Saturday, January 17, 2009

we interrupt the weekend broadcast ...

The three parts I posted so far on "The New Evangelical Scandal" are part of what is shaping up to be a ten part series. Yeah, there's that much material for me to comment on and I've already tipped my hand about Mark Noll and the "old" articulation of the scandal. I can't say that Anderson is knowingly invoking Noll in his article but if he is then it's more unfortunate since Anderson should know he's just dumped himself into a great song by The Who.

But since ten parts is a lot to write on a weekend even for me I'm going to stagger out the parts over time. Think of it as a February project ... maybe even through March. There's just too much mate5rial to consider and too many things to connect to these points to tackle it all in a weekend.

Along the way I will touch upon what I feel are pertinent observations by iMonk and personal observations living in Seattle and things I have observed at Mars Hill. I keep thinking I'm done blogging about the place but I do not have simple sentiments or feelings about the place and it has, to be rather plain spoken, been part of my life for about a quarter of my life. That's not short for anyone no matter what their age. Twenty-five cents of the dollar isn't as small as you think. There are things at the church that touch on both the good and bad Anderson touches on and it's hard to think of a church that more exemplifies the "new" evangelical at its best and worst than Mars Hill. It is a place and people that spectacularly prove Anderson wrong on a few points and demonstrate where he's right and wheere he is so blinkered by his own limited definitions of "evangelical" he misses the forest for one or two trees that are on a postcard of the forest that aren't there in the forest anymore but he keeps looking at them.

And since, per an earlier blog entry, the tenth anniversary edition of The Powerpuff Girls is available soon and since this blog is ALSO about cartoons and classical music and not just theology I'll interrupt things a bit to write about other stuff. So if you have enjoyed or been merely interested by the introduction and parts 1 and 2 let those simmer for a while parts 3-10 may take a while.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"The New Evangelical Scandal" same as the Old Evangelical scandal part 2


In addition to their political, national, and familial affiliations, young evangelicals have slowly moved away from identifying with their own theological systems and heritage (the trend of evangelical converts to Anglicanism that Robert Webber first noted has not abated—if anything, it has expanded toward Rome and Constantinople). Such conversions belie, I think, evangelicalism’s failure to articulate its own theological distinctives and advantages and its rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Few young evangelicals who convert have read—much less heard of—the writings of John Wesley, Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer or other giants of the evangelical past (one wonders whether the new evangelical leaders like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Rob Bell and others have read them). And even fewer evangelicals are inclined to give the tradition in which they were raised the benefit of the doubt, to see the errors and problems and remain regardless.

This paragraph is intriguing and the dead give away of the problem beneath the diagnosis of the problem comes with the big names dropped at the end. John Wesley (as in Wesleyan), Andrew Murray (Dutch Reformed), and A. W. Tozer (Christian Missionary Alliance, and all attendent to that). We're talking three drastically different approaches to spiritual formation and even understanding of major and often divisive secondary doctrines. Anderson is hitting on the problem without fully realizing. Evangelicalism does not represent a unified intellectual or spiritual tradition and hasn't for ... a long time I'll put it that way.

Let's consider two patron saints of evangelicalism in thumbnail sketch, shall we? Franics Schaeffer (Presbyterian background) and Clive Staples Lewis (Anglican). On different sides of the pond and surely on different sides regarding doctrines about election and the level at which we could affirm things like inerrancy. Lewis was not an evangelical by any stretch of the imagination and Schaeffer's views on the arts are so idiosyncratic as to be helpful provided you filter them with a bit more depth in individual fields of study than Schaeffer himself got around to.

Anderson evidently doesn't consider Anglicanism to be part of evangelicalism. Yet consider not just C. S. Lewis but the contributions of other Anglicans such as J. I. Packer, John Stott, Leslie Newbegin, and N. T. Wright. These are Anglicans who have lent more intellectual and spiritual heft to evangelicals than many other evangelical Protestant pastors. Not that I never learned anything from Charles Stanley or Chuck Swindoll or Vernon McGee (the guy just had a cool sounding voice even if I didn't consider that he was a basic but very solid Bible teacher). But I admit that in the last ten years I have found that the broad category of Reformed/Calvinist Anglicans have been a group I really appreciate. They are in many respects more articulate proponents of what could be called core doctrines and beliefs of evangelicalism than ... well, I don't know who Anderson would name now, really. Piper? Keller? Witherignton?

