Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll, and Gender Roles

 

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If you are a student of theology searching through sources that are immediately obvious (Mars Hill Church’s web page) and easily attainable (the publications of Pastor Mark Driscoll) concerning the theology of Mars Hill Church, you will find nothing surprising, nothing indecent, nothing “out of the ordinary.”  This was, frankly, a little bit surprising, indecent, and unexpected to me.  You see, much of my experience with Mars Hill Church, and Mark Driscoll by way of extension, is through those that attend services at a Mars Hill campus or through those that listen to Mark’s sermons.  Without fail (no, really) these conversations always lead to a discussion regarding Mark’s theology on gender roles; particularly gender roles and how they are played out in the church and home.  Now, admittedly, many of my more recent conversations have been driven by my own morbid curiosity concerning these issues.  As such, I am the one that brings up the gender role “issue.”  However, my most recent encounter with this theology comes via a concerned friend attending a Mars Hill Church.

I know I am late to this party.  Bloggers have been bashing and defending Mark for years.  The reason I enter the fray now is in order to faithfully walk with a friend in need.  Consequently, though I am late, I wonder if two or three years after the brouhaha I am not seeing the practical incarnation of Mark’s theology in the lives of his parishioners.  Still, it bears telling that after reading everything I could get my hands on for free and after watching what seemed like pertinent sermon archives on YouTube, I am mostly annoyed over how little I am actually annoyed by Mark’s writing and preaching when it comes to matters of orthodox theology.  Sure, his tone is brash, his words are poorly chosen at times, and he mostly lacks theological finesse; but which of these things could not also be said of me?  The lion’s share of his doctrinal writing is done in the style and quality of most reformed theology.  So, after adjusting for things that I would personally not like to be nitpicked on, I am not left with a lot to attack.

Then there is the ministry niche he is filling.  Mark has made his mark in the church market by bringing in the elusive 20-35 male crowd.  He has published quite a bit of material directed toward discipling Christian men on how to be good husbands and fathers.  How did he do it?  Well, here is where most people have been fighting.  Dr. Richard Beck of ACU has a very evenhanded approach to understanding the practical/pastoral theology of Mark Driscoll and why it makes waves in the broader Christian community.  In short, Mark’s advocates claim that he has given men permission to be real men, and Mark’s detractors claim that he has created a haven for misogynists and their sympathizers.  Dr. Beck’s blog (here and at the end of this post) answers with an eloquent “yes” on both counts. 

Mark should be applauded for an attempt to bring genuine masculinity into an environment whose controlling narrative is fundamentally feminine and feminizing.  Conversely, Mark’s teaching is not always accurate in depicting genuine masculinity.  Instead, much of what Mark props up as complimentarian gender distinction finds its locus in misogyny.  To borrow Dr. Beck’s words,

“I think this is because there is a great deal of confusion about what we mean by “masculine.” In psychology, the word “masculinity”, due to its gender overtones, has been largely replaced by the term “agency.” Agency/masculinity is associated with motives for control, power, independence, and dominance. These are, stereotypically, “masculine” traits, but women can be highly agentic as well. If agency means power, control, and dominance then it seems clear that “masculine” traits will struggle to find a place in the Christian ethic. This was precisely Nietzsche’s concern about Christianity: Christianity preaches a passive “slave ethic.”” 

Consequently, Mark is an “agentic” guy and he interprets his “agency” as genuine masculinity.  So, what is the best way for Christian men to be genuinely masculine in the Christian sense?  If you read Mark’s publications the answer is for men to exert control, power, independence, and dominance over their wives and children.  Hmm, that sounds familiar.  Where have we heard it before?

One more quote from Dr. Beck is helpful I think:

“I’ve {Dr. Beck} argued in Thought #1 and #2 that Driscoll should not be so easily dismissed. The question he’s raising–Why are males not more attracted to church?–is worth asking. And one of his diagnoses on this issue–Church leaders are chickified–has some merit to it.

But the dark side of Driscoll’s ministry is its chauvinism and misogyny. And this criticism is also valid for certain impulses one finds in the Christian men’s movements. Specifically, the assertion of masculinity implies a suppression of women and a restoration of male power over women. To be a “Christian man” means “reclaiming” and “taking back” leadership roles in both the family and the church. Men use spiritual warrant to assert power over women.”

