Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Consuming Jesus 1

posted by xscot mcknight

We begin a series today on a book by Paul Louis Metzger called Consuming Jesus. This will be a fitting complement to Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change since this book calls evangelicals to explore the the consumerist origins of racism and classism among evangelicals. Paul is a professor at Multnomah (and a former student).
A scourge for the Western Church, and esp the evangelical church because it has so fiercely fought for fidelity to the message of the Bible as something to be lived out today, is racism and classism. This book draws out some themes we’ve seen in other books, but it does so in some special ways.
His central image is “consume.” Jesus has an all-consuming vision; his vision should consume us; as Jesus consumes us we are enabled to consume racism and classism.
The major theme of the book is that consumerism inevitably leads to racist and classist divisions in the church. Metzger’s got two angles here that we don’t hear enough about: first, he places our current problems in the history of evangelicalism and, second, he explores these themes on the basis of evangelical theology.
Chp 1 starts off with a bang: Both Falwell and his liberal counterparts have “used power politics to build moral utopias” (13). Again, “Both Left and Right [Christian political actions] have missed out on identifying the church as a distinctive polis [city] or theo-political community that engages culture in view of the cross.”
Metzger provides a nice, if simple, summary of three themes that have led to the retreat from culture and politics:
1. The seminary as cemetery: anti-intellectualism. Here he picks a bit on Moody.
2. The Savior of the soul who leads to trickle-down social ethics: the strategy is to save folks and that will lead to a better society. The rejection of the social gospel.
3. The rapture and retreat mentality of premillennial eschatology. It will all burn so who cares.
[Oddly, I'm surprised Metzger's survey fails to observe how signficant the Bob Jones decision on protecting segregation played in the rise of the original Moral Majority, and this prior to the interest in abortion.]
Here’s a good one: “The rejection of the gospel as social is not just a repudiation of the social gospel; the rejection of the gospel’s implications for combating race and class divisions nurtures social niches and fosters a ‘social-club’ gospel” (26).
The conservative evangelical religious right reveals “an adherence to political and social policies that give the appearance of being fixated on conservative, middle-class American social values” (33).
“Jesus did not die to save us from liberals. He died to save us from ourselves” (34).
Evangelicalism has “never really been an anticultural orientation, but rather a posture that is ‘anti’ the alternative culture that wields power at the center, hoping someday to replace the Religious Left as king of the hill” (35).
There’s some hard-hitting statements I’ve culled from this opening chapter. Why? So we can see that the issue of evangelical consumerism can be set in its sharper context of both history and political power-mongering.
[Who in the world is "Balrog"?]



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DdR

posted November 12, 2007 at 1:44 am


Interesting. Although Metzger gets some of the landscape right, I think that he may be giving his players a little too much credit. Part of the problem with his “consuming Christians” as he describes them is the “king of the hill” image, I believe. I just wrote on a similar subject (in a short piece called “Heaven’s Gated Communities”, see http://www.catapultmagazine.com if you’re interested); it may be more appropriate to say that the Evangelicals in question have been played by the political professionals. The pros have gotten the political support of Evangelicals, but have given little back other than values of division. It’s a bit like walking onto a used car lot and thinking that you’re going to get the best of the professional salesman. Also, I think that some evangelical Christians, in seeking influence at the political table, have been influenced more than they know by the values of the professionals themselves. This has led to “Wonderland” situations where angry Evangelicals don’t sound Christian at all and become more concerned about “winning” than about Christian behavior and values, while their opponents (who often belittle religion)argue for core issues of truth and morality.



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Jeremy

posted November 12, 2007 at 1:46 am


Presumably it’s a reference to the balrog of Lord of the Rings: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balrog



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Tyler Braun

posted November 12, 2007 at 2:50 am


I go to school at Multnomah where Metzger is really well received. I agree a lot with some of the ideas and concepts behind the “social gospel.” I guess my problem is that it seems like the “in” thing to do. Like switching your light bulbs and such. Now I’m not one to just say that just because its the “in” thing to do makes it wrong, but I wonder about it is all.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 12, 2007 at 5:35 am


Yes, these thoughts make me all the more leary of hard hitting evagelical participation in politics, cirucmscribed by some person or group “in the know.” It ends up that we end up simply being a part of the system, sucked into it, and we lose the distinctiveness of who we are in Jesus in this world.
And we look like it.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted November 12, 2007 at 5:37 am


That last statement I mean, though I say it with grief as well as realizing I’m a participant myself, though I don’t want to be.



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Diane

posted November 12, 2007 at 6:48 am


This book seems timely in light of Pat Robertson …



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Ben Wheaton

posted November 12, 2007 at 7:26 am


Scot wrote:
[Oddly, I?m surprised Metzger?s survey fails to observe how signficant the Bob Jones decision on protecting segregation played in the rise of the original Moral Majority, and this prior to the interest in abortion.]
I believe that Randall Balmer made this point in his recent book on the religious right. However, as an attempt to discredit the religious right (It’s origins were racist! It’s evil!) it fails. Firstly, the founder of the moral majority (Falwell) had rejected segregation in the early ’70s, so the organization he formed was not pro-segregation. To say that some of its adherents were motivated to get involved in politics because of their support for segregation is not to say that the organization itself promoted racist policies. Indeed, the religious right on the whole has specifically rejected segregation.
Of course, I think what Scot is saying is that the ideas in this book would be bolstered by this claim, but that still is putting forward the idea that this old canard has some power.
Diane, how is this timely in light of Pat Robertson? The fact that he is endorsing Giuliani should be evidence of moderation and maturity amongst Christian conservatives rather than racist consumerism.



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Bill Van Loon

posted November 12, 2007 at 8:01 am


As always I am going bring something substantive to this discussion.
I think the question is WHAT is a Balrog? Check out Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings trilogy; specifically the beginning of The Two Towers (Mr. Jackson’s movie). You can see his depiction of a Balrog. I could be wrong about this altogether.
By the way, how do you read so fast?



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RJS

posted November 12, 2007 at 8:16 am


To not read the Lord of the Rings is carrying a distaste for fiction far too far. At least you could listen to or watch it (although I must admit that I have not seen the movies).



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Scot McKnight

posted November 12, 2007 at 8:18 am


RJS,
I read the Hobbit, thought it was fun but long, and then volume 1 — way back in the 70s — but got no further. I remember Gollum.



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Bill

posted November 12, 2007 at 8:23 am


RJS, you’re funny. Oh, I read the trilogy years ago. I was just taking the quicker more visual route.
Forgot to say you can also see the Balrog at the end of the Fellowship of The Ring.



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Bob Brague

posted November 12, 2007 at 8:41 am


The Hobbit is to childhood as the Lord of the Rings trilogy is to adulthood. Really, Dr. McKnight, why are you so against the reading of fiction? And don’t say because it is a waste of your time. I think you might benefit from some Flannery O’Connor.



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RJS

posted November 12, 2007 at 8:41 am


Scot,
There is a great BBC audio dramatization (13 hours for the trilogy). Listen to it some time. If you still own a cassette player I’ll loan it too you (yes I’ve had it a long time).
But – the books have depth that none of the media attempts can really convey.
More to the topic – when you first announced that you were going to do a series on this book my reaction was Oh No – enough is enough. But – this post brings up some intriguing ideas, I look forward to more.



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Diane

posted November 12, 2007 at 8:48 am


A taste for Tolkien is definitely a mindset. I, for one, have a hard time enduring all the detail –what every rock is called in Elvish and dwarvish and the story behind it — but to others, this adds a delightful reality … please don’t desert me on the desert island with nothing but the Ring trilogy ….!
Ben,
Interesting take on Robertson and why I enjoy this blog. I took Robertson as wanting to have an end “product” or consumable — a Rep. candidate who would “win” and that Robertson would be willing to compromise on core issues to get it. I may be wrong about this. I did read that some S. Baptists are calling for a boycott of him and the 700 Club … from the Christian Newswire: “Former 2nd Vice President of the 15 Million strong Southern Baptist Convention said he is calling his Church, First Southern Baptist of Buena Park and all Evangelicals to boycott CBN and The 700 Club, since Pat Robertson has endorsed Rudy Giuliani for President.
Drake said there is a special nationwide prayer meeting daily to pray that Robertson will “repent and return to his first love” especially concerning the unborn and the homosexual agenda in America.”



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Scot McKnight

posted November 12, 2007 at 9:02 am


Bob,
I never said fiction was a waste of time. I’ve always had one problem: the writers are just simply making things up. There are so many “real” stories that need to be told that I’ve not found the interest in those who have to invent stories.
Unless, of course, it is a classic … like the Odyssey, in which case I shift it from “fiction” to “classic” and have no problem reading it!
Don’t think I don’t try … I try to read one piece of fiction per year … on top of my two pieces I read every year: Christmas Carol and Old Man and the Sea.



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RJS

posted November 12, 2007 at 9:07 am


Ah – now I get it. Scot – Lord of the Rings is a CLASSIC!



