There’s a good essay over at First Things on what the author calls the ‘rise of protestant perfectionism’.
Today we are witnessing the re-emergence of a Protestant perfectionist vision of the Christian life. This vision has at least two forms, an Anabaptist understanding of the church as embodying a set of practices that realize the Kingdom of God and a Wesleyan optimism of grace in which the people of God must progress to deeper levels of union with God that in turn fuels love for neighbor in the world. The story of the emergence of this Protestant perfectionism has yet to be told in full, but I do not think one can fully understand Protestantism since 1970 without it.
When Reinhold Niebuhr described Billy Graham’s New York crusade as another variety of Christian perfectionism in 1956, he was playing into a particular typology that he had utilized at least since Moral Man and Immoral Society. In that 1932 work, Niebuhr attacked the optimistic view of humanity he found residing behind liberal Protestantism, lumping it with a host of moralists who like John Dewey assumed that the progressive development of humanity, either through scientific progress or a social gospel, could bring about a “peaceable kingdom.” In many ways, Niebuhr’s thought embodied the ongoing tension between various forms of Protestant perfectionism and Magisterial Protestant ideas that one still finds at work in evangelicalism.
Read it all. It’s interesting. I’ll simply opine that anyone who thinks we make the world a better place or we can become sinless in this life is delusional. God can make things better, but we don’t. And any form or fantasy of perfectionism is shown to be false by the continuing presence of sin in all our lives.
A 44-year-old mother of two has been arrested after she left her five-week-old baby locked inside a car. The woman identified as Gloria Elzy left her newborn infant inside her car for more than half an hour on a hot summer day. According to KSN, The incident happened in the parking lot outside a mall at Slidell, Louisiana at around 5 pm local time. The episode could have turned into a tragedy had it not been for a good samaritan who called up 911 immediately after seeing an unresponsive baby inside the vehicle.
Slidell… that sounds very familiar. Anyway… this can’t keep happening. Let’s go, science people, invent a fix.
She claims she had just dropped off her other child and went to the mall. She has been charged with second-degree cruelty to juveniles. Upon investigation, she was also found to have not appeared for another unrelated case. A warrant against that case too has been issued against Gloria Elzy.
Ugh. Why does God give children to people too cruel or incompetent to raise them?
Eine Lanze für den traditionellen Gottesdienst bricht der evangelische Theologieprofessor Christian Möller aus Heidelberg. Nach seiner Ansicht sind weite Teile des Protestantismus vom „Virus des Besonderen“ befallen. Ständig werde Neues ausprobiert, um den Mitgliederschwund zu stoppen. Der Theologe plädiert hingegen dafür, die Gemeinde wieder Schritt für Schritt zum ganz normalen liturgischen Gottesdienst zurückzuführen. Die #Gemeinde werde in dem vertrauten Ritual immer heimischer. „Die Gemeinde ist kein Zuschauer mehr, der irgendetwas Besonderes erwartet. Sie ist vielmehr Teilhaber an einem Reichtum des Gottesdienstes mitten in der Normalität des Lebens“, sagte er der evangelischen Nachrichtenagentur #idea.
You tell ‘em, Christian. Enough of faddishness and emergent nonsense. He illustrates his point, cleverly, from the world of football.
Es sei wie bei einer Fußballgemeinde, die auch ihre vertrauten Lieder habe: „Die singt sie mit großer Inbrunst, um eben dadurch immer tiefer in die Fußballgemeinde hineinzuwachsen und Betroffene des Spiels zu werden, an dem sie sich auf den Höhen mitfreut und in den Tiefen mitleidet.“ Wer neu hinzukomme, höre sich die Lieder erst mal an, brumme später mal mit, bis er endlich integriert sei und aus vollem Halse mitsinge. „Wehe dem Stadionsprecher, der einer Fußballgemeinde ihr vertrautes Ritual zerstört!“, so Möller. „Er wird gnadenlos ausgepfiffen, und wenn sich die Fehler wiederholen, kommt die (Fußball-)Gemeinde nicht mehr, sondern nur noch ein Haufen von Zuschauern.“ Wer vom Fußballritual nichts verstehe, weil er neu ist, dem werde nichts erklärt, weil sich das Spiel mitsamt der dazugehörigen Atmosphäre durch Wiederholung selbst erkläre. Ähnlich sei es im Gottesdienst. Vielfach zerstörten umständliche Erklärungen mehr, als dass sie dazu einlüden mitzumachen: „Die Devise heißt vielmehr: Hör zu, geh ein Stück weit heute mit, nächstes Mal wieder ein Stück. So geht das weiter, bis dir der Gottesdienst vertraut ist.“ Wer sich diese Gewöhnlichkeit gefallen lasse, werde frei vom Virus des Besonderen, der auf Dauer alle krank mache.
