I just finished reading “The Bible in America, Essays in Cultural History: edited by Nathan Hatch and Mark Noll. I liked all the essays, one in particular caught my eye as reflective of the church in the United States; it is by Richard J. Mouw and is titled “The Bible in Twentieth-Century Protestantism: A Preliminary Taxonomy”. Mouw outlines different broad groups within Christianity based on some work of Nicholas Wolterstorff. He proposes the following groupings:
doctrinalists: “Doctrinalists stress the importance of believing the right kinds of doctrines. They tend to engage in battles on at least two fronts. First, they oppose religious movements which do not consider “correct doctrine” to be a highly valued commodity…But doctrinalists also argue with other doctrinalists…about which system of doctrine is correct.”
Mouw says that doctrinalists primarily approach the Bible with an emphasis on the propositions it teaches.
pietism: (not used in a derogatory manner) Reacting to what they see as dead orthodoxy pietism sees the Bible “as a handbook for pious living. The Bible is a stimulus to certain kinds of experiences…The primary use of the Bible for the pietist is a devotional one.” Pietism also reacts to moral legalism. Mouw says that the pietist approach is the most important one for American Protestants—just look at our bookstores.
moralism: “The moralist views Christianity primarily in terms of moral or ethical categories. Christianity is a system which helps human beings live the good life; it enables them to engage in right action. Doctrine which has no moral payoff is useless; piety which fails to express itself in the doing of what is morally right is mere sentimentality or emotionalism.” Developing good character is fundamental to the moralist and can be seen in the famous book “In His Steps.”
culturalism “The Bible becomes a book addressing primarily questions of culture…The Bible, for the culturalist, is a handbook for cultural action; it gives Christians marching-orders for their attempts at cultural transformation or cultural criticism. It also provides the means for interpreting contemporary patterns of culture.
Throughout the essays the premise that how we approach the Bible (even if we’re not aware of it) is both conditioned by and conditioning of our society. American ‘common-sense’ notions have made it axiomatic that we can just pick up the Bible and read it and arrive at the truth. Charles Finney did this, as did the mother of Joseph Smith and countless millions more, which is one big reason for the thousands of churches in our day. “Every man his own interpreter.”
Thomas Flemming writes:
When we decided to invade Iraq—instead of any of the countries known to be fomenting terrorism against the United States (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan)—the President told us solemnly it was “about our values.” What he seems to have meant is that Muslims have preserved a sense of sexual modesty that we are in the process of destroying and that we are determined to use their modesty and shame as a weapon against them. Almost a year ago, a young officer came up to be at a lecture and told me that he was just back from Iraq. What pained him the most, he said, was that, as a conservative Christian, he had to admit that the Iraqis were by and large morally superior to the Americans he had observed in an out of the Army.
Father Michael Shanbour writes:
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” as an Orthodox cleric once told me. Why have we given in to the false belief that “theological education” is an academic exercise dependent primarily on the acquisition of a body of knowledge absorbed by the brain? If we are looking for explicit statements by the Church Fathers, they are abundant in this area. Theology is the fruit of the acquisition of the “mind of Christ,” which is the mind of the Church. It is the fruit of Christian “praxis”, a long ascetical struggle for purity of heart and illumination by divine grace. It is the fruit of direct experience of divine grace and light. In lieu of this experience, we are called to humble ourselves before those who have received this level of sanctity. Do any of us yet have an ounce of their humility with which to question the practice of the Church?
I’m at a loss as to what to think about Iraq and our place in the world. I was against going to war with Iraq because I thought the WMD issue was a fig-leaf for neocons who really wanted to spread Jeffersonian democracy in the Middle East. I didn’t feel it met just-war criteria and so I thought it shouldn’t be supported by Christians. But that is behind us now; we are in way too deep to revisit the debate right now. So where does America go from here?
9/11 didn’t ‘change everything.’ I think the USA has a hankering to go back to the good old days of Clinton in the 90’s. If Kerry is elected and we pull out of Iraq, or if Bush is reelected and we leave a disaster of some sort behind I think it will spell doom for our world-power status. When we are attacked again on our soil what will we do? I can’t see Kerry mounting a forceful response. It seems to me that there is no good future. Running from Iraq is like Somalia; a sign of weakness. But staying there and leaving some feeble government that falls in a year or two or dissolves into civil war is no better. And right now the odds of some Western-style stable country emerging look so slim.
Add to that the threat of China and Taiwan going down, or N. Korea doing something insane and we are in a very precarious situation. Think it can’t happen with China? Read the rhetoric prior to WW I when it was thought that the modern world could never see a great war due to the interdependence of trade and ties between countries. It could happen. I think another attack on our soil is just a matter of time. How hard could it be to use soldier fired missiles or something to wreck havoc on airlines again?