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Ben Wheaton

posted November 12, 2007 at 9:09 am


Diane,
One of the criticisms of the religious right has been that they focus too narrowly on the two issues of abortion and homosexuality. The fact that Robertson is branching out ought to be encouraging to liberals and those who are concerned about this narrow focus.
Scot,
Have you read Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories?” I encourage you to do so, it has some excellent insights into the place of subcreation in human endeavour.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 12, 2007 at 9:21 am


Ben,
Yep, I’ve read it. And it led me to read “Leaf By Niggle” which I loved. Fiction is easier for me in short-story form.



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preacherman

posted November 12, 2007 at 9:54 am


Ted,
Great points.
I believe anti-intellectualism has hurt Christianity in many ways. We need to let world know that Christians aren’t stupid and don’t over react to everything under the sun.
I do think that Jesus needs to consume our life completely. We must surrender our lives to Him and when we do this some things that we do and say won’t make sense to the world. But, Christian are intellegent people who can know Christ and the power of His resurrection. We can know Christ personally and that is what I believe Christianity is all about is knowing Him personally. Making Him Lord of our life and sharing our faith with others.
Some of the smartest people I know have come to know Jesus Christ. Professor’s in Science, Theology, Ethics that did not have that relationship who were trying to prove his existance wrong have come to know Christ. Most Mega Churches in America are hiring men with PHD’s. MDV’s., etc. so we can be well fed. C.S. Lewis, and many others have the same testimony. I was an athiest but now know Christ am a believer. Praise God!
We are having a new emerging revival taking place in america where the same thing is happening. Praise God!



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Rick L in Tx

posted November 12, 2007 at 9:57 am


Boy do I agree with the remark in #1, Evangelicals … have been played by the political professionals. I see that as a truth on both sides of the evangelical aisle.
With Ben, I don’t buy the branding of the religious right on the dubious claim of its origins being racist. Most people I know who are believers and lean to the right politically (I am describing it with vagueness since I can’t remember ever meeting someone who self-identified as a member of “the religious right” – it tends to be a label stuck on people by others) – most such people simply say “Well, I am a Christian and my political beliefs are such and such – and these other christians I see and hear about also are on the same page politically, etc. – but no one I know says “Yep, they speak for me”. And these people whom I am describing are not racists either. So to brand them on the basis of something done by someone else with whom they merely have a number of things in common in terms of political opinions – well, that seems a stretch.
Seems like a lot of Christian writers want to establish that being a Christian is incompatible with having political opinions that lean to the right.
And the interesting question to me is whether the solution is “Stay involved in politics, just don’t do it that way – do it my way instead”, or if the solution is “Step away from political investment and seek to follow Christ and heal human hearts and situations, one person at a time”.



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Bob Brague

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:04 am


Scot,
“Fiction is easier for me in short-story form.”
Now I *KNOW* you might benefit from Flannery O’Connor! Her two short-story collections are “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” (not what you might think) and “Everything That Rises Must Converge” (title taken from Paul Teilhard de Chardin).
I was going to recommend Tolkien’s essay also, but Ben beat me to it.
Bob Brague



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Bob Brague

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:10 am


I need to be as consumed with Jesus as I seem to be with Flannery O’Connor.



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Bob Brague

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:12 am


Make that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.



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RJS

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:20 am


Preacherman,
The summary of three themes – anti-intellectualism, trickle-down ethics, and eschatology – is interesting. Anti-intellectualism in particular has hurt. But I don’t see any great revival at the present time – am I really missing something?
Scot,
On another note, I didn’t mean the all caps at the end of #16. But I do think that some modern works of fiction are classics – in the sense that the Odyssey or the Iliad are classics. A Christmas Carol, Lord of the Rings, …
But I’ve never read “Old Man and the Sea.” Is it worth the time?



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Scot McKnight

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:21 am


Rick L,
Metzger’s book isn’t quite what you are making it out to be. It’s a contention that evangelicals complicity with consumeristic tendencies structures racism into their evangelical churches. The issue is that consumerism easily slides into racism and classism.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:24 am


RJS,
Hemingway’s piece is a parable of struggle … quite the piece I think.



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Mark E

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:51 am


The best fiction usually deals with serious issues (whether moral, political, or whatever) in a creative way to think about things outside our normal contructs (the box). I especially like Sci-fi for addressing current issues (For example in the New Jedi Order series, the Jedi are theologically and morally wrestling with “just war” issues).
Also, reading fiction helps to stimulate my own creativity and actually helps me process more logic-oriented material (like “modern” theology.
It is amazing how far off we can get from the original topic with a simple, “What is a balrog?” question.
In Christ,
Mark E



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Bill

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:56 am


Mark,
Scot posed a question about Balrog. I thought I was helping clarify something he wanted to know.
Sorry. My fault.



