evangelical

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Remembering Bonhoeffer, 2018: Bonhoeffer was Not an [American] Evangelical, but he was an Evangelical Lutheran

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by the Nazis, April 9, 1945. As I hope to do each year, I’d like to share a brief thought on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy on this date.

Bonhoeffer and Evangelicalism(s)

One of the ways that Bonhoeffer is most frequently abused is by the assumption or argument that he was an evangelical, particularly of the American variety (eg. inerrancy and the like). In honor of the day of his death, I’d like to continue to disabuse people of that notion and instead note that he was actually a 20th century German Lutheran influenced by (but not uncritically accepting of) Neo-Orthodoxy. Here are some of his words about the creation account, specifically Genesis 1:6-10, from “Creation and Fall”:

Here the ancient image of the world confronts us in all its scientific naivete [my fault for lack of correct letters]. To us today its ideas appear altogether absurd. In view of the rapid changes in our own knowledge of nature, a derisive attitude that is too sure of itself is not exactly advisable here; nevertheless in this passage the biblical author is exposed as one whose knowledge is bound by all the limitations of the author’s own time. Heaven and the sea were in any event not formed in the way the author says, and there is no way we could escape having a very bad conscience if we let ourselves be tied to assertions of that kind. The theory of verbal inspiration will not do. The writer of the first chapter of Genesis sees things here in a very human way. [DBW 3:47-48].

Of course, as always, Bonhoeffer’s words must be understood in a much wider context than they are presented here. It is almost never a good idea to read even whole paragraphs from Bonhoeffer in isolation, because his thought is so dense that it cannot adequately be presented in sound bites. Those quotes which often are used as sound bites are either fabrications (eg. the “Not to act is to act…” quote that has yet to have an actual source found) or the exceptions (and even then I’d be very careful). Bonhoeffer throughout this work demonstrates that the Genesis is God’s Word but he means it in a sense that is very aligned to Luther, though not necessarily Lutheranism: that it is God’s Word because it ultimately teaches us about God and Christ. He strongly argues that God remains God and that God’s Word creates and brings life, but he does not demand that the text of Scripture meet his own modern standards of scientific accuracy and even suggests that yes, it would be silly to think it could.

So no, Bonhoeffer is not a modern evangelical, though he certainly was evangelical in the sense that it was used before the modern use: that of the evangelical Lutheran church. Though many (conservative) Lutherans would reject much of his thought, I’ve yet to encounter a thinker as wholly Lutheran among modern thinkers to date. He was a wonderful–dare I say, beautiful–man who applied his incredibly deep theology to his life, even unto death.

I thank God for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
(February 4, 1906- April 9, 1945)

-4/9/1945
-4/9/2018

Book Review: “Theologies of the American Revivalists” by Robert W. Caldwell III

What images does the word “revival” bring to your mind? For me, the image is a rather monolithic one of fiery preaching and hands waving, altar calls and massive crowds. Robert W. Caldwell III’s Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney surveys the field of these American revivals and offers both a corrective and instructive voice.

The work is organized around different revival movements. Caldwell III differentiates between such movements as the Congregationalists, the New Divinity Movement, Jonathan Edwards, the Second Great Awakening, the Early American Baptists, Charles Finney, and more. After these chapters providing overviews of these varied movements, a chapter follows offering analysis of and response to revival theology.

What the overview chapters revealed to me was that my vision of what a “revival” looks like was really an amalgamated picture combining elements of Jonathan Edwards, the New Divinity Movement, and more. This is one of the greatest strengths of the book; it provides readers with clearer definitions of and differentiation between Revival movements. Each movement had a slightly different goal, many had differing views of what it meant to be “saved,” prayer and spirituality differed as well. Caldwell III helps draw these lines in an interesting, if sometimes dry, way.

The analysis of Revivalist theology leads Caldwell III to argue that a “moderate evangelical” theology can reveal a kind of shared link between all the revivalist movements, as well as reveal the underpinnnings of modern evangelicalism. This latter insight is particularly valuable, especially due to modern evangelicalisms oft-bemoaned lack of self-awareness regarding its roots. Caldwell, through this book, shows that evangelicalism did not spring ex nihilo, but rather had its own period of development with an interesting and sometimes checkered past.

Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney is a fascinating work. Caldwell III has shown that the American Revivals were interconnected in many important ways, but more intriguingly, has shown the spontaneity of the movement and its continuing impact.

The Good 

+Demonstrates the diversity of the American revivals, as well as connections between them
+Shows a broad historical perspective while also focusing on major voices
+Important historically for understanding its topic

The Bad

-Somewhat dry at times

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.

Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.

