Can a state have its own own way of thinking theologically? Should it? If so, what might that look like? Anyone who has spent any time in California or around Californians begins to realize that there’s something distinction about California culture. Does that distinct culture translate into distinct theological perspective?
These are some of the questions that the newly formed Theological Engagement with California’s Culture (TECC) project wants to address. The project is led by Fred Sanders (Biola), Sarah Summer (A.W. Tozer), and Jason Sexton (St. Andrews). Together they want to develop the project as “a collaborative academic venture endeavoring to engage the most pressing issues in California’s recent history.”
If you’re interested in participating in the project, they’ve issued a Call for Papers to be presented at next year’s ETS meeting. Here’s the information:
The TECC Project is planning a special introductory session at the November 2011 meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Francisco, November 16-18, which proposes to host four academic papers, followed by a time of Question/Answer and discussion.
We are currently seeking high quality paper proposals from Evangelical Theological Society members and non-members attending the conference. Papers should be delivered in a maximum of 30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes for discussion, and therefore should be no more than 3,500 words in length. Papers may engage any issue within California’s historical or contemporary cultural setting from a theological standpoint. Highest consideration will be given to papers addressing particular phenomena within the State (e.g., but not limited to ethical, political, religious, social, technological, economic, etc.) rather than those theorizing about the possibility or priority of theological engagement with culture.
The deadline for receipt of proposals is FEBRUARY 28, 2011. To submit a paper proposal, please email an attached proposal to proposals[at]teccproject[dot]com with the following details:
1. Institution (if any)
2. Your Name
4. Brief abstract (about 300 words)
5. Any audiovisual equipment needs
The Administrator will notify you by e-mail (to the address from which you applied) as to whether your proposal has been accepted by March 15.
High quality paper proposals that are not accepted for the 2011 ETS meeting may be invited to one of our upcoming TECC Project workshops or meetings, which commence in 2013.
- iMonk brings together an interesting group of Christian leaders to discuss pastoral care and visitation.
- Grateful to the Dead comments on a few universities that are doing historical theology well.
- P.ost engages an article from Pyromaniacs on engaging culture. The comments are culture and the Gospel are worth reading, but I particularly liked an opening comment on the difficulty of entering a blogging world very different from your own: “I don’t go there very often – it’s the other side of town, it’s unfamiliar territory, I sense that I don’t belong there, I don’t understand the language, and frankly I’m afraid of being mugged.”
- Roger Olson wants every just to admit that all theologies are flawed. I think we can push harder. I think everyone already admits this. The harder part is getting people to act like it.
- Kevin DeYoung points out an interesting panel discussion on the Bible involving Brian McLaren, Tim Keller, and Alistair McGrath.
- Ben Witherington discusses what sola scriptura really means.
- And, Mashable has a list of 11 astounding sci-fi predictions that came true.
Discussing the recent move by the French parliament to ban the burqa, R. Scott Clark offered up a great quote for summarizing his understanding of the line that we must walk when engaging cultural issues.
The Reformed confession is neither pietist, which, in its worst expressions, reduces the faith to inward experiences of the transcendent, nor transformational (creating ostensibly Christian versions of secular life).
Read the rest here.
- Jesus Creed has started a new review series on James Emery White’s Christ among the Dragons: Finding Our Way through Cultural Challenges. This could be interesting as a follow-up to our discussion of Hunter’s To Change the World.
- Stuart reports on a Pew poll indicating that more than 40% of Americans believe Jesus will return by 2050. I think every generation of Christians has been convinced that Jesus would return in their generation. Looked at positively, this could reflect the idea that we should live as those constantly prepared for Christ’s return. Looked at less positively, this is another expression of humanity’s basic self-centeredness.
- Phil Sumpter points out a new biblioblog, Ancient Hebrew Grammar. It looks like it could be a great resource.
- In case you somehow haven’t heard by now, they’ve discovered the oldest known images of Peter and Paul in a catacomb in Rome.
- Apparently some other seminaries thought Claremont’s decision to become an interreligious seminary was brilliant, so they’re going to do it too. And, I’m sure this is all about theological conviction. It has nothing to do with money.