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T

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:58 am


I like a lot of this. I would argue, though, that evangelical seminaries (and their churches at their influence) haven’t been ‘anti-intellectual’ in the broadest sense. They have been selectively anti-intellectual and selectively over-intellectual simultaneously. In many ways, the whole evangelical church is consumed with learning (usually through lecture or reading format), as opposed to implementation. Themes 2 & 3 (and other forces) have led to a certain type of ivory tower of Christian doctrine which much of the Church has embraced (fled to), without realizing how much the move has been fear-inspired.
Whereas, for the intellectual pursuits which aren’t purely theological, the evangelical church has been suspicious. Even “blended” intellectual pursuits–ones that include theology or theological perspective but also that of some other field, are suspect. The further one goes from “pure” theological study, the more suspect it is. This does make, has made, the kind of thoughtful application of Jesus’ “kingdom solution” to the problems of the day much more difficult. We evangelicals are anti-intellectual, unless your intellectual pursuit is theology, then we qualify you for leadership.



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RJS

posted November 12, 2007 at 12:18 pm


T – “We evangelicals are anti-intellectual, unless your intellectual pursuit is theology, then we qualify you for leadership” – but only if your theology is guaranteed to stay within tightly defined fences. Thus perhaps here we are actually at our highest point of anti-intellectualism.



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T

posted November 12, 2007 at 12:28 pm


RJS,
True! Sad, but much more true than it should be.
Our ivory towers have several requirements for entry and for continued residence! But that shows that there are indeed such (intellectual) ivory towers, and how much fear is part of their culture.
I just think it’s inaccurate to say evangelicals are “anti-intellectual”. They/we do have narrowly defined exceptions which we reward with substantial clout.



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Bill

posted November 12, 2007 at 12:56 pm


I think I agree w/ RJS. We paint with a broad brush when we generalize. So to say evangelicals are “anti-intellectual” is risky just from a charitability standpoint. Are some evangelicals “anti-intellectual”? I think so.
I have wondered at times if “anti-intellectualism” and attitudes connected with it are directed at those who have not gone to a seminary or graduate school. As in, “You can’t talk like that because you aren’t a pastor and/or you don’t have a bunch of titles and initials before or after your name.” So maybe it’s more of a contextual “anti-intellectualism”. I’m not sure.



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Dianne P

posted November 12, 2007 at 1:30 pm


RJS,
Old Man and the Sea takes my breath away. I don’t read it every year ;-) but I have read it more than once.
Scot,
What about Doystoyevsky? The Brothers Karamazov is one of the best I’ve ever read – or is that a classic? And I apologize in advance for even bringing this up, as this wonderful group of posters will surely be generating even more titles to add to my amazon wish list.



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Dianne P

posted November 12, 2007 at 1:56 pm


Furthering my contribution to wandering seriously off-topic:
Re fiction. Scot, “Simply making things up”? I think of the best of fiction as *fleshing things out* rather than *making things up*. Though not a big fiction reader myself, I think that the very best fiction is the very best of all writing. Regarding the not so best of fiction, I’m totally in agreement – waste of time. However, back to the best – Doystoyevsky, Tolkien, Hemingway, etc. I think that they’re no more making things up than did Jesus in his parables. In the story of the prodigal son (my very favorite), Jesus tells me more about the gracious forgiveness of God than any number of theological discourses possibly could. While I read far more *non* than fiction, I try to co-read at least one really good fiction book – right now I’m (finally) in the last book of the Brothers Karamazov. I do think that our Lord is a God of story – why else would he give us so much story in scripture? and why else would he plant a sense of story so deeply in our being? I especially like Donald Miller’s take on this.
With apologies, back on topic (sigh), I’m curious to see how Metzger fleshes out Scot’s point #25. Thanks for that Scot. I was initially struggling w/ trying to understand where this book was really going and that really helped.



