Blog Archives

Speak with conviction – a visual poem

Here’s a great visual poem from Taylor Mali on the importance of speaking with conviction. He challenges the modern notion that it’s a virtue to hold beliefs tentatively and speak with uncertainty. It’s like we want to say,

I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, I’m just like inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty.

Instead, he calls for conviction. As he says toward the end:

So, I implore you, I entreat you, and I challenge you to speak with conviction, to say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it.

Thanks to Brian Fulthorp for pointing this one out.

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Flotsam and jetsam (2/7)

If denominationalism simply denotes a “brand” vying for market share, then let denominationalism fall. But many of us believe denominations can represent fidelity to living traditions of local congregations that care about what Jesus cared about—personal conversion, discipleship, mission and community. Perhaps the denominational era has just begun.

  • David Mills warns against using terms like “prophetic” and “biblical” as ideological rhetoric.

Too many of us substitute being right for being good. Holiness is hard, ideology easy. A small step toward holiness, or at least away from speaking as an ideologue, can be made by avoiding our school or party or movement’s pet words. That can force us to try to make an argument, and that effort can lead us closer to truths we would not see otherwise.

  • Richard Beck is starting a series on church giving, reflecting on his own desire to be more directly involved in the end result of the giving.

I think the real reason goes back to looking for a more direct experience with generosity and hospitality. Wanting to live like Jesus people struggle with the impersonal nature of the collection plate. It just doesn’t feel right.

I think the real reason goes back to looking for a more direct experience with generosity and hospitality. Wanting to live like Jesus people struggle with the impersonal nature of the collection plate. It just doesn’t feel right.

Roger Olson vs. the “neo-fundamentalists”

According to Roger Olson, the reaction of many conservative evangelicals to open theism “was fueled by misinformation, misrepresentation and down right demagoguery.” He’s particularly irked that these critics routinely associated open theism with process theology and accused them doing things of limiting God, diminishing God’s glory, and undermining the atonement. He contends that open theism does none of these things, and that these conservative evangelical critics should have known better. And, this response demonstrates that “many conservative evangelicals are not really evangelicals in the post-fundamentalist, post-WW2 sense but really fundamentalists (which might be unfair to many fundamentalists!).”

Instead, Olson suggests that open theism should be viewed as “a legitimate evangelical option,” and states that he’s willing to stand alongside his open theist friends “over against the neo-fundamentalists who seem to be largely controlling the evangelical establishment today.”

On the one hand, I think Olson’s right. I thought at the time that many of the criticisms being leveled against open theism were not entirely fair. The argument that open theism is basically process theology in disguise was particularly pernicious – tarring open theism with a whole raft of positions that they all explicitly denied. (I don’t think they helped their case, though, by spending as much time as they did discussing process theology. Of course, their point was to demonstrate that they were not process theologians. But, the unintended consequence was to demonstrate to everyone that they were quite familiar with process theology. It was a short step from there to the implication that they were in fact influenced by process theology.)

On the other hand, though, we should recognize that the rhetoric flew strongly in both directions. As with many arguments, the intense heat of the debate led proponents of both positions to be less than fair to the opposite side. I well remember the frustration of reading and listening to the open theists’ blatant caricatures of classical theism, neglecting the best that this tradition has to offer, and focusing instead on its weakest aspects. (Note well, when critiquing another position, do not pit your strongest arguments against their weakest ones. If that’s the only way you can win, give up now.) So, focusing only on the missteps of the evangelical “establishment” is not entirely fair either.

I’d also be curious to hear more from Olson on what he thinks qualifies as real “evangelicalism” vs. “neo-fundamentalism.” Presumably he wouldn’t object to someone engaging in heated theological discourse (he does it all the time). And, I don’t think rhetorical “fairness” is really the issue, despite his focus on that problem in this essay, since we see those problems on both sides. I think it actually has more to do with drawing “boundaries.” At the end of his essay, he states that he sees both open theists and 5-point Calvinists as both being “within the evangelical movement” (despite the fact that he really does not like 5-point Calvinism). His real problem with these conservative evangelical critics, then, is their attempt to exclude, to draw the boundaries of evangelicalism such that open theists are declared nonevangelical. And, I think this boundary-drawing is Olson’s real concern; that’s what harkens back to the separatism of the fundamentalists.

But, of course, if we’re not supposed to be drawing boundaries, how does Olson explain his claim that these critics are “not really evangelicals”? That sounds a lot like a boundary to me. Maybe Olson has some fundamentalist leanings of his own.

The role of ridicule in religious rhetoric

This cartoon was posted earlier today on the First Thoughts blog, but it was subsequently removed after a couple of commenters questioned the appropriateness of lampooning a theologian like this. I’m curious what you think. Take a look.

The cartoon was taken down both because of the two comments that it received and because the poster felt that it “may have been more mean than satirical.” Now, I can understand the desire to protect theological discourse from degenerating into pure meanness and descending into ad hominem attack. And, satire is a tool that should be wielded very carefully. As I discussed in my review of Imaginary Jesus, you need to be careful not to cross the line.

Nonetheless,  removing a cartoon like this still annoys me. Does theology always have to be so serious? Personally, I like to make fun of people (as long as they don’t do it back to me, that makes me sad). Like any good caricature, it can be a very effective way of highlighting what you think are the most distinctive characteristics (i.e. flaws) of the person/position you’re trying to describe.

What do you think? Am I off here? Do we need to be more careful in using satire and such things in our religious discourse? Or, is there a legitimate role for this kind of rhetoric?