The danger is when Mark uses biblical exegesis in that very “evangelical argumentum ad baculum” way to proof text gender roles that he superimposes on biblical texts.  Why is this problematic?  It is problematic, because this theology has created a normative expression of gender in the Mars Hill Community that cannot be contradicted, because of an appeal to Scriptural authority.  If one does not meet the expectations of those normative gender roles, then one is looked down upon for not submitting to God.  In short, if you are a member of Mars Hill Church and want to participate as a leader (even at the lowest rung) in discipleship or fellowship, then you cannot deviate from the established gender roles.  If you want to lead a small group and you are a man, then you had better be fulfilling Mark’s vision of genuine masculinity – read dominant, controlling, and powerful.  If you want your family to belong and you are a woman, then you had better be fulfilling Mark’s vision of genuine femininity – read submissive, controlled, and weak.  So, what happens if it makes better sense for a family if the mother works and the father stays home to raise the children?  You come up for “review” with the leadership of the church, that’s what.  A man who will stay home with his children while his wife works comes under the same kind of scrutiny as a man who is cheating on his wife.  It becomes a question of whether said man is “fit to lead.”  This is justified, because, apparently, Mark’s Bible says so.

Exegetically, Mark takes too many liberties in 1) giving narrow definitions for terms that are either contextually or culturally bound in the text, and in 2) insisting that such notions be applied to the lives of Christians as if they were the actual theological principles found in the texts, and in 3) using wisdom literature as prescriptive rather than descriptive.

For an instance of #1 and #2, in this broadcast posted on YouTube, you can see the basic hermeneutical approach utilized by Mark and his wife.  They use 1 Timothy 5:8 which says, “but a man that will not provide for his own and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” as an injunction against both a father that would stay home and take care of his family in order for his wife to work, and as an injunction against a father that allows his wife to work outside of the home – at all.  Mark even goes as far as to acknowledge that some have complained that he takes the Bible out of its cultural context, but does nothing to answer the criticism. 

As far as 1 Timothy 5 is concerned, a larger issue than even the cultural expression of gender role is the fact that Paul is clearly not talking about “every man.”  Paul is giving instruction to widows, their families, and their churches.  Paul tells them that some of them are merely husbandless, and some of them are “true widows.”  Those women who find themselves husbandless are to return to their parents.  In which case, Paul explains that the parents of husbandless women that will not care for her have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever.  Apparently, Timothy’s church was full of rich, heartless bastards that wouldn’t even take care of their widowed daughters, because it was easy to let the church community do it instead.  This comes from only a simple reading of the whole text of Timothy. No fancy Greek translation, no obscure historical-cultural background.  Mark Driscoll is superimposing what he wants the text to say onto a text that seems to fit the bill.  I think we call that proof texting?  In fact, if anyone would take the time to read it, I surmise that I could easily dismiss most of his readings in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Peter 3, and Titus 2 on the basis of the same kind of sloppy hermeneutics.

For an instance of #3, in Pastor Dad he states that Proverbs 19:13 proves that the sorry state of modern families is due to the fact that women have undermined the authority of the husbands by “chirping” at them constantly and turning their children into ruinous fools by proxy.  The verse says, “A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.”  I’m sure it is obvious to everyone how he came to those conclusions?  Interestingly, this kind of exegesis is damaging to the actual principle at hand.  Why can we not just appreciate the wisdom of Scripture in identifying the importance of harmony in the home?  Why does this verse prove gender roles?  Go ahead; replace any of the characters in the verse with another member of the family.  For instance, what if son and father is replaced with daughter and mother – what if a wife’s quarreling is replaced with a husband’s quarreling?  Does it change the theological principle?  No.  Does it change the verse’s utility as a proof text for gender roles?  Uh-oh.  Furthermore, and perhaps more problematic, why does Mark have to rely on Scripture’s wisdom literature in such a prescriptive manner for so much of his theological stance on gender roles? 

