Today’s Post – Revisions Being Made

I had several historical and factual errors in my post made earlier today about Westminster Seminary. I am presently correcting these errors and will repost this blog (Part Three) later today. Bear with me while I try to make sure that what I report is accurate and truthful. I welcome any corrections to my post(s) and will seek to get this story right before I proceed to the next posts in the series. I knew in writing this story that I would likely not have all the facts quite right so please bear with me while I listen and rewrite. I cannot make the points that I wish to make next week if the facts I share today are wrongly reported.

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Westminster Theological Seminary: Can Institutions Respond to Controversy in Radical Love? (Part Two)

Yesterday I provided a general historical overview of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. I wrote this overview because of my long interest in the school, its faculty and its students, mostly those who are graduates and who remain friends. I am not a Westminster graduate. I have never been a Presbyterian. I am an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America. This Dutch tradition is far less rigid in how it uses the confessions standards than the more conservative tradition at Westminster. I say all this because my true desire in writing these posts is to serve the good of the kingdom of God and to be utterly transparent in what I write. I am far more interested in the impact of Westminster upon the wider church. Westminster’s impact, in my view, has been primarily one that has been good for the mission of the church. I am also deeply interested in how the school has dealt with the removal of several faculty members in recent years. green-2With this in mind my second point about Westminster Seminary, and the recent “retirement” of Dr. Doug Green, is that anyone who reads my blogs will be better able to process a great deal of publicly available information and then make up their own mind about the school’s decision(s) and current direction. What is publicly known about Westminster is being widely discussed. This is fact. There are people on both sides of this decision who have stated their concerns with strong passion. I believe they have done so with good intention. The seminary’s decision, right or wrong, is problematic. It challenges an outside reader no matter how you understand Westminster’s decision with regard to Dr. Green. As I have said this recent decision is hard for me to fully understand without forming some kind of opinion. So I encourage you, if you would like to step into this stream, to begin by reading the seminary’s statement first. The history of the schools decision is spelled out meticulously in this June 6 post. Some will be satisfied that the trustees made a good decision. Others, like me, are deeply discouraged by reading this account. But I was not in the room nor am I privy to every bit of information that went into this decision. So I am reminded of these words of the Apostle Paul:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NRSV).

Love believes. love hopes and love endures. My first duty as a Christian is to love Doug Green, a true and dear friend. But I must also love the trustees of the seminary, who I do not personally know but who are my fellow Christians. (Some former trustees are, in fact, dear friends. This also adds to my difficulty.) I am thus challenged by the clear teaching of Christ regarding love because I know several of these brothers personally though they are not close friends. Doug, and his lovely wife Rosemary, are dear friends. I have observed this termination/retirement from afar yet it has deeply touched me in a profoundly human way. More about this later. One of the very best posts I have read about Doug Green’s “retirement” was written by Dr. William B. Evans, a former classmate of Doug’s at Westminster in the 1980s. bill-evans-head-shotDr. Evans is now chair of the Bible, Religion and Philosophy Department at Erskine College in South Carolina. He did an M.A.R. and Th.M. at Westminster Seminary before he did an M. A. and Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University. It should be noted that Dr. Evans is himself a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC). The ARPC is a confessional and conservative Presbyterian denomination. Dr. Evans’ post can be read at his blog. Dr. Evans says that in November of 2013 the Westminster Board reversed itself from an earlier stance. They had studied the Doug Green case and approved him. Then they reversed themselves deciding that Doug Green’s response to the ongoing controversy about hermeneutics was “no longer acceptable.” What is troubling is that Doug Green’s views did not change during this time. What changed is that members of the faculty and trustee board no longer had confidence in Doug Green’s views on this issue. The key issue, according to the trustees, is that Douglas Green has “expressed agreement with a ‘christotelic’ hermeneutical method that severs the organic link between the Old Testament and the New Testament.” This debate has gone on for some time at Westminster and anyone familiar with even the smallest amount of information knows that this did not simply drip from the sky in 2014. If I were to boil the trustees’ decision down to one simple explanation I would say that it centers around the way that the New Testament writers use the Old Testament and just how much the Old Testament writers knew about Christ when they wrote the Hebrew Scriptures. “How much of Christ are we warranted to read into the Old Testament text?” “How are we to decide what the authors knew if they were under divine inspiration?” “What is at stake if we follow the approach that Dr. Green has taught?” Evans asks, “What did the OT writers know?” All current controversy aside this really is a very interesting question! It is one that has been discussed within the Christian tradition since the second and third century. It is also one that no church council or creed, so far as I know, has ever settled once and for all. This itself is part of what I find so troubling about Westminster’s turning this rather limited controversy into such an important issue. Making this hermeneutical issue into a litmus test makes no sense to me at all. I find room for both views in the most conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches. There are only two publicly published articles by Dr. Green that you can read online. Both provide a rather clear glimpse into his approach. One is written in a way that most readers should be able to follow easily enough. It applies his hermeneutical approach to Psalm 23. This article is available at the World Reformed Fellowship. A much more academic article by Dr. Green is also available online. I encourage you to read the seminary trustee’s explanation of the Green case as well as both of these fine articles by Dr. Green. This is the only way you can hope to honestly follow what has happened, at least based upon what both sides have written for public consumption. A lot more information is used by several sides in this debate but this material is off the record. I have chosen to say nothing about any of this based upon how I believe love should respond. Since the June 6 seminary post Doug Green’s “retirement” Westminster seems to feel that it needed to provide further clarification of its decision. This was done in a second published response on July 1. The seminary, in response to an earlier controversy in 2008, also published an article about its position on biblical authority and interpretation. You should also read “Affirmations and Denials.” This document Green agreed to abide by but was later told that he did not actually follow based upon his written work, which can be clearly seen in the links I have provided above. I believe it is important that both sides in such a controversy take a deep breath, listen to what is really being said (not what they think is being said) and then try to clearly state what the issue is and how they arrived at such a point of sharp disagreement. The seminary clearly believes that it has done this in the Green case. This is why Westminster gives its own explanation on two posts for why Doug Green was forced to “retire.” (I use my words carefully here lest there be any doubt about this fact – Doug Green may have “retired” but he was pushed to do so.) Reading the seminary’s own account makes very little sense to me. Maybe I miss something seriously vital to the confessional stance of the seminary. (I have admitted that I love Doug, and count him a dear friend, but this is of no importance to me in regard to understanding what the school has posted publicly.) What is important, to me as a friend to the seminary for nearly three decades, is what I am told, and not told, in these public documents. To question these statements and what they mean is neither gossip nor a specific lack of love. I believe William B. Evans has demonstrated good faith in what he says about his alma mater. Love should seek for the truth. But the truth is not always plain. Sometimes love must keep asking questions and seeking for light. I might be missing something here but I do not understand how a “christotelic” hermeneutic, as demonstrated in Doug Green’s work, is inconsistent with the Westminster Confession of Faith. And it is certainly not inconsistent with the tradition of the church (even the Reformed churches) or with the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. I still cannot see how Westminster came to make such a momentous decision. I understand that schools and faculty members can reach the place where it is time for them to go in different directions. I get that clearly. I have served on a seminary board myself. But what I do not get in the Westminster news is why this was seen the best way forward for Westminster Theological Seminary. I might be willing to let this drop out of sight entirely except that one gets the strong feeling that more change is yet to come on the Glenside (PA) campus. I hope that this feeling is proven wrong. Love believes and hopes for the best! Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for Westminster Theological Seminary, an institution that has done such great good for Christ and his kingdom, I sincerely hope that this is the last such faculty issue that we will hear about for a long time. I desire that peace prevail at the seminary. I also pray that my dear friends, Doug and Rosemary, are allowed to serve Christ with freedom and great joy in the years ahead. I know this much – Doug Green, a genuine Old Testament scholar, is one of the finest Christian men I know. If you knew him as I do you would agree. He is transparent, courageous, faithful and humble. I wish him many blessed years ahead because he is clearly not ready to retire in any meaningful sense of the word. The church can still gain much from this servant of God. And Westminster Seminary surely needs to move forward by allowing peace to prevail within the faculty and staff. As great as the school has been if it is a contentious place then it will not know the great blessing of joy in Christ that should prevail across all who enter her gates.

