Archive for the ‘Emergent’ Category

Happy Birthday Dan!

Dan Gouge

Happy birthday to our own Mr. Beautiful. Have a great one Danny boy!

Partial Review Of …And We Will Become A Happy Ending

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This project has been sitting on my desk for a while, wagging its finger at me, demanding to know when it would be finished. But for quite some time, I have tried my best to ignore it, simply because I didn’t know how to complete it. And really, I’m not sure if I do.

Friends of mine, and formerly co-students at Tyndale University College, wrote a book (now, unfortunately, a while back) about the unique church plant they began in Sarnia, Ontario. I must say at this point that I have never been to this plant in person, though I’ve heard much about it through my friends and other channels. Whether this aids or harms me in my ability to helpfully discuss the book, I will leave those people who have both visited the church and read the book to decide.

One of the reasons I struggled with this review was that, in many ways, the book reflects real people, and not only that, but real people I know. It’s a book about a vision of a growing congregation for its own common life. Therefore, to be critical of the book may in some ways be a critical of real people. Yet, the reader can’t do much else, given the nature of the book.

Composed of various forms of art, quotations from writers from the fields of biblical studies, theology, philosophy, autobiography, and pop culture (if one can call that a field), the book works more like a cascade of thoughts and images than a carefully reasoned manifesto or proclamation.

And no doubt that was intentional. The community of The Story has taken various streams of postmodern philosophy and theology as helpful and correct, and the work they’ve produced here reflects that. We live in an age captivated by images and sounds engineered to produce certain types of feeling; this contrasts with past ages, like those around and after the Reformation, where a congregation might on some occasions stand to listen to a 5 hour sermon, or expect their preacher’s exposition to follow a logically structured outline. There is of course a structure to this book, and the author explains it in the introduction. But beyond that larger structure, the smaller parts are linked, it seems to me, more in the way people in a crowd are, than dominoes in a row. All of this to say, the book often is more aesthetically experienced than logically followed.

My assignment as a co-contributor to this blog was for the sections “Intro”, “Happy Ending”, and “Out of Order”. The latter two titles reflect a clever way of referring to the eschaton, and the eschaton as inaugurated in the visible communities of Christians. Because of the structure of the book, and perhaps also because I lacked the artistic perception to recognize deeper links within the material, my reflections on these chapters will be more thematic than systematic. Three themes jumped out at me as constant undercurrents: compassionate practice, uncertainty, and unconditional divine acceptance. I certainly am willing to receive correction at this point, but it seems to me the kind of vision the story holds out for itself is one where (a) deep questions can remain unanswered in community, where (b) the people of Christ focus significantly on helping to resolve the material problems of others, and where (c) followers of this vision are convinced of the universality of God’s love. The format of the book itself highlights, perhaps, a fourth value of the community: (d) creativity.

I would be misleading if I suggested I agreed with the vision at every point. Treating the last value first: I can’t say I have a problem with the use of artistic expression per se. And there are indeed many fine examples of artistic craft depicted in the book. Returning to the other three values in the order I listed them, I don’t have much problem with trying to establish economic and political justice both in the community of the church and in the wider commonwealth. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to abandon the traditional evangelical calling of seeking for the conversion of individuals so as to save them from the wrath of God. I also recognize the importance of allowing space for people to be uncertain and ask questions; yet, I have seen individuals and communities twist this intention for open space into a cover for changing the direction of a community. “Doubt” can really become a code-word for certainty that the old beliefs of the community are wrong. (This is not to say the Story suffers from this problem; but it is a danger their vision is open to when applied by any community.) I agree that God’s call goes out to all people, but for me this is consistent with a historic Reformed view of God’s sovereignty and providence, and with a non-universalistic eschatology.

(I am conscious as I look at the previous paragraph that I may sound exactly like the kind of thing the Story is trying to get away from. I’m not sure that that’s the case, but I could see an outsider looking at me that way. I’m responding to what is clearly a deeply personal and emotional expression by evaluating whether that experience is correct. Nevertheless, I don’t think I ultimately respect the content of this book if I treat it as merely art for art’s sake. The book really does make claims about reality, and so to treat it as it asks to be treated, I must engage with its ideas as well as its format.)

I don’t have much else to say about the book, except that I believe it’s an excellent living expression of the kind of faith that seems to attract many of the Millennial generation. That’s worth pondering, whether one thinks that means other churches ultimately ought to follow their lead, or not.

