Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Postmodernism despises metanarratives.
When I am talking to someone who self-refers as a 'progressive Christian', I often discern postmodern motifs exuding from their mouths. Indeed, I have heard and seen and read so postmodern thinking in progressive Christianity that it is hard, at times, not to equate the two.
Here's one example.
Me: (I present the Jesus story to the progressive Christian.)
Progressive Christian: "That's your narrative. My narrative is different."
Me: "I don't care about your narrative. I don't care about my narrative. I want to get at The Narrative, The Jesus Event."
To do that is to engage in Christological studies.
I am interested in Historical Jesus studies. In terms of Jesus, I am uninterested in viewing the Gospels like a Rohrshach Test that measures our subjective feelings about the four Gospels.
I had a progressive Christian tell me, in an intoxicated postmodern moment, that we all ought to just sit around the table and share our narratives about Jesus. That's not for me, unless I am counseling someone. Or something like this. Then, I can begin by hearing their story. But I am not there to "affirm" their story. I'm not there to say, 'Wow - you see things differently!"
No one does Historical Jesus studies that way. I have a pile of key books written by Christological scholars. Not one of them contains a chapter called, "Other Peoples' Social constructs About Jesus."
I have been engaged in Historical Jesus studies for five decades. I want to know what Jesus said, what Jesus did, and not how you or I feel about it. One current example is Craig Keener's The Historical Jesus of the Gospels.
Criticism about postmodernism is not just a Christian thing. See, e.g., the recent book by atheists Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody. They write,
"We begin in the late 1960s, when the group of theoretical concepts clustered around the nature of knowledge, power, and language that came to be known as postmodernism emerged from within several humanities disciplines at once. At its core, postmodernism rejected what it calls metanarratives—broad, cohesive explanations of the world and society. It rejected Christianity and Marxism. It also rejected science, reason, and the pillars of post-Enlightenment Western Democracy." (No, I am not pro-Marxist. But Marxism, and any forms of Hegelianism, put forth a metanarrative of how reality is, not as some social construct.)
Pluckrose and Lindsay further say,
"The progressive left has aligned itself not with Modernity but with postmodernism, which rejects objective truth as a fantasy dreamed up by naive and/or arrogantly bigoted Enlightenment thinkers who underestimated the collateral consequences of Modernity’s progress...
Postmodernism has, depending upon your view, either become or given rise to one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies that the world has had to deal with since the widespread decline of communism and the collapses of white supremacy and colonialism."
Can anything good come out of postmodernism, in terms of Christianity? James K. A. Smith does his best to find something good here.
Ironically, to me at least, I side more with Richard Dawkins, who writes (his blurb for Pluckrose's book): "Is there a school of thought so empty, so vacuous, so pretentious, so wantonly obscurantist, so stupefyingly boring that even a full-frontal attack on it cannot be read without an exasperated yawn? Yes. It is called postmodernism."
Friday, January 29, 2021
My 28-Day Devotional Booklet on Discipleship is available to download HERE.
(Thank you Eugene for formatting this!)
If you would like the pdf in a non-booklet format please send an email request to - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Share with others as you feel led.
Thursday, January 28, 2021
I am a husband (to Linda, since 1973). A father. A father-in-law. A grandfather! A pastor (since 1970). A professor (taught at several seminaries around the world; taught philosophy at Monroe County Community College for 18 years). A philosopher, and a theologian. (PhD, Northwestern University, in Philosophical Theology, 1986).
I have studied people, and biblical and theological issues, and culture, for over fifty years. I am a constant reader and observer.
I present to you a series of posts I am calling "Deconstructing 'Progressive Christianity.'" Here are reasons why I could not be a "progressive Christian." The first two posts are especially about this, using semantics and some deconstruction thrown in. (See here.) Post #1 was: "'Progressive' is not a word that fits into a Christian eschatological worldview." Post #3 will be - "Progressive Christianity Wrongly Diminishes Confidence in the Bible." In the third post I will critique progressive Christianity's approach to the Scriptures. I am still putting together Post #4, and maybe a fifth post.
