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Making the Best of It (and a Short Story)

While we’re on the topic of Christianity and culture/how to engage those who think differently than us in a pluralistic postmodern world (and while I remain in shameless self-promotion mode), I noticed yesterday that Direction (an MB publication that describes itself as somewhere between an academic journal and a denominational magazine) has just made their Spring 2009 issue available online—an issue that contains my review of John Stackhouse’s Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World.

A brief story: way back when (probably in 2000 or 2001), before I ever thought seriously about going to university (much less graduate school!), I attended a series of lectures at the Evangelical Free Church in Lethbridge, AB where Prof. John Stackhouse, from Regent College in Vancouver, BC, was the guest speaker.  As I recall (the memory is getting somewhat foggy!), he spoke about the need for epistemological humility and charity as Christians and about how doctrinaire certainty was not a prerequisite for honest faith (indeed, it may even be a hindrance!).  I was in my mid-twenties and was beginning to honestly wrestle with what a faith that was honest and committed actually looked like.  I was beginning to take on a bit more of a leadership role in the church I was a part of.  I was looking for good ideas and good examples to follow.

What I remember thinking as I left those lectures was, “I want to think like that guy!”  I wasn’t used to seeing people at the fronts of churches admit that there were things that they didn’t know (and that they didn’t need to pretend they knew).  I wasn’t used to seeing people at the fronts of churches admit that pain and struggle and doubt were normal parts of a life of faith.  This certainly isn’t to say that I grew up exposed to a bunch of blinkered dogmatists in church leadership, but there was something in the way Stackhouse spoke and explained things that I found immensely refreshing and appealing.

So, I bought a few of his books (Can God Be Trusted? is still one of my favourites—I recommend it frequently to those wondering about questions of God and evil) and continued to learn and think and grow.  Eventually, at 27, I decided to go back to university.  After my first year I had already decided to go to graduate school and there wasn’t much doubt about where I wanted to go.  I didn’t choose Regent College exclusively because it was where Stackhouse taught, but this certainly played a significant role in my/our decision-making process.

Looking back now, it is a decision that I have no regrets about.  My time spent at Regent was hugely significant both in terms of what I learned and in terms of the relationships I was able to form there.  I learned a great deal from all my classes, including those taken with Prof. Stackhouse.  His courses were tough as was his supervision of my thesis, but he made me a better thinker and a better writer than I would otherwise have been.  Indeed, one of the skills he most ruthlessly taught us was how to review a book (one of the poorest grades I received in my entire academic career came from my first book review in my first class with Stackhouse!)!  It’s funny how things turn out—how deciding to go hear a couple of lectures from John Stackhouse almost a decade ago can play a role in a long and winding path that leads to (among other things) reviewing one of his books!

Anyway, thank you for indulging me in what turned out to be a longer story than I anticipated :).  And thank you, John!  As I’m sure you know, your teaching and your writing have many positive effects—some of which you may never hear about.  At the very least, perhaps this post can be one case where you do hear about it.

John Stackhouse blogs here, for those who are interested.  If you do not have this site bookmarked or added to your reader, well… you should.

64 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    If his opposition to the Manhattan project, is indicative of his “fuzzy relativism” masquerading as faith, no thanks!

    A curious blend of blatent self promotion, (I think he mentions books he’s written as antidote to legitimate criticisms, rather than address the particulars of the criticisms, three or four times in the comments)
    insult,albeit congenially expressed, (again doesn’t respond to most of the particulars levied against his post, prefers to assume that people just don’t like him. A rather bizarre premptive anti ad hominem tirade that is wholly….well dare I say it, ad hominem.) and spite.

    Mr. Stackhouse seems to be more upset over who hasn’t signed on, given his humble assertions as to what constitutes a “heavyweight” (his word I swear!) Christian thinker as he is concerned over the content of the document itself, though I do seem to recall him damning it with faint praise at some point.

    I mean I’m not really offended or anything, if Mr. Stackhouse thinks he can craft a bus big enough to successfully throw a supposedly fraternal eccumenical community the size of MP, under…well good luck with that!

    What else can I say…prairie weed must be killa!!

    December 9, 2009
  2. Paul Johnston #

    BTW, liked your review of the Stackhouse book. Gave me enough useful information to realize it wont be sitting on my book shelf anytime soon.

    Professor Stackhouse misrepresents the Roman Catholic Church if your review of his postulation is an accurate one.

    …”1) the option of cultural transformation (represented by neo-Calvinism, conservative Roman Catholicism, and liberation theologies); and 2) the option of “holy distinctness” (represented by Anabaptists like John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, and the radical orthodoxy typified by John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock). Stackhouse’s “Christian realism” seeks to bridge the divide between the poles of cultural conquest and cultural capitulation.”

    Sorry sir, but 2 millenia of Church history is precisely an expression of Christian realism that seeks to bridge the divide between the poles of cultural conquest and cultural capitulation.

    It is, in all its sometimes glorious oft times messy and mangled humanity, an expression of what “Making the best of it”, looks like on the ground.

    If my community is Apostate and Professor Stackhouse is a new prophet, then let him have the courage to say so and make his case. Otherwise he is, like me, just another voice from the cheap seats, albeit one with a book deal.

    What’s with that anyway!! From what I’ve read so far I feel confident that I do no more egregious harm to the truth than does the good professor and I think I am infinitely more entertaining.

    I mean waaaaaaaaaaaay….:)

    December 9, 2009
    • All I can say about these comments, Paul, is that I find them as confusing as does the “good professor.” And not even finitely, much less “infinitely entertaining.”

      December 9, 2009
  3. John Stackhouse #

    I’m not opposed to the Manhattan Project–although it wouldn’t do much good if I were, since it existed in the 1940s to produce the atomic bomb. (I used to walk by the commemorative Henry Moore sculpture across the street from Enrico Fermi’s lab at the University of Chicago where the Manhattan Project was housed until it moved to Los Alamos.)

    It’s the Manhattan Declaration that I criticize. And since the rest of what you write is about on the same level as confusing the Manhattan Project with the Manhattan Declaration, I’ll let Ryan reply as he sees fit.

    December 9, 2009
  4. John Stackhouse #

    Thanks, Ryan, for these very kind encouragements. And on this very day you post this, one of your church members, currently studying at Regent, came by to talk about his program–a very bright, serious person whom we are very glad to have with us. Blessings on you in your several ministries!

    December 9, 2009
    • Glad to hear it, John!

      December 9, 2009
  5. Good story, Ryan. I enjoyed seeing a little of this thread of your life, and also hearing you honour your teacher in this way. — I enjoyed the review as well. — Your comments about learning to review reminded me of how at the MB Herald, occasionally someone (unknown to us) would offer to write, and I’d find myself saying, well perhaps we could give them a book to review. The words would barely be out of my mouth and I’d realize that that’s probably the worst assignment to begin with! Especially when it can only be 300 words or so! It’s a particular skill to be learned, I think, and many people, even fine writers, seem to turn to wood when reviewing, as if all their horrid high school experiences of analyzing books have descended upon them with paralysis. — I was grateful too for your respectful defense, in your review, of the Anabaptist emphasis on Jesus. With humility, surely this remains a significant perspective Anabaptists offer to the wider Christian community. Doesn’t the Trinity itself, though in its mystery remaining uniquely separate yet One, coalesce (bad word perhaps, but I can’t think of anything else at the moment) as it were in Jesus, God become flesh in Jesus, the Spirit given to and poured out at Pentecost in a new way (as if also incarnated) from the ascended Jesus — as the Spirit of Christ? — Sorry, my comment has gone all over the place, but it’s still early here in Manitoba!

    December 10, 2009
    • Thank you Dora. You’re right, it is difficult to find the right language to speak of Jesus as part of the Godhead, but the centrality of Christ in our reading of Scripture and in how we tell the redemption story really is an important Anabaptist emphasis that needs to be heard.

      I share your assessment of the difficulty of reviewing books! In the example I referred to in my post (my first book review for Prof. Stackhouse), I was a cocky first-year student at Regent who had been used to getting top grades with relatively little effort at university and I figured a 125o word book review would be a fairly easy grade boost. Stackhouse pretty quickly relieved me of that illusion :). He had a very particular format that he wanted us to adhere to and we were penalized if we didn’t. It was a very good discipline to learn, in hindsight, but at the time it sure was painful!

      One thing he also communicated to us was how important he thought book reviews actually were. I seem to recall him even mentioning that he saw it as one of the great services that we could provide to the churches we would go on to be a part of. There are so many books out there, and people in churches need good ideas about what to look for. I know the book reviews section of magazines (everything from the MB Herald to The Walrus is always one of the first places I turn.

      December 10, 2009
  6. Paul Johnston #

    The declaration is da bomb!

    December 10, 2009
  7. Paul Johnston #

    I didn’t confuse the Manhattan Project with the Manhattan Declaration, sir. I made a simple mistake.

    December 10, 2009
  8. Paul Johnston #

    As for the substance of the Manhattan declaration, sir, what is your objection?

    From your post, I simply understand you think it purposeless, as if to say that to first declare and affirm a position, is unimportant. If a fair assessment, I find this to be a rather curious and contradictory position for an academic.

    Secondly, you discredit the work simply because you personally feel that it lacks credible sources. You don’t think it offers any “heavyweight” Christian perspectives. Frankly sir, I find that perspective lamentable. If you wish to dismiss the work as a product of lightweight theology then challenge the credentials of those theologians who have signed on. To make the claim and substantiate it solely as a personal perogative, offering only a very unkind character assessment of one of the organizers, not a theologian, is rather arrogant in the first case and a very impolite “bait and switch” in the second.

    The Manhattan declaration, as noted in the comments of your post, is a call to arms. A thoughtful and highly credible, eccumenical document looking to create a form whereby serious discussion can take place with regards to what real Christian responses to an ever increasing anti Christian culture, ought to look like.

    Many believe, I among them, that core Christian principals are being undermined by the cultures in which we live. Many believe, I among them, that Christian passivity has exacerbated the problems. “Hear no evil, see no evil”… responses to circumstances that are intrinsicly evil.

    It may sound corny and intellectually lightweight to you but I wonder in my heart what Jesus thinks of our responses. Unlike Him we do not seem prepared to stand firm in our opposition to evil. Sometimes I think ours is a false passivity, seeking comfort and non confrontation at the expense of truth.

    I believe the Manhattan declaration is a fundamentally neccessary and important document. I think it is a starting point in the fight to articulate a right cultural “push back”.

    I think it is a sincere attempt to begin the process of “fleshing out” what, “Following Christ in the real world” looks like.

    In my opinion the Manhattan declaration is a holy, serious and prodigeous undertaking. It needs and deserves a more thorough critique than the one you provided.

    December 10, 2009
  9. Personally, I fully share all of Prof. Stackhouse’s concerns about the Manhattan Declaration. And I think there’s another issue that can be demonstrated graphically: compare a wordle of the Manhattan declaration at http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/1363470/Manhattan_Declaration:_A_Call_of_Christian_Conscience with a wordle of the Barmen Declaration (written by Germans against Nazi Germany) at http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/1433641/Untitled . See what’s missing?

    The Church. I’m convinced that belonging to the (fragmented) Church, worshipping God, hearing the Word of God, receiving the Sacraments, learning the language of faith, being trained in the the disciplines of faithful witness, and going forth to continue God’s mission to the world in Christ by being the People of God is our primary calling, and incidentally, the primary way that Christians have effected social change through the past twenty centuries.

    The absence of any substantial role for the Body of Christ in this declaration is an enormous omission. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae certainly declares that a consistent life ethic should be enshrined in civil law, but he begins and ends his encyclical with Christ and the Church who is called to follow Christ no matter the culture. Why does this declaration water the Church down to irrelevance? I don’t know, but I suspect it may be because for many North Americans, their country is their church.

    Our inability to distinguish between our true identity as Christians and our transient identity as Canadians or Americans is what I would peg as the biggest cause of our passivity. Why else would most of us so blithely accept whatever our culture legislates? If we’re going to stand FOR something, we need to stand IN something, lest we fall one by one as the isolated individuals we are told to be.

    December 10, 2009
  10. Taking over will not bring in the Kingdom. The Kingdom has a King… if you love like He does, go ahead and sign it- Because your compassion and love for the poor in spirit is active- effective -fruitful. Those, whose broken lives are an offence to some, are a distress signal to you- and an invitation to be a messenger with Good News. If you can say “ I love you” as though you were speaking the very words of Christ Himself- to someone who personifies everything you hate- and everything God hates- Then go ahead.
    Rave on! I have no argument with those who wrote the Declaration, and I don’t see anything in it that I would disagree with, but I will say that if we-the Church- are not willing to be the answer to the lack of goodness in the world- then what we say we care about means nothing-not to the people Christ died for and not to God Himself.
    It’s time to be followers of the Way- not protect our ‘rights’- we’ve been given the right to be called sons and daughters of the living God-lets stop talking about it and start learning how to do it, knowing it will cost us Everything.

    Example: If I have to choose between keeping my ‘JOB’ by marrying two gay men, or loosing my post and pay check, what will I choose? What is my concern? Do I rail against sin, hoping for change so I can keep my ‘JOB’?

