Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What is Humanity Like?

1. In the creation story of Genesis 1, the Bible repeatedly says that God saw what he created and it was good (Gen. 1:31). This is an important point. Christians believe that every human being is a small reflection of God. We say that a human being is the "image" of God (Gen. 1:27). This fact means that every human being has an intrinsic worth.

Any unnecessary loss of human life should thus grieve us, because a small reflection of God has died. When a flood or a storm takes a life, a small reflection of God has died. When cancer or an accident takes a life, a tiny image of God has died.

When war takes a life on either side, we are grieved because the failures of humanity have killed a small mirror of God. War always involves a human failure at some point. We say it is a result of human "sin" at some point. Even when a violent criminal dies, even as a result of his or her own sinful actions, we mourn the loss of an image of God.

We treat others the way we would want them to treat us--we act lovingly toward others--because every human being is created in the image of God. All human beings have an intrinsic worth and dignity, because all human beings are a small mirror of God who created us.

2. The universe has an intrinsic worth because it is God's creation. God did not have to create the world. He did not have to create the stars or the galaxies. He did so because he wanted to create them. They are created for God's pleasure.

We should thus treat God's creation with respect. Genesis 1 suggests that God has appointed humanity as a steward of his creation where we live (Gen. 1:28). As his appointed caretakers, we see human pollution and the exploitation of the natural world as an insult to God. It treats as common what is his and which is thus holy. As caretakers of our world, we oppose cancer and sickness. We use the intelligence God has given us to develop science in a way that protects and restores the world.

The quest for knowledge is part of our fulfillment of God's command to "subdue the earth." Science and exploration is one way to keep this command. It is not in any way a command to abuse the earth but to steward it. Sabbath is a principle of rest that stewards our bodies and minds, allowing us to be better servants of God (Gen. 2:3).

3. "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2-3 is the story of every one of us. There is a power over humanity for evil. We call it the power of Sin. We look around us and often resonate with the desperate words of an early Christian named Paul when he said, "There is no one who is righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10).

Sin is the impulse to act for myself in a way that selfishly harms others. Sin is the impulse to act in a way that conflicts with my surrender to God as the most important thing. Sin is the impulse to hurt myself when I should treat myself as someone created in the image of God.

In short, sin is anything that violates the fundamental ethic set down by God in the command to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" and to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31). Sin is not best thought of as a violation of rules. That is a less mature understanding of sin. Sin is an impulse to act selfishly in relation to either God, others, or even myself.

4. History is replete with the story of human sinfulness. War is the consummate example of human sinfulness, the human impulse to destroy others for the advancement or stubbornness of an individual person or a certain group. The Bible supports a time for a people to defend themselves or to protect others in war. The Bible suggests there is a time when war is necessary. But the causes of war are thoroughly sinful.

Murder is a microcosm of war. Yet human sinfulness extends to more mundane circumstances where I hurt others to get ahead or simply because I feel like it. Factionalism and the tendency to put my group above others is another manifestation of Sin. It is human nature to herd, to align righteousness with my party or my nation or my race. This aspect of human nature becomes another manifestation of human sinfulness when my group selfishly or thoughtlessly harms others.

At times the thoroughness of human sinfulness threatens to bring us to despair. But God has shown us a more excellent way.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Who is God?

1. God is the creator of the universe, of everything that is seen and unseen.

Christians believe that God created the universe out of nothing. This is not just creation of everything out of emptiness. It is creation of the emptiness itself. The laws of nature did not exist before. The laws of logic did not exist before. The rules of math did not exist before. God invented them all.

God must therefore have more knowledge than the universe (because God created all knowledge). God must therefore have more power than the universe (because God created all matter and energy). We believe that God is everywhere present in the universe.

2. It is conventional to refer to God as a "he," but God has no sexuality. Christians do believe that God is personal rather than a thing. God has intellect and intentions.

Indeed, Christians believe that God is mysteriously three persons yet only one God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). This is a mystery. It says everything that needs to be said: 1) there is only one God, 2) God the Father is God and is a distinct person, 3) Jesus is God and is a distinct person, and 4) the Holy Spirit is God and is a distinct person. How these statements can all be true is a mystery.

God is self-sufficient. That is to say, God does not need the world. God created the universe because he wanted to, not because he needed to. It was an act of supreme artistry and creativity, and God loves everything God created.

3. Christians have historically believed that God not only knows everything that can possibly happen but everything that will actually happen. This is God's foreknowledge. However, the Wesleyan tradition does not believe that God predestines what will happen in every detail. God has an overall plan for history, including the coming of Christ and the salvation of the world.

But God does not predetermine every aspect of the world. God has built freedom and creativity into the creation on the quantum level. And at this time God empowers human beings to decide whether they choose to serve him or not.

4. God is the ruler of the universe. The appropriate response is submission and obedience. To surrender yourself to God is to transcend the impoverished, selfish state that is our default human condition. We humans are born thinking only of ourselves and perhaps of our own tribes. Submission to God is submission to Truth beyond what is convenient for ourselves. It is submission to the "other," which makes humanity better than it would otherwise be. It is submission to the justice of the prophets in the Bible, which seeks to see every human valued and equal to every other.

God is Love and Justice. God is love from the very act of creation. God wants what is best for the creation. God wants to save what is lost in the creation, without forcing his help on the creation. God calls us to love one another as God has loved the world.

God is justice in that he has created a certain order to the universe. When of our choices we crash into that order, we hurt ourselves. Sometimes God "disciplines" us to help us get back on course. Sometimes God removes us to protect others. Sometimes God removes us because we can no longer be saved and have become a symbol of that which stands against the Good.

5. God is both "beyond" the universe (transcendent) and present within the universe (immanent). In his "otherness," we say that God is holy. To say that God is holy is to say that God is God. It is to say that he is not like us. It is to say that he is awesome and tremendous. There is a certain fear we can have around something that is so much greater than us, something that is so much more powerful. This is the holiness of God.

When we become God's possession, we become holy as well. We become God's property, God's "stuff." As such we do not want any part of our being to be out of sync with God. We want to "be holy as God is holy." We want to be like God, and God makes it possible for it to happen.

6. God is a God who reveals Godself to us. The Bible is a witness to God walking with humanity, especially one people known as Israel. But the Bible ends in the New Testament with a decisive turn to the whole of humanity.

When God reveals himself, he comes to us in language and categories that we can understand. All revelation is thus "incarnated" revelation. It comes to us in terms that we can understand. The Scriptures are the central and most important record of God meeting his people in their own language and categories.

The most important record within Scripture is the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. Jesus is the Word of God for the world. In Christ all of God's speakings hold together. The speakings before point to Christ. The speakings after unpack the significance of Christ. The Scriptures are thus sufficient revelation for us to know God and be reconciled to him. The Scriptures tell us the most important truths about God and the world. The Scriptures tell us God's authoritative will for how to live in his world.

7. The Holy Spirit continues to speak to us. The Holy Spirit makes the words of the Bible come alive for us today, although we must test the spirits to see if these revelations are truly of God. The Holy Spirit gives us experiences of God, including knowledge. The Holy Spirit can also guide our reason to the truth.

The most important check and balance on individual whim and fancy is the Church, the body of Christ. The church is that collection of God's people who have lived and will live in all places and times. Under the guidance of the Spirit, God's people as a whole can redirect our interpretations of the Bible when they have gone astray. The body of Christ can clarify our reason and experience when they are off track. When God's people have commonly believed and practiced something throughout history, it is then very likely that God has revealed that truth to the Church.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thoughts on Kingdom Diversification

Thoughts on stages of kingdom diversification:
  1. You don't notice you're all the same.
  2. You commit to welcome and treat equally any different person who stumbles your way. Language of being "color blind" used, while not really seeing the different. 
  3. You feel discomfort that you do not reflect your community. 
  4. You tokenize any "border" people who are different but can handle your homogeneity. You may be awkwardly over-friendly to visitors who are different. 
  5. Same is the host, showing hospitality to the different, maybe "helping" them. 
  6. "Bridge" people come, who begin to weave difference into your identity. A synthesis begins. Same feels increasing discomfort. Resistance increases. 
  7. Different takes over key leadership roles. Same likely feels significant discomfort over systemic culture change. Revolt may break out. Some "base" diversity may begin to come. 
  8. At some point, a new multi-ethnic equilibrium emerges.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Genesis in a Nutshell 1

The Creation
1. "When God began to create the skies and the land, it was formless and empty. Darkness was over the face of the deep and the breath of God moved over the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good... And God called the light, "Day," and the darkness he called, "Night." And the evening and the morning was day one" (1:1-5).

The rest of the first chapter poetically sets out an orderly creation of the world in six "days." Finally, on the sixth day, God creates humans.

"Then God said, 'Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness. And let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the skies and over the cattle of the land and over every creeping thing that creeps on the land.' And God created humanity in his own image. In the image of God he created human. Male and female he created them" (1:26-28).

"God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and gain control of it... God saw all that he had made and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day" (1:31).

