Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Smith, Derrida, and the Church

Despite the dire effects of procrastinating, I am forgoing some of my reading for school to post a few comments on James Smith’s, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism. For a more exhaustive dialogue you can visit The Church and Postmodern Culture: Conversation and find a chapter-by-chapter discussion of the book beginning in July archives.

Smith’s book is the first in a book series that will draw on the “culture of postmodernity as an opportunity for rethinking the shape of our churches” (9). “Opportunity” indicates that the realm of postmodern culture and theory can be utilized by the Church to help it recover a better ecclesiology, which Smith suggests is both ancient and liturgical. To utilize postmodern culture and theory is to neither shun it nor baptize it, an important point to be kept in mind! For the Church Smith is encouraging a “creative recovery of ancient themes and figures” (25), as opposed suggesting a paleo-orthodox route.

As this is not meant to be a blog post exhaustive of Smith’s book, there are a few highlights I would like to make.

On Presuppositional Apologetics: Presuppostional apologetics means exactly that, a person’s worldview has inherent presuppositions that give is shape. There is no neutral rational playing field where everything means the same thing. One’s experience has and is determining what is true and false. For the Church this means that we have to recognize and embrace people will different worldviews. We cannot expect people to understand what we mean when we say, the “Word became flesh”, or “Christ’s blood is the blood of the new covenant.” Smith suggests that the primary responsibility of the Church is proclamation (kerygma). The church is not a system of truth dictate by neutral reason but a story that requires eyes to see and ears to hear (28). Revelation is the key to this kerygmatic proclamation.

On Derrida’s claim, “there is nothing outside the text”: Essentially, there is nothing outside of context (52). There is no neutral rational playing field. Interpretation is always context sensitive. Simply put, we cannot escape our own skin. Everything must be interpreted in order to be experienced (38). To experience something is to interpret it. However, Derrida goes on to say that an interpretation is good or bad based on the guidelines of one’s context, or community.

There is a lot that can be said further, especially as one gets into some of the finer nuances of “deconstruction”. For now I just want to highlight what Smith has to say about a deconstructive church.

On a deconstructive church: A deconstructive church embraces the entire biblical text in the form of the lectionary, converses with ancient voices in the form of creeds and preaching, and listens through prayer to global voices of today’s Church, especially those marginalized voices for the gospel, which is largely “foolishness” is to be spoken from the sidelines (58). A deconstructive Church is a prophetic Church because it does not count on people simply seeing that Christianity is true it proclaims the truth of the gospel and trusts the Spirit to illuminate that truth. Worship in a deconstructive church shapes our worldview to be able to call out the false realities of the world that claim they are the truth. In worship we give ourselves to be formed after the image of God so that we can interpret the world according to the gospel.

Now, why the short summary of a few chapters of a book?

I guess when I read something like this I find many of faith gaps of my life being filled with a certain level of assurance of my being a follower of Christ. Proclamation makes more sense, if you will, than demonstration (according to Smith). How can I ever prove the gospel according to a neutral rational playing field? Now, I am not suggesting that the church proclaim a certain level of ignorance. Proclamation assumes language and practice. That said, the Church is to prove the gospel through its communal witness as it exists in space and time. This kind of “prove” is a demonstration not according to common sense but faithful witness. We will prove the things of God by our lives and always by the Holy Spirit.

I guess I’ll end my comments for now.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

For if Christ is God, as indeed He is, but took not human nature upon Him, we are strangers to salvation

Some good stuff from Cyril of Jerusalem for Christmas.

"Nurslings of purity and disciples of chastity, raise we our hymn to the Virgin-born God with lips full of purity. Deemed worthy to partake of the flesh of the Spiritual Lamb, let us take the head together with the feet, the Deity being understood as the head, and the Manhood taken as the feet. Hearers of the Holy Gospels, let us listen to John the Divine. For he who said, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, went on to say, and the Word was made flesh. For neither is it holy to worship the mere man, nor religious to say that He is God only without the Manhood. For if Christ is God, as indeed He is, but took not human nature upon Him, we are strangers to salvation. Let us then worship Him as God, but believe that He also was made Man. For neither is there any profit in calling Him man without Godhead nor any salvation in refusing to confess the Manhood together with the Godhead. Let us confess the presence of Him who is both King and Physician. For Jesus the King when about to become our Physician, girded Himself with the linen of humanity, and healed that which was sick. The perfect Teacher of babes became a babe among babes, that He might give wisdom to the foolish. The Bread of heaven came down on earth that He might feed the hungry."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Drama Persists!

