Google+ February 2007 Commentaries - White Horse Inn

February 25, 2007 Commentary:
"The Question of Tolerance"

Religion breeds intolerance - at least that seems to be the assumption of many people today, not only secularists but, increasingly, believers as well. One way around the scandal of intolerance is to move Christianity "indoors." Instead of a public truth claim calling for universal recognition, the gospel is made an issue of private choice. Instead of being public, it's about me and my personal relationship with God, what I find helpful or fulfilling or interesting. No longer requiring repentance, baptism, creeds, and belonging to the church, privatized faith is spiritual, not religious.

This isn't some new postmodern idea, though. The Enlightenment philosophers were fond of saying that all religions are basically the same when it comes to what really matters - that is, love and good deeds. Immanuel Kant, in fact, sharply distinguished between "pure religion," which is basically morality, and "ecclesiastical (or church) faith," which is basically Christianity. Inward piety and spiritual experience were in while external creeds and formal rituals like preaching and sacrament were out (sounds a lot like church today, only now they call it postmodern). So when we hear professing believers today saying things like, "I'm spiritual but not religious" or "Being a Christian is about a personal relationship, not joining a church," they aren't saying anything we haven't heard for about three centuries or so now.

There are good reasons why people would want religion to be restricted to private feelings. After all, when the church makes public claims it's often tangled up in social and political pronouncements and programs to force the culture to mimic a supposedly Christian civilization. We wouldn't want a power-hungry church to stay on its own reservation.

But however we've messed things up as a church, the point remains: Christianity stands or falls as a public claim to truth. Since it prosecutes this claim by the Word rather than the sword, Christianity (at least true Christianity) is the most tolerant religion on earth today. No one will be put in jail for denying Christ. Yet, since its claim is public, and universal, it's also the most intolerant religion in the sense that it identifies other saviors and other lords as idols. As Paul announced on the first-century equivalent of the Oprah Winfrey Show, God will judge the world and has given proof of this by raising Jesus from the dead and he now calls everyone everywhere to repent. There is no other name in heaven or earth by which people can be saved.

In this program, we'll tackle head on the issue of tolerance.

Click here for related information to the February 25 broadcast.

February 18, 2007 Commentary:
"The Emergent Church"

It's been hailed as a new Reformation and lamented as the end of traditional Christianity as we know it. The so-called Emergent Church Movement, a loose confederation of various evangelical, or - as some prefer to be called, post-evangelical groups that seem quite captivated by the prospect of moving beyond modernity by being post-modern. Where does this movement come from? Who are its leading representatives and what are its major trends, convictions, and commitments? Is it just another fad for yet another self-obsessed generation in love with its own demographic profile, or is it an important move? A major catalyst for this movement, targeting the church's next generation is Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian which challenged a church that McLaren believes is thoroughly captive to the habits, stories, and foundations of the modern era arising out of the Enlightenment.

A spade of similar arguments has been produced by McLaren, and now there's a somewhat loose coalition of younger pastors and youth leaders who advocate a new kind of Christianity that involves: 1) A heavy emphasis on community in contrast to modern individualism, 2) Diversity, in contrast to party lines, 3) Practice over doctrine, 4) An eclectic borrowing from various ancient sources in contrast to the post-Enlightenment attack on tradition, and 5) An emphasis on faith as a personal and communal commitment over against seeing faith as dependent on rational arguments and foundations that can be readily intelligible to outsiders.

Emergent movement leaders will tell you that the gospel is chiefly about redeeming society, culture - indeed, the world - and this happens not via the communication and defense of ultimate truth claims, so much as being attracted and belonging to a loving community of people who follow Jesus. At the end of the day, it's a movement that acknowledges (as few movements do) its own ironies, tensions, and contradictions. That's in its favor. That will help them point some of those contradictions out. But even as we do, we share many of its criticisms and concerns: reconnecting the individual to the community, personal salvation to the redemption of creation, its call to take seriously the practical claims of discipleship, and the rejection of a so-called neutral reason that has its own naturalistic agenda without acknowledging it. I hope this opens up an opportunity for us all to be challenged in our own ways.

Click here for related information to the February 18 broadcast.

February 11, 2007 Commentary:
"Postmodernism: Friend or Foe?"

In this program, we're going to be taking a look at "Postmodernism: Friend or Foe?" By now everybody knows that we live in a postmodern era. That fact has kept the publishers, journalists, and preachers busy, either in celebration or condemnation. But the more you actually read about the subject, the more obvious it becomes that nobody really knows what postmodernism actually is. Blanket endorsements or jeremiads say more about the superficiality of one's analysis than they do about postmodernism itself. Nearly everybody would recognize that postmodernism represents a reaction against some of the central tenets of the modern era rooted in the Enlightenment. So far, what would a Christian see wrong with that? After all, the Enlightenment gave us deism, skepticism, rationalism, and eventually atheism. Pretending to be like God, knowing good and evil, modern rationalism and idealism gave us the most savage totalitarian regimes in history. Building their towers to the heavens, they ended up creating hell on earth who can fail to celebrate the judgment on Babel.

At the same time, postmodern criticism often shows itself to be as much a part of the problem as the solution. Like modernity, it starts with the self rather than with God. In fact, in many ways postmodernism is as much the consummation of the modern quest for independence from God as it is a protest against modernity's idols.

Since learned tomes can't seem to agree on any single definition of postmodernism, we can hardly provide one in this program, but we can at least touch on some of the issues that make this a critical question for the church's faith and practice today, especially with respect to the question of truth.

Click here for related information to the February 11 broadcast.

February 4, 2007 Commentary:
"Narcissism Gone Wild"

The Harvard philosopher William James once said that in American religion, God isn't worshiped, he is used. James should've known, since he was father of America's home-grown philosophical school known as pragmatism. We can't be sure which religion will work in the long run, he said, and so we have to offer whatever gives us, in his words, "the greatest cash value in experiential terms." This is a classic example of a narcissist approach to the question of truth. Do you remember the myth of Narcissus, the handsome youth who couldn't keep from looking at his own reflection in the water? Our culture is devoted to the idolatry of self. Even in the church, the Christian faith isn't proclaimed so much as an announcement of something that God has accomplished for us (but outside of us in history), as much as it is a product that can make us happier, healthier, and maybe even a little wealthier. If God works for me, I'll stick with it. If he gets in the way, I'll try something else that's a little more helpful.

Now, of course this situation isn't entirely new, although we have a lot more money and gadgets to feed the beast. In Hosea, God brings his lawsuit against Israel: "My people," he says, "are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Truth lays slain in the streets." The American Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "Truth is homeless in our world. We suffocate for lack of honesty. As a result, man dies even while he remains alive. Though idle he remains convinced of his achievements. Even as he lies dying he persuades himself that he is alive." We'll be continuing our theme, "A Time for Truth," in this broadcast as we take up in this program the theme of "Narcissism Gone Wild," the war between truth and self-worship.

Click here for related information to the February 4 broadcast.

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