What is ultimately the case, in my experience, is that only people who have the luxury of indulging their personal biases and living out their “ideal self” are ever so pedantic about moralizing issues like gender role.  Sure, there are lots of chauvinist men out there that would have their wives in their proper place – the home; but how many of them earn Mark’s salary?   Sure, there are lots of misogynists out there that think women are gullible and weaker than men, but how many of them are as charismatic as Mark?  Mark has the ability to get away with this moralizing, because he is a successful mega-church pastor (and has been since a young age) and is untouched by the realities faced by young professionals, single parents and low-income families alike.  This is, of course, a practical explanation of what ultimately originates from a need in the theological framework of most “conservative evangelical” narratives.  Meaning this: sure Mark is reaching a historically hard to reach demographic, but he is reinforcing a historically negative social hierarchy based in gender bias.  This negative bias is at the root of many patriarchal worldviews, and is defensible from arguments that rely on perspectives that in turn rely on traditionally fundamentalist understandings of Scriptural authority.  What’s the cost?  Real people, in real modern families, are once again begin taught to objectify women by men of the cloth.  Kyrie Eleison.

Some of the interesting material I used preparing for the post

http://theresurgence.com/files/2011/03/02/relit_ebook_pastordad.pdf

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WPVxndUcHQ

http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2009/02/thoughts-on-mark-driscoll-while-im.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11punk-t.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.cbmw.org/images/onlinebooks/rbmw.pdf

http://www.dennyburk.com/mark-driscoll-on-women-in-ministry-2/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-goldstein/whos-to-blame-for-pastor-_b_33279.html

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If Only Ergun Had Theophiliacs To Read As A Young Evangelical

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The following is an excerpt from an article I posted complete with footnotes (read said article here) about Christian Apologetic efforts and Islam, characterizing the demonizing tone that some Evangelicals take against Islam.

Problematically, some Christian polemicists have abandoned addressing these fundamental claims, and they have resorted to unhelpful tactics. By way of example, Richard Cimino argues that Evangelical Christians, in particular, have pushed rhetoric about Islam to a polemically fevered pitch as a kind of nationalistic, fear mongering response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This ought to be received as a stinging criticism that is indicative of a willingness to focus on what are seen as devious practices within Islamic culture by Christians instead of making lucid arguments against their foundational claims.[14] According to Cimino, this is problematic because much of the positive, global-apologetic toward Muslims argued by polemicists like Ergun Caner centers on a characterization of Islam as dangerous, militant, and cultic.[15] However, this should all be tempered by Thomas Kidd’s research, which demonstrates plainly that such anti-Islamic polemics as Cimino describes were being leveled against Muslims by “Anglo-Americans” as early as 1697.[16]

So, while there is definitely an attempt to demonize the Islamic weltanschauung on the basis of mischaracterization, while there have been periods of interfaith dialogue initiated by Christians and spoiled by terrorists, and while there are clear examples of current Evangelical scholars focusing their apologetic efforts on ancillary issues within Islam, such behavior in no way belongs exclusively to the modern Evangelical movement. That particular characterization by Cimino is unwarranted. Nonetheless, Christian apologists should avoid being trapped by polemics preoccupied by what amount to “straw men” parading around as reductio ad absurdum arguments. There is sufficient dispute to be had with the foundational presuppositions of Islam to diminish the expediency of such distractions.

Richard Cimino, “‘No God in Common:’ American Evangelical Discourse on Islam after 9/11,” Review of Religious Research 47, no. 2 (December 2005): 162-74. Perhaps more immediately troublesome for students of Liberty Theological Seminary is the fact that Cimino singles out Ergun Caner’s Unveiling Islam as a polemic set out not only to demonize Islam, but also to “dispel the position of Geisler and Saleeb that Allah is the same God (Jehovah) that Christians and Jews worship.” See Cimino, “‘No God in Common,’” 166. Interestingly, Caner has included Geisler as a contributor in his Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. While Caner must certainly be given the berth to respectfully disagree with even those he includes in his edited works, all of the articles concerning Islam in the Popular Encyclopedia are authored by Caner. It may all prove coincidental, but such a situation only helps to strengthen Cimino’s critique.

Ibid.

