Flotsam and jetsam (2/7)
- Russell Moore has an opinion piece in the WSJ on whether we are seeing the death of the denomination.
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.
- Trevin Wax wrestles with the problem of self-promotion as an author.
- I finally got around to watching Stephen Colbert’s latest segment excoriating Bill O’Reilly and his “arguments” for the existence of God. (HT)
- Burgling advice of the day: don’t leave your phone charging in the house you just robbed.
- And, here’s a list of the 10 Most Shared Super Bowl Ads of All Time.
Flotsam and jetsam (2/3)
I’m flying to Phoenix this morning for a conference, so just a couple of quick links today.
- Matthew Anderson, The Conversation Our Culture Cannot Have, But Must Anyway
Here’s the painful reality to someone like me: it doesn’t matter how carefully I make the arguments, how vociferously I contend that people with gay desires are Christians, how rationally and civilly I try to make my case. In a world where news stories dominate and facts are hard to obtain, the perception is all that matters. And when the perception is that evangelicals hate gay people, every argument–of any sort–is inevitably one more piece of proof for the case.
- Kevin DeYoung, Something We Can All Agree On
Why can’t all the professing Christians in the world look past their differences and just get along?
Because some of those differences are irreconcilable. Most significantly and most foundationally, the three main branches of Christianity in this country–Roman Catholic, Liberal Protestant, and Evangelical Protestant–do not agree on the locus of authority. We don’t answer the question, “What is our final authority?” in the same way.
From the first pages of Scripture to the last, God demonstrates that where there is need, there is also provision. Where there is emptiness, there is also a remedy. Where there is the aching fear that we navigate our days on earth alone, there is a loving God always present and actively sovereign. But our perception fails at times.
- And a UK immigration official has been fired for putting his own wife on the no-fly list.
An immigration officer in the U.K. found a novel way to end his relationship with his wife. His cunning plan was to wait until she went abroad to visit family, then add her to name to the terrorist no-fly list. Unable to return from Pakistan for three years, with officials refusing to tell her why, it took three years for the truth to emerge
Flotsam and jetsam (2/2)
- This fun video explains the difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England. Living in Scotland for a while, I quickly realized that these are important distinctions to get straight lest you accidentally tell a Scot that he/she is “English”.
- Jesse Bering explains his argument that our belief in God is just a product of how our brains work.
What if I were to tell you that God’s mental states, too, were all in your mind? That God, like a tiny speck floating at the edge of your cornea producing the image of a hazy, out-of-reach orb accompanying your every turn, was in fact a psychological illusion, a sort of evolved blemish etched onto the core cognitive substrate of your brain? It may feel as if there is something grander out there . . . watching, knowing, caring. Perhaps even judging. But, in fact, that’s just your overactive theory of mind. In reality, there is only the air you breathe.
- Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie calls for more passion and less civility in public discourse.
All this talk about civility is beginning to make me uncomfortable. Civility refers to courteous and polite behavior. But courteous and polite behavior is not, in and of itself, a religious value. At times, it is to be subordinated to other, more important values.
- Joseph Black discusses why Eastern Orthodox churches claim to be the one true church.
Orthodox Christians believe they have managed to preserve and pass down the traditions of the church from those days through the rest of the Ecumenical Councils, through the ‘great schism’ with Rome, despite pressure and persecution from Muslims, Crusaders, Communists and Protestants (!) without deviation; they see themselves as having faithfully managed Christ’s blueprint and agenda for his people to the present day.
- Jim West reports that the church in Laodicea may have been uncovered by archeologists.
- Rod over at Political Jesus is going to be blogging through Black History Month. That should be a fascinating discussion to follow.
- Mubarak says that he won’t run for re-election, the Egyptian army calls for an end to the demonstrations, and there are reports that the internet has been partially turned back on. But, all of this has done little to stem the demonstrations.
- Koinonia is giving away a copy of the NIV Application Commentary on Ephesians by Klyne Snodgrass.
Flotsam and jetsam (1/11)
- Kyle Roberts offers some reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together for responding to violence and brokenness as a Christian community.
