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Grand Rapids, MI

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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Tag: Roger Olson

Been away...

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I've been away from blogging for awhile now.  For those of you who read regularly, I apologize for not writing.  I don't share much personal/ family stuff here, but for a long time now, my family has been very sick and I've been on a couple of vacations.  We've had a number of crazy illnesses, including all 3 kids each having pneumonia twice.  We've had an average of about 2.5 doctor, hospital, or ER visits per week since November, and it's been wearing us down.  In addition, our house got struck by lightening and our dog almost died twice.  (No, I'm not joking).  I don't talk much about spiritual warfare, but nothing else explains it.  Yesterday I was talking to a doctor from the Infectious Disease Clinic at Devos Children's Hospital, and told him to continue to run tests, but that I was asking a lot of people to pray for us.  I've been continuing to read as much as I can, which isn't enough, and continued to think.  I had a lot of ideas for posts, and then they got lost along with the sleep that seemed to disapate right before my opened eyes.

Recently, I've been reading some critics of what are called either postfoundationalists/ postconservatives like Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Roger Olson, et al.  I'm interested in the conservative evangelical response to projects which seek to take postmodern thinking seriously while also holding strongly to evangelicalism and scripture.  I've been reading all sides, but I tend to tip towards the Grenz, Franke, Olsons as well as some of what James KA Smith, Carl Raschke, Kevin VanHoozer, John Stackhouse, and others like them would say.  I like to read the critics because it helps to clarify and challenge my own thinking. 

I've also been toying with some article and book ideas, but haven't recently found the time to write with the kids' being sick and life in general.  Some space/ time to write would be awesome.

Anyway, I'll be back with what are, I think, some interesting posts coming from my interchange with Jim Speigel on Gum, Geckos, and God starting on Monday.  I couldn't limit my questions to one, so we're going to go back and forth a bit on a number of questions.  I hope you enjoy it... and the book is a lot of fun to read.


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 3

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McLaren, in the interview I mentioned earlier, talks about how this deconstruction works.   I mentioned that the emerging church is a kind of "back to the Bible movement," even though many see it as unorthodox.  It may be, in some ways, but that might not be bad.  Reforming - including Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and many contemporaries - is about going back to the Bible, deconstructing how culture has influenced us, and "reforming" to the word of God - which is the norming norm (to use Grenz/ Franke language).  Here is one way that McLaren says it:

...mentioning different lists of names isn't that important, but what's really important is that this stuff has been simmering in the biblical text itself, and we've been very well trained not to see it.  We've been trained to look for certain things and not for others... "What you focus on determines what you miss."

Deconstructing your faith is not about losing your faith - or at least it doesn't have to be.  It's about discovering where the things we believe come from and how we ascertained them.  It's about discovering what "eyes" or through which "glasses" we see the world, the bible, and ourselves.  Then, it's about trying to figure out what God is really saying both contextually and extra-contextually.  That's just normal exegesis - discovering what is enculturated and what's not, and how God incarnates himself in our own culture, in these times.  When we admit and understand our cultural, theological, and personal biases, we can compare those to the biases of others, and we can try to understand what God speaks outside of those, as well as to them.  Then, we begin to reconstruct our faith - keeping some of our biases, and shedding others.

Although he doesn't get into the technical side of this (and I would nuance this much more), I like how Olson says it in "How to be Evangelical without being Conservative":

For me Scripture (including Jesus Christ as the interpretive center) trumps tradition, reason, and experience.  To be more precise about how I do theology, I recognize Scripture and tradition as the two sources and norms of theology (with Scripture primary adn the Great Tradition of Christian belief secondary) and reason and experience as interpretive tools to help us sort out and understand Scripture and tradition. [p. 145]


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How Deconstruction Saved My Faith 2

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I was reading an interview with Brian McLaren on his book Everything Must Change from The Other Journal, and I read something in his narrative from the early 90's that is very similar to what I was going through during 1990-1999.  Here is what he says:

[Lost people's] questions re-opened for me something I had encountered a long time ago in graduate school, and that's postmodern philosophy, and this cultural shift from modern to a postmodern culture.  So in the early nineties I started grappling with that shift, and it was really tough... If you want to use a term that comes out of that postmodern world, the word would be deconstruction.  I was undergoing a deconstruction.  Not a deconstruction of my faith as a personal trust in God, but of my theological categories and of my theological methodology.  So that's not an easy thing to go through, but once you do a lot of deconstruction, then you have to start reconstructing or else you end up with nothing but a bunch of fragments.

