by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
Hi, I’m 12 and think this is funny.
The comic falls within a rather unusual trend, but unlike this example, it’s not meant to give kids nightmares.
H/t to Christian and Colin
by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
Hi, I’m 12 and think this is funny.
The comic falls within a rather unusual trend, but unlike this example, it’s not meant to give kids nightmares.
H/t to Christian and Colin
Baptist, Barton Gingerich, Calvinism, Church, decline, discipleship, ecclesiology, Ed Stetzer, evangelical, evangelism, Jonathan Merritt, Mainline Protestant, membership, Religion News Service, SBC, Southern Baptist, Southern Baptist Convention
by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
Over at Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt has taken up keyboard and monitor to advise the Southern Baptist Convention on how to avoid a disastrous membership slump. His article is well worth a read. The SBC’s statistics guru, Ed Stetzer, announced that America’s largest Christian denomination is starting to see numbers reminiscent of the old Mainlines before their decline. It is interesting to see the largest Baptist fellowship struggle against dropping baptisms and rising abandonment. This seems unusual (at least for those within the denomination) since the SBC bucked the mainline trend by 1) recovering its seminaries (and thus its denominational leadership) for orthodoxy in the 70s and 80s, 2) holding to an exclusivist (thus inherently evangelical/missionary) view of soteriology, and 3) sacrificial church planting, with great success in reaching the burgeoning Latino community. So what is the problem now?
Merritt offers three suggestions. First, harsh in-fighting over nonessentials needs to end. Misplaced priorities regarding entertainment, political candidates, the Sinner’s Prayer, and—most recently—Calvinism have driven people out of the pews. The latter’s popularity has been fingered for the SBC’s membership plateau; however, as Stetzer’s research shows, the presence of full “5 point” Reformed Baptists makes up only about 16% of the denomination (an increase from former studies, but a minority nevertheless). Plus, accusing Calvinists for neglecting evangelism is a fairly steep claim considering their impressive missionary track record. Merritt suggests people are leaving the SBC over noisy, stressful quibbles. He concludes, “If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to regain the credibility, interest, and relevance it has lost, the denomination must learn to put first things first. Namely, sharing the gospel through missions and showing the gospel through acts of service, compassion, and justice.”
Second, Merritt calls for an end to political partisanship. He cites several petitions the Convention issued that are clearly regrettable in hindsight. While there is a troubling nationalism to be found in cultural Southern Baptism, some may find the young writer harsh when he worries that “the denomination continues to operate like a Republican lapdog….” Perhaps this springs from the angst of being raised in the Baptist subculture. Speaking from my own experience of being raised in a Mainline church, I would have preferred most of Merritt’s embarrassments to being alienated, harangued, and scandalized for my (and my family’s) support for free markets, just war, self-defense, life, and marriage. While I was mercifully preserved from much ham-handed purity culture, I was never warned about the tremendous danger and wickedness of sexual sin from pastors and Sunday school teachers (a crueler dereliction of duty, I would argue). When looking at the intellectual resources commonly available to most Christians during the Sexual Revolution and following, it is quite surprisingly that Moral Majoritarians made it through as well as they did. Though their approach earned some stinging experiences, they should not be thrown under the bus altogether. At my own alma mater, I knew and befriended many who were burned-out culture warriors. The “take back the nation” controversies are harmful, but so too would be a complete acquiescence to nefarious social currents we see today. Many failed to keep the balance, and I expect will fail again. Nevertheless, I speak as a mellow historian/cradle mainliner, so maybe we should swing on a generational pendulum when it comes to such political issues. After all, Merritt himself has added not only life and marriage, but also immigration and environmentalism to his political dossier.
Third, the SBC needs to listen to people, especially the 18-39 age bracket. Bitter hard-heartedness has alienated the young. I defer to Merritt’s experience and judgment on that front; I was not raised nor am I currently a member of an SBC congregation. I would only warn against the American worship of youth. In the United Methodist Church, declining Westerners fawn over inexperienced young pastors and laymen (more so than the spirit of I Timothy would suggest), while Africans from vibrant conferences show deference to their wizened elders. Truth is the truth, no matter one’s age, but I must confess that I still see gray hair as a mark of honor and authority.
