C.S. Lewis

On Diane

I was quite young when my first cousin died. Ronnie was quite a bit older. Today I learned my cousin Diane no longer suffers in the clutches of cancer. It is bittersweet. Bitter that she was young, not yet 60, a new grandmother, and such a person rich in character and quality. Sweet that the disease that haunted her for about 13 years haunts no more. Even more, for those of us with hope in the Resurrection of Jesus, we find it helpful to think there is yet life where all is set right, even the wrong of terminal illness.

The range of ages among we Littleton cousins is broad. After all, we are the offspring of a clan of eight children born to my grandparents – Thad and Alma. Dad is the youngest of the eight so the three of us – me, Paul, Trent – are among the youngest. In fact, I think Trent is the youngest at 43 Randall is the youngest. (UPDATE: The always youngest brother chalked up my mistake to, well, my age.) There were, at one time, thirteen of us cousins. Ten boys. Three girls.

daledianeDiane met Dale at Oklahoma Baptist University. She graduated from OBU about the year I entered high school. Dale pastored for quite a few years in the Kansas City area and then in Springfield, MO. They moved back to Oklahoma a number of years ago. We saw them at those (in)famous Littleton Christmas gatherings. Our bond was our family even if we lived hours away. We can almost pick up where we left off the year before.

I don’t know how my cousins more near my age felt, but I always thought my older cousins were the cool kids. Pam, David, Diane, and Lyndel. It is not that my other cousins weren’t cool kids. It is just that I always thought of them as you would an older brother or sister, albeit from a distance. Maybe that was the ethos of our family, or it could be an oddity.

Now that I am at an age where I tend to be more reflective than when my first cousin died, I think of Diane’s death as the loss of one of my cool cousins. Always smiling. Interested to include everyone. Ever instigating an enjoyable time. Strong, Faithful. Determined. We could always use more human beings like Diane.

I may need to pull out C.S. Lewis’, A Grief Observed, and read it again. It may be that I need to re-read the recent book, Cancer and Theology, edited by Jake Bouma and Erik Ullestad. What is certain that I need is to remain thankful for my cool cousins. And in this moment, to be as faithful in life and to life as Diane.

Image Credit: Faithful

Taming Theologians – A Different Bonhoffer?

We like to tame our theologians. We fit them into our own matrix of orthodoxy and then lay claim to be an heir. Scot McKnight recently offered a review of Molly Worthen’s, Apostle’s of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. He posted a second installment yesterday. I look forward to reading Worthen’s book having read Richard Quebedeaux’s, The Young Evangelicals and Robert Webber’s, The Younger Evangelicals. Molly appears to cover similar ground with a different exploration in mind. Al Mohler writes that Evangelicals need to reckon with this book.

What is the big deal? Evangelicals, and frankly most human beings share this trait, have a penchant for tribalism. Protecting turf is no small polemical sport. Just today David Fitch calls attention to this feature as he quoted Hauerwas,

Bolstering our tribes’ historical and intellectual capital often trades in locating the thread of a preferred Who’s Who’s theology that fits neatly into its trendy theological currents. There is little comment, or more likely a rationalization, when it is discovered that same  Who’s Who also wrote something that would scandalize the tribes’ neat system.

The recent Evangelical Theological Society meeting that included a panel on Inerrancy, as reported by Michael Bird and Pete Enns, provided anecdotal evidence that the decision to oust Robert Gundry by the ETS may not have come so quickly had everyone acknowledged what is now known, there is no universally accepted definition for inerrancy despite the CSBI of 1978. These five guys, smart ones at that, did not all agree. Oh no, pluralism over inerrancy. Will the Evangelical House crumble?

