As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States.
Anna Blanch has a very helpful post today on why Christian scholars should seek to publish their research and writing. As she points out:
It makes sense to be involved in the intellectual conversation – to engage with the latest research and much debated issues – but the pressure can feel almost overwhelming, especially in the early part of one’s career.
Despite this occasionally overwhelming feeling, she draws on an earlier post by Ross McKenzie to argue that we should pursue publication for at least three reasons.
You should definitely read Anna’s entire post. She has a number of other good thoughts that I haven’t covered, as well as a couple of other posts on the academic life that are worth reading:
It never stops, does it? The most recent hurrah developed around Al Mohler’s speech at this year’s Ligonier conference, “Why Does the Universe Look So Old?“, in which he unsurprisingly argues for a young earth, 24-hour day view of creation. Apparently he sees this as the only view that takes scripture seriously – i.e. it doesn’t try to “bend” scripture to fit science or cultural preconceptions.
The folks over at BioLogos responded by initiating a discussion on the subject, one that has generated quite a bit of comment so far.
No wanting to be left out of the discussion, Scot McKnight offers some thoughts of his own. He’s particularly concerned about the tenor of Mohler’s speech, criticizing him for making this a battle rather than a conversation.
And, on a related note, Huffpo’s new Religion and Science discussion continues with Clay Naff’s rather unhelpful post arguing that we need to reject both the traditional view of an all-powerful God creating the universe (in any way), or the growingly popular secular notion that ours is just one of many possible universes. Instead, he argues that he most intellectually viable position is that a limited being created everything through an evolutionary process.
Anthony Bradley has recently posted a couple of interesting articles about race in the church. Over at the Institute, he offered some thoughts on Peter Slade’s book Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and A Theology of Friendship (Oxford University Press, 2009). He specifically comments on some data that Slade provides regarding “difficult information about the racist and pro-segregationist formation of the Reformed Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the role of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS.” He goes on to list what he sees as some of the more troubling facts and decries the fact that he and others weren’t made more aware of what to expect when they joined the PCA. Slade’s book sounds like it would be a fascinating, though uncomfortable, read.
The comments in this post are particularly worth following. Stephen Taylor, Peter Enns, Ligon Duncan, and R. Scott Clark all chime in, along with further comments from Bradley. (HT Mike Bird)
And then, over at Worldmag.com, Bradley argues that we need to be careful about accusing schools of racism based on the lack of faculty diversity. He points out the difficulties that some schools can encounter when trying to find qualified minority candidates for open positions. Although he doesn’t discuss some of the systematic problems that contribute to the lack of qualified candidates, he correctly points out that a mere “head count” doesn’t tell the whole story. (HT Justin Taylor)
According to Tom Steers in a CT opinion piece, yes. Despite the fact that we live in an increasingly multicultural world, and despite his recognition that multiculturalism might fit better with the vision of unity Jesus presented in John 17, he still thinks that monocultural churches have an important role to play in the world today.
I have been ministering with people of Asian descent for over three decades, and the variety of people groups coming to the U.S. is expanding exponentially. Today we see thousands of newly-arrived people groups that we never dreamed would be in the U.S.—Mongolians, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Bangladeshis. From Laos, we have Hmong, Mien, Tai Dam, and Khmu groups. From persecution in Myanmar have come Karen, Mon, and Chin groups. Refugees from Bhutan, mostly Hindu, are presently being accepted into the U.S. at 15,000 per year for four years.
To ask that each of these groups assimilate to one another or to multiethnic congregations—at the same time they are trying to assimilate into U.S. culture—is unrealistic. And it’s not just new immigrants who have unique and particular needs that the gospel can address in culturally specific ways. Most often the 1.5, second, or third generation offspring desire high ethnic identity ministries.
All such outreach needs to be done with wisdom and particular cultural sensitivity. Pioneer workers setting up new works with these people groups must ask, How is the Good News to be communicated for each cultural group? How can the Good News flow to these families and their friends, and even back to families and friends in the country of birth?
He is fully aware of the potential for abuse that exists in a monocultural church (pride, alienation, segregation, etc.), but he argues that we can find a healthy balance that allows us to minister the Gospel to these cultural groups without falling prey to the dark side of racial and ethnic division.
So, he concludes.
Neither multicultural nor monocultural ministry is the answer to our salad bowl society. Let us not idealize either, but only the kingdom of God. In Scripture we have examples of both monocultural ministry (Jesus) and multicultural ministry (some churches founded by Paul). Every person and every group has dignity and validity no matter their ethnic, social, political, or economic roots—and whether they gather mono or multi. And, in the end, every people group will be represented in heaven (Rev. 5:9–10).
To the extent that Steers is pressing us to recognize the central importance of the Gospel in Christian ministry, I can appreciate what he’s saying. Our priority here has to be the ministry of the Gospel. If some groups can be reached more effectively through a monocultural ministry, then that is something that we need to consider.
nonetheless, I think his argument goes astray in (at least) three places. First, he doesn’t want to see this as a purely pragmatic argument (probably because he doesn’t want to be labeled as just another church growth theorist). Instead, he finds biblical support in Jesus’ monocultural ministry. If Jesus can do it that way, so can we. But he does not address the important redemptive-historical differences between Jesus’ ministry to Israel and the church’s ministry to the world. Simply to draw parallels from one to the other is unfortunate at best. At bottom, then, this is a purely pragmatic argument; monocultural churches will reach some cultural groups more effectively. And, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this argument. Let’s just recognize it for what it is.