    Or do I remember the cost of following Jesus and pay it because it’s good and right? And I pay it for the good of the men whose union I could not bless. Do I hate sin more than I love Christ, and therefore, hate sin more than I love people?

    I’m sorry, but I can’t help but wonder sometimes…is the motive (often enough to cause concern) for wanting the laws of the land changed, more about us not having to do the hard work. I.e.; ‘make the people live by Godly laws, so we don’t have to fight so hard to displace the darkness.’
    We do have a responsibility to be a prophetic voice to government- but not without going about the Fathers business of reaching out to a hurting mess of a world. We can’t go on blowing our own trumpet. It’s starting to sound like a Kazoo.
    We are here to make a difference in peoples lives- one at a time- If it weren’t true, Jesus would not have said to the Father;

    “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify[b] them by the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
    Jesus Prays for All Believers (that would be us)
    20″My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24″Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25″Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
    (John 17: 15-26)
    We’re here for a reason. We’ve been given everything we need to give what we have received, but the loudest voices are crying out telling the world what’s wrong without offering hope- and those railing voices are reaching deaf ears- shouldn’t we be concerned with healing them?
    Sorry Ryan (and others) If I’m coming off harsh against the church- I love the church, but this is a subject that gets my heart going every time. I’ve seen a beautiful Bride, who’s settling for less and it breaks my heart on days:)

    December 11, 2009
  11. PS… Just to make sure I’m not misunderstood, when I used the word “You” in the beginning of my post, I was referring to a faceless/general ‘you’ 🙂

    December 11, 2009
    • Paul Johnston #

      I’m good. I know if you were talking about me you’d have said, “pretty face.” :)…

      I like what you said here, Deborah. Perhaps an important “pushback”, perhaps not. My sense is that as you find nothing to disagree with in the declaration, they would find nothing to disagree with in your expression of concern. Time will tell.

      Michael, the Pope does not claim to have political authority, rather the greater moral one as the “Vicar of Christ”. All proclamations are contexted accordingly. The Manhattan declaration is admittedly more politically oriented, an orientation you rightly suggest is consistent with RC dogma. Perhaps its political orientation and eccumenical nature explain the lack of context you, and others are legitimitely looking. Given the religeous credentials of those involved I would be hard pressed to believe that their position would be much if any differant than the one you hold.

      December 11, 2009
      • “How many divisions has the pope?” – Joseph Stalin

        50 years later:

        “Everything that happened in Eastern Europe in these last few years would have been impossible without this pope.” – Mikhail Gorbachev

        The only reason we think the Pope is non-political is because we think the only effective politics involves coercion – armies, revolutionaries, and democratic majorities. John Paul II didn’t invade Poland, invite the Poles to revolt, or try to assemble voting blocs in the free West. He had a far more faithful and far more “effective” means at his disposal – a people.

        As for ecumenism requiring the watering down of ecclesiology, that’s a red herring. Read the 1994 Evangelicals and Catholics Together declaration in First Things at http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9405/articles/mission.html . Many similar signatories as the Manhattan document, ironically enough, but apparently the situation 14 years later is so desperate that we have to throw our Christian identity to the wind to try and achieve our political goals.

        This is exactly the wrong approach, because it attempts to create a better society without better people. As Benedict writes in Spe Salvi:

        “The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone, however good they are. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom. Even the best structures function only when the community is animated by convictions capable of motivating people to assent freely to the social order. Freedom requires conviction; conviction does not exist on its own, but must always be gained anew by the community. … In other words: good structures help, but of themselves they are not enough. Man can never be redeemed simply from outside. “

        December 11, 2009
      • “…good structures help, but of themselves they are not enough. Man can never be redeemed simply from outside. “

        Exactly.

        December 11, 2009
  12. Paul Johnston #

    …”We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”…

    From the delarations openning paragraph.

    December 11, 2009
    • Paul Johnston #

      Sorry, should read “declaration” and “opening”.

      December 11, 2009
    • Re; “Given the religious credentials of those involved I would be hard pressed to believe that their position would be much if any different than the one you hold.”

      I hope you’re right Paul or “pretty-face” 🙂 But a tree is known by its fruit, not what it says it is. As you can tell, it’s a bit of a raw nerve for me and while my post reads like a sweeping generalization that leans toward pessimism, I can tell you that it’s more of a frustrated response to what I’ve witnessed in 16 years of being exposed to Christian culture. I’m aware that there are many excellent groups of people who are not only speaking out, but investing themselves in people’s lives, working to get at the core of issues and offering real help. On the other hand- I’ve met and heard the voices of many passionate people who want to stand up for what is right, but won’t have anything to do with people outside their religious bubble. When I’ve asked the question; “Do you know any gay people?” the response is usually something like; “What does light have to do with darkness?” Or there’s just an uncomfortable silence, and I don’t get invited to the next pot-luck dinner  Some of the same people who rally against abortion have no problem sending people to kill and die for oil. The outcry for LIFE is missing there, why?
      So from within that camp (and I believe it’s a large one) ‘following Christ in the real world’ ends up looking like segregation. There is a more excellent way.

      December 11, 2009
      • Very well said, Deborah.

        December 11, 2009
      • Paul Johnston #

        Hey Deb, I share in your understanding. I think at one time or another everybody inside the “camp” has felt some kind of rejection or segragation, from within. I’m not always sure that fact, in of itself, is a bad thing.

        Maybe what makes people with a more traditional point of view seem so callous to others is our belief, through our understanding of Scripture and tradition, that the fullness of God’s love also speaks to ideas of discipline, correction, rebuke and punishment.

        The love, compassion, charity and service of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of the Father, is exemplar. It is most perfect; beyond improvement or reproach. To suggest otherwise is scandalous.

        And yet this is the same, Lord Jesus who, “winnows”. This is the same, Lord Jesus who describes part of his community as a “brood of vipers”. This is the same, Lord Jesus who, “brings a sword”; pitting family member against family member. This is the same, Lord Jesus who asks the uncomfortable question, “Who is is my Mother and my brothers?” This is the same, Lord Jesus who violently overturns tables in the temple. This is the same Lord Jesus who atones, because atonement matters.

        I dont know what the right balance is, truly it is the struggle of a lifetime, but personally I get suspicious of Christian interpretations and apologetic that ignore or downplay sin.

        Sin, to the best we are able, must be acknowledged, repented of and remedied.

        We are all guilty. We are all worth saving.

        I have a hard time understanding salvation apart from repentance. I have a hard time understanding repentance without some right expression of corrective discipline.

        I don’t know, maybe I am lacking in love, surely to some degree this is true. Still, I can’t completely divorce myself from the idea that some truthful expression of God’s love includes disciplines, that as a first response, are unpleasant and abhorent to the human person.