Tomorrow: Part Three.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Biblical Theology, Current Affairs, Hermeneutics, Personal, Reformed Christianity, The Church | 17 Comments/Likes

Westminster Theological Seminary: Can Institutions Respond to Controversy in Radical Love? (Part One)

220px-Machen_Hall,_Westminster_Theological_Seminary,_Glenside_PA_01In early June I commented on my Facebook wall about the “retirement” of Old Testament professor Dr. Douglas Green at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (WTS). You can read the official Westminster announcement online. The seminary says that Dr. Green is leaving for early “retirement.” But Doug Green is not of retirement age in the normative use of this word, meaning he is not 65 or older. The school says that he will honorably retire next year, on October 1, 2015. But he left his teaching position as of the end of the last term (2014). I commented on my Facebook wall about this departure in a manner that challenged this statement. I also questioned the integrity of the investigation and the final decision made by the board. (My words were not as charitable as they should have been and I noted that within a few hours of posting my short comment.) While I confess that I know a great deal about this decision, and much which gives me genuine pause (none of which comes from Dr. Green who rightfully remains silent), I have concluded that I will not attempt to challenge the trustees or administration through a social media attack. I have agonized about this subject for months. When the announcement became public I reacted adversely on June 6. Since the announcement was posted I have prayed, sought the counsel of several friends, and spent considerably time gathering as much information as I could to help me understand what both sides have said about this controversial “retirement.” Therefore, my appeal in this blog series is multi-faceted. After much work on my thoughts they fell into three  parts. The largest part will be the heart of my most earnest appeal to the trustees, the present faculty and the former faculty of Westminster Seminary. This appeal will be rooted in the question that I ask in my title for this series of posts noted above.

First, a bit of history about Westminster Seminary and its long struggles with faculty, administration and trustees. These struggles have been on-again and off-again at WTS for many decades. I will not provide an extensive history but friends of the seminary know this legacy all too well.

Westminster Seminary was formed in 1929, largely under the leadership of the famous New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen. Though the school is independent, it has  had a close relationship with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) from the beginning of that denomination. The OPC is the church body which Machen helped to found in 1936 after he left the Presbyterian Church over a debate regarding the work of missions. Westminster has a unique governing structure in which the faculty has a great deal of power in regards to internal decision making. This structure, so far as I can tell, comes out of Machen’s struggles with Princeton Seminary and the Presbyterian Church. (Princeton Seminary did not have a president, so I have come to understand, until the twentieth century!) Oddly enough the first president of Westminster Seminary, which followed some of the Princeton model and not other parts, was the late Edmund P. Clowney. Dr. Clowney served from 1966 until 1984. (This means that the school did not have a president for thirty-seven years!) I had the great joy of knowing Ed Clowney. I consider him to have been one of the finest and most irenic conservative Reformed leaders in North America. I once engaged in a dialogue with him, and several other scholars and younger Christian students, over a meal. He was challenged about his view of infant baptism. (My own view at the time was that of a Baptist, which I have subsequently changed.) Clowney showed unusual clarity in this dialogue. But he also showed an even more unusual gentleness and grace in his engagement with believers over a controversial topic. He was outnumbered in the discussion by the Baptists at the table but he never wavered nor spoke a word in a passionate or untoward manner.

Edmund Clowney was followed at Westminster Seminary by George Fuller and later by Samuel T. Logan (1991-2005). Sam Logan is also a very good friend. I believe Sam Logan served the school in the spirit of the late Edmund Clowney. In 1982, the California branch of Westminster became an independent institution, thus it is now Westminster Seminary California. For some years these two schools had functioned together but they always felt very different to me. While I had friends in both places Philadelphia felt more like an “open” evangelical seminary where diversity could be honestly expressed in public ways. Another Westminster satellite was later established in Dallas. This school became Redeemer Seminary in 2009. Wikipedia has an entry about President Sam Logan which says, “Logan’s tenure was abruptly terminated in 2005 by the seminary’s Board of Trustees due to their perception that he was too inclusive of liberal scholarship” (italics mine). My sense of things is that this is an honest reporting of what actually happened. Others may have a different take on this matter but whoever wrote this entry seems to have gotten the story right.

The current president is Dr. Peter Lillback, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. (Lillback did a doctorate at Westminster.) President Lillback also serves as a professor of Historical Theology. He has been both a scholar and pastor. He is also the author of the book George Washington’s Sacred Fire. This is a very conservative pro-America book that was openly promoted by Glenn Beck. It was also a number one bestseller at amazon.com. One of the internal controversies that remains at Westminster, and is still unresolved, has to do with Dr. Lillback’s abiding public interest in conservative political issues that are historically of little concern to some (perhaps most) of the faculty.

Under the wise leadership of the late Edmund P. Clowney, who served WTS for nineteen years, the seminary engaged more deeply with the wider Christian world while it also remained intentionally connected to the conservative Reformed world. Clowney, to give just one example, spoke to the famous Urbana Missionary Conference (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship). This venue would not have been common for a leader at Westminster before his time. Under Clowney’s leadership Westminster became an internationally respected seminary with a high standard for academic excellence. It also hired new faculty members that were noteworthy for both scholarship and the kind of missiology that went far beyond the rigid confines of the small Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (One instance of the latter was Harvie Conn, who was one of the finest missiologists of his era. Tim Keller also taught at Westminster before he began his church planting work in New York City.) In this era Westminster became a growing school that wonderfully touched leaders from all over the world. The student body was genuinely international, or at least heavily Asian. When I first visited the campus in the late 1980s and early 1990s it was a rather exciting time for the school. I was received with great warmth and did not sense any suspicion among the faculty or administration. Leaders like Ed Clowney, and later Sam Logan, along with men like Harvie Conn, Will Barker and Ray Dillard were all delightful to share with personally. I enjoyed their company and warm fellowship. But I came to observe, over the next few years into the early 1990s, a growing change in the culture and context of the seminary.  Before my own eyes, based upon my repeated visits to campus, I watched one faculty member after another leave. Some left on their own, sensing that it was good time to go before prevailing storm clouds opened up. Others were pushed in various ways. Then I saw Dr. Samuel Logan, the president who had taught historical theology and had a strong background in Jonathan Edwards studies, pushed out by the board. It was a tragedy to my way of seeing it. During this same time I  came to know Norman Shepherd, long after he had left the school in a major controversy. Norm had moved to the Chicago area to pastor a Christian Reformed Church. Norm was a theologian who was examined at WTS, and in his presbytery as well, about his teaching on justification. He was then encouraged to leave Westminster. The said irony is that he did finally leave but is was ultimately voluntarily. He was examined on three points and one faculty member who recalls the time period well told me there was a split about him remaining that included three groups of people and each made up about one-third of the whole. President Clowney encouraged him to leave for the overall peace of the school. (Peace might have come in Norm’s leaving, but at a severe price to his family and others as time would tell!) In every instance the issues that troubled people at WTS were different, as they usually are in these settings. But the school’s culture was generally one that I saw as controlled by fear and constant debate over points that were not central to Christian orthodoxy, even to interpreting the Westminster Confession of Faith itself. The questions often seemed to revolve around who was in and who was out. The school went through major changes as new professors came and new issues arose.

During the years I visited the school I became grieved by what I personally witnessed. I would visit with my friends, share a meal and listen. Since the middle of the last decade I was no longer welcome to contribute at Westminster. The reasons for this were certainly not all on the side of the school. When Sam Logan left my deep ties to the school were clearly severed. My developing views on broader ecumenism were not going to be welcomed by the institution and I do understand this without any personal rancor at all.  I hold no animosity toward the school. My not speaking at WTS any longer simply fits with the direction of the school and its hyper-confessional stance. I respect that view more than some realize but obviously I do not agree with it. My point is that there was never any open conflict between me and/or anyone at the school, at least so far as I personally know. If someone at the seminary does not care for me I have no idea who that is or why. I do care about the school, as you will see in my ensuing comments, but I care more about the people that I know and love who have been, or still are, on the faculty at WTS.

 

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Biblical Theology, Current Affairs, Hermeneutics, History, Personal, Reformed Christianity, The Church | 10 Comments/Likes

For the Life of the World: The Classic Book and a New Video Series

I have mentioned my friend Byron Borger at Hearts & Minds Books in several contexts. There is no better reviewer of good books than Byron. Everyone who values my blogs should subscribe to his newsletters and pay attention to his reviews and book specials. There is simply no better Christian resource for good books – at least in the Protestant world – so far as I have discovered. Below is a review that covers the brilliant new film series that I am totally stoked about: “For the Life of the World.” Please order this series from Byron and you will not regret it I promise you. Show these films to friends, your small group, your local church, your adult education class, your older children, etc. There is no better introduction to whole life discipleship thinking available. This is not a series of polemical overviews but a good, solid Christian discipleship resource about living well that is applied to life in a holistic way.

Hearts & Minds Books

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DVD “For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles” ON SALE at BookNotes discounted price

Posted: 29 Jun 2014 08:24 PM PDT

DVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles Produced by Acton Institute (Gorilla Pictures) introductory price $45.00; our sale price $35.00

Okay, I’m going to say this right up front. I know I get pretty enthused about a lot, and I promote books each week here that I say are fabulous. We get oodles of books in the store each week, and there are many I’d love to tell you about, some which I really, really like, even though I don’t get to write about them. I can only tell you about a select few, so I usually pick the very best to describe at BookNotes, and I naturally gush about most of those. It’s not insincere or complicated: I don’t write about the mediocre ones. We stock most of the basic Christian bestsellers, and other things, too, but don’t need to tell you about them, so we pick the very best to review and promote. So, yeah, we gush a lot here at BookNotes, since we’re telling you about the cream of the crop.

I say that so that you don’t roll your eyes and say “Borger’s at it again, saying this one is a must-buy, gotta have, truly extraordinary resource  — but he says that about everything.”

Well, no I don’t.  

But I am saying it today.  I really, really am.

flow packageThe DVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is a must-buy, gotta have, truly extraordinary resource and I am going to rave and gush and do the happy hard-sell, because I really think this is something you should own, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime product. In our 30-plus years here at the shop we’ve never seen anything like it.

Which is mostly a very large compliment.  And a little bit of a fair warning.

The newly released 7-part film series DVD For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is smart and just a tad eccentric. Its film-making style is perhaps best described as seemingly inspired by the colorful genius of Wes Anderson; if you’ve seen clips from Moonrise Kingdom or The Grand Budapest Hotel you might know what I mean. Its aesthetic is hipster chic, colorful, nostalgic, touching, and at times self-conscious. “Let’s rewind that,” the narrator and star Evan Koons will say to no-one in particular, and they do, zanily rewinding the film to an earlier spot, which they pick up and replay, underscoring something that second time through.

