Vulnerability and Christianese

'together' photo (c) 2013, streetwrk.com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
– Brene Brown 

 

I think we should cut Christianese some slack.  

Like any culture, the evangelical culture in the U.S. has its own linguistic affectations and quirks, blending together lines from Scripture, hymns, and tradition with everyday colloquialisms and figures of speech. 

And it’s not all bad. 

I remember with fondness the way my great-grandmothers would shake her head at some baffling news or unsettling headline and in her thick Appalachian accent whisper, “Lordamercy”—the ancient Kyrie elesion rendered into a single, appropriate word. And I find it helpful to heed James’ advice now and then by punctuating a lengthy discussion over calendar dates and future plans with a reverent, “Lord willing.” It is beautiful and good to work the poetry of our faith into everyday conversation and meditation, to speak of “traveling mercies” and “fellowship” and of how “God is good all the time.” Each time I’m on a plane that rises above the clouds at sunrise, I think of Psalm 139—“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, or settle on the far side of the sea…even there your hand will guide me”—and I am grateful for the gift of these lovely words. 

We have this deep well of beautiful, helpful language from which to draw, and we should not be ashamed of using the words and imagery handed down to us from the great cloud of witnesses that came before us to illuminate the present. Jesus himself did so often. 

 

But in thinking about our use of “Christianese”—both as a writer and as a member of the Church—I think Christianese becomes unhelpful the moment we use it to protect ourselves from being honest with one another, the moment we use it to escape vulnerability. 

We do this in several ways: 

 

1) We employ Christianese when we have an idea. 

I see this a lot in the religious publishing/blogging/conference “industry.” Folks protect their ideas by bubble wrapping them in an impenetrable layer of Christianese, so that suddenly, it’s not a just a book proposal but a “God thing,” not just a marketing strategy but a “Spirit-movement,” not just an idea for a blog post but “something God has laid on my heart,” not just a conference but a “Jesus revolution.” 

On the one hand, I suspect this language gets used to convey true conviction and feeling, but on the other, it can also serve to protect a person’s ideas from criticism, input, and disagreement. It can be scary to put a bold idea out there to be digested and dissected by co-workers or the public, so sometimes we try to protect our ideas by claiming they are not merely our own, but God’s. The problem is this keeps us from being honest with one another and it drags God’s name into ideas and plans that may not be perfect and that may in fact benefit from the input of other wise people who are happy to respectfully engage a person’s ideas but are wary of “crossing” God by offering a new perspective. (It also tends to gloss over the hard work of real people, like agents, editors, sales reps, marketing people, designers, and assistants whose gifts and creative energy make a lot of what we create possible.  An author once told me she didn’t need a literary agent because her only agent was God. I told her that, unfortunately, most publishing houses weren’t accepting submission from God right now, so maybe she ought to rethink that strategy.) 

It may not seem so, but it requires a lot more honesty and vulnerability to tell someone you have an idea that you would like him or her to consider than to tell that person God has an idea you would like him or her to consider. In the latter, God serves as something of a buffer between you and the other person, protecting you from potential rejection. But this tends to break down actual conversation as both parties have to navigate carefully around the Christianese to try and guess at what one another actually thinks and wants. Suddenly, we’re not talking like normal people anymore. We’re talking like a bunch of repressed weirdos and no one knows what we’re actually saying to one another! 

It’s really hard to put oneself in the vulnerable position of sharing an idea. But without that vulnerability, real friendships cannot grow and real ideas cannot flourish in the good soil of a diverse, engaged community. 

 

2) We employ Christianese when we make a decision. 

I think most Christians are eager to make God-honoring decisions in our lives, but sometimes we inadvertently close ourselves off to the wisdom and love of other people when we use Christianese to justify and explain our decisions.  It’s hard not to cringe when someone confidently announces that God “led” her to do something careless or hurtful, and it’s hard not to get frustrated when certain specific lifestyle decisions are spoken of as “God’s way” when they just might not work for everyone. 

It is much easier to say, “God told me to go to Uganda for a short-term missions trip,” than it is to say, “I’d like to go to Uganda for a short-term missions trip.”  One protects us from input, disagreement, disappointment, and the risk we might be wrong by placing all responsibility for the decision onto God. The other requires vulnerability and opens us up to input, disagreement, disappointment, and the risk we might be wrong….which is harder, but ultimately, healthier. Owning our decisions helps us live among one another with more authenticity, openness, respect, and love…because it puts us on a level playing field as we each seek to do what is right while remaining mindful of our own imperfections. 