        December 14, 2009
      • No offense Paul, but I think you may have missed my point entirely. Nonetheless, I’ll try to respond but I’m not sure where to start. 🙂
        The segregation I was referring to was not within our camps, I was talking about ‘camps’ that practice segregation from ‘sinners’ (As though that were a ‘holy’ thing to do.)

        Regarding:” Maybe what makes people with a more traditional point of view seem so callous to others is our belief, through our understanding of Scripture and tradition, that the fullness of God’s love also speaks to ideas of discipline, correction, rebuke and punishment.”

        I don’t know where this fits into what I was saying, unless it’s leaning toward something like: “they made their bed, they can sleep in it” Not sure if that’s what you’re saying. But by now you probably know that if it is, we couldn’t disagree more 🙂

        Jesus was punished enough. The correction and discipline of God comes within our relationship with Him. He is a loving Father who corrects and disciplines, but don’t forget we were taught by Jesus to call Him Abba for a reason. Our ‘fear’ of God has become ‘awe’ and we have to relate to Him that way. It also must affect they way we see mankind.
        If it doesn’t, we have some growing up to do.

        Regarding: “This is the same, Lord Jesus who describes part of his community as a “brood of vipers”.

        He also told them that the devil was their father. They were not at all in ‘His community’. They didn’t like His message- For one thing, He was too easy on sin they thought-And, Jesus teachings made the Father ‘too approachable.’ They liked things the way they were and wanted to keep them that way. (Job security I think)They accused Jesus of all kinds of things, in part because He spent a lot of time with very sinful people– this is what I’m talking about.
        I believe that many of us have become modern day Pharisees who are saying the same things that have always been said, to the same people, for the same reasons. Pharisees lay heavy loads on people, and won’t lift a finger to help. This is what I’m talking about.

        December 14, 2009
  13. Michael’s comparison of the Manhattan Declaration to the Barmen Declaration is an interesting one that I think nicely illustrates one of Stackhouse’s central points, namely, that it’s not clear what the Manhattan Declaration is supposed to do. Barmen was a statement of resistance to a very concrete expression of grave evil and an attack against the tight relationship between political and church authority in Nazi Germany. The Barmen Declaration actually led to or ratified a new entity—the Confessing Church as a distinct entity to the state church (the Reichskirche). They in effect declared the government supported German church to be heretical. It was a declaration of who the real church of Christ was. As Michael notes above, the nature and role of the church is the primary concern of the Barmen declaration.

    There are no such parallels in the Manhattan Declaration. As Stackhouse notes, it serves mostly as a reminder that the same people representing the same groups are still opposed to the same issues that they have been opposed to for quite a while. Maybe some find that to be a useful thing that requires restatement. Maybe not. My own sense is that most people are already well aware of how conservatives (for lack of a better word) feel about these issues. They have never been a group short on words.

    December 11, 2009
    • Paul Johnston #

      Ryan, your support of Mr. Stackhouse’s contention confuses me? When did the commission of a written declaration become superflous? When didn’t the written commission of a declaration, speak to points of view already understood and established among it’s adherents? Is there no value in giving a perspective written coherence and detail? Is there no value in giving it “historicity”; a time, a place, a date. Is there no value in broadening a coaliton to include otherwise devided communities of Christians? Is there no value in looking to articulate areas of grave moral concern within the broader cultural and articulating ways and means by which we might deal with them?

      Speaking as a Roman Catholic, these discussions can only be helpful. Our community has an ancient history and relationship with health, welfare and education. The Catholic network of hospitals and schools is vast and worldwide. How are we to respond as Christian caregivers, if in the future, norms of culture are imposed upon our institutions, that attack the very core of our belief system? How are we to respond to the real potential of having to provide or accomdate abortion services under the secular banner of human rights and health services, that we as a community view to be “intrinsicly evil”.

      What do we do, Ryan?

      At the very least having a conversation, with as many allies as we have both within the churches and within culture at large, seems like a prudent thing to do.

      December 14, 2009
      • I obviously have no problem with conversations (between “allies” or “enemies”), nor do I have problem with people reasserting their position. I just don’t understand what it’s supposed to do. It seems like a fairly elaborate reminder, from my perspective. Might it be useful for some? Sure. I never disputed that. I just said that I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to do (again, I found the comparison to the Barmen Declaration useful here).

        (I also find it interesting that we have very few “declarations” from these groups about things like war, as Deborah alluded to, or consumerism, or social injustice or other societal evils.)

        December 14, 2009
      • “How are we to respond as Christian caregivers, if in the future, norms of culture are imposed upon our institutions, that attack the very core of our belief system? How are we to respond to the real potential of having to provide or accomdate abortion services under the secular banner of human rights and health services, that we as a community view to be “intrinsicly evil”.”

        How do we respond?-Don’t comply. No one can ‘make’ anyone give someone an abortion.
        No one can ‘make’ anyone marry a gay couple. People may lose their jobs.

        December 14, 2009
  14. Ken #

    As you know, the evangelical tradition in which John Stackhouse appears to be a participant is different from mine. I do not immediately recognize the issues over which the participants in this discussion are arguing nor did I understand the harshness of the exchanges at John’s blog. In addition, I had not heard of the Manhattan Declaration until I read about it in the comments here and then at John’s blog.

    In your posting, about John Stackhouse, you wrote: “he spoke about the need for epistemological humility and charity as Christians and about how doctrinaire certainty was not a prerequisite for honest faith (indeed, it may even be a hindrance!).

    I recall reading that among the ideological camps within evangelicalism some people see this need (like Stanley Grenz, for example,) and others believe the need is to uphold older evangelical concerns. It is related to some extent to the appropriate response to post-modernity. (I read this in the writings of one on the Grenz side, so it may be biased, and I would not know.) I wonder if the Manhattan Declaration is, among other things, part of the struggle between these camps. (That would mean that the various signers of the declaration, being Catholic and Protestant, might have different ecclesiastical concerns as well as common cultural concerns.) I do not recognize enough names among the signers to tell whether this is true or not. Is my impression of this struggle true?

    I have to say, from the outside, the fight appears ugly. It confirms my experience in churches – people are particularly mean to each other there. They see demonic things in each other and they let each other know what they see. The ugliness of the fight casts doubt on claims about transformation or sanctification. This is, of course, not unique to evangelicalism. The Presbytery in which I once served was as ugly as ugly can be. No saints there.

    December 11, 2009
    • I think your reading of the debate about the Manhattan Declaration is an accurate one, Ken, although I probably recognize only a handful more names than you do on the list. I think there are certainly camps within the evangelical world that see their role as essentially that of defenders/preservers of doctrine/positions on social issues, etc. Others (Grenz is a good example) do not share this approach. Some see postmodernity largely as an evil to be resisted; others see it as something to be welcomed and learned from.