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RJS

posted November 12, 2007 at 5:06 pm


Bill, T, …
There is certainly an intellectual snobbishness in all circles, and in evangelical circles this is manifest in the kind of attitude to which Bill alludes (#32).
I was taking anti-intellectualism in a somewhat different sense based on Scot’s summary list. “1. The seminary as cemetery: anti-intellectualism. Here he picks a bit on Moody.”
I take this statement to refer to a mindset that penalizes, even anathematizes intellectual exploration and even search for intellectual integrity as dangerous, misguided, and on the slippery slope to apostasy or liberalism. There are well defined boundaries beyond which one must not step. Unfortunately these boundaries are not defined by historic orthodoxy – but by much more stringent, often extra Biblical, criteria. Thus theology is seriously limited and all other disciplines are suspect.
Stretching to the world beyond seminary: Utilitarian pursuits are ok – Law, Engineering, Business, Medicine – precisely because they are utilitarian – not searches for knowledge and understanding. One can bracket off the usefulness of a construct from the truthfulness of a construct.
Science (my field, thus my favored example) – i.e. search for knowledge and understanding – is unimportant or dangerous because it leads away from God by not having a proper respect for Scripture (although the utilitarian applications are welcome). There is a fundamental anti-intellectual undercurrent at play here.
If Christianity – evangelical Christianity – isn’t consistent with intellectual integrity I have a real problem.



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Dianne P

posted November 12, 2007 at 5:19 pm


Thank you RJS. Amen, my friend. My husband is a scientist (PhD, biochemistry) and I’m a nurse. While we used to live in an area that was flush w/ scientists due to the location close to a number of pharmaceutical companies, there were very few other scientists (perhaps none, actually) in the mid-sized (1200/Sunday) evangelical church that we attended. Any discussion of science felt very off-limits, and any mention of the usual suspects of homosexuality (origin of), stem cell research, age of the universe, and evolution were enough to have us led to the stake and the fires started. I don’t mean “discussion” in the sense of coming down on any side of an issue (my husband is a gentle and soft-spoken soul), but rather in the sense of having any thoughts or queries about an issue. Or as you so aptly put it, “search for knowledge and understanding.” Unfortunately, that seemed to be off-limits, and the searcher becomes quickly suspect as someone who is disrespecting scripture. Wish we knew how to deal constructively w/ the defensiveness, but I’m afraid that we have largely given up the pursuit.
I’m looking forward to reading more about this as we delve into the book.



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DdR

posted November 12, 2007 at 5:27 pm


I can attest to the fact that Scot has read Flannery O’Connor’s short fiction–and he LIKED it. Of course, he probably read it with his jeans on.



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Scot McKnight

posted November 12, 2007 at 5:29 pm


DdR,
And I had never heard of her until you mentioned her to me … and yes, I love her short fiction. Even wrote a short piece on country people. Referred to Parker’s back in something I wrote.
I have read every letter she wrote now in print and every essay, but only a few short stories.
Now that I’ve got jeans, maybe I’ll find her short stories even better.



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preacherman

posted November 12, 2007 at 5:49 pm


The revival I see taking place is Christians and churches are becoming more missional and emergant. I think that is awesome! God is putting the desire into the hearts of men and women ministers across the country to change the direction churches are going. The way Christians are thinking, “No, longer I but Christ.” Christians are starting to understand that God has a purpose for their lives and that is to share their faith. Praise God for Brian McLaren, Scot Mcknight, and on and on who are making a differnce for and in the kingdome of God.



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Phil Cooke

posted November 12, 2007 at 6:43 pm


The concept of “consume” can go in so many directions. In my book: “Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Non-Profits Impact the Culture and Others Don’t” (brandingfaith.com) I point out that branding is actually getting to the heart of who you are. In other words, it’s “the story that surrounds a person, product, or organization.” For the church to survive in today’s media-driven culture, we need to get back to our story, and learn to share it in an authentic way that cuts through the swirl of media clutter out there.



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Peggy

posted November 12, 2007 at 7:30 pm


Bill,
Thanks for the Balrog comment…saved me from having to make it!
RSJ,
While media can never take the place of the imagination fired by amazing writing, there are many, many scenes from the LOTR movies that brought tears springing to my eyes. (Many of them Tolkien’s most eucatastrophic moments) If you enjoy Tolkien, you owe it to yourself to see the extended versions. Really.
Scot,
Tolkien’s CLASSIC work of HISTORY (the history he said he “discovered” for England) concerning the dawn of the Age of Men in Middle Earth speaks very pointedly to the evil of consumerism and power and corruption…and while the movies don’t always follow the story as tightly as I would like, they completely capture the essense of the struggle of the small and insignificant against the powerful…and the lure and corrupting influence of power. They also speak to the weakness of the simple and overlooked having great power for good.
…it’s time for a holiday movie marathon…anyone wanna come?



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RJS

posted November 12, 2007 at 8:12 pm


Peggy,
I’ve watched part of #1 – and intend to watch them. Unfortunately I know the books so well – I constantly notice what is missing or “wrong.” This makes it hard. The river scene is wrong, Galadriel’s mirror is wrong …
This goes for many movies by the way – if I’ve read the book. My teenage daughter requests that I remain silent as we watch (often not quite so politely as this).



