Sunday, January 11, 2009

Continuing the Conversation: Response Blog

Art: Eduardo Bertone y Martin Boccicchio

As you know if you follow this blog, I occasionally dedicate a blog post to respond to Austin Surls and Nate Duriga and their respective blogs, and they do so for me and each other as well. Due to Christmas break, there was a general slowdown in the "blogging production" but it would appear that things have begun to pick back up and so here we go again. Apologies to my readers for the two monstrously long posts consecutively. I hope I didn't lose anybody because of it.

Responding to Nate Duriga

Nate has several posts to which I have yet to respond, but I will try to say something about all of them. Some responses will be more full than others however.

In a response of sorts to Austin's impertinent questions about the word 'spiritual', Nate quotes Johnathon Edwards concerning the relationship between our spirituality and the Holy Spirit. Being spiritual is related to the Holy Spirit and His works. He rightly warns us to be sure that this is clearly defined when we use the term, as others may easily misunderstand us as their definition may be very different than ours. As I reminded a guy in my youth group today, communication goes two ways: intended meaning and received meaning (I'm sure there are technical terms but...). If we are to be teachers and/or preachers, communication will be very central to our profession and we must take responsibility to communicate in such a way that the intended meaning is conveyed successfully. So my question is, should we use words like spiritual, which are so easily misunderstood, from the pulpit or in the classroom? Or should we begin to use "substitution words/phrases" that people will more readily understand?

To make Austin happy if for no other reason I'm going to disagree with Nate a little bit on his evaluation of postmodernism. I don't there is so much in conflict between postmodern thinking and everyday life. I think that the difference is between science and postmodernism. Postmodernism has drenched philosophy, the humanities, ethics, and theology, but it has not had much, if any, effect upon science. Science and the scientific establishment is still not much doubted. I'm curious to see if this changes. Where the uncertainty lies is not in the findings and declarations of science or the scientific community but what they mean. Similarly I don't think that the findings and 'hard facts' of history are wholly doubted, just the significance of these findings. Global Warming, or Climate Change as they now call it, has been presented as a scientific fact. We haven't gotten to the place where people doubt science... yet.

I liked Nate's Christmas post and I share his frustrations concerning the 'Christmas Spirit' and whatever that means. As I said in the comment section, I think when the world at large speaks of the 'holiday spirit' it generally means feeling good about oneself through the celebration of whatever tradition or belief system you prefer. As for what the Christian Christmas Spirit should be I agree with Nate. Philippians 2 baby!

I don't really have much to say about Nate's latest two posts. I liked the poem he posted and I liked the book he reviewed. In our culture of tolerance, it has become way too easy to wink at sin. It is hard to take sin seriously. Our society has the attitude of "everybody messes up - its no big deal- just deal with it man... don't have a cow... chill out... don't feel guilty or bad about yourself... you have to feel good about yourself." As Christians we ought to reflect God's attitude towards sin. We should hate sin but be merciful, graceful, and forgiving towards sinners. We ought also to be humble because we are ourselves very far from perfect. Loving the sinner and hating the sin are not opposite ideas that are held in tension. We should hate sin because we love the sinner. Sin not only is offensive to and rebellion against God. It is not only harmful and destructive towards other humans. It destroys the sinner. It pushes them further from God, further from what God created them to be. Even those who sin in their own 'self interest' are deceived. In the end sin destroys. My sin is a cause of pain, struggle, and sorrow in my life. I don't think I can think of any sin in my past that I now rejoice in. Loving people should and must include hating sin. Sorry for the rant.

Responding to Austin Surls

I won't respond to Austin's Shack stuff yet. I'll wait for his promised thoughts that are yet coming.

That leaves me to respond to his three posts on postmodernism. I'm beginning to tire of the word. Maybe I'll become a postpostmodernist so we can debate that instead... if I'm ever able to understand it that is. Anyway...

I appreciated Austin's survey of postmodernism. It was helpful and fun to read. I also liked his 'positives about postmodernism' and fairly well agreed wholeheartedly with what he said. I said some things in the comments but otherwise I'll leave that as that.

That leaves his 'postmodernism is dangerous' post. I agree that postmodernism is both good and bad, depending upon which aspects of the system we are discussing. I'm not sure I appreciate Johnny Mac's pugnaciousness at all. I grew up in a pastor's home and I still very much appreciate and love my father, his life, and his ministry. Unfortunately as much as I like Dr. Macarthur and love my dad, they both, as is characteristic of many of their generation, have a propensity towards pugnaciousness and a closeminded 'I've already made up my mind' theology. I respect my father. I respect Dr. MacArthur. But their approach to theological dialogue is unhelpful (notice I did not say their approach to theology... but their approach to theological dialogue). Their approach is either ignorant of church history or arrogant in regard to their own ability to 'figure everything out'. Hard foundationalism ignores the fact that the theological system one holds to did not exist (completely) five hundred, two hundred, even one hundred years ago. Theological dialogue is essential to doing and understanding theology. Too often conservative theologians are too defensive of their own theological system to dialogue with those with whom they disagree. They do not read others to understand or learn from them but to debate and defend themselves. When you refuse to learn from certain sectors of the theological spectrum, you tragically limit challenges to your thinking, which, consequently, limits your ability to actually think about what you believe, Defensive theology allows no room for correction and does not lend itself to real dialogue. Let's always defend the truth of the gospel, but be open to the possibility that we have made mistakes along the way. As our own theology would remind us, we are fallible sinful beings and do make mistakes... a lot of mistakes! That being said, I do want to emphasize that I appreciate many things about Dr. Macarthur. I will echo his confidence in the core of the gospel. But let's be gracious and humble while we dialogue with and learn from each other, even those with whom we strongly disagree, and refrain from judging the genuineness of their faith. That's God's job and He does it better than we do.


Sabrina said...

i've tried to understand postpostmodernism using that very source, but since postmodernism is so opaque, what's the use?

i would agree with you regarding johnny mac. i appreciate his stance, but whenever he preaches, he seems unmovable in his declarations. it's rather irksome at times. what's even more irksome is that many (not most, not all) people who sit under his preaching and teaching become almost the same way. i would even go so far to describe them as unnecessarily dogmatic.

on the other hand, i sometimes find myself slipping in the other direction, and must be diligent in guarding myself with what is known to be true. it's difficult to be balanced.

Anonymous said...

you, nate, and austin all bring up good points to consider in understanding postmodernism. i really enjoyed reading all of your guys's thoughts on the issue because it brought up many things to remember when talking abt it. i particularly liked your statements abt science not really being doubted yet. did you watch 'expelled'? what did you think of it if you did? i found the movie very interesting.

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul