Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pagan Christianity 11: Christian Education

Only one chapter from Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity today. I've lost my will. Every post is an effort.

The previous posts were:

1. Viola's Preface
2. Barna's Introduction
3. The Church Building
4. The Order of Worship
5. The Sermon
6. The Pastor
7. Sunday Go to Meeting Clothes
8. Music in the Church
9. Chapters 8 and 9: Tithing/Paying Ministers (8) and the Sacraments (9)

And now chapter 10: "Christian Education: Swelling the Cranium."

There's little doubt that Viola relays a common sentiment that much in ministerial training seems out of focus. We have launched an MDIV program here at IWU for the Fall (we've officially accepted our first two students) and, Lord willing, will officially call it a seminary in less than two weeks. We have launched it recognizing some of the things that Viola mentions in this chapter.

So Viola thinks training should be "hands on" rather than merely intellectual (200). He critiques the notion that "the teaching of knowledge is the teaching of virtue" (215). "Contemporary theological learning is essentially cerebral" and "In the process, our theology rarely gets below the neck" (216).

OK, there's the good in the chapter. But as I've read through this book, here is my fundamental critique. It is not simply that Viola consistently throws the baby out with the bath water. Of course I completely think he does. My critique is that he could have actually done something edifying with this book. At least to some extent, he has correctly identified the superficialism and myopic traditionalism that no doubt pervades and predominates in the church today.

But instead of urging authenticity and genuine spirituality in each tradition, he has insisted that we burn all the institutional churches down and start a house church. For this reason, his book on the whole is not helpful for God's people. It will only appeal to the angry (and feed their angry) and confuse the innocent.

His view of seminaries is stereotypical and unbalanced. Take this statement: "contemporary ministerial training can be described by the religious talk of Job's miserable comforters: rational, objective, and abstract. Very little practical, experiential, or spiritual" (201). But his reaction is not, let's fix Christian education, our approach at IWU. His reaction is, let's burn down all the Christian seminaries, universities, and Bible colleges.

"[C]ontemporary theology is a blending of Christian thought and pagan philosophy" (208). And Viola's thought is a blending of Christian thought and the thinking of a particular American Christian subculture, mixed with some of the ancient cultural forms in which the New Testament message was incarnated. Again, he takes biblical descriptions and supposed descriptions based on him filling in gaps in our knowledge, and he makes them pre-scriptions for a quite different place and time. This is sheer madness.

I'll let the church historians and theologians rip his villianization of Aquinas and his wild connections between things in history.


Mark Schnell said...

Ken, you are planning to expand all this and package it into a book aren't you? How about an article for Christianity today?

I'd buy it. Well, the book anyway ... I already have a subscription to CT...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As you well know, I have been trying to come to terms with faith. Branding faith and naming it is something that I find superfluous, although it identifies someone with a community and certain "practices" which are "symbols" of a certain tradition.

Perhaps, Viola is focusing on a "human need" of "belonging", which the institutional Church cannot affirm, but house churches or small groups can. In our democracy, we can 'find' a place to belong, because of the vast diversity allowed within our nation and it's allowance of freedom for the individual. So, the Church ceases to meet that human need.

Belonging is not maturity, though. Beliefs are most important to understand, as otherwise, there is no understanding of "why" we do what we do in Church. But, is this necessarily necessary in meeting human need, unless it is to inform those who are "small minded" to become more open. This is the place for the university.

Greek philosophy was important to the Church Fathers in coming to terms with character development in Aristotle, or Aquinas. But,in the past, it was understood that man built "habit patterns" by the choice of the will. Today's understanding of evolutionary science, and the prospect of biological determinism challenges the Church's educational "endeavors", understanding of Scripture, and Chruch practices, themselves.

Leadership models are based on "survival of the fittest" in acquiring perseverence, courage, etc. so that one will "rise to the top". These models are not especially "Christian", they are pragmatic in focus. So, I don't see why "Christian" is particularly useful for developing humans fully.

I have said before that my experience at IWU was an enlarging experience and ethics was of primary importance in understanding and struggling with how I understood my faith. I think this is an important aspect of educating, practically, as well as theoretically.

Anonymous said...

Ken, By this point in the book I was struggling to finish it also. Thanks for your critique it has but words to many of my feelings. Knowing the Church is not perfect, but also believing it is still good and still being used by God.
Thanks for all your writing! As a nazarene pastor in southern Indiana who found your writing through Keith Drury,you are both much appreciated.

In Christ's grip,

Keith Drury said...

Ken I never thought I'd tire of your vivid review of this book--but I tired at about the same time you tired of writing on it.

Sure, I can deconstruct the church too... or America, or IWU, or marriage... but when the deconstruction if finished what have I left? I'm far from convinced that the "remnant church" Viola has left is any better than the church he wants to incinerate. I scoff at his fumbling attempts to conspire to destroy.... as you point out his audience is the angry who take their anger into tiny small-but-pure house churches who feast on announcing they are NOT like other churches... I laugh at how quickly his mist will vanish away. Good by Viola.

Anonymous said...

Ken, you and your students would benefit from a closer look at the personal life of this author. All things in context, you know.