 

3) We employ Christianese in the context of suffering. 

My mother-in-law was recently in the hospital suffering from a “perfect storm” of health problems that suddenly afflicted an otherwise incredibly healthy woman.  Now, my mother-in-law is one of the most kindhearted, giving, open, and grateful people you will ever meet, but even she expressed some dismay at Christians who approached her bedside, patted her on the hand and told her God would not give her more than she could handle. 

I think what she wanted in that moment was not religious platitudes or shallow words of comfort, but for someone to sit next to her, hold her hand, and say, “This sucks. I’m here.” 

Perhaps we resort to Christianese in the context of suffering because it is so freaking terrifying…for both the person suffering and those who feel helpless in the face of their loved one’s pain. To sit in that pain together is to put ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position…and I know what it’s like to want desperately to try and ease the tension and make it easier by quoting Philippians 4:13 or urging everyone to look on “the bright side.” 

But we are not called to paper over one another’s suffering with platitudes. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Jesus himself displayed this in his own life, and in his own suffering, time and again. 

But when we resort to Christianese, when we start talking carelessly about God working all things together for good or having higher ways than our own, we risk losing our ability to truly empathize, to truly relate. Once again, we stop talking like normal people, and we start talking like robots! And often, we fail to communicate the gospel to those who aren't in on our religious "lingo" as a result!

 

As Brene Brown has so thoughtfully brought to our attention over the last few years, vulnerability is at the heart of healthy, authentic relationships.  We cannot really love one another unless we are willing to be honest with one another, unless we are willing to risk being real. 

The risk doesn't always pay off; it's not always safe - and that's why I think we build these defenses around it, why we resort to Christianese.   When it comes to my relationship with God and with other Christians, I’m as quick as anyone else to try and protect myself from honest dialog by hiding behind flowery, unhelpful language (or, my favorite defense mechanism: to intellectualize everything so that it can’t hurt me).

But Jesus didn't call us to be safe. And the relationships that have meant the most to me, that have brought me closer to the Table, have been those in which we talk to one another like normal people, employing the language of our shared faith tradition when it illuminates the truth, but not when it obscures it. 

 

Thoughts? Where else do you see Christianese employed as a way of protecting against vulnerability? How can Christians do a better job of talking like normal people when it comes to sharing ideas, making decisions, and experiencing suffering together in community? 

 

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The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

'heart texture' photo (c) 2009, Steven  Kay - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

“It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.” 

– John Piper

“Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.” 

– Thomas Paine

It’s strange to think that doubt has been a part of my life for more than ten years now.

I remember when it first showed up—a dark grotesque with a terrifying smile that took up so much space, catching every payer in its gravitational pull. That I could grow accustomed to its presence seemed impossible at the time, and yet I have. It  hasn’t changed in size, but somehow it occupies less space. I smile back at it now.

A lot of people, when they catch pieces of my story, assume my doubts are of the intellectual variety. They assume I’m just a smart girl stuck in the Bible Belt asking pesky questions about science, history and politics that my conservative evangelical culture, with a bent toward anti-intellectualism, simply cannot answer.

This is true to an extent. I’ve wrestled with a lot of questions related to science and faith, especially given my location a mere two miles from the famous Rhea County Courthouse where John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school.  While I no longer believe the earth is just 6,000 years old, I still live in the tension of unanswered questions about the universe, and death, and brains, and Neanderthals, and whatever Neil deGrasse Tyson’s got to say on public television about the earth getting burned up by the sun or our species going extinct after an asteroid hits.  I have questions too about history and Christianity’s emergence from it, questions about the Bible, questions about miracles.

But the questions that have weighed most heavily on me these past ten years have been questions not of the mind but of the heart, questions of conscience and empathy. It was not the so-called “scandal of the evangelical mind” that rocked my faith; it was the scandal of the evangelical heart.

If you’ve read Evolving in Monkey Town, you know that the public execution of a woman named Zarmina in Afghanistan marked a turning point in my faith journey. The injustice of the situation was troublesome enough, but when my friends insisted that Zarmina went to hell because she was a Muslim, I began wrestling with some serious questions about heaven, hell, predestination, free will, God’s goodness, and religious pluralism.

