Blog Archives

Flotsam and jetsam (12/1)

In our world, quiet is counter-cultural. I’m not only referring to quiet on the outside, but also quiet on the inside. In fact, it may be easier to shut out the external voices than it is to silence the internal noise. It’s often those inner voices, especially the unacknowledged ones, that compel us to fill our lives with movement and agendas and spending and eating. Our behaviors and hurry are echoes of our inner doubts about our worth. Sadly, in many ways the nature of our holiday celebrations reveal how incompletely we have embraced the actual message of Christmas.

It can be frustrating living in-between. Any blessing, sustenance, attainment, contentment, or security we latch on to now is imperfect, incomplete, and temporary. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy the crumbs we taste now, it’s just to look at them honestly and identify them for the crumbs they are. And when we or others around us don’t even get to enjoy many crumbs at times, it casts a shadow on the whole enterprise.

Google Editions will have a significantly different sales model from most competitors, such as Amazon’s Kindle store or Apple’s iBookStore. Instead of purchasing books through a single online store, Google will let users buy them either from Google or from independent bookstores and then tie them to a Google account, which will enable them to read the books anywhere and on any device they please.


Flotsam and jetsam (10/27)

They text their friends all day long. At night, they do research for their term papers on laptops and commune with their parents on Skype. But as they walk the paths of Hamilton College, a poster-perfect liberal arts school in this upstate village, students are still hauling around bulky, old-fashioned textbooks — and loving it.

Though I shared some of the frustrations, I came to a place on day five, when I finally realized: We all feel marginalized in some way. That’s the human condition. Extend grace. Move on. At the end of the day, it’s not about you or me. In the church and in ministry, we will all encounter moments when we feel marginalized and unintentionally marginalize others, but we must learning to work and serve together without resorting to the “It’s not fair!” refrain that can divide and undermine our reputation to the world around us. We must learn to display what it means to madly love God and one another in spite of our sense of inequality.

  • Roger Olson answers the question, “What is an evangelical theologian?” offering his usual emphasis on evangelicalism as a sociological  movement rather than some particular set of theological commitments.

Thus, my answer to whether Brian McLaren is an evangelical theologian is: “Of course he is. What else would he be?”  Brian’s whole shtick (I don’t mean that in any demeaning way) is only of interest to evangelicals.  His publishers are mostly evangelical publishers.  He speaks mostly in evangelical institutions.  He pastors an evangelical church.  To a very large extent he has no constituency outside of evangelicalism.  What does it even mean to declare him “not an evangelical theologian?”

As I look back on this book I see both strengths and weaknesses. The epistolary form is a wonderful choice. The tone is humble and helpful. The majority of what Smith teaches lines up well with what I believe. But as a Baptist I had to disagree with, well, a good portion of it. And looking at the endorsements, I can see that others disagreed with him as well. Two of the book’s endorsers, Tullian Tchividjian and Michael Horton offer caveats within their blurbs (Tchividjian: “No one will agree with everything here, but what I appreciate…” Horton: “Most of the time I cheered ‘Amen!’ as I read these letters, but even when I disagreed, I appreciated…”). In fact, conspicuous by their absence from the list of endorsers are any of the Baptist leaders of this New Calvinism.

Flotsam and jetsam (8/18)

Can Brian McLaren answer three simple questions? Apparently not.

In an interesting video interview, Scot McKnight tries to pin Brian McLaren down and get him to just say what he believes about several key issues. As McKnight points out, a frustrating theological ambiguity pervades most of McLaren’s writing: “Some of us detect a provocative ambiguity while others wonder if there is not deliberate refusal to clarify your views.” So, he tries to get McLaren to offer clear responses to the following three questions (the questions are a bit longer, but I pared them down to their main point):

  1. Why not just come out and tell people what you believe?
  2. Are you really orthodox?
  3. Are you a universalist?

McLaren’s answer to the first question was his best answer. He thinks people find the ambiguity frustrating because they are heresy hunters and just want to see if he agrees with their checklist of theological truths. This is unfortunately true much of the time. And, he points out that ambiguity and misdirection can be powerful literary devices, and can cause people to think more deeply about issues than a straightforward presentation would. Of course, this doesn’t explain why he can’t seem to be clear no matter what he’s writing, but it was a good point nonetheless.

His second answer was frustratingly evasive. He affirms the “faith” of the early church (e.g. their attitude of dependence, humility, worship), but rejects “the Greco-Roman narrative,” which he thinks repeatedly (though not necessarily) leads to oppression and violence. He sees himself as exploring ways of articulating Christianity in new cultural contexts by exploring alternative theological narratives in the tradition of Patrick, Francis of Assisi, the Anabaptists, the social Gospel movement, and the liberation/feminist theologians. But, he offers absolutely no  help in understanding the content of these other narratives and how they relate to the content of the Greco-Roman narrative. Presumably he wouldn’t continue to use Chalcedonian language to describe the incarnation. Fine. What language would he use? And how does the conceptual framework inherent in that language relate to the conceptual framework operating at Chalcedon? He still doesn’t say.

His answer to the third question was just annoying. He basically rejects the question. He affirms that there is an afterlife, but he argues that the question presumes an us/them and in/out mentality that he rejects. And, he contends that the Bible is far more concerned about God’s will being done on earth than on whether people go to hell. And, I’d actually agree with him on both of these points. But, none of that means that the question doesn’t make sense (which he claims). If we are alive now and if we will be alive in the future (whatever this future life looks like), then it is perfectly legitimate to ask about the nature of that existence. And, even though people going to Hell is not a dominant theme in the Bible, it is a theme. McLaren basically just uses some shifty language to dodge the question…again.

So, despite McKnight’s attempts to pin him down, McLaren continues to dodge important questions. I agree with him completely that people should not focus on these theological issues to the neglect of the important social problems that he mentions. But, this should not be an either/or. You can engage a broken world with mercy and compassion, while still speaking clearly about what you believe. At least I think I can. Apparently McLaren can’t.

Here’s the whole interview.