Christian community is not some lofty ideal, but an objectively real “divine reality” (p. 26). This means that when we experience disillusionment with another individual in the community, when fragmentation occurs, all that is destroyed is the illusion of a utopian, harmonious existence. The reality—a real community of sinners saved miraculously by God’s grace—remains intact
- Bill Mounce deals with what it means to say that we “are being saved” in 1 Cor. 15:2. (Andrew Perriman offers a very different perspective.)
For me, it is Jesus’ gate and path analogy. Being a Christian is a being a follower of Jesus. You start following at the gate, continue following as you walk along the path, and at the end of the path of perseverance is life. So for me, it is easy to say that while I celebrate the finished work of Christ on the cross and the underserved, grace-filled, regenerative work of the Holy Spirit at my conversion, there is a very real sense in which my salvation is an ongoing process culminating in glorification, provided of course that I hold fast to the gospel.
- Madeleine Flanagan reflects on The Importance of Critical Engagement. Citing one study regarding teens in the church:
The study indicates that students actually grow more confident in their Christian commitment when the adults in their life — parents, pastors, teachers — guide them in grappling with the challenges posed by prevailing secular worldviews. In short, the only way teens become truly “prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks” (1 Pet. 3:15) is by wrestling honestly and personally with the questions.
- According to a new study in the Journal of Personality, students crave boosts in self esteem through praise and good grades more than just about anything – including sex and money. (HT)
- Psychology Today offers some tips on How to Recognize When You’re on the Road to Burnout. (HT)
- And Texas is currently dealing with the 11th plague: wild pigs.
Review: Worship and the Reality of God by John Jefferson Davis
Many thanks to IVP for sending me a review copy of John Jefferson Davis’s Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence (IVP, 2010).
I had a difficult time assigning a final score to this book. On the one hand, I picked it up ready to be convinced by its basic argument: evangelical worship is often theologically shallow and driven by pragmatism and experientialism. And, indeed, Davis offers much food for thought in this direction. But, on the other hand, I found many of Davis’s core arguments unconvincing and his criticisms of evangelical worship either unfair or insufficiently explained. So, although the book provided a useful occasion for thinking through what God’s “presence” in worship actually means and why evangelical worship is often frustrating and shallow, I’m not convinced that Davis offers the kind of meaningful engagement necessary to provide a helpful way forward.
Davis opens the book by laying out his fundamental concern: evangelical worship focuses more on “worshedutainment” (great word!) than on fostering “a vivid awareness of God’s presence as the central reality in worship” (9). This lack constitutes “the growing God-vacuum in modern American evangelical worship” (12).
And, this problem stems from our failure to understand (1) the importance and priority of worship; (2) the nature of worship; (3) the participants of worship; (4) the elements of worship; (5) the “ontologies” of modernity and postmodernity and how they undermine true worship; (6) the need to learn new behaviors and new ‘doxological skills’ for the enjoyment of true worship.” Thus, evangelical worship suffers from a terminal shallowness and captivity to non-Christian ways of thinking and acting in the world.
In response to those problems, Davis calls for us to develop churches that are deep, thick, and different:
that is, a deep church that is marked by the depth of its encounter with God in worship and the spiritual disciplines, rather than a church oriented toward numerical growth; a thick church characterized by thick relationships and commitments rather than thin personal relationships of consumerist and postmodern culture; and a different church of ‘resident aliens’ (Hauerwas) that is unashamedly distinct from the culture in its ontology, theology, worship and moral behavior. (32).
Such a church will be very different in its beliefs and practices from any group formed by one of the competing ideologies of the modern world: scientific materialism and digital virtualism. As Davis explains,
The real problem lies at the level of ontology—that is, at the level of a fundamental background theory of the real that is operating in the hearts and the minds of the people, the preacher and the praise band, even before they walk through the door of the church or onto the stage. (14)
So, any real solution to our problem requires that we ground ourselves in ways of thinking and being that orient us around the true ontology – Trinitarian theism.