What I think we’re seeing is a continuation of that great American tradition, institutional disloyalty (chronicled so well in Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics). When Merritt announces, “A new day is dawning in American religious life in which Christians of many stripes seem to be running fast and hard from denominations, particularly those whose behavior mirrors the descriptions listed above,” he is in error—not over the phenomenon, but over the timing. The exodus from “namebrand” Christianity—or rather, ecclesiastical structures—has been a common trend over the past forty years or more. Contemporary Americans, the atomized individualists we are, prefer our own self-defined spirituality. Nondenominational congregations and parachurch organizations fit our idea of discipleship more than “stifling” bodies that worry about orthodoxy and catholicity. Infighting and theological issues heating up during a synod? Better leave before getting too stressed out and while one can save face.
Some evacuate the SBC because of its bad PR. Popular culture—especially the entertainment and news industry—vilifies the SBC. The label is toxic–Southern Baptists have been turned into bogeymen. Some people may abandon the denomination because of its unacceptability in an increasingly liberal society. I think that Merritt would agree that Baptists and other evangelicals should not cater to this kind of preoccupation. It would create a church ready to flake out on unpopular cultural issues.
But this does point to a broader issue that the SBC needs to tackle—what kind of culture is it creating for its members and what sort of disciples are its congregations forming? To put it roughly, what should Southern Baptists “look” like—how should they act and what should they believe? How is the faith passed on to the next generation? Salvation experiences ring hollow if those involved abandon Christ’s Body; retention and growth are just as important as initial birth. How is the Church preserved? By what vehicle(s) is the person, message, and work of Jesus Christ conveyed to others? Are our individualistic, anti-family, anti-communion, anti-hierarchical sensibilities a liability in such a project? I’ll warrant that Jonathan Merritt and the SBC aren’t the only ones who need to be asking these questions.
Photo credit: Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm Statue: http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/4199675334/
By Luke Moon @lukemoon1
Here at the IRD, we spend our days researching and covering events from a rather generic group we call the Religious Left. It might come as a shock to some who read this blog on a daily basis, but there are actually bits of crazy that don’t make the cut. We have decided to compile some of these bits of crazy for our new series called #Facepalm Friday. Enjoy.
Are you struggling to get your kids to make it through the evening readings of Calvin’s Institutes? Do your kids not yet wince at the words “free will”? Well, look no further than this newly release children’s book, “Help, Mom! There are Arminians Under My Bed!”
I personally, found the publishers description rather irresistible. “Come along on a journey with Mitchell, as he recalls his nightmare for his mother. Mitchell was in a land of darkness and gloom, when due to no cooperation of his own, a Knight in shining armor saved him and all the other captives He intended to save. “Help, Mom”is a children’s allegory designed to teach your kids the Doctrines of Grace through the use of creative story-telling.”
Of course don’t take the publishers word for it. Check out the review by B. Ditto who elected to purchase this book for her own children.
“We bought this for our three boys, Beza, Calvin, and Van Till! They loved every minute of this book! Buying this book will root my children in a holy fear of the Arminian heresy!!! The joy they got out of this book made me almost as happy as when little Calvin started quoting the Institutes, little Van Till argued for the existence of God by assuming He existed, and little Beza threw rocks at that Methodist kid in his class! I know that God has predestined them to great things!!! I am so proud of my three little supralapsarians!!!”
Available at amazon for just $15.17.
Gay Alpha Anyone?
The following excerpts were originally featured in the November 2002 publication The Witness and was written by Pat McCaughan.
When Carol Anderson, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif., adapted Alpha, an introductory Christian course with “a bring-it-to-Jesus evangelical label,” for gays and lesbians, she advertised the change.
The program’s ads, You don’t know queer until you’ve tried to be both gay AND Christian, in nearby communities like West Hollywood have fueled a bring-it-to-All Saints result.
The audience for Alpha is increasingly unchurched people or people who have been hurt by the church,” says Anderson. “One of the things we’ve learned is that, regardless of content, what grabs people is the community and this is a real people-at-table-with-people experience.”
Professional sports figures, doctors and even pastors bounced from other denominations because of their sexual orientation have discovered grace in the course’s Ask! Tell! and welcoming approach.
Adapting the course for the gay community involves using the standard Alpha outline, with gay and lesbian teachers and table leaders. The experientially based 10-week sessions explore the validity of faith in daily life. It incorporates personal stories relevant to participants’ lives, says Randy Kimmler, parish coordinator of Communications and Adult Baptism.
“It’s an encouragement to use your own story, it puts it in a context of who Jesus is for you,” says Kimmler, who is also involved in the parish’s gay and lesbian ministry.
For example, Anderson contextualizes evil by saying: “evil exists and most of you have experienced it in the way you’ve been injured emotionally, spiritually, physically … in the way the church has put you down. A whole lot of nodding goes on with that,” she said.