That the evangelical tradition is so varied is part of the problem. If you talk to people from Europe they may not help things because they might say there is the Catholic church or state church and then there's all the evangelicals, who basically are Protestants that aren't the state church of where ever you're talking about. As I mentioned earlier, if American Christians are starting to distinguish between their faith as servants of Christ and their role as American citizens who is really to say that is a bad thing? It "might" be but it is impossible to say for sure that it is. Haven't wee seen enough cycles of religious right and left to see how things didn't work out. Does Anderson believe the evangelical right may yet succeed where the religious left failed? Or did the religious left fail? We are about to celebrate Martin Luther King day in a bit and many people would argue, strenuously, that King began sort of evangelical but ended up being a liberal. That may be but where are the conservative evangelicals that have holidays in this country that would be some counterpoint to Rev. King? Fill me in if you know of a national holiday for one of those evangelical conservatives.

This is not me stumping for liberalism, far from it. I hasten to add here that i consider myself a moderate actual conservative rather than a neo-conservative. I'm just pointing out that at this point Anderson seems to have forgotten something. When he says, "Such conversions belie, I think, evangelicalism’s failure to articulate its own theological distinctives and advantages and its rich intellectual and spiritual heritage." I go back to Mark Noll. The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there isn't much of a mind there. What intellectual heritage? Seriously. Anderson is talking about theologians and teachers from half a century ago. Not that that's bad or anything but it raise the issue of how much history evangelicalism has that Anderson thinks we should immerse ourselves in.

I'm more likely to hear, when I hear people say we should explore the roots of the evangelical faith, that we should go back to Luther's Bondage of the Will, Calvin's Institutes, Augustine's City of God, maybe even more obscure stuff like John Murry's The IMputation of Adam's Sin. But even among evangelicals I'm likely to hear reference to John Stott's The Cross of Christ, to N. T. Wright's Jesus & the Victory of God or The Resurrection of the Son of God, or J. I. Packer's Knowing God. Maybe evangelicals are shifting to Anglicanism because Anglicans, when they actually are evangelical in their outlook, are better at preserving the intellectual legacy of Protestantism than the home grown varieties in the United States.

Anderson doesn't really define what "evangelical" even means. He seems to exclude the mainline denominations as best we might understand those. He obviously excludes Anglicanism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy and believes that conversions to those traditions indicate a failure of young evangelicals to engage with the intellectual riches of their native traditions. Well, what if Noll had a point more than a decade ago and those intellectual riches aren't there now, or are so far back that finding them means you have to go outside what would now be considered "evangelical" by Anderson?

I hardly mean to suggest that people can't or shouldn't stay in a tradition even if there are flaws in such a tradition but let me give an example from my own life. I have attended Mars Hill for years. What tradition does it embody? Calvinism? Well, they reject infant baptism and Calvin was into that. They affirm adult believer baptism which would make them anabaptist. They hold to an elder managed government which applied across multiple campuses means there's a sort of episcopate. Campus pastors run things locally and the executive board runs the strategic things and no member input or member meetings have any bearing on major purchases or financial decisions. That could be construed as vaguely presbyterian in terms of church polity, especially with Calvinism ... but there is also no higher or mid range liturgy. It's as though it's a sort of presbyterian church government writ tiny with a Baptist ultra-low liturgical approach and approach to the sacraments. Yet is it also ostensibly charismatic yet no gifts are ever demonstrated in any services so in a sense it is charismatic in theory but not observably so.

So which tradition applies? All? None? If Anderson is concerned about the design-your-own evangelicallism Mars Hill exemplifies this at a very personal and perhaps even idiosyncratic level. Driscoll formed his own evangelical denomination on the fly, so much on the fly he couldn't have possibly planned it that way, but Mars Hill is poised to become something like another Calvary Fellowship or Calvary Chapel type movement.