Thomas S. Kidd, “‘Is It Worse to Follow Mahomet than the Devil?’ Early American Uses of Islam,” Church History 72, no. 4 (December 2003): 773.

Now, here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article (read the full article here), explaining that Liberty University has removed Ergun Caner from his position as Dean of the Seminary following an internal investigation, because he has lied about his history with and expertise on Islam.

The biography of Caner, 43, has become shrouded in doubt after apparent exaggerations were brought to light by an unusual alliance of Muslim and Christian bloggers. They have pored through his sermons, books, speeches and court documents, finding contradictions in his narrative. His expertise on Islam and his claim to having been raised as a radical Sunni Muslim in Turkey have been questioned.

Wednesday is Caner’s last day as dean; Liberty announced he was being removed because of “factual statements that are self-contradictory.” Although he will no longer be dean, Caner will continue as a professor. Critics say the school’s explanation falls short.

“They haven’t come clean and explained what exactly they investigated and found,” said James White, director of Alpha and Omega Ministries in Phoenix, who dug into Caner’s past. “One can only offer forgiveness if there’s repentance, and they’ve basically said nothing with their statement.”

Frankly, Caner is lucky they aren’t firing him.  How many stories about people who were fired for unscrupulous statements made on resumes are out there?  What is rule numero uno about filling out applications in this job market?  How many Evangelical universities are currently being taken to task over their questionable practices and faculty  choices?  Oh well, I guess the adage rings true once again, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

I would also like (humbly, of course) to point out that in spite of my burning desire to rake Caner over the coals, yours truly remained “above board” as my status as a Liberty student prevented me from doing so.  I made it part of my identity to dole out vigilante style justice on Caner’s brand of BS in the classroom a la the Boondock Saints during my other two degree programs.  Take a look at my CV and see which of my degrees I finished “with honors.”  :0)  So, time teaches wisdom – but,  I would still love to have a slew of posts to which I could direct your attention,  exposing Caner for all of this.  In the end, I guess I can just harumph around knowing that it is still a bigger deal to most people out there that 1) our Primate “is a chick” and 2) that God will condemn us for marrying and ordaining fags than it is that many prominent Evangelical leaders are falling off their pedestals in the most painfully ironic ways possible.

Harumph!

Glenn Beck, Jim Wallis, and Social Justice

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I was listening to the radio this morning.  I was happy, I was sipping my coffee, and I was looking forward to a leisurely day.  Then Jim Wallis came on the radio to discuss the latest antics of our national “village idiot,” Glenn Beck.  apparently, Glenn Beck has taken it upon himself to out all of those heretical Christians that are perverting the Gospel with messages of social justice.  In what has apparently become a personal vendetta against Jim Wallis and ministries like Sojourners,

“Glenn Beck recently told his listeners to leave any church that teaches social justice, and to report its pastor to church authorities.”

Clearly what the church needs is more of Beck’s feel good, watered down, Christmas sweater wearing, capitalism in a “Christian wrapper” spirituality.  My morning is shot.  I spat my coffee at the radio in disgust, leisure as been replaced with indignation at Beck’s blatant and rampant misuse of the Evangelical right, and I am now irritated at how obnoxiously misdirected Beck really is (for the record, he may have overshot his religious base on this one – I know quite a few conservative Evangelicals that hold Wallis in high esteem).

Here is how Wallis suggests we respond to Beck.  He wants you to go to his site and mail a personal message to Beck outing yourself.  It reads:

Dear Mr. Beck,

I’m a Christian who believes in the biblical call to social justice.

I stand in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and the teachings of Jesus that demonstrate God’s will for justice in every aspect of our individual, social, and economic lives.

I hereby “report” myself to you, and promise to report myself to the appropriate church authorities. I hope you’ll be hearing from them as well.