Evangelical apologists were quick to respond. And while their answers made enough sense in my head; they never sat right with my soul.

Why would God fashion a person in her mother’ s womb, number the hairs on her head, and then leave her without any hope of salvation? Can salvation be boiled down to luck of the draw? How is that just? Shouldn't  God be more loving and compassionate than I?

Oh, the Calvinists could make perfect sense of it all with a wave of a hand and a swift, confident explanation about how Zarmina had been born in sin and likely predestined to spend eternity in hell to the glory of an angry God (they called her a “vessel of destruction”); about how I should just be thankful to be spared the same fate since it’s what I deserve anyway; about how the Asian tsunami was just another one of God’s temper tantrums sent to remind us all of His rage at our sin; about how I need not worry because “there is not one maverick molecule in the universe” so every hurricane, every earthquake, every war, every execution, every transaction in the slave trade, every rape of a child is part of God’s sovereign plan, even God’s idea; about how my objections to this paradigm represented unrepentant pride and a capitulation to humanism that placed too much inherent value on my fellow human beings; about how my intuitive sense of love and morality and right and wrong is so corrupted by my sin nature I cannot trust it.

They said all of this without so much of a glimmer of a tear, and it scared me to death.  It nearly scared me out of the Church.  

For what makes the Church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority?  What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him? Did following Jesus mean becoming some shadow of myself, drained of empathy and compassion and revulsion to injustice?

Perhaps in reaction to the “scandal of the evangelical mind,” evangelicalism of late has developed a general distrust of emotion when it comes to theology. So long as an idea seems logical, so long as it fits consistently with the favored theological paradigm, it seems to matter not whether it is morally reprehensible at an intuitive level. I suspect this is why this new breed of rigid Calvinism that follows the “five points” to their most logical conclusion, without regard to the moral implications of them, has flourished in the past twenty years.  (I heard a theology professor explain the other day that he had no problem whatsoever with God orchestrating evil acts to accomplish God’s will, for that is what is required for God to be fully sovereign! When asked if this does not make God something of a monster, he responded that it didn’t matter; God is God—end of story.) And I suspect this explains why, in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, so many evangelical leaders responded like Job’s friends, eager to offer theological explanations for what happened instead of simply sitting down in the ashes and weeping with their brothers and sisters.

Richard Beck has also observed this phenomenon and refers to it as “orthodox alexithymia”: 

When theology and doctrine become separated from emotion we end up with something dysfunctional and even monstrous.
A theology or doctrinal system that has become decoupled from emotion is going to look emotionally stunted and even inhuman.  What I'm describing here might be captured by the tag "orthodox alexithymia." By "orthodox" I mean the intellectual pursuit of right belief. And by "alexithymia" I mean someone who is, theologically speaking, emotionally and socially deaf and dumb. Even theologically sociopathic.
Alexithymia--etymologically "without words for emotions"--is a symptom characteristic of individuals who have difficulty understanding their own and others' emotions. You can think of alexithymia as being the opposite of what is called emotional intelligence.
Orthodox alexithymia is produced when the intellectual facets of Christian theology, in the pursuit of correct and right belief, become decoupled from emotion, empathy, and fellow-feeling. Orthodox alexithymics are like patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex brain damage. Their reasoning may be sophisticated and internally consistent but it is disconnected from human emotion. And without Christ-shaped caring to guide the chain of calculation we wind up with the theological equivalent of preferring to scratch a doctrinal finger over preventing destruction of the whole world. Logically and doctrinally such preferences can be justified. They are not "contrary to reason." But they are inhuman and monstrous. Emotion, not reason, is what has gone missing. Read the entire post.

I encountered this recently after I spoke to a group of youth about doubt. In the presentation, I mentioned that upon reading the story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho for myself, I realized it was a story about genocide, with God commanding Joshua to kill every man, woman, and child in the city for the sole purpose of acquiring land. I explained that this seemed contrary to what Jesus taught about loving our enemies.

Afterwards, a youth leader informed me that when it came to Joshua and Jericho, I had nothing to worry about…and had no business getting his students worried either.

“I don’t know why you had to bring up the Jericho thing,” he said.

“Doesn’t that story bother you?” I asked. “Don’t you find the slaughter of men, women, and children horrific?”

“Not if it’s in the Bible.”

“Genocide doesn’t bother you if it’s in the Bible?”