 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

 

Book Review: “Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment” by Gregg R. Allison

rctp-allisonGregg Allison’s work, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment, provides a point-by-point look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church along with commentary and critique throughout from an evangelical perspective. The book thus provides an enormous number of avenues exploration, so we’ll focus on just a few topics here.

Evangelicalism in Dialogue

One issue that some may see rising from Allison’s approach is the notion of “evangelical thought” or perspective. Allison himself notes how difficult it would be to pin down one specific approach. He does, however, do a good job of approaching the various aspects of Roman Catholic theology in a way that allows for different evangelical voices to get a say. For example, in his discussion of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/etc., he critiques Roman Catholic teaching from a number of different evangelical positions. That said, Allison is Reformed and focuses much of the space for critique on offering a specifically Reformed criticism. This means that at some points those outside of the Reformed tradition may feel they have differing criticisms to offer that are not fully covered.

One can hardly fault Allison for this approach, however, because the space needed simply to cover the Catechism and offer a critique is large.

Roman Catholicism Outlined and Critiqued

The value of the book for many will be found in the fact that it does present Roman Catholic teaching as found in their official Catechism. Allison does a great job simply presenting what the Catechism teaches in each section before he offers a critique.

Allison’s critique often focuses on either the Church-Christ identification or the nature-grace interdependence in Roman Catholic theology. It is the latter which is the most prominent critique offered. Roman Catholicism sees human nature and grace working together whereas evangelicalism sees human nature as corrupted through the fall and not working together with grace. Allison does an excellent job showing numerous difficulties with the Roman Catholic view on this topic and then showing how many doctrines of Roman Catholicism are dependent upon this faulty premise.

Allison’s critique of specific doctrines is also helpful. His criticisms of papal and magisterial infallibility are on-point, concise, and decisive. His outline and critique of Mariology, justification, etc. are each valuable and insightful. Again, however, readers may be left hoping there was more space to dedicate to each individual topic.

Some other issues

One issue that happens a few times is that Allison seems to inadequately ground his critique. This is particularly the case in a number of places in which the criticism amounts to “evangelicalism dismisses x.” Such a “dismissal” happens frequently through the book on minor topics, but it leaves the reader wondering on what grounds such ideas are dismissed. Often, the only grounds provided is something like not having sufficient biblical warrant or because of its reliance on one of the above mentioned overarching themes (Church/Christ or nature/grace).

Another issue is that Allison sometimes offers critiques that do not seem very convincing or are products of his theological presuppositions. For example, his discussion of baptism and his denial that Jesus is speaking of baptism in John 3:5ff seems confused, to say the least. Indeed, he confirms that the discussion of “water and the spirit” are being used in such a way as to refer to the same thing. However, no real alternative to baptism is given of this water- and spirit-filled notion. It is simply asserted that it cannot be baptism because that would mean an anachronistic notion (baptism) was in the text. But of course John the Baptist was around before Jesus, and he baptized with water… and the spirit. Now, I am Lutheran, so my perspective on baptism certainly differs from that of Allison’s, but his treatment of this passage seemed exegetically impossible.

Conclusion

Gregg Allison’s interaction with Roman Catholicism is enormously helpful in that it walks readers through the beliefs of Roman Catholics from their own Catechism. The strength of the work is its broadness, which is also its weakness as individual topics are sometimes skimmed over too briefly. That said, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment is a simply fantastic book for those looking to learn more about Roman Catholicism and the issues that divide it from evangelical theology. Allison has done a service to the church with this book that provides both a reference and a critical perspective when dealing with Roman Catholic theology.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Gregg Allison, Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway, 2014).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 1/31/14- “Frozen,” French and American Atheists, world religions, and more!

postAnother week, another round of great reading served up for you, dear readers. I’m writing this in the midst of getting 4-6 inches of snow (it’s already at 3, and not showing signs of slowing…), so I can’t help but feel a little bit like throwing in a Christmas movie today and sipping some cocoa. Oh well! It also made me think of the movie “Frozen.” The topics this week are Disney’s “Frozen,” the conversion story of a French atheist, “Street Epistemology,” the sign of Jonah and world religions, something we can learn from atheists in the “Bible Belt,” and evangelicalism and liturgy.

Disney’s “Frozen” might be the most Christian movie lately– I found this article on the movie “Frozen” to be quite insightful and interesting. I highly recommend the movie as well as this article.

How God turns a French  atheist into a Christian theologian– I found this conversion story simply fascinating for how God works in people’s lives. The insights from this theologian are profound, and they speak volumes for the importance of a reasoned faith.

A Look at the New “Street Epistemology” Movement– Eric Chabot analyzes the “Street Epistemology” movement forged by Peter Boghossian for creating atheists. Chabot’s approach is fairly unique in that he explores the movement through means of certitude and doubt–a primary weapon for Boghossian.

Bible Belt Bubble Burst? Wisdom from an atheist friend– The importance of a reasoned faith is shared eloquently here through reflection on a conversation with an atheist friend in the “Bible Belt” of the United States. Highly relevant.

The Sign of Jonah– Winfried Corduan is a major scholar of world religions. In this blog post, he offers up a video of how world religions are impacting the United States alongside a commentary on the “Sign of Jonah” which Jesus says will be given to his contemporaries.

Evangelical conservatives vs. Liturgical conservatives– Is it true that one can be either evangelical or liturgical? Is there such a thing as a perfect blend and harmony of evangelical conservatism and liturgy? Look no further than Lutheranism. Check out this post with some interesting insights.

Caring for Creation: A discussion among evangelicals

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Evangelical Philosophical Society annual meeting (check out my thoughts on the whole thing). The theme of the meeting was “Caring for Creation” and although I generally went to other talks with topics that interested me more, I did get the chance to listen to a talk by Douglas Moo, “Biblical Theology and Creation Care” followed by a panel discussion on caring for creation. The talk by Moo was one of the best papers I attended, and the panel discussion afterwards was both informative and contentious. Readers, I hope you’ll look through the whole thing and engage in some dialogue here. This is an extremely interesting topic and I’d love to read your thoughts on it. I’ll start here by summarizing the highlights of Moo’s paper. Then I’ll look at the panel discussion.

Douglas Moo- “Biblical Theology and Creation Care”

The thrust of Moo’s argument was twofold: first, to outline a “Biblical Theology” and apply that to the notion of stewardship; second, to hint at a strategy going forward for evangelicals interacting with creation care.

There are three ways to look at the texts in regards to creation care: resistance (a pattern which allows one specific interpretation or approach to trump all others and therefore forces all texts into a certain paradigm); recovery (look at different texts and incorporate a broad view that supports an ecological interpretation); and revisionism (adopt a constructive and creative approach that makes meaning from the text while recognizing broad continuity with the text). Moo noted difficulties with all three of these and endorsed a kind of recovery/revisionist approach which “sees the ‘Green'” in the texts while also not forcing texts to be about environmentalism in every case. Furthermore, a sparseness of texts does not necessarily entail that no theology can be drawn from a topic. Instead, there are enough verses which can address creation care to paint in broad strokes.

From this approach, Moo argued that there is a pattern of fulfillment in the New Testament which does not abrogate the Old Testament teachings on creation care but rather incorporates them into the whole world. We are called, Moo argued, to see our authority over the earth as not our own but as Christ’s as Creator.
Moo argued that we must not ignore God’s broad interpretation of “neighbor.” God’s view of neighbor includes not just your friends and your enemies but also those yet unborn. Our culture can be a positive influence in some ways by informing how we can prioritize our work in caring for creation. Furthermore, the concerns of our surrounding culture can inform the directions theology must take. For example, he noted that it was no accident that theologians turned to investigating texts in light of personhood debates in the 1970s with the abortion movement: culture can inform the direction that theology needs to explore, thus giving a more robust theology for coming generations. “When faced with challenges or large scale movements, the church rightly turns to the Bible to see what it may say on that issue.”

Moo then turned to the created world. We are able to learn truths about the world through scientific research. Moo argued that “truth discovered by scientists in the natural world” can inform our worldview because they are viewing the  evidence left behind from Creation. It is not scientific theory vs. scientific fact or science vs. the Bible. Instead, Christians must see truth as both interpretations of the science as well as interpretations of the Bible. “We cannot dictate Scripture by science but… current scientific data should not be dismissed unless there is an extremely solid Biblical ground that contradicts this data.” Yes, science changes, but so do interpretations. Sometimes science can inform us of a faulty interpretation of the text. It can cause us to turn to the text to look for a better understanding of both special and natural revelation.

Moo argued that there is a broad scientific consensus regarding climate change. It is happening and it is at least partially caused by humans. Not all scientists are saying the exact same thing in regards to climate change, but the broad consensus is that it is at least partially anthropogenic.–caused by humans.

Thus, Moo argued, “Biblical theologians have no basis as laity in science to reject what science is telling us on this topic [global warming].” The Bible informs us of the disastrous effects humans can have on the earth, from the fall to Israel’s continued rebellions, which brought harm to the earth itself. Similarly, our own modern rebellions can lead to horrifying effects on the earth.

Moo concluded with a call to Christian philosophers and theologians–and more generally, to Christians at large. “We should be at the forefront of confronting” climate change. We must be concerned with caring for creation.

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion after Moo’s talk quickly became contentious. E. Calvin Beisner began by arguing that we must not lose the distinction between scientific models and reality. He noted that a scientific consensus does not necessarily mean reality, and that dissenting scientists were often those whose careers couldn’t be threatened by loss of livelihood. He generally expressed skepticism over the extent of humanity’s causing climate change.