I usually don’t get fired up about pundits, especially not provocateurs like Beck.  Nonetheless, the man is a disease infiltrating the Christian “right.”  I have signed the petition, and so should you.  Sign It, Sign It Now! (please)  :0)

Take action against Glenn  Beck

A Brief Sketch of Some Current Trends in Christian Apologetics to Muslims

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Identifying the single representative weltanschauung for Islam ultimately proves to be difficult. There must certainly be some unifying presupposition (s) to which all Muslims adhere; but the parsing of perfunctory elements, no matter how salient they seem, from indispensable elements of Islamic orthodoxy will demand a narrowing of the scope of current apologetic efforts. As such, there is a general trend within Christian apologetics to try and reduce such perfunctory elements to absurdity. Unfortunately, an apologetic aimed at dispelling the errata of Islam’s obligatory customs proves unhelpful, either positively or negatively, in providing Christians with a tenable response to the fundamental claims of Islam.[1] Those fundamental claims, then, must be clearly articulated, fairly appraised, and systematically refuted where necessary.[2] Islam’s fundamental theological claims, and consequently the loci for Islam’s weltanschauung, all originate from the Five Pillars of Islam.[3]

The first pillar, the Great Confession or “Shahada” declares that, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”[4] According to Braswell, this assertion of monotheism and belief in Muhammad as the final prophet of Allah entails necessarily ancillary doctrines of angels, sacred texts (of which the Qur’an is the preeminent), judgment and an afterlife; it is the “basis of the belief system.”[5] Tim Winter provides important insight into the Islamic understanding of the Shahada and subsequent Islamic theology explaining that theology can only be recognized as Islamic, “to the extent that it may be traced back in some way to the prophet Muhammad and his distinctive vision of the One God.”[6] Consequently, there are other beliefs and theological reflections that contribute to Islamic weltanschauung, but only as they can be traced through the Qur’an to Muhammad via the proclamation of the Shahada.

The second pillar, prayer or “Salat” constitutes much of the liturgy and ceremonial conduct of worship in Islam.[7] In Islam, the place of adulation and personal exchange with God all takes place in daily prayers.[8] The third pillar, almsgiving or “Zakat,” is the discipline in which Muslims are called to serve and minister to their community through giving.[9] The fourth pillar, ritual fasting or “Saum,” calls for a period of abstinence from drinking, eating, and other sensual pleasures during the month of Ramadan. The fifth pillar, the pilgrimage or “Hajj,” obliges every faithful Muslim to visit Mecca.[10]

There is a clear proclamation on behalf of Islam that Muhammad was correcting the way in which Christianity corrupted the message God had given to the Jews.[11] As such, Muhammad and his successors saw the Qur’an as an effort by Allah to set the record straight regarding a “confessional world complicated by Christian disputes.”[12] Naturally, Christians are going to respond in like fashion. Albeit there are some similarities,[13] there are fundamental conflicts between Christians and Muslims. Whether there is distinction in the God-head, whether the Qur’an is a revelation from God and consistent with the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and whether Muhammad is a prophet of God are all matters in need of serious attention.

Problematically, some Christian polemicists have abandoned addressing these fundamental claims, and they have resorted to unhelpful tactics. By way of example, Richard Cimino argues that Evangelical Christians, in particular, have pushed rhetoric about Islam to a polemically fevered pitch as a kind of nationalistic, fear mongering response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This ought to be received as a stinging criticism that is indicative of a willingness to focus on what are seen as devious practices within Islamic culture by Christians instead of making lucid arguments against their foundational claims.[14] According to Cimino, this is problematic because much of the positive, global-apologetic toward Muslims argued by polemicists like Ergun Caner centers on a characterization of Islam as dangerous, militant, and cultic.[15] However, this should all be tempered by Thomas Kidd’s research, which demonstrates plainly that such anti-Islamic polemics as Cimino describes were being leveled against Muslims by “Anglo-Americans” as early as 1697.[16]

So, while there is definitely an attempt to demonize the Islamic weltanschauung on the basis of mischaracterization, while there have been periods of interfaith dialogue initiated by Christians and spoiled by terrorists, and while there are clear examples of current Evangelical scholars focusing their apologetic efforts on ancillary issues within Islam, such behavior in no way belongs exclusively to the modern Evangelical movement. That particular characterization by Cimino is unwarranted. Nonetheless, Christian apologists should avoid being trapped by polemics preoccupied by what amount to “straw men” parading around as reductio ad absurdum arguments. There is sufficient dispute to be had with the foundational presuppositions of Islam to diminish the expediency of such distractions.

