Posts Tagged ‘Issues Etc’

Todd Wilken reviews Mark Driscoll’s sermon on the Church of Philadelphia

I wanted to refer readers to a recent sermon review by Todd Wilken on Issues Etc. [link] in which Wilken spends about forty-five minutes, net of commercials, ripping into Driscoll from a number of directions. Among other things, if I heard him correctly, he accuses Driscoll of having a crypto-Roman-Catholic soteriology.

I like the fact that Wilken does sermon reviews; for those of us looking for a tradition to call home, these sorts of things are very helpful for underlining what the differences in the various traditions look like in practice. It’s also helpful to hear how a sermon sounds to someone else. That being said, I think Wilken’s definition of what constitutes a good sermon is way too narrow, and would, when facing many passages of Scripture require a preacher to skip them altogether or do such violence to them as to leave them meaningless.

That being said, this message from Driscoll, at least as edited down from its full hour-plus, is a mess. If anyone has a link to the full-length sermon I’d love to hear it. I am not a big fan of taking sermon time to talk about the expansion (or contraction) of a church network; it’s something I’d put on my list of warning signs when visiting a church, because it suggests that the growth of the church is part of its message. And it’s the sort of thing that’s fine in a bulletin or a business meeting or an annual report, or even the announcements, but it just doesn’t belong within the sermon.

I think it’s interesting that Driscoll is apparently not Reformed enough for some of his Reformed kin; he was apparently Reformed enough to be considered Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen, but he’s apparently strayed far enough out of the circle of light that it’s okay for Wilken (and James White, for that matter) to be critical of him. Go figure.



Rhode: The Gospel for Former Evangelicals

November 22, 2011 2 comments

I have been facing a deadline crunch at my day job, and I’ve had to let the blog sit idle (not to say fallow) for a couple of weeks. I’m hoping to clear the backlog over the next week or so.

If this is your first visit to this blog you may not yet know that I’m one of the people who agrees (that is, “affirms”) that American Evangelicalism is sick: the churches are big and too much like television, the teaching is too shallow, the theological conservatives are too cozy with the Republican Party, etc. etc. Unlike most of my unsettled brethren I don’t know what the cure for this sickness is; I tend to be skeptical when I hear many of the proposed solutions.

I realize that for many Christians the way out of the post-Evangelical wilderness (or whatever you want to call it) is to join an older theological, liturgical, or ecclesiastical tradition, and for some of these people this means becoming a confessional Lutheran. I understand some of the appeal of say the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS): it has roots in an old but nearly modern tradition; it sort of has American roots; it has a vast literature, has fairly straightforward answers to lots of questions, and it has some semblance of an intellectual history. You don’t have to think to be a Lutheran, but you can be a thinking Lutheran.

Still when I listen to Issues Etc. with Todd Wilken I am tempted to put the speakers into one of two categories:

  1. People who sound like Christians
  2. People who sound like Catholics

And most of the guests fit into the first category, which is one of the reasons I keep listening. It’s the people in the second category who just plain drive me nuts. These are the ones who remind me of the Catholic apologists I used to hear on Sacred Heart Radio: who do not countenance the actual questions people ask about their point of view; who set up “Evangelical” straw men I find unrecognizable; who put questions in the mouths of these fictional Evangelicals that sound like they’ve been back-fitted to the safe Catholic catechetical answer.

Which brings me to the recent series with Jeremy Rhode titled “The Gospel for Former Evangelicals” [link]. Rhode is about 15 years younger than I am, graduated from seminary about four years ago [link], and sounds like he’s still in the honeymoon phase of his relationship with the LCMS. I don’t know who these former Evangelicals he’s talking about are; what kind of Evangelical they used to be; how many of them there are; or what would possess them to consider Lutheranism; but Rhode’s presentation of confessional Lutheranism as a cure for what’s ailing the American church strikes me as unfair both in its presentation of the disease and its cure.

I just can’t bring myself to seriously consider what Rhode suggests is the heart of the fix for Evangelicals: that the Body of Christ is in any sense actually present in Communion; that Communion (rather than Jesus’s death on the Cross, which it symbolizes) brings forgiveness of sin; that distinguishing between the pastor and the office he holds is anything but a recipe for abuse; that baptism actually brings regeneration; etc.