The parish also offers the standard Alpha course and gays are invited to participate in either, but most opt for ‘Gay Alpha,’” said Kimmler.
Perhaps they should have renamed the course, Lambda.
The last #facepalm is not church related, but give it some time and I’m sure someone will figure out how to make a connection to Jesus. Sign of Jonah maybe?
Opting for a Dolphin-Assisted Birth
Original story feature here.
CHARLOTTE (CBS Charlotte) — A North Carolina couple traveled to Hawaii in order to bring their baby into the world in a dolphin-assisted birth.
The Charlotte Observer reports Adam and Heather Barrington are staying with Star Newland, founder of The Sirius Institute, in Pohoa. According to the institute’s website, it is “dedicated to the creation of human/dolphin co-creative habitats where dolphins and people can learn from each other through music, underwater birth, dolphin sound healing and restoration.”
“It is about reconnecting as humans with the dolphins so we can coexist in this world together and learn from one another,” Heather Barrington told the Observer. “Having that connection with the pod of dolphins anytime – even if the birth doesn’t happen in the water – still brings peace, comfort and strength to the mother and baby during labor.”
The Barringtons have been prepping for an underwater birth by taking prenatal swims with dolphins.
“Dolphins are very intelligent and healing which in turn calms mother and baby for the whole process,” Heather Barrington said.
Medical Daily reports that many scientists have dismissed dolphin-assisted therapy. Studies have also shown that dolphins have been known to become aggressive toward people.
Despite the lack of science behind a dolphin-assisted birth, the Barringtons are looking forward to the unorthodox birth.
“It’s total relaxation for the mother,” Adam Barrington told the Observer.
The baby is expected to be due in July.”
Barton Gingerich, Calvinism, catechism, confessions, creed, General Assembly, General Assembly 2012, Helvetic, heterodoxy, Institute on Religion and Democracy, IRD Blog, marriage, orthodoxy, PCUSA, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed, theology, Westminster
Here I offer what I hope will be the last depressing analytical post from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.’s 220th General Assembly. On Friday, one of the core problems plaguing the PCUSA reared its ugly head. The plenary assembly began a discussion regarding the constitution. Part I of the PCUSA’s constitution is the Book of Confessions while Part II is the Book of Order. The controversy pivoted on Part I’s relation to the constitution and its authority, especially with regard to redefining marriage.
One gutsy commissioner (I will keep commissioner names anonymous) petitioned GA Moderator Rev. Neal D. Presa: “Recommendation 13-04 [which redefined marriage away from one man and one woman] would amend the Book of Order…but conflicts with the Book of Confessions, which is part one of the Constitution, in at least three places—the Helvetic Confession, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Confession of 1967, all of which say that marriage is between a man and a woman. Therefore, Mr. Moderator, I would like to ask you to rule Recommendation 13-04 out of order.” As shocked whispers rumbled through the auditorium, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons called on Paul Hooker of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. Mr. Hooker noted the two different sections of the constitution. When discussing Part I, he added, “This collection of statements spans a vast selection of theological perspectives, and there is no small amount of difference and conflict, within the Constitution itself.” He then asserted, “But more specifically, it is important to understand that because it is a large sweep of history, and a fairly broad representation of theology, it ought not to be treated as though it were a rule book. It is, in fact, a document from which we draw our basic theological views.”
Mr. Hooker described Part II as follows: “It contains the standards by which we operate. We have been asked occasionally if it is necessary to amend the Book of Confessions in order to amend a similar provision in the Book of Order. The answer is no.” Finally, he asserted, “The Confessions are deliberately broad, and allow us to draw different ecclesiological conclusions on the basis of our theology. It would be the Advisory Committee on the Constitution’s opinion that a statement in the Book of Confessions might not pose a conflict with a proposal to amend the Constitution.”
Rev. Parsons recommended that the moderator accept the ACC’s recommendation and rule Recommendation 13-04 in order with the constitution. Dauntless, another commissioner appealed the rule of the moderator. And thus began a legislative battle to either accept or overturn the chair’s decision by simple majority vote.
