Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lovers of Truth?

What does it mean to be a lover of truth? 

Does it mean we love statements that seem to validate the veracity of our own tightly held beliefs no matter how questionable the statements might be? (ie. accepting statements attributed to historical persons without verifying if those persons actually made the statements at all.)

Does it mean we close off all sources of knowledge that might possibly contain false, false according to our own ideologies, claims? (ie. refusing to listen to 'secular' media to find out what is happening in the world or only reading theologians who share your presuppositions.)


Does it mean we love the pursuit of truth trusting that if God is Truth then God is in the search?

How we answer these questions will decide if we are lovers of truth or lovers of feeling like we are right:

  • One is a position of courageous faith - willing to risk it all to find God and the other is the false hope that if we shut our eyes then all our assumptions will keep us safe. 
  • One recognizes that God, like Mr. Beaver says of Aslan, is good but not safe (tame) and the other is an effort to domesticate God. 
  • One lays its own tightly held beliefs down before God the other makes idols out of ideas.
  • One says we trust God wherever God leads and the other already knows where they are going (regardless of if God is leading). 
  • One is willing to be continually transformed by the encounter of God and the other has set up a camp at the base of the mount of transfiguration ready to camp on their own interpretation of events rather than listen to Jesus alone. (Mark 9:5-8)
Something to think about.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

From What Is Not There

Longtime readers will know that I am no fan of Ray Comfort's propositional and confrontational brand of evangelism. The problem is that I'm writing the section of my thesis that critiques the truncation of the gospel to nothing but substitutionary atonement and Comfort is a good example of how bad that can get. So as I'm trying to find academic language to explain what we evangelicals call backsliding I'm pulling books off my shelf - popular evangelical books. Comfort's Hell's Best Kept Secret was at hand. Opening it up to the chapter "Who Are the Backsliders?" I am treated to this little travesty. 

Comfort's opening argument is that real salvations stick and do not need discipleship. How does he come up with this obviously unbiblical proposition? From what is not said about Philip's baptism of the Ethiopian Eunich. Basically he assumes that because Philip did not do follow up that we should not feel bad about not engaging in discipleship. This earned an immediate WTF in the margin. But the idea has me furious. It is all that I feel is wrong with evangelicalism. We really only want clean ideological conversions and none of the messiness of walking out new life with people who are interested in the Christian faith. I wonder how Comfort reconciles this bout of poor exegetical work with Jesus' actual imperative to make disciples? 

The truncation of the gospel just does not work. As Newton Fowler has said, even though the "truncated gospel resembles the biblical gospel it is not commensurate with the gospel." We need a bigger vision of the gospel - one that matches the size and love of our God. 

In the meantime, I'll put Comfort's book back on the shelf so my eye will stop twitching!

Friday, June 01, 2012

Armageddon Factor: Religion, Politics, and Education

I had the amazing opportunity to organize and moderate a panel this year titled: The Armageddon Factor and the Changing Role of Christianity in Canadian Politics.The title comes from Marci McDonald's alarmist report on the rise of what she has called Christian Nationalism in Canadian politics. McDonald's book was quite hard to read, not that it was difficult, but rather that she has a bit ugly brush which she uses to paint people that I actually know quite well. Some of her comments are good and important, but often she just does not get the culture or really the people she is vilifying. Apart from that, McDonald does highlight an area of study that has been neglected by proper scholars - the changing roles of and relationships between religion and politics in Canada. McDonald is not the only one to recognize this deficiency, Dennis Gruending has a similar, and more irenic, report called Pulpit and Politics (I will review this book sometime soon) - but even he does not go as deep as we need to in understanding the intersection of religious and political currents in our country. What we know is that our country is changing and those changes will have wide ranging effects for many aspects of Canadian life, this panel happened to focus on how such changes will impact theological education in Canada.

The panel opened up with Catholic scholar Lee Cormie calling for a wider conversation. McDonald's book focused on a troubling Americanization of some Canadian evangelical groups - really this is nothing new, but what is new is how visible these groups are in the life of the Hill. But these are not the only religiously motivated groups active in Canadian politics. The other reality Cormie brought to our attention was that theological education in Canada is already undergoing a huge shift - a shift that another panelist, Jeff McPherson, will elaborate on in terms of evangelical culture. But Cormie sets up the conversation brilliantly setting the tone for a rich conversation.

Next up we had King's University College professor Margie Patrick engage directly with McDonald's book. Patrick has written specifically on this book and her current academic research is on the political engagement of Canadian evangelicals. Patrick outlined some of the problem areas of this text and even highlighted a few EFC articles that show a more inclusive form of evangelicalism politically engaged in Canada. While we probably should find the grand standing actions of the Faytene Grasseschi's troubling, they are not the same thing as say Preston Manning's efforts to help evangelicals become politically savvy enough to engage in public discourse. Often it is easy to get swept up by ideas we just might not agree with.

Jeff McPherson brought us up to speed with the changing role of theological education in Canada. He detailed the shift from confessional bible colleges to Christian liberal arts schools and where this shift was struggling to remain relevant to the parents of this present generation. These are important shifts and are not limited to evangelical confessions. One of the fears that comes out of McDonald's book is that no one is paying attention to the changes she finds so troubling - McPherson highlights another area we are blind to the changes in, but employing a grace and eloquence that McDonald lacks.

Liberal MP John McKay ushered us into the religious influences of the current House of Commons. An obviously sharp mind, McKay talked about the religious roots and realities of all the sitting parties - from Elisabeth May to Stephen Harper. McKay talked about where the NDPs and his own Liberal party were failing to connect with their historic religious bases. If McDonald is convinced that evangelicals are paying too much attention to politics - McKay helped us see that politicians, many of them at least, are paying too little attention to religion.

The panel was completed by the dynamic and witty director of the Chester Ronning Centre David Goa. If you have never heard Goa speak you are missing out. He exhorted evangelicals and other Christians to get their acts together and stop messing with his church (he is Orthodox)! That sounds harsh, it was said sort of tongue in cheek, but he did outline the realities of the evangelical gravitation to the Orthodox church. This underscored the importance of this conversation for all religions in Canada. Goa brought together the insights of the whole panel while at the same time calling for us to attend to this dimension of our public life as Canadians.

The panel was opened to questions from the floor and lively discussion ensued. I was so caught up in the whole thing that I forgot to take a picture for this post. It was really that good.

One final note about this panel, the fact that it was jointly sponsored by both the CTS and CETA is important to recognize. This collaboration speaks of a recognition from both societies that more dialogue needs to happen. These are not evangelical issues, or even Christian issues - but they are Canadian issues that affect all Canadians. We need the diversity of voices to grow so that we can not only understand, but properly respond to the changes in religion and politics in Canada.