After Beisner’s general response, the moderator began a Q+A session in which all the panelists- Moo, Beisner, Russell Moore, and Richard Bauckham would be allowed to respond to each question. The first question asked about the political nature of the discussion. All the panelists generally agreed that the discussion goes beyond politics and into interdisciplinary studies of geology, climatology, philosophy, theology, and beyond.

Next, “What can churches do to enhance creation care?” Moo argued that it needs to become an agenda item that churches regularly touch upon. He also said there are a number of easy ways to reduce one’s climate impact that can be incorporated in one’s daily routines. Bauckham expressed a desire for every church to have a ‘care of creation’ group which would inform their church on issues involved in creation care. Beisner also advocated easy things that can be incorporated into one’s life to take care of creation. Moore was concerned with a tangible connection to creation–he advocated getting people out into nature for walks and camping and a fuller understanding of God’s creation.

The next question related to the facts that each would say are agreed upon by all panelists despite their some contradictory opinions. It seemed that across the board they agreed that some climate change is happening. Moo noted that it is easy to find someone to disagree with any fact, but that doesn’t undermine truth.

Another question that came up was where the panelists thought creation care should rank in regards to a priority for Christians. The general view expressed across the board was that there is no easy way to say this should be a number one concern or where it fell in line with other major concerns like abortion, evangelism, and the like. Instead, all the scholars seemed to say that it is people’s duty to be informed on this topic and to do what they can.

Interestingly, the question: “What are areas of agreement with the other panelists?” was the one that generated the most controversy. It started off well enough with the panelists noting actual areas of agreement. However, once the moderator (whose name I didn’t catch) noted the problem of the West’s excessive consumption, the discussion became heated. Beisner followed this comment with a rather lengthy argument that we need to move past the current scenario of reducing CO2 as a brute cure to the problem. He argued that this could be disastrous to the developing world. The developing world often is still using wood for fuel and to try to prevent them from using coal and other carbon-dioxide producing fuels would not only slow their development but also possibly cause deaths now due to inadequate heating, poor quality water, and the like. He made note of a few studies to this effect and argued that we can’t reduce climate change at the cost of humans who are here now struggling to get enough food and water to survive. He noted one study which showed that the more money spent on reducing climate change, the less the per capita income in the developing world becomes. Thus, he expressed concern for the people on earth now who might suffer from these measures.

Moo then noted truth in what Beisner was saying–we need to be aware of the harm we can cause and see if certain methods of prevention have a cost too high–but dissented from Beisner in arguing that we must also take into account sustainability and future generations, even if that may not make for the ideal “now” for everyone.

Bauckham really turned up the heat when he started his response by saying “Remember Galileo.” He noted that Galileo was initally condemned due to Scripture, but his example shows how trying to “predict from Scripture what science must observe is extremely dangerous.” He said that we need to stop playing “silly games with pseudoscience” [clearly aimed at Beisner’s use of arguments against the consensus Moo and the others argued was in place] and step outside of the Amero-centric view of the world. Regarding the developing world, he responded to Beisner by saying that whole nations are afraid of being consumed by the oceans, which is of course of utmost concern. He expressed worry that Christians in other countries saw Christians in the U.S. as disregarding the ecological crises of our time. Finally, he made a jab at Beisner saying that denying anthropogenic climate change is to the scientific community like denying the existence of Jesus would be to the panel.

Beisner immediately responded, saying that Bauckham had been disingenuous and that he felt the language used was troubling. He argued that the supposed consensus is not a true consensus and that there is debate among experts related to the extent of anthropogenic climate change.

Moore closed this part of the discussion by noting that it is easy to attack each other but that there is a general agreement: things need to change. He advocated change on a local level, with everyone trying to carry a bit of the load for a “full reform of culture.”

Conclusion

There were a number of themes I took away from this discussion. First, I think Moo is spot on when he notes that Biblical theologians have no right to tell scientists what their data is. Moo’s presentation has reverberations for other issues, such as the age of the earth. Not only that, but his general notion of culture driving theology and vice versa was a very interesting concept of which people should take note. Finally, his call to Christians to be at the forefront of confronting climate change and being good stewards of Creation must be taken to heart.

Despite the generally contentious nature of the panel discussion, it remains the case that all the panelists advocated a need to care for creation. The debate was over how that must take place. Clearly, the notion of anthropogenic global warming was a hot topic, but again all the panelists agreed that we need to be doing better than we are now.

What do you think of all these discussions? What can we do? What should we do? Let’s hear it!

Image

The third image is credited to: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Forest_in_Yakushima_30.jpg.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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