A final note before I begin this first post. I have read, as a theologian myself, several of the theologians who are usually associated with progressive Christianity. (Postmodernism, deconstruction, critical theory, linguistic semantics and philosophy of language (my dissertation was in this area), and, yes, political progressivism.) Some of them have written books and articles that I have benefitted from. But then, along the way, some of them turned away from some core beliefs that I see as important to our faith. Some of them were "deconverted" from evangelical Christianity. That has saddened me.
I want you to know that there are many theologians and biblical scholars, such as myself, who have not departed from what we see as essential. This is not out of ignorance. We are quite familiar with, and have wrestled with, all the questions progressivists raise. And wow! We see things differently. Which means: we disagree with each other. Which means: we think each other is wrong about some things. (For example, see Brian McLaren's vicious disagreement with The Nashville Statement, where he even brings in the KKK, implicating the 24,000+ theologians and biblical scholars, and even Francis Chan, J. I. Packer, and people like me, who agree with the Statement.)
I hope you gain from these posts. I will do my best to revolve around one main point per post. I'll do my best to make it accessible.
POINT #2 - The term 'Progressive Christianity' is woefully vague, and therefore cognitively useless.
I could never refer to myself as a 'progressive Christian', for several reasons. In my first post I questioned the word 'progressive' as not fitting a Christian eschatology. And, I questioned the idea of moral and spiritual progress in the human race, over time, finding the idea of moral and spiritual progress mythical and utopian.
In this second post, I find that the term 'progressive Christian' is unacceptably vague, and therefore not useful. Basically, my point is simply this: I am unable to identify with a group if the meaning of the group is vague and amorphous.
In this post I am going to explain why I believe this. And, I will again suggest removing 'progressive Christianity' from our theological vocabulary. Instead, I choose to self-refer as 'follower of Jesus'. This term is focused and clarifying and, therefore, helpful. It does not suffer the interminable vagueness of calling oneself a 'progressive Christian'.
Let me define "vague'. It's a term encountered in Logic texts. (Note: I had a self-identified progressive Christian tell me they didn't like logic. I asked, why not? They then used logic to make an argument that logic was just another social construct. Which is, of course, self-contradictory. But this is what we are today dealing with.)
It was my great joy to teach Logic for eighteen years at our local community college. At universities, Logic is also called Critical Thinking. Critical thinking is needed to excel in any field. We want our physicians to be able to reason clearly. The same goes for our auto mechanics, psychologists, computer technicians, home builders, political leaders, chefs, sports coaches, parents, economists, lawyers, scientists as they develop vaccines, and more.
The more there is clarity of reasoning, the less there is vagueness.
So, what about 'vagueness'?
In my Logic classes I used Patrick Hurley's A Concise Introduction to Logic. Hurley dedicates an entire chapter to linguistic errors, and how they contribute to faulty reasoning. One such error is vagueness. Again, my point in this post is to establish unacceptable vagueness about the term 'progressive Christianity'.
"Now that we have distinguished emotive meaning from cognitive meaning, let us explore some of the ways that cognitive meanings can be defective. Two of them are vagueness and ambiguity. A linguistic expression is said to be vague if there are borderline cases in which it is impossible to tell if the expression applies or does not apply. Vague expressions often allow for a continuous range of interpretations. The meaning is hazy, obscure, and imprecise. For example, words such as ‘‘love,’’ ‘‘happiness,’’ ‘‘peace,’’ ‘‘excessive,’’ ‘‘fresh,’’ ‘‘rich,’’ ‘‘poor,’’ ‘‘normal,’’ ‘‘conservative,’’ and ‘‘polluted’’ are vague. We can rarely tell with any precision whether they apply to a given situation or not. How fresh does something have to be in order to be called fresh?" (7th edition, p. 79. Emphasis mine.)
A "continuous range of interpretations." (Think of the postmodern, progressivist word 'fluidity' here. Think also of the cognitively challenged word 'affirmation'.) Let me illustrate, this time using 'progressive Christianity'.