Take that, seeker sensitives.
A new volume by Fortress has appeared and it is superb.
Recent Developments in Trinitarian Theology explores the major renaissance that Trinitarian theology has undergone in recent decades. Remarkably, all the main Christian denominations have participated in this, and contemporary Trinitarian theology is a discussion that often crosses over confessional boundaries.
English-language theology plays an important role in the renewal of Trinitarian theology and that role is the focus of this symposium. Its purpose is twofold: to gather in an international setting leading thinkers to present the major developments in Trinitarian theology and to show how Trinitarian theology can contribute to new thinking in several contemporary systematic and critical fields, including political theology and the theology of religions.
It contains these essays:
1. Where Do We Stand in Trinitarian Theology?: Resources, Revisions, and Reappraisals—Christoph Schwöbel
2. Trinity, Tradition, and Politics—Karen Kilby
3. The Necessity for Theologia: Thinking the Immanent Trinity in Anglo-Translated Orthodox Theology—Aristotle Papanikolaou
4. The Trinity and the World Religions: Perils and Promise—Gavin D’Costa
5. Colin Gunton on the Trinity and the Divine Attributes—Marc Vial
6. God’s ‘Liveliness’ in Robert W. Jenson’s Trinitarian Thought—Christophe Chalamet
7. Social Trinity: Theological Doctrine as a Foundation for Metaphysics—Mathias Hassenfratz-Coffinet
You can read the introduction and portions of chapter 1 at these links:
My review of this new book follows:
The question which sets the tone for the book is found in the opening essay by Schwöbel. That essay is the longest and most developed of the collection and essentially examines whether or not significant progress has been made in trinitarian scholarship since the ‘revival’ of interest in the doctrine of the trinity a couple of decades ago. As He states it
The interesting question, however, is not whether the metaphor is appropriate but whether the renewed interest in trinitarian theology has produced productive and significant theological developments (p. 12).
The question is important, Schwöbel asserts, because
… without a trinitarian understanding of God, the central Christian practices, Christian worship, the celebration of baptism and the Eucharist, and the Christian life in the Church and society lose their specific profile (p. 16).
Schwöbel then proceeds to explain the sensibility and necessity of the doctrine of the trinity in a very long (64 page) and very technical essay. Does he prove his point? Indeed he does. Doing trinitarian theology is…
… just another name for doing Christian theology (p. 71).
The essay by Kilby which follows wonders aloud if there has in fact been any sort of revival of trinitarian theology. And her critique has some merit. She correctly observes
… a fundamental problem [is] that recent trinitarianism has become, quite simply, too knowing (p. 77).
She then turns to her real concern, which is to connect the dots between politics and theology.
The aim of this essay has been to find a path toward quite a different way of relating trinitarian theology to politics than is most often found in the recent literature (p. 86).
She is successful in raising questions, but not in overturning Schwöbel’s contention that trinitarianism has enjoyed a significant reinvigoration. The editors have, it seems to me, approved Schwöbel’s views by placing his essay first and thus by requiring any essay which follows to forcefully counteract his views (if they are of a different mind).
The third essay concentrates on the doctrine of the trinity in Orthodox thought. Knowing little to nothing of Orthodox theology, I’ll leave to others a response to this piece. The essay by D’Costa examining the trinity and world religions too is a bit outside my area (and is more suited to persons engaged in ‘religion’ as a general field rather than Christian theology or biblical interpretation. I do, however, find it interesting when D’Costa suggests
I want to indicate how recent reflection on the religions has been impoverished when the Trinity is not the guiding light (p. 107).
Specialists in world religions will surely want to see how he enriches our understanding of world religions by means of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Vial’s essay on the work of Colin Gunton is exceedingly interesting and exceptionally well written. Readers will learn Gunton’s view of the divine attributes and how Vial thinks the matter needs to be moved forward.
Chalamet’s essay does for Robert Jenson what Vial’s does for Gunton; i.e., discuss the thought of one of the leading theologians who has examined and considered deeply the meaning and significance of the dogma. Chalamet doesn’t simply introduce Jenson’s particular ideas but he also critiques them, like Vial, urging readers to consider moving beyond the work of their predecessors and thinking both with them and apart from them.
The final essay by Hassenfratz-Coffinet focuses attention on the trinitarian thought of Joseph Bracken (a name, I confess, I have never heard). Fortunately, H-C briefly describes Bracken’s life and work and notes that he was one of very few Roman Catholic ‘Process Theologians’. It strikes me as a bit of a surprise that anyone is still talking about Process theology after all these years but evidently H-C finds some merit in it and what it may contribute to our understanding of God. I am unconvinced, however, that it can. Or does.