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

For the Life of the World is stunningly beautiful in an upbeat, earnest-bohemian sort of way, endlessly fascinating, intellectually rich — even deep; who cites long passages from Hans Von Balthasar and recites Gerard Manley Hopkins poems about Christ playing in ten thousand places and in the acknowledgements thanks Herman Bavinck? (Those credits are in a the au courant, cool, chalk-board font, too. Is there such a thing as bohemian Bavinck?)

This glorious set of seven short “exploration films” (about 15 minutes or so, each) are all set in this amazingly groovy house, jam-packed for no known reason with beautiful antiques, rummage sale stuff, 50′s and 60′s era memorabilia, old-fashion TVs and phones and goof-ball paraphernalia. One  tattooed hipster (sorry for the redundancy) biker guy — The Stranger — says in one droll scene, “I like your dolls.”  Why Evan lives in a house with a display of dolls isn’t asked and it doesn’t matter.  I’m just telling you there is this vibe.  If you are young and hip, you most likely will love it, and if you are a cultural creative of any age your mouth will drop at how cool this is, unless you are jaded and cynical and then maybe you won’t.

If you are going to show this in a fairly white-bread, middle-class church setting, it is still fine and will be fun, but know it is a little artsy and youthful. The instrumental soundtrack was created for the project by the band Jars of Clay. Yes, the big “wedding scene” ending — they explain a word which means “yet, but not yet” and are playing with how the church’s worship and life in the world anticipates the final eschatology banquet — is a lovely, lovely, lovely hipster dance with all those strung up little lights in the clearing in the woods, with mason jars and fresh flowers and guys with vests dancing with women with long skirts holding smiling babies while a cool indie folk band plays. Old and young share food and flowers and accordions and starlight. If heaven is even somewhat like that, you will want to be there, I’m just saying.

And so, there’s that hip, gorgeously colorful aesthetic.

This film series is nothing if not entertaining. They play hockey, bake bread in an outdoor oven, mess around with compost, show children climbing magnificent trees, visit a neurology center to learn about brain studies, interview older folks about how they first fell in love, and show a major bit of beautiful footage about Makoto Fujimura in his art studio, ruminating on what it means to behold.

You can watch the promo trailer for it, shown below. You will be delighted, I hope, by the narrative approach, the use of metaphors, the cool music — it isn’t a talking head, dry intellectualism. It is emotional and creative.

Big-Picture Daily Discipleship

The For the Life of the World DVD segments are nothing short of an introduction to big-picture Christian living, asking “what is our salvation for?”  It explores how a real-world life of daily Christian discipleship is enhanced and made practical by a vision of embodied, missional service in a world blessed and ordered and being redeemed by a covenant-keeping, gracious Triune God known best in the person of Jesus.

I would say this is the film for which some of us have been waiting for 40 years, playfully and artfully and wisely articulating the implications of a profoundly Christian view of life, for all of life. They do not use the word worldview anywhere in the film (even though it was made by Kuyperians in Grand Rapids) and while it is certainly informed by serious theological thinking and has important intellectual foundations, it isn’t dry or abstract. (When it does get a little heavy, Evan gives us a knowing and urgent glance, instructing us to “pull up your pants, this might get a little weird.”)

Importantly, they take swipes at intellectual abstraction from time to time. One cannot be incarnational and missional — seeing redemption truly as “for the life of the world” and believing that salvation leads to creation restored — if one is merely abstract or theoretical. Hence the bread-making and wine-drinking and composting and a fabulous rant by Anthony Bradley on what a bore an overly managed hockey game becomes. Throughout, including the stunning 6th episode entitled “Wonder,” there is plenty of room for mystery and wonder.

For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles is made up of 7 interesting sessions, each with a bit of a set-up, a dramatic center (sometimes acted out as a bit of a plot — a stranger showing up, a trip to a school to learn about learning, a on-going sub-plot about clearing a woodsy lot, unloading a truckload of composting manure, and literally getting one’s hands dirty) followed by further discussion, usually with the delightful scholar Stephen Grabill. It is playful and sometimes a bit mysterious, but these conversations are packed with profound wisdom, insightful, transformative, even.

grabillProfessor Grabill has written detailed studies about reformation history and ethics — as a scholar at the historically Catholic Acton Institute he teaches about natural law, especially through the lens of 16th century Reformed theology — and is perfectly cast in the films as the “go to” teacher who instructs our befuddled young star, the curious, passionate, aforementioned Evan Koons, who is longing to figure out the relevance of faith to his life and our world.

Grabill is certainly one of the smartest guys around, and I was pleasantly happy to learn, one of the nicest; his joy in this project is palpable. Dr. Grabill is the main script writer of for the life - schmemannFor the Life of the World and he excitedly assured me a half a year ago as the video trailer was being premiered at the Jubilee Professional gathering in Pittsburgh that, indeed, its title is stolen from the book For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; $11.95) penned by the famous Russian Orthodox scholar, Father Alexander Schmemann. I hope you know that book, a wonderful study of eucharist and that whole “Christ plays in ten-thousand places” perspective on the sacramental nature of reality. Look carefully and you’ll see Schmemann’s face silk-screened on a tee-shirt Evan is wearing at one point.  I think he’s wearing it in the scene before the one with the Kuyper shirt.  What fun!

The tee-shirt hat tip to Schmemann isn’t the only not so subtle homage. There’s a hilarious scene in which the older professor Grabill takes young Evan aside, puts his arm around him, and with a nearly word-for-word replay of the famous “one word: plastics” scene from The Graduate — with Evan looking as perplexed as Dustin Hoffman — Grabill intones with deadly seriousness: “I want to say just one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening, Evan?  Oikonomia. There’s a great future in oikonomia. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

Since the Acton Institute was once known mostly as a think-tank about market economics and the virtues that sustain social liberty, it shouldn’t surprise us that the word for economics — stewardship of the household, and of households — comes up early on. Oikonomia is a Biblical word connoting the notion of a household being caringly stewarded. Creation is made up of networks of abundant economies, and we are invited to play our roles among them. As they draw on “faith and work” advocate Amy Sherman, who wrote the wonderful Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship and the Common Good (I laughed right out loud when they had this remarkable thinker and urban activist come out on the big sweet porch and interrupt the show to ask if anybody wanted lemonade) and black civil rights leader John Perkins (I smiled when Dwight sends along a VHS of Perkins) it becomes evident that this is no old-school Acton rant about the goodness of capitalism. They develop the notions of care-taking and stewarding God’s abundance for the common good in remarkable, inspiring ways and both Sherman and Perkins challenge us to live out justice with generous, serving, love.