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Peggy

posted November 12, 2007 at 9:44 pm


RJS,
Agreed…one must really bracket what one knows of the “facts” of the books and enter, instead, the “experience” of seeing and hearing Middle Earth and its peoples and languages and creatures, as it were…if that makes any sense. I found that when I next read the books, after seeing the movies, it was richer for the many wonderful details and vistas from the movies.
I am sorry you did not get to see it in the theater…no screen or sound system at home can do some of the scenes justice. The lighting of the beacons of Gondor and Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog and the charge of the Rohirrim at dawn and the Charge of the White Rider to rescue Faramir…there are so many of them….
[The DVDs were great tools for the classes I taught around the release of each of the movies.]
I had some of the same challenges with the Narnia movie…that’s the price one pays for a Director’s artistic license, eh?
I have to say, however, that I have this very same problem with many a sermon I’ve heard or book I’ve read…. 8)



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RJS

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:03 pm


Peggy,
Chronicles of Narnia and Pride and Prejudice were the two most recent examples were I was respectfully(?) requested to remain silent and enjoy. They were good movies despite the artistic license.
And back on topic :
Dianne P,
Part of the problem is this evangelical tendency to place some topics “off limits.” Age of the universe, and evolution are among such. Unfortunately this avoidance, while “safe,” leads to a retreat from culture, provides a handhold for valid criticism, allows the wedge of doubt to enter, and helps precipitate a “crisis of faith” in far too many instances. We desperately need to allow space for honest discussion and grappling with the issues. We also need to recognize that on many of these issues sincere orthodox (little o) evangelical Christians may disagree.



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Sage H.

posted November 12, 2007 at 10:21 pm


#35 & #36
It seems so strange and tragic to me that entering into conversations which involve science can evoke negativity and suspicion. I think that we need to take heart and go ahead and have the conversations anyway, and be loving in the process. We don’t need to sacrifice one for the other. That would be a false choice.
A Balrog is a demon from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Arda legendarium. A Balrog (Sindarin for “Demon of Might”; the Quenya form is Valarauko) is a tall, menacing being in the shape of a man, having control of both fire and shadow. One was noted to wield both a flaming sword and fiery whip of many thongs. The Balrog induces great terror in friends and foes alike and can shroud itself in darkness and shadow.
(from wikipedia)



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Brad Cooper

posted November 12, 2007 at 11:55 pm


I admit that I have been hard on evangelicals as anti-intellectual myself (and I am a die-hard evangelical).
Today at work, I was thinking about this whole subject, having read the posts above. It struck me that this tendency to anti-intellectualism is not just in the evangelcial church. It is more of an American phenomenon. I think there are several factors that have fueled this kind of tendency. These are, of course, generalizations; but in my experience, I believe that they apply to the vast majority of people (evangelical or otherwise).
1) Public schools tend to discourage critical thinking and questioning anything that the teachers say. (I have some vivid experiences of this myself. I also saw it carry over into the evangelical college that I attended and the liberal seminary that I went to. People–in general–tend to accept what they are taught and accept it as fact without question.)
2) In general, people do not like the tension that intellectual discussion about controversial subjects can create. We’re afraid of someone getting upset. We’re afraid of tensions being created. And there’s a tendency to believe that discussing these kinds of things is simply divisive. When approaching these kinds of subjects, I often say something like: “When iron sharpens iron, things tend to get heated up and sometimes sparks fly. And that’s OK; but let’s remember in the end that love and grace must reign.” (This, of course, is prefaced by a reference to Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”)
3) In general, people tend to think of intellectual discussion as unimportant or boring and would much rather discuss things that are more practical. Americans are very pragmatic.
4) There has been a reaction to the liberal movement’s domination of academia in the 19th and 20th Centuries that has resulted in several movements of thought that downplay intellectual objectivity and subjectivize truth: existentialism, mysticism, fideism, postmodernism, etc. (These are not totally anti-intellectual but do have a tendency to downplay intellectual ability and the intellectual element of faith.) I have also seen time and time again that those within the liberal camp, on the other hand, often feel quite safe to put forth ideas that lack intellectual rigor and sometimes are simply ludicrous–as long as they fit the general liberal philosophical or socio-political agenda. And the majority of the rest of the liberal camp accepts it and praises it.
5) As Americans we are very busy and tend to put our energies towards things besides intellectual pursuits….work, hobbies, sports, reacreation, and entertainment of all kinds.
6) Our love for being entertained makes us susceptible to things that are sensationalized. (Evangelicals do have a tendency to be more guilty of this, perhaps. I remember reading a very interesting study of how celebrity status did not start with Hollywood but with the hype generated by evangelists within the evangelical church….but then I can also think of a number of liberal/secular TV shows/movies and magazines and authors that use the same kinds of techniques–so maybey evangelicals are really no different than everyone else.) There are a number of TV preachers, financial ministries, health, end time prophecy teachers, etc. who can say things that are simply untrue and people do not even question what they say because they are so enamored with all the hype and charisma and schmoozing and sensationalized ideas. Some of these teachers even teach things that are quite heretical and are not at all in line with evangelical theology. I call these kinds of ministries “Infomercial Christianity.”
Well, that’s more than enough.
BOTTOM LINE: We as evangelicals need to avoid these pitfalls, learn to think more deeply, test everything, and love the Lord our God with all our mind–no matter what the rest of the world does.
RJS #44,
You wrote: “Unfortunately this avoidance, while ?safe,? leads to a retreat from culture, provides a handhold for valid criticism, allows the wedge of doubt to enter, and helps precipitate a ?crisis of faith? in far too many instances. We desperately need to allow space for honest discussion and grappling with the issues. We also need to recognize that on many of these issues sincere orthodox (little o) evangelical Christians may disagree. ”
Beautifully put!



