MODERNITY


A friend posted links to a series of articles. He really liked ’em. I’ve not read them, but I doubt I’d be as enthusiastic. I was struck by the invitation. Speaking against ecumenical appeals to a Mere Christianity, it explains:

In the Great Commission, Jesus did not say, “Go therefore into all the world and preach the gospel, making everyone memorize the Four Spiritual Laws, and then keep multiplying converts.” He commanded the church to “make disciples” by proclaiming the gospel, baptizing, and “teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded.” People do not have to know everything that the Bible teaches—or even to understand all of its major doctrines—in order to be received as professing members of Christ’s body. However, when they become Christians, they are enrolled in a school of lifelong discipleship. Not everything in Scripture is equally clear or equally important, but everything is essential for us to know. God did not reveal everything that he might have revealed to us, but whatever he has revealed to us is necessary.

I’m not a fan of the ‘Four Spiritual Laws,’ but they and ‘Strict Calvinistic Confessionalism’ hardly exhaust the possibilities for my commitment. What an odd thing to assume. History extends beyond Modernity, after all.

Anyway, in reading this I was reminded of one of the reasons I no longer subscribe to the tradition that once so enchanted me.

Truth is personal. It is found in a person. Scripture seems to say so. Propositions, no matter how numerous or precise, can never contain or finally express the truth of any person. That’s true of my wife and children. Its true of my God. Propositions about persons are fine as long as this is remembered, but are poor substitutes for a weekend spent with someone.

Of course knowing a woman, and being able to speak truthfully about her are not mutually exclusive. One doesn’t have to choose, but when ‘knowing the truth’ is understood (i.e judged) primarily in terms of comprehending a system of propositions, a substitution has likely been made, and we’re left committing the religious equivalent of cuddling up with a vinyl doll. Its good for some things, but perhaps falls short in others. (more…)

Fr. Stephen writes on sacraments, reality and modernity

In the past I’ve expressed some half baked opinions on the ways in which Evangelicals smuggle extra-biblical conceptions into the heart of the gospel. I’m becoming more and more convinced that this is done both immediately and indirectly when secondary matters are included in the sine qua non of the gospel- secondary issues that are infected with modern categories, to which the advocate seems blind.

A recent blog post at Theologica reinforces that growing conviction. This is so for two reasons: The argument is ostensibly about issues on which the two sides agree- so what must the real controversy be? This happens because there are blatant and apparently unconscious conflations of key Xian ideas with prevalent extra-biblical models. For example, the theories of realism, foundationalism and the correspondence theory of truth- along with the various dualisms they assume, are assumed, when in reality they are the point in question.

The popular Evangelical battle cry that the denial of something called ‘objective truth’ is a denial of truth, reminds me of those Roman Catholics who insist that a denial of Aristotelian Transubstantiation is a denial that Christ’s body and blood are truly received in communion. It’s not, but it is proof of a good deal of…confusion.

The post is a continuation of a controversy that I had a hand in creating there. It revolves around a rather complicated set of issues: anthropology, Christology, epistemology, metaphysics, hermeneutics, and biblical theology proper. Now each of these specialties is worthy of a lifetime of study. There are brilliant people who specialize in each. If they were mapped out, each would warn the intellectual traveler by having Mystery written in archaic script across great swaths of territory.

But the post seems to have identified a very particular synthesis of these varied areas of study as ‘The Truth.’ Hmmmm.

The author confidently refers to other posts for indubitable support. I’m not interested in attempting some sort of exhaustive critique. I’m out of my league and not really keen on making that apparent, but I would like to offer a few comments on each. (more…)

I had forgotten about this until I saw it referenced in a recent blog post. I googled around, but couldn’t locate the source. Anyway, thought I’d put it up. It makes me smile and feel strangely melancholy, too.

The Semi-Pelagian Narrower Catechism

1. Q: What is the chief end of each individual Christian?
A: Each individual Christian’s chief end is to get saved. This is the first and great commandment.

