Friday, November 09, 2007

Schaeffer and Schaeffer

http://www.newstatesman.com/200710250048

Not sure I take the article hook, line, and sinker but it would not surprise me that Francis Schaeffer was as conflicted as any of us. What drew me into his work was not the exposition of doctrine, which frankly now seems a bit simplistic fifteen to seventeen years after I read his famous trilogy; or even his assessment of the arts. It really is possibly he completely screwed up Kierkegaard, for instance. His failure to grasp the difference between atonality and polytonality is understandable.

But in the end what still appeals to me about the work he did is that he bothered ... and by that I mean AT ALL to not just "engage culture" the way his self-appointed or somewhat more literal disciples have, he actually immersed himself in it. He obviously enjoyed all of the arts and did so as a Christian. There were times when he decided he had to not like things for what might be dubbed "theologically correct" reasons. I have had no problem enjoying the works of some modernists Schaeffer felt obliged to dislike. I don't necessarily enjoy the content of all of Dali's paints but his style was something else.

But where I DO agree with the gist of the article is that the Schaeffer that inspired me is obviously not the same Schaeffer that has inspired Tim LaHaye and others who have been identified with the religious right-wing movement. Schaeffer pretty much WAS drafted into a culture war--yet Schaeffer had already warned people in his prime had this culture war been so completely abdicated by Christians fifty years earlier that the battle was not to reclaim the culture for the Christian faith but to understand the culture and speak to it, to even begin to be able to speak to it.

It seems paradoxical for Christians to talk about engaging the culture because the separatist impulse is so strong for some of us that we are trying to reach into the culture while simultaneously pulling ourselves out of it. And in order to do that we have to be some Christian Mr. Fantastic with ever elongating arms.

We aren't in a cultural milleu where Christianity as a culture movement defines much of anything except reactionary and vestigially progressive politics. By so utterly subordinating any sense of art to another goal we get what one of my professors would have called, unflinchingly, ersatz. And it's true, that's what a lot of "Christian" art is, and a lot of Christian "cultural engagement".

Well, I don't feel like blogging THAT badly. :) Sure, I have a couple of lengthy treatises I'm considering that probably won't even turn into very lengthy treatises at all. I'm toying with an examination of Takahashi's comedic staple, the embarrassment of attachment she pins on to all of her characters. And I am still interested in writing a potentially windy treatise on depictions of child abusive dynamics in Eureka Seven. Hey, I freely admit to being a total nerd.

Now, see, the reason I feel okay saying all this is because I really think that what Schaeffer did so well that most of his self-proclaimed heirs really stink at is studying culture with an eye for the Gospel, finding places where they are not only speaking "to" the world around them about what is merely a presuppositional grid of what is or isn't great art and great philosophy or theology, but to actually LEARN. I have learned some rather startling things about myself and people around me through some of the things I have watched and read in the last year, stuff I never would have expected. If Christians of a broadly evangelical stripe and a cultural warrior bent can stop attempting to war with the culture they might find a few snippets of it to quote to the Athenians. It's possible to go so far that direction as to assimilate but then as Koholeth put it in an entirely different setting, it is good to hold on to one and not let go of the other and the man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

theological changes as an expression of personal change

Many, many years ago I was Arminian at an Assemblies of God church. I was persuaded that we had to have free will because if we did not how would God be just in punishing us for our sins? Over time I came to the observation that while we might be free at some level to choose SOMETHING, choosing Christ did not seem to be a strong part of that, and that even being in Christ one could still struggle plenty with sin. More to the point, if I am a slave to sin unless Christ makes me free then how free would I be to have chosen Christ if I was a slave to sin before He found me? And if I was a slave to sin before Christ found me then how would Christ make me free so that I could immediately choose, if I wished, to go back to sin? I began to wonder if the Calvinist side of things had something going for it.

But to say that I became a Calvinist because the propositional truths of the doctrines were truer and more scriptural is a pretty inadequate way of framing the conversion from one type of Christian theology to another. It would be far more accurate to say in retrospect that I changed horses mid-stream not because either one is an illegitimate expression of genuinely Christian thought but because I became acutely aware of a great failure on my part to appeciate Christ in my own life. This is why once I made the change from Arminianism to Calvinism I remained indifferent to what most of my convert to Calvinism friends obsessed about, proving that where they were formerly was wrong.

It is the common problem of the proselyte within Christendom, a tendency to blame the denomination I left for the spiritual problems of my own walk with Christ. It's a spectacularly obvious but easily missed distinction I have noticed with many an ex-Arminian. They will go through Scripture and claim that the only conclusion you can come to is that Calvinism is true. Yeah, well, if that were REALLY the case there wouldnt' be any Arminians at ALL would there? They'd have all stumbled on to the true inevitability of the Reformed understanding of Christ and gone with it. Yet it isn't so. Now I happen to be a Calvinist and a supralapsarian who holds to an amillenial partial preterist view (and that tentatively) but I see no reason to suppose that an Arminian somehow isn't reading exactly the same Bible any other Protestant (or even Catholic or Orthodox) Christian reads.

If converting from within one camp to another in Christianity helps you in your walk with Christ, cool. That's what I did when I switched from Arminianism to Calvinism. But I also hope that in the process of converting you don't forget that the body of Christ extends beyond the visible distinctions we have made within it and have then retroactively attributed to the sovereign hand and will of God. Despite my youthful opposition to any sort of ecumenism in principle I'll admit to being pretty ecumenical now. I am still pretty conservative in my theology but not quite so much in my politics and denominational distinctions are a rather low priority for me now.

The reason I am not likely to change denominational or doctrinal affiliations at this point is not bbecause I haven't done it in the past but because I know that doing so is not finally a matter of knowing Christ better (though it can help that process, obviously). And changing denominational links has not given me a lesser appreciation for where I have been. I still value the things I learned about Christ from my Arminian days and still have those blessings from Christ with me now. If I were to become Lutheran or Presbyterian over the next ten years I would not then regret the time I have been spending at the church I am at. I don't want to hold my ex-churches accountable for my own failure to seek and love Christ any more than I want to credit the church I am at with my love for and apprehension of Christ now. To do that would be to credit the Body with that which only the Head can provide. Certainly I appreciate the help I receive from my church but it takes discernment to know when the Church acts as Christ's body and when the Church is, well, the sinful yet to be redeemed Church.

If that were easy there wouldn't be so denominations across the world. But there were twelve tribes in Israel so if Israel is one nation with twelve tribes it's not that difficult for me to imagine that there are tribes within the Israel which has been redefined by Jesus. This is why most discussions of which branch of Christendom is the "one true Church" seem absurd to me, as it requires a willfully ignorant summarization of the history of God's people as being more uniform than it has ever been. Even within the time of the Mosaic covenant God added all kinds of people whom the Law would have prohibited from acceptance into God's people. In the same way, the body of Christ includes all kinds of people we Christians frequently don't want in the body because of issues like the nature of sacraments or the level of interaction our will does or doesn't have in bringing about either our justification or sanctification when the main thing that unites us is our king.