A very profound insight on preaching from Willimon.

"Therefore, I think the best preaching from the Bible is that preaching that is evocative, suggestive, and thick, rather than that preaching which, in wooden fashion, merely lays out principles and precepts, abstractions and rules. We pastors are those who are called, in great part, to open up the imagination of our congregations to what is possible and probable now that a creative God is determined to get back what belongs to God. Too often we preachers think that our job is to take a biblical text and narrow the possibilities of that text, force it to speak univocally, and reduce it to the one authoritative, right interpretation. More creative, and perhaps more faithful, biblical interpretation and exhortation seeks to multiply the possibilities, to open up new perspectives, and to help us see something that we would not have seen without the imaginative stimulation of Scripture."

I particularly was interested in his saying that preaching should be evocative, suggestive, and thick, that it should open up the imagination of the congregation. Perhaps we ought to start preaching “fictionally”. Not in a sense that what we have to say is all make-believe but rather that through the words we are drawn to what is beyond the words, letting the biblical narrative breath its ancient wisdom drawing us forever into the fullness of God’s reality through Christ and by the Spirit.

Willimon also said something that interested me as well in regards to how the Church speaks about the time between the times, that is in a "post" biblical context. He notes that too often Christians believe that "the dramatic parts of the Christian story are over; except for some commotion at the end on which it’s best not to dwell." I found this helpful especially as I think about my own denomination as it finds its place in a divided Church, as I wonder about its purpose for existing. We Nazarenes are not a people wandering aimlessly, merely waiting for the end to occur, passing the time by promoting the life of holiness as sort of a hobby. That makes no sense. If we believe we have something to offer the Church catholic (Rome, Orthodox, and Protestant) in regards to holy and faithful living then we need to find ourselves within the tradition, not in a sense that it is their tradition in which we seek to return but in fact that it is our tradition in which we seek to find ourselves faithful. There is hope as the Church seeks to be One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic that the dramatic parts of the biblical story do indeed continue today because we people of who the Book gives witness, and witnesses ourselves who give stature to the Book. The Church truly is the living end of God’s work of creation and redemption. The end is here, now, and charging at us in God’s Spirit. The drama persists!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christology, Peace, and Advent

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 126
Philippians 1:1-11
Luke 1:68-70; 3:1-6

I was particularly drawn to Sunday’s advent Scripture readings. I am not sure, if it has to do with the upcoming finale of the fall semester in which I am more inclined to be thinking about beginnings and endings, or rather if it is because it is advent and I am forced to think about beginnings and endings and seemingly never ending “middles” of time. Probably both.

These readings compel me to wonder about the purpose and mission of the Church as it relates to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is to come again to fulfill what He has already accomplished in Himself in our redemption. The Psalm teaches us to sing of our freedom from captivity and our return to Zion by the mighty works of God and yet Paul is painting a picture of the ever-approaching fullness of our freedom in Christ when he comes again. I am drawn to the gospel of Luke and Zechariah’s prophecy of the gospel of peace, a peace accomplished by the Lord God of Israel and our ever increasing knowledge of this mighty reality as, to mix metaphors, the love of God unfolds like a blanket on the earth, shinning down until all darkness is destroyed.

Peace is inextricably wrapped up in the incarnation of the Word of God. It would be a shame to for us to miss how important it is that the Church be a community after the Shalom of God for it is that very reality that has been made known to us in Christ who stands, even now, as the first true worshipper of God, for his perfect obedience unto death was that right and proper worship that humanity abandoned so long ago. O how peace has to do with worshipping in Spirit and in truth. Let us this advent be the peace of God even now amidst a violent world as a witness to the peace of Christ we know only by Hs life, death, and resurrection.

