Well, my time here at Claremont is just about up. I’m sitting in Mudd Auditorium, listening to the second of two public panels. Here are my reflections, looking back on the last three days.
First, I have to note that I felt somewhat out of place. In general, I think that I can hold my own academically with people who teach at places like Harvard, Vanderbilt, University of Chicago, Yale, and Claremont. But the longer that I’m out of the academy proper, the stranger I feel when I’m surrounded by academic theologians. And these are academic theologians. In fact, I was the only conferee without an institutional affiliation — my nametag said “emergent church” under my name.
Second, this liberalism unfamiliar territory for me. I grew up in the mainline church, but it was in the Midwest. So we were mainline Congregationalists, but I don’t think that we could have been classified as “liberals” per se. Now, of course, the theologians at this event were at different points along the spectrum. But I guess in general I have rubbed academic shoulders with more center-right folks in the past.
9:26am – Jack Fitzmier, who leads the American Academy of Religion, is intense and challenging. He says that the right people are not in this room. Who are “academic theologians”? he asks. The people doing the best work are not systematic and constructive theologians, he says, but practical theologians. Second, he says the focus should be on practice, not theory. “The system which allows you to do your job — academic theology — is collapsing.” The number of doctoral programs is declining, as are the job openings. He is pissed. “We are complicit in this system, because we accept every doctoral candidate who will get FTE funding, because we need their tuition. But there are no job for them when they get out.”
9:31am – Glen Stassen asks, “Where is Reinhold Neibuhr when we need him?” (Someone in the crowd says, “Or Marx?!?”) How could we, as Christians, have been so naive to think that taking the regulations off of the financial system and expect it to regulate itself? He’s talking about WMDs, etc., and saying that Christians have lost their sense of sin.
9:48am – A discussion ensues attempting to answer the question, “Are we the ones we’ve been waiting for?” In other words, are the people in this room the ones to resurrect the liberal vision of church, theology, and society. As you might guess from academics, the most common response is “yes and no.” The equivocation among academics always amazing to me — every time someone gets close to answering a question with some amount of conviction, they always fall back on the line that, “We must think of the people who are not in this room.” It becomes an eternal deferral of action and instead begets more conferences at which the same questions are asks, and the answers are yet again deferred.
I’m at the inaugural Transforming Theology gathering: Rekindling Theological Imagination: Transformative Thought for Progressive Action. Today we’re talking about the church.
9:16am – Harvey Cox, of Harvard, is giving his 5-minute statement. He thinks there is an epochal shift coming in theology, driven by crises in the economy and environment. “We must live in uncertainty fused with hope.” We live in a situation analogous to the early Christians, the ending of an age of empire. What did they do? They established a network of ecclesiae — gatherings of citizens — and they lived a life of radical sharing, even a communion of goods. Congregations in this day will need to do the same, and the congregations should transform theology.
9:23am – Delwin Brown says that the progressive Christian students he works with can tell why they’re Christian and why they’re progressive, but they often cannot say why, as Christians, they are progressive. He admires evangelicals who can articulate their beliefs and social outlook. We have a progressive family of theologies, and academic debates are fine, but we must learn to communicate this in effective ways.
Later this week, I’ll be in Southern California at the Transforming Theology for the Church consultation. A couple of the events are public, so I encourage you to come if you live in SoCal. But if not, there are lots of ways to follow our doing. I’ll do my best to blog here; there’s a YouTube channel; a Twitter hashtag (#TT4C); and the Transforming Theology blog.
When we last heard from our intrepid doctrine, Augustine had taken Paul’s interpretation of Genesis 2-3 in Romans 5 and taken that to mean that Adam’s sin conferred not only death on the entire human race, but also guilt. This was a big step, to be sure, and, as I’ve written, it hinges on a particular reading of the second creation narrative in Genesis and on a particular biology of the transmission of moral standing via semen. Some of my readers find both of these fairly dubious.
