.  I love my country as a small boy loves the circus.”

H.L. Mencken as Quoted in Writers to Read: Nine Names that Belong on Your Shelf by Douglas Wilson

https://www.amazon.com/Writers-Read-Names-Belong-Bookshelf/dp/1433545837

THE BIBLE IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD

Richard Bauckham is professor emeritus of New Testament studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.  He is also senior scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge and a fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  He is the author of many distinguished works.  The following interview revolves around Professor Bauckham’s book, The Bible in the Contemporary World  (http://www.amazon.com/The-Bible-Contemporary-World-Hermeneutical/dp/0802872239).

David George Moore conducted the interview.  Dave blogs at www.twocities.org.

Moore: In the introduction you write that “biblical surprises should also be part of the Bible’s relevance to the contemporary world.”  Would you unpack that a bit for us?

Bauckham: I meant that we should never feel too satisfied that we know what the Bible’s messages are and how they relate to the contemporary world. If we go on studying Scripture at the same time as we attend to what is happening in our world there will always be fresh insights.

Moore: Some continue to argue that Gnosticism is compatible with Christianity.  It seems fairly obvious that this is not the case, so why do so many keep seeking to persuade us otherwise?

Bauckham: We live in a culture that values diversity and so I think the idea that early Christianity was more diverse than we thought is appealing. Moreover, the institutional church is not popular and so the idea of an early version of Christianity that was suppressed by the institutional church for political reasons also appeals. But Gnosticism is a slippery term. I think, for the sake of clarity, we should limit it to the view that the material world was created by an inferior and incompetent deity, identified with the God of the Old Testament, while the Father of Jesus Christ is an altogether different, supreme God. Jesus came from the Father with a message for the elect: that they do not belong in this world, in which they are trapped by their bodies and the hostile god of this world, and can escape to the kingdom of the Father. Gnosticism is anti-Jewish, anti-body, anti-matter.

Moore: It seems quite evident that British biblical scholars are generally more apt than their American counterparts to discuss the abuses of capitalism and the importance of stewarding the environment.  If I am correct in my observation, what do you attribute this to?

Bauckham: There is a strong tradition in USA of association of conservative Christianity with right-wing politics and economics. This doesn’t exist in UK. You also need to remember that the political spectrum in USA is considerably to the right of the spectrum in the UK.

Moore: The modern idea of progress is a stubborn and persistent idea.  It is resilient in the face of modern horrors like the great wars, genocide, and so much more.  How can we better help others see the unbiblical assumptions behind the modern notion of progress?

Bauckham: I always have to explain that, when I criticize the idea of progress, I am not denying that many things have improved (e.g. medicine). But other things have got worse (e.g. climate change). We cannot empirically weigh up all the gains and losses and say that on balance and in total the world is constantly getting better. The idea of progress is an ideology that distorts by making us notice what seem to be improvements and to miss what are often serious downsides of those very improvements. “Progress” very often has victims, but the beneficiaries of this “progress” can the more easily ignore them because the ideology of progress consigns them to a past that is being left behind.

In its origins the idea of progress is a secular version of Christian eschatology. Perhaps that’s why so many Christians are still firm believers in it. But the Christian hope is for a future that comes from God and is not just for those lucky enough to live in the vanguard of progress but even for the dead.

Moore: It is common to hear people announce the death of the Enlightenment Project.  Is the Enlightenment over, and if it isn’t, why do so many say it is?

Bauckham: Of course, the Enlightenment was a complex phenomenon, like all such historical movements. Some of its legacy is more or less permanent, other aspects less so. I think many of us were very impressed by the claim that postmodernism was about to succeed the Enlightenment, but it hasn’t really worked out that way. It looks like the West now has a culture that mixes elements of both.

Moore: Do Christians in the West generally have the correct understanding of freedom?

Bauckham: My impression is that Christians generally don’t think about what true freedom is. They unthinkingly go along with the views that are current in our culture. But, seeing that freedom is probably the most powerful concept in contemporary western culture, it is surely vital that Christians think critically about it.

Moore: Give us a few things that you would like your readers to take away from reading The Bible in the Contemporary World.

Bauckham: I hope many readers will come away with the sense that the Bible speaks more broadly to the big issues of our time than they have realized before. And I hope many readers will find that the Bible invites them to be more concerned with the big issues of our time than they have been before.