Love in Different Spheres

Their evocative social vision, for those that want to know, seems to draw on (without saying so) the “small is beautiful” Catholic social teaching that is known as subsidiarity and, perhaps more so, the Kuyperian notion of sphere sovereignty. Both are long-standing, well-developed social theories that basically insist that there are different spheres of life in God’s world and no one sphere should override the values and principles which guide the others, and that we are called to enjoy and attend to the unique contours of each. mailbox flowEach social zone or arena or institution should do what it is designed to do, not unlike various musical instruments playing their separate parts in a symphony. A family is guided by self-giving love for one another, obviously, but love expresses itself differently in a business providing services or in politics adjudicating laws, or in art or in schooling or in science.

(This, by the way, just for instance, is why philosopher and college prof James K.A. Smith rails against calling students “consumers” in a brilliant chapter found in his book The Devil Wears Derrida and Other Essays…)

This insight may seem utterly routine, or, when described as a sophisticated social theory, maybe strikes you as utterly arcane. I assure that if you are part of a fairly ordinary congregation, evangelical or mainline denominational, conservative or progressive, my hunch is you’ve rarely heard a call to engage the world in terms quite like this. Early viewers of this have affirmed that it really helps them think about things in fresh and new ways. It is good, good stuff and I’m sure will get your group thinking and talking in fruitful ways.

For The Life of the World DVD doesn’t even unpack all of this as much as I might wish, but it invites us to ponder how these various sides of our lives –these economies of God– can develop as avenues of service. The section on work, reminding us in a fabulously visual way of our often hidden relationships with others in the supply chain of products we buy and use, is especially nice. The one about love in the family is creatively imagined and beautifully staged as a couple does a rustic, tender ballet to a lovely instrumental tune by Jars of Clay. Session by session, they develop an aspect of life and how God’s good creation and the unfolding drama of the Bible’s big story allows us to find meaning in that side of life.

The films do all this quite creatively — there is the hockey scene when it becomes sadly necessary for a referee to intervene (alluding to the rule of law, but also the need for restraint from overbearing police) and there is a gardening scene when the gardener arranges and determines the placement of plants, but can’t “make” them grow; we use our culture-making insight to arrange for a sustainable life and ordered culture, but can’t manage it all by applying science or theology or rules.  Life is a gift, after all, and in all areas of life greater freedom to flourish is preferred rather then managerial bureaucracy or heavy-handed scripts. These guys aren’t leftists or socially progressives, but they sure aren’t “law and order” right-wingers, either. Their gentle, glad vision of human flourishing across all of culture — valuing just politics and meaningful labor and family love and creative arts — is so wonderfully rare these days that the film has no ideological feel to it at all. It is upbeat, invigorating, taking us to deeper insights and instincts about the postures we adopt in our service to the world. They aren’t against the world (like the culture warriors) but they aren’t advocating comfortable accommodation, either. They hold up patient, generational, faithful presence, working out an “in but not of” the world perspective. It isn’t preachy, though.  Except, well, when it is.

Letters

And when it is, it is deeply moving, a highlight of the film. You see, at the end of each episode Evan writes a letter — he’s sitting at his desk, pen in hand, writing on white lined notebook paper — and he starts “Dear Everybody” and pens a moving epistle which summarizes in deeply spiritual tones the Biblical basis for the lesson of the day. At the end of each episode (except the last, which puzzles me) he walks out to the end of the sidewalk of the big funky house, puts his envelope in the mailbox, and puts up the little red flag. This really is a set of letters to us, reminders of a way of being in the world, and the vision of a wondrous, robust, lived faith for exiles.  They are thought-provoking and good.

This is the rhetorical theme of the films, after all, these oracles “to the exiles.”  Evan wears his heart on his sleeve, inviting us to learn the truths he learns from Grabill, the wonderful “explorer” Dwight Gibson (of the exploration group) and their friends Amy Sherman, Anthony Bradley, John Perkins,

Mako Fujimura and others. His letters point us to essential truths about how to live faithfully in exile — each an extrapolation and refraction of Jeremiah 29 which they reference in the first fantastic episode — and are signed, simply, “Yours, Evan.”

As the credits roll at the very end after the last letter to us, we who are in exile, there is a powerful, slow original song, with a blazing electric guitar solo, Ghost in the Moon, created for the project by Jars of Clay. The whole thing is really exceptional.

7 Episodes, 7 Letters, 1 New Perspective

The tag-line on the front of the DVD package says it all:  “7 episodes, 7 letters, 1 new perspective.”

What is our salvation actually for? In a sin-wracked, idolatrous, increasingly de-centered and polarized culture, how do we take up the call to be “in the world but not of it” and how to we sustain a joyful missional perspective in all that we do? This new perspective, they say, “is an invitation to explore the scandalous and beautiful story of God’s plan for the whole world.”  These DVD pieces will help you and your group explore some of the most important things we can possibly talk about, without being heavy-handed or simplistic, and we highly recommend them.

Details

For now, For the Life of The World: Letters to the Exiles is selling for a introductory price of $45.00. At our BookNotes sale price, we have it at  $10.00 off, just $35.00.

This comes in great DVD package, creatively produced as we would expect. In this economical, thin cardboard case you get a nice overview of the sessions (written cleverly as a letter from Evan) and two versions of the disc — regular DVD and Blue-ray Disc, so you can view it, or show it at your small group, fellowship, book club or Sunday school class whether you have a conventional or Blue-ray player.  There is also enclosed a link to a study group resource that allows your gang to be on-line together following each week and catching up on notes and study resources.  There you will find their new “field guide” resource which helps you process this in your small group. When you buy this, be sure to click on the “extras” link and find that Field Guide.

For what it is worth, early feedback has been amazingly good, with folks showing it literally around the world. Apparently it’s going to be on TV in Australia. Some church leaders who run very large and/or sophisticated small group ministries have raved about its usefulness, traditional churches. emergent communities, and those who do college and young adult groups have raved as well. The early buzz is fantastic, the vision life-changing, the conversations emerging from this very, very generative. It is the kind of thing we feel honored to be a part of.