Linda and I worked as campus pastors, for eleven years, at Michigan State University. I was a member of MSU Religious Advisors group. We had every Christian denomination represented, plus Hindus, Muslims, Jews (the rabbi became a good friend of mine), Buddhists, Bahais, and an atheist group. The group was, to say the least, theologically diverse! And, I enjoyed meeting with all these people. The truth is, I have spent a lifetime studying religions, whether they be major or minor. I love doing this!
We were all under the umbrella 'MSU Religious Advisors Association'. But, because the diversity of beliefs was so vast, we did not have a theological umbrella, or a worldview umbrella that, by our own admission, contained us all. In this group there was a "continuous range of interpretations," often conflicting and contradicting each other.
Now, imagine this group was called "MSU Christian Advisors Association." This would mean that Buddhists and Hindus and atheists would be excluded. If everyone, regardless of their beliefs, was a 'Christian', the term would diminish in its cognitive meaning. (Note: anyone who believes "all the religions lead up the same mountain" simply has not actually studied the comparative religions. See, e.g., Boston University scholar Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One: The 8 Rival Religions that Run the World - and Why Their Differences Matter.)
That's how I see it when I research progressive Christianity. There is too much theological and even non-theological diversity to make the term meaningful. This does not mean that God does not love all these people. It does not mean several of these people have not said some true things, or done some good things.
Sociologist Laura Edles has identified a spectrum of identities within Progressive Christianity, with "self-proclaimed spiritual progressives" like John Spong or Marcus Borg on the far left and "prophetic/progressive evangelicals" like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo on the far right of the progressive spectrum. (See Edles, "Contemporary Progressive Christianity and Irts Symbolic Ramifications." Edles writes: "I argue that in addition to their structural disadvantages, progressive Christians face thorny dilemmas regarding authority/legitimacy, rationalization, de-mystification, disenchantment, charisma (or the lack thereof), and profanation that, though not insurmountable, are not easily resolved.")
When I research 'progressive Christianity using Google, the first item to appear is ProgressiveChristianity.org. I scroll down a bit and see a recommended book called With or Without God. It's by Gretta Vosper. I typed her name in the website's search engine and came to this. To Vosper, "god is a metaphor for goodness and love lived out with compassion and justice, no more and no less." (See here.)
Well, I don't agree with that. I would never teach my people that. I cannot affiliate with that. Plus, I like metaphors. My PhD dissertation is "Metaphor and Theology: A Multidisciplinary Approach." (Northwestern University, 1986)
Alisa Childers writes: "Progressive Christianity is tough to define, because there isn’t a creed or list of beliefs that progressive Christians officially unite around." I agree.
I know there are progressive Christians who do not agree with Vosper. They still believe in the God of theism. Nor would they agree with Michael Gungor, who testifies to no longer believing in the theistic God. But that's my point. Gungor says he now is an “apophatic mystic Hindu pantheist Christian Buddhist skeptic with a penchant for nihilistic progressive existentialism.” (See here.)
Really? I'm now restraining my philosophical impulses. Note that Gungor uses 'Christian' and 'progressive' in the same self-description. I have studied (doctoral work) on apophatic (and kataphatic) mysticism. But... he has a leaning towards "nihilistic progressive existentialism?" Really?
Gungor's self-definition is, I assume, his embracing of universalism. Even though I know of a few PCs who deny being universalistic, my intuition is that there is some kind of path that easily runs from PC to universalism.
I here confess that, as for me, I just don't belong here. It's not helpful.
Vagueness is, analytically (in Kant's sense), obfuscating, or non-clarifying.
Still, I can love all these people. But I cannot wear the progressive Christian t-shirt.
My next "Deconstructing Progressive Christianity" post shows why I could not identify as a PC because of its way of utilizing the historical-critical method in biblical interpretation. Greg Boyd expresses a similar concern in his new book on the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Greg defines progressive evangelicals as:
"A very diverse group of people who continue to embrace many of the distinctives of evangelicalism, including the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus, but who tend to emphasize the social justice aspect of the Gospel while embracing at least aspects of the historical-critical approach to Scripture." (Boyd, Gregory A.. Inspired Imperfection, p. 177)
I'll explain in the next post, coming sometime before summer. :)
You can read my first post HERE.