Each of the four main chapters of the book focuses on helping us accomplish this very task. In chapter two, Davis explains three key problems in evangelical worship: Your ‘God’ is too ‘light’; your vision of the church is too low; your view of your self is too high, and consequently, your worship is too shallow” (38). Instead of being grounded in a robust theology, Davis contends that our worship is pragmatic and shallow:
The personal presence of God in the ecclesia, by virtue of his covenant promises, his Word, sacraments and Spirit, invests the ecclesia with an ontic weight that does not obtain with merely human organizations and assemblies. In practice, it seems that ordinary evangelical Protestant concepts of the church reflect notions that are more sociological than theological, more functional and pragmatic than ‘mystical’ and ontological, more Pelagian that Pauline and pneumatic—that is, an eviscerated ecclesiology in which the church is viewed as a voluntary human organization gathered for certain activities. (63)
Chapter three focuses more particularly on the question of God’s presence in worship.
Christian churches need to constitute in their practices—especially in their practices of worship—alternative plausibility structures that can embody and experience the presence of the divine in a way that directly challenges the suffocating naturalism of the dominant culture. (83)
Davis argues that the revivalist background of modern evangelicalism often causes us to focus more on bringing the individual to a point of decision than on the centrality of God’s presence in worship, regardless of how Trinitarian or orthodox our theology might be. So, in place of this individualistic revivalism, Davis calls for and understanding of worship that orients space and time around God and his Kingdom.
With the strong emphasis on God’s presence in worship, it is no surprise that chapter four focuses its attention on the nature of God’s presence in the Eucharist. Davis deals briefly with some of the major perspectives on real presence, but focuses on the reality of God’s special presence in the Eucharist (however it is understood) as the focus for most Christian traditions. So, Eucharist should be a key focus as we seek to retrieve a sense of God’s presence in worship today.
And, the final chapter focuses on identifying some practical applications for the theological and theoretical insights developed throughout the book. So, he focuses in this chapter on offering some specific thoughts for developing churches that recognize and manifest the real presence of God in worship by being deep, thick, and different.
Probably my favorite part of the book was his emphasis on how the way that we view ourselves, our churches, and reality as a whole affects worship. To put it another way, ontology matters.
Davis also joined the growing chorus of voices criticizing the evangelical church for an unhealthy focusing on preaching as the almost exclusive focus of the service. Although I think he goes too far in his critique of preaching-centered services, he does do a nice job pointing out the danger of becoming unbalanced in this area. It does seem interesting that seminaries typically requires multiple preaching courses but few classes on worship (if any). Without a robust theology of worship, a “worship” service can easily lose its way and find its focus in some other purpose (e.g. instruction, entertainment, outreach).
I also liked his call for us to think through each aspect of our worship services and wrestle with what these practices really signify in the life of the congregation. I didn’t think his presentation was as theologically nuanced as that offered by James K. A. Smith in Desiring the Kingdom, but he still presents some interesting ideas worth considering. I particularly appreciated his emphasis on understanding the formative nature of technology:
Such cultural artifacts are real and have ontic weight to the extent that they display internal structures and coherence, embody intentions, meanings and symbolic references, encode information, have stable existence over time, and have the power to shape and influence behaviors and institutions. (109)
I’ll make some more critical comments on this point in the next section, but we do need to realize that such technologies are value-laden.
One of my greatest frustrations with the book was the fact that Davis repeatedly claimed that evangelical worship lacks an awareness of God’s “presence,” but he makes very little attempt to explain or justify this conclusion. For example, after attending one evangelical service, he comments: “A sense of the presence of the holy in the administration of holy Communion was obvious that morning” (113). But he offers no justification for this conclusion. He routinely points to liturgical practices as offering a deeper sense of God’s presence and at one point compares American evangelicalism unfavorably to the more Pentecostal worship of the global south. But, in neither place does he explain why these different worship practices necessarily evidence God’s presence better than those he is criticizing. Indeed, he leaves himself open to the charge that it is merely his preference for liturgical worship that causes him to find other forms of worship unsatisfying. (I don’t think this is the case, but the shape of the argument makes it look like it.) So, at the end of the day, his central conclusion – “contemporary evangelical Christians have lost their awareness of the presence of the living and holy God as the central reality of all true worship” (100) – seems unjustified.
Additionally, he failed to provide any explanation for why liturgical acts are better suited for shaping Christian worship and identity. Like many proponents of liturgical worship, Davis claims that such practices shape time/space in particularly Christian ways and are, therefore, more conducive to truly Christian worship. Regardless of whether I agree or disagree with this, his failure to provide any meaningful argument for this liturgical perspective seriously undermined the value of the book. If he is going to suggest that liturgical practice is a key part of the solution to the lack of God’s presence in modern worship, I would have liked to see a much stronger defense of that conclusion.
I also didn’t like the fact that all six of his areas of deficiency were phrased in entirely cognitive ways. I teach for a living, so obviously I think understanding things is important. But, I don’t think it’s sufficient to say that the weakness of contemporary worship is simply a failure to understand. I also found the emphasis on cognitive failure rather odd given his similar strong emphasis on liturgical practice as the solution.
His discussions of technology could also be more nuanced. While I appreciated some of his comments (see above), he consistently painted technology in a very negative light, often neglecting even to mention that there are other perspectives. For example, he commented at one point that technology is “altering the nature of human consciousness itself” (15). This is a highly contentious statement that should be defended rather than asserted. And, even if true, it fails to engage the fact that this would be true for all technological development – not just the recent ones. This may seem like a small matter, but since he made technology central to one of this three primary worldviews, digital virtualism, this actually became a real weakness.
As a result of all these weaknesses, his suggestions for practical application remained unconvincing. He concludes that we need to move toward an “ancient-modern blended worship” that highlights: (1) liturgy, tradition and ritual, (2) visual arts; (3) right use of electronic media; (4) promotion of spiritual gifts; (5) ancient-modern musical canon; (6) weekly Eucharist. I’m not against any of these things, but he did not succeed in convincing me that these come from theological conviction rather than personal preference. And, it’s hard to see how we can deepen our worship practices by moving from newer personal preferences to older ones.
Overall, Worship and the Reality of God gave me a lot to think about and some interesting ideas to chew on. But, in the end, I found its basic argument unsatisfying and insufficiently nuanced at key places. It is probably best suited for someone wanting to become more familiar with some of the ideas behind recent criticisms of evangelical worship.
Flotsam and jetsam (1/10)
- Andrew Perriman discusses the “Missio Dei” in historical perspectives.
This shift of focus away from the activity of the church towards the activity of God, however, exposed a critical bifurcation in the argument, a fork in the road—and many theologians took the concept of missio Dei in a direction altogether unintended by Barth and the German missiologists….If the church participates in the mission of God, the possibility arises that the mission of God in the world may be thought to happen more or less independently of the church.
- Daniel Kirk has some interesting reflections on the seven “deacons” in Acts 6.
But there are other indications that though this event was used to bring about peace for a time, the twelve might not have been as faithful leaders at this point as we might have hoped.
- Roger Olson is frustrated that no one seems to know what “the kingdom of God” means even though they use the phrase all the time.
One of my pet peeves is the fact that most Christian lay people and even many pastors don’t seem to know what they think the “Kingdom of God” means or have no idea what the Bible really says about it and yet use the phrase all the time.
- Larry Hurtado offers an updated list all copies of all texts of Christian provenance from before the 4th century CE.
- Here’s a roundtable discussion on Christians an Internet Presence with Trevin Wax, Steve McCoy, and Brandon Smith discussing social media, blogging, and other forms of Christian presence on the internet. One interesting quote from Trevin Wax:
The blogosphere is a neat thing, but it’s also a gigantic echo chamber, and the noisy links create the false perception that we are very important and have something so valuable to say.
- The NYT discusses the fact that TV watching in on the rise in America. (HT)
- If you were wonder, here are the 100 Best Selling Christian Books of 2010.
- Eerdmans new blog is now up and running (HT).
- If you spent way too much time during your teen years (or youth ministry years) watching The Princess Pride, here is the quiz for you: “Prepare to Die: A Princess Bride Quiz.” I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I scored a 10 out of 10 on this one.
- And, here’s a list of 10 bestselling books that almost weren’t printed.
Flotsam and jetsam (1/5)
- Adam Copeland offers a discussion between a Twitter lover and a Twitter skeptic on Twitter Theology.
I’m saying the Twitter community is one way—and a very helpful and cool way—of experiencing, showing, and living out those connections of our Church-connected theology.
- Gene Fant discusses the importance of allegory in literature.