“Nope.”

He crossed his arms and a self-satisfied smile spread across his face. He was proud of his detachment, I realized. He seemed to think it represented some kind of spiritual strength.

“But genocide always bothers me,” I finally said, “especially when it’s in the Bible. And I get the idea that maybe it’s supposed to. I get the idea that maybe God created me to be bothered by evil like that, even when it’s said to have been orchestrated by God.”

I’m not sure he and I will ever understand one another, but I’ve decided to quit apologizing for my questions.  It’s not enough for me to maintain my intellectual integrity as a Christian; I also want to maintain my emotional integrity as a Christian. And I don’t need answers to all of my questions to do that. I need only the courage to be honest about my questions and doubts, and the patience to keep exploring and trusting in spite of them.

The bravest decision I’ll ever make is the decision to follow Jesus with both my head and heart engaged—no checking out, no pretending.

It’s a decision I make every day, and it’s a decision that’s made my faith journey a heck of a lot more hazardous and a heck of a lot more fun.  It means that grinning monster, doubt, is likely to stick around for a while, for I know now that closing my eyes won’t make him go away. It means each day is a risk, a gamble, an adventure in vulnerability and trust, as I figure out what it means to follow Jesus as me, Rachel Grace—the girl who cried for Zarmina, the girl who inherited her mama’s bleeding heart and her daddy’s stubborn grace, the girl who digs in her heels, the girl who makes mistakes, the girl who is intent on breaking up patriarchy, the girl who thought to raise her hand in Sunday school at age five and ask why God would drown innocent animals in Noah’s flood, the girl who could be wrong.

It means I’ve got a long race ahead of me, but I’m going to run it with abandon. I’m going to run it as me. Because I think that’s what God wants—all of me, surrendered and transformed, head and heart engaged. 

I’m growing more confident in my stride, and I am running faster now, breathless, kicking up dust, tripping over roots and skinning my knees, cursing now and then, but always getting up and gaining ground on that bend in the path where I think I can see Jesus up ahead.  

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Rush Limbaugh and three evangelical blind spots

'Mic' photo (c) 2009, Renée Johnson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

“What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute...So, if we’re gonna sit here, and if we’re gonna have a part in this, then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke: And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we are getting for our money.”
– Rush Limbaugh 

To me, this is whole situation is a no-brainer:  What Rush Limbaugh said was wrong.  No woman, under any circumstances should be spoken of in those terms.  Limbaugh’s ugly rant against law student and activist Sandra Fluke was misogynistic, vitriolic, and far beyond any definition of civil discourse. It should be categorically condemned, and sponsors are right to pull their advertisements in response. Yes, two liberal commentators have used similar language in the past, but as David Frum wisely points out, the indecencies of others in the past do not excuse those of Limbaugh in the present, nor should they prevent us from speaking out about the situation at hand.

It’s hard to believe that any Christian would support a man who leveled such a crass and hateful rant against someone created in the image of God, but over the weekend, I encountered several who did just that...and passionately. Most were part of my own evangelical community.   This baffled and frustrated me, as it did many of you who, via Facebook and Twitter, told me that you’ve encountered similar reactions among your family and friends. 

How can anyone who identifies as a follower of Jesus not only listen to, but support, this kind of disgusting language?  How can good people—the kind who show up at my door with a casserole the minute they find out I’m sick—openly cheer these kinds of remarks? 

 I can’t know for sure what goes on in people’s minds when they align themselves with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, but I suspect this reaction has something to do with three common blind spots among evangelicals: 

1. Politics 

As many have noted elsewhere, evangelicalism has become so intertwined with conservative politics that it can be hard to tell at times where Republicanism begins and evangelicalism ends.

No longer defined by its original ethos—spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ—evangelicalism has been reduced to little more than a voting block, and I get the idea from many of my evangelical friends that so long as a person shares their political convictions, it matters not how they live their life or speak about other people; a person is on the Christian “team” as long as he votes for conservative candidates come election day. 

We saw a clear example of this back in 2010 when Liberty University invited Glen Beck to speak at its commencement. It didn’t matter that the majority of Liberty students and faculty would consider Beck’s Mormonism to be outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy or that Beck had a reputation for sowing discord, what mattered was that he shared their conservative voting habits.  As I wrote in my post on the topic, “Graduation 2010 confirms once and for all what many of us have suspected for years.  Liberty University is characterized not by Christian fundamentalism but by political fundamentalism. For Republicanism is clearly the university's highest and most sacred value.”  

