The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, August 1, 2011


If you don’t want to speak Christian, they say, pay attention to how Christianity’s founder spoke. Jesus spoke in a way that drew people in, says Leonard, the Wake Forest professor.

“He used stories, parables and metaphors,” Leonard says. “He communicated in images that both the religious folks and nonreligious folks of his day understand.”

When Christians develop their own private language for one another, they forget how Jesus made faith accessible to ordinary people, he says.

“Speaking Christian can become a way of suggesting a kind of spiritual status that others don’t have,” he says. “It communicates a kind of spiritual elitism that holds the spiritually ‘unwashed’ at arm’s length.”

By that time, they’ve reached the final stage of speaking Christian – they’ve become spiritual snobs.

For balance, read Anthony Sacramone’s “Why CNN Still Can’t Speak Christian.”


 (NOT) FORGED: In his review of Bart Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, Michael J. Kruger writes:

In the final analysis, Forged is a book with a mix of positives and negatives. Ehrman’s helpful overview of the various kinds of early Christian forgeries and his excellent treatment of early Christian views of pseudepigraphy are bright spots in this volume. However, Ehrman’s level of confidence that the NT definitely contains forgeries is not commensurate with the arguments he puts forth to prove that thesis. In this regard, he regularly goes beyond what the evidence can sustain. For this reason the book, like many of his others, comes across as more autobiographical than academic; more polemical than historical. Ehrman still seems to be chasing the ghosts of his evangelical past. One wonders how many more books he will need to write before they go away.


IN PRAISE OF PRE-MODERN HERMENEUTICS: “St. Paul Would Have Failed My Hermeneutics Course”:

Another observation: The literal and allegorical senses are objective, concerning the realities of salvation history both in and out of time. The moral and anagogical are subjective, concerning the moral life and final destiny of individuals and the Church militant now living within the vicissitudes of time. Rooting us in the objective earthly and heavenly realities of salvation history, the fourfold function of Scripture shows us Christ and conforms us to him, to the end of achieving our eternal happiness in God forever and ever.

Most of us were using the Bible in medieval ways already. As the Methodist church historian David Steinmetz once contended in an infamous article, “The medieval theory of levels of meaning in the biblical text, with all its undoubted defects, flourished because it is true, while the modern theory of a single meaning, with all its demonstrable virtues is false.” Indeed, my students were often shocked and then pleased by realizing just how allegorically evangelicalism treated the Scriptures, for what we evangelicals often called “application” the premoderns would have called allegory, or spiritual exegesis. Recovering our appreciation of the medieval practice of interpretation might then provide us with deep, substantive grounding for the ways in which most practicing Christians read their Bibles today.


THE NECESSITY OF EVANGELISM: Robert M. Gundry rebuts soteriological inclusivism in “The Hopelessness of the Unevangelized”:

The Scriptures stand alone as our source of information concerning the status of the unevangelized. As we have seen, the notions of salvation through general revelation and of an opportunity after death find no solid footing in Scripture. More than that, Scripture indicates the hopelessness of people apart from hearing and believing the gospel now. In Adam all human beings stand under condemnation (Rom 5:12–21). They have rejected general revelation (Rom 1:18–32). God’s wrath remains on them apart from belief in Jesus the Son (John 3:36). The present is the time for such belief: “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time’; behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor 6:2). Most clearly of all for our question, Paul puts all these pieces together in Rom 10:9–16 by writing in uninterrupted succession about the necessity to salvation of confessing Jesus as Lord and calling on his name, about the necessity of believing in Jesus for calling on him, about the necessity of hearing of him for believing in him, about the necessity of our preaching the gospel for people’s hearing of him, and about the necessity of sending for preaching. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). We can hardly fail to notice Paul’s focus on the specific message preached concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. And the repeated rhetorical questions, each beginning “How shall they . . .?” show this way of salvation to be the only way. Without the human witness here and now, an essential link is broken; the chain of salvation will not hold.

Since Scripture makes the unevangelized lost and our preaching the gospel to them necessary to their salvation, those who propose contrary views need to adduce more cogent biblical evidence in favor of those views. Otherwise, we should have to move to a decanonized view of revelation as an ever-ongoing process. Biblical particularism and evangelistic necessity, which may have been good enough for olden times, could give way to post-biblical revelation of a theodicy supposedly more just and gracious and conveniently easier to swallow.

But the new truths of salvation by general revelation and of post-mortem conversion would doubtless yield to the even “better” truth of universal salvation. For someone is bound to ask why God even bothers to create beings who he knows ahead of time will respond neither to general revelation nor to special revelation, and why he allows many of them to increase their damnation by giving them more and more revelation that he knows very well they are not going to accept. Either we settle for a technically fair God (he gives everybody an equal opportunity) notably lacking in kindness (he creates people who he foresees will not take advantage of their equal opportunities). Or we save his kindness with the excuse of ignorance (he did not know that many of his creatures would destroy themselves, and even yet he mindlessly keeps on willing them into existence). Or, ironically, having rejected the Calvinistic doctrine of particular election, we universalize the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace. By this time we have strayed so far from Scripture that the whole problem, having lost its biosphere, ceases to exist. Staying within Scripture, however, we discover behind the Great Commission a reason to evangelize the heathen more compelling than the desirability of bringing them into the joy of salvation a little earlier than otherwise they would enter it. The reason is that apart from our preaching to them the word of Christ, they have no hope. So let us urgently and compassionately rescue the perishing.


