November 12, 2018

Wednesday with Michael Spencer

Wednesday with Michael Spencer
From Standing on My Own Trap Door (2007)

I can’t recall the author, but I once read someone who portrayed evangelical Christians as people using all their abilities to get other people to agree to evangelistic sentences.

The sentences mattered very much; more than almost anything else. Correctly worded sentences, turned into prayers, lectures, books and so on.

Miroslav Wolf said that Christianity carries a life lived alongside its truths claimed. Saint Francis — and many others — have suggested that the life-lived communicates far more profoundly than the truths claimed, especially if it’s a matter of which shouts the loudest.

One blogger recently lamented the callous behavior of knuckle-headed cage-phase Calvinists, and also lamented the theological cynics who act as if theology doesn’t matter. Having been one and constantly suspected of being the other, I liked what he said.

He makes a good point. The knuckle-headed cage-phase Calvinist has theological problems as well as human relationship problems with manners, maturity and civility. My experience tells me that the two are more related than we like to think. The person who says that theology and those who live to obsess over it are an unmitigated good seem to be, uh…a bit overly optimistic.

Take, for instance, the seminary student who discovers that one theological system has all the answers he’ll ever need. All he needs is to buy the books, go to the conferences and check the websites. In more than a few cases, it would be best if he simply stopped his education and went home until he’s willing to learn something again. While he’s certain that he’s right, and he’s correcting his professors and working to overthrow any teacher who doesn’t subscribe to his hobby horse theological system, he’s useless as a student and probably off balance as a human being. The wise and the know-it-alls have no reason to learn from those who can’t/won’t/don’t see the light. (Yes, that’s me in the corner…losing my religion…)

The real problem is whether our know-it-all student is still devoted to Jesus and to what Jesus means in his life. No doubt he’ll say that it’s for Jesus’ sake that he’s hassling his professors, pastor and friends. It’s for Jesus’ sake that minutia now matters more than his anniversary. It’s for Jesus’ sake that theology stirs him and evangelism/church planting need more study.

But does Jesus matter? Period?

The competition to make theology the main thing and just about the only thing is quite real. I have two recent letters from an IM reader distressed that I admire John Lennon as an artist. I assured him that I do not admire Lennon’s atheism, but a piece is still out of place. What’s of real interest to me is why my faith and loyalty to Jesus have to be screened through what I think of John Lennon.

…I’m more than ever determined to make Jesus the center, the substance and the unavoidable conclusion of my theology. And when it comes to equipping my students with an understanding of the Bible, I’m going to be sure they understand the relative importance of the recipe, the cake and all subsequent opinions of either one.

…When I replace the Great Commission with the “Great Ongoing Polemic To Prove My Theology Isn’t Wrong,” it’s time to pull over and check the map and see if I’m anywhere close to where I think I am.

Am I standing on my own trap door when I say “Jesus isn’t identical to anyone’s theology and someone says “Without theology, who or what is Jesus?” Possibly. That’s another argument that can go in circles forever. Count me as one who’d like to find a place to stop, rest, and as the carol says, “Now let us all with one accord sing praises to the heavenly Lord.”

Comments

  1. Patriciamc says:

    “The knuckle-headed cage-phase Calvinist has theological problems as well as human relationship problems with manners, maturity and civility. My experience tells me that the two are more related than we like to think.”

    How true, how true. Someone called them the “angry, young men of the Calvinist movement.” At the heart of this is a lack of self-esteem that leads them to obsess over their Rightness, their need to be right and you to be wrong since what’s the fun in being Right if there’s no one to lord it over? Ultimately, they’ve made their perceived rightness an idol and just are using God/Christ as a tool to aid in their rightness. This goes hand-in-hand with Calvinistic exclusivity (I’m saved, you’re not) and need for dominance (man good, woman bad). They worship and serve themselves.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > … this is a lack of self-esteem that leads …

      There is not much need to psycho-analyze them; but if I have to I’d say this is too charitable.
      They are simply trolls, they enjoy the argument/fight, they do not truly care about anything; the theological equivalent of people who call into AM talk shows.