Perhaps the most direct conflicts between the truth claims of Christianity and Islam come from the Shahada. The Islamic understanding of the Great Confession places Muslim theology at odds with Christian theology regarding the Trinity, the juxtaposition of Jesus and Muhammad, and the message of the New Testament. Islamic thought on the tawhid, or “Oneness” of God, is extremely prohibitive of any notion that derived distinction within the person of God.[17] Muhammad revealed through the writing of the Qur’an that Jesus was indeed a prophet of Allah, but that he was not the Son of God, and was succeeded by Muhammad, the final prophet.[18] Finally, the Qur’an teaches that the divisions between Jews and Christians were the result of the revelation of God given to Jesus, the Injeel, being corrupted by the early church.[19]

What, then, should be the approach Christians use in positive apologetics to Muslims? A simple response is to use the truth of Scripture and the testimony of the Qur’an about Jesus and God. Surely, demonstrating how the doctrine of the Trinity maintains the tawhid of God within Islamic conceptualization will become an important element to bridging the gap between the two. Additionally, settling some of the theological issues that Muslim’s have with Trinitarian theology would necessarily affect their doctrinal concerns over Jesus and the Gospel account recorded in the New Testament. If the Trinity maintains tawhid, then the notion that Jesus is the Son of God is tenable, and there is no need to doubt the veracity of the New Testament accounts. Perhaps to Caner’s frustration and Geisler’s delight, John D.C. Anderson says, “I have never met a Muslim-background believer who regards the God he previously sought to worship as a wholly false god. Instead, he is filled with wonder and gratitude, that he has now been brought to know that God as he really is, in Jesus Christ our Lord.”[20]

[1] However, this claim ought not to be interpreted as saying there is no value in such critiques, only that they prove unhelpful in demonstrating that Muslim presuppositions are fundamentally flawed.

[2] Apologists should appreciate all the while, of course, that many scholars find a great deal of theological overlap within the monotheistic traditions, ultimately making the apologetic effort easier in many ways. See Michael Ipgrave, ed., Building a Better Bridge: Muslims, Christians, and the Common Good (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2008), which features articles by Rowan Williams and Timothy Winter; Hans Küng, Der Islam: Geschichte, Gegenwart, Zukunft (Munich: Piper Verlag, 2004); and Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991).

[3] See George W. Braswell, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996), 59; Ed Hindson, and Ergun Caner, eds., The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 279; and Keith E. Swartley, ed., Encountering the World of Islam (Atlanta: Authentic Media, 2005), 88.

[4] Braswell, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power, 59.

[5] Ibid., 60

[6] Tim Winter, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 5.

[7] Braswell, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power, 60; Swartley, Encountering the World of Islam, 90.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Swartley, Encountering the World of Islam, 92.

[10] Ibid., 95.

[11] Winter, The Cambridge Companion, 5.

[12] Ibid.

[13] In fact, there is remarkable continuity between the other four Pillars of Islam and the broader expression of Christian belief and practice as seen in the “catholic Church.” Swartley provides a helpful chart in demonstrating the biblical corollaries to the Pillars of Islam. See Swartley, Encountering the World of Islam, 94.

[14] Richard Cimino, “‘No God in Common:’ American Evangelical Discourse on Islam after 9/11,” Review of Religious Research 47, no. 2 (December 2005): 162-74. Perhaps more immediately troublesome for students of Liberty Theological Seminary is the fact that Cimino singles out Ergun Caner’s Unveiling Islam as a polemic set out not only to demonize Islam, but also to “dispel the position of Geisler and Saleeb that Allah is the same God (Jehovah) that Christians and Jews worship.” See Cimino, “‘No God in Common,’” 166. Interestingly, Caner has included Geisler as a contributor in his Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. While Caner must certainly be given the berth to respectfully disagree with even those he includes in his edited works, all of the articles concerning Islam in the Popular Encyclopedia are authored by Caner. It may all prove coincidental, but such a situation only helps to strengthen Cimino’s critique.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Thomas S. Kidd, “‘Is It Worse to Follow Mahomet than the Devil?’ Early American Uses of Islam,” Church History 72, no. 4 (December 2003): 773.