"And the skies and the land were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed the work he had done. And God rested the seventh day from all the work that he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and set it apart as holy, because on it he rested from all his work which God had created and made" (2:1-3).

2. A later book in the Old Testament, the Psalms, poetically says the following about God in comparison to the creation:

"You of old founded the earth,
     and the skies are the works of your hands.
They will also perish, but you endure.
     They will all wear out like a garment...
But you are the same,
     And your years will not come to an end" (Ps. 102:25-27).

Adam and Eve
3. Genesis 2-3 then give the story of Adam and Eve. In the story, God first creates Adam out of the dust of the earth: "The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being" (2:7). Whenever you see LORD or GOD in all capital letters, you are looking at the name of God in the original Hebrew language, YAHWEH.

God brings the animals to Adam to name. Adam sees that all the other animals are paired into male and female, but for Adam no one was found to be at his side (2:20). So the LORD God causes Adam to sleep, and while he is sleeping, God creates Eve from his rib.

They are in a garden, the Garden of Eden. They are "naked and unashamed" (2:25).

4. Another one of the Psalms, gives a poetic expression of this creation of humanity. Psalm 8 beautifully reads:

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
     Who have displayed your glory above the skies...
When I consider the skies, the work of your hands,
      The moon and the stars, which you have fixed,
What is a mortal, that you remember them
     Or the child of a mortal, that you visit them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
     And you crown them with glory and honor
You make them rule over the works of your hands,
     You have put everything under their feet...
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"

You can see the way Hebrew poetry works by way of parallelism. You say something in one line, then you repeat it or contrast with it in the next line.

5. Genesis 3 then tells about the "Fall" of Adam and Eve from the glory of the Garden. Snakes crawl on their belly without legs. Men have often worked hard to get fields to yield crops. Women have painful childbirth and have often in history been subject to the demands of men. Why is the world not as God intended it to be?

Genesis 3 tells of two trees in the Garden: 1) the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and 2) the Tree of Life. If Adam and Eve could have eaten regularly of the second tree, they would have lived forever. However, they were forbidden to eat of the first tree.

The first tree was a parable of the knowledge of evil. The snake tempted Eve to eat of it, and she urged Adam to eat of it with her. When they ate the fruit, they indeed came to know evil. They were banished from the Garden and thus were doomed in that moment to die, since they could not eat of the Tree of Life. God administers the punishments mentioned above.

6. The New Testament will later reflect on this story and on the dynamics of sin. A book called James says, "Let no one say when he or she is tempted, 'God is tempting me.' God is not tempted with evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Each person is tempted when they are carried away and enticed by their own desire. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. And sin, when it is finished, brings forth death" (Jas. 1:13-15).

All the human beings who have lived ever since, except for Jesus, have repeated the same failure as Adam and Eve. A New Testament writer named Paul writes, "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God," just as Adam and Eve fell from the glorious place that God had given them. The words of Paul echo through our lives: "Death passed to every human being, because everyone sins" (Rom. 5:12).

A New Testament book named Hebrews echoes our current failure to achieve Psalm 8 when it says, "We do not see everything under humanity's feet at present" (Heb. 2:8).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Friday Science: Let There Be Space 1

"In the beginning, GOD created space and matter. And the matter was formless and unconnected and there was darkness over the face of the soup. And the Spirit of God moved throughout the face of the chaos. Then God said, 'Let there be photons,' and the cosmic background radiation was released. And God saw the light, that it was good." Genesis 1:1-4

1. In the beginning, GOD created space and matter. YHWH said, "Let there be space." And there was space. And the LORD saw the space, that it was good.

God created the smallest cloud of possibilities within a framework of certainties. God created that smallest of nothings with everything in it, and delighted to watch it enfold.

"Before" that moment, there was nothing. There was God of course. "Where" God was--we have no point of reference to say. "When" God was--we have no categories to express. We have no point of reference even to understand these questions.

And when we say there was nothing "here," we mean there was not even emptiness. There was not even zero. There was no space. There was only empty set, which is different than zero. Empty set does not even have zero in it.

We often assume, unknowingly, that God has to follow the constraints of this universe. We think God has to follow our understanding of logic. We act like YHWH had to learn math in universe school just like everyone else.

But God invented our math. YHWH invented our logic. It is difficult for us to imagine how 1 + 1 could not equal 2. It is difficult for us to imagine a world where the syllogism does not work.

What we need to understand is that when God made the universe out of nothing, he made it out of nothing. He invented the rules of math for this universe. They did not exist before. He invented the rules of logic for this universe. They did not exist before.

It was not like someone who stumbles into a kitchen and starts mixing things together. Maybe our creation will taste good even if we mix things with complete randomness. After all, we did not invent the chemical rules that determine how things mix. We did not invent the way our taste buds taste.

Creation was not like that. In creation God not only created the ingredients. YHWH set in motion the laws for how those ingredients combine. The LORD designed and invented all of that. God created all the options.

2. And GOD said, "Let there be everything." YHWH spoke this command at the same instance that he said, "Let there be space." And the LORD saw everything created, that it was good.

It was not yet in heaven and earth form. In fact it wasn't even in space and matter form. In that first moment--whatever we want to call it--what God created was smaller than anything even angel eyes could see. It was smaller than anything science could see. It was a point full of the universe.

That point held the possibility of space. It was not yet exactly space yet. It was all the possibilities of the universe somehow piled on top of each other in a point. It is not a situation that can continue for more than the smallest of instants, a moment about 10-43 seconds long. In such a situation, the very fabric of everything is unstable and unsituated.

In that moment, all at the same "time," God said several things. When YHWH said, "Let there be space," God was also saying, "Let there be length." "Let there be area." "Let there be volume."

GOD also said, "Let there be one." YHWH did something no mathematician can do. The LORD divided nothing by zero and got one. He pressed the omega button and created one from empty set.

So God created length. That length of one was infinitesimal by our understanding. Call it the "Planck length," LP. It amounts to 0.0000000000000000000000000000000016 meters. We abbreviate it as 1.6 x 10-33, which is 1/100,000,000,000,000,000,000th the size of a proton.

3. In that very same moment, GOD said, "Let there be interaction," which allowed not only for two, but for three, four, and all the numbers. He created the possibility for addition and subtraction. He created multiplication and division, which are forms of addition and subtraction. He created exponents and roots, which are forms of multiplication and division. All of math came into existence in that moment, including exotic numbers like e and i and π.

God dictated that these interactions would take place in units. You cannot divide space infinitely. You cannot divide anything infinitely. Space reduces finally to small units of Planck length, and the interactions between things reduce to Planck "packets" of interaction. Light interacts in packets. Space interacts in packets. Gravity interacts in packets.

The key to these packets is another fundamental number. Call it the "Planck constant," h. It is the fundamental unit of information exchange between the smallest units of reality. It is the unit for a quantum of action. It is, by one reckoning, 6.6 x 10-34 Joule-seconds, where a joule is a unit of work.

4. In that very same moment, GOD said, "Let there be the speed of light," c. That is to say, YHWH set a limit to the rate of interaction between things. "Let space contract as necessary for the speed of light to be the same in any framework. Let the past and the future be constrained by the time it takes for light to get from one place to another."

And the LORD saw the Planck length, and the Planck constant, and the speed of light, the three fundamental constants of the structure of the universe. God saw that it was good.

In that first moment, time itself did not quite exist. What we call time comes from the rate at which things interact and change, governed mostly by the speed limit of light. However, Time as we know it did not yet exist. Time as we know it only comes to exist when things become irreversible. We can only speak definitively of the future when we cannot go back to the past.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Wesleyans Among the Protestants 1

October 31 marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I'm celebrating it in three ways on this blog:
  • The IWU Monday reading group will be going through Alister McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea, which gives a sketch of the Protestant Reformation.
  • I plan to read through the Book of Concord, which is a comprehensive collection of Lutheran confessions.
  • I plan to blog on Sunday's an engagement with the Reformation from my Wesleyan perspective (not the Wesleyan Church's perspective, but a Wesleyan perspective). This post begins this third goal.
1. A tradition is like a family. Not everyone in the family looks exactly alike. Over time, with intermarriage with other families, new features emerge that do not look at all like our ancestors. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren have minds of their own. Sometimes things that were very important to us are discarded without a thought by our descendants.

In that sense, the Wesleyan tradition--or any tradition--is not bound by John Wesley. Certainly if some Wesleyan group were to diverge so far from Wesley that it held none of his characteristic beliefs or practices in common with him, we could wonder why they still used the name. Nevertheless, it would still be their right, for what a word means today is a matter of what it means today--not what it meant two hundred and fifty years ago.

The American branch of Wesleyanism has inevitably been affected dramatically by its context. America was Frontier country and Baptist country. Even the United Methodist church, which officially still baptizes infants and holds more closely to John Wesley's theology, has many a Methodist Baptist in its pews. In the democratic spirit of America, many people freely move from church to church, providing a good cross-fertilization of tradition.