2. Q: And what is the second great commandment?
A: The second, which is like unto it, is to get as many others saved as he can.

3. Q: What one work is required of thee for thy salvation?
A: It is required of me for my salvation that I make a Decision for Christ, which meaneth to accept Him into my heart to be my personal lord and saviour

4. Q: At what time must thou perform this work?
A: I must perform this work at such time as I have reached the Age of Accountability.

5. Q: At what time wilt thou have reached this Age?
A: That is a trick question. In order to determine this time, my mind must needs be sharper than any two-edged sword, able to pierce even to the division of bone and marrow; for, alas, the Age of Accountability is different for each individual, and is thus unknowable.

6. Q: By what means is a Decision for Christ made?
A: A Decision for Christ is made, not according to His own purpose and grace which was given to me in Christ Jesus before the world began, but according to the exercise of my own Free Will in saying the Sinner’s Prayer in my own words.

7. Q: If it be true then that man is responsible for this Decision, how then can God be sovereign?
A: He cannot be. God sovereignly chose not to be sovereign, and is therefore dependent upon me to come to Him for salvation. He standeth outside the door of my heart, forlornly knocking, until such time as I Decide to let Him in.

8. Q: How then can we make such a Decision, seeing that the Scripture saith, we are dead in our trespasses and sins?
A: By this the Scripture meaneth, not that we are dead, but only that we are sick or injured in them.

9. Q: What is the assurance of thy salvation?
A: The assurance of thy salvation is, that I know the date on which I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer, and have duly written this date on an official Decision card.

10. Q: What is thy story? What is thy song?
A: Praising my Savior all the day long.

11. Q: You ask me how I know he lives?
A: He lives within my heart.

12. Q: And what else hast thou got in thine heart?
A: I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

13. Q: Where??
A: Down in my heart!

14. Q: Where???
A: Down in my heart!!

15. Q: What witness aid hath been given us as a technique by which we may win souls?
A: The tract known commonly as the Four Spiritual Laws, is the chief aid whereby we may win souls.

16. Q: What doth this tract principally teach?
A: The Four Spiritual Laws principally teach, that God’s entire plan for history and the universe centereth on me, and that I am powerful enough to thwart His divine purpose if I refuse to let Him pursue His Wonderful Plan for my life.

17. Q: What supplementary technique is given by which we may win souls?
A: The technique of giving our own Personal Testimony, in the which we must always be ready to give an answer concerning the years we spent in vanity and pride, and the wretched vices in which we wallowed all our lives until the day we got saved.

18. Q: I’m so happy, what’s the reason why?
A: Jesus took my burden all away!

19. Q: What are the means given whereby we may large crowds of souls in a spectacular manner?
A: Such a spectacle is accomplished by means of well-publicized Crusades and Revivals which (in order that none may be loath to attend) are best conducted anywhere else but in a Church.

20. Q: Am I a soldier of the Cross?
A: I am a soldier of the Cross if I join Campus Crusade, Boys’ Brigade, the Salvation Army, or the Wheaton Crusaders; of if I put on the helmet of Dispensationalism, the breastplate of Pietism, the shield of Tribulationism, and the sword of Zionism, having my feet shod with the gospel of Arminianism.

21. Q: Who is your boss?
A: My boss is a Jewish carpenter.

22. Q: Hath God predestined vessels of wrath to Hell?
A: God hath never performed such an omnipotent act, for any such thing would not reflect His primary attribute, which is Niceness.

23. Q: What is sanctification?
A: Sanctification is the work of my free Will, whereby I am renewed by having my Daily Quiet Time.

24. Q: What rule hath God for our direction in prayer?
A: The rule that we must bow our heads, close our eyes, and fold our hands.

25. Q: What doth the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A: The Lord’s Prayer teacheth us that we must never memorize a prayer, or use one that hath been written down.