Opposing sides approached the microphones. Declared the appealing commissioner, “Today, the motion is related to the Book of Confessions. I, as a Christian, for whom Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, has been instructed to guided by the Confessions and to be obedient to the polity of the Church. Surely what is said repeatedly in the Book of Confessions is of more weight to our charter from Jesus Christ (to use Roberts’ language) than in the trust clause which is in the form of government.” Another contended, “While there are minor variations in the Book of Confessions, there are no variations on this subject. It speaks uniformly on its understanding of marriage. And secondly, while Mr. Hooker has made a distinction between part one and part two of the constitution, Robert’s Rules of Order, make no such distinction. It is one constitution.”
These statements were not left off without debate. One young lady festooned in a rainbow stole quipped, “If our concern is that our Book of Order never conflict with our Book of Confessions, I should not be standing here as a teaching elder.” Here she received vigorous applause from her revisionist allies. She then offered grounds for her right to her position and status: “Our Book of Confessions has been said to represent the faith of God’s people throughout the course of our human history, and it carries great wisdom in speaking to that. But it is a guide for faith, it is not a rulebook, and I hope we remember that.” The commissioner following her feared that “anything that anyone could possibly construe has any kind of connection whatsoever to the things in the Book of Confessions” would be proved and tried by a confessional filter. Then another commissioner approached the microphone to favor the chair. I had seen this gentleman at the PARO luncheon, where it was revealed that he was on the board of the pro-abortion organization. He now pontificated to his peers, “Many years ago, in the 1920s, there was a famous sermon preached, called ‘Shall the Fundamentalists Win.’ To me, a fundamentalist reading of the Book of Confessions wants to make it a totally unified set of rules, but as it was interpreted for us, it is a multi-century application and exposition of what Scripture teaches us to believe in…If the objection were to stand, as it was pointed out, we could never amend our Form of Government.”
Finally, it came down to a vote. Those supporting the chair’s decision to allow for contradiction with the Book of Confessions? 70%. That’s right: almost three quarters of PCUSA commissioners are willing to ignore the confessions for the sake of novelties. This merits a question from anyone familiar with church history, regardless of denominational affiliations: “How are you Presbyterian again?”
Let’s back up and look at what the confessions were all about. Calvinism—like Lutheranism—is an incredibly confessional faith tradition. It had to find a way to protest the Roman Catholic Church’s claims and teachings while not descending into chaos, anarchy, and heresy. As the reformers began to interpret the Scriptures differently than the Roman hierarchy, they also realized they needed to somehow keep within the historic Christian faith and its teachings (perhaps narrowly or locally defined). The Presbyterians and their Continental Calvinist cousins (all of whose confessions are included in Part I of the PCUSA constitution) had to prove they could reject a pope and bishops—all without damning one’s soul or bringing the church to naught. Thus, the Reformed elders reasoned out their faith in the confessions, by which they would keep themselves accountable. Now, there are different scholars that fight over what this all means, especially with regard to Scripture. The overwhelming consensus of old Reformed thinkers was that the confessions derive any teaching authority from the Bible: they are merely Scripture applied to specific beliefs as contrasted with other differing theologies. Reformed thinkers are all about sola Scriptura…or at least they used to in a clearer day.
The histories are filled with stories of bold Calvinists who would not renounce the confession in the face of threats, tortures, and even death. The Presbyterians were especially notable for their fierce theological convictions and fiery opposition to anything that smacked of “popery.” This, of course, included even the Anglican Church and thus presents an entertaining portion of British religious history. More importantly, it points to a very key concept: if you aren’t confessional, you aren’t Presbyterian. And it wasn’t because they thought “it was a good idea at the time.” They held their Biblical beliefs to be eternal truths.
So why the ho-hum attitude of the revisionist delegates? I’m sure no one reason will suffice. They don’t agree with the faith of their fathers—that much is clear. They obviously don’t like rules being enforced when they are breaking said rules. Most if not all are universalists: what Chesterton described as reverse or “soft” Calvinist, where no one has free will and everyone is predestined for heaven. Therefore, church discipline as well as the soteriological emphases in the confessions upsets their progressive sensibilities. Likewise, those icky absolutist creeds and confessions are merely historical niceties in an antiquarian performance that gives depth to the social club and morally-superior political advocacy group called “church.”