2. So what is the Wesleyan tradition? What is distinctive about it over and against other traditions? We should keep in mind the possibility that over time what was once unique has disappeared. We should also keep in mind that, if we are truly Protestants, we are certainly free to reinvent ourselves in accordance to what we believe is truest to Scripture. Some Protestants have taken the protest further, feeling free to reinvent themselves in accordance to what they believe is true.

It may very well be that, for some, what makes them Wesleyan is primarily historical. That is to say, if you trace the story of an organization back in time, it goes back in some way to John Wesley. Others may come from the outside yet discover something about the beliefs and practices of the man that they find attractive. They may feel enough of an affinity for the tradition that they feel that the label fits.

Again, that tradition is living. It is not merely about the man himself. It is about the Methodists and Wesleyans and Nazarenes and Free Methodists and scores of other little groups that have related in some way to the family. My friend Keith Drury likes to say that The Wesleyan Church is something more like the great grandchild of the man than the child or even grandchild.

So one is either Wesleyan historically or ideologically in some way. We will leave it at that for now.

3. Wesley was a Protestant. He was a Protestant in two ways. He was a Protestant historically. He was a Protestant because he was an Anglican of the eighteenth century, and the Anglican Church of the 1700s was Protestant.

We will discuss soon enough the idea that the Anglican Church was a "via media" or "middle way" between Roman Catholicism and what I call the "high" Protestantism of Luther and Calvin. For example, the Wesleyan tradition is not bound to the same understanding of the "solas" that Lutherans and the Reformed have (i.e., grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, glory to God alone). The Anglican Church was born on a different path, one that retained more of catholicism than the Lutherans and Calvinists did.

Wesley was also a Protestant ultimately because he rejected the Catholic church of his day. [1] He called himself a "man of one book," and implicitly took his side with Luther on that issue. [2] Nevertheless, to America's Baptistified version of Wesleyanism today, much of his thinking will seem quite catholic to some.

4. It is often said that Wesley was an eclectic thinker. I personally like to think of this trait as a family characteristic. I believe that Wesleyan thought can be systematized, but its flavor is more focused on practice than theology. Wesley is often considered to be one of the original "evangelicals" in both his focus on evangelism and social justice.

So Wesley's thinking was a mixture. The recipe started with a common catholic foundation as filtered through Anglicanism. Then there was Luther's idea of justification by faith filtered through his Pietist encounters. Then there was Calvin--a lot of Calvin--but with an Arminian twist. Finally, there was England and the rise of the Enlightenment. There was individualism. There was the worth of the everyday individual.

This was the making of Wesleyan theology.

Next Week: The Anglican Via Media

[1] He could be quite vitriolic in relation to the Pope of his day.

[2] In the Preface to Wesley's sermons. However, given that this expression may go back to Aquinas, it counts less for Wesley's Protestantism than one might think at first.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Quantum Physics, Cosmology, and God

David Higle and I were exchanging emails about sources on quantum physics and theology. He already knew everything I thought of, especially Polkinghorne's Quantum Physics and Theology. I'm on a slow train pursuing these things, but thought I would give a snapshot of musings.

1. Big Bang
Contrary to some rhetoric, I've long thought that the idea of a Big Bang plays right into Christian theology. Why? Because it suggests a beginning of sorts to the universe. If the universe had a beginning, then we can ask why it began. In other words, the Big Bang seems to play right into the cosmological argument for the existence of God.

The current theory is:
  • The universe had a beginning--matter is not being eternally created somewhere (steady-state theory).
  • It does not have enough mass to re-collapse, meaning it probably has not been banging in some eternal cycle (oscillating big bang).
  • That suggests a beginning, which leads us to ask, "Why?" "What caused it?"
Cosmological theory has developed significantly over the last couple decades, but I think it still more or less amounts to the same thing. At 10-43 seconds, all the universe was in a ball the size of 1.6 x 10-33 meters. In the next moment, it expanded astronomically to something much closer to its current size.

2. Quantum Uncertainty
In the 1600s, Newton reinforced a deterministic universe, where all the future could be predicted as the simple playing out of laws and objects in motion. It fit well with the theology of Calvin and Hobbes.

The quantum world is not a deterministic world. It is an indeterministic world. That is to say, you cannot predict the future at all on an individual scale. All you can predict are the averages. There are still some who think there may be "hidden variables" that would return us to determinism, but most do not agree.

This suggests that the universe on some level has a mind of its own. There is an unpredictability to the universe. You cannot predict what I will do (I can't either) because there is a fundamental uncertainty at the bottom of everything. It is not exactly free will as we once might have thought of it, but it is similar.

3. Quantum entanglement
Certain particles are entangled with each other after they part. They may be on opposite sides of the universe but if you know what the one is doing then you know what the other is. I'm not sure what the implications are for us. I once tweeted that God has been quantumly entangled with the whole universe since the creation, implying that he knows everything and is connected to everything. But is was really more of a poetic thought than something that actually makes sense. :-)

4. Time
It is not clear what time is. Each frame of reference has a certain internal clock of sorts, meaning that "time" moves at different rates for different things. From one perspective, time is merely the rate at which things change, with light as the ultimate speed limit.

Time is a puzzle on the quantum level. In one respect, there is no real difference between past and future on the quantum level. All processes are reversible.

On the macro-scale, entropy is what really tells time. The loss of heat in disorder seems to be the only truly irreversible aspect to this universe. It tells time.

What does this say about God? It does suggest that entropy is not a consequence of the Fall. There would be no past or future without it.

It doesn't help us figure out God's knowledge of the future. How do we know how God knows what he knows? He was "outside" the universe "before." Who knows what that means for during and after?

That's it. My attempt for today...

A New School Year at IWU

1. Another year is beginning at IWU. In July they took the word "interim" off my title, so I am the Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) this year.

It's a little confusing for those who knew me as dean of the seminary. The seminary of course is graduate level and mostly "older" adult students. STM is mostly undergraduate students, 18-22 year olds.

We have a great team and great students on the residential campus. It's a great campus if you've never been. I've always said that if we can get a prospective student or faculty member to campus, it will be hard for them not to come. You can see from my bad picture most of the faculty of STM dressed up for a social we do for the new students every year.

Why send your kids to IWU? Why come to IWU yourself? Of course it's a great education. That goes without saying. We have one of the leading worship professors in the world (Constance Cherry). We have brilliant minds in practical theology (Dave Ward, Amanda Drury). We have incredibly experienced practitioners in youth, children's, and local church ministry (Charlie Alcock, David Vardaman, Keith Springer, Eddy Shigley). We have Jim Lo and Norm Wilson for global and intercultural studies. Theology (Jonathan Morgan), Bible (Abson Joseph, Elaine Bernius, Brian Bernius, Ken Schenck), Church History (Miranda Cruz), Philosophy (Scott Burson, Steve Horst), Counseling (Judy Crossman). And we have two rising scholars as teaching fellows (Kayla Murphy-Crouso and G. B. McClanahan).

2. So there is the educational piece. There is an experiential piece. There are lots of opportunities to do ministry and to try out your wings in an internship. In fact, the KERN program gets a high school student to MDIV equivalency in 5 years, leaving them with a heavily scholarshiped master's degree at the end at less cost than a straightforward undergraduate degree. The final year is at a church. We're finishing up an agreement with Mick Veach in Detroit for students to do a semester internship in an urban context. We've worked hard to make it possible for all our students to graduate in 3 years, chopping off over $10,000.

STM Retreat Worship, with Wesley Seminary
Picture courtesy of Jim Lo
3. STM has always been a fun place to make your college memories. There are other options today. You can get an online degree. You can go to a community college. But you won't have the memories of college. You won't have the intensity of the friendships. I'm a big fan of online education as an option.

But you can't replace the overall experience of going to college as an 18 year old. You can achieve the individual learning outcomes, yes. But the overall Gestalt--you 'll never get it online. For some it's a worth-while trade-off for the convenience. Personally, I'm glad I spent those years in a living community, going for runs with friends, eating together, going out on dates, hiking, staying up all night together. Perhaps more importantly, I had my first faith crisis in a community of faith, not alone on my own.

I wish I could become an 18 year old and do it all again.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Philosophy Online for High School/Non-IWU Students

We still have room for about five more philosophy students in Scott Burson's online course this fall, which begins September 5. That gives about a week to sign up.

This class is aimed at non-IWU students including:
  • high school seniors
  • students at secular colleges
  • ministers working on ordination requirements
At only $150 a credit hour (a 3 credit hour course), the cost can't be beat. And it gives you a chance to check off that college philosophy requirement in a Christian, faith-filled context. If you like apologetics, you'll love Dr. Burson's course.

There are two textbooks:
  • Kenneth Schenck's Christian Philosophical Journey 
  • James Sire's The Universe Next Door
Both are available through Tree of Life Bookstores and I've seen the first one on Kindle for less than 10 dollars.

Follow the links or contact me in the comments below.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Is Evangelicalism Dead?

Yesterday David Drury pronounced the death of the evangelical movement. However, the goal of his prophetic piece was not to bury it. His was a call to repentance. It was a hope for resurrection. The movement appears dead, he said, but might God revive it if we repent and turn?