The difference here for me from McLaren is that I actually discovered a more personal trust in God after the deconstruction of my theological categories and cultural history.  In about 1993, I began the reconstruction even as I continued the process of theological, cultural, and denominational deconstruction.  In fact, I think today I still go through a continual process of deconstructing.  I would prefer to call it reformata et semper reformanda - reformed and always reforming.  And here is the key to so many things right now for me (and for people like Roger Olson, John Franke, Stanley Grenz before he passed, Kevin VanHoozer, Nancey Murphey, LeRon Shults, John Stackhouse Jr., NT Wright, Rob Bell, Scot McKnight and many many more people).  I could probably write a book right now about how so many people in the evangelical world are misunderstanding some new theological and practical movements in the emerging church as heretical, when what these people are honestly trying to do is reform the church according to the Scriptures.  In fact, they're trying to re-read the Scriptures in a way that takes seriously the impact of cultural and theological history upon our reading in good ways and bad.  More on this in a couple follow-up posts to come.


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The Place of Christians in the World 2

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Henry, thanks for your response.  I agree that I think we do have something substantive to say.  The question is who "we" are.  The counter-cultural nature of the gospel and the world-tranforming power of the resurrection, the power of the right-side-up thinking of the sermon on the mount, the unbelievable value Jesus placed upon people and not on power, and on and on.  There is something distinctive, substantive, and powerful to say.  My frustration here is that as a collective, "the church" speaks in a totally different kind of way or not at all in a way that proclaims the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.  In this way, the church has become so much a part of the contemporary culture that on a descriptive level, it has nothing counter-cultural or world-transforming to say.  The church has lost her voice because she does not know her own identity. Yes, I think we can learn some things from the Catholics here.  I was pleased to see some of John Paul's personal humility and love for the poor and downtrodden has rubbed off on Pope Benedict.  That is good for the Catholic church.  The humility and concern for the least of these is so powerful in a movement as potentially powerful as Catholicism.  Here is where, particularly, some evangelicals have gotten it right, but the "public face" of so many evangelicals have gotten it wrong.  Our history is littered with people who have been involved in justice, freedom, poverty, etc.  However, the rise of the desire for political power - particularly wedded to the Religious Right - has, in my own estimation, drawn the evangelical soul into a dangerous place.  It reminds me of the request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee in Matthew 20 - "Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom."  Jesus cuts back with a question about whether they can drink from the cup that he will drink - meaning his own death.  It is precisely the Kingdom that runs counter to the ways of the world that gives us our voice, and yet the world does not hear this voice of Jesus.  They hear the voice of the sons of Zebedee among us.

I love what Roger Olson says in a recent book called "How to be evangelical without being conservative":

...what should evangelical Christians do to transform their culture now?  First, they should be the church.  Before trying to change society, evangelicals must reform themselves and their congregations and institutions away from individualism, consumerism, and therapeutic Christianity... to radical Christian communities that serve as beacons of faith, hope, and love to the dying world around them.  Unfortunately, too many evangelical churches and organizations have taken on the values and behaviors of the secular world while casting aspersions on it. [p. 126, emphasis mine]

That's part of the issue, maybe the heart of it.  The church has in so many ways lost its voice, its credibility, its heart, its soul because we too often speak against a world to which we ourselves have given allegiance.  We are not truly vassals of another Kingdom.  If we were, then our voice would be much more distinctive, much closer to the visions and words of Jesus, and much more instigative.  More successful?  I'm not sure.  That depends.  Possibly less successful.  It depends on how the world responds to the true call of Jesus to live for Him, his Kingdom, and his values.  But churches have to first respond to that call before calling others to respond.  Then, we might hear our voice again.


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