Evangelicals are the biggest Liberals. So says David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw. They take up a discussion of Inerrancy and Evangelicals at one point during the conversation. Maybe they are being provocative. Maybe not.
Dave Miller remarked in the comment thread of a recent post at SBC Voices, “Blogging attracts the most strident voices. The SBC is never as divided as blogging.” Herding the cats, which has at times included me, at SBC Voices gives Dave a peculiar perspective. Prior to this comment, he noted that conversation had been quite good until the tone and tenor changed with the infusion of personalities, grudges, and the like. Maybe the SBC is as divided as blogging. Read More
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.
Dave Miller encouraged readers at SBC Voices to avoid going Nancy Grace in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict when giving an opinion.
Greg Horton only weighed in because his answer to a question was too long. (R)
Al Mohler reminds readers a tragedy still remains.
Marty Duren chides Christians for accepting confirmation bias.
Rick Davis notes the demise of the Fourth Estate.
I could go on.
But, since I began with Dave I will continue with Dave. He is right. Too many opinions skewed by a priori commitments make the point that hermeneutics goes all the way down. Careful how you state your case.
What really caught my attention was something Dave tweeted just after the Zimmerman verdict was handed down.
No one but George Zimmerman knows what happened. But six people heard the evidence, gave a verdict. That’s justice, folks.
— Dave Miller (@davemiller7) July 14, 2013
I read his exchange with Aaron Weaver and believe that Dave was attempting to target the way many view justice as having only been done when the outcome is what I want. Good point.
However, I did not read the conversation until today and have been mulling Dave’s Tweet since Saturday evening. I even threw in with Aaron when asking Dave for clarification.
— Todd Littleton (@LittletonTodd) July 14, 2013
Never one to pick a cyber fight with a fellow who wears a lime green suit and looks good doing so, I could not help but ruminate over Dave’s Tweet in search of another interpretation.
Rather than attempt to get polemical with Dave, I began wondering about the way Christian language works when it comes to justice. Taken at face value, without the benefit of Dave’s clarification, the comment seemed to affirm that we may equate a legal process with justice. Such a move would require a pristine legal system in order to produce justice. We do not have such a system. We may then conclude that we do not have a system of justice but rather, I suggest, a legal system. It may be a good legal system as far as they go. It may be considered better than most. But, that does not make it just.
Scott Jones points out one way our legal system has been compromised by looking at the very notion of self defense embedded in the U.S. legal system, thanks to John Locke, compared to the Grace-ing going on by the pundits. It depends on one’s perspective as to whether Martin or Zimmerman needed to defend himself. To hear Robert Zimmerman tell it, George’s brother, in an interview with Piers Morgan, in a most bizarre logic, Martin killed himself, was responsible for his own death.
Who needs Nancy with logic like that?
I need to think about it more but I am wondering how Christians in America have been influenced by the reference to our legal system as a system of justice. Our legal system outlines the way we will live together and when a person violates that code he or she is brought before the legal system to be tried and, if convicted, sentenced. But, a sentence does not equate to justice.
A life sentence for murder, even a death sentence, does not equal justice. Those are matters determined in a punishment phase of a legal proceeding. Justice in the sense of reconciliation and restoration, the sort that fits the vision of the Sacred Text, would mean the restoration of the lost life and reconciliation of relationships that brought about the tragedy.
When we describe a jury verdict, and if there be any penalty meted out, as justice is done, we err. Even more, when we work to make our understanding of justification understandable by likening it to our legal system, we make the life and work of Jesus less than it is. When Paul describes the to come subjection of all things under Christ, there seems to me a necessity for a more robust vision of justice than we often think.
Bart Barber gave me some things to think about along these lines.
Talk of the to come, apocalyptic, ordinarily takes the form of coming judgment and punishment. What if we told the story of justice to come complete with the reconciliation and restoration of all things? Might we bridge the damage done by equating legal with justice?
Liberals do what liberals do. Fundamentalists do what fundamentalists do. These are givens. And, the reason they do what they do lies in their commitment to their own givens – their own framework for understanding and articulating the way the world works. This shows up in politics and religion. And boy does it show up in religion.