Sorry (maybe not) for the blog sermon. The tension between the times is sometimes too overwhelming!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Consider this the next time you watch a commercial on TV

“It is the intent of this study to tell … how ordinary folk came to distrust leaders of genius and talent and to defend the right of common people to shape their own faith and submit to leaders of their own choosing. This story also provides new insight into how America became a liberal, competitive, and market-driven society … In this way, religious movements eager to preserve the supernatural in everyday life had the ironic effect of accelerating the break-up of tradition society and the advent of a social order of competition, self-expression, and free enterprise. In this moment of democratic aspirations, religious leaders could not foresee that their assault upon mediating structures could produce society in which grasping entrepreneurs could erect new forms of tyranny in religious, political, and economic institutions.”

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pastor Athanasius

"For as a kind teacher who cares for His disciples, if some of them cannot profit by higher subjects, comes down to their level, and teaches them at any rate by simpler courses; so also did the Word of God. As Paul also says: 'For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the word preached to save them that believe'. For seeing that men, having rejected the contemplation of God, and with their eyes downward, as though sunk in the deep, were seeking about for God in nature and in the world of sense, feigning gods for themselves of mortal men and demons; to this end the loving and general Saviour of all, the Word of God, takes to Himself a body, and as Man walks among men and meets the senses of all men half-way, to the end, I say, that they who think that God is corporeal may from what the Lord effects by His body perceive the truth, and through Him recognize the Father. So, men as they were, and human in all their thoughts, on whatever objects they fixed their senses, there they saw themselves met half way, and taught the truth from every side. For if they looked with awe upon the Creation, yet they saw how she confessed Christ as Lord; or if their mind was swayed toward men, so as to think them gods, yet from the Saviour's works, supposing they compared them, the Saviour alone among men appeared Son of God; for there were no such works done among the rest as have been done by the Word of God. Or if they were biassed toward evil spirits, even, yet seeing them cast out by the Word, they were to know that He alone, the Word of God, was God, and that the spirits were none. Or if their mind had already sunk even to the dead, so as to worship heroes, and the gods spoken of in the poets, yet, seeing the Saviour's resurrection, they were to confess them to be false gods, and that the Lord alone is true, the Word of the Father, that was Lord even of death. For this cause He was both born and appeared as Man, and died, and rose again, dulling and casting into the shade the works of all former men by His own, that in whatever direction the bias of men might be, from thence He might recall them, and teach them of His own true Father, as He Himself says: 'I came to save and to find that which was lost'."

St. Athanasius

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Vicarious Humanity of Christ

"The vicarious humanity of Christ thus became integral to the doctrine of the ‘atoning exchange’ effected by him and in him between God and man. Hence the Gospel of the reconciliation of man with God has to be understood not just in terms of God’s mighty acts of salvation upon our humanity, but in terms of its actualization within the depths of our human existence in the perfecting and presenting in and through Jesus of our response of faith and obedience, in love and worship, to God the Father. For us to share in the worship of the Father through, with and in Jesus Christ belongs to the essence of our reconciliation to God, and is over the very substance of the Gospel.”

Monday, December 04, 2006

It's back!

Season six of Scrubs kicked off last week with a great first episode. In case you missed it because you're in the middle of watching the first five seasons, you can purpose this first episode on itunes. For now, enjoy the inner world that is "Turk and J.D."

Friday, December 01, 2006

"But the bible says..." as a hermeneutical strategy

This gave a me good chuckle.
"...Any Christian using New Testament words could fend off the most brilliant theological argumentwith the simple retort that one was using God's word against human opinion. All the weight of Church history could not being to tip the scale against the simple declaration that the New Testament did not contain such phrases as total depravity and communion of the saints. For every republic's gentlement theologians, this ingenius argument was both perverse and frustrating."
I chuckled at the huge dichotomy placed between the "educated" and the "non-educated" in post-revolutionary America. There were some (Methodists) who provided a good balance between the two but never in a manner befitting a proper catechism. The book continues, however, to describe the importance of the invention of music in the vernacular and sounds of the common person. It is here that John and Charles Wesley shine. Perhaps through music the "educate" and the "non-educated" could find a common theological languge. Perhaps the dischotomy is false to begin with and the Church needs to realize that in the Eucharist she receives a truer knowledge than even music can give. Either way, hopefully we are moving beyond prooftexting and entering into communities who read the Holy text together and for purpose of faithful living.