1. My thoughts today are not so noble. My goal is clarity and perspective.

I've written quite often on what are called "word fallacies." These are common fallacies you hear from the pulpit on the meaning of words. They include things like:
  • The etymological fallacy - the idea that the history of a word or the parts of a word tell you what it means.
  • The lexical fallacy - the idea that there is some core meaning to a word that is in play every time the word is used.
  • The overload fallacy - taking the ideas associated with a word in several passages and shoving them into every instance that word is used
Interestingly, these "meaning fallacies" are just as true for the identity and significance of a movement in history as they are for an individual word in a text. As it applies to evangelicalism:
  • You cannot assume that what evangelicalism was in the past is what it will be in the future or is in the present. You may have some continuity of language or group, but that does not guarantee continuity of purpose, identity, or emphasis. (etymological fallacy)
  • You cannot assume that there will be some common core identity that is true of every evangelical. You cannot be sure that there is some "essence of evangelical" that plays itself out every time you find a group calling itself evangelical. (lexical fallacy).
  • Similarly, you can't take the emphases of evangelicals at various periods in their contexts and say they apply every time you see an evangelical.
Suffice it to say, these fallacious ways of thinking about meaning are alive and well in the analysis of evangelicalism. [1] That is not to say that there are not continuities in identity. It is to say that:
  • There may be significant discontinuities in identity in the history of evangelicalism
  • Evangelicalism is a family, and not all members of the family have all the same characteristics. Families have a pool of characteristics features, but no one family member has all of them. [2]
  • We cannot necessarily claim to be what the evangelicals of the past were just because we are called by the same name today. [3]
2. So when it comes to David Bebbington's four-fold characterization of evangelicalism, we have to beware that we do not try to shove everyone called an evangelical into the same exact box. He suggested that the identity of an evangelical throughout the last three centuries has been typified by:
  • biblicism - the centrality of the Bible
  • crucicentrism - the centrality of the cross
  • conversionism - the importance of conversion
  • activism - the eagerness to be "up and doing" 
Historically, there may be a continuity of group without a precise continuity of formula or emphases. You cannot say, "One of these is missing, you are not an evangelical" or "You're not like Billy Graham or Jonathan Edwards or Charles Finney; therefore, you're not doing evangelicalism right."

In fact, it seems not a little dangerous to me that John Wesley did not think of himself as an evangelical. It is our label. The German word evangelisch basically means Protestant, which is far broader than what we mean by the word evangelical. What an evangelical is today is a function of what people today are calling evangelical, and that is the meaning of the word today, not what it meant in the past.

The inherited pronunciation of my last name is "skank," even though it is spelled Schenck. These days I often go by a German pronunciation, "shank." [4] Why? Because somewhere around the late 90s the word "skank" came to mean a disreputable woman. Where that came from I have no idea, but that is in fact a meaning for the word now.

In the same way, what an evangelical is today is not determined by what an evangelical was fifty or a hundred or two hundred years ago. It is however we as a society use the term today. That's that. There will likely be continuities, but they are not necessary or determinative.

3. In the remainder of this post I want to point out some key shifts in how Bebbington's four characteristics are currently playing themselves out. There is some continuity in the groups he calls evangelical, but the Devil is always in the details.

I will start with conversion, for the seeds of what we are calling evangelicalism start here. That seed is the shift toward individualism that took place in the 1600s and 1700s in Western Europe. This is the age of democracy's rise. This is the age of free will's rise. This is the age of the Enlightenment's rise.

With such a paradigm shift, it is no surprise that we would see a rise in the doctrine of believer's baptism over infant baptism. You are an individual. You must decide. The doctrine of justification by faith is at the core of the evangelisch split from Catholicism, and it has the individual written all over it.

4. Certainly we can find a thread of active evangelization from Wesley to Finney to Graham. This has often been the key manifestation of the activism that Bebbington speaks of. But there have been other forms of activism as well. John Wesley was very involved with social causes, such as the plight of the coal miner.

Donald Dayton famously wrote about the "evangelical heritage" of nineteenth century holiness groups that would be considered socially liberal today. Abolitionist groups and women's rights groups of the 1800s were far more the heirs to the so called evangelicalism of the 1700s than the stodgy Princeton Calvinists who opposed abolition.

In the twentieth century, the social justice aspects to the good news were divorced from its salvation aspects. "High evangelicalism" in the late 1900s generally rejected social activism. [5] There was always the Jim Wallis strand, but it was not how most people used the word evangelical in the late 1900s. So is Jim Wallis an evangelical or not? It depends on who you are asking. Some groups define evangelical in a way that includes him. Others don't. The meaning of a word is in how it is used by a group of people.

At the moment, an evangelical is primarily defined by political conservatism and fundamentalist ideology. In most circles, that is what the word means. You can pout. You can say it shouldn't be so. You can try to give a history lesson. But if that is the way a society is using a word, that's what the word means in that society. Period.

So evangelical activism at present is primarily about being against abortion and against gay marriage along with a host of civil religious accouterments like being for state's rights and being pro-NRA and being a fiscal conservative. Of course we cannot expect every evangelical to believe all the same things. But these are the central associations right now.

If you think of the emphases of evangelicalism as a word cloud. Sometimes one word is bigger than the other at various times. Right now, the word ACTIVISM is the biggest word in the meaning of evangelicalism, and it is activism of a civil religious sort. It remains to be seen whether the word can be effectively redirected. I personally doubt it for the near future. Those who do not want to be identified in this way should stop self-identifying with the word for now.

5. In the early days of "evangelicalism," the Bible certainly played a central role. This is another evangelisch inheritance. After rejecting the Church as the organizing principle of Christian faith, something needed to take its place, and the Bible was the ticket.

However, it was pre-modern interpretation of the Bible. Lacking a full historical consciousness, interpreters danced with the text, bringing the definitions in their head, full of unexamined culture and traditions, and the myriad theologies of Protestantism were born. The Bible was their one book, except that its meaning had everything to do with the dictionaries in their heads.

This was of course an opportunity for the Holy Spirit too. God met them where they were. God molded generations as preachers danced with the texts.

Enter German criticism and historical consciousness in the late 1800s. People had not read the Bible like they would read other books. Without knowing it, they just used a different paradigm when reading it. It is quite shocking when you start to read the Bible in its literary and historical context. The principles are so simple in some ways because it is how you read other books.

But you don't realize you read the Bible differently. You don't use common inductive sense when you are a pre-modern reader of the Bible. Suddenly contextual meanings become obvious. How could I have missed it? It was standing right in front of me!

6. Danger! Danger! It is one thing to fend off an attack from without. But what happens when scholars start telling you that the alleged source of your identity, the Bible, doesn't mean what you think it means?

And there were new ideas rising in the culture, ones that took you off guard. There is the rise of evolution. There had been a fairly friendly relationship between science and faith for a couple hundred years. Although some tried to accommodate evolution into their faith at first, others found it a hostile force, especially when social Darwinism came into play. Social Darwinism is the idea that some people are just more evolved than others and so deserve to be privileged.

The result is that the character of "biblicism" within evangelicalism changed from what it had been. Biblicism was now a protectionist move. Rather than the Bible serving as a generator of theology and practice, it often would now become the wall that stands against the evil forces at work in the culture. Fundamentalism is born.

The neo-evangelicals who rose in the late 1940s, the true parents of evangelicals today, liked to distinguish themselves from "uneducated" fundamentalists. Mark Noll calls holiness folk, Pentecostals, and dispensationalists, "fundamentalists." But the real fundamentalists are those in the twentieth century and beyond who have been fighting back against the forces of modernism--often doing so using the tools of modernism. Evangelicalism might have been a little more couth in the mid-twentieth century, but it stands in this same strain.

Jerry Fallwell effectively took over evangelicalism in the late twentieth century, intensifying its fundamentalist character. One of the primary functions of the Bible in evangelicalism has thus been as a bulwark against higher criticism, developments in science, and progressivism in politics. The Bible becomes a banner-head rather than a generative source of spiritual transformation.

High evangelicalism absorbed the inductive scientific method of modernism but then told it where it was allowed to go. [6] At present, though, post-modernism opened the door for a return to out of context reading. Only the old school evangelicals still worry about inductive Bible study. Theological interpretation is the new norm, a green light to read the Bible in the light of your theology rather than reading it historically. [7]

It is significant to realize that, typically, concepts like "inerrancy" are not really used to defend the real Bible, not really. They are used to defend against culture and, sometimes, against the Holy Spirit. The first ones to use the word inerrancy in the 1800s were anti-abolitionists. The concept was used to try to hold abolitionists to the fire of verses like Colossians 3:22. At present, some would try to use the concept to keep women from pursuing their call to ministry.

In short, the use of the Bible is quite different in contemporary evangelicalism than it was for John Wesley in the 1700s.

7. So we finally come to the cross. In my opinion, this is the least significant of the four characteristics as a defining feature. In practice, what we are looking at here manifests itself presently in an emphasis on penal substitution. In my own circles, it is hardly a point of discussion.