Soon, there will be posters to download and other resources to help you promote this in your own church or fellowship.

People thanked in the ending credits for inspiring or helping them include serious, long-gone theologians and thinkers, but wonderful contemporary folks like Steve Garber, Andy Crouch and others from whom we, too, have drawn much inspiration.  If you like Hearts & Minds at all, if you value what we do or are drawn to the logic and ethos of our curation of books to review, I think you’ll appreciate this a lot. Order it from us today.

You can watch the promo trailer here:  http://www.letterstotheexiles.com/

Here is a great radio show about the FLOW project, which includes some audio excerpts of the films, and interviews with a few of the principles, including Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay: http://www.acton.org/media/audio/life-world-writing-letters-exiles

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This takes you to the secure Hearts & Minds order form page just tell us what you want. If you have questions or need more information just ask us what you want to know – Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street  Dallastown, PA  17313. Phone: 717-246-3333

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Posted in Acton Institute, American Evangelicalism, Culture, Discipleship, Film, Personal, Renewal, The Church, The Future | 7 Comments/Likes

July 4 – Enjoying Freedom With Caution

UnknownI love my country. I believe that true patriotic love for one’s home and nation is a wonderful emotion. I am troubled, however, by a continual insistence that a certain ideology is tantamount to true patriotism. This ideology grows stronger the more polarized we become in our public life. This ideology is also antithetical to the kingdom of Christ yet it easily gets linked with celebrations like July 4. Balanced and healthy Christian patriotism is not blind nor is it silent.

I saw a T-shirt last night at a baseball game which said: “In God We Trust. Deal With It.”

I wanted to ask the wearer what this meant but I was trying to relax, not start a debate. Something about it really bothered me. If, for whatever reason, I do not believe “In God We Trust” should be a national motto on our coins and in other parts of our reigning opinion then I have only one choice: “Deal With It.” So much for my freedom.

What if a person loves their country but sees flaws in it that are harmful to the common good? What if another person loves their country but is a secularist and doesn’t believe God should be connected to the national currency? Or what if a Christian has a strong view about keeping faith and state separate in such matters?

The America that I love today is diverse, welcoming, just, compassionate, caring and a good place to make a home and express your freedom of faith and speech. If we are not very careful we could lose the very freedom that we prize by seeking to honor it with a false and misguided zeal.

Posted in America and Americanism, Freedom, Personal | 11 Comments/Likes

“Manny Being Manny” – Who Is this “New” Manny Ramirez?

Former Major League Baseball all-star Manny Ramirez was the perennial “bad boy” of the sport. With his long dreadlocks, sullen attitude, disrespect for the game in general and inability to get along with teammates, the perennial slugger was both a sensational talent and a complete drain on teams who employed him. When Manny Ramirez left baseball I frankly never missed him. Then this all changed on Sunday.

UnknownManny Ramirez was born in 1972 in the Dominican Republic.  My first memory of Ramirez was the 1995 World Series when he was a second-year regular player and a huge threat to the great pitching staff of the Atlanta Braves in the post-season. The Braves, as some readers know, are my childhood favorite team. I watched the Braves great pitchers (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz) work carefully to get around Manny. Along with Jim Thome they feared his bat in the Cleveland lineup as much as that of any slugger in the game. Later Ramirez would play for a World Championship team in Boston. (Manny played for twenty years; spending time with the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox and Rays.)

Manny Ramirez was suspended for using performance enhancing drugs several times. He created continual controversy in and out of the sport. He was not only a great player but a major drain on the chemistry of every “team” that he played for over his twenty years. The players and media had a term for his actions: “It was just Manny being Manny!” This expression became so widely used that most fans knew it instantly.

Manny Ramirez, at age 42, is no longer a major league player. I lost track of him this year until I realized the Chicago Cubs had signed him to a triple-A contract with the Iowa Cubs to coach and play. Manny would still like to get back to the big leagues but it seems doubtful at this advanced stage. (How does that make you feel if you are my age?)

Theo Epstein, the Cubs general manager said, “Manny was definitely a headache” in his playing days, which included time with Epstein’s club in Boston. So why would he sign him and allow Manny to influence his young budding stars in the Cubs farm system? Well, Manny has profoundly changed according to every report and story that you hear. The Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday, June 29, 2014) included a story titled: “The Headache Has Passed.” In it Steve Greenberg presented the story of the “new” Manny Ramirez. It was a remarkable account for me a long time fan and a Christian.

In the Sun-Times story Manny admits that he was a “jerk.” He also says “I did a bunch of things wrong.” But how did Manny become a mentor to these young players as he tries to get back to the majors one last time? Greenberg’s answer: “This is not Manny being all about Manny. Believe it or not, the idea of being a mentor appeals to him in a very real way.” Why?

Ramirez says his previous actions had consequences and he’d like to help younger players realize this sooner than he did. He wants to guide young players in the right way.

So what happened to Manny Ramirez? Greenberg answers, “Along with his wife Juliana, Ramirez became a Christian.” He knows this doesn’t remove all the bad he did in the past but he says, “I thank God for everything that happened to me. . . . Now I’m blessed to be here.”

I am always a tad suspicious of celebrity conversions but Juliana and Manny Ramirez are no longer celebrities in the limelight. Their story rings true. The guy seems to be at peace with himself and with baseball. He also seems to have genuine love for others, especially for young baseball players who might mess up the way that he did so often. He seems to no longer be angry, sullen or out of sorts with the world.

Odd how this all works. I once booed Manny Ramirez as a passionate fan. I celebrated his being busted for using drugs. I enjoyed seeing him misplay a fly ball or strike out in the clutch. Now I find myself praying for him as my brother. To be truthful I am sorry for how I responded to him in the past. Yes, it was just me being a fan. But in the light of what God has taught me about love I should have loved Manny Ramirez even before he became a brother. Now I find it easier, of course, to think well of Manny but it doesn’t change the fact that he was loved by God long before he or I knew about it. I am inclined to think that I should always remember guys like Manny Ramirez when I react to other people.