Thursday morning, January 28, 2021.
I begin my day reading in Proverbs chapter 11. I have been in this chapter for two weeks.
I am in search of wisdom. I do not have enough.
This wisdom quest began in me in 1970. Fifty years ago, almost exactly to this date, I became a follower of Jesus.
I changed my university major from music theory to philosophy.
Philo-sophy. Literally, "the love of wisdom."
Flourishing people are wisdom collectors.
Proverbs 11:12 instructs:
Old Testament scholar John Walton comments:
"Proverbs frequently teaches that foolish speech has dire consequences and inevitably results in disorder. In some proverbs, as here, the nature of the speech is not specified, but on other occasions it is described as lying, gossip, slander, rumor and other socially destructive behaviors. Egyptian sages also recognized the connection between evil speech and negative results. A good example is from Any: “A man may be ruined by his tongue, Beware and you will do well.”" (NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible)
This verse contains enough wisdom for me today.
I write it on a 3X5 card, and slip it in my pocket.
Jesus tells us to stop judging other people. (Matthew 7:1) Here are some thoughts I have about this.
Every day we make hundreds of judgments, ranging from moral judgments such as "Sex trafficking is wrong," to “This cup of coffee is too weak,” or "That color looks better on you." When Jesus says “Judge not” he is not referring to making moral judgments or aesthetic judgments or legal judgments or scientific judgments, but is referring to judgmentalism. Judgmentalism is different from making judgments.
Consider Proverbs 20:5, which says that “the purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters.” You and I lack epistemic access to the deep waters of another person’s heart. I can’t at times figure my own heart out! How then can I expect to accurately read the hearts of other people? If you wonder why someone did something that affects you negatively, why not ask them rather than put them on trial in your own mind and before others?
Many years ago, when Linda and I were dating, one of her friends told Linda that it appeared I did not like this friend because of the look on my face. Linda assured the friend that I did like her and, by the way, that’s how my face normally looks. You can’t judge a book by the cover.
#1 – Understand.
#2 – Evaluate if needed.
Judgmentalism Is a Form of Violence
Judgmentalism and Making Judgments
Judgment Grows In the Soil of Forgetfulness
My two books are...
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
|(I spent several hours praying in this spot when I was in Eldoret, Kenya - gum trees, I was told.)|
I love being a pastor.
I am still learning how to be a pastor.
I have looked to some pastors about how to be a pastor. One is Eugene Peterson. I never met him. I did I talk with Eugene on the phone once, for less than five minutes. I was inviting him to speak at a pastors conference in Michigan. He was gracious as he told me he would like to to it, but could not. He said, "I'm out of gas."
Peterson was out of gas, but his words start fires.
Peterson's book The Pastor has been important to me. He shares what kind of pastor he wants to be.
- "I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be relaxed and reflective and responsive in the presence of God."
- “I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against."
- “I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with [people] in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with [them] as [they] grow in Christ—[their] doubts and [their] difficulties, [their] desires and [their] delights."
- "I want to be a pastor who leads in worship, a pastor who brings [people] before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give [people] a language and imagination that restores in [them] a sense of dignity as a Christian in [their] homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson."
- "I want to be an unbusy pastor." (P. 278)
I like this. I want to be a pastor like this.
It requires a long obedience. In the same direction.
When Linda and I were pastors at First Baptist Church in Joliet, Illinois (back in the mid-70s), our church hosted a coffee house. Every Saturday night, twenty to fifty young adults would gather in the basement of our building. Someone would bring a teaching. And, we would worship.
The worship stayed with me. We had great instrumentalists, and some phenomenal voices. Some of those songs, repeated over and over, have become the furniture of the room that is my heart.
