Friday, November 25, 2005

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN

Daniel 5:25-28 -
"And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”


The ongoing war between the constellation of independent Calvinist Baptist blogs and the constellation of blogs I slum around in has flared up of late. I have wondered at the invective maintained in this fight, and where it comes from.

From my own limited observations, there are four main targets of these "TR" types:

1) "Confessional bloggers" - those who have the courage to tell of the dark side of Christian experience - the sins, the doubts, the struggles of faith and ministry. But for some, this smacks of mental instability.

2) "Auburn Avenue/New Perspective on Paul" - those who seek to re-evaluate the traditional Reformed understandings of Covenant, and apply these re-evaluations in other areas of theology (like soteriology). The question of whether they are right or not is one thing - but for some, this conversation should not even be happening. "Luther/Calvin said it, I believe it, that settles it."

3) "Reformed Catholicism" - those who seek to have a dialogue with historic (c)atholic theology (the theology of the Church in all ages and branches) and perhaps, dialogue with Catholics and Orthodox as well. But for some, we evidently have nothing to learn from them, and they all have to become like us, or else.

4) "the Emergent Church" - those who would have the praxis of the Church match up with the calling of her Master, especially in areas where modernity has blinded us to our failures. But for some, this is simply atheological liberalism.

All four of these categories are open to criticism. It is possible for confessionalism to go too far. The AA/NPP has its good points and bad. I am a Protestant, self-consciously and comfortably, and therefore not Catholic or Orthodox. And Brian McLaren does have a habit of going to far on many points. But I do wonder at the innate and almost unthinking hostility and rejection of all these categories, in toto, by the "TR" types. What gives?

I think one good reason is that all four of these categories start with a rejection of the centrality of the particulars of Reformed Theology (at least as they are envisioned by the critics) for the Christian life. For the confessionalists, they have the indecency to point out that believing in all the right theology does not mean life doesn't suck. The AA/NPP wants to re-examine these categories in light of history and biblical theology. The reformed catholics want to re-emphasize the commonalities of all Christians rather than the distinctives. And the Emergents are demanding that the Church start *acting* like the church - especially in the pocketbook.

But, if you have built your entire understanding of the Christian life on propositional theology, on what makes you distinctive, and RIGHT, as opposed to all the benighted quasi-heretics in the impure churches outside yours, this is a great threat. Anything that threatens the primacy of your theological system must be confronted, refuted, insulted, shouted down into silence.

All these guys have is their theology. They don't have the sacraments. They don't have a connection to the wider Body of Christ. They don't have a vital tradition of their own. They don't anything but their theology, and how they think that theology should effect people. And anything that doesn't fit that box is a danger to them.

James Jordan has come out and said that this branch of the Church is dying.

Philip Jenkins has documented the continuing global shift of vital Chrisianity from the West to the South.

As far as I am concerned, these self-appointed "guardians of the faith" are fighting to guard a dying cause. The handwriting is on the wall, for those who can read it. God will build His Church - the particular stones of dogmantic (r)eformed Presbyterians and independent (c)alvinist Baptists are not vital to His project.

4 Comments:

Blogger Cultural Savage said...

"The understanding of theology as the summarization of biblical doctrine sports an impeccable pedigree within the history of the church. Yet since the Reformation many conservative theologians have treated this aspect as theology's central, if not sole, function. And they havecouples the focus on biblical summarization with modern concepts of the nature of science... As a consequence of this assumption, systematic theology becomes primarly the organizing of the "facts" of scripture... we may call this the "concordance" or "proprsitionalist" approch...

"Theologians do not merely amplify, refine, defend, and deliver to the hext generation a timeless fixed orthodoxy. Rather, byspeaking from within the community of faith, they seek to describe the act of faith, the God toward whom faith is directed, and the implications of our faith commitment in, for, and to a specific historical and sultural context.
The fundamental Christian faith commitment to the God revealed in Jesus is unchainging, of course. But the world into which we bring this confession is in flux. As a result, theologians function in a mediatorial manner."
(From the introduction of "Theologyfor the Community of God" by Stanley J. Grenz)

Compare this view with the "defenders of the truth". I hope I can always follow in the footsteps of Jesus and be a mediator between the world and God.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Gummby said...

They don't have a vital tradition of their own.
What is your definition of tradition?

10:34 PM  
Blogger Cultural Savage said...

I expounded on my comments over at my new blog: http://www.culturalsavage.wordpress.com

11:03 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

Matt,

by "tradition", I mean the way they *practice* theology, in worship and devotions and daily life. For all their talk of the Reformers (Luther and Calvin), the "TRs" don't seem to accept the fact that they weren't just systematizers of propositional theology - they were also liturgists. Luther considered his revision of the German liturgy one of his finest works. Calvin's writings on the Eucharist helped get me out of TRdom (ironically enough). There was still an organic link between the Reformers and the traditions of the Church, and that is just *not there* with the TR types.

So, they have their systematic theology down pat. Where are their prayers? Where are their hymns? What is their policy on Communion? Of course, you can't see these things in online debates, but given what they *do* display in these debates, I have to wonder...

8:45 AM  

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