Posted in Baseball, Love, Personal | 12 Comments/Likes

The Legacy of Howard Baker, Jr. (1925-2014)

170px-Howard_baker_jrThe funeral of one of the finest public servants in my lifetime will be held this morning in a small Presbyterian Church in the tiny East Tennessee town of Huntsville. When I first heard of Senator Howard Baker’s passing last week I felt more than a usual measure of sadness about the death of a well-known American. Baker, the former son-in-law of the famous Everett Dirksen, served as Ronald Reagan’s chief-of-staff, as Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate and as an ambassador to Japan. Howard Baker filled many roles during his illustrious public life but the man Howard Baker was an even better person than he was a political leader. Let me tell you why I believe this is true.

Howard Baker (1925–2014) was 88 years old when he died. He rose to prominence when he famously asked at the Senate Watergate Committee hearings: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” The beginning of the end for President Nixon was clear when the voice of Howard Baker was raised in honest doubt about the leader of his own party. Men like Howard Baker and Gerald Ford were rare, though not entirely rare in those days. They were long-time political insiders but they were Unknown-1also respected on both sides of the aisle as honest, straight-shooters who sought consensus and did what they believed to be the right thing for their country regardless of the personal consequences. Baker was known among his peers as “The Great Conciliator.” He knew how to broker compromises, how to adjust a deal with a plurality of opinions and people involved, and how to seek consensus. I find this almost entirely absent in modern Washington politics.

One newspaper wrote, just after Howard Baker’s passing, “No politician in modern times has been as qualified to be president but never made it than Howard Henry Baker.” I agree. Sadly, capable good guys like Howard Baker are hard to nominate and elect these days.

Howard Baker Jr.’s father, Howard Sr., served as a member of the U.S. House from a traditionally Republican district in East Tennessee from 1951–1964. So Howard Jr. came from a political family.

I shall never forget the first time that I met Howard Baker. I was 15 years old. He was running for the senate seat in Tennessee against a liberal Democrat named Ross Bass. The seat that both men sought had been held for years by the famous Estes Kefauver. Kefauver was a legend in Tennessee politics. He had also run as a vice-presidential candidate in 1956 with Adlai Stevenson, having secured this nomination over the young John F. Kennedy in an open convention vote.

I met Howard Baker during the campaign season of 1964 when he ran for the open senate seat held by Kefauver who had died while serving his six-year term. When I met Baker I was energized. I think there might have been fifteen people in the room at a small lunch meeting when we met. I’ll never forget the occasion. Howard Baker made me feel important and welcome. He also energized me as a young teenager by encouraging me to pursue high goals of service with my life. (At that time I thought that I would enter political service!) He was as down-home, as we Tennesseans would put it, as he could be. I loved the guy and I followed his career in public service for the rest of his life. He lost that first election in 1964 but came back two years later to run for the same seat and was elected to serve a full six-year term. He beat the former governor Frank G. Clement in 1966. Baker thus became the first Republican senator in Tennessee since Reconstruction. He was re-elected in 1972 and 1978. President Nixon asked Baker to serve on the Supreme Court but when he took a long time to decide Nixon passed over him for William Rehnquist, who later became the Chief Justice. Baker ran for the presidency in 1980 but lost to George H. W. Bush who eventually lost to Ronald Reagan. In 1984 Baker left the senate. In 1981 Baker received the U. S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an annual award given by the Jefferson Awards. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984.

Howard Baker was a deeply committed Presbyterian who lived his Christian values in both his public and private life. He didn’t talk about his faith in order to get votes, he lived his faith and served people well. How I miss these days before the “culture wars” began in earnest.

imagesColumnist Carol Marin, writing in the Sunday Chicago Sun-Times (June 29, 2014), said that Howard Baker taught her a thing or two about reading a script in front of a camera. Marin tells of Baker walking into a Nashville studio where she worked in 1978 and sitting down at her anchor desk to speak to the people of Nashville. Baker had just voted to give the Panama Canal to the people of Panama, a decision that had been promoted by President Jimmy Carter and one that was despised by most conservatives at the time. Baker had a speech prepared but when the cameras came on live Carol Marin says he looked into the camera and talked to the people of his state. The teleprompter rolled but Baker paused, spoke off script and let words flow from his heart. He told his fellow Tennesseans that he and agonized over his decision but did what he felt was right. Says Carol Marin, “Call Ronald Reagan the Great Communicator, if you want. But for my money, it was Howard Baker.” But she adds, “He was so much more.” He was a man of profound courage who did what he honestly felt was in the national interest, not what he believed would get him re-elected. For liberals he was not far enough to the left and for conservatives he was not far enough to the right. Says Marin, “Senator Baker, in my experience, was always in search of balance. And, heaven forbid, dialogue.”

It is this last sentence that says it all for me. Baker was not like Obama, Boehner and our current leaders in both parties. He talked openly to the press routinely. He hid from no question. He was fearless in telling the truth. When he once stumbled over a line in speaking about the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) he made a misstatement. He was asked if they should re-record the sentence. He declined and said “People don’t trust perfection.” Carol Marin says, “You might call that manipulation. Phony, not real. But it was something else to my mind. It was trying to find the in the fractiousness of politics, a common human chord.”

Was Howard Baker simply a great salesman?

Carol Marin writes: “Absolutely. But more often than not, Howard Baker was selling his convictions in behalf of collaboration and compromise.”

Washington seems almost devoid of such salesmen today. Where is deep conversation, real dialogue and good compromise happening? In my acceptance speech delivered when I was awarded the Luminosa Award for my work for unity on June 22 I asked this question: “Where in Washington is the Christian leader who will seek to create a dialogue rooted in the spirituality of Christian love? We have a lot of Christians in our Congress but there seems to be an near complete absence of such deep spirituality.”

I will miss Howard Baker. His passing makes me long for a new generation of such leaders to arise.

I could not create a proper hyperlink but there is some interesting information about the Howard Baker funeral that can be seen (paste this address into your search engine) at: http://www.wbir.com/story/news/local/scott-campbell-morgan/2014/06/29/first-presbyterian-church-prepares-howard-baker-junior-funeral/11717391/

Posted in America and Americanism, Culture, Current Affairs, Personal, Politics | 12 Comments/Likes

Must the Reformation Wars Continue? (Twenty-Two)

UnknownIn this my final post in this series I wish to note that the way forward is for Protestants and Catholics to get to know one another much better. Out of dialogue we can learn to say very simple things and not initially major on trying to tease out all the details until we first build trust. Disagreement should not be ignored but disagreement must be addressed in the right context and manner.