Penal substitution is not just the idea that Jesus took my place on the cross, not just that he absorbed the penalty of sin, but that he absorbed my individual penalty for sin. This is often conceived in a somewhat quantitative sense. If you could calculate the precise amount of my sin and add it up, Jesus was punished that exact amount.

What we are looking at here is a strand of Western Christianity that finds a certain high mark in Anselm (1033-1109) and the Roman Catholic tradition. John Calvin is in continuity with it despite the fact that he is a Protestant. And John Wesley believed in it too. It is a part of his theology that made him a "hair's breadth" from Calvinism.

The Wesleyan tradition currently sits somewhat loosely to this tradition. That doesn't mean that we are or are not evangelical. It just means that not everyone in the family has a long nose but they are still in the family... if they are.

8. Is evangelicalism dead? As long as there are people calling themselves evangelicals, as long as there are people being called evangelicals, then evangelicalism isn't dead. It just may not look like the people who were called evangelicals at some earlier point.

[1] The propaganda of Dinesh D'Sousa is rife with this fallacious thinking as well. He finds characteristics of Democrats and Republicans in the past and then insists that is what they are in the present. So while he may be correct about many aspects of Democratic thinking in the 1800s and early 1900s, the parties largely switched sides on matters relating to race in the mid-twentieth century--especially in the South.

[2] Some will recognize my allusion to Wittgenstein.

[3] Again, this is true of the holiness movement or Wesleyans or any group. Historically speaking, the holiness movement of the late 1800s and 1900s took on quite a different flavor than Wesley, especially due to the influence of a woman named Phoebe Palmer. The character of the movement changed, despite some areas of continuity. In itself, that is neither bad nor good. It is simply a question of meaning and who we want to be. We can "get back" to Wesley if we want, or we can stay "Phoebe Palmer," or, as I prefer, we can move forward taking the best of both, "constructing" an appropriate identity for today.

[4] My name is actually Dutch.

[5] The roots here are historical as well. Mainline churches in the early 1900s were often typified by what is called the "social gospel." This approach basically reduced the gospel to helping other people, an ethic, while rejecting or at least sitting loosely to doctrines like the divinity of Christ or the need for atonement.

Since we often define ourselves by our opposition to other groups, what would become evangelicalism became polarized against social causes. "If they are for it, we are against it." So we ended up with two halves instead of a whole. Of course the Wesleyan tradition never completely followed high evangelicalism in this area.

[6] By "high evangelicalism," I refer to the "neo-evangelical" hegemony launched in the late 1940s by individuals like Harold Ockenga, C. F. H. Henry, Billy Graham, and others. This is the era of the founding of Fuller Theological Seminary and Christianity Today. See The Apostles of Reason. It's power base consists as a collection of academic institutions and publishers.

[7] These two are often conflated. "I am reading the Bible through the lens of my theology but this is what it meant historically."

Monday, August 21, 2017

"The Eclipse of Evangelicalism" by David Drury

David Drury has written a prophetic piece about the state of the evangelical movement. I copy it here.
The Eclipse of Evangelicalism
Repentance Upon the Death of a Movement

As of this day, August 21, 2017, I believe that the evangelical movement is dead. At least, it appears to be dead. As a movement, evangelicalism is no longer effective in its original aims in the West. The movement has shirked its persistent values, and has quit practicing the core convictions that made it relevant and necessary. Even if evangelicals still claim to believe the core values, they do not practice them. Evangelicalism still exists as a category of people today—but it no longer is an actual movement in the kingdom of God.

Today Americans gather to watch one of the most unique sights the skies produce: a total eclipse. The moon is passing directly between the earth and the sun, blocking its rays, but for a corona of subtle light exuding from the dark circle, a faint reminder that the sun is still there, obscured for a time. Visible from coast to coast, the eclipse shown on a map looks like an arcing brush stroke swept from Oregon to South Carolina. The last time the sun was eclipsed like this (what they call a “totality”) in America was June 8, 1918. Much has changed in the 99 years since the last total eclipse, particularly for evangelicals.

In the last century, but particularly in the last decade or two, the core of what it means to be evangelical has been eclipsed by other priorities. The shining truths have been obscured by other moons, which have come between evangelicals and their core identity. In the process of this eclipse, a darkness has come across the land of evangelicalism, and even though it happened slowly, it has happened surely to this day, where a near totality has been reached.

Evangelicalism has a long history that can be told in a variety of ways. Finding its source in revivals and awakenings as well as Methodism and pietism. Whitefield and Wesley, Ockenga and Graham, Finney and Stott, Edwards and von Zinzendorf: they all could be seen, in their own way, as founders from different eras of the evangelical movement. Most agree that evangelicalism, as a movement, reflected a core set of values, which were:
  1. Conversion-oriented 
  2. Bible-following 
  3. Cross-focused 
  4. Culture-transforming 
These are the classic four core values affirmed by many in evangelicalism, including the National Association of Evangelicals. Let’s examine each of these characteristics of evangelicalism and how they have been eclipsed:

Evangelicals not only believed but behaved in a way that being “born-again by the transforming work of Jesus Christ” was critical. They shared their love of Christ to others and people “came to Jesus.” Was it messy? Yes. Did it all add up like a theology text-book? No. But because of this passion for conversion millions entered into a life-long process of following Jesus in fits and starts. This meant that disciples were called out to “follow me” and enter discipleship.

Today the conversion-oriented activity of evangelicals has now been eclipsed by the love of entertainment.

More than merely Bible-believing, evangelicals were a Bible-living sort of people. They followed the Bible and obeyed its teachings. They gave scripture a higher authority over any other source. Some might have valued reason, tradition, and experience, but even those critical elements were subject to the witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ found in the Bible. The pietistic, revivalist, and holiness streams of evangelicalism ensured that the people called evangelical were not just evangelistic, but also discipled to live differently by obedience to this gospel.

Today the Bible-following lifestyle of evangelicals has been eclipsed by the love of self.

Core to being an evangelical was a cross-focused way of life. The evangelical was living by the mantra: Christ has done it on the cross. The evangelical was all about the forgiveness attainable by the sacrifice of the perfect God-man on the cross, making possible the redemption of all humanity. Evangelicalism believed in the incarnation, the teaching of Jesus, the miracles, the resurrection, and the ascension, and return of Christ—but central to it all was the crucifixion as the event and doorway into the rest of its three values. This brought the movement a potency and clarity in focus where all things began and ended with Jesus.

Today the cross-focused nature of evangelicals has been eclipsed by the love of power.

Evangelicalism was missionary and activist in an inter-dependent manner. Evangelicals cared about the souls living down the street and around the world, so they sought to share the gospel with them in innovative ways, and advocated for changes in the economy and government in a way that would help those who were voiceless or oppressed. Abolitionists, suffragists, and pro-lifers all found a home in this paradigm. To a lesser extent, the civil rights movement found a home in this paradigm as well (although largely in the Black Evangelical church, more on that later). They all sought to see people come to Christ worldwide and to, as a result, transform entire societies as the holy witness of Jesus spread across the land.

Today the culture-transforming mission of evangelicals has been eclipsed by the love of money.

You might see the a theme evident in the phrasing above, but one of the things that has had a frog-in-the-kettle effect for this change in evangelicalism is that long ago we stopped actively measuring the actual activity attached to these values, and instead merely treated them as beliefs one would check off like a creed. Evangelicals were decidedly not a creed-oriented people, so this is out of character, but these four values became something to help us discover the answer to the question: “who is an evangelical?”

Surveys began to ask questions discerning how much someone believed statements like: “the Bible is the highest authority for what I believe,” or: “only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.” It is quite difficult to measure the actual behavior of people, and easier to do a survey of what they say they believe. Further, it may be important for younger readers who have come of age during a partial eclipse of evangelicalism, that evangelicals of days gone by didn’t just say they believed these things, they actually lived differently than their non-evangelical neighbors because of them.

Some have attempted to redefine evangelicals or categorize them to make a distinction for those who actually go to church, or engage in other practices. These attempts are noble, but have for the most part shown disappointing trends all the same.

I say “we” in the next sections because I am part of the problem I will outline. I repent of each of these choices, for I have my part in them, particularly since I am a leader in a denomination, and have responsibility for not only my own actions but for the behavior of my people. I am convicted in each of these areas, and write them through tears, grieving for the eclipse of one of the most important and Christ-honoring movements in the history of Christianity.

