Back in the Seventies the churches my family attended were either rural churches surrounded by farmland or small-town churches located in neighborhoods on the end of town in which the town itself was beginning to sprawl. As the Eighties progressed the churches we attended were more often located on busy highways, in parking lots, and the churches gradually became things we drove to rather than walked to. Today’s prepackaged concept churches almost always look nice from the highway but tend to have a rather sterile feel. One church we attended this year, Centerpoint in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, is situated in a failed housing development, so it is surrounded first by a parking lot, then by a bunch of empty lots that were bush-hogged and hastily seeded, giving the place a sort of misbegotten feel.
Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church (PRBC) on the other hand, is a small church in a handful of brick and cinderblock buildings with a very small parking lot a few blocks out of downtown Phoenix in a neighborhood that is sun-baked but otherwise walkable. Not that we actually saw anybody walking anywhere when we were there; it was early on a Sunday morning, and even in November Phoenix can be quite warm.
A few years ago author Sara Zarr and her husband moved to Santa Fe for the summer and ended up at our church according to what she described as “the parish principle,” whereby a person attends the church that is closest to their house that is closest to their theology, more or less, warts and all. It sounded then and still sounds to me like a pretty sound idea, at least as a basis for picking a church initially.
Reformed Baptists are both Reformed and Baptists: they have a confession and a Calvinist soteriology, but baptize only believers. There are literally a handful of Reformed Baptist churches in New Mexico, most of them in the Albuquerque area, so if I were Reformed Baptist I’d be in a pickle, and would have to choose between a long car ride every Sunday and having to associate with (gasp) Presbyterians. I have a sneaking suspicion that Reformed Baptists living in Arizona but outside the Phoenix metro area face similar dilemmas.
Conversely, while it’s easy to imagine that most of the people attending PRBC are some sort of Reformed Baptist remnant driving long distances to church, it’s also easy to imagine that there aren’t a lot of people from the immediate community attending PRBC.
We arrived about ten minutes early and found the tiny parking lot off Indianola less than half-full, so we circled into downtown to have a look around and to wait for the crowd to arrive at PRBC. There’s nothing quite so uncomfortable for a family of introverts as arriving too early at an unfamiliar church and having to make small-talk with strangers. It might even be preferable to be ignored. Seriously; proponents of the right hand of fellowship take note.
We got a good look at the surrounding area and got back to PRBC with about five minutes to spare. In the meantime someone had reported a fire across 12th Street from the church, and we encountered fire engines, an ambulance, and a host of innocent bystanders hovering outside the main entrance to the church.
We weaved through the fire engines, parked on Indianola to avoid taking a regular’s regular spot, and got seated just as the call to worship (the opening song) was starting. Unfortunately I got in too late to grab an order of service, but just about everything seemed almost jarringly familiar.
I’m offline much of the week, traveling for business and pleasure. Here are a few unrelated items to fill part of the gap until I get back:
- So the Pew Forum published a report on religious knowledge in the United States, and there was much discussion. The Immanent Frame got a bunch of people who are scholars in the field of the study of religion (primarily religion as a social phenomenon; there’s arguably at most one theologian in the bunch, and no pastors or other religious professionals) to comment on the report and (mostly) what it signifies [link]. There are some insightful comments and predictions here, but this sort of thing causes me to wonder if postmodernism is an inevitable result of modernism, or whether modernism itself is fundamentally incoherent.
- Author Sara Zarr recommends a writing workshop and talks about what it means to be a Christian author but not a “Christian author” [link], in much the same way e.g. David Bazan is (was?) a Christian-not-Christian-rock singer. I really have no idea what it means to be a Christian in the arts community but not involved in “Christian art,” and my field of study isn’t even on the radar of most religious professionals, so I can’t relate to or identify with what Zarr occasionally describes as being her experience, but her comments give me pause for thought.
- James White celebrates Reformation Day on The Dividing Line [link]. As someone who is not Reformed I tend to be put off by the unreflective self-congratulation that happens once a year in Reformed circles, and most of this episode is exactly that. It’s just plain dry and dull and awful. In the last ten minutes, however, White talks about the historical elements that were in place (printing, nationalism, etc. He doesn’t mention capitalism.) at the time of the Renaissance and made conditions right for the birth and survival of the Reformation. Fascinating and fact-filled if a bit overwrought; it’s hard to find a better example of “good James White” and “bad James White” side by side. He doesn’t deal with the obvious question of why all the ingredients of the Reformation would be merely of historical interest and not the Reformation itself.
- A long debate on the premise “Resolved: that Islam is a religion of peace” [link]. I don’t really know anything about Islam, but I think I learned more in this hour-plus than I could learn from many hours of listening to oh say Ergun Caner. The fundamental question in the debate boils down to this: Which is more appropriate: to judge a religion by its teachings, or by the behavior of its adherents? By the best of each or the worst of each? Also, Martin Luther makes a surprise appearance as a foil for an argument from one side; I won’t say which one.
- Marvin Olasky resigns his position as provost at The King’s College after Dinesh D’Souza’s appointment as president [link]. Are there really no Protestant evangelicals of sufficient stature to hold high-profile at this Protestant evangelical school?
That’s it. Please enjoy with my humble blessing. It’s not much: there are better Linkathons elsewhere.