A thousand years after Augustine, John Calvin came along and ginned up the Reformation that Martin Luther had begun just a few years earlier. Calvin in his monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin took the doctrine of Original Sin one step further than Augustine, arguing that our inherited sinfulness has erased virtually all remnant of the imago dei in us — God might have said, “Let us make man in our image,” but the subsequent sin of Adam expunged that image:
“Therefore original sin is seen to be an
hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature diffused into all parts
of the soul . . . wherefore those who have defined original sin as the
lack of the original righteousness with which we should have been endowed,
no doubt include, by implication, the whole fact of the matter, but they
have not fully expressed the positive energy of this sin. For our nature
is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil
that it cannot be inactive. Those who have called it concupiscence
[a strong, especially sexual desire, lust] have
used a word by no means wide of the mark, if it were added (and this is
what many do not concede) that whatever is in man from intellect to will,
from the soul to the flesh, is all defiled and crammed with concupiscence;
or, to sum it up briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing but
In the Washington Times, Julia Duin ponders that question in her article, “Evangelicals ponder Dobson’s successor: New generation looks for leader.”
It has been interesting watching the shift in power: Franklin Graham is no Billy Graham; the Coral Ridge Hour simply shows reruns of the late D. James Kennedy’s sermons; and Robert Schuller Sr. fired Robert Schuller Jr. from the Crystal Cathedral.
“It’s a changing of the guard,” said Brian McLaren, 52, cited in 2005
by Time magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in
“There is a possibility the religious right will collapse on itself.
Or someone will articulate a new religious center. The evangelical
community has been slowly diversifying, and there may not be a center
No surprise, Richard Land doesn’t agree:
“Anyone who thinks evangelicals are going away as a social force is smoking something illegal.”
The right-wing Christian Post picked up on the Dallas youth pastor fight club silliness, and did a follow-up interview with the Keysi Fighting Method instructor, Jeff McKissack. CP picks up on my blog post,* then gets this odd defense from McKissack:
“Over the years I have encountered truly sincere people who believe we
should always ‘turn the other cheek’ … at all costs. The problem with
that ideology lies in the fact that it does not only foster martyrs,
but victims as well,” he argues.
Let’s think about that for a minute. The Sermon on the Mount is an ideology? I suppose that, as defined, “turn the other cheek” and the other exhortations in the Sermon on the Mount could be considered a “doctrine, philosophy, body of beliefs or principles belonging to an individual or group.”
But let’s be honest. McKissack is using “ideology” in a pejorative sense, implying that an overarching commitment to non-violence trumps common sense. He appeals (surprise, surprise!) to Jesus’ post-Last Supper statement in Luke 22 to the disciples, “and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
So here’s where, as usual, hermeneutics comes in. I realize that some readers will argue that every jot of scripture is equal to every other tittle. Leviticus = John = Ephesians = Amos.
Well, if common sense is at issue, is it really commonsensical to argue that Jesus’ remark about swords is equivalent to the Sermon on the Mount?
Of course not.
*Christian Post didn’t give me the benefit of an inbound link, so I’m not linking to them either. Yes, that’s how I roll.
Postmodern and post-structuralism aside (since this will sound to some
like that but is not), gender is different than sex due to its
psycho-social construction. Since it is this, anyone can assert a
different gender construction from within a existing frame that is at
odds with another frame (see David Martin’s definition of this picked
up by Charles Taylor). Thus, Driscoll asserts his own construction of
gender in a way that is offensive to many. I frankly have no
over-arching issue with that. People are free to be misogynistic and
loaded with machismo as they wish. I can stay away from those
constructions and find comfort in other social frames more like “me.”
In Dallas, youth pastors are being trained in street fighting techniques in order to, um, “take care of their flock.”
McKissack is spreading the Batman gospel to youth pastors in Dallas and
across the country. He hopes to convert them into followers of the
Keysi Fighting Method, the street fighting style used in recent
McKissack figures that pastors
who know how to defend themselves against thugs can help protect the
children they lead at church – or on field trips to amusement parks or
on mission travels.
“It’s a sign of the times,” he said
Because, as the youth pastor says, “you never know what’s going to happen when you take the kids out of these four walls.”
OK, first of all, I was a youth pastor for 20 years, taking kids to some pretty sketchy places like Lima, Peru and Juarez, Mexico. And, while I occasionally felt that we were threatened, never once would the Keysi bob-and-weave have come in handy.
Secondly, I think we can safely say that teenagers are often just as threatened within the four walls as without.
The erstwhile youth pastor goes on to say, “I don’t think as Christians that we’re meant to be just stomped on.“
(Jesus: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.“)