When I first read of the Louisiana College affair I could not imagine that the issue at heart turned on a couple of student responses to the President’s Pen. If that is the case, then the President has not spent much time in the local church, yea Southern Baptist Churches. What the two students wrote in response to what appears as a defensive piece pales in comparison to what pastors and staff endure, in some cases weekly.
Dave Miller rightly notes that many a pastor has nuked the playground in response to even the slightest criticism. That is to point up that pastors are not immune to similar behaviors and impulses as those of the President of LC.
What interests me is less the details, and boy are they sordid according to my sources, but more the way the story of two young men take center stage while indeed Louisiana College appears to be burning. And, the fire began inside, not an assault from without. Blaming the devil is little more than invoking the Flip Wilson defense.
I propose that Joshua Breland and Drew Wales have nothing to do with Louisiana College burning. They, instead, present an occasion to deflect attention away from a story that began while these boys were still in high school. Bringing Breland and Wales up on charges of disparaging the College should give the Trustees the framework to more than slap the hands of those who will be discovered having put LC at risk academically and embarrass the cause of Christian ethics and integrity. The players in this game would surprise most. Well . . . maybe many.
Moving colleges to the right has long been the game plan of Fundamentalists in the SBC from the get. The long narrative of lost colleges and universities played over and again in the early days of the CR. I suggest that what was lost was power. I realize there will be those who disagree. I acknowledge there are theological differences. But, when it comes to wielding power the two sides are the same. This represents the as is structure. Control the money, exert the power. In this Liberal and Fundamentalist are two sides of the same coin.
When power and money are threatened we tend to couch our battles in terms of theology, at least in the SBC. Consider the rise of the Calvinist/Non-Calvinist debate/divide the current iteration. Claims from both sides generate heat for the respective base from which to call out the other. I have read the contention that Tom Ascol is dark lord bent to turn the SBC toward Geneva. Really? Maybe so. He did survive lightning.
In an interesting public display Baptists21 held an event in New Orleans last summer maybe to convince young fellows the two groups may live together in the same denomination post-Conservative Resurgence. Yes, I did attend the event. The one thing they left out was how those on the dais have worked to hone the delicate balance of power. Everyone smiled for the event. Reciprocal accolades were passed. So long as the Reformer does not threaten the Radical Reformer, there will be peace in the valley. Unsettle the financial foundations and swing the pendulum ever so slightly and the sorts of skirmishes that threaten LC show up. This. Is. Not. About. Theology.
Except it is theological. What we witness is quite telling of the way theology functions and works within the SBC. It serves to keep the balance. The chief issue, despite calls to the obvious particulars – evangelism, mission, church planting, prayer, discipleship – is maintaining the general structure that hangs precariously in the balance of egos. Do not take that any other way than anyone of we human beings given the occasion to wield power and control finances will find our ego in the way. All of us.
As an aside, I was once told that if I did not like the way things were going in the SBC, I should do what they did. Get a group together and plan your own ten-year takeover. I should be prepared to get blood on my sword. This is precisely how the general structure is maintained as the particulars shift. Fight the same way and in so doing nothing really changes but the particulars adorning the institution.
We need no more wagging the dog. What we need are fewer leaders beholden to the general structure that has proven repeatedly to keep us always Fighting Baptists. We need leaders who will call the general structure to account. We need to dispense with the general structure, the as is. We need admit we have for too long worked to preserve what we have even when what we have suffers regular irruptions that betray our doctrinal and ethical commitments.
Dare I suggest we need progressive/prophetic leaders among us? These would be leaders who could identify when we are simply arguing about the particulars and who controls the narrative while the general structure that forms the foundation from which instances like LC rise. This is not unlike Land-gate from one year ago. Nor is there much difference in the way some high profile Southern Baptist leaders remain silent in the face of Mahaney-gate. I suspect a good Baptist historian could offer countless illustrations where these irruptions have occurred on all levels of Southern Baptist life.
Joshua and Drew represent an opportunity to act. They are not two young boys to be scapegoated. We cannot allow them to be used as the tail that wags the dog.
UPDATE: In the first version of this post I referenced Louisiana Baptist College. The name of the college is Louisiana College.