Regarding the Council of Trent – which was quoted by several in the original post I responded to as saying: “Let anyone who says that we are saved by faith alone be anathema.” The actual quote is: “If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Session VI, Canon 12). The blog commenter has replaced “nothing else than confidence in divine mercy” with “faith.” I do not accept this substitution as equivalent. “Nothing else than” is an important qualifier. I do have significant discomfort with the statement in the Council of Trent (pronouncing people as “anathema” sounds harsh to the 21st century ear) but this does match the flavor of the times in the mid-1500s.

But shouldn’t the Catholic Church repent and formally renounce what it said at Trent? This is how some conservative Protestants still argue these points.

Do we even agree that Trent intended to anathematize the Reformers personally or ideas they attributed to them? The Catholic Church has not evolved away from this position over time but it has clarified that this type of statement was meant to protect the church from serious “errors” that could infect the faithful. But some zealous non-Catholics still insist: “The Catholic Church must repent of Trent, and of papal infallibility, and many other things.” Saying “the war is over” (as I have argued) is to throw away the hard fought gains of the Reformation they argue.

But I must ask: “What should the Protestant Church repent of and how?”

Fundamentalism? Biblicism? Prosperity gospel? The list goes on . . .

To which another replies, “But not all Protestantism was involved in those things. It is not a single institution.”

Another respondent adds, “My point is that papal infallibility prevents repentance (most importantly of Trent, which was a repudiation of the Gospel). I’m not aware of any Protestant doctrines which forbid repentance. The difference is that those were not the official teachings of Protestantism.” After all they are criticized by other Protestant streams. They then reason, “The Catholic positions mentioned earlier are its official teachings.”

Michael Mercer rightly added, “The RCC is a much bigger tent and much more diverse than some of these comments recognize.”

But fervent appeals are still being made to Galatians 1:6-9.

Grace alone, and faith in God’s grace alone “drives the train” says one. Another notes, “I am increasingly hearing people say things like, ‘If your life doesn’t display a submission to Christ in your behavior, you’re in fact not a Christian.’”

Another writer in the original Michael Mercer blog section adds:

While this may have a spark of James in it (or Trent, for that matter) I think it really gets away from grace and becomes spiritual-bullying, even works-righteousness, while boldly proclaiming “grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone” – and meanwhile denouncing the Catholics for what’s perceived as their stand on faith vs. works, which should never be “versus” in the first place. As we know, Luther couldn’t stand the Epistle of James. It’s not surprising that we, as his descendants, can’t relate to that offending part of the Council of Trent.

A Lutheran answers this respondent by saying:

He sanctifies us, lock, stock and barrel. We do . . . nothing. Nothing benefits us in the eyes of God toward our justification . . . or sanctification. Maybe that is why St. Paul wrote, “He who began a good work in you, will wait for you to complete it.” Wait a minute  . . . is that right?

If you pay attention to all of this you can readily see that the debate can get conflicted and nasty. No wonder so many are confused. I suggest we do the following:

1. Create opportunities for us to talk and listen.

2. Learn to love and draw people into Christ and his presence rather than repel them by an argument-based culture.

3. Learn how to rightly understand 16th century language if you are going to debate it.

4. Read modern attempts by the various churches to talk to one another and see how it can be done well.

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Church History, Faith, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, Unity of the Church | 6 Comments/Likes

St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies

So, do you think it is easy to express the doctrine of the trinity faithfully and clearly? Think again. And laugh just a little as you watch and listen to some intelligent theological humor.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments/Likes

Must the Reformation Wars Continue? (Twenty-One)

UnknownIt should be born in mind that the goal of the Lutheran dialogues with the Catholic Church is full visible communion. Recent changes in the larger Lutheran Church regarding sexuality and marriage have challenged this process but the partners continue to dialogue, showing how disagreements that are rather profound do not have to end the pursuit of peace and unity. The way forward is not clear but when you consider where we were before World War II and where we are today we have surely come a long way.

A much bigger issue in today’s church is ecclesial authority, even more than justification.  The adoption of papal infallibility as dogma (it was not an infallible teaching in the 16th century) complicates things for sure!  Some good work has been done on these issues—especially by the Anglicans and the Orthodox. The Reformed and Lutheran churches have also done some important work and more recently Mennonite and other non-magisterial churches have engaged in official dialogues.

My personal preference is that we avoid the kind of language that either Calvin or Luther used in the context of the sixteenth century. This is required because of love, not compromise. We can press the essential points without using the older language and forms employed in the most intense times of disagreement.

On the opposite side, I would advise against using the language that Trent uses as well.  Catholics can, and do, affirm what Trent taught but they have moved away from the “language” of that era into newer ways of affirming the core doctrines without the unnecessary polemical rhetorical devices.

There is one theologian that both Roman Catholics and Protestants “like” equally – St. Augustine. He lived and wrote long before the issues of justification that currently divide us were even on the table.  Here is an interesting blog about Augustine and justification –  http://pontifications.wordpress.com/2008/01/07/augustine-on-justification/

If we are to make progress we need to stress simpler language since the technical forms of the past are missed on most, even some theologians. The simpler any statement is, generally speaking, the better the statement – God gets ALL the credit for justification and, at the same time, we absolutely MUST obey God’s law. Both Catholics and Protestants will generally try to say much more but we can say this and make huge strides. A good friends says, “But the more one says, the more one leaves oneself open to criticism.”

Another friend, who is a scholar on the work of Jonathan Edwards, believes that Edwards gives us some suggestions about the kind of language that we might use in our current context. This he reasons, is because Edwards was not primarily responding to Roman Catholicism. He was responding to two trends within Protestantism which were nearly identical to the differences between Luther and the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 – Arminianism, which emphasized what man must do and antinomianism which emphasized what God does.

It should further be noted that the justification issue which divides Roman Catholics and Protestants still divides Protestant from Protestant. This is true in the non-Lordship debate and among leaders of the Gospel Coalition based on recent posts we’ve read about their disagreements. When Professor Norman Shepherd emphasized the necessity of evangelical obedience at Westminster Seminary almost three decades ago he was heard to be teaching Roman Catholic theology by some Reformed conservatives. And a few days ago Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, was banned from writing blogs on the Gospel Coalition website because of his emphasis on God’s sovereign grace sounded to some people too much like antinomianism.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments/Likes