      • Patriciamc says:

        I say self-esteem because unfortunately, I’ve encountered many of these young men. As for the women, I have no clue why they put up with the nonsense from the movement or why they don’t do some critical thinking and investigate other areas of Christianity.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I find the angry Calvinist movement fascinating. We don’t really have any equivalent on the Lutheran side. I think it is because the Lutherans, back in the day, mostly achieved a consensus, while the Reformed side was split between the Calvinists and the Arminians. This question never was settled. Then as it applies to modern American Evangelicalism, the real action is on the Pentecostal side, where they don’t really do theology. The modern angry Calvinist movement is, in this light, a case of theological revanchism.

      On the Lutheran side, the differences we see today are not so much about underlying theology as its application. Those Lutherans pleased to self-identify as “confessional” treat the Book of Concord as a third testament, though few will admit this, of course. This is why they are so unwilling to talk with outsiders. Without the Book of Concord as a prior, there isn’t really anything to talk about. Lutherans on the hippy-dippy side (in which I include myself) treat it as where we are coming from in the conversation, without it precluding us from listening respectfully to people coming from a different place.

      In practice the main difference between the two Lutheran factions is gays and women, of course. It always is. But we are all coming from the same place, so far as distinctively Lutheran theology is concerned.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      At the heart of this is a lack of self-esteem that leads them to obsess over their Rightness, their need to be right and you to be wrong since what’s the fun in being Right if there’s no one to lord it over?

      “For in the Devil’s theology, the most important thing is to Be Absolutely Right and to Prove everyone else to Be Absolutely Wrong. This does not lead to peace and harmony among men.”
      — Thomas Merton, “Moral Theology of the Devil”

    • senecagriggs says:

      “At the heart of this is a lack of self-esteem that leads them to obsess over their Rightness, their need to be right and you to be wrong since what’s the fun in being Right if there’s no one to lord it over?”

      Probably, nobody would be surprised to learn that I detest psychobabble.

    • Patriciamc says:

      They’re also, naturally, very self-centered. Me, me, me.

  2. Christiane says:

    “Miroslav Wolf said that Christianity carries a life lived alongside its truths claimed. Saint Francis — and many others — have suggested that the life-lived communicates far more profoundly than the truths claimed, especially if it’s a matter of which shouts the loudest.”

    “Theology is not only about understanding the world;
    it is about mending the world.”
    ( Miroslav Volf)

    or maybe just pondering the immense power of a single act of kindness

  3. FROM THE MODERATOR: Sorry folks. I intentionally avoided election/political commentary today. Of course, it’s on many minds and a legitimate topic of conversation. Just not here, today.

  4. Burro (Mule) says:

    There is enough bad blood and drama within my own communion that I have no need to revisit the pathologies and foibles of Protestants. Fortunately, I had a good session with my spiritual father and confessor who told me (about the Moscow-Constantinople schism) “This will soon pass, but when it does, there will be something else.”

    Do the Neo-Cals have any understanding how vanishingly small their numbers are?

    • Ronald Avra says:

      A couple of them that I have been close to, understood the ‘sovereignty of God’ to mean that whatever their personal vision of ministry for themselves was, it was guaranteed to succeed in the face of any obstacles they might encounter. ‘Perseverance of the saints’ would carry the day. When things in their world blew up, they became pronouncedly less verbal and visible, and went back to the routine of quietly going to work and paying the bills.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > When things in their world blew up, they became pronouncedly less verbal and visible

        To be entirely fair: who among us does that not apply to in some measure.

        Punditry has a dependency on Prosperity; an unfortunate reality which squelches some of the more necessary voices.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””Do the Neo-Cals have any understanding how vanishingly small their numbers are?”””

      So very true. But they sure do have an abundance of podcasts and websites! Few, yet prolific. 🙂

      It might be that they do understand – which makes it even more prestigious. I mean, if you have an axe to grind, and you notice everyone else carrying the same axe …. what’s the point? You might as well be a sports fan.

  5. I’m so far away from any concern about or interest in anguished theological struggles and contests, that I’m in another universe entirely. I find whatever theology I need in daily life, in the struggle to survive and be human and humane. It needs no formulation, any more than my breathing or the movement of my limbs do. And I’m not going to chase my own theological tail, or anyone else’s, around in circles anymore; those days are over and gone. Good riddance.

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