Fraternities And The Fabric Of Faithfulness

During my undergrad years at Tyndale University College, our very wise Dean of Students required us to read Steven Garber’s The Fabric of Faithfulness. The gratitude I felt towards the Dean for this has not abated since then.

Garber contends, in sum, that three factors stand out in differentiating those Christians who stay faithful from those who abandon the faith along the way. Firstly, the faithful ones found answers to objections to their faith. They were able to hold their faith together with reason, and with honesty regarding the facts.  Secondly, they found mentors or teachers in the faith, who were able to model for them what it meant to live out Christianity as a mature human being.  Thirdly, they found a community, or friends, with whom they could live out their faith in mutual support.

Garber easily convinced me. Challenges to one’s trust in Jesus inevitably come to all believers in this life. How can they withstand them, if they must suppress their own nagging consciousness of problems, or if they have no examples of others who have survived the storm, or if they have no friends on whom they can depend while they endure it? Garber’s points compel agreement to anyone possessing common sense, I believe.

And so I think if churches want to train their members to persevere, they need to craft their ministry to provide these three things.  The pastoral ministry could surely help with the first and second factors (education and example). But even then, they cannot be the sole providers of these.  Members have to be encouraged to become self-educating, and to become examples to each other. And then of course the congregation functions as community.

Yet, congregations should not shoulder this burden by themselves.  A real weakness lurks beneath the recent push among groups like Evangelicals, Emergents, Missionals, Postliberals, etc., to subsume every part of the mission underneath the visible and institutional church (that is, insofar as they do indeed succumb to this attitude; I am sure there are many counterexamples that do not).  It is a mistake to think everything Christians do must be done as an official ministry of local congregations, or networks of congregations in what we call denominations.  The Reformational emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, and on the importance of vocation in the non-ecclesiastical realm, remains salutary for us today.

So, are there other ways, beyond the ministries of the institutional church, that Christians could provide these three faithfulness-producing causes for themselves? Here’s one idea I have been mulling over. I think Western believers ought to really consider reviving fraternities.

Fraternities, or clubs like them, have been around for centuries. In the Greco-Roman world, they at times became so powerful politically that the state outlawed all clubs except those which clearly demonstrated their fealty to the Emperor. And anyone can understand why they became powerful.  Close-knit, likeminded groups devoted to a common cause can accomplish incredible things.  (Though I don’t know the history, I would guess this is one reason why freedom of association has been enshrined in the constitutions of many Western democracies, to provide a check against governmental power.) Scholars such as Niall Ferguson have also noted the incredible importance of institutions of civil society for the preservation of civilization (see, e.g., here).

Unfortunately, Christians, especially men, most likely cannot conceive of a Christian fraternity as having this kind of power. And who could blame them? The Western Protestant churches, if they do not appear to be at the end of their life-span, usually appear like they are at the beginning. That is, we tend to have two options: (1) near-dead mainlines, or (2) infantile evangelicals. Would a fraternity made up of members of such churches instantiate anything other than the same tropes? Unlikely.

Yet despite my Calvinism, I’m not a fatalist. I think fraternities could intentionally seek to be different than this.

I think a club structured around the following three purposes, if its members actively intended to put them into action, could accomplish great things.

  1. Worship/Piety: members should regularly pray together.
  2. Fellowship: members should gather together regularly, both for the sheer joy of it, and also to encourage one another to growth in virtue and knowledge
  3. Service: members should actively plan, and carry out plans, to do good for the wider community/society/city

Doing these three things out of a conviction regarding the truth about God and the world would take care of the “dead” problem seen in mainline churches. And one more proposal would take care of the “infantile” issue: official meetings and proceedings of these fraternities ought to be conducted with  a sense of reverence and seriousness, based on an understanding of the importance of the work they are carrying out. (Of course, this wouldn’t prohibit less serious meetings from occurring as well. But these should not be the only kind, and the more formal should be common enough to have an influence on the souls of the people involved.)

This is just an idea, but I don’t think it’s a bad one. I hope some day I get to put it into practice, but even if I never do, maybe someone else will (or already has).