I highly recommend listening to the entire series if you can stand it and understand it. It’s as good a place as any to start understanding what little dialog there is between confessional Lutheranism and American Evangelicalism.

In conclusion: we affirm that American Evangelicalism is sick; we deny that confessional Lutheranism is the cure.

Ken Bailey on Issues Etc.

October 22, 2011 1 comment

A while back Issues Etc. re-ran a 1999 series on interpreting parables in the original cultural context featuring author Ken Bailey. The five-part series can currently be found on the Issues Etc. archive page for Ken Bailey [link].

I love this sort of in-depth study; it really makes the text come alive.

At the same time I can’t help wondering how much of this sort of thing is necessary to be a theologically orthodox Christian. I come out of a tradition that values the plain meaning of the text in translation and prefers to ignore any questions regarding accuracy of translation, the difficulty of being certain when attempting to add anything to the plain meaning of the text.

Anyway, in this case Bailey assembles an interpretive framework for the parables in Luke 15 that makes them seem less foreign by appealing to his description of the culture in which they were originally spoken. It’s fascinating stuff; I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide just how Lutheran the results are.


Craig Parton on Issues Etc.

September 26, 2011 1 comment

Casual readers of this blog may reach the mistaken conclusion that I dislike Issues Etc. I’m not. I’m grateful for Issues Etc. and wish there were more programs like it.

That being said, I am sometimes given to wonder if it is meant to inform “the thinking Christian” or whether it is meant to reinforce Lutheran prejudices and keep Lutherans from engaging with different points of view.

I would take as a case in point a recent appearance by Craig Parton, a lawyer from California, who visited to discuss a recently-released report on international religious freedom [link]. Parton’s visit is mostly uneventful, but with about six minutes to go he starts to talk about religious freedom in Israel. That’s the modern nation-state of Israel, of course, the one founded in 1948; not the ancient people group descended from the biblical character Abraham via his grandson Jacob.

Parton is right to point out that Israel has a poor record on religious freedom; but then for some reason he takes what is apparently a compulsory swipe at Evangelicals when he says

Some Evangelicals give the impression that salvation has already obtained by the Jews.

Parton, as a lawyer, should know better than to make a statement like this: first because he doesn’t go on to name any names, and second because he’s using what are sometimes called weasel words [link] by placing the emphasis on a received impression (by whom?) instead of on an action actually done by his anonymous Evangelicals.

Let me be clear about this: I don’t know any Evangelicals who say salvation has already been obtained by “the Jews.” I will offer the usual reward (my undying gratitude) to anyone who can find me a YouTube video of any Evangelical leader saying anything of the kind.

In the interest of fairness I occasionally hear the same sort of anonymous aspersions cast by fundamentalists and Evangelicals when they speaking vaguely but knowingly of “replacement theology.” This is usually followed closely by a reference to Hitler, or the Nazis generally, and is similarly unhelpful. But that’s another post for another day, when I’ve got an archival example to refer to.


Chaves: American Religion, Contemporary Trends

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I wanted to point out a fascinating discussion with Mark Chaves, Duke University professor of sociology of religion at (wait for it) Issues Etc. [link]. He’s discussing his recent book, with findings summarized at Duke Today here [link]. Here are some interesting quotes:

Americans attend church less often than they say they do. About 25 percent of Americans attend religious services, which is lower than the 35 to 40 percent who claim to do so.

I have no idea how a survey can discern this. Just saying. Regardless, 25% seems high to me. There must be very religious towns somewhere picking up the slack.

Chaves challenges the popular belief that religion has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the United States. In fact, traditional religious belief and practice are either stable or in decline, he says.

The public misperception is fed in part by the rise of very visible mega-churches, which suggest that more people are actively religious than is actually true, he adds.

“A 2,000-person church is far more visible than 10 200-person churches,” Chaves says.