And then domestically you have gay marriage as the final end to the illusion that this country is in any special way ‘Christian.’ When homosexual ‘marriage’ is taught in public schools as just another alternative will Christians care? If the education cartel decides even home schooled kids need some ‘tolerance’ training what happens then? There is a strain of thought that says if people just get saved a godly culture will flow from them; I’d say the facts say differently. We are conforming everywhere to what the powers tell us to think. One of the greatest things that could happen would be for Christians in this country to lose the illusion that they can somehow swing the country back into being Christian as if it ever really was. We are in a post-Christian culture folks and have been for some time. Wake up. Start thinking and strategizing based on that fact, not on waking up some ‘silent majority.’ They are at the mall, don’t bother them.
This is rambling I know. I guess I just don’t see a real bright future ahead. The widespread acceptance of everything that used to be thought of as evil tells me that the gay activists are right and that a few years from now people will yawn when you talk about gay marriage. “Who cares?” “What does it have to do with me?” I am no fan of James Dobson, but I think it’s a sign of how far gone we are when even he is throwing in the towel.
Massive threats abroad. Young men dying overseas; a certainty of future Islamic attacks here in the States; the foundation of the country crumbling. I’m not an optimist about the USA.
“The just retribution for those who fight Allah and His messenger, and commit horrendous crimes, is to be killed, or crucified, or to have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or to be banished from the land. This is to humiliate them in this life, then they suffer a far worse retribution in the hereafter.” Surat Al-Ma’ida:33
“When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives.” Surat Mohammed:4
From Healing Iraq
‘Hatred against the demons contributes greatly to our salvation and helps our growth in holiness.’ writes Evagrios the Solitary in the 300′s. A novel thought to me.
I read a comment today from Senator Campbell of Colorado after seeing the pictures from the prison in Iraq, he said something like:
“how the h___ did those people get in the Army?”
It never ceases to amaze me how surprised people are by the obvious fact of depravity. America has an obvious sense of messianic purpose that makes many think that we always do what’s right and exist to help the rest of the unenlightened world to live as we do. I think this messianic view coupled with a wrong view of humanity as essentially good—a view which seems foundational to our political founding and subsequent history—blind Americans to reality. And no politician will *ever* say a bad word about the character of our Armed Forces. But as a veteran I can relate my own experience and it was that people in the military are just like people anywhere else. In fact my 4 years gave me a new understanding of depravity (and I contributed to it as well). Seeing women at the club looking for men because their husbands were working a night shift, hearing the stories of the guys who slept around when deployed away from family, the total glorification of drunkenness as the purpose of life, guys who dropped acid and smoked pot, you name it, it was happening. So when I hear some politician going on and on about our brave men in uniform as if they are the most noble creatures on earth it makes me cringe. Don’t get me wrong, there are many legitimate heroes and people who could make more money in a safe profession on the outside who choose to fight and die for us. But the sweeping generalizations about the Armed Forces as warriors of virtue and everything decent are ridiculous. They are doing a job, plain and simple. And to be shocked that Abu Gharib could happen and wonder how people like that get in the Army is to live in dreamland.
And to glorify our country as a beacon of light to the world while we slaughter our innocent unborn to the tune of fourty-four million at least and lead the world in developing pornography, consuming drugs, and other assorted depravities is absurd.
Empires go to Babylon to die. Belteshazzar and Alexander the Great died there and their empires with them. Perhaps God has sent us there for the same reasons.
“Why do we not voluntarily abandon what must be destroyed when this life comes to an end, so that we might gain the kingdom of Heaven? Let Christians care for nothing that they cannot take away with them. We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven; namely wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality. Striving after these things, we shall prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.”
Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony,
One thing that keeps coming up as I read books by the Orthodox is the criticism of Protestants as simple reactionaries. In other words if Rome believes X then we must believe Y. We are the yang to their yin. I think there’s truth in that, and the Protestant world should stop the constant negative polemic of “we’re not this and don’t think that” and start doing more affirmative theology and living that confesses the great ancient truths and says what we *do* believe in.
We had a very good visit to Epworth Chapel on the Green in Boise yesterday. It’s a Wesleyan-Anglican church that is totally liturgical, and stresses the right kind of ecumenicity as well as evangelism. The people were exceptionally kind to us and the liturgy was wonderful. The cantors and the organist were first-rate which made it a great listening and singing experience. We were so excited to find this diamond in the rough so close at hand when it seemed like there wasn’t much around here in an Anglican stream that wasn’t totally liberal and corrupt.
It was interesting to me to observe how my kids reacted to the liturgical service. They seemed interested, maybe because it is so new to them. But I think it would be a really positive environment for them to learn Christianity in. I find their Sunday School curriculum really impressive and would like to get involved there as well. So this was a stream in the dessert of local low-church worship or the road of Eastern Orthodoxy which I am not sure I am ready to travel yet.