From Joe Bird

Your friend and mine, Joe Bird, sends along these comments about his comments in this morning’s class:

Joe Bird says:
In class today in talking about the importance of teaching and education in the church, I used a poor analogy to try to make a point.  In discussing the use of music versus teaching, I said it was like dessert versus meat.  That’s not right at all.  Music is as much “meat” as teaching is.  Music is not only a meaningful way to worship God, but it also touches us.  It nourishes the spirit and lifts our emotions in ways that complement the intellectual learning that should also be a part of our worship. We are so blessed at our church to have so much sincere and beautiful expressions of music.
Thanks for letting me wander into your class from time to time.
Two things, Joe:
1.   Amen to your observations about the music ministry in our church.  We are indeed blessed to have so much willing talent and for all of it to be under the competent and careful supervision of Tom Hollinger.
2.    I am not the only one who wishes that your visits to our class were more frequent than “from time to time.”
Finally, kiddos, if anyone else has something to add to the discussion, send it to me by email and I’ll post it here.
Larry
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For Tomorrow

Last week we ended our discussion on the notion of “catechism,” the whole idea of a deliberate, institutional, organized effort to impart the faith to the rising generation or to new believers.  When I hear the word “catechism” I think “Catholicism” not only because the words sound a little alike, but because when I was growing up my neighborhood was full of Roman Catholic kids who went to catechism and considered me lost because I didn’t.

Catechism was a word that I never heard in the life and liturgy of the Protestant church I attended as a kid.  I don’t ever remember hearing it here, either.  But catechism is a part of the historical, Protestant church.   For example, the Heidelberg Catechism was written in the sixteenth century for the purposes of:

.
teaching children;

guiding pastors; and

encouraging unity within the Protestant churches in that area that is now Germany.

Kevin DeYoung has recently written a book on the Heidelberg Catechism, suggesting that it is still a valid and effective means of educating believers in the substance of the faith.  To take a look at the book and some customer reviews, click here.

It may be that the Evangelical Protestant church, with its emphasis on personal experience and “relevancy” could gain some depth by exploring the idea of catechism.  Remember what our friend Timothy George said of the evangelical church:

Evangelicalism is best understood as a renewal movement within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Across time, evangelicals have drawn deeply from four wells of Christian wisdom: the christological and trinitarian faith of the undivided church prior to 1054; the Protestant Reformation, especially its emphasis on the authority of the Bible and justification by grace alone through faith alone; the transatlantic awakenings exemplified by Whitefield, Edwards, and the Wesleys; and the missional stirrings of the Spirit throughout the globe, including puritanism, pietism, and pentecostalism.

Most American evangelicals are not aware of this rich heritage, and that makes them vulnerable to the idolatries of the present moment. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “people who have no past, have no future.” The thinness of American evangelicalism—short on doctrine, worship as entertainment, little or no catechesis—stems from spiritual amnesia (“we have forgotten who we are”) and results in ecclesial myopia (“at least we’re not like them!”).

Your friend and mine, Rod Dreher, spoke this past week to some evangelical leaders in Colorado Springs.  Here is a little bit of what he heard from them:

 . . . what I’m hearing is serious concern from these Evangelicals that their churches are failing the younger generation by

  • not grounding them seriously enough in the Bible
  • making worship all about entertainment, thereby cultivating in them the idea that church is all about avoiding boredom
  • failing at discipleship

This is real food for thought for us here in Saint Albans.  One of the things he notes in the article is the idea that the “megachurch” moment has passed and people are looking for something else now.

Here’s the link to the Dreher post.  It’s well worth your time.  It’s like he’s been reading our mail.

I Couldn’t Resist

Here are the first two paragraphs from Tim George’s article.  It’s strong, straightforward, and encouraging:

Evangelicalism is best understood as a renewal movement within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Across time, evangelicals have drawn deeply from four wells of Christian wisdom: the christological and trinitarian faith of the undivided church prior to 1054; the Protestant Reformation, especially its emphasis on the authority of the Bible and justification by grace alone through faith alone; the transatlantic awakenings exemplified by Whitefield, Edwards, and the Wesleys; and the missional stirrings of the Spirit throughout the globe, including puritanism, pietism, and pentecostalism.

Most American evangelicals are not aware of this rich heritage, and that makes them vulnerable to the idolatries of the present moment. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “people who have no past, have no future.” The thinness of American evangelicalism—short on doctrine, worship as entertainment, little or no catechesis—stems from spiritual amnesia (“we have forgotten who we are”) and results in ecclesial myopia (“at least we’re not like them!”). At a moment like this, when the ground once thought solid turns out to be quicksand, what is needed is a back-to-the-future revival. I see the signs of such an awakening already. It will be decidedly radical, global, and ecumenical.

How (In The Heck) Did We Get Here?

Last Sunday in class, as we were discussing the protean changes in the legal and cultural landscape of the United States, David Dehart asked this question:

How did we (ever) get here?

It’s a good question, and one that, if we are to survive the flood, we would do well to try to answer.  In any such effort, we start by defining our terms.  What do we mean by “here?”