      You’re right, the fight is an ugly one. It’s a fight that I suspect many (myself among them) are weary of reading about. It is a fight that polarizes, demonizes, and alienates. Like you, I see little of Jesus in the way his followers sometimes behave toward each other. Transformation can be a slow and painful process…

      December 12, 2009
      • Ken #

        In case you accept requests for book reviews, here is one.

        Re: Some see postmodernity largely as an evil to be resisted; others see it as something to be welcomed and learned from.

        When I read Grenz, in particular a book he wrote about postmodernism, my impression was (and still is) that he placed bounds on it, deliberately ignoring parts of it that would be fatal to his theology if accepted, that one does not find in writings of secular philosophers. I don’t think we can place bounds on it. It is too powerful.

        The postmodern realization of the power of language goes along with a full acceptance of Darwin’s cosmos, not with Christianity’s cosmos.

        Clayton like Grenz believes that Christianity can work this out. It is perhaps more ironic for him to take that position than it was for Grenz, for Clayton and his seminary advocate process theology which is at least to some extent an attempt to deal with implications of Darwin’s cosmos on theology.

        I spend so much time thinking and reading about nature and theology partly because I love both and also I think because that is where the struggle of theology with postmodernism takes place and matters most.

        I think Max Oelschlaeger, in The Idea of Wilderness, lays this out the best. He is a writer and scholar like Charles Taylor who deals with the evolution of thought. In spite of the word “wilderness” in the title, this book deals as Taylor does with who we are and where are we and how we got here. I wish you would review it.

        I don’t mean to say that Christianity cannot deal with postmodernism or postmodernity. How it will ultimately deal with it, I don’t know. I think it can only deal with it if it faces it fully. I think, but I am not sure, that what I mean by “facing it fully” is something like what you mean when you advocate “epistemological humility.”

        December 13, 2009
      • Re: “placing bounds” on postmodernity, I don’t think that folks like Grenz and others (of whatever religion) are just avoiding the inconvenient or nasty bits in order to shore up a shaky theology. One doesn’t have to accept every insight of postmodernity as the last word on every matter in order to be taking it seriously. Does postmodernity force us to be more cautious with how we use language and speak about “the truth?” Sure. Does that mean that there is no such thing as truth and that we are all just hopelessly drifting in a fog of nihilistic relativism? Not necessarily.

        The postmodern realization of the power of language goes along with a full acceptance of Darwin’s cosmos, not with Christianity’s cosmos.

        I don’t see the connection between the power of language and Darwin’s cosmos, nor do I think a recognition of the power of lanugage is incompatible with a Christian conception of the world.

        I think, but I am not sure, that what I mean by “facing it fully” is something like what you mean when you advocate “epistemological humility.”

        Yes, I think this is certainly part of it. From what I’ve read of Grenz, I would have no problem describing him in these terms. Perhaps I’m misreading you here, but in your understanding of postmodernity and how it constrains thought there seems to be a fine line between “facing it fully” and “embracing it.” What would it look like, in your view, to face postmodernity fully without making it the determinative factor in how you view the world?

        Re: the Max Oelschlaeger book, I will put it on my “to read” list :). Perhaps I will find the time to read it in the New Year.

        December 14, 2009
      • Ken #

        Re: “I don’t see the connection between the power of language and Darwin’s cosmos”

        The connection is that reality comes from language and language comes from evolution, biological evolution that works by natural selection. That is the postmodern linguistic insight. That is Darwin’s cosmos.

        Re: “What would it look like, in your view, to face postmodernity fully without making it the determinative factor in how you view the world?”

        Facing it fully means facing Darwin’s cosmos, as it is. I think what Grenz and other evangelicals have done is to try to create a theistic postmodernism, just like some have tried to create a theistic evolution. Neither is the real thing. Neither amounts to fully facing the implications of Darwin’s cosmos or the linguistic. Neither is plausible.

        Re: “without making it the determinative factor in how you view the world?”

        I think that is what evangelicalism, of the Grenz type, is trying to do. I just don’t think it succeeds. I don’t think that should be the aim of Christianity. We are where we are in time. The postmodern view is that nothing is timeless except change – Heraclites: we can only step into the river once. All we can do is simultaneously acknowledge that Parmenides is also right. All is one and eternal. No one can reconcile these views. We hold them both in spite of the contradiction.

        I think evangelicals like Grenz, just like the more conservative evangelicals that many in his party despise, try to subordinate Heraclites to Parmenides. The more conservative evangelicals essentially deny the truth of Heraclites. The Grenz party claims that they are postmodern followers of Parmenides in a way that does not contradict Heraclites. This is implausible and I believe it is ultimately unsustainable even within the party.

        December 14, 2009
      • James #

        Hi Ken
        I’m trying to follow the Darwin/language/post-modern track as well. Your introduction of Heraclites and Parmenides took me to the following-
        -Heraclites being the father of Stocism and
        -Parmenides being the father of Platonism
        Are you saying that post-modernism is more Stoic than Platonic and the Grenz and co are trying to reconcile the 2 but remain Platonic in their cosmology? Platonism is of course far more well known than Stoicism but this is a substantial distinction that is worth exploring.
        If I’m just adding confusion here- feel free to say so. There are some interesting implications and questions that follow if this is your view of things- of course if it isn’t . . . 🙂

        December 14, 2009
      • Ken #

        James, I had not thought the connection with stoicism before now. So your question is indeed very interesting to me and your observations are definitely adding clarity and not confusion.

        Re: “Are you saying that post-modernism is more Stoic than Platonic”

        I think that post-modernism, taken to mean as I generally do as the belief that reality comes from language and language comes from evolution, is not Platonic or Aristotelian. The belief we call evolution is not Platonic and the belief that words draw their meaning from other words rather than from things out there in the world or in heaven is not Platonic. In addition, I think that something like Stoicism, trying to love or just accept things as they are, nature as it is, is a common approach in our day to coping with the fears and disappointments of life. I think I hear that approach even in Darwin’s writings, e.g., he wrote in Origin something like “we ought to admire the instinctive maternal hatred of a queen bee for her fertile daughters.” (It was not easy for him either.) It is also present in many contemporary nature and ecological writings, although I hear other kinds of responses in those writings too.

        Re: “Grenz and co are trying to reconcile the 2 but remain Platonic in their cosmology?”

        I cannot really remember now if Grenz expressed any stoical ideas about how to deal with postmodern life. It would be interesting to see. What I remember is noticing that he kept a certain distance from postmodernism even while showing some openness towards it. I think many within evangelicalism and liberal protestantism drink a weakened brew of postmodernism, diluted or mixed with something like Platonism or at least the view that there is some absolute truth that we know, even in humility.

