Intersections

Plundering Egypt: A Conversation on the Passing of Rachel Held Evans

Just two days after Stan Grenz died, David Dockery began his concluding paragraph warning Baptists, specifically Southern Baptists, that Grenz might lead his readers into orthodox inconsistency.

Unfortunately, his pietism didn’t translate into evangelical coherene or orthodox consistency.

That was fourteen year ago.

Reading some of the responses to the death of Rachel Held Evans reminded me of that incident. In fact, to demonstrate how this works, the same thing happened after the death of Jerry Falwell. No matter your theological convictions you may be sure someone will take advantage of the news of your death to point out all the error of your ways. It makes us feel better about our chosen perspective on the spectrum.

Among we Southern Baptists it appears that orthodoxy is now tied to how one interprets the Scriptures regarding women in ministry – preaching or pastoring. But, one of the oldest creeds of the Christian faith does not make that issue a matter of Christian orthodoxy. What’s more, it now appears that after claiming to be a confessional denomination, Southern Baptists indeed have a Magisterium that weighs theological positions in the balance. Welcome to the new SBC. Entity heads take your bow.

Could we benefit from splitting the hair between Christian Orthodoxy and doctrinalism? I think so. Take this simple test. If Stan Grenz, Jerry Falwell and Rachel Held Evans all would affirm the Nicene Creed, then they would be considered within the bounds of Christan orthodoxy. But, given their doctrinal differences, they would likely not share a home in the same denomination. That is the difference between orthodoxy and doctrinalism.

When Grenz and Evans moved beyond the doctrinalism of Evangelicalism that did not mean they were now unorthodox. What’s more, if Grenz identified as a Pietist with a PhD then, he is echoing what my friend Bill Borror recently described on a podcast. Bill used the imagery of Isreal leaving Egypt for his own move out of Evangelicalism and into a different Christian stream most would consider Mainline. He noted that he felt like he had left Egypt carrying with him some plunder.

Listening to Rachel Held Evans and reading her books reveals much the same. While she left her Baptist, Evangelical roots, she maintained the fervor of an Evangelical even if she found her home in the Episcopalian branch of the Christian tree. Think the late Robert Weber who followed the Canterbury Trail later in his life.

Tommie Marshell joins me on this podcast episode. We talk about her response to Rachel, public responses on social media and in major publications. We work to distinguish between orthodoxy and doctrinalism. Take a listen and leave your thoughts in the comments. Be nice.

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Life In Review or, A Pastor Moves Forward by Looking Back: A Conversation with Scott Scrivner

Five years ago the iconic Mummers Theater, also known as Stage Center, was demolished. Considered a modern architectural marvel, it served an interesting feature for the annual Oklahoma City Arts Festival for years. Then it flooded. Efforts to save the building failed. What eventually takes the now vacated space will be influenced by the experiences with the former structure.

A person’s faith journey is not much different.

Even for a pastor.

On this episode of patheological: the podcast for the Pastor-Theologian, Scott Scrivner and I talk about his recent book, Life in Review: An Interactive Guide to Deconstruct Faith Toward Hope. The product of his recent Doctor of Ministry Degree where he worked with Leonard Sweet and no doubt studied semiotics, Scott combines a work that is part memoir, community reflection and guide. The book is as visually provocative as it is in its prose. Scott is Pastor of Convergence OKC and is also a graphic designer. To say this book is a bit of convergence of those roles is itself to risk pressing the metaphor too far.

If the subtitle throws you into an apoplectic fit for its use of the D word, then think of it as the journey of the late Robert Webber who wrote that little book about his own faith journey, On the Canterbury Trail. Or, consider it akin to Karl Barth grappling with the Protestant Liberalism of his day. If that is still too far, pick up Brian Zahnd’s, Water to Wine. No matter what word one chooses, these illustrations make the case that deconstruction is not destruction but a move toward construction.

Consider this in the book’s subtitle, Faith Toward Hope. I first heard this take on Anselm on the New Persuasive Words podcast with Bill Borror and Scott Kent Jones, faith seeking hope. Whether one wants to call it epistemic humility or an acknowledgment of the limits of human reason, the aim is hope and this hope is in Jesus Christ.

Take a listen and see if you don’t find threads of your own journey, even if you use different words. You may also find additional information about the artists, the book and more here at Semper Introspiciens.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.


Seculosity: When Religion Leaves the Building, A Conversation with David Zahl

Are you spiritual but not religious? Maybe you are religious but not spiritual. What do those categories even mean? Are we always going to find ourselves in an Inigo Montoya moment, “You keep using that word . . . “

Religion observers and Christian leaders have for some time been offering explanations for a decline in church attendance in the West. Some contend we are experiencing an end of Christendom, a period where Christianity played a socio-cultural role in nearly every area of civic life. Others viewed the shift as a move away from religion altogether. New descriptions like the Nones and Dones have become new sociological categories used when conducting surveys of the religious habits of Americans. Is that too narrow?

Meet my new friend David Zahl. His new book, Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What To Do About It, offers a different perspective on the religiosity of Americans. It is not that his idea would not have explanatory power in the West or even other parts of the world. But his personal context is the United States.

One of my friends uses the phrase to describe his departure from Christianity, “I left the building.” If you are a literalist you may miss the layers of this self-description. I have contended that some leave the building without leaving the Faith. After reading David’s book, I am left wondering if Religion has left the building. And, if it has, that is a good thing.

Christianity may be classified, categorized, as a religion. But, I would argue, at its core is anti-religion. That religion has left the building should be good news for the Church, for Christianity. Here I use Religion as a set of rules to live by. Christianity may be, and certainly has been, used or practiced by some as a Rule of Life. Doing so makes of Christianity the very thing that Jesus came to liberate human beings from. Bookkeeping according to a set of rules is not grace at any level. Submitting to a new set of rules for life is merely exchanging one capricious task master for another. Jesus offers something different – grace.

If you have not been persuaded by my little blog blurb to head over and order a copy of Seculosity, give our conversation a listen. Then, I hope you will get your copy!

David Zahl is the director of Mockingbird Ministries and editor-in-chief of the Mockingbird blog. Born in New York City and brought up elsewhere, David graduated from Georgetown University in 2001, and then worked for several years as a youth minister in New England. In 2007 he founded Mockingbird in NYC. Today David and his wife Cate reside in Charlottesville, VA with their three boys, where David also serves on the staff of Christ Episcopal Church. His first book, A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll,appeared in 2014. Most recently, David co-authored Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) with Will McDavid and Ethan Richardson. Even after all these years, he’s still mourning the end of Calvin and Hobbes (and hoping that Morrissey and Marr will bury the hatchet). His favorite theologian is probably a cross between Johnny Cash, Flannery O’Connor and his brother Simeon.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.

Why Makes Justice So Controversial?

Oklahoma incarcerates more people per capita than any other State in the Union – men and women. Legislators work to reform our justice system. The gears turn slowly. Part of the issue turns on how we talk about justice.

Last year, a group of Evangelicals, some from my tribe of Southern Baptists, developed what is referred to as the Statement on Social Justice. A list of affirmations and denials, accompanied by a list of Scriptures, has been signed by a nearly 11,000 people to date. The SJS, a shorthand for the document, took center stage in a segment at the recent Shepherd’s Conference hosted by John MacArthur Jr., one of the initial signatories. Some on the panel had signed the Statement while others had not. Even among hosts and guests, it was clear there was an underlying point of contention, if not outright division.

