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Embarking Blog

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Filtering by Tag: David Bebbington

The Future of Evangelicalism 12: Who's Afraid?

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As I'm mentioning some things about evangelicalism again, let me talk about another.  I recently read and finished James KA Smith's book Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church.  If you read my blog, you can see why I'm interested in this book.  Actually, I read it in a very busy week, but got it done.  I really liked it in a lot of ways because Smith was able to put to words many of the things I've talked about in this blog and thought about but haven't been able to articulate in the way that he does.  Smith is kind of an alter ego for me.  He reminds me of what I might have been like had I chosen the philosophy route rather than the ministry route.  Smith is just a tad older than me, did some study at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, did his PHD under John Caputo, and understands a lot about the postmodern philosophy and Christianity.  He's confessionally reformed and teaches philosophy as an Associate Professor at Calvin College.  He's also the editor of The Church and Postmodern Culture series through Baker Academic, the same series that published John Caputos What Would Jesus Deconstruct.  He appears to have some sort of friendship with the likes of John Franke, Kevin VanHoozer, Brian McLaren, and of course, John Caputo.   (Smith's blog can be found here.) Quick overview and minor review:  This book basicly takes a look at the popular Christian (mis)understandings of the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, and Michel Foucault.  I'm interested because these three have had a significant effect upon my own thinking since my study of them in the early 1990's.  What Smith does mirrors my own journey of trying understand what these thinkers really are saying, and how it might actually be - not destructive - but constructive to our Christian faith, particularly in our culture shift away from modernity.  Many of Smith's conclusions are also my own, and that was very affirming because he's way smarter than I am.  Anyway, Smith basically does three things:  First he debunks the pop-understanding.  Second, he explicates a clear understanding of a core piece of their philosophy that could be helpful to Christian theology, faith, and practice.  Thirdly, he ends each section with prescriptive ideas for what a postmodern church would really look like if we took these thinkers seriously and often compares such ideas with the emerging or emergent church as well as the modern and or mega-church.  He elevates his own version which through him and others has been labeled "Radical Orthodoxy."  I loved parts one and two of each section, and found myself disappointed and sometimes disagreeing with the third.  In any case, since he's close by (in age, geography, and thought), I figured I probably need to invite him to lunch.  If it happens, I'll let you know.

Anyway, he obviously gets at what potentially the evangelical postmodern church could and should look like in the future.  Good stuff to think about.  But there was one little phrase that I found particularly interesting in light of some of the "evangelical center" which I've spoken about.  Two things:

  1. He was more critical of Stanley Grenz than I had anticipated.
  2. He raises the issue of what he calls the "correlationalist apologetic," which is the attempt to make Christianity no only intelligible, but also rational to the wider culture.  He criticizes this as a particularly modernistic approach.  (I once started a book on this idea, but haven't finished it.)  I agree with his perceptions here, but this is what he says in the footnote:  "The same correlational method lies... behind the Wesleyan quadrilateral... which has been widely recovered as of late." [p. 124]

I thought that I had mentioned the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in my previous post on the future of evangelicalism when I talked about Beggington's 4 points of basic evangelicalism, Stackhouse's 5 characteristics, and Kenneth Collins' 4 enduring emphases.  The Wesleyan Quadrilateral isn't as much a "center" of belief, but sources of theology or of knowledge.  They are:

  1. Scripture
  2. Tradition
  3. Reason
  4. Experience

John Franke interacts with these in his book The Character of Theology as well as in collaboration with Grenz in Beyond Foundationalism as they talk about how we come up with or even settle upon a "center" of belief.

In any case, this was a new insight to me... that the WQ would be a an example of an attempt to rationalize and justify evangelical beliefs to a modern world.  What do you think?  Do you think that's necessary?  Is it necessary, for instance, to prove to the world outside of Christianity, for instance, the historical reliability of the Scripture, or justification for the decisions of a group of men who decided the canon was closed?  Do we need to justify those to an outside world, or is that falling into correlationism and becoming merely defensive to modernity in a way that isn't necessary?  It's got me thinking...

 


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The Future of Evangelicalism 5

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Here are a couple of famous ways of trying to put define the center of evangelicalism with both clarity, and generosity.  What I mean by that is there is enough clarity as to actually have some definition and now just include everyone, and also some generosity so that it allows for many to call themselves evangelicals if they can at least affirm these central items.  This also doesn't mean that other issues don't matter.  Certainly - there are lost of theological, biblical, cultural, moral, spiritual, and pragmatic (if not more) issues to wrestle through.  But these are attempts to create a kind of definition around our diverse family.  First, David Bebbington (British historian) provides the following hallmarks of evangelicalism which are oft-quoted as a reference point for basic evangelicalism [David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: a history from the 1730’s to the 1980’s, 1989, pp. 1-19].  To my remembrance, Mark Noll affirms these as well in one of his books (but I couldn't find it recently... so if someone can help there, that'd be great):  

  1. Conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed
  2. Activism, the expression of the gospel in effort
  3. Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible
  4. Crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross

I tend to agree with Allen Yeh when he says, “I think the Lausanne Covenant articulates more fully what David Bebbington was getting at. It holds to Bibliocentrism but defines it. Anyone can say they subscribe to the Bible, and then twist Scripture to suit their agenda. However, the Lausanne Covenant starts with the Bible and shows how social justice, evangelism, and doxology all spring from its pages. It is a holistic theology, it is right theology (orthodoxy) and I think that it is as good a definition of “evangelical” as we have today.”  [The Other Journal, “Toward a Fuller Definition of Evangelical,” November 3, 2006.]

John Stackhouse, Jr. offers these 5 characteristics [John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “Evangelical Theology Should be Evangelical” in Evangelical Futures, 2000, pp. 40-43]:

  1. Evangelicals believe and champion the gospel of God’s work of salvation and particularly as it is focused in the person of Jesus Christ. 
  2. Evangelicals believe and champion the Bible as the uniquely authoritative rendition of God’s word in words to us. 
  3. Evangelicals believe and champion conversion as the correct way to describe God’s work of salvation in each Christian and as a reality to be experienced, not merely affirmed. 
  4. Evangelicals believe and champion mission as the chief goal of Christian life on earth.
  5. Evangelicals believe and champion these four elements of the generic Christian tradition as primary, central, and nonnegotiable, leaving other convictions as secondary and non-essential. 

I would give the following names to Stackhouse's sentences:  Christological, Bible-based, Conversional, Missiological (I prefer missional), and Generously Orthodox.

Kenneth Collins gives the following as what he calls the Four Enduring Emphases of Evangelicalism:

  1. Normative value of Scripture in the Christian Life
  2. Necessity of conversion
  3. Cruciality of the atoning work of Christ as the sole mediator between God and humanity
  4. Imperative of Evangelism

Ok.  Note the similarities?  Especially note how these fit into the documents I noted earlier.  I think these help to approach a center for evangelicalism.


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