        I have also found it fascinating to observe how nature writers, most of whom probably fit the description “post-Christian,” deal with this. There is a great deal of effort being spent on trying to be spiritual while holding to a material worldview and trying to say that moral values flow from matter or energy through natural selection into language and from there into consciousness without saying that humanity is the crown of nature. It is not just evangelicals or Christians who are confounded by postmodernism.

        BTW, I am now reading another book from the ecological canon – The Dream of the Earth by Thomas Berry. I will watch for these themes in the book.

        December 14, 2009
      • Paul Johnston #

        I tend to think that your objection is more with the people who make the claim and the particulars of the declaration, (its focus on abortion and same sex marriage), then your objection to declarations, per se.

        I think you allude to that possibility in your last paragraph when you say,…”(I also find it interesting that we have very few “declarations” from these groups about things like war, as Deborah alluded to, or consumerism, or social injustice or other societal evils.)”

        Believe it or not, I’m not trying to pick a fight with you. I have too much respect for your writing on this blog and the sermons you offer your community church.

        I too would like to see a broadening of concerns within the “political expression” of Christian advocacy. I get it though, that for huge numbers of people the abortion situation in our world is seen as such a heinous offense to God’s creation and to the defenceless unborn that such concerns have a priority.

        Also I don’t think it entirely reasonable to dismiss the claims of groups, if we deem the cause to be worthy, simply because they do not advance the case of other worthy causes. Do we dismiss the envioronmentalist because his declarations don’t address poverty? Do we dismiss the social activist who makes poverty a priority and does not speak to the state of the envioronment?

        I get that the Christian by definition ought to have a commitment to a greater number of causes but I don’t think it fair to quickly dismiss the Manhattan Declaration, unless you are prepared to challenge the particulars of abortion and same sex marriage.

        Personally I would like to see a decoupling of the two issues. I think that abortion is far and away the more important concern. Arguements with regard to same sex marriage, it seems to me would be better framed in discussions that dealt with sexual sin and acknowledged that hetrosexual, sexual sin is equally immoral.

        I guess, from the traditionalist point of view there is suspicion, anger and deep regret with brethren who seem as quick as the secular culture at large, to attack, often times dismissively and with contempt, points of view we believe are righteous. Challenge us reasonably, morally, scripturally.

        Help us discern. Help us prioritize. Pray with us.

        I maybe reading too much into the Manhattan Declaration but I believe it is, in part, looking to create a broader consensus and reconcilliation among otherwise seperated Christian bretheren. A worthy goal indeed.

        December 14, 2009
      • Facing it fully means facing Darwin’s cosmos, as it is. I think what Grenz and other evangelicals have done is to try to create a theistic postmodernism, just like some have tried to create a theistic evolution. Neither is the real thing. Neither amounts to fully facing the implications of Darwin’s cosmos or the linguistic. Neither is plausible.

        Ken, It sounds to me like the only way that one could “face” the implications of Darwin’s cosmos, on your view, would be to become a nihilist. Is this a misreading of your position? It seems that you will look at anyone who has not adopted this position as somehow not facing reality as it “really is.” But postmodernity (to use an impossibly vague term) is not the end of the story. It is one (historically, culturally conditioned) worldview, among many. It is one way to “read” the world of nature and the world of human experience. As I read folks like Grenz, it just seems that they are applying a postmodern hermeneutic of skepticism to postmodernity itself—and from a Christian perspective. They are not convinced that those embracing one specific interpretation of a “Darwinian cosmos” alone see the world “as it really is.”

        December 15, 2009
      • Paul,

        I tend to think that your objection is more with the people who make the claim and the particulars of the declaration, (its focus on abortion and same sex marriage), then your objection to declarations, per se.

        Of course. While I wouldn’t use the word “objection” to describe my take on the MD, the fact that I am not opposed to declarations in general seems rather obvious, given that I expressed admiration for the Barmen Declaration.

        I have no objection to the people who drafted the MD, nor am I a proponent of same sex marriage or abortion. I’m not “dismissing” anyone’s claims because they don’t address other worthy ones. I’m not even “dismissing” the MD, I’m just wondering what it’s supposed to accomplish (I’m running out of ways to say this). I’m simply not attaching the significance to it that you seem to. Can we leave it at that?

        Believe it or not, I’m not trying to pick a fight with you. I have too much respect for your writing on this blog and the sermons you offer your community church.

        I’ll be honest, Paul, sometimes it is difficult to believe this. When your first (two!) responses to a post of a fairly personal and reflective nature launch into a fairly important figure in my life and the deficiencies you perceive in a post of his, it sure seems like you are looking for a fight. There may be a time and a place for the kind of comments you started this whole thread off on (Stackhouse’s blog, for example!), but this post seems like an odd one.

        December 15, 2009
      • Ken #

        Re: Ken, It sounds to me like the only way that one could “face” the implications of Darwin’s cosmos, on your view, would be to become a nihilist. Is this a misreading of your position?

        Actually, I don’t think of this as my view of the cosmos, but rather as the view that Nietzsche and Darwin described, the one they saw emerge in their century. I think both men resisted nihilism, as I do. I find it hard to resist their view of the cosmos. I find it compelling, even though it is unsettling, and even though it is not the only view that moves within my mind and heart.

        On the subject of nihilism I hope you can understand that I do not advocate it, embrace it or like it. I fight it.

        I agree with your reading of Grenz and with your reading of his aim and that of others on his path. I just don’t think his view is plausible. I wish it was. He and others are only trying to hold on to their faith. I am too. It is a worthy project.

        Many nature writers make similar accommodations.

        December 15, 2009
      • I understand the posture you take toward nihilism, Ken. I don’t see you as an advocate of nihilism at all—I see too much in what you write that speaks of beauty, hope, and meaning to see you as a nihilist. That’s why your contention that this or that party’s resistance of this or that feature of the postmodern landscape represent a failure to see the cosmos “as it really is” puzzles me. What would it look like to face the implications of the world post-Darwin (as you understand them) from a Christian perspective, in your view? Is it even possible? If the project of Grenz (and others) fails in your opinion, what would a successful one look like?

        I agree with your reading of Grenz and with your reading of his aim and that of others on his path. I just don’t think his view is plausible. I wish it was. He and others are only trying to hold on to their faith. I am too. It is a worthy project.

        I guess I see us as having more more options than this. I don’t think the only response to the world left for us is to grit our teeth and cling to whatever shards of Christianity happen to have survived the collision with postmodernity. This may or may not be a worthy project, but it doesn’t sound like one that animates Grenz (based on what I’ve read, at least). I get the sense that his is a confident, robust faith that is unafraid to look at the world as it is and still find resources for a hopeful and loving life from within the broad Christian tradition. That is what I have in some measure found and what I continue to aspire to as well.