This also explains why Franklin Graham has such a hard time accepting Barack Obama’s Christian faith and yet readily accepts the faith of Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Like many evangelicals, he measures the faith of other people based on how they vote, not what they profess or how they live. 

This is the blind spot that allows some of the same Christians who refuse to watch R-rated movies to suspend their judgment as Rush Limbaugh makes crass, vulgar, racist, misogynistic, and homophobic remarks on his radio show.  So long as he’s speaking the truth about politics, they seem to reason, it doesn’t matter how he delivers it.  So long as he is right, it doesn’t matter whether he is decent or kind. 

This blind spot is absolutely killing our Christian witness. A 2007 Barna Group study found that among 16-29 year-olds only 3 percent express favorable views of evangelicals. Common negative perceptions among non-Christians are that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), old-fashioned (78 percent), and too involved in politics (75 percent).

Now there is nothing wrong with supporting conservative politics. But, as I told a woman who was urging her fellow Christians to boycott sponsors who pulled their ads from Limbaugh’s show, when you publicly support a man who uses crass language to shame a woman, you are making it hard for non-believers to see anything lovely or redemptive about Christianity. 

2. Women 

A second blind spot that I suspect is influencing evangelical support of Rush Limbaugh relates to women. 

I’d like to think that if Limbaugh had used a racial epithet, like the n-word, my evangelical friends would be more reluctant to support him, despite Blind Spot #1. But because Limbaugh used misogynisticepithets instead, there seems to be more hesitancy among some evangelicals to condemn him. 

This is because evangelicals, for all our good work in fighting sex trafficking and the exploitation of women around the world, often fail to see the sexism that pervades our own church corridors. 

This example is not nearly as severe, but it drove me crazy to see John Piper follow his public call for a “masculine Christianity” with a week’s worth of posts about overcoming racism. Yes, evangelicals have come a long way when it comes to race, but can’t he see that we’re still decades behind when it comes to women!?  Had Piper said that “Christianity has a white feel,” every evangelical in his or her right mind would have been up in arms. But because he said that “Christianity has a masculine feel,” even those who disagree with him shrugged it off as a difference in biblical interpretation rather than a problem with how he, and many evangelicals, view women. 

I never before considered myself the kind of woman who sees sexism around every corner, but I must say, my experience speaking and writing about women in the Church has been eye-opening. For expressing my egalitarian views among evangelicals, I’ve been called crass, ugly names (not unlike the names Limbaugh called Fluke), dismissed as “emotional” and “whiny,” written off as a “just another liberal feminazi,” and declared a “threat” to the Church. I’ve written on controversial topics before, but never has the criticism been so personal and so vitriolic, and I can’t help but wonder if it is because I’m writing about the concerns of women. 

 This is not to say that every evangelical is deeply misogynistic. Far from it. But I think that the lack of female leadership and influence in evangelicalism has resulted in a blind spot that keeps some from recognizing just how painful and damaging these kinds of words and attitudes can be. Fortunately, I see this changing in a big way, and am hopeful that the future will be brighter for evangelical women. 

3. Sex

The most common response I heard from evangelicals supporting Rush Limbaugh was that because Sandra Fluke was sexually active, she essentially “had it coming.” Maybe Limbaugh’s language was a bit strong, they said, but his disgust at her “promiscuity” was justified. 

This attitude represents one of the most damaging and least-talked-about blind spots within evangelicalism—the one that refuses to acknowledge the fact that being sexually active does not make a woman a slut. 

Currently, evangelicals tend to force young adults, especially young women, into simplistic sexual categories. They are either “pure” or “impure,” “whole” or “damaged,” “virgins” or “sluts.” There does not seem to exist a vocabulary within evangelicalism with which to talk about men and women who are sexually active, but not promiscuous. 

But like it or not, nearly every study you find shows that unmarried Christians are just as sexually active as unmarried non-Christians. With the majority of young adults waiting until their late twenties to get married, it’s getting harder and harder to wait until marriage for sexual intimacy.