But let's consider how Driscoll has approached the legacies within evangelicalism in light of Anderson's complaint. What if Driscoll has read all those authors and still engineers a new sort of evangelicalism from a grab bag because he has found things wanting in each individual tradition? His background was apparently the jackest of jack Catholics so he has come to a Protestant evangelical faith from the other side and may have a, not to put it too coldly, a very pragmatic and utilitarian approach. He would rather jettison the sorts of traditions Anderson asks us to embrace than embrace them and embrace the baggage they bring with them across generations.

So when Anderson reaches the point where he says:
All this bodes badly for the future of evangelicalism. In the face of declining partisanship, patriotism, and eroding family ties, young evangelicals have increasingly turned away from their roots in search of a sense of grounding and stability. They have the intelligence to notice the flaws, but often lack the charity and the patience to work to fix them.

I halfway agree. Driscoll said he started Mars Hill partly because he didn't like any of the other churches and wanted to start one that had a heart for missions like he did. That sure sounds like not having the charity or patience to work within an evangelical tradition tofix things. That's Dricoll for you. Thing is, would Anderson say Driscoll was wrong to do that? Driscoll has avoided the kind of activist and politicized soap boxing that older evangelicals, not least Dobson, seem to have embraced. In a setting like Seattle where people lean liberal in their politics and as liberal in personal ethics Driscoll hasn't really compromised on ethics but has steered clear of attempting to argue for more partisanship, more patriotism, as though that was needed. It's not. Jesus said that we would be known by our love for one another, not by the uniformity of our ballots cast in favor of this or that political candidate.

This doesn't mean it doesn't matter what candidates say or do regarding abortion, captial punishment, fiscal policy, or any number of other things. But what I would suggest it does mean is that evangelicals have made thems irrelevant when they have embraced a culture war to win back the culture for Christ. Even Francis Schaeffer, who spent decades telling us America had become a post-Christian culture, got talked into activism a bit by his son Frank, who now has repudiated both what he considers hsi father's fundamentalist background and the right-wing politics he goaded his father into.

So if we come back to Driscoll as an example of a new evangellical, what would Anderson say? Did Mark lack the charity and patience to attempt to fix things from within? If so is that a problem? If it IS a problem then what is significant about that? Is the design-your-own-evangelicalism because you don't like the traditions around you a sign of uber-American individualism? Yeah, sure, I'd agree with that. That can become a problem in as much as without a unified tradition to appeal to the capacity to have a historical basis in which to cultivate and also correct excesses in an evangelical stream of thought don't exist. If things are too fluid then there is no basis for accepted communal behavior.

For instance, Wesleyans and Holiness movement folks tend to look askance on dancing and drinking. They don't do those things. Individuals might but as a group policy is to abstain from those things. There are a few ways to deal with this if you're a Methodist who likes to drink.

1. You can just drink in defiance of your tradition,
2. you can not drink and hold firm that no Methodist should drink alcohol,
3. you can decide that it would be hypocritical to affirm Wesleyan teaching in general but ignore precedent on alcohol and decide to go somewhere where there is no tension between your personal convictions about alcohol and those of your church ...
4. or you can attempt to "fix" what you consider to be a mishandling of scripture on the issue of alcohol.

Which would Anderson advise you to do based on the above paragraph? Why #4 of course. Which options make more sense at a personal level or at the level of wanting to be part of a spiritual community that has shared values and convictions? One or three.

Take infant baptism. If your church refuses to baptise infants but you believe you should path 3 is your only option. No one who takes the baptism of infants seriously wants to do it themselves even if they consider themselves the priest or pastor to their own family. To be a child of the covenant means having a part in the family of God, purchased by the blood of Christ and since baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of being part of the covenanted people of God it only makes sense that you baptise your infant before the body of believers. Would it really make any sense to try to "fix" a tradition from within if you know there is a centuries long history of that evangelical tradition not budging?