What is it that makes justice so hard to discuss for Christians, particularly many Evangelicals? Justice, for some philosophers, is the un-deconstructable subject. Yet, listening to some Evangelicals one wonders if it is not destructive. It certainly has proven contentious in online exchanges be it blog posts or Twitter exchanges. There are intimations, if not outright assertions, that a focus on justice obscures the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

One sure way to come off dismissive is to refer to your opponent at a Social Justice Warrior, SJW for short. Take it a step further and accuse your interlocutor of Cultural Marxism. Game Over. The related labeling and acts of ascription leave us with more than a few Inigo Montoya moments. You keep using that word . . . . It appears to be quite satisfying to go in search of someone, on your team, that will give the label or ascription your preferred nuance. Now you have found your authority and can claim intellectual high ground. We call that insider baseball. Why not take up a source that appears to have not dog in your internecine squabble. Take this piece from Andrew Lynn. I have yet to see Lynn locked in a Twitter battle over the SJS.

Maybe it would be good to tak up the testimonial of someone who actually admits to being a full-on Marxist. Here is a piece, albeit a little wonky at te close, that provides an existential experience with Marxism. Haykin clearly understands many throw around Cultural Marxism the say way they use to throw around the word Liberal. It was more to incite than interrogate.

If a person takes the time to write a blogpost alleging error, maybe it would be good to look at the issue using a greater breadth of sources than simply those that confirm an existing bias. It could be one of the most Christian things to do.

The recent combination of articles and videos prompted me to invite a group of friends, all Southern Baptists, and relative nobodies, to consider what is going on, even getting done, in these internecine debates. This first part of our discussion offers a critique. We will get together again to offer some constructive ideas in a future episdoe.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.



Who Said God Can’t?

A local meteorologist described the recent F-4 tornado in Alabama. We know a thing or two about tornadoes in Oklahoma. The scene of the 24-mile swath cut by the massive tornado brought back memories of what we simply refer to in our area as, The May 3rd Tornado. It was hard to imagine the area described by a resident who lost her home as something like a forest. One of our local meteorologist looked it up and the affected area had never experienced a tornado before. 

I am waiting on Pat Robertson, or even John Piper, to declare what sin was being judged in rural Alabama. Like everyone else, those who rush to explain the why of these events represent our human need, at least our tendency, to look for the cause that produced the effect. Given our lack of omniscience, human beings often raise more questions in pursuit of the one answer.

For Christians, the available possibilities seem to have been explored and refined but often still leave us short on comfort. On the extremes we either submit to randomness or determinism. Honestly, neither of those two extremes requires Divine agency. When we add Divine agency to the equation, we get the picture of a God with no power or all-power. Most prefer the latter to the former. Even then, the consequent questions raised either leave us with deep mystery should we refuse to make God the culprit for it all.

Thomas J. Oord provides a different response to the issue. At once the title of his book provokes a startling possibility, God Can’t. Before you dismiss Oord’s proposal out of hand, consider that the matter for Tom is not centered on the normal depictions of power. Taking the more academic ideas from his earlier work, The Uncontrolling Love of God, Oord locates his proposal squarely within the framework of our lived experience. Rather than leave God with no power or with all-power, Tom invites the reader to consider the complexity of Theodicy through a hermeneutics of love. That is my interpretation.

When I learned that Tom’s new book would be coming out, I was looking forward to how he would present his ideas. The nagging question I had was what prompted Tom to look at something other than the available possibilities to the problem of suffering. It is not as if the subject has lain dormant and Oord resurrected it for us. Instead, Tom’s own experiences of life have made this an ongoing interest. You could say he is fully vested.

In this episode of patheolgoical, Tom and I talk about the big ideas in his book. He lays them out in a way that the reader may easily follow. Woven in and out of his ideas that center on essential kenosis are stories so common it is hard not to think with Tom about theodicy anew.

Pastors, counselors, lay leaders, if you are like me, you will find lots to chew on in God Can’t. Even more, I suspect you will want a copy of your own. Whether or not you arrive where Tom has, you will not be able to escape his deep commitment to the self-giving, other-directed love of God and its implications for how we understand, and maybe as importantly how we talk about, suffering.

If you find the podcast helpful, share it with your friends. Share it with your pastor friends as well as folks you know involved in leadership that touches on the pastoral. Also, consider heading over to iTunes, login, search for patheological and give us a five-star rating and a kind review.