26. Q: What’s the book for thee?
A: The B-I-B-L-E.

27. Q: Which are among the first books which a Christian should read to his soul’s health?
A: Among the first books which a Christian should read are the books of Daniel and Revelation, and The Late Great Planet Earth.

28. Q: Who is on the Lord’s side?
A: He who doth support whatsoever is done by the nation of Israel, and who doth renounce the world, the flesh, and the Catholic Church.

29. Q: What are the seven deadly sins?
A: The seven deadly sins are smoking, drinking, dancing, card-playing, movie-going, baptizing babies, and having any creed but Christ.

30. Q: What is a sacrament?
A: A sacrament is an insidious invention devised by the Catholic Church whereby men are drawn into idolatry.

31. Q: What is the Lord’s Supper?
A: The Lord’s Supper is a dispensing of saltines and grape juice, in the which we remember Christ’s command to pretend that they are His body and
blood.

32. Q: What is baptism?
A: Baptism is the act whereby, by the performance of something that seems quite silly in front of everyone, I prove that I really, really mean it.

33. Q: What is the Church?
A: The Church is the tiny minority of individuals living at this time who have Jesus in their hearts, and who come together once a week for a sermon, fellowship and donuts.

34. Q: What is the office of the keys?
A: The office of the keys is that office held by the custodian.

35. Q: What meaneth “The Priesthood Of All Believers”?
A: The Priesthood Of All Believers meaneth that there exists no authority in the Church, as that falsely thought to be held by elders, presbyters, deacons, and bishops, but that each individual Christian acts as his own authority in all matters pertaining to the faith.

36. Q: Who is the Holy Spirit?
A: The Holy Spirit is a gentleman Who would never barge in.

37. Q: How long hath the Holy Spirit been at work?
A: The Holy Spirit hath been at work for more than a century: expressly, since the nineteenth-century Revitalization brought about by traveling Evangelists carrying tents across America.

38. Q: When will be the “Last Days” of which the Bible speaketh?
A: The “Last Days” are these days in which we are now living, in which the Antichrist, the Beast, and the Thief in the Night shall most certainly appear.

39. Q: What is the name of the event by which Christians will escape these dreadful entities?
A: The event commonly known as the Rapture, in the which it is our Blessed Hope that all cars driven by Christians will suddenly have no drivers.

40. Q: When is Jesus coming again?
A: Maybe morning, maybe noon, maybe evening, and maybe soon.

41. Q: When the roll, roll, roll, is called up yonder, where will you be?
A: There.

42. Q: Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah!
A: Praise ye the Lord!

43. Q: Praise ye the Lord!
A: Hallelujah!

44. Q: Where will we meet again?
A: Here, there, or in the air.

45. Q: What can a pastor say while all heads are bowed?
A. Yes, I see that hand.

46. Q. How is a person saved?
A. If you walk this aisle…”

47. Q. And what requirement is there if you should fall into sin?
A. You just need to rededicate your life to God.

48. Q: Can I hear an Ay-men?
A: Ay-men.

Ran across this helpful quote from Walter R. Thorson of the Dept of Chemistry at the University of Alberta. He brought Polanyi’s thinking  to bear on Hebrews 11:1: Good stuff.

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11: 1). Familiar as this verse is, we tend to let it roll smoothly off our tongues rather than think carefully about what it says, which at first seems either very surprising or else nonsensical. To retranslate: “Faith brings to substantial, actual realization things that are at first only hoped for; it creates a clear and convincing focus on things we cannot yet see.”

The first half of the sentence sounds perilously close to the view of some five year-olds that “if you believe in something hard enough it will come true,” and the second half sounds like “if you believe in something long enough, after awhile you will be quite sure about it.” We laugh at this-because we all know just how silly we should be to trust such naive maxims. Cheer up; the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is no five year-old. Yet I never really felt intellectually satisfied about this text until Michael Polanyi showed me what it really means by describing just how this principle functions as the dynamic element in scientific discovery (oddly enough, he never seems to have referred explicitly to this remarkably appropriate text.)

