On Eddie Long and his accusers

Here we go again. Anyone want to take bets on this one? It’s a done deal and the clock is ticking.

This film has been played  so many times. But the image that is left is the applauding and cheering churches. That’s what I can’t get out of my mind.

What’s a church supposed to do in a situation like this? When I served in Emporia, KS, I remember the day a Pastor’s wife had been found dead in her car which seemingly had veered off of a bridge. I remember announcing it in church and to pray for the family. But I knew enough about the area, etc., to immediately suspect the story. And soon it became clear that investigation was increasingly pointing to the Pastor. What was the church supposed to do? They took a stand and cheered their pastor on. That is, until he went to jail.

Churches seem systemically incapable of self-doubt. And ultimately their inability to hold leadership accountable is their undoing. Churches are called to operate at levels that rise above friendship and loyalty. Justice and truth are great goods that get lost in the shuffle of church life. But ultimately justice and truth pop up like grass through the cracks in a sidewalk. And after a second look, churches find that these virtues save us, too.

The New Calvinism is but a hiccup

I am thankful for the resurgent movement that has become known as the New Calvinism. It at its root is nothing but a return to confidence in the authority of the Bible and that true Christianity is at its root the exposition of the biblical text. It is also producing leaders whose confidence is not in sociological formulas or brilliant marketing. I think all Christians would be disappointed to find that the growth of the church has been rooted in college textbooks on market strategies and branding of products.

But, like all moments of Calvinist resurgence, its duration is for a time. And then the natural moral repugnance at the doctrines of double predestination and limited atonement reassert themselves. I agree with Roger Olson when he asserts that these doctrines end up making no distinction between the devil and Jesus. They both not only do but want to send people to hell, contrary to all the caveats Calvinists want to make to soften the edges of this position.

The new calvinism needs the balance of John Wesley’s quadrilateral. Wesley believed that critical to truth are: the biblical text, the wisdom of the church over time, reason and correspondence to human experience. I do not think that the new calvinism is rooted enough in all the angles of the quarilateral. It is a “Bible only” movement, and like all “Bible only” movements will suffer the consequences of imbalance and the tolerance of extreme positions that seem to be true to the Bible’s teaching but which are rationalistic cages that makes Christians captive to strange doctrines.

It is true that there is no one system that relieves us of all burdens, but I do think the natural moral repugnance at double predestination always weakens calvinistic resurgences.

Today’s Money Shot 9/25/10

Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.

Blaise Pascal

Is Roman Catholicism the default position?

Carl True of Westminster Seminary says yes.

Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in other words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part.

In my classes I am always interested in finding out in a way that is sensitive to privacy concerns why students are or are not Roman Catholic. Almost always the choice to leave the RC church has to do with tertiary issues, almost never primary ones and rarely reasons that are more secondary. By tertiary I refer to lower level reasons such as the remoteness of the liturgy, too much money spent on building and sanctuary beautifications, etc. They almost never have to do with essential doctrines but are issues of taste and preference.

Evangelical Protestants tend to me much more informed concerning their choices, but few are able to present RC theology in its best case. They often use caricatures that do not stand up to examination. I think there are real differences but in fact most Protestants do not know what those real issues are.

I am increasingly concerned that Protestantism’s fascination with new paradigms for ministry keeps the movement in a constant shift that threatens any thing like a stable worship and ministry platform. I have been active in ministry for 5 decades and have witnessed mega-shifts in ministry models that come down one per decade. Whole denominations and entire churches retool and reshape how they do ministry. Each move means some demographic group gets left out and marginalized and programs are in such a state of flux that vision statements and implementation processes are moving targets. Each phase requires new staff, more money and different kinds of buildings.

I think that to intelligently commit to Protestant Evangelicalism requires much more intention and attention and is a gamble that one’s church and method of ministry might last for ten years at most without a shift and shakeup that threatens the entire structure.  After all the change that it engenders most of the churches that chase change are left with about the same number of people they had before all the change but with more blood on the floor. It can hardly be said to be worth it.

So where is Rick Warren these days?

I know Rick has enough to do at Saddleback, but it’s like he has evaporated when it comes to the evangelical press.  It might be that like the new evangelicals passed by James Dobson, so the newer movements are passing by Warren. His attempts at irenic and consensus Christianity are not getting much traction as evangelicalism is seeking its new level after the embrace of Barack Obama in the last presidential election.

Obama has been so ineffective and so racial that the attempts of white suburban evangelicalism to build a tent large enough to make Obama an option have in large part failed. Tea Party enthusiasts, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and company have too large a place in the heart of evangelicalism for many to be able to hear Warren’s message. He comes across as not ready for prime time.

I like Warren a lot and his 40 Days of Purpose is a great review of the high points of Christian development and growth. I share with him a big tent model and a love of evangelism. But I don’t think he has the passion or desire to help evangelicals face the political arena. And ultimately Christianity is always political in a way that Hinduism and Buddhism are not. It takes creation order seriously and its trajectory is certainly towards justice and societal transformation. It cannot ignore forces that lead to darkness and barbarism. Evangelism and the good works of literacy, health care, etc., are not the only ways to express our faith. In the USA the political arena is open game, too. And here Warren doesn’t seem to “have game.”

That’s okay with me, but we are immersed in exactly that. And we are searching for leaders who can help us do what democracy is all about – vote for and build toward a society with definite and concrete ideas of the Good, the True and the Beautiful and not always end up sweeping up from consequences. The collectivism and class warfare of the Obama administration requires more of the church than just ministries of compassion. I don’t think some of our megachurch pastors are up to this.