Now, I’m not saying that this is okay, or that evangelicals have to abandon their convictions regarding sex and marriage just because times have changed. But if evangelicals feel that the word “slut” is the only appropriate one to use for a woman who is sexually active, then we have a real problem on our hands. This is damaging, hurtful language that objectifies women and will only push them away from the Church. (Note: It should be noted that Fluke wasn’t just addressing the use of contraceptives for sex, but also for treatment of medical conditions. She shared the story of one friend who lost an ovary because she could not afford birth control pills.

Regardless of your views on whether insurance companies should be required to provide coverage for contraception, all Christians should agree that there is no place for Rush Limbaugh-style vitriol in public discourse.

My hope is that the blind spots that keep many of my evangelical brothers and sisters from seeing his words and actions as contrary to the way of Jesus will be brought to light through the process of discernment, and that I too will be open to the wise critiques of those who perhaps have a better view of the blind spots that keep me from loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and loving my neighbor as myself. 

***

UPDATE #1: I've been encouraged to see some evangelical leaders like Al Mohler speak out against Rush Limbaugh's comments: http://www.dennyburk.com/albert-mohler-weighs-in-on-limbaugh-apology/

UPDATE #2: I'm going to go ahead and close the comment thread on this post because a few folks seem rather eager to prove my point there, and I'm tired of reading and deleting this stuff. (In just one day, through comments and email, I've personally been called a "slut", a "whore," a "feminazi," a "whiny feminist," a c**t, and a "dirty tramp." I expect a call from the president shortly.)  Of course, most of you have been wonderful, as always. Thanks so much for your insightful contributions to the conversation and for your support. I expect the trolls will clear out soon.

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Evangelicalism, neo-fundamentalism, and the next generation

Three articles caught my eye today: 

The first comes from Frank Viola, who argues that there are now four major streams within evangelicalism, particularly among Christians in their 20s, 30s, and 40s: 

1. The Systematizers
2. The Activists
3. The Emoters
4. The Beyond Evangelicals 

Based on this previous post, I suspect I fall into that fourth stream, mainly because I’m tired of fighting over labels.

The second is an excellent essay from Mike Clawson, shared by Roger Olson, about neo-fundamentalism. 

“The driving force behind neo-fundamentalism,” writes Clawson, “as with historic fundamentalism, is a 'remnant mentality.' Neo-fundamentalists believe they alone are remaining true to the fullness of the gospel and orthodox faith while the rest of the evangelical church is in grave, near-apocalyptic danger of theological drift, moral laxity, and compromise with a postmodern culture – a culture which they see as being characterized by a skepticism towards Enlightenment conceptions of 'absolute truth,' a pluralistic blending of diverse beliefs, values, and cultures, and a suspicion of hierarchies and traditional sources of authority. Because of this hostility toward postmodern ways of thinking, neo-fundamentalists have little tolerance for diversity of opinions among evangelicals on any issues they perceive as essential doctrines – which are most of them – as opposed to the broader evangelical movement which historically has allowed for a much wider range of disagreement on disputable matters.  Neo-fundamentalists thus respond to the challenges of a postmodern culture by narrowing the boundaries of what they consider genuinely evangelical and orthodox Christianity, and rejecting those who maintain a more open stance.” 

Clawson identifies three major figures in the neo-fundamentalist movement: John Piper, Al Mohler, and Mark Driscoll. 

The third comes from David Fitch, who writes about Mark Driscoll and “what the latest flap teaches us about the neo-Reformed Movement.” 

He identifies three major emphases among the neo-Reformed:

1.) The Focus on the Substitionary Atonement
2.) The View that Authority is Hierarchical. 
3.) The assumption that “success” is best measured by the number of people who show up to hear a male preacher preach. 

Then he explains why these sort of teachings fall flat in a the post-Christendom culture of Britain:  “In the post-Christendom world, authority is flattened in the church and pushed outward,” he writes. “Positional authority of anyone over someone else is not the way things work in the Kingdom (read Mark 10:42). Instead we work alongside each other out of our giftedness in the communities appreciating one another gifts and mutually submitting one to another in each one’s gifts (read Eph 4, Rom 12:3-8). The authority lies in one’s recognized gift. The idea that women are over men is as unthinkable as the idea that men are over women.”“Flattened authority structures push leadership out amidst the organic work of ministry in context. Hierarchy pushes church ministry inward and upward for approval. Hierarchical authority inhibits dispersed missional engagement.”

What do you think? Do you agree with Viola’s assessment? Clawson’s? Fitch’s?

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