Second, I’d have been more comfortable with this argument if he had located individual communities within the larger body of Christ. If a particular worshiping community chooses to express its Christian identity in culturally focused ways, then it’s all the more important that it be vitally engaged with other worshiping communities. Unfortunately, like many evangelicals today, his focus remains largely on the isolated community.
Third, I would have also liked to see more of an emphasis on growing these communities toward being more diverse expressions of Christ’s body. Starting a monocultural church for the purpose of reaching a particular community is one thing. Remaining intentionally monocultural indefinitely seems necessarily to run afoul of the racial and ethnic divisiveness that Steers thinks we can avoid.
But, I also want to suggest that people who attend largely monocultural evangelical churches (like mine) should be careful about criticizing an argument like this too strongly. You wouldn’t want to rock the boat that you’re sitting in.
We are looking at David Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence. According to Kelsey, anthropology is a discipline that seeks to answer three basic kinds of questions.
These questions can be approached from a variety of non-theological perspectives (e.g. biology, cultural anthropology, etc.), as well as other non-Christian theological perspectives. And, that raises the question of whether Christian theology actually has anything unique to offer in this discussion.
Kelsey argues that understanding what is distinctively theological and Christian about anthropology begins with the claim that God actively relates to humans in three key ways: “(a) God actively relates to human beings to create them, (b) to draw them to eschatological consummation, and (c) to reconcile them when they are alienated” (8). Thus, the basic task of a Christian theological anthropology is to find out what is implied about human beings by these three claims.
Even these basic claims, though, are not enough to ground a truly Christian theological anthropology. That is because the God who relates to humanity in these three ways is not just any God, but is the triune God of the Bible. Kelsey spends a good portion of one chapter discussing the history of Trinitarian thought in the early church. Although he thinks that much of this history had the unfortunate tendency to focus almost exclusively on only the redemptive relationship, to the neglect of the creative and consummative relationships, he still sees the Trinitarian framework of Nicene theology to be constitutive of an adequately Christian anthropology. He does argue, though, that this does constitute an overly constrictive framework because “there may be an indefinitely large number of possible ways in which to explicate, coherently interrelate, and elaborate on the affirmations made by the creed” (61).
Affirming the Trinitarian structure of anthropology as provided in the ecumenical creeds of the early church has at least three important implications. First, reciting the creeds is “existentially self-involving” in that this practice is a key way in which Christians “have shaped, as well as expressed, their personal identities” (62). Second, this creedal approach has rhetorical implications in that it shapes our language of God in particular ways, especially those privileging the dynamic relations of the triune persons. And third, this Trinitarian framework offers two subsequent methodological implications.
The first of these methodological implications is that we cannot allow the redemptive relationship to undercut the other two relations, particular the idea that God relates to creation as Creator. We’ll talk more in the next post about the importance of affirming all three of these relations, but the very fact that the creeds themselves emphasize the logical priority of the creative relationship over the redemptive relationships suggests that the former should not be undermined.
And, the second methodological implication of this Trinitarian framework is that all anthropology is at least indirectly christocentric. Since the way that we understand the Trinity is shaped by what we believe about Jesus, “That is ultimately what qualifies theological answers proposed to anthropological questions as authentically Christian theological anthropology” (9). But, he goes on to argue:
That most emphatically does not mean that everything we may say theologically about human persons must be derived from an analysis of the metaphysics of the incarnation. The argument of this chapter does not warrant an ontological christocentrism, as though the very being of human persons is constituted by and revealed in the being of the Son of God incarnate. (66)
Instead of deriving everything directly from Christology, Kelsey argues that theological anthropology is indirectly christocentric. Insofar as our understanding of Jesus informs our understanding of the Trinity, and insofar as anthropology has a fundamentally trinitarian framework, then anthropology is indirectly christocentric.
For Kelsey, what makes an anthropology distinctively theological and Christian is that it begins with the fact that the triune God as revealed in and through the incarnate Christ has chosen to be related to human beings in creation, redemption, and consummation. The task of theological anthropology is to understand what exactly is implied about human beings in making these claims.
I went out to lunch with a prospective student today and this was the fortune in my fortune cookie:
You should enhance your feminine side today.
For a number of reasons, I’m not entirely sure how to respond to a fortune like that.
First, it’s not much of a fortune.
Second, how did the cookie know I was a guy? That would be an odd fortune to give to a woman, so the cookie must have known somehow. Smart cookie.
Third, how exactly does one enhance one’s feminine side? If it involves a manicure, a pedicure, or virtually any other word ending in -cure, it’s not going to happen. But, I feel like I need to get this figured out. I’m pretty sure that the cookie is smart enough to hunt me down later and enhance my feminine side by force if necessary. And I don’t think that would be very pleasant.