One was a simple worship song that repeated Romans 8:35:
Follow Jesus long enough, and you will go through some of these things. Most have experienced affliction, hardship, persecution, and peril. Linda and I have had the death of loved ones. We have experienced persecution, sometimes coming from within our church families. We have known financial hardship (many pastors have, BTW). I have encountered perilous situations while ministering to people in dark environments.
Still, through it all, the experience of God's love remains.
Love is an experience, not a theory. (See Leading the Presence-Driven Church, Chapter 2, "The Case for Experience.")
God's love is felt. It is known, in the Hebrew sense of knowing.
Linda and I have never been cut off from this.
Dallas Willard writes:
"When our first child was born, I realized painfully that this beautiful little creature was separate from me and nothing I could do would shelter him from his aloneness in the face of time, brutal events, others’ meanness, his own wrong choices, the decay of his body and, finally, death.
That would be the last word on the subject, except for God. He is able to penetrate and intertwine himself within the fibers of the human self in such a way that those who are enveloped in his loving companionship will never be alone." (Willard, Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, p. 51)
Paul concludes with these words. Write them on a card. Carry them with you today. Read them often. Ingest them. Draw them on a poster. Hang the poster on the walls of the room that is your heart.
My first two books are...
Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)
Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)
I am now writing...
Technology and Spiritual Formation
How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
|(Tree roots - Lake Erie - Monroe)|
(I'm reposting this to keep this ball in play.)
Here's a note to all who want to sit around the table and have interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue is hard work, because you have to address different religious beliefs. The way you address them is not to affirm disparate beliefs. There will be no authentic interfaith dialogue if that happens.
We who are followers of Jesus are called to agape love. This love is so radical it even instructs us to love our enemies! People in my church, and those who follow me on this blog, know I have been praying to love even those who are my enemies. Jesus' command to love tells me it is possible to love people who hate me and come against me. Surely, then, I can love people who disagree with me.
To feel anger is not to hate. Over our forty-seven years of marriage, Linda and I have had moments of anger towards each other. But this does not entail that we hate each other. What we do with our feelings of anger can lead to hatred, which is not what God wants. When we are told to "be angry, but don't sin," this means anger does not equal hatred. To still love, even when in disagreement, even when angry, is a sign of spiritual maturity and freedom.
As a follower of Jesus, I am not allowed to say these words to anyone - "I hate you."
Conversely, saying "I agree with you" is not to love. Agreeing or disagreeing has nothing to do with love or hate. Love and hate concern how we respond when in disagreement, when feeling anger.
I learned a lot about disagreeing with others in studying philosophy. Philosophy classes are arenas of formulating arguments and evaluating them. Every formulation is subject to evaluation. Evaluation produces tension and a conflict of ideas. Many times, in those sometimes-intense discussions, I heard words like, "I believe you are wrong about that," or "I disagree with what you just said, because..."
Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God
Leading the Presence-Driven Church
Encounters with the Holy Spirit (Co-edited with Janice Trigg)
I am writing... (because I believe God has called me to write)...
Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart
Technology and Spiritual Formation
Linda and I will then co-write our book on Relationships.
(Redeemer - getting ready to worship!)
I was asked the question, "Would a Muslim be welcome in your church?"
Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)
Monday, January 25, 2021
In 1977 I taught a course on prayer, to Master's students at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. Since then I have taught countless seminary classes, seminars, and conferences on praying and spiritual formation.
Almost anyone who has done likewise admits that, in spite of all that technology has given us, tech-saturated humanity has spiritually regressed. Call this 'regressive', and 'regressivism'.
Here's a quote from Thomas Merton that confirms spiritual and moral regressivism.
"Though man has acquired the power to do almost anything, he has at the same time lost the ability to orient his life toward a spiritual goal by the things he does. He has lost all conviction that he knows where he is going and what he is doing, unless he can manage to plunge into some collective delusion ['progressivism'?] which promises happiness (sometime in the future) to those who will have learned to use the implements he has discovered." [Progressivism as a utopian myth?]
I subscribe to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Regressivist concerns are regularly expressed there.
One can consider Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World can be seen to support, not moral progressivism, but moral regressivism, in spite of technological advances, which are utilized by morally regressive humans.