There could and should be several thorough responses to such heterodoxy and heteropraxy. Due to lack of space, I will conclude that this is the fulcrum point from which spring rampant pansexuality, progressive partisan politics, and radical feminism. Dealing with those theological particulars, I imagine, would soon separate the sheep from the goats.
atheism, Barack Obama, Barton Gingerich, Bible, Calvinism, childlike, condemnation, cynics, Eastern Orthodoxy, emergent, evangelicalism, festival, Francis Schaeffer, Frank Schaeffer, fundamentalism, Hell, Institute on Religion and Democracy, IRD Blog, jaded, Politics, Reformed, relativism, Scripture, theology, Wild Goose
Wild Goose Festival: Day 2
Today, progressive evangelicals crowded under a massive white tent to listen to Frank Schaeffer comment on “Childlike Wonder for Jaded Cynics.” Son of famed evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, the former film director and current author has since vigorously denounced his conservative Christian upbringing. His angry condemnations of “Christian fundamentalism” have landed him spots for commentary on MSNBC and approval from disaffected evangelicals.
First, Schaeffer described the Wild Goose Festival as an event “where cynics like me feel at home.” He further cajoled his gaggle of eager listeners: “What we’re doing here is important since it is a political year…Christianity is more identified with the Republican Party than with Jesus Christ.” “Religion is less spiritual and politics is less pure,” he worried.
Schaeffer then left off political themes for a moment to recount his meandering spiritual migration to a postmodern Eastern Orthodoxy. “I was a success in the Religious Right the same way as with a North Korean dictator: nepotism,” he joked. Growing more somber, he grieved, “There is no faster way to lose your faith than when being a big success in the God business.” The younger Schaeffer likened himself to the Wizard of Oz, who was “pitching magic” while realizing that it was all a sham. He highlighted his teen pregnancy with his wife, which resulted in his first daughter. He admitted to slapping his daughter when frustrated, only to tout family values in front of large conservative audiences. Soon, Schaeffer found himself at a spiritual crisis with no theological resources to help him.
The renouncer of fundamentalism had been raised in a Reformed household that adhered strongly to Scripture coupled with Calvinist systematic theology. “I come from a tradition that asserts that you must make God love you through learning the right theology,” he complained, “Is God my right ideas and beliefs?” He also contrasted orthodox Christianity with Islam: “We believe in a person, not a book.” “There were 400 years before there was a Bible,” Schaeffer contested, “Many of us don’t even know what the Bible is.” Similarly, he argued, “We all believe selectively regarding our sacred Scripture…Don’t let any fundamentalist tell you they follow the whole Bible until they stone their daughter for losing her virginity.” He added, “A lot of it is crazy.” At the end of his presentation, he deemed theology to be “mumbo-jumbo pie-in-the-sky that no one knows about.”
Soon, the wild goslings heard Schaeffer credit his spiritual re-awakening to his granddaughter, Lucy. From her he learned about unconditional love, where he evidently could never get mad at her, no matter what she would do. He fondly told of his interactions and conversations with her. Schaeffer concluded that God must be the same way: always compassionate and never angry with human beings. He contrasted this revelation with the erroneous assumptions of fundamentalism: “If you disagree with me, you disagree with God. And—nothing personal—but you’ll burn forever in Hell.” In addition, he teased, “My fundamentalist friends, to put it bluntly, think I will go to Hell when I die. And I’m okay with that if they’re not going to be there.”
Looking back on his past, he regretted “selling God to people for a good cause, i.e. becoming like me.” Now, Frank Schaeffer seems to be teaching his granddaughter high church Eucharistic theology, yet also equating love with energy, all physical creation with “stardust.” Nevertheless, the writer protested that he revoked Christopher Hitchens’s call to apostatize for atheism. Instead, Schaeffer observed that “the Hubble Telescope can’t tell you everything” and “the church is always full of jerks and idiots, but that doesn’t tell you anything about God.” “Let’s fight for the leaven of the Gospel…not fighting for [a person’s] soul since they’re already saved,” he encouraged the audience, “Enough cosmic statements on who’s in and who’s out.”
Eventually, Schaeffer took another gander at American politics. “I can’t fix the world, but I can go down fighting that Obama can get re-elected,” he exclaimed to eager applause. He proclaimed, “I think he’s one of the greatest presidents that America has ever had!” The speaker castigated liberal purists since the current executive “faces the most vile and hateful lies ever faced by an American president (and they dare not call it racism!), and you complain that he is not meeting all the checks on your list.” He asked, “Have you considered the alternative or are you clinically insane?” The “alternative” position Schaeffer described as “blow up the universe and sell it to Exxon to sell back to you.”
With this lecture, Frank Schaeffer once again unleashed his usual angry diatribes against his religious heritage. So much approbation erupted from the audience that one would think he was laying golden eggs. One may suppose what’s good for the relativistic goose is good for the post-evangelical gander. For others, on the other hand, Schaeffer’s virulent screeds may simply drive them north for the summer.