The essays, then, here assembled, reflect the wide ranging approaches to trinitarian thought presently in practice and as such are exceedingly important. They are, each and every one, very technical and it is clear from the outset that this book is intended for theologians and other specialists in dogmatics and religious studies. Such readers will discover much that is useful and many questions both addressed and raised.
This book does not solve the mystery of the trinity. No book does. And it doesn’t intend to. What it intends to do is allow us to think about the subject in a variety of ways so that, as when looking at a diamond and slowly turning it between our fingers, we see brilliant shades reflected from various facets, we can conceive and consider the trinity in different and stunning ways.
Judging by the theology of many on my twitter feed, God isn’t all powerful and majestic, he’s weak and needs help a lot. #FalseTheology. Allow me to remind you of Luther’s exposition of the First Commandment (1529) :
Das ist, du sollst mich allein für deinen Gott halten. Was ist das gesagt, und wie versteht man’s? Was heißt einen Gott haben oder was ist Gott? Antwort: Ein Gott heißt das, dazu man sich versehen soll alles Guten und Zuflucht haben in allen Nöten; also, daß einen Gott haben nichts anderes ist, denn ihm von Herzen trauen und glauben; wie ich oft gesagt habe, daß allein das Trauen und Glauben des Herzens beide macht, Gott und Abgott. Ist der Glaube und Vertrauen recht, so ist auch dein Gott recht; und wiederum wo das Vertrauen falsch und unrecht ist, da ist auch der rechte Gott nicht. Denn die zwei gehören zu Haufe, Glaube und Gott. Worauf du nun (sage ich) dein Herz hängst und verlässest, das ist eigentlich dein Gott.
Darum ist nun die Meinung dieses Gebots, daß es fordert rechten Glauben und Zuversicht des Herzens, welche den rechten einigen Gott treffe und an ihm allein hange. Und will so viel gesagt haben: siehe zu und lasse mich allein deinen Gott sein und suche ja keinen andern; das ist: was dir mangelt an Gutem, des versieh dich zu mir und suche es bei mir, und wo du Unglück und Not leidest, kriech und halte dich zu mir. Ich will dir genug geben und aus aller Not helfen, laß nur dein Herz an keinem andern hangen noch ruhen.
Indeed, Martin. If only our modern believers had a mind to understand.
Dieser Sammelband vereinigt die Beiträge zweier Basler Symposien zur dialektischen Theologie Karl Barths. Die Texte der renommierten Forscherinnen und Forscher zeichnen gemeinsam ein detail- und perspektivenreiches Bild der Theologie Karl Barths vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg, währenddessen und danach. Die denkerische Entwicklung dieser Zeit war von entscheidender Bedeutung für die Ausbildung der theologischen Grundentscheidungen, die für Barths weiteres Werk prägend bleiben sollten. Durch die interdisziplinäre sowie insbesondere die internationale Ausrichtung der Beiträge wird die entscheidende Basis für das Verständnis der unterschiedlichen Rezeptionswege und -möglichkeiten der Theologie Barths gelegt und damit der Blick auch auf deren aktuelle Relevanz gelenkt.
1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with [someone not his] wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you? 3 For even though I am absent physically, I am present in spirit. And I have already judged the one who did this, just as though I were present.
4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
6 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough– you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10 In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world.
11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. 12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.
Let him who has ears to hear, hear. Atheists, agnostics, and unbeliever’s opinions on such matters do not matter at all. What Scripture teaches, though, does matter for Christians. Or should. And if it doesn’t matter, and it is culture or political correctness which informs denominational and individual decisions, such as adhere to those decisions have no business calling themselves ‘believers’ because they have abandoned their foundational document and turned their backs on it. They believe alright. They just don’t believe anything the Church believes.
Lite on ministry, heavy on tourism or vacationeering, most ‘church mission trips’ are more akin to what the Onion mocks and this essay criticizes in ‘health brigades':
An article in The Onion mocks voluntourism, joking that a 6-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s facebook profile picture.” The article quotes “22-year old Angela Fisher” who says:
I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders.
It goes on to say that Fisher “has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.”
I was once Angela Fisher. But I’m not any more.
I have participated in not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.
Such trips – critically called voluntourism — are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.
How do they attract so many paying volunteers?
Photography is a big part of the answer. Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource. Photography – particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children – is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.
Etc. It’s worth reading. And mutatis mutandis, applying to the widespread much ballyhooed ‘church mission trip’.