The Eclipse of Conversion by Entertainment
We choose entertainment over evangelism every day of our lives. We evangelicals care more deeply about the characters on our favorite Netflix show than the neighbors in the homes next to us. We value news as entertaining commentary and conflict more than the world full of those who need Jesus. We choose to value attendance at our churches far more than conversions in our services, much less in our conversations. We have even ceded the worship of God over to an entertainment-driven cycle, one where our Church teams and staffs are continually required to top what they did last week to continue to attract us and entertain us as the “audience.” Our churches accidentally become a part of the menu of Sunday entertainment choices the suburbs have before them, where people wonder: “should I exercise, watch news shows or football, sleep in, take the kids to soccer practice, mow the lawn, or go to Church today?” This is all propagated by an evangelical culture that chooses to feed off the entertaining rush that comes through mostly socio-political conflict with strangers, and even our friends, in comment sections and social media. We care little for the souls of these people we interact with—we demonstrate that we only care that our ideas win the argument, and that we look smarter than our opponents while doing so. We need lessons in civility at a 101 level, to say nothing for the lack of holiness displayed. We no longer love our enemies for the sake of the gospel, we don’t even build bridges our friends if they disagree with us. Evangelicals have “un-friended” the world in the process, as if the gospel of Jesus Christ and possible conversion of these acquaintances is worth nothing to us.

But, before I depress us overmuch, I need to say that I think we post-evangelicals know deep down that conversion of the lost is more important than all the entertainment of this world. Everything will change when we engage more devoutly in our own converted discipleship journey—updating the simple, millennia-old practices of our faith, by meeting as handfuls of believers in living rooms and coffee shops, reading the Bible and praying for each other, interceding over names of lost people, and serving together in our communities. We must repent of our idolization of comfort over conversion, knowing that only Jesus saves us.

Regardless of what others do, I commit to conversion-orientation, because it starts with me, or my vibrant faith dies along with evangelicalism. I repent that I have allowed entertainment to eclipse the importance of conversion, and will make concrete steps before the end of the year to engage with fresh focus in this area, and reject the idolatry of entertainment and comfort which evangelicalism has embraced.

I will…
  • Pray for the lost
  • Share my faith
  • Eliminate excessive entertainment and consumption
  • Engage in uncomfortable conversations
  • Converse with civility and redemption in mind online and in person 
The Eclipse of the Bible by Self
We choose ourselves over the core convictions of the Bible routinely, so we are bereft of anything resembling the fruit of the Spirit. It has gotten so bad that mainline liberals who we think don’t even believe in the authority of scripture in their lives are better at actually obeying most of the commands of Jesus than we are. This is a profound indictment for us who purportedly have the blood of Jesus covering our sin. Jesus has called out a holy people, a royal priesthood of all believers, and instead we choose whatever our own selfish desires want. Instead of contextualizing the gospel, we rationalize our behavior. We think less of what the world needs to next hear, or what the gospel claims for our actions, and we think more of what backs up our actions in scripture. When we are challenged by anyone we do a google search of scriptures that might somehow be negotiated into backing up our behavior, rather than engaging in the word in such a way that it actually challenges us and our obedience to it any longer. We attack the world primarily over matters of sex, while being no more holy than we were a decade ago ourselves. We are stuck in our sins and believe in the authority of the Bible only in as much as it gives us the authority of self-expression of our evangelical political concepts over others. We don’t actually give the Bible authority over our own daily walk, we use it as a pseudo-authority over others, thus turning the living word of God into an idolatry of selfish aims.

But, I think we post-evangelicals know deep down that the Word of God is more important than any one of us in this world. If we return to the beautiful life-giving way of scripture-living people the movement may rebirth in us. If our neighbors see us actually living differently than them, instead of just putting a different political sign in our yards than them, we will have begun to change this trend. May we repent of our sins and go back to Scripture in our quiet moments each week, worshipping God in our every step, confessing and repenting when we err, and becoming a people that are admired for our devotion to living as Christ taught, rather than as hypocrites who always point out the sins of others, never taking care to confess our own.

Regardless of what others do, I commit to Bible-following, because it starts with me, or my vibrant faith dies along with evangelicalism. I repent that I have allowed authority of the self to eclipse the authority of the Bible, and will make concrete steps before the end of the year to engage with fresh focus in this area, and reject the idolatry of self which evangelicalism has embraced.

I will…
  • Read my Bible in a way that it convicts me about my behavior and attitude
  • Allow others to truly keep me accountable to live in a holy way
  • Live with conviction under the authority of Scripture
  • Eliminate hypocrisy from my life
  • Selflessly admit I could be wrong 
The Eclipse of the Cross by Power
We choose the power of the world over the power of the cross, preferring to chase the halls of power in Washington D.C. through political machinations rather than to rely on the work of Jesu Christ. We would prefer to put a picture of ourselves with our favorite politician on our wall than the cross of Jesus Christ. We leaders point to our likes and shares and platform, all symbols of our powerful status, rather than point to the cross of Jesus, boasting only in him. We would rather invite a politician into our pulpit, literally between the congregation and the cross in our buildings, to curry favor and let fame rub off on us than to call people to the forgiveness of Jesus Christ at the cross. All too often this power we desire has actually had overtones of white power with a strident denial of any white privilege. We have allowed those with vaguely white supremacist views to not only take refuge in our churches and go unchallenged from the pulpit, but also to allow a neo-supremacist view of race to cultivate even among our educated and influential leaders. As this has happened, the idea of a Black Evangelical and a White Evangelical has become even more distinct, and the already deep divisions and darkest days of evangelical separatism have re-emerged, threatening the unity that God commanded of us in a more direct way than at any time since the Civil Rights era, when we likewise largely failed at the challenge set before us by God. Some have hoped that revival would come and then magically end our problems of race, providing unity. It could be that God is waiting upon our true repentance from the lust for power and the subtly supportive practices of racism to allow revival to come. We may have his priorities out of order, since confession often precedes and sparks revival, rather than coming after it.

But, I think we post-evangelicals know deep down that the cross is more powerful than the powers of this world. If we begin to see how the Holy Spirit might bring us together, across race and ethnicity, and to truly listen to the concerns of our brothers and sisters of color, we can reverse this trend. If we repent of our chasing after the power of the world, and begin to chase after the power of God, we will find a greater statesmanship, and a credibility to actually speak into the public square that we have somewhere along the way lost. When we think of our identity, we can regain a sense of movement only by pointing to the cross of Christ, by pointing to the party of the lamb, rather than advocating for the party of the donkey or the elephant, chasing after the permanent power of heaven, rather than temporary power of this earth.

Regardless of what others do, I commit to cross-focus because it starts with me, or my vibrant faith dies along with evangelicalism. I repent that I have allowed power to eclipse the cross of Christ, and will make concrete steps before the end of the year to engage with fresh focus in this area, and reject the idolatry of power which evangelicalism has embraced.

I will…
  • Fix my eyes on Jesus and his cross
  • Ask others to question ways in which I seek power
  • Eliminate partisanship from my faith convictions, demoting party affiliation to a preference
  • Ask open ended questions of people of color, receiving and follow their counsel
  • Doing the hard work of reconciliation that actually costs me something more than words
The Eclipse of Transformation by Money
We choose money over missions and over the transformation of cultures and societies. We calculate the cost of every move so we never say anything that might too sharply challenge anyone, we have ceded the prophetic high ground of biblical justice in our churches to ensure the steady flow of resources to make sure we meet budget and build buildings. We have lost the urgency to send anyone to reach the billions and billions who are lost worldwide, and evangelicalism is no longer the mission sending movement it was designed to be. Evangelicals from the global south now send droves of missionaries to North America to reach those we miss in our back yard, and nine other countries now send a higher percentage of their members as missionaries than we do. Church boards act more like money managers of missionary funds than the classical evangelicals who gathered in days gone by, shedding tears, praying prayers, and paying the way for those to reach entire countries dying without Christ. They sent their own sons and daughters for the cause, while we obsess about a rate of return on our investment like bankers instead of believers. Likewise, we care not for the actual transformation of our neighborhoods and cities at home. Evangelicals largely see immigrants and refugees as only a threat to our fiscal security, rather than people that we might reach for the sake of the gospel, or when they are Christians (as is often the case) seeing them as partners we can learn from and work with. This erosion of transformative motive has made tapping into the xenophobia of evangelicals a sure-fire election issue for politicians. We choose where to live and where to have our children educated with only a concern for our financial well-being and protection. Propagating our financial security and growth is the unspoken but constant aim of our decisions, and we cannot transform the souls and systems of society when the goal is our own greed.

But, I think we post-evangelicals know deep down that the transformation of our culture is more valuable than all the money in this world. We can restore what we once were by fostering a zeal for the world’s salvation, a sense of loving the whole world like our Father does, sending his own Son to save it and offer his transformative way of life to all. We can regain what God wants for us if we look at our culture as a whole, and find cross-cultural ways to bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven, whether that means a loving connection to the immigrant new to our neighborhood, or the lost land in another hemisphere that needs us to rekindle the fires of missionary impulse.

Regardless of what others do, I commit to this kind of missionary culture-transformation, because it starts with me, or my vibrant faith dies along with evangelicalism. I repent that I have allowed money to eclipse the transformation of culture, and will make concrete steps before the end of the year to engage with fresh focus in this area, and reject the idolatry of money which evangelicalism has embraced.