I am tempted to say here that because Chaves is a sociologist he picks this measure; I might also suggest that megachurches benefit from an economy of scale, and are more visible because they are in some sense richer and more powerful than their smaller counterparts on a per person basis. I’d love to see an economist answer the same questions; good data would be hard to get since e.g. churches aren’t required to disclose financials via the IRS Form 990.

a shortage of pastoral calls in the LCMS

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I would like to encourage readers to listen to this [link] visit by LCMS 1st Vice President Herb Mueller with Todd Wilken on Issues Etc. where they discuss the growing shortage of pastoral calls in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. I wish all church organizations were this forthcoming when facing systemic or organizational problems.

In the LCMS churches are to a degree self-governing, and they issue a pastoral call when they have a staff vacancy. There are currently more seminary graduates than there are open positions, and the shortfall has grown over the last several years. According to Mueller this is due in part to tough economic times; pastors of retirement age are deciding to hang on longer because they can’t afford to retire, and as a result they aren’t leaving the workforce and opening positions that could be filled by new seminary graduates.

It has been my experience that churches tend to avoid questions about organizational nuts and bolts unless there’s a crisis, by which time it’s too late to get helpful answers to tough questions. For example: we may not ask whether it’s a good idea to have a member of the pastor’s family be the church treasurer, or whether nursery workers have background checks, or who technically owns a church building, until there is some sort of crisis and we discover substantial spending irregularities, or a predator in our midst, or find out that the pastor or one of the elders can sell church property without consulting the church or returning the proceeds of the sale to the church. We tend to paper over questions about this sort of thing with vague God-talk, without any consideration for whether in the worst case we’ll face a crisis of faith to go without financial or organizational crisis.

So I was surprised when Mueller and Wilken took a call that asked bluntly if God is the one ultimately issuing the calls how there could be a shortage. It’s a fair and unpleasant question, and I will defer to Mueller and Wilken to speak for themselves at the link above rather than try to characterize what they say.

I am tempted to take a cheap shot at Wilken here; he is one of those people who claim that the collapse of Evangelicalism is inevitable if not imminent, and so it seems ironic that his church, which he presents as being part of the solution to the problem of the shallowness/heterodoxy/ahistoricity/whatever of Pop American Evangelicalism would be facing what seems to be a demographic problem while Evangelicalism for all its problems, doesn’t seem to be actually shrinking. But I’m going to pass on the opportunity, not least because a shortage of calls doesn’t mean the LCMS is imploding, and it’s awfully hard to make fair comparisons here anyway.

The easy trap to fall into when looking at long-term demographic trends (or even short-term boom-bust cycles) is to say something like “my church is growing (or shrinking) because we are right; your church is shrinking (or growing) because you are wrong.” I suspect we’d do well to think twice before claiming any of these premises is actually true.


Polytheism and American Civil Religion

August 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I haven’t had time lately to offer much more/other than quick takes, and this is another one.

I’d like to recommend this month-old segment from Issues Etc. [mp3]; it’s an appearance by Alvin Schmidt, where he notes the theological overtones to some of the aspects of Independence Day observances and frames them in the context of polytheism, particularly First and Second Century Roman polytheism, and suggests that they are aspects of a kind of American civil religion of which a careful Christian needs to be mindful.

I am for the moment going to punt on what constitutes a religion; I believe that many of my contemporaries play fast and loose with definitions here; not everything that has one or more of the characteristics of a religion can fairly be called a religion. I’m thinking here of atheism in particular, because that’s a fashionable argument. A generation ago Secular Humanism got trotted out as a religion too, and I didn’t buy the argument then either.

Never mind all that. Schmidt makes one good point here that bears repeating: if somebody is talking about a god, and doesn’t mention whether that god has a son called Jesus, it’s fair to say he’s not talking about the Christian God. And this is an important distinction to make when observing secular holidays like Independence Day.

I sometimes wonder if the LCMS is the only place I can find somebody pointing out problems with American civil religion because the LCMS is just not all that American, and certainly not American in the way (say) the Southern Baptist Convention is. The SBC, with its history rooted in groups that dissented explicitly from Anglicanism both in the UK and in the States, sometimes has a hard time seeing how its thinking on matters political is framed by its preoccupation with things American. Or something like that.

The LCMS, of course, being for so much of its history predominantly ethnically German, carries different baggage.