        December 15, 2009
    • Ken #

      You asked, “what would a successful one look like?”

      And then later you wrote these words: “still find resources for a hopeful and loving life from within the broad Christian tradition.”

      Yes. That is what it looks like.

      December 15, 2009
  15. Travis #

    Regent sucks!

    December 12, 2009
  16. Travis #

    just kiddin’ but seriously love the blog and enjoyed “Making the Best of it” (although I haven’t read your review but I’m sure it’s good). Had the good fortune of discussing it with Johnny-boy just the other day…

    December 12, 2009
    • Thanks Travis—good to hear from you!

      December 13, 2009
  17. so tell me is any of this ‘discussion’ going to help bring any more clarity to my colleague struggling between the vestiges of her former religious upbringing and her disillusionment with ignorant religious zealots whose moral pretention has served cause deep disdain for anything that smack of religion?

    December 14, 2009
    • I don’t know. Do you think it should?

      December 14, 2009
      • I know that my question is somewhat of an abstraction but after reading the comments here I was drawn to wonder how dialogue like this might only serve to reinforce the negative views that so many formerly religious people have of religion. I wonder if discussions like this make religion either a confusingly abstract concept with little practical consequence OR reinforce the repulsive zealotry of the pretentiously righteous.

        December 14, 2009
  18. Paul Johnston #

    Hi Michael,

    It seems to me we are talking past one another, somewhat. As I reread our comments I think there is more that we agree on then we disagree about. I apologise for my contribution to the confusion.

    I understand your concerns. I share them. Unlike Mr. Stackhouse’s criticisms I think both yours and Deborah’s opinions are prudent and substantive.

    I thank you for the reminder of John Paul’s heroic efforts. His prevailing attitude of “moral suasion”. As essential as his activities were however, ultimately change was effected through external, political structures. Everything in right balance.

    I guess where there might be disagreement between us is in my reading the “First Things” document of 1994 and the Manhattan Declaration. I do not share the same sense of disparity as you seem to. I see the Manhattan declaration as something of a continuation. A “Second Things” sort of document, if you will.

    Ultimately all right moral/spiritual discernments require a temporal/external application. It is to this situation, I think, that the Manhattan declaration looks to address.

    December 14, 2009
    • Paul,

      Apology accepted.

      One last distinction, though: your comment “ultimately change was effected through external, political structures” suggests the view that political structures are more effective and more determinative than the people – the polity – themselves, whereas I see pushing for the “right” structures and legislation as secondary, much less fundamental than helping God create the people of God – the Church – from which any good “Christian” changes, if they are possible, will come. Creating and maintaining the illusion of a supposedly “Christian” society may win the battle but will ultimately lose the war. Helping embody Christ’s crucified Body in the Church, in all its weakness, is our more ultimate duty, as we are only pilgrims:

      “But the families which do not live by faith seek their peace in the earthly advantages of this life; while the families which live by faith look for those eternal blessings which are promised, and use as pilgrims such advantages of time and of earth as do not fascinate and divert them from God, but rather aid them to endure with greater ease, and to keep down the number of those burdens of the corruptible body which weigh upon the soul. Thus the things necessary for this mortal life are used by both kinds of men and families alike, but each has its own peculiar and widely different aim in using them. The earthly city, which does not live by faith, seeks an earthly peace, and the end it proposes, in the well-ordered concord of civic obedience and rule, is the combination of men’s wills to attain the things which are helpful to this life. The heavenly city, or rather the part of it which sojourns on earth and lives by faith, makes use of this peace only because it must, until this mortal condition which necessitates it shall pass away. … ” Augustine, City of God, Book 19, Chapter 17

      December 16, 2009
      • Then, and only then, we will be able to answer those who ask us “how do would you propose to care for all these unwanted babies” by saying “I don’t have a plan, a strategy, a structure. I have something much more powerful: a people committed to extending God’s hospitality as God has extended his to them – a people created by adoption and willing to adopt.”

        Now that’s a witness that creates change, alongside which all our petitions and political campaigns are laughably pathetic pretenses.

        December 16, 2009
      • Paul Johnston #

        Michael, thanks.

        I think are differences are more linguistic, how we say what we say, then of substance. I sometimes use words carelessly and overstate my case.

        I completely agree with the statement, “I see pushing for the “right” structures and legislation as secondary,”…

        If I hear you correctly, I hear you to say that perfect justice is the work of God in the hearts of those who respond to his love. If this is so, I agree also.

        I guess what I’m saying, and I’m not sure that you are disagreeing, is that this sense of perfect justice can have “political” expression. But in the truer Christian sense; a political expression that is in fact missional.

        December 17, 2009
  19. Paul Johnston #

    Hey Deborah,

    Maybe we are both missing each others point, a little. 🙂

    Sin segragates. Left unremedied to the point of eternal damnation. I think that there is a place for rebuke and censure. I think that a part of what love is, calls for rebuke and censure.

    I think that if we are to serve the truth, if we are to be honourable and accountable, if we are to truly repent, sometimes we are well served by sleeping in the beds we make. Speaking from sad experience, I have been well served in this way. I know many men who would also make the same sort of claim.

    December 14, 2009
    • We, the Church are not to segregate ourselves from the unsaved…period. When we do, we’re saying Jesus was wrong to walk amoung us.
      He walked among us. If He hadn’t, you would not be saved Paul… we walk among people who don’t know God because we know what He has done for us, and we want the same for others. So we share it, not only with words, but like Jesus, we invest ourselves in the lives of others.
      It’s painfully simple. And it’s what Jesus said to do.

      December 14, 2009
      • Paul Johnston #

        On this point I think we fully agree. Though our ways and means would likely be different. To the point I think that what I might see as corrective and neccessary you might view as hostile and unloving. Conversely what you might view as right and loving with regard to a particular circumstance, I might find weak and exploitable.

        I don’t mean to say that that there is no fault or risk with my perspective, Deborah. It is a fine line between a loving, corrective discipline and unloving abuse. The sin potentials are enormous. You are right to challenge me as you do.

        Deborah, with regard to your opening statement…”we the church are not to segregate”…do you not at least agree that our decisions to remain in sin, knowingly,without regret, much less an effort to repent, segregates us from the church; distances us from grace and salvation.

        Seen in this light, the church doesn’t segregate, the sinner does.

        December 15, 2009
      • ”…do you not at least agree that our decisions to remain in sin, knowingly,without regret, much less an effort to repent, segregates us from the church; distances us from grace and salvation.

        Seen in this light, the church doesn’t segregate, the sinner does.”