We do face plurality in the way theologians are read and appropriated. Consider the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. One could not escape reading C.S. Lewis quotes on that day. Many Evangelicals quote C.S. Lewis. That is until he is used by a theological  opponent. Think about the debate over Lewis in the aftermath of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. The debate turned to center on Lewis’ context by some as a means to distinguish how one group read Lewis over another group. Some Evangelicals love Mere Christianity but do not talk much about A Grief Observed. Unless of course it is used to distance oneself from some of Lewis’ other ideas. This brings me to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Chad Lakies’ recent piece at The Church and Postmodern Culture by Baker Academic titled, Paradox of Loneliness in the Midst of Community, caught my attention when he noted there is more to Bonhoeffer than The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

Lakies writes,

From the confines of Tegel prison in Berlin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned these moving words to his family:

 

It’s remarkable how we think at such times about the people that we should not like to live without, and almost or entirely forget about ourselves. It is only then that we feel how closely our own lives are bound up with other people’s, and in fact how the center of our own lives is outside of ourselves, and how little we are separate entities. The ‘as though it were a part of me’ is perfectly true, as I have often felt after hearing that one of my colleagues or pupils had been killed. I think it is a literal fact of nature that human life extends far beyond our physical existence. (Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison) (Image – “Three Alone But Together” – Carmen Guedez)

I often think that only a mother could understand these words fully, but then I must remember than Bonhoeffer was never even married, much less experienced the blessing of his own children. Bonhoeffer, who has been described as an ad hoc phenomenologist, had a unique and penetrating way of speaking about the experiences of the Christian life. While many readers of Bonhoeffer pay attention only to The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together or perhaps a devotional work that cobbles together some of his writings, most never delve deeper into any of his other material. Theological students may read his very short book on the Psalmsor his treatment of Genesis 1-3, or even try to get through his Ethics. Perhaps they will read some of his sermons which are becoming more widely available. But most will never read his earliest works which set the stage for everything that is to come: his doctoral dissertation, published as Sanctorum Communio and his habilitation, published as Act and Being. In those texts Bonhoeffer laid a theological and philosophical foundation for his work that he would never stray from. Thus when we read his later and more well known works that are the favorites in the church, and for our purposes, the words above, we must recognize Bonhoeffer’s deep sensitivity to the social constitution of human life.

I shared Lakies’ article on my Facebook Wall and my friend Guy replied,

Guy Rittger Thought provoking reading, to be sure. Reminded me that it’s time to revisit Bonhoeffer, whose words and actions are no less relevant today than they were in his lifetime. In this respect, I think the article needed a bit of historical contextualization, both of the circumstances under which Bonhoeffer’s ideas developed, as well as of our own circumstances – i.e., the materialist dimension is missing for me, or perhaps not as explicitly articulated as I believe is needed. We can’t overlook how loneliness can emerge when one finds oneself isolated intellectually / spiritually within a dominant ideology fundamentally in conflict with one’s own deepest beliefs and desires. This certainly isn’t new, of course. And perhaps it’s precisely in those / these times that one needs to engage with greater frequency and intensity with those of like mind / spirit.

Guy considers Lakies’ article good but in need of contextualization. He added, “the materialist dimension is missing for me.” Most of us never pause to question any issue of materiality when reading Bonhoeffer. But, Guy picks up on a very important reading of Bonhoeffer that seems to be quite apropos for today.

I thought of Tripp Fuller describing the way Bonhoeffer is read by various theological streams, including Radical Theology. Maybe we should read all of our theologians through other lenses to capture the robust ways they may both influence us and call our givens into question. It could be quite disruptive. But, it could be beautifully zesty too.

Church As Counter-Testimony to Power – Part 1

While some of the worst fires burn in Australia, a strange fire burned in California. We should pray for both. Estimates put the number of homes burned in Austrialia at some 200. No one knows what the internecine fires will consume stemming from that strange fire on the US West Coast.

Many have weighed in with their interpretation of the conference bearing the name, Strange Fire. Tim Challies seemed to offer a reasonable roundup even if one might disagree with his personal opinions on the matter. He provided no incendiary sentences. Dave Miller made Phil Johnson’s presentation. Evidently Phil had smoke in his eyes while reading SBC Voices. He got Dave wrong. It could have been Dave’s notorious lime green jacket that influenced Phil’s hermeneutics.