I will…
  • Live on dramatically less and spend more wisely
  • Give a greater amount of my income to supporting missionaries 
  • Pray for worldwide evangelism daily
  • Consider which areas of systemic injustice require my sacrificial investment
  • Eliminate ways I contribute to injustice and risks my white privilege to defend the oppressed
Four out of Five White Evangelicals
Now we need to talk about the elephant in the room. Much has been made of the data showing that White Evangelicals in the US voted for Donald Trump at a rate of 4 out of 5. You may not like me bringing this up in the context of this treatise which is more about the state of the church and theological matters, but like or not, as evangelicalism reaches total eclipse, it comes at a moment when we are associated quite directly with the President we largely helped achieve power. It is notable that many prominent evangelicals were silent about politics in the past few years, but many supported and continue to support Trump vocally. As a full disclosure on my part, two of the most notable public evangelical detractors of Trump include two great leaders I worked for directly in the last decade, Jo Anne Lyon and Max Lucado.

So as we consider evangelical identity in its age of eclipse it is pertinent to ask ourselves: is Trump an evangelical? I am tempted to say no, based on the above classical components of evangelical belief and life, Trump is not a classic evangelical. However, he may in fact roughly match the reality of evangelicalism in eclipse. He juggles these four factors like a court jester of Washington DC, giving little if any respect or attention to the values evangelicals have said they care about for hundreds of years.

He has experienced no personal conversion personally, claiming to have never even asked God for forgiveness and defending his faith as an entirely private matter, but he values entertainment over most anything, devoting most of his business life to it. Even those that cannot stand our president must admit that he is a highly entertaining sort. No one has ever accused the man of being boring. He is not Bible-following, in belief or practice, as is patently evident in his behavior and words. He is not cross-focused, never bringing to bear the concepts of redemption or the reconciling grace made possible by the death of Jesus on the cross. Nor is he culture-transforming, as his isolationist values make no room for the longstanding moral and Christian influence of our nation worldwide, something that evangelicals have perhaps even over-stated in the past, in their drive to be a witness to the world.

Some hoping to gain through his candidacy have written these things off as the beliefs and practices of a “baby Christian,” or a “man with flaws but a good heart.” I am not here to talk about politics. My aim is not to convince you to object to Trump as I and my mentors have, or to support him. Instead, my claim is that Donald Trump may in fact be a mirror to hold up to show evangelicals what they actually look like now. Whether you have a politically calculated toleration for Trump, or a revulsion to his policies and behavior, he is us, reflecting in the mirror all our lost glory as evangelicals.

Donald Trump is what we evangelicals already are, or at least are becoming. It explains why he is so supported among us. Even after a cavalcade of circus-like activity coming from the White House since his inauguration, he still retains his support. Why? Why not, I say, if he matches what we actual value. We love entertainment, ourselves, power, and money. Trump gives us those things. We need to admit it. We love these values even more than the Son of God they obscure behind them. We might fill out surveys and claim differently, but we don’t live that way.

Next Evangelicalism
In this treatise I have claimed that like the eclipse of the sun by the moon, evangelicalism has been eclipsed internally by other priorities and idolatry. Repentance is needed by we evangelicals, and a return to the core values that made evangelicalism purposeful for God in the first place. Evangelicalism was never perfect, but it was used by God, and perhaps this eclipse will pass if we each as individuals recommit to do our part to the core tenants that made evangelicalism work for Jesus. We may need to throw out the term. We may need to join a Christian identity that will emerge and be created by young people tomorrow that we cannot clearly see today. But whatever the case, may we again become those who value:
  1. Individual lives converted by Christ and made new… 
  2. The Bible as the true guide for actually living differently than we used to live… 
  3. The cross of Christ as the actual crux of history, which provides the only persistent power worth aligning ourselves with, and… 
  4. The missionary transformation of cultures and communities, found here and nearby, and in the hard and faraway places likewise.
May all this be made possible by the Him who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or even dream of, Jesus Christ.

David Drury is author of ten books, including God is for Real, Transforming Presence, Being Dad, and SoulShift. He serves at the chief of staff for The Wesleyan Church headquarters. The Eclipse of Evangelicalism may be re-published in any format provided these lines are included.
© 2017 by David Drury

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Seminary CM10: The Rise of the Nones

This is the tenth post on the Contexts of Ministry in my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom for the previous posts in this unit, "The Person and Contexts of a Minister." I have completed one other unit in this series, The Pastor as Leader.
In this stretch of the Contexts of Ministry series, we are exploring the historical and cultural context of American Christianity. Today we are looking at the state of the American church in relation to the rising demographic of the "nones," those in America with no religious affiliation.

1. From 1990 to 2014, the number of individuals who do not identify with any religion whatsoever has almost tripled in America. In 1990 the number was 8.1%. In 2014 the number was 22.8%. Here is the Pew Research Data from 2014.

Here is a paragraph from the study: "The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those large religious traditions has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population also has dipped, but at a slower rate, falling by about one percentage point since 2007."

The drop is strongest among Millennials. "Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants."

Unlike earlier generations, these young people are not re-entering the church after sowing their wild oats in college.

2. Ed Stetzer has offered an interesting evaluation of this phenomenon. He points out that the percentage of people attending church has remained pretty steady over the last 70 years. Indeed, the percentage of the American population that self-identified as evangelical had grown to 35% in 2014.

His conclusion was thus that the rise of the "nones" (no religious affiliation) was coming from nominal Christians. "Convictional Christianity" was going strong. "The nominals are becoming the nones and the convictional are remaining committed," Stetzer wrote.

There is perhaps a theological perspective to take here as well. Jesus said, "Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (7:14). We can wonder whether the number of "true believers" is ever really much more than 30%. Are the hoards of Americans who go to church true followers of Jesus Christ? It seems doubtful.

Hebrews 11:13-16 suggests that, in this current age, Christians are always strangers and exiles on the earth. Even when Christianity is culturally dominant, real Christians probably will only make up a minority. Indeed, the situation is perhaps most dangerous and deceptive when Christians think they are in the majority. When the institutions of society are "Christian," they probably aren't.

3. What are some of the cultural dynamics that may keep many Millennials from the church?

The "civil religion" tendencies of American Christians are probably a major factor in the decline of Christianity among Millennials. Civil religion is the inability for a person to tell the difference between God and country. Patriotism and political party tribalism mix imperceptibly with one's religion. Flag goes on pulpit. "Only Republicans can be Christians." No doubt when we have the next set of data we will find that the recent election has caused an even more significant drop in Christianity among Millennials.

Four out of five self-identified evangelicals apparently voted for Donald Trump to be president. It seems clear that Millennials consider him morally reprehensible. Despite a tape that came out with him boasting of his ability to grope women, despite hateful comments he made during the campaign toward countless types of individuals, despite video clips that seem to show a tendency not just to lie about big things but to lie about almost anything, still evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for him. To Millennials, greed and narcissism seem to be the only fixed points in his decision making process, with everything else free to change according to what he thinks is most advantageous to him at the moment.

An event this past week is only likely to increase this perception. Neo-Nazis, KKK, and white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia a week ago Saturday, and they were met by large numbers of anti-protesters, including an anti-fascist group called Antifa. One of the white nationalists plowed his car into a group of peaceful individuals, killing a young 22 year old woman. The President was not only slow to condemn the neo-Nazis, but appeared to view both sides as morally equivalent. While numerous individuals withdrew from Trump advisory boards, leading to their disbandment, his evangelical advisory board largely remained intact.

Fighting abortion, which we will see in a later post was the issue in the 1980s that corraled evangelicals more than anything else into the Republican corner, is not the central moral issue for Millennials. How you treat people who are not like you is the central concern. Millennials are also concerned for the planet and climate change in a way that is incomprehensible to many older evangelicals. Given this mix of values, American evangelicalism seems morally reprehensible to many of them.

This is an important point. It is not that they are uninterested in God or morality. It is that they actually consider evangelicals to be morally reprehensible in numerous respects. Christianity in this form seems immoral, even evil to them.

4. Issues of race and gender thus feature large in the Millennial moral perspective. White evangelicals--and the evangelical demographic is overwhelmingly white--tend to be blind to issues of color. Because they do not face the same history and biases, they often do not see the struggles of people of color. Indeed, when the cork of these pressures pops off, all they see is the disruptive result, not the structures that caused them. What they see is that such individuals are sometimes hired and they are not. This inability to see one's own advantages as a white person is called "white privilege."

To most Millennials, gay individuals are real people, their friends, their family. To much of white evangelicalism, gay individuals are somewhere else. They are an idea, a stereotype, a theological discussion. Millennials largely do not see the distinction between "loving the sinner, hating the sin." Many of us try to make careful distinctions between homosexual acts and the person doing them, but this distinction seems largely rejected by Millennials.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that even this past week, several Christian groups were labeled as hate groups, primarily for their lobby against gay marriage.

This cultural dynamic puts churches in a difficult place, and there will be many Millennials who will reject the church for this reason. Even more, churches may face significant difficulties from the state going forward because of our stances on these issues. After the reactionary blip of Trump is gone, these forces will likely rush forward on the church with a vengeance.