We have such a mobile society now that Anderson may underestimate the difficult of what he is suggesting. If you attempt to "fix" things within your evangelical tradition, whatever Anderson means by evangelical, you could quickly get labeled divisive or be asked to leave. If I had stayed in an Assemblies of God church with my Calvinist leanings and my firm belief that not only are tongues not necessary but that there is no clear biblical warrant that spiritual gifts once given are had for any longer than they may be a blessing to the local church. In other words, I'm saying a person may temporarily have a spiritual gift to bless the church that might be recalled. The gifts of God are without recall doesn't mean you always have a spiritual gift like tongues because where there are tongues they shall cease. The changes I came to studying Scripture caused me to so drastically reassess pneumatology and soteriology that I realize the most respectful thing I could do was not stay in the Pentecostal tradition and start finding a place where I did fit.

If the boomers church hopped why wouldn't their children? Anderson doesn't even seem to address this in a way that could provide a solution, if there is one.

"The New Evangelical Scandal" same as the Old Evangelical scandal part 1

PART ONE: You cannot serve both God and country? Why not?

At the core of this revised patriotism is the attempt to rescue the Gospel from its American captivity, the chief symbol of which is the presence of the American flag in many evangelical churches. As the argument goes, the presence of patriotic symbols in the house of God inevitably marginalizes the church by subordinating it to the political order. Many young evangelicals fall into the trap of placing an “or” where there previously had been an “and,” assuming that we can remain loyal only to God or Caesar, but never both.

Now it's greatly amusing to me that he immediately follows this:

From whence the devaluation of patriotism? Sadly, much of this view is reinforced at historically Christian universities, which have become hotbeds of a baptized version of Sixties liberalism that is not as much anti-American as it is anti-national.

"From whence" is always a great way to come across as though you're talking down to whomever is reading the article (wink wink) except for those who love to write "whence" into something whenever they want a nice rhetorical flourish. And it sure looks pretty on the page, I admit it.

Well, maybe there's something to it, this aloofness to national identity. I mean, if I took even my own life as an example I'm the child of an interracial marriage. My mom is white and my biological father would probably be considered one of the "native peoples". So those of us who have family histories that don't just involve a simple history of white patriots begetting more white patriots for us an ambivalence about the legacy of the United States is understandable.

Yet even if I set that aside and just considered some passages from scripture there is a case to be considerate of government authority and obedient to it but to acknowledge that while God may have appointed it that does not always mean it is just. God appointed Pharoah to be destroyed. God established Herod but killed him when he accepted the praise, "This is the voice of a god, not a man." While the apostles urge us to respect and submit to government John shares in his Apocalypse that government is fully capable of being a seat of evil. If there is room for ambivalence about one and the same political earthly empire across the apostolic testimony then I don't think it's wrong for Christians to consider that in their thoughts about government now. It is only possible to serve one's country truly if one first serves the one true God and here I'm speaking just to Christians. Unbelievers and people of other faiths are not really who I am addressing here. I'm not expecting my atheist/agnostic buddies to even take this approach I'm taking here.

Peter instructed believers in the dispersion to obey the authorities God had put in place. We should note these authorities had things like venerating Caeser as a god. As a few theologians have pointed out to declare that Jesus was Lord was to declare that Caeser wasn't, that Jesus was a king greater than Caeser. Now after years of faddish declarations that Christianity was merely a way to shore up empire the opposite fad may be setting in but we should not see either fad as the real point.

Humankind cannot bear very much reality a fine poet once wrote, I believe, and so the beauty and brutality of reality is such that we tend to grasp one while letting go of the other. This is, after all, the advice of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes who points out that the godly man avoids all extremes. What have we not seen in the last thirty or so years if not men and women who profess a love for God while going to extremes. If Billy Joel doesn't know why he goes to extremes I'm sure we won't figure it out either. If evangelicals are moving toward the center that will look like a leftward movement to Anderson but if the GOAL these evangelicals have is to move toward a centrist position Anderson may be fretting about that movement because he doesn't understand its purpose. And, really, who could? Only God knows for sure and He isn't telling us. He's certainly not telling me anyway so I have to make a measley semi-educated guess, possibly the most dangerous kind there is.