To make it clearer for all us academics, here is a third, technical rendering: “the indwelling of a true theory by persons responsibly committed to it leads functionally to the eventual manifestation and confirmation of realities which at first are only vaguely intimated, or but poorly perceived.” If you read Personal Knowledge, you will find a thoroughly fascinating account of precisely this remarkable phenomenon. I referred in an earlier talk to the story of the Copernican revolution, which illustrates the principle very well. For those who were committed to it, the Copernican hypothesis provided an integrating vision of the heavens; it was only within the framework of such commitment that previously unanticipated elements could be brought into clear focus, and the relevant activities conceived and sustained, which ultimately brought the truth of that vision to its full manifestation. For more than 150 years until Newton’s laws of motion were discovered-it could not be said convincingly that the factual evidence confirmed the Copernican, and refuted the Ptolemaic, view. Yet during that long period faith in the validity of the Copernican hypothesis sustained a chain of labors which finally vindicated it.

The point, of course-one to which the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is very sensitive-is that manifesting a hidden truth in hostile or indifferent circumstances is a laborious, time-consuming, and costly business, and one will not be able to sustain the effort required, unless he really is committed to a serious belief that the reality in question exists. In my own career as a theoretician I have experienced the validity of this principle in several specific problems, where belief in the existence of a certain type of solution to a physical or mathematical problem provoked imaginative responses or new insights, and sustained long periods of laborious and often fruitless search until at length one line of work ended in success. I am sure many others of you have also had similar experiences.

Of course, our Scripture text about faith takes it for granted that what is being believed in is true. It is certainly not saying (as the five-year-old does) that faith as such produces results, but that it is faith which sustains fruitful activities, when it is directed toward valid objects-and, without such faith, even a true theory remains barren and ineffectual. Again, it is partly for this reason that we must entertain of any serious theory that it is potentially true. In science, as in religion, I hope there is none among us who really believes that “to travel hopefully is better than to arrive;'” as C.S. Lewis acutely said, “If that were true, and were known to be true, who would ever start out upon a journey?”

It would be very fascinating if we had time to think a bit about spiritual and intellectual hope. According to our text, “things hoped for” are antecedent to faith, and perhaps we could infer they are in some manner stimulants to faith.

“Hope” in the New Testament does not mean wishful thinking, but a strong sense of anticipation of unheralded and certainly unspecifiable possibilities. Spiritual hope is not ultimately directed toward a seen object (“hope that is seen is not hope”); it is properly and ultimately hope in God.

UPDATED: 5/31

I spent a few minutes this weekend thinking about why Evangelicalism needs to be rooted in the ancient catholicism of the undivided church, if she is to offer a true alternative to the American vision of the good life.

These are pretty off the cuff. I’ve been told they are overly dichotomous. Perhaps this is true, but they’re a start.

It seems to me that contrary to common Modern/Evangelical assumptions and in agreement with our ancient faith…

* God is not simply or primarily saving individuals; he is saving a people.

* Christ did not establish a belief system called Christianity; he established the church.

* The church is not a voluntary association of individuals who meet as an aid to our personal growth; we are the body of Christ- the entity for which God is putting all things under Christ’s feet.

* The church is not a religious club, which is made up of good American citizens; she is an alternative polis, and we are resident aliens in the midst of America.

* Our lives are not free to be lived in terms of personal advancement; our lives are to be lived for the advancement of the kingdom.

* Our lives (including the ‘private’ parts) are not our business, only; our lives are the business of the church.

* The bishop is not an expensive rubberstamping ‘British monarch’ like hold over from another time; the bishop is the head of the church under Christ.

* It is not possible to exercise reason apart from faith; all reasoning begins in faith.