 

Fighting Over A Shrinking Pie

I was mildly amused reading Keith’s last post about how Rob Bell has a new book and then the link to Denny Burk in which the latter devotes an entire blog post to explaining that Rob Bell is irrelevant (which is why he needs an entire post, right). What’s amusing to me about all that is how Bell and Burk seem so similar. It’s almost comical that they even bear a passing resemblance, if not brothers they could certainly be first cousins. It strikes me that Bell and Burk (and Burk’s Reformed proxies at New St. Andrew’s) are contesting for the same, shrinking group of people: those with at least some memory or connection to Protestant Christianity particularly of an evangelical flavour. I blogged about this some years ago here. It seems unlikely that that growing group of people who have grown up with no memory of church, no association with it, not even a perfunctory Easter visit to anchor them would ever just pick up Rob Bell’s book about God-talk or anything that come out of the Gospel Coalition and/or Canon Press or any other Reformed mouthpiece. I think is what Fitch has been on about for a while now.

Rob Bell Is Back

So, apparently Rob Bell has a new book coming out called What we talk about when we talk about God. Denny Burk has already put up a shot across the bow. I’m not a fan of Rob Bell by any stretch of the imagination (see here, here, here, here, and here) but I have to admit that he knows how to turn a phrase. I love how the trailer finishes:

The message of the book is essentially that God is not behind us, dragging us backwards into some primitive regressive state. God has always been ahead of us pulling us forward into greater peace, integration, wholeness, and love.

A-men. It’s a great thought, I just think my conservative, confessional and evangelical theology serves as a much better backdrop for it.

The point of this post isn’t so much to talk about Bell’s new book. To be honest, I look for any opportunity to share a hilarious spoof of Rob Bell’s book trailers by the good lads at Christ Kirk and New St. Andrew’s College in Moscow, Idaho. They raise them right in those parts of the hinterland.

If you haven’t seen this, please don’t put it off. If you want some context, watch this Rob Bell clip. Life changing stuff below. Well, not quite life changing, but still worth the three minute commitment.

[vimeo 21895447 500 500]

 

Social Constructionism, Moral Realism, And Injustice

Jamie K.A. Smith wrote on twitter the other day:

We’re told that social constructionism has no resources to stop injustices like racism. But how did moral realism fair in that regard?

I want to briefly discuss where I think this is wrong. Firstly, it is true that people merely professing to be moral realists has not created heaven on earth. This should not be a big surprise to Christians, who believe in original sin, total depravity, and the persistence of indwelling sin in the lives of even regenerated people. But at the same time, I don’t notice that social constructionists, people who believe that all value and meaning is the creation of communities, have become morally perfect either. Except, perhaps, in cases where they have redefined their sin to be righteousness “for their community”. But the rest of us, I think, may not be persuaded. And certainly, communities that believe there is no objective right and wrong could easily, and indeed have, been quite evil and unjust.

Secondly, if the question is: “which view, considered in the abstract, provides more motivation to be good?”, then I think it is moral realism, not social constructionism, that has more resources available towards reaching that end. This is for one main reason. The communities of moral realism and social constructionism can both discipline their communities toward achieving the good and stopping injustices, for moral realist communities are still communities. But only moral realists can offer a principled argument for why people outside of their own community also ought to stop committing injustices. Social constructionists can only offer bare commands or invitations to those on the outside, while moral realists can do both of these things, and provide reasons why others should stop being racists, etc.

Thirdly, social constructionism is, at bottom, a kind of cultural relativism. And when cultural relativism goes missionary, when it tries to recruit from the outside or shape the outside world in its image, it is essentially being Nietzschean. Since it can have no objective right to do this (since, in its own view, there are no such things), any attempt to condemn others for things it considers wrong, or to enforce rules against such behaviour, is an act of sheer will-to-power. There is no trans-communal standard of justice that could make such an act warranted, since there is no trans-communal standard of justice. So it is merely one community trying to impose its will on another, for no more fundamental reason than that the community wishes to do it. At base, it must reduce all moral outrage to socially constructed arbitrary value preferences, and so to wish or will.

City of God Bloggers

Well, fresh from the Dave Fitch-Craig Carter smack-down at Theology Pub, we City of God bloggers managed to escape unscathed. Here’s proof:

Keith, Andrew, Ian, Dan

Here are the dueling theologs with Darryl Dash mediating:

Dave and Darryl

Darryl and Craig

Darryl and Craig

Pugilistic kidding aside, I thought it was a fruitful discussion between two knowledgeable theologians who obviously care about the role of the church in culture. Fitch addressed his concerns about evangelicalism’s relationship with broader, Americanized (maybe Republicanized?) society with a plea for a healthy dose of neo-Anabaptist theology to help settle things; while Carter in turn shared critiques of Fitch’s proposal coupled, in turn, with a plea for a robust Augustinianism in the church, focused on the preaching of the gospel.