Now at the risk of pointing out the obvious, communism represented a system that was in opposition to the West not just on economic grounds or on the grounds of the nature of governance but on religious grounds. So,to wit, godless communist oppressors per Calvin & Hobbes. When the communist bloc changed it had seemed to many that we "won" the Cold War even though it was arguably a matter of who managed to survive longest while holding breath underwater.

Why does this matter? With an enemy outside our nation that was an enemy both in terms of military power and in terms of ideological legacy it was much simpler and easier for evangelicals to equate loyalty to one's country with loyalty to one's God, since God had sovereignly allowed you to be born in the land of the free. That is not so easy to defend now that there isn't a Soviet bloc. We should still be immensely grateful to be able to live in the United States. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, really. But I have to admit that when I consider Anderson's implied lament that evangelicals think we have to honor either God or country he may be missing out on some defensible reasosn for having some ambivalence about the nation.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"The New Evangelical Scandal" same as the old Evangelical scandal, an introduction

For any of the blog entries with the above title to make sense you have to read all of the article I link to above. Yep, all of it. It won't have hurt to have read some Mark Noll and N. T. Wright either. What I'm about to say is that Anderson has written, in general, an often fascinating article but he doesn't realize that the "new" evangelical is the same as what might now be called the "old" evangelical scandal Mark Noll tackled more than a decade ago. It has worked itself out to a new destination along a path but that path in itself is not new. In other words, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

But Anderson, I believe, also misconstrues some things in terms of possibilities and anticipating reactions ... which I will get to eventually.

This article was linked to by iMonk. Surprise, I read iMonk and so I'm linking to it here. But I mention this by way of preface--this article nails so many aspects of what I have seen and thought as a self-identifying evangelical Protestant over the last ten years it is fascinating to read someone articulate many things I have been thinking for years.

The first half of the article about politics does not, honestly, interest me as much because I consider myself evangelical but thought McCain stood no chance once he nominated Palin. In fact the kinds of churches Palin has attended I hesitate to identify as evangelical for reasons I don't feel like getting into right now but will get to later since Anderson touches on issues of eschatology. The real problem with Palin's selection as VP candidate is that it so utterly vitiated the legitimacy of McCain's campaign saying Obama lacked experience to serve adequately in the Executive Office that it wasn't even funny. I don't have to think she was some stupid hick like some of my less temperate friends did nor do I think she was "Esther" as a few probably false prophecies had it said about her. If I had a dollar for every bunk prophecy I have heard ... I would have paid off a lot of college debt by now.

So I was not one of those evangelicals "overjoyed" at Palin's nomination. I think it was one of many reasons McCain lost on all the points that mattered. All Obama had to do for his campaign was to master Clintonism more effectively than Hillary, not that that would be the least bit difficult.

A basic skepticism I have about Anderson's response to Rosin is that this prediction that evangelicals may move left is probably just a confirmation bias. After decades of political activism and culture war discussions we need to bear in mind the very real possibility that the evangelical community is not moving "left" as it is moving to a more centrist position. In other words, the odds that evangelicals are going to vote Democratic seems very low but the odds that they may become more moderate Republicans seems higher if the trends Anderson is looking at aren't the result of a sociological statistical fad. He seems to have a tacit understanding that evangelicals are Republican and dispensationalist and that Democratic party heads have attempted to woo evangelicals over to their side. So if that is the case then we are at a point in history where if we look at evangelicals over the last twenty years and consider what is broadly called the religious right then any move toward a centrist position would necessarily have to be moving left.

If you're used to seeing things only in those terms as either strictly moving right or left without a consideration of other variables ... then evangelicals adding social concerns to moral conservatism may seem like a leftward tilt when that may not be what it is at all. I'm not sure Anderson has this concern but it is worth saying that given some of the rhetoric I have seen from both left and right moving toward a more centrist position would be considered a betrayal by either side. If you read some of the squealing lefties did about Obama compromising on their most cherished principles you understand what I'm talking about and there's no need to labor the point.