*Human beings are not first and foremost an Aristotelian ‘Thinking Thing;’ human beings are first and foremost an Augustinian ‘Loving Thing’

* Most of life is not ‘thought through;’ most of life is ‘desired through.’

* Christian formation/education isn’t primarily or only about learning propositions; it is a matter of imagination regarding the nature of ‘the good life,’ and comes primarily through the heart.

* The formation of the desires is not primarily accomplished through the head; it is primarily accomplished through the senses and the body.

* These formative liturgies are not optional or narrowly ‘religious;’ we are being shaped by either Christian or worldly liturgies.

* We are not really combating the flesh, world and the Devil if we are just offering more information; we equip the church fully when we provide competing comprehensive formation, which is first and foremost at the level of vision/desire.

* It’s not simply what we distinctly think that determines who we are; it is also what we distinctly desire, and this is determined by our worship- Lex orandi, lex credendi.

* Our vision of human flourishing cannot be identical to that proclaimed by other nation’s secular liturgies (including America’s); our vision of human flourishing must be formed by the liturgies of God’s people in accordance with the distinctives of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

* We don’t find those liturgies in accommodation to the liturgies of the world or the imagination of our modernity soaked hearts; we receive them from those who have gone before us.

* It is not wise to look around at how the unbelieving world ‘does it’ before we understand and squeeze every drop from the inheritance that is ours; it is reasonable to assume that the Body with whom Christ promised his Spirit would reside has as much insight as the world.

* Mere traditionalism is not the aim; we grow and build only after understanding and appreciating what is ours as the church- not lusting after the leeks of the world.

* We do not believe in the gospel because we first have confidence in the Bible; we count the bible as authoritative because we believe in the Gospel.

* It is not possible to ‘simply read’ scripture; every reading is an interpretation- either good or bad.

* It is not possible to interpret apart from the formation of a community; it is the case that if the church hasn’t formed our interpretation, the world has done so by default.

* The writings of the Christian Canon are not God’s final word; the writings of the Christian Canon declare Jesus Christ to be God’s final word.

* It is not the case that we ‘believe in’ propositional doctrine; it is the case that we believe in the God to whom propositional doctrine strains to point us.

* Human beings are not angels trapped in bodies; human beings are bodies.

* True worship does not take place between our ears, only; true biblical worship must include our bodies, too.

* Historically, the church has not gathered as the church on Sundays to simply praise God, which is all that is implied in the English word ‘worship’; she has met as the church for what has traditionally been called The Eucharist, the Mass, The Liturgy, The Divine Service.

* It is not true that we can do alone or at home, what is done when the church gathers as the church on Sunday mornings to offer service; it is true that communion around a common loaf and cup requires a community.

* As a distinct people we should not be surprised that our language, practices and stories are not immediately understandable to visiting non-Christians; believers ought to be instructed in the unique language, practices and stories that come from centuries of existing in this age as the people of King Jesus.

* Hospitality from a host culture does not require that the host population pretend that they speak, dress and eat just as they do in the visitor’s homeland; it is the case that if the visited culture is indistinguishable from one’s own, then there is no point in leaving home to begin with.

* Sunday morning should not be a lecture with singing; Sunday morning is a meeting with God in which we gather before him, are reconciled to him, receive his word, judgment and blessing and then sit as his friends, at his table.

* The service is not either from God to man, or from man to God; the service is both from God to man and from man to God.

* The service is not something God does in the abstract or we do by ourselves; Christ leads our worship, and in Christ, God both ministers to us and we offer to God all that we have and are.

* The focal point of this great exchange is not our subjective hearts; the focal point of this great exchange is the Body and Blood of Christ, wherein God gives us what is beyond us and we then offer back to him, his own gifts.

* The sacraments are not God’s flannel graph; the sacraments are mysteries and effective memorials.

* A biblical Memorial is not first and foremost about the memory of the people who offer it; a memorial, biblically considered, is presented in order to remind God.