I only heard about the conference after the fact. To push the fire metaphor too far, reading about it was like seeing the aftermath of the Colorado fires this summer. Once beautiful land forever changed by the consuming fire.

Christian groups, and certain personalities, seem to make the news more about their participation in intramural squabbles than the healing brought to a broken world in Jesus’ name. Even a couple of adult teenagers attempted to crash the fiery party. Who would be surprised at these usual suspects?

The hubbub exposes the oft vied for place of authority to speak for a fractured Evangelicalism. If there are excesses among charismatics, they are equaled by different excesses in their critics. Who gets the final word? Bloggers?

Absent an Evangelical magisterium, we witness those with larger churches, more money, greater access to media, and able to generate a fandom stepping up to set the rest straight on any number of contested matters. The Charismata is but one hot topic that gets bobbled. Protecting Evangelicalism from everyone else in Christendom certainly compares to battling runaway fires.

Vying for power and influence seems counter intuitive to the Way of Jesus but certainly consistent with how our host culture functions. Have we been lulled into thinking that the way of power actually comports to the vision of Jesus sending his disciples into the world to do what he did?

Those in my tribe think deconstruction, the postmodern version, the cause of many a fire. Look carefully. Evangelicals need no external help to get a fire going.

Maybe there is a need to take this thing apart. There is a strand of deconstruction that looks to make affirmations, not negations. Were we to take this episode in Evangelicalism apart we would be looking to affirm the impossible. That is, it seems unlikely that the large body of people whom self-describe as Evangelical could ever be mobilized beyond defending his or her sacred ground. Such a vision surely passes for an object in which to hope because its history, statistics, and present condition make the prospect impossible. So, perhaps it just might happen. But, it won’t come from the cavalry coming over the hill spreading from west to east, choose a highly visible pastor/ministry, or from south to north, think of the largest Evangelical denomination in the United States.

We have had plenty of time to see if Christian celebrity will help the situation.

What if we returned to viewing the Church as counter testimony to power? In this series of posts, who knows maybe just one but could be more, I would like to consider some ways in which the impossible might become possible, perhaps.

Consider this quote from C.S. Lewis a means to stir your thoughts,

As Christians, we can’t love the whole world. But we should remember that God has placed us in a specific community at a particular time. We’re called to love those around us. Loving them means serving them – and in doing so, we become the best of citizens.

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What About Those Scary Others Not in the Hallway? Or, There Still More to Learn

“What is a Southern Baptist doing reading Walter Brueggemann?” The email questioner was a fellow Southern Baptist pastor. From his perspective Brueggemann was not on the approved reading list for those in our tribe. I politely replied and kept reading. In my last post I was hopeful to disabuse us of the idea that those within the Christian Tradition outside our particular stream are indeed not scary whether they are identified by another denominational affiliation or at a different place than us on the idealogical spectrum from fundamentalist to liberal. Something I recently learned about C.S. Lewis may provide another illustration.

My favorite C.S. Lewis book is The Abolition of Man. Over the years I have read excerpts from Mere Christianity. Steve suggested it be our next book to read for our Theology Cafe at Snow Hill on Thursday mornings.

This past Thursday we watched The Magic Never Ends: The Life & Faith of C.S. Lewis. Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Wade Center at Wheaton College, shared with the audience, via DVD, Lewis’ reference to the variety of Christian Traditions and their interplay as living in a building with a common hallway lined with doors to various rooms. Read More

The Battle for the SBC Empire Posted at SBC Voices

Dave Miller over at SBC Voices re-posted a piece I offered here last week.

In related news, Scot McKnight provides a guest post, Rob Bell and C.S. Lewis, where Jeff Cook calls attention to much the same thing going on in Evangelicalism that I describe taking place in the SBC. And, if you are really interested in thinking about the theo-philosophical underpinnings at work in these very similar current affairs, I would direct your attention to David Fitch’s new book, The End of Evangelicalism.