5. A recent book wrestling with Christianity and evolution has suggested that conflicts between science and faith are the number one reason young people leave the faith. Whether we like it or not, Millennials tend to see evangelicals as forces of ignorance in American culture. The technological revolution and the seemingly never ending stream of scientific improvements even in their lifetime have led them to believe that scientists are smart and genuinely in pursuit of truth.

So when scientists say, "Climate change is real and very dangerous" or "Evolution is beyond reasonable doubt," they tend to believe them. When the Bible is offered as a counter-argument, they ask "which Bible" or "whose interpretation of the Bible"? They have not grown up in isolation from other churches and religions. The internet has made it all available to them.

We will have to see fully what the dynamics of the generation after the Millennials will be. Having been raised in the shadow of 9-11, it is possible that "Gen Z" will be more traditionally conservative in its values. The question is whether it will equate those values with Christianity. Conservatism without Christ is truly scary indeed. Ask the Germans.

6. What are we to do? We must be true to Christ. The way we share the good news may change. It always has. Perhaps we should not try to take over the world so much and let God deal with the world (1 Cor. 5:12-13). The Millennial concern for others is Christian to the core. Maybe if we focused on being "for" others and less "against" things, our witness might begin to heal.

Of course we also have to be true to what we believe Christ requires of us. We should be aware, however, that there is likely to be not a little American culture in what we think is the core. Dialog with Christians who are full of faith but not like us is the surest way to see where we have let cultural traditions creep into our kingdom core.

A large part of evangelicalism for the last hundred years has been characterized by protectionism against forces of the modern world that we did not know how to handle. There are Christians who have faith and yet have not abandoned dialog with science and scholarship. Twenty years ago Mark Noll wrote of the "scandal of the evangelical mind." He meant the tendency of many evangelicals to oppose education and hard hitting scholarly thinking.

Many of us are ready to go. The evangelical movement as we have known it may die. But the true church will go on. Revival will come. But we may not like it or recognize it. Indeed, many will no doubt think it is of the Devil.

Next Sunday: Culture 11: Webber and the "Younger Evangelicals"

The Calling of a Minister
The Person of a Pastor
Contexts of Ministry
American Church History Context

Friday, August 18, 2017

Adam and the Genome 10: Paul and Adam

Second to last chapter review of Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Scot McKnight and Dennis Venema.

Previous posts
Personal Preface
Forward and Introduction
1. Evolution as a Scientific Theory
2. Genomes as Language, Genomes as Books
3. Adam's Last Stand?
4. Intelligent Design?
5. Four Principles for Bible Reading
6. Twelve Theses about Genesis
7. Seven Jewish Texts on Adam

Finished the book. Chapter 8 is titled, "Adam, the Genome, and the Apostle Paul."

1. This was the chapter I have been waiting for. McKnight knows his Romans scholarship. But frankly, I was left unsatisfied. This is the chapter where I wrestle with evolution. I wrestle with evolution philosophically and theologically. This chapter is exegetical. It does not answer my big question.

My big question is this. Why are humans prone to sin? What is the cause? It would wreak havoc with my theology to think that God made us and the world this way. My sense of salvation says that Jesus came to free us from this condition. In my opinion, McKnight does not really try to answer this question. Yet this is the question.

Paul uses the figure of Adam to express the human condition. I agree with McKnight's exegesis. But I am left lacking an answer to the more significant theological and philosophical question.

I found the Afterword unhelpful. It will not help anyone struggling with this issue, in my opinion, except perhaps to know that Origen and other early Christians did not take the Genesis text completely literally.

2. McKnight lays out five theses in this chapter:
  • The Adam of Paul is the literary, genealogical, image-of-God Adam found in Genesis.
  • The Adam of Paul is the Adam of the Bible filtered through--both in agreement and in disagreement with--the Jewish interpretive tradition about Adam.
  • The Adam of Paul is the archetypal, moral Adam who is the archetype for both Israel and all humanity.
  • Adam and all his descendants are connected but original sin as original guilt and damnation for all humans by birth is not found in Paul. Paul doesn't tell us how this continuity works.
  • The Adam of Paul was not the historical Adam.
What is McKnight getting at with these claims?

First, he is highlighting the fact that Paul is building a case out of the text of Genesis. This is the "literary" Adam. McKnight makes it clear, "I am not assuming this is fiction or that Paul somehow got it wrong" (176). He is simply pointing out that Paul is making an argument from Genesis as a text.

For me, there is a lot of hermeneutics hiding here. Most readers of the Bible are not equipped to distinguish the story world of the biblical text from the biblical text as an event in history. From a historical perspective, the writing of Genesis was an event in history and the stories in Genesis are story worlds in that text. From a pre-modern perspective, we are part of the continuous story world of the text, which we are unable to distinguish from history.

So I am not sure how many will like McKnight's distinction. In my words, I would say that God meets us where we are, and God met Paul within his reading of the Genesis text. If we exegete Genesis, we can see that Paul's reading of the Genesis text differed from the Genesis text itself in some regards. We believe both Paul and Genesis spoke inspired truths, but they were truths that were independent of each other. Again, the pre-modern reader has difficulty distinguishing the two and then cannot distinguish either from history itself.

3. McKnight has been trying to make a case that Paul interpreted Genesis as other Jews did--as a text with meanings that served his context, not as a text that served meanings in its original Ancient Near Eastern context (the original meaning of Genesis). He doesn't necessarily address the inspiration question, but this is the way God inspires. This is the incarnational principle--God meets us where we are so we can understand him.

McKnight has highlighted how various Jewish writers read Adam to serve their context. Paul does the same, and we believe in an inspired way. But this is not the original meaning of Genesis. This is an inspired meaning for Paul writing to the Romans in the first century AD. Many will be surprised at compelling evidence that Romans 1 draws heavily from the Book of Wisdom 13.

McKnight goes further, echoing evangelical scholars like Doug Moo, in noting that the absence of Eve from Paul's discussion in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 is a hint that he is thinking of Adam more in typological than historical terms. Adam is an antitype of Christ. He serves as a foil to highlight what Christ has done. The point is not Adam. The point is Christ. Otherwise, he would pay attention to Eve in this context.

4. Of course I completely agree--and the vast majority of experts on Romans do--that Paul has no theology of inherited guilt. We should only speak of original sin in terms of Adam's sin. Paul does not teach that we genetically inherit sin from Adam or that we are guilty before God because of Adam.

The key passage here is Romans 5:12 and the prepositional phrase eph ho. Augustine could not do Greek and so misinterpreted this expression to mean that we all sinned in Adam and thus are guilty of Adam's sin. But everyone agrees and McKnight gives the evidence that what Paul is saying is that death passed to all people because all sin.

There is no genetically passed on sin here. There is no sin nature here. There is only the fact that we all sin like Adam and therefore die like Adam. Let us put to rest the idea of original sin in the sense of inherited guilt. As McKnight says, "humans have been impacted by Adam's sin, but individuals are not accountable until they sin themselves" (186).

I might note McKnight's claim that the "all" in Romans 5:12 is referring to both Jew and Gentile, not to every individual. I think McKnight would say that all individuals sin too, but he may be right that Paul here is thinking "not just Gentiles have sinned and die, but Jews sin and die too because of Adam." This fits with Romans 3:23 where Paul is not thinking "all [individuals] have sinned" (although he believes that too), but all [namely both Jew and Gentile] have sinned.

5. I feel like a chapter is missing. Perhaps they needed a theologian to come in and address the big question I started out with. Even if Paul does not explain how there is a continuity of sinning from Adam to today, how would we Christians explain it in the light of evolution? Was there evil before Adam and if so, where did it come from? Surely God didn't make the world this way!

This is a question of the problem of evil. Did God create the world sinful so that Christ could eventually save us? If Adam represents a moment in the early history of humanity, what was that moment? What changed? What becomes of Christian theology if nothing ever changed at some point??? The Fall of Satan?

My understanding of Paul's theology is that Sin as a power entered the world as a result of Adam's sin. Walton and Holland understand this as a certain federalism, which makes sense to me, but McKnight seems to reject this idea at least exegetically. But the answer to our theological question--a question for our context and our situation--must surely move beyond exegesis to theology.

Adam, as the head of the human race (McKnight and Wright might rightly push us to see Adam biblically more focally as the head of Israel's race) was representative of all humanity that would come afterwards. This is good theology whether it is precisely exegetical or not. For Paul, the power of Sin over the world is surely a consequence of Adam's sin.

It is not a genetic power. The idea of a sinful nature is not Pauline. It is Augustinian. The NIV2011 has rightly expunged this anachronism and returned to the original word, flesh. My flesh is not intrinsically evil. It is just weak without the Spirit. When the power of Sin entered the world, my flesh could not withstand it. We all became destined to sin like Adam. This is my basic understanding of Paul's thinking in Romans 6-8.

I won't try to write the missing chapter. It is still a theological sticky wicket, in my opinion. Perhaps McKnight intentionally left the book open ended so that the discussion might continue.

Assuming there was a representative Adam and Eve, might we see the Fall as what was withheld from humanity rather than something added? The tree of life withheld? The Holy Spirit withheld?

The discussion continues...