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Dianne P

posted November 13, 2007 at 1:18 am


Brad, Thank you for taking the time to flesh this out to such a degree. I agree that this whole thing is far from limited to evangelicals. Evangelicals will definitely come across as anti-intellectual, while more *progressive thinkers* may self-promote as pro-intellectual and at the same time, reject out of hand those ideas which are not currently in vogue. Lazy thinking and retreating to one’s own pre-formed opinions are not unique to any one of us (myself included). However, there is an unwillingness among evangelicals to discuss some ideas, in even the most gentle of ways, that is simply designed to shut down the discussion. Eg, Q. So help me to understand why you think the earth is 6000 years old? A. (angrily, defensively) I believe the bible, don’t you?
I agree w/ your comment that “In general, people do not like the tension that intellectual discussion about controversial subjects can create”. Except that I do not think that it is an inter-personal tension that is the problem, as the refusal to discuss creates enough tension of its own. Rather I think it’s the intra-personal tension that is the issue at hand. It’s tough to hold ideas that have no easy resolution. Much easier to grab and hold onto definitive answers – logical or not, examined or not – than to continue to grapple.



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RJS

posted November 13, 2007 at 8:31 am


Brad,
I think that you are right in much of your analysis of anti-intellectualism as a general cultural phenomenon. There is a strange tension here – a kind of reverence to for the “experts in the know” who impart knowledge and a wariness and disrespect for the process.
There is another dimension to the problem in evangelical circles however – manifest in two ways. (1) Evangelical institutions of higher learning are handcuffed by this anti-intellectualism. This is not true of secular institutions of higher learning. I think that this is the point of #1 in the original post. (2) As Dianne P points out in #47, anti-intellectualism leads to a personal disregard for and often animosity toward “intellectual” Christians, but “intellectual” does not quite convey my meaning here. One’s personal integrity, sincerity, godliness, piety, and commitment are called into question or subject to outright attack. As Dianne says – it is much easier to grab and hold onto definitive answers than to continue to grapple. We as a culture want definitive clear-cut answers, but this is especially true in evangelicalism. As a group we are authority minded.
I often feel as though I am fighting four battles simultaneously: (1) Evangelical Christian in secular academia; (2) Woman as a professor in science; (3) Woman as professional in evangelical Christianity; and (4) Scientist in evangelical Christianity.
All four wear me down at times – but the last two are the worst, as they lead to a near total lack of support in trying to maintain the first – Evangelical Christian in secular academia.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 13, 2007 at 10:38 am


Dianne #47,
Thanks for the response. I agree with you except that I would not remove interpersonal tension from the list but rather add intrapersonal tension as #7. Believe me, I’ve seen the interpersonal tension and I’ve seen it split a church.
Peace.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 13, 2007 at 11:16 am


