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.

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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.

Benedict Option: What is It?

Here is a paragraph from noted Protestant, reformed theologian Carl Trueman:

Rod Dreher has been creating quite a helpful and productive stir with his arguments in favor of the “Benedict Option” as a way for the church to think about its mission in a world where Christianity is thrust to the despised cultural margins.  I am not sure where I stand on all of the details—some seem yet to be worked out—but he is surely highlighting the fact that in America things are changing rapidly and that Christians need to realize that. Much of what he says resonates with the notion of church as exile community, with which I have deep sympathy.  Yet part of me wonders if we need a new (or perhaps “new old”) option at all.

If you were looking to the New Testament addressing the church as an “exile community,”  you’d look immediately at the Book of Revelation.  Maybe we’ll spend some time there in the next few weeks.

Why The Benedict Option?

We’ve spent some time in the last few weeks talking about the Benedict Option, a subject near and dear to Rod Dreher’s heart.  He admits that he has not hammered out a complete definition of the idea and he is meeting with leaders and laity from Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Evangelical churches to try and get reactions to the proposal, all in preparation for a book on the subject that he is now in the process of writing.

One question that has to be raised in this discussion is this:  Why do we need to be discussing any sort of departure or “option” at all?  Why can’t we just keep on doing what we’ve been doing?

Okay.  Fair question.  Dreher has spent a good bit of ink in addressing this in the last few months in his blog.  I should have been keeping notes on every time he set something out clearly that might be a justification for his proposal.  Should have, but didn’t.  But in one of today’s posts (Dreher writes faster than I can read, sometimes) he takes on a serious issue and suggests that this kind of culture that we now live in is what makes the notion of building up our churches to create havens for young people seeking marriage partners necessary.

Here is a quote:

When I was in Nashville last week at the Southern Baptist event, someone said that we, the church, need to be there to take in the walking wounded from the sexual revolution. He’s right. But see, the kind of thing that this Vanity Fair piece talks about goes right to the core of what the Benedict Option needs to be. We have to do what we can to raise kids who will not succumb to Tinder culture. This is going to require radical steps. A reader of this blog said something to the effect of the Benedict Option cannot be about the church doing what we’ve been doing all along, except pushing even harder for our kids to save sex until marriage. This Tinder article is a perfect illustration of why she is right. The culture itself has changed to allow for a sexual free-for-all, but the most important aspect of this story is the role technology plays in driving the culture. Any Benedict Option that fails to deal honestly and forcefully with our relationship to technology and popular culture will fail.

If you are intrigued, read the whole thing:  Tinder Mercenaries.