[17] Braswell, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power, 45; Swartley, Encountering the World of Islam, 135-137. Winter also makes an interesting point, “Its [monotheism] inbuilt paradoxes, which had already exercised divided Jews and Christians, ensured that most Muslim thinkers came to recognize the need for a formal discipline of argument and proof which could establish the proper sense of a scripture which turned out to be open to many different interpretations.” See Winter, The Cambridge Companion, 6.

[18] Braswell, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power, 278-284; Swartley, Encountering the World of Islam, 35-36.

[19] Braswell, Islam: Its Prophet, Peoples, Politics and Power, 249-252; Swartley, Encountering the World of Islam, 292-295.

[20]
John D.C. Anderson, “The Missionary Approach to Islam,” Missiology 4, no. 3 (1976), 295.

Review: “What Hath Cambridge To Do with Azusa Street?” Part I

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http://www.calvin.edu/scs/scienceandspirit/jkasmith.jpg

Smith, James K.A. “What Hath Cambridge To Do with Azusa Street?  Radical Orthodoxy and Pentecostal Theology in Conversation.” PNEUMA: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 25, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 97-114.

First, if you don’t already know, James K.A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University; associate professor of philosophy and director of the Seminars in Christian Scholarship at Calvin College) has become, in my opinion, the North American, Protestant “face” of RO.  His assessment of the Cambridge movement is not that of a total outsider, but there is certainly some reluctance in his appraisal of RO.  Nonetheless, he is shaping a presentation of RO that is less Anglo-Catholic, but not less liturgical; less politically liberal, but not less interested in social justice or cultural critique; and less continental, but not less skeptical of a secular framework so dependent on analytical philosophy.  His writing is erudite, but not as unassailable as Milbank and crew. 

Let’s just be honest, Milbank (especially) is to theological discourse what electronics manual writers were to VCR programming.  He has helped to produce a theological movement that is new and refreshing without being trite or kitschy, but his writing is so technical that it is likely to be out of reach for all but colleagues and graduate students (I don’t even know many advanced undergraduate students that could slog through it, if any).

Second, if you didn’t already know, he (Smith) is apparently a Pentecostal – a Reformed Pentecostal.  Here is an audio feed of Smith discussing being a Reformed Pentecostal, and a great article by Smith on “Thinking Pentecostals” where he characterizes Pentecostal theology as,

“Theology forged at the pulpit and in prayer, in the heat of revival and the swelter of the camp meeting—a theology that bears the stamp of its liturgical origins.”

His conclusion is that because of Pentecostalism’s origins it has not yet been given to academic treatments, but insists things should (and are about) to change saying, “Still, there is no denying that the early writings left most of Pentecostal thought entirely implicit. What has emerged in recent years is the attempt to make the ideas explicit.”  He, obviously, is one of those attempting to make Pentecostal theology “explicit.”

If you ask me, I think organizations like the Assemblies of God should immediately drop their courtship of individuals like Fee (who has been hugely disappointing to even the most “liberal” Pentecostals in his reluctance to embrace a full Pentecostal identity), and should immediately endorse Smith as next leader and scholar extraordinaire of the Pentecostal movement.

{Author’s Note – *RANT STARTS HERE* -But that still is not going to fly, because if you know anything about the “old guard” in institutions like the A/G you know they will not endorse anyone that will not get on-board with their characterization of tongues as a “Cardinal Doctrine” of the church.  Smith knows too much about theology to go down that road, and so Pentecostalism is going to remain “implicit” – to use Smith’s characterization – *END RANT*-}

 As a way to justify my rant, allow me to quote Smith’s article.  Please, forgive my anachronism.  On pages 109-110, Smith briefly proposes five key elements of a Pentecostal worldview and theology.  There are (1) A positioning of radical openness to God, and in particular, God doing something differently or new…(2)An emphasis on the continued ministry of the Spirit, including continuing revelation, prophecy, and the centrality of charismatic giftings in the ecclesial community…(3) a distinct belief in the healing of the body as a central aspect of the work of atonement…(4) because of an emphasis on the role of experience, and in contrast to rationalistic Evangelical theology, Pentecostal theology is rooted in an affective epistemology that seeks to undo dualisms…(5) a central commitment to empowerment and social justice, with a certain “preferential option  for the marginalized” tracing back to its roots at Azusa Street as a kind of paradigm of marginalization.