Somehow, however, as we have left allegory behind, perhaps killing it off precisely because of its religious origins, we have ended up leaving viewers and readers with oddly literalistic interpretive skills.
- Bob Hyatt explains his love/hate relationship with St. Arbucks.
So yeah, the coffee tastes a little burnt, it’s often hard to find a table, and occasionally they play Willie Nelson. But I’m sticking with it, because for all the prayers I’ve prayed, the conversations I’ve had where I felt the Holy Spirit move, for all the significant moments on my journey that I’ve had and am yet to have at St. Arbucks, I’m grateful.
- Bill Mounce discusses “church nice” – our tendency to ignore sin for the sake of “peace.”
Isn’t it interesting how explicit Scripture is? If you have something against someone, it is your responsibility to go to them (Matt 18:15). If you know your brother or sister has something against you, it is your responsibility to go to them (Matt 5:23-24). It is always yourresponsibility.
- Jonathan Robinson points out a new thesis that has been posted online: “As a Little Child: Children in the Theology of John Wesley” by Peter Benzie.
- This month’s free audiobook from ChristianAudio is Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness.
- Justin Taylor posts on a variety of ways that you can access the ESV online for free, including apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Kindle (ebook).
- Inside HigherEd has a post on several common mistakes in academic job interviews. And on the same note, here’s a fascinating list of 25 Oddball Interview Questions.
T.S. Eliot on the decay and restoration of the Church
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying,
…..and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of God,
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone, when he stands
…..alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that
…..was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble
…..repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as
…..devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying
…..within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while
…..there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity
…..they will decry it.
~T. S. Eliot, “Choruses from ‘The Rock'” (1934)
Flotsam and jetsam (11/24)
- The New York Times has another piece on how technology is affecting young people and their learning, “Growing up Digital, Wired for Disraction:
Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.
- Michael Jensen argues for a restrained, biblical understanding of gender against both the angst-producing emphasis of “freedom” found in modern culture and the “thick” complementarian view.
More than ever before the issue of gender has become bound up with one’s own personal identity. Since the zeitgeist emphasises the freedom of the individual to self-create, especially over against any prefabricated notion of ‘roles’, the discussion of ‘headship’ is always going to jar with our wider cultural sensibilities.
- Daniel Harrell asks whether we can learn anything from Ambrose on the value of celibacy.
If marriage is a foretaste of the relationship between Christ and the church, and sex likewise a foretaste of our ultimate and intimate union with God, Ambrose deduced that devoted virginity simply dispenses with the appetizers and skips on to the main course.
- Perspectives in translation is discussing how best to translate ‘hilasterion’ in Romans 3:25, with Mike Bird arguing that it refers to a sacrifice that appeases divine wrath (propitiation) and Darrell Bock arguing that it refers to the place in which th sacrifice takes place (mercy seat).
- The Pope’s recent comments condoning the use of condoms in certain situations is still generating a lot of attention.
- Ben Witherington has posted his SBL paper, “In principio era verbum: sacred texts in an oral culture.” Ands here are links to two papers on biblioblogging: Jim Davila, “What Just Happened: The rise of “biblioblogging” in the first decade of the twenty-first century” and Chris Brady, “A Modest Proposal: Assessing Digital Biblical Studies.” HT
- And, Michael Patton offers a complete list of mega-churches in America.
Okay, I think I’ve said just about everything I’m going to say about the recently concluded ETS conference. I attended a couple of other papers that weren’t worth commenting on, but overall this was the best ETS I’ve attended in terms of the papers I attended. I either got lucky or I’m getting better at selecting papers, but there were only a couple that were real busts.
So, to wrap things up, here’s a roundup of my comments on ETS. If you’re looking for some more, Trevin Wax offers a nice roundup of his own.
- Tom Schreiner on NT Wright
- Frank Thielman on the “righteousness of God”
- NT Wright at ETS (part 1)
- NT Wright at ETS (part 2)
- NT Wright at ETS (final reflections)
- Key characteristics of evangelical trinitarian theology
- What is theological interpretation of Scripture
- The sexual human: sexualizing the imago Dei
- Aquinas on the victory view of the atonement
- Calvin on the Church as the “Mother” of believers