For my part, I wish that there had been more clearly defined terms. What is an Anabaptist? Historically (though Fitch didn’t seem to think that historical matters were pertinent), Anabaptist is a very hard term to define. Surely he doesn’t want to be lumped in with John of Leiden! I also wished that we had a clearer understanding of what Evangelical means. Why no discussion of Bebbington’s definition?

At the end, Fitch suggested that we all read Scot McKnight and N. T. Wright on the kingdom and the gospel. I would like to see Fitch read more Herman Ridderbos. That, actually, is advice that comes in a round-about way from N.T. Wright who said as much in a debate with Richard Gaffin a number of years ago. That would prove the point I brought up that, aside from pacifism, every concern that Fitch has with Evangelicalism is met by Reformed theology (theoretically, one could be a pacifist and Reformed). His reply to me was that I am really an Anabaptist. Maybe my reply back should have been maybe he’s really Reformed!

He might also do well to read Carl Trueman’s Republocrat and D. G. Hart’s Deconstructing Evangelicalism. With the former, he would find a good argument for why conservative theology does not necessarily have to be wed to conservative politics; with the latter, Hart gives a proposal for doing away with the label of “Evangelical” that is more theologically informed than what I heard from Fitch tonight, and more historically consistent. While he’s at it, he might even want to read Hart’s latest book From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.

A Study In Contrasts

James K. A. Smith put up an interesting post the other day, responding to a pointed question about his ecclesiology: Response to Deroo: Whose Church? Which Ecclesiology?

I basically just want to use this post to set out a contrast. Smith’s position is nicely outlined in the post itself:

Can I begin in a negative mode by identifying what the church is not? When I speak of the church, I am not thinking of the “one, true denomination” and certainly not thinking of my denomination—or some other denomination or communion that I romantically think is “the” church. I’m also not primarily thinking of a local congregation, though local congregations are necessary instantiations of the wider body of Christ. Furthermore, nowhere do I suggest the two definitions that Neal articulates (“those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God…” or “those who have the Holy Spirit inside them”) would be adequate to define an ecclesiology.

So what do I mean by “the church,” then? Let me try to improvise in response to that question. Neal is right to see my understanding of the church is “institutional” and bound up with “Nicene orthodoxy.” He also rightly highlights that I see the “the church” primarily as a community of practice, which I would articulate in the MacIntyrean sense.[2] As a community of practice, the church would be informed by a narrative and a tradition that specify and substantiate the “standards of excellence” for that community of practice (without which there is no community of practice[3]).

So perhaps I could say that the church is that trans-national community of practice (a “body politic”) rooted in the biblical narrative as specified by the “catholic” tradition of both the creeds and the liturgical heritage.[4] In the history of the church, our language for “standards of excellence” has been “canon.” As William Abraham helpfully emphasizes, the “canons” of Christian orthodoxy include more than “the canon”; they also include “ecclesial canons” which “comprise materials, persons, and practices officially or semi-officially identified and set apart as a means of grace and salvation by the Christian community. They are represented by such entities as creed, Scripture, liturgy, iconography, the Fathers, and sacraments.”[5] This is what it means when we confess the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.”

So the church is an international community of practice, a body politic, normed by the ecclesial canons of documents (“in which the very ‘canon’ of Scripture is a product of the canons of the ecclesia”), persons, and practices that have come to be part of the bedrock of Nicene Christianity.

In contrast, I’d like to quote from Peter Escalante, summarizing the magisterial Protestant position on what the church is: (more…)

What Is The Church’s Mission?

source: http://www.filmapia.com/published/places/christ-redeemer

This question is being discussed continually these days, and not without reason. We are living in a time of great upheaval, both politically and ecclesially, and it is common for people in such times to step back and ask themselves, what exactly should we be doing here?

When it comes to Christians, at least as represented in the blogosphere, we have begun to ask ourselves the question found in the title to this post more frequently and fervently. And we have also begun to articulate very different answers.

You have the answer of neo-Anabaptists, who say that the church is called to form counter-cultural communities, living out a vision of pacifistic social justice. You have the answer of Westminster West, suggesting the church’s role is simply to preach Law and Gospel, and administer the sacraments, and that Christian faith has nothing to contribute to broader pursuits in society. And you have the answer of Radical Orthodoxy and other groups which suggest the institutional church’s role is to direct all of society.