- And, a group is now suing McDonald’s because the toys in the Happy Meals are making kids fat. Technically, they’re arguing that McDonald’s advertises the toys to kids, and the kids bug their parents until the parents take them to McDonald’s so that the kids can get fat. They should probably be suing the parents for not being able to say “no” (it’s a difficult word), but the parents don’t have anywhere near as much money.
- Matt Edwards has begun a 9-part review of Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul. This significant (i.e. long) work has received considerable attention lately for its argument that the traditional understanding of justification is wrong and that Romans 1-4 is actually Paul’s summary of false teaching that he then refutes in Romans 5ff. Beverly Gaventa has a good shorter review here (HT Euangelion).
- In keeping with our recent discussion of Hunter’s To Change the World, here’s a post from InternetMonk on why he is abstaining from the culture wars.
- This month’s free audio book from Christianaudio.com is Francis Chan’s Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit.
- The lectures from last week’s NEXT conference are now available, including lectures by most of the usual Sovereign Grace crew: Joshua Harris, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, C.J. Mahaney, D.A. Carson, and Jeff Purswell. (HT Justin Taylor)
- Allen Yeh offers some thoughts on the Edinburgh 2010 Conference that begins today in honor of the 1910 World Missionary Conference, providing an interesting summary of some key differences between the two conferences.
- And, apparently James Cameron is among our best hopes for fixing the oil spill in the Gulf. That can’t be good.
Several of us from the ThM program got together last night to discuss James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World (thanks to Pat for the hospitality!). I thought the discussion was very interesting, and Brian’s contributions were invaluable.
I won’t rehash all the particulars of the book since I’ve posted links before to good reviews and discussions of the book here and here. One thing that really stood out to me, though, as I was looking over things again before the meeting was Chuck Colson’s response to the book and how badly he seems to have missed Hunter’s point. In his response to Hunter, Colson comments, “I don’t think that the differences are that great.” Instead, they are “more apparent than real.” And he specifically identifies this point of connection in the idea that “Changing people’s beliefs and influencing elites are not mutually exclusive.” And here he demonstrates that he just did not understand the heart of Hunter’s argument.
As I read the book, there are three basic moves in Hunter’s argument, and Colson grasped two of them. First, Hunter contends that evangelicals get culture change wrong because we misunderstand culture. We are implicit idealists, thinking that culture is really about what people think and believe. Hunter contends instead that ideas are important, but that it is really the institutional structures of a society that provide the context in which ideas can have a sustainable impact. So, a crude summary could be: culture = ideas + institutions. And, this works for Colson. Though he wants to affirm the importance of worldviews (i.e. ideas), he’s very aware that institutions are critical in promoting and sustaining these worldviews. That’s why he devotes so much attention to social/institutional change.
Hunter’s second point is that the implicit idealism in our view of culture means that we think the best way to change culture is to change how people think. Instead, he argues that cultures only change through a top-down process driven by overlapping networks of elite power and influence. Just changing what the average person thinks won’t affect long-term cultural change because that leaves unchanged these elite networks that really exert long-term influence. In other words, you can affect short term popular change in a culture by appealing to the average person, but long term cultural change always involves these elite powers structures. And, Colson thinks they’re on the same basic page here as well. Although Colson’s efforts are largely geared toward changing culture by informing and influencing the worldviews of average people, he is very aware of the power and importance of cultural elites. If there’s one thing Colson understands, it’s how social/political power works in this country.
So, Colson seems to think that he and Hunter are on the same basic page here. Evangelicals can change culture, they just need to do a better job engaging cultural institutions and the elites who control them. The problem is that this misses the third, critical, and (in my opinion) most interesting move in Hunter’s argument. Hunter acknowledges that it’s possible to change culture in this way—though he also contends that it is difficult if not impossible to do this through intentional action, that attempts to change culture intentionally like this always have unintended consequences, and that it takes generations before you can really see if culture has really changed. But, Hunter contends that the only way to bring about cultural change like this is by becoming complicit in the broken power structures that make it all possible. And, this is exactly what he thinks both the Christian Right and Christian Left have done. By embracing power politics in seeking to accomplish meaningful change, they have been coopted by worldly power structures that are antithetical to Gospel/Kingdom values.