This all makes me wonder within what context Smith is a Pentecostal.  Frankly, I read his list and think, “Hey, that sounds really good,” and I almost want to be a Pentecostal again (These are almost certainly those elements of Pentecostalism that one of my current, Episcopal mentors warned me not to abandon).

I have to take issue with Smith’s list, though.  I don’t take issue with the list for any academic reasons, but for pragmatic reasons.  Where is there a Pentecostal church in America that lives out this worldview?  Sure, there may be charismatic Catholics, Reformed Pentecostals, Spirit filled Anglicans, and the like that live out this worldview, but where are there self-professing “Pentecostal” churches that could even articulate any of these points (outside, perhaps, of the first three – and only then in the scope of such A/G abominations as Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective, and “Where We Squat” – which doesn’t amount to much more than propaganda )? 

 In fact, my experience has been that most Pentecostal churches believe that #2 is the lense through which all others should be viewed, but only as #2 is rightly articulated through the initiating experience of IPE.  A more recent development among conservative evangelicals, you know – how the “religious right” has been co-opted by the GOP, causes me to doubt seriously that #5 is even plausibly a concern outside of “getting people in the door” of Pentecostal churches.  Finally, I think Smith forgot #6.  He forgot to mention the extreme Pre-Trib rapture, millennial reign, it’s all going up in an apocalyptic fireball eschatology that pervades Pentecostal theology and dampens any affect #4 might have on Pentecostals’ thinking.

{Author’s Note: I should also point out, in fairness, that Smith calls his list “certainly debatable and incomplete” in the very next paragraph}

Your thoughts?

What the Frack?

Tony SigI got home from school today and had received in the mail a fancy little paper booklet.  It was professional looking yet casual.  On the cover it read “Overcome: Brighter Days are Ahead”

Turning the page there is more hip design; a drawn picture of a car whose nose is stuck in a snow drift and an invitation to “Overcome…the ‘Barrier’ ” followed by a series of questions:

  • “What is it that’s holding me back?”
  • “Is there a nagging feeling that you just can’t overcome?  It’s like your wheels are turning, but the reality is – it feels like you’re not going anywhere.  You may be stressed.  Frustrated with yourself.  And crabby.
  • “Is there Hope?”

On the next page we are urged to “Overcome…the ‘Mirror:’ This is not who I was supposed to be.”

  • Did you once have high hopes about how you were going to turn out?  The career.  The marriage.  The body.  Your outlook on life.  You see your reflection staring back and wonder, “What Happened to Me?”
  • “Is this really me?”

Also, I guess, we are supposed to overcome “The Comparison”

  • I’ve gotta have MORE and do MORE.”
  • Where did that feeling of contentment go?  The desire to matter, to leave your mark.  Now, it’s not enough.  You want more.  The house isn’t big enough.  The car isn’t nice enough.  Other people seem to be living the dream…
  • “Why Can’t I?”

Well if I or you are suffering from such upper-middle-class maladies and live in the Twin Cities you can “Overcome whatever it is that holds you back in life” at one of Three convenient locations where you are all going to hear the same rock-star message from “Mr. Important” who, having invested massive amounts of money, is able to transmit his message live to video screens at whatever other two locations do not have him.

Apparently “Bible Based” churches are excused from such blatant christ-less/gospel-less pointless dribble.  But what rubs me raw is that it’s the same that get all heated up on Mainline churches “abandoning the Gospel” – what with they gays and all.  I’m so glad that “Bible Based” churches have no problems with not preaching the Gospel.

No thanks EagleBrook in three convenient locations.  I’ve already got a McDonalds a block away where I can have my children cared for in a tub of balls without being told that my experience there is “Bible Based.”  The healing of my existential problems for being amongst the richest in the world with time to burn on my self image and self pity will have to wait until you add a fourth convenient location half a block away from my house.