        Well, our understanding of how salvation comes to us may differ. Something has to happen first before we can say yes to God. It’s not an intellectual exercise, it’s supernatural. We didn’t love God first, He loved us first. People can know that Christians see their behavior as sin, but the inner conviction comes from God. An effort to repent can’t be expected from someone who hasn’t been freed of the veil that has blinded their eyes. Words don’t do that; the Spirit of God does that, His way and in His time. We don’t cause people to see a need for God by telling them they need to repent.
        God speaks to the heart, He may use our mouths to deliver the message, but the revelation comes from God.
        The church does segregate sometimes, because we forget what it was like to be lost, to be blind to the love of God and deaf to His voice. I think we can become convinced somehow that WE saved ourselves by repenting. Our eyes are opened; we make a decision, in that order. Holding people at arms length because they don’t know God yet, is ridiculous. Jesus didn’t do it, so why would we?

        December 15, 2009
      • PS Question: Did Jesus stay away from ‘sinners’ yes or no?
        Who’s example are we to follow, Christ’s, or the church?
        God? or Man?

        December 15, 2009
      • Mike C #

        Deborah:

        Amen and amen and amen!

        December 15, 2009
  20. Paul Johnston #

    Well me, you and the Manhattan declaration agree with regard to non compliance, Deb. I’d like to think though that a broad based discussion as to what such acts of civil disobedience could and should look like would be helpful. Give courage to the movement and inspire a sense of fraternity, unity and purpose.

    Man, I’m liking this declaration, more and more.

    December 14, 2009
    • I think it looks like sacrifice:)

      December 14, 2009
      • Paul Johnston #

        Yes, I think in a very real way, we the (North American)churches have lost our sense of sacrifice. We don’t seem willing to suffer much for justice sake.

        December 15, 2009
  21. Paul Johnston #

    OK Mdaele, I’ll bite. Me and you, MMA verbal octagon. 🙂

    So do you consider me to be confusingly abstract or a repulsive zealot? Personally I think it’s a “no brainer”, but I’m curious.

    December 15, 2009
    • Paul,
      What I consider you to be is largely irrelevant. It is to those who have been turned off of religion (real people) that your question ought to be asked. A recent conversation I had elicited a comment that went something like this…
      “Why is it that people who call themselves Christians are either obnoxious and hypocritical or boring and out of touch with reality?”
      I am a firm believer that critical thinking and discussion ought to precede action but there was part of me that has found the above conversation somewhat empty of praxis. My suspicion is that it is far more interesting to talk about these issues than to put our ‘beliefs’ into practice.
      Does it make sense that we should live with the tension of putting our ideas into practice? Does it make sense that we ought to humbly reliquish our claim over truth in favor of a faith that meets people at the level of their own personal mess? Does it make sense the sum of our lives ought to be measured in the grace we gave not the knowledge we claimed? To me that is making more and more sense.
      I suppose I would concur with the professors idea that doctrinal certainty is largely a hindrance to the exercise of faith.
      So Paul regardless of what you may assume my judgement to be over you (as meanigless as that actually is) – I challenge you to give evidence of how this conversation will affect the faith you live our tomorrow…

      December 15, 2009
      • Paul Johnston #

        Yowser! Sauron, I’m feeling the love. 🙂

        …”A recent conversation I had elicited a comment that went something like this…
        “Why is it that people who call themselves Christians are either obnoxious and hypocritical or boring and out of touch with reality?”…

        Mostly what is wrong here, is the question itself. It ought to have been challenged. If feeding, clothing, housing, educating, providing health care and a vast array of community and social service is obnoxious, hypocritical, boring or out of touch with reality, we stand guilty as charged. If not, the person posing the question needs to rethink their position.

        Does the questioner, exclude himelf or herself from ever having been obnoxious, hypocritical, boring or irrelevant? Can they point to a specific Christian dogma that asserts otherwise of us?

        With regard to the aforementioned charities, does the questioner feel they have better represented these endevours than have the Christian churches?

        Sometimes you have to ask uncomfortable questions…

        … “I challenge you to give evidence of how this conversation will affect the faith you live our tomorrow”…

        Tougher question to answer. At the least, I hope that discussions of faith in general, offer better potentials than conversations about many other matters. I hope that they help me engage with important concerns from perspectives I wouldn’t have otherwise considered and in so doing give me a better grasp of what a right expression of lived out faith could look like.

        Hard for me to explain but although I am generally the contrarian in most of these discussions, I do find myself being positively influenced by thoughts and ideas that I purport to disagree with. Go figure.

        Ryan has challenged me, at great length and at no small amount of frustration to him, to be more reasonable both substantively with regard to content and in tone and temper. The fruits may not be evident to Ryan or other participants here, but I see them and I hope for more improvement.

        Ken gives me a sense of the awe, the beauty and the vulnerability,the lightness of being, from a male perspective that I hadn’t ever really considered, much less accepted. My spirit has literally rejoiced over some of our dialogues and I will always be grateful.

        Deb, lovingly reminds me not to be such a dickwad. To show more compassion. To physically and emotionally share in the suffering of others if I really want to make a useful difference.

        As for you, Mdaele, meh! Not so much going on here. Then again there is always tomorrow. 🙂

        December 16, 2009
  22. Paul Johnston #

    Hey Ryan,

    I was trying to “pick a fight”, just not with you. Point taken with regard to where that should have been done.

    December 16, 2009
  23. Paul Johnston #

    Hey Deb,

    I pretty much agree with most of your last comment.

    What I’m trying to say is that it is our action, through sin, that condemns and segregates us. Not Jesus, not His Church.

    I am not suggesting that the Church should hold people at “arms length”. Rather I am suggesting that people hold the Church at “arms length”.

    My point doesn’t seem to be terribly intellectual to me. If you want things to get better, take responsibility for your share in the wrong, ask God for forgiveness; right discernment and the courage to do your part in His will for the better outcomes, and in all things, good or bad, give thanks.

    We agree that love is essential, perhaps we disagree over what the fullness of love entails. I think a call to repentance is essential to the Christian message. I would wholly agree that the way in which we “call” is crucial. Sometimes our call is for the better. Sadly, sometimes our call is for the worse.

    Relationship, as I hear you allude, through the person of Christ, is essential. Jesus invested His time and energies in relationships. In so doing His influence was made greater. We are called to do likewise.

    Still, when Jesus heals he speaks of sins being forgiven. When Jesus forgives he reminds us to sin no more. The “fall” of mankind is precipitated through sin. It’s recovery will require our participation. It requires us to humbly accept our intrinsicly sinful natures and accept the salvic grace of our Lord Jesus Christ as the only true remedy.

    December 16, 2009

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