* A strong sacramentalism and belief that one hears God’s voice through his minister Extra Nos is not a Roman innovation; that one should confidently hear God’s voice in the Preaching of the Word, Sacraments and Absolution of his minister is just plain vanilla Christianity and affirmed by the magisterial reformers.

* Reality is not accurately describable in materialistic terms; there is more in heaven and earth than is imagined in Scientism’s philosophy.

* Reality is not two-storied- with God and heaven ‘up there’ and we ‘down here’; God and his heavenly entourage of angels and saints surround us.

* Success is not measured in terms of the end; success is measured in terms of the journey.

* The cross is not simply the beginning or the end; the cross is the shape that all our attempts to reach a designated end must take.

* God did not create a flat, bare ‘ping pong table’ like creation- though it would have been much less prodigal; Christ did create taste buds, peacock feathers and round bottoms.

* Efficiency, speed and effectiveness are not Christ like models of success or operation; faithful, incarnational and foolishly wasteful and ineffective (by the world’s standards) practices often are.

* It is not a good thing that a church envision, operate or measure its life in terms that would make sense to the average modern American; it is a good thing that the church’s life draws on an ancient culture that is removed (and so immune from) the compromises of the current Spirit of the Age, and the gospel that says true divinity and true humanity look like that bleeding fellow who’s dying for the good of his murders.

Dear Rachael, Bekah, Hannah, Omi, Tommy and Esther.

I’m afraid that the last letter took the ‘Christian Thing’ off the table for many people.

Did you spot the repulsive bit?

No?

See it there….where I admitted that being part of Christ’s body includes us in the programs of Hitler, Stalin, Genghis Khan and the Borg. People are averse to being part of these sorts of things, you know.

Didn’t see where I admitted to such a thing?

Well, you’re right. I’d like to think I didn’t, but some will argue that I did right there– where I warned you that different dogmas create different worlds. I also warned you that these worlds are at war with each other. If one is true then the other is not. I encouraged you to protect the vision of ‘You, the World and Everything’ that comes from looking at reality through the lens of the crucified and risen Jesus.

So there it is- I assumed our worldview to be true, and I (with eyes wide open) recognized that it will dissolve the worlds of those who don’t share in it. In the minds of many I’ve advocated violence. I’ve sought to lift myself and mine up on the necks of everyone else.

You don’t see it? Well, I’d like to say that I don’t either, but…. I’m afraid there is a sense in which I do, at least potentially.

Now I think the people who immediately saw ‘Bluto’ when I wrote ‘Truth’ are wrong, but understandably so. Apart from a ‘Jesus Shaped’ view of the world, history has shown them to be right, but from a ‘Jesus Shaped’ view of the reality, they are living in a dream world- a nightmare, really.

It’s tempting to write about how Postmodernists (that’s what these suspicious folks are called) get it wrong, but the most important thing for you to see is how they get it right.

They get very nervous when people talk about truth- not the ‘that’s good for you, but not for me’ sorta truth. They’re alright with that. They get suspicious of what someone called ‘true truth’- the sort that applies to everyone, whether they like it or not.

Though many in the church simply mock at the charges, it seems to me that Postmodern opposition is a very serious intellectual challenge to our faith. Just between y’all and me, I think they have us by the ‘you know whats,’ but…

…this is the case only because what we present as the ‘Christian Thing’ is really something horribly more familiar. It an Anti-Christian thing.

These critics help us see where we have lost our way, traded in our story for one of the world’s stories, allowed out dogma to become the world’s doctrine… and all without every knowing it.

It seems that we constantly end up with idolatrous visions of ‘You, the World and Everything Else,’ clothed in Christian apparel. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers come true. Be very afraid!

We owe our postmodern friends a big ‘Thank you!’ They simply ask that we put our money where our mouth is and be who our story claims that we are, and when we don’t, they aren’t willing to let us off the hook. They know too much of bloody history to do that.

Let me explain. (more…)