What might the political theology and ecclesiology of the magisterial Reformers say to this question? I think their first response would be to divide the question, or ask a counter-query: What is the church you are talking about?

When we ask “what is the church’s mission?” are we referring to the institutional church, constituted as a visible fellowship surrounding the sacraments and the elders of the church? Or are we referring to the corpus christianorum, Kuyper’s “organic church”, the sum total of all believers as they exist in the world?

It seems to me that, if we are speaking about the institutional church, the Westminster West approach might be best on a general level. That is, it seems the institutional church’s mission should be to do what it is best equipped to do: preach, teach, baptize, celebrate the eucharist, and give general guidance to parishioners (including, if necessary, discipline of sorts, as well as general direction in how to live as a Christian in the world). If we are speaking about the organic church, then it seems that the best answer is Kuyper’s approach: each Christian should seek to do their work to the glory of the triune God revealed in Christ, and for the common good. They should seek, by the grace of God, to reorder their little corner of the fallen world, so that it reflects God’s original creative intentions, for it is this reordering that is God’s redemptive intention. Grace, after all, is meant to perfect nature. Arguably, too, the anabaptists and the Radical Orthodox preserve this point: both are concerned to stress that the Christian live his whole life in submission to Jesus as Lord, and to see all of reality in the light of the triune God’s creative love. This leads quite directly into a Kuyperian approach, if these views are shorn of their political and theological errors.

All of this is another way of saying: the answer to our major question should be inflected along the lines of vocation. Those given to spend most of their time ordering visible fellowships (i.e., pastors), should spend their time doing things that only pastors can do: expositing the scriptures, shepherding parishioners according to general scriptural principles and prudence, leading public worship.  Those who have been called to spend most of their time outside the institutional church should do what they are called to.

Conflating these two leads to crusader churches, Amish ghettoes, and lots of other mistakes. Preserving the distinction, on the other hand, gives us an institutional church devoted to excellence in being what it is, and Christian men and women doing their work in the world to the glory of Christ and for the good of their neighbours.

There is one major objection I can see to this perspective: the office of deacons. In this office we seem to have an institution in the visible church which is devoted to things outside the realm of preaching and sacramental activity. But I think it would be at least possible to argue that the office of deacon was created in the early church for strictly prudential reasons. That is, while human society in general, and the magistrate as representative of that society in particular, have a moral obligation to help the poor, unsurprisingly in many cases they do not. Because the corpus christianorum‘s mission is to restore nature, and this is inclusive of restoring the poor to a place within human society, the earliest members of that corpus determined a wise way to deal with this problem (especially the problem as it manifested within the corpus) was to create members of visible fellowships that would have a dedicated responsibility to address this situation. It might be at least arguable that in a society where these conditions were not present, the office would not need to be present. That is, if the corpus christianorum (or even just the society, or the state) were taking care of the poor sufficiently, the visible assemblies of the church would not need to.

Another objection to the above position might be: does this imply clergy can never speak of specific political or cultural issues? I think the answer is that they may, but then again, it would be a matter of prudence as to when these things should be done. For clergymen who are not trained on the specific issues that they might wish to speak on, their course of action should be restraint: only speak as far as you are trained to do so. When it comes to moral instruction, this might mean sticking to more general principles of morality and prudence presented in scripture and the created order, and leaving more particular judgments to people whose calling it is to determine such things.

Wilson on Walsh

I saw a book with a catchy title on someone’s shelf this morning. It is called Contours of Post-Maturity (Google Books it here). The cover has a picture of a kid screaming, though I’ve discovered that the new edition has a more benign cover of some wallpaper art or something. My two-and-a-half year old son showed it to me, saying with shock, “There’s a little boy crying.” Jack’s always shocked by other kids crying, but never shocked when he cries himself. I thought the book might be about child-rearing, so I gave it a gander in the hopes that it might tell me how to get my kid to stop crying. Alas.

Getting past the deceptive cover, I see that it is written by a favourite author of mine: Doug Wilson. The sub-title also caught my eye. It slammed InterVarsity Press, which I thought was a little weird at first, as I have a lot of their titles on my own shelf. It says, tongue-in-cheek (and in parentheses), that “InterVarsity Press Comes of Age.” I thought Wilson was being a hater, and was trying to knock out his publisher’s competition. Then I saw the table of contents.