So from a Hunterian perspective, Colson is right that you can accomplish (at least limited) cultural change. But, when we focus on change as the goal, we inevitably become part of the very problems that we’re trying to fix. As an alternative, Hunter offers his idea of faithful presence. Rather than trying to change the world, we should see to live faithful Kingdom lives in the world, seeking to foster human flourishing both within the Kingdom community and without. Whether the world changes as a result is entirely up to God. That’s not our job.
So, Hunter and Colson really are on completely opposite sides of this discussion; the differences are not “more apparent than real.” Colson summarizes the goal as “Changing people’s beliefs and influencing elites,” which is a great summary of exactly what Hunter thinks we should not be doing.
According to Tillich, the task of theology is to correlate the great questions of any age with the answers provided by the Christian faith. I recently ran across an article at the Guardian that exemplified this approach. According to the author,
Theology is at its best when it works in a triangular relationship with scripture, creation and culture, continuously asking how the texts and traditions of the Christian faith are to be interpreted in the light of the questions of our time.
Bonhoeffer takes a very different approach and offers and important warning about the danger of trying to engage the world through the questions people are asking. There is a role for this, but it has the undeniable drawback of making theological dialog entirely self-centered and limiting the Gospel only to the questions that people are actually asking, or that you can convince them they should be asking. As Bonhoeffer says here, God then becomes the deus ex machina who rescues us by addressing our felt needs.
God is being increasingly pushed out of a world that has come of age…and…since Kant he has been releaged to a realm beyond the world of experience. Theology has…accommodated itself to the development by restricting God to the so-called ultimate questions as a deus ex machina; that means that he becomes the answer to life’s problems, and the solution of its needs and conflicts. So if anyone has no such difficulties, or if he refuses to go into these things, to allow others to pity him, then either he cannot be open to God; or else he must be shown that he is, in fact, deeply involved in such problems, needs, and conflicts, without admitting or knowing it. If that can be done – and existentialist philosophy and psychotherapy have worked out some quite ingenious methods in that direction – then this man can now be claimed for God, and methodism can celebrate its triumph. But if he cannot be brought to see and admit that his hapiness is really an evil, his health sickness, and his vigour despair, the theologian is at his wits’ end. It’s a case of having to do either with a hardened sinner of a particularly ugly type, or with a man of ‘bourgeois complacency’, and the one is as far from salvation as the other.
Bonhoeffer concludes this section by arguing that we shouldn’t make our own questions, frustrations, and brokenness the focus of our theological engagement with the world.
You see, that is the attitude that I am contending against. When Jesus blessed sinners, they were real sinners, but Jesus did not make everyone a sinner first. He called them away from their sin, not into their sin. (Letters & Papers from Prison, p. 341)
Instead, we should call people to focus on Jesus himself. In this way we will point people to the one who is not deus ex machina, but just deus.
No, I’m not going to weigh in on the theological significance of lost. Actually, I can’t. I’m still about four episodes behind. So, I didn’t get to watch the finale last night. But, apparently others are far more current in their Lostology and have prepared some reflections for your theological enjoyment. Two in particular look interesting (though I haven’t read either of them for fear of spoilers).
- Over at Huffington Post Bradley Onishi has an article titled “I Once Was Found and Now I Am Lost: Reflections on the Religious and Spiritual Dimensions of Lost“
- And James McGrath, who has bee posting comments on Lost for a while now, has one called “LOST Places In The Heart: Making sense of LOST now that it is over“
If you’re aware of any other good posts on the subject, feel free to let us know.
[Update: Here’s another from Relevant Magainze]
Pat found some more good resources on James Davison Hunter’s book To Change the World that should be helpful if you’re trying to figure out what all the talk is about. And, if you’re a ThM student and you want to attend the discussion on Hunter’s book at Pat’s house coming up on May 27th, these will be helpful as well. (Remember to email Billy and let him know if you’re planning to attend.)
- Here’s an eleven page distillation by Hunter of his book that he presented to the Trinity Forum in 2002.
- Here is a lecture that Hunter gave at the University of Montana titled “Public Service and the Idea of a Changing World,” and a seminar that he led there on “On the Priority of Culture to Politics.
- And, here’s Hunter’s response in CT to Colson’s and Crouch’s interaction with his book.