There are knee-jerk answers to that question, one of which is a quick pointing to the recent Supreme Court case that redefines marriage as a contract by any two (?) consenting adults, rather than an exclusive union between a man and a woman.  What kind of philosophy is it that overturns and, thus, undermines the central social institution that, from time immemorial, has been the primary unit of civilized life, the means of social stability and freedom from government control?

But I think if we are to have a real grasp of the situation, we need to go much deeper than the decision in Obergefell.

What Dave means by “here,” I would say, is “the modern.”  And the mark of the modern age is this – man is the measure of all things.  That is – human beings are capable of marking their own successful courses of life without reference to God.

If we define the matter this way, we see that it is not simply a one-vote majority of the Supreme Court that is the problem.  Rather, as John Fogerty would say, “It’s been comin’ for some time.”

Ronald Rolheiser would agree.  I think he starts the modern age with Descartes.  You know, the old “I think, therefore I am,” guy.  Rolheiser also points to the pervasiveness  of Marxist and Freudian philosophy in the modern mind (Death of the Soviet Union notwithstanding).  Both of these bearded cats believed that “the way of man was within himself.”   This is a denial of the fall and the beginning of the modern age.  The “here” that Dave was talking about.

What is fundamentalism?

What is “fundamentalism?”

The question arises for us this season in the context of Rod Dreher’s quest to imagine an outline for the life of the church in the United States in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefel  and the sea change in popular attitudes toward Christian morality and the Christian faith that precedes and undergirds that ruling.

Dreher  is concerned that with the erosion of any semblance of support for Christian morality in the culture at large and in the institutions that reflect that culture – such as government, such as the Supreme Court – we are at risk of losing the sort of structure that helped to encourage morality in the past.   He thinks that the church will have to change its strategy if it is to preserve the faith and pass along the Christian perspective and way of life.

He talks about the “Benedict Option,” an idea he bases on the example of Benedict of Nursia, who established monasteries throughout Europe during the dark ages and kept alive Christian teaching and practice as civilization collapsed.  Dreher says from the get-go that he is not advocating monasticism and that he does not himself know the details of the plan or how it might be implemented in practice.  As he researches in the process of writing his book on the subject, he has undertaken to meet with laity and leaders from the Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical churches in the United States.

In meeting with and discussing the notion of the Benedict Option with Evangelical folks – most particularly Southern Baptists, he finds a real resistance to the idea.  He says folks in the Southern Baptist Church say that the idea sounds to them like a return to the Fundamentalism that they suffered through as youth in their Southern Baptist Churches in the 1980s.

We’ve all heard the word “fundamentalist’” and I guess that we all have some notion of our own about what it means.  Today in class Joe Bird defined the terms as meaning one who clings to a literalistic interpretation of Scripture.  Given that, we proposed that the first fundamentalists might have been the Ecclesiastical Court that considered Galileo’s case in 1633:

  • Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the center of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture. He was required to “abjure, curse, and detest”those opinions.[51]

  • He was sentenced to formal imprisonment at the pleasure of the Inquisition.[52]On the following day this was commuted to house arrest, which he remained under for the rest of his life.

  • His offending Dialoguewas banned; and in an action not announced at the trial, publication of any of his works was forbidden, including any he might write in the future.[53]

 

So much for the fundamentalism of the seventeenth century.  What is fundamentalism today?  Where have we run into trouble with it?

One place, for sure, is with regard to the question of the age of the universe and, after that, the whole notion of evolution.  This subject is so complicated and emotionally charged that we could get caught up in it and lose sight of anything else we are considering.  We spent a great deal of time on it a few years ago when we studied Francis Collins’ book The Language of God.

 

You will recall that Collins is a devout, Evangelical Christian who was the chief scientist in the monumental project of decoding the human genome.  Collins presents a theory that is commonly referred to as “Biologos” that accepts the rather stout scientific evidence that the Earth has been around for a lot longer than the few thousand years allowed by the “fundamentalists” who hold that human beings and dinosaurs were contemporaneous and that any other theory of history and time is contrary to Scripture.

In that book, Collins had an amazing quote from Saint Augustine where he warned about premature and unduly narrow interpretations of Scripture.  I wanted to include that quote in this post, but, as happens all too often, I can’t put my hands on the book right now.

Tomorrow’s Lesson

Here is what two dissenting Supreme Court Justices wrote about the impact of the Obergfell decision on orthodox Christians:

Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.

Here is Rod Dreher commenting on how he believes the church must react in order to preserve the light of the faith in the coming generations:

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”

Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.

I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.

Last fall, I spoke with the prior of the Benedictine monastery in Nursia, and told him about the Benedict Option. So many Christians, he told me, have no clue how far things have decayed in our aggressively secularizing world. The future for Christians will be within the Benedict Option, the monk said, or it won’t be at all.

Obergefell is a sign of the times, for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order.

We’ve already talked some about how churches like our own – evangelical, protestant churches – might react to Dreher’s proposal.  We’ll continue that discussion in the morning.