The short booklet, re-released in 2007 by Canon Press, is a collection of reviews of books published by IVP in the mid-90s. The first book under review is Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be co-authored by Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh; Wilson calls this book Tistyuhtub in light of the acronym TISTIUTB. His second review is of Clark Pinnock’s The Openness of God. For a moment I thought Wilson was prejudiced against Canadians, but then I saw he also reviews Apologetics in the Postmodern World edited by Tim Phillips and Dennis Okholm of Wheaton and I felt a little bit better about it–although Middleton and Walsh both have chapters on postmodernism in this one too. I should eat some Canadian bacon for comfort.

The first review, called “The Centrality of Jelly Doughnuts,” (now I want a doughnut) interested me because Brian Walsh is a casual acquaintance. I work at the theology bookstore at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. Brian is the chaplain for the Christian Reformed Church at the university, his office is down the hall from the store, which I’ve often thought is odd because Wycliffe is an Anglican seminary. I often see him bobble by with helmet on, bike in hand. Invariably on a Tuesday morning the hallway is full of students that I have to dodge in order to get to work; they are there for “Wine Before Breakfast” hosted in his office. This is a time for students to celebrate the Eucharist before class, not necessarily a place for religious drunkards to hang. Walsh teaches at Wycliffe, the Institute for Christian Studies, and Trinity College, with his wife Sylvia Keesmaat. They both wrote Colossians Remixed (also for IVP, ahem), and Brian has the distinction of being the subject of N. T. Wright’s book dedication for New Testament and the People of God (this one by Fortress). His blog is Empire Remixed. I like Brian, he typically has something funny to say when he walks by.

So I read Wilson’s review.

Youch (that’s “ouch” with a “y” in front for emphasis). I won’t be at the store much over the slow months of the summer, so I likely won’t see Brian for a while. But I’d like to ask him if he read the review and what he thought of it. It’s written in Wilson’s brilliant, tear-wiping, belly-jiggling style—for some reason Wilson’s at his funniest when he tackles postmodernism in the church. I wonder if Brian laughed, or at the very least chuckled, at his own expense?

I’m fairly suspicious of the level that some Christians have elevated social justice concerns. I completely agree that Christians should help the poor, be politically motivated, speak out against oppression, care for the environment. But I don’t equate these with the gospel, and I am concerned when Christians take what Paul calls “matters of first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15 and give them a secondary status or worse. My sympathies lie with Wilson. But I admit that it’s weird to read such a strong review of someone I know. If I didn’t know Brian, even to the little degree that I do know him, I’d probably make my way through the review, then I’d rub my cheeks against my sleeve and move on to the next review. But the next time I see Brian, I’ll remember my chuckles and feel a little bad.

Here’s a particularly strong point that Wilson makes that I didn’t chuckle over. I wonder what Brian would say in response?

“We can make up all kinds of stories that Uplift, and if Christianity works for us in our kind of story-telling, we can look for the Uplift we so desperately need in the canonical bigstory or metanarrative. But alas, there is an epistemological catfish in this punchbowl of narrative ethics. I mean, other people can make up other kinds of stories too. To their credit, our authors confront their prejudices squarely. ‘Some narratives (like fascism and communism) seem to be intrinsically more oppressive than others’ (p. 73). Whoa. Now what? How do we tell the good narratives from the bad ones? White hats and black hats? The answer is getting us dangerously close to an abstract, contextless system of thought or action!

Wilson’s point is that Walsh and Middleton’s dislike of abstract, contextless systems of thought or action—as in traditional forms of evangelical theology—is inconsistent. Universals are inescapable. It’s not whether, but which. To remove all abstract systems of thought is really only to affirm an abstract system of thought; namely that there are no abstract systems of thought. So basically the Middleton/Walsh paradigm adopts the form of the system of thought that they are trying to critique.

Wilson’s other point is that to affirm the relative validity of all narratives is to open the door to some nasty visitors, like fascism or communism (I really, really don’t like to read them say that these two political terrors only “seem” to be more oppressive. Yikes!). It’s odd that this would happen, when Walsh and Middleton seem (there’s that word again) to be against totalitarianism, or at the least “totalizing” texts. In fact, they say that an over-emphasis on the sovereignty of God makes for a “totalitarian view of the deity.” But twentieth-century fascism only appears to be oppressive? Does their language betray the possibility that fascism is a legitimate narrative? If not, Wilson would ask, by what standard?

Anyways, the review is good. I didn’t read the one on Pinnock’s The Openness of God, but if I did, I wouldn’t have to worry about seeing him around and feeling funny. Pinnock passed away a couple of years ago. I did see him a couple of times before he died, though. He was tall.