BECAUSE THEY’RE CHRISTIANS? “Why Youth Stay in Church When They Grow Up”:

Youth pastors, pray with all your might for true conversion; that is God’s work. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry; that is your work. Parents, preach the gospel and live the gospel for your children; our work depends on you.

I don’t disagree with Jon Nielson’s advice in this article. But I do wonder if the “daunting statistics” he cites are a bit overblown.


OBVIOUSLY: “Rick Warren Does Not Embrace Chrislam, Say Pastors”: The article cites a reply Rick Warren posted on the blog of the Assemblies of God’s Church Multiplication Network, announcing that Warren would be speaking at the CMN Luncheon at General Council.


CONFUSING PROVERBS WITH AYN RAND: “Ayn Rand Is the New Jesus: Dave Ramsey’s Gospel of Self-Reliance”:

Perhaps Ramsey’s movement will accidentally build the kingdom of God and cultivate more generosity in American evangelical congregations, but only if people ignore his ideological commitment to individual responsibility and recognize that we are responsible for each other. It will certainly help our economy for individuals to stop living beyond their means, but programs like WIC and Medicaid should not be cut under the presumption that poor kids could pay for their own milk and health care if they just learned to save their money.

In the Bible, individual responsibility and social responsibility are not antithetical but complementary. People work hard and save so that they can help others. It’s almost as if this author wants poor people to be dependent on government.


BEATING A DEAD HORSE: “Anders Breivik as a Pragmatic Agnostic”:

The problem, in this case, as Prothero would have seen with a careful reading of Breivik’s manifesto, is that Breivik had no Christian “faith” to speak of, and the “ideas” that most influenced him were not Christian in any sense of the term.  Prothero makes no reference to Breivik’s insistence that he is not a “religious Christian” with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or to Breivik’s confession that he has no confidence that God exists but chooses to believe in God and the afterlife in order to give himself the courage for action.  Yes, Breivik appropriated the title of the Knights Templar, but it’s to Christianity’s credit that he could not find modern Christian precedents for the kinds of acts he wanted to commit, but had to reach back over seven centuries to a repudiated series of military ventures in which Christian Europeans sought to secure the safety of Christians and ultimately recapture the territory of the Holy Land.

This is one critical difference that explodes any simplistic moral equivalency between “extremist Christians” like Breivik and Islamic Jihadists.  While Breivik cites numerous Bible verses in his manifesto, he employs those verses in a way that no significant theologian or church authority has approved for centuries.  There is a kind of liberal Christian who is deeply committed to the proposition that conservative Christians are just as dangerous as al-Qaeda, but when they are pressed for equivalents to 9/11 they have to reach back centuries to the Inquisition and the Crusades (which they portray in exaggerated and decontextualized forms), or else they refer to the actions of Timothy McVeigh, or the Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, or the Holocaust Museum shooter James von Brunn, who are all expressly non-Christian.

Evidently, Breivik was also something of a Social Darwinist:

Breivik lists Darwin’s Origin of Species as one of the “important” books he has read (p. 1407), and Social Darwinism is never far from the surface in his discussions of social policy. At one point he laments that “Social-darwinism was the norm before the 1950. Back then, it was allowed to say what we feel. Now, however, we have to disguise our preferences to avoid the horrible consequences of being labeled as a genetical preferentialist.” (p. 1227) Breivik’s vision for “a perfect Europe” also involves Social Darwinism, which he identifies with “logic” and “rationalist thought”: “‘Logic’ and rationalist thought (a certain degree of national Darwinism) should be the fundament of our societies.” (emphasis added, p. 1386)


DON’T RUSH TO JUDGMENT: “Lessons from Norway’s horror”:

I’ve never been a fan of waiting periods for gun purchases, but I’m warming to the idea of a pundit’s “Brady Bill.” Some political commentators could use a (voluntary) “cooling-off” period before they start using mass murder to score partisan points.


LEFT-WING THEOCRACY: “The Church as the Bride of Caesar”:

It is telling that the Washington Post report on the religious Left’s Circle of Protection campaign for big government describes the effort as one that would “send chills through any politician who looks to churches and religious groups as a source of large voting blocs,” because, in fact, this is not an honest faith-inspired campaign to protect the “least of these” from Draconian government cuts, as claimed. It is a hyper-political movement that offers up the moral authority of churches and aid organizations to advance the ends of the Obama administration and its allies in Congress.


LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM ‘WEST LONDON LADS”: “Learning to Lead from Mumford & Sons”:

That’s how to lead. Be among your people. Be inconspicuous. Enjoy the show they came to enjoy. Honor them for coming. Honor those who play with you. And then thank God for the blessing (their word) that people spend their money and their time to come sing and sway and praise to your lead.

Okay, true enough, but isn’t the whole Leadership Lessons of _____ (fill in the blank) a worn-out genre by now?


BEST PRACTICES: “Keeping Your Kids Safe at Camp.”

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