Anderson also seems to overlook an interesting tension that reveals that the problems he's seeing aren't new at all. Take the decilne in national or patriotic pride. That has been brewing for nearly half a century and it tends to play out along partisan lines. The political partisans are proud of THEIR legacy and not the legacy of the people they consider on the other team. We should be proud of Reagan ... but not Roosevelt. We should be proud of Kennedy and Roosevelt ... but not of Reagan or the other Roosevelt and certainly not of Nixon.

Nearly forty years after Watergate who wouldn't think a little skepticism about government is called for? If the partisan goal of Christian conservatives is the abolition of abortion and anything less than that is the permission of murder in the United States then the very nature of politics, a kind of pragmatism that recognizes that getting what you want

The devaluation of patriotism is something that may not be a bad thing. Peter exhorted us as resident aliens, as ambassadors, as sojourners, as exiles, as those who live in a time and place that is part of an age that is passing away. So, yes, we are Americans but we don't "have" to see ourselves as Americans first or on an equal footing with our identity in Christ.

Beyond that Mark Noll rightly pointed out what should be obvious, that the Civil War happened in a culture that was almost universally agreed upon evangelical principles. Rather than consider if Rick Warren has read the giants of the faith in evangelicalism Anderson might do well to ask whether that would have changed things. It is not histrionic or unfair to note that evangelicals were fighting on both sides of the Civil War and the battle was over issues that have not really been resolved to this day.

Given what I have seen of the pendulum and culture war battle cries that Christians need to make society better, it doesn't seem to matter if it is fueled by premillenialism or post-millenialism the result is a burn out of the generation and a burn out of the next generation (whether it's the immediately descended one or the next century). Sure, I lean conservative but the old saw is that politics is about compromise and religion is about absolutes so how do you compromise absolutes by being a mixer of politics and religion? Every side has to consider this ... except maybe the "brights" but they have their own mixture issues.

That is all for the moment. Later I will tend to the most fascinating parts of the article and the issues and observations raised in the second half. There is a lot that I think Anderson doesn't get but when he nails things he nails things really well. I think that his criticisms are themselves openings for some serious criticism of what his suppositions seem to be.

For now I'll end a bit too snarkily and say that the "new"scandal of evangelicalism is the same as the "old" scandal and I hope to unpack why I think that ... possibly over the next month.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

gah! fugues are hard to write

It should go without saying but if you have ever tried to write a fugue you know how difficult they are! The fugue in question I am trying to write is for viola and guitar ... and I am constantly rediscovering how difficult fugues are to write just at the keyboard. One of the central difficulties is pulling off a satisfying form of what would be called invertible counterpoint. The subject, countersubject, and second countersubject should express solid voice-leading in any iteration


Well, the problem is that the guitar and viola don't always present practical possibilities for that and so I have fallen prey to the temptation to fudge the second countersubject in some ways that are frankly unsatisfying when I start working out new ideas for middle entries and episodes. Generally episodes and middle entries derive from material in the exposition, though free material is always possible and that means that you had best be VERY satisfied with your three tunes in the exposition before you proceed.

That's the thing. I'm not. I'm very happy with the SUBJECT and the first countersubject pleases me but the second countersubject has some problems. I suppose I haven't helped myself any by insisting on a subject that has two measures of major followed by two measures of parallel minor. The rapid modal mutation is the thing I most like about the subject and the first countersubject complements that element nicely. The second countersubject .... it is tough to find a way to round it off in a way that doesn't lead to parallel fifths when the two countersubjects are interchanged.

Perhaps this is just a problem in my understanding of counterpoint but any permutation should work equally well and that is why fugue expositions can be so hard to master. When I finally get this exposition right the episodes and middle entries will all be easier ... not to say easy.

At least the two stretto passages, the chorale, and the coda all work really well. I have all of those details worked out in such a way that the countersubjects are just not that important in the last third of the piece. Sometimes I want to be lazy and just call the thing a fugato and not worry about it ... but I'm picky and principled I guess. I may have to drop that to ensure that the piece can go somewhere.