• Evangelicalism •
August 18, 2005
I had to hear this one for myself. Presiding Bishop Mark Hansen of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has called for an ecumenical council to convene in order to resolve the question of biblical interpretation in the church. Calling for the global council, Bishop Hansen called upon Pope Benedict XVI, leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches, and mainline Protestant leaders to convene the council in order to stem the tide of what he called “fundamentalist” readings of Scripture.
“Christianity is in the midst of a global identity crisis because we have not addressed ecumenically the questions of authority and interpretation of scripture,” Hanson told the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly last week. Religion News Service reported that the bishop also “called for Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches to come together to combat a ‘fundamentalist-millennialist-apocalypticist reading of Scripture.’”
Christianity certainly is “in the midst of a global identity crisis,” but that crisis is the result of theological accommodation and confusion — not biblical literalism. In this context, biblical literalism is code language for any assertion of biblical authority or biblical inerrancy.
The RNS report also included this: “Although Hanson did not elaborate, mainline churches traditionally are uneasy with literal readings of Scripture, particularly in fundamentalist churches, regarding the end of the world and political unrest in the Middle East. In addition, mainline churches have been divided over what the Bible says about hot-button issues such as homosexuality and women’s ordination.”
The claim that the ELCA, along with most other liberal Protestant denominations, is deeply divided over issues like homosexuality is truly an understatement. The liberal denominations long ago liberated themselves from anything close to a literal interpretation of Scripture. Over the past half-century, various heresies, aberrant beliefs systems, and theological movements have found a safe home under the umbrella of the “mainline” denominations. Now, Bishop Hansen want to convene a global council to combat literalist interpretations of the Bible.
There once was a time when the great councils of the church defended theological orthodoxy. Whatever happened to Nicaea, Chalcedon, and Ephesus? We can only imagine where this bizarre council might meet. The Council of Greenwich Village? Harvard Yard? Riverside Drive? I suggest the Council of Laodicea. The possibilities are endless.
SEEING IS BELIEVING: Hanson’s address is available in video format, courtesy of the ELCA.
July 28, 2005
July 28, 2005
Writing in 1927, French observer Andre Siegfried described Protestantism as America’s “only national religion.” To miss this, Siegfried advised, is “to view the country from a false angle.” Now, less than a century later, a major research report provides proof that Protestantism no longer represents a clear majority of Americans.
July 14, 2005
July 1, 2005
The church today finds itself assaulted without–and even within–by a culture and worldview of untruth, anti-truth, and postmodern irrationality. In fact, researchers increasingly report that a majority of evangelicals themselves reject the notion of absolute or objective truth. The seductive lure of postmodern relativism has pervaded many evangelical pulpits and countless evangelical pews, often couched as humility, sensitivity, or sophistication. The culture has us in its grip, and many feel no discomfort.
June 23, 2005
The shape of the evangelical challenge in postmodern America comes down to this–we must be continually on the alert to defend the faith, for the Christian faith now faces unprecedented attacks. The rise of a postmodern culture has produced an intellectual context in which the very concept of truth is held under suspicion, and claims to revealed truth are simply ruled out of order.
June 9, 2005
June 6, 2005
“We have figured out your problem. You’re the only one here who believes in God.” That statement, addressed to a young seminarian, introduces Dave Shiflett’s new book, Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity. The book is an important contribution, and Shiflett offers compelling evidence that liberal Christianity is fast imploding upon itself.
May 19, 2005
May 19, 2005
Judith Shulevitz wants to know why conservative churches are strong and growing. Writing in the May 12, 2005 edition of Slate, Shulevitz shares the confusion of many on the secular left in wondering why strict religious movements appear to be growing while more liberal movements decline.
May 16, 2005
Mark Lilla, a University of Chicago professor, decided to jump into the deep end of the church/state pool, and his article in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times is all wet–or mostly, at least. Lilla surveys the contemporary political scene and sees that everyone seems to want to “get religion.” The press is trying to understand all this, he explains, since conservative Christianity is “an alien world the press typically ignores.” Offering his own explanation, Lilla suggests that the Enlightenment-driven founders of the American experiment, along with the British, has made two wagers. “The first was that religious sects, if they were guaranteed liberty, would grow attached to liberal democracy and obey its norms. The second was that entering the public square would liberalize them doctrinally, that they would become less credulous and dogmatic, more sober and rational.” Alas, that has not come to pass. At the very least, the liberalizing of evangelical Christianity is taking longer than the secularists had hoped. To his credit, Lilla is clear about what he means by liberalism. In theology, liberalism means the following: “It includes a critical approach to Scripture as a historical document, an openness to modern science, a turn from public ritual to private belief and a search for common ground in the Bible’s moral message.” Why hasn’t that happened? Well, Lilla understand that evangelicals witnessed the collapse of the liberal churches and denominations that liberalized their theology. And he offers this insightful observation: “It appears that there are limits to the liberalization of biblical religion. The more the Bible is treated as a historical document, the more its message is interpreted in universalist terms, the more the churches sanctify the political and cultural order, the less hold liberal religion will eventually have on the hearts and minds of believers. This dynamic is particularly pronounced in Protestantism, which heightens the theological tension brought on by being in the world but not of it. Liberal religion imagines a pacified order in which good citizenship, good morals and rational belief coexist harmoniously. It is therefore unprepared when the messianic and eschatological forces of biblical faith begin to stir.” And those forces do stir, he warns. “The leading thinkers of the British and American Enlightenments hoped that life in a modern democratic order would shift the focus of Christianity from a faith-based reality to a reality-based faith,” he instructs. “American religion is moving in the opposite direction today, back toward the ecstatic, literalist and credulous spirit of the Great Awakenings. Its most disturbing manifestations are not political, at least not yet. They are cultural. The fascination with the ”end times,” the belief in personal (and self-serving) miracles, the ignorance of basic science and history, the demonization of popular culture, the censoring of textbooks, the separatist instincts of the home-schooling movement — all these developments are far more worrying in the long term than the loss of a few Congressional seats.” Professor Lilla is very worried about home-schoolers, Intelligent Design advocates, and those who simply will not accept the “reality-based faith” he would promote. He concludes by wondering “how long this dumbing-down of American religion will persist” before evangelicals give up our strange ideas about a “faith-based reality.” Well, if those on the evangelical left have their way, he won’t have to wait long.