RJS #48,
Excellent post. Thanks for your reponse.
I really like your opening comment: “There is a strange tension here – a kind of reverence to for the ?experts in the know? who impart knowledge and a wariness and disrespect for the process.” I’ve noticed that also. Very strange and difficult to understand.
I know that feeling of tension that comes from not quite fitting. As noted previously, I’m a die-hard evangelical; and I was a pastor for over 8 years in a mainline denomination that was controlled by liberals. And I earned my M.Div. (all 93 hours) from a very liberal seminary.
I agree with the comment about a desire for clear-cut simple answers to questions. I would add that to #7: intrapersonal tension (see #49). I don’t think that that is just true of evangelicals, though. I have seen that to be just as true among liberals and among secular people (even academics, at times).
I do have to disagree with you about one point. And your comments about being an “evangelical christian in secular academia” make me think that you might change the statement if you thought about it. The statement I’m talking about is this: “Evangelical institutions of higher learning are handcuffed by this anti-intellectualism. This is not true of secular institutions of higher learning.”
I think that it is just as true of secular institutions. In fact, there have been several notable situations in which a professor of high standing was fired/asked to resign, recant, denied tenure, etc. when taking a stand that crossed over the boundaries of liberal philosophy. Within a couple of minutes I was able to google up 3 separate incidents related to intelligent design: William Dembski, Robert Marks, and Francis J. Beckwith.
Thanks again for the response. I’ll be praying for you today about the four tensions that you are experiencing–and especially praying that you will find emotional support from people in your church and that the Holy Spirit will give you the strength, wisdom, grace and peace that you need to endure these things–even overcome them.



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MatthewS

posted November 13, 2007 at 1:34 pm


RJS,
Do you think that sometimes secular institutions are handcuffed by political correctness, similar to how an evangelical institution might be handcuffed by anti-intellectualism? Or would any comparison be strained?



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RJS

posted November 13, 2007 at 4:08 pm


MatthewS and Brad,
Certainly intellectual freedom – especially pre tenure – is not perfect at secular institutions, and political correctness plays a role. There is some very real flexibility and room for “prejudice” especially at promotion from assistant to associate professor (usually untenured to tenured) and at promotion from associate professor to professor. These promotions require evidence of publication, funding, service, teaching, and national/international reputation (not all weighted equally) and often require a nearly unanimous positive vote by senior colleagues.
But in a sense the comparison is strained. No secular institution of which I am aware requires yearly signature affirming a set of beliefs. Unpopular opinions and ideas may limit raises and such – but they seldom threaten employment of a tenured professor. On the other hand many, perhaps most, evangelical institutions require yearly affirmation of a set of beliefs. These statements are often so tightly defined as to limit intellectual debate and open discussion of ideas in important areas. So – as I mentioned in a comment a week or so ago – I could not teach at Wheaton as I could not sign their statement of faith in good conscience. If I was already at Wheaton and was intellectually honest, acting with integrity, I would have to resign. This is despite the fact that I remain a committed evangelical Christian. This is what I meant by “handcuffed by anti-intellectualism”. Even our thinkers – if at evangelical institutions – can not freely think through, grapple with, and debate very serious issues – without jeopardizing livelihood.
I know that I could not teach at many, perhaps most, of our institutions. I am willing to bet that Scot couldn’t teach at a good (but somewhat smaller) percentage.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 1:16 am


RJS #52,
I may be mistaken, but I’m really convinced that the comparison is not at all strained. I wonder how many secular institutions would allow you as a science professor to openly teach intelligent design, much less evidence for a young earth/problems with old earth theories. You may not have to sign anything, but as soon as you would step out of line by teaching these, they would let you know….most likely either firing you or pressuring you to resign.



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josenmiami

posted November 14, 2007 at 7:21 am


while I may not agree with all of his specific examples, I tend to agree with Metzger that the church (not just evangelical) has been subverted by consumerism. It permeates every aspect of church life. The religious free market.
Regarding LOTR, Tolkien and Lewis were very interested in the role of mythology in culture and were familiar with Nordic mythology (especially Tolkien) as well as Greek.
Tolkien set out to create a new modern mythology for western civilization in LOTRs… I think he has succeeded. I use LOTR to communicate spiritual truth as stories to my young tribal-vampire friends more than anything else.



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RJS

posted November 14, 2007 at 7:58 am


Brad,
I have three colleagues here who signed the intelligent design statement – one who is “young earth” and makes that known. There was a front page spread on them in the local paper – and no backlash. One is chair of a major department. I have another friend who signed it, who speaks publicly about his faith, teaches a faith and science seminar at his public institution (not the same as mine) and is still recruited by the top Universities in the country (but likes his current location).
I wouldn?t sign the statement – because I don?t agree with it. I agree more with Francis Collins (evangelical Christian and was head of the Human Genome Project at NIH). We could discuss the issues – although this post isn’t the place. But – if I discussed my ideas while employed at most evangelical institutions I would leave myself open to be fired for violating contract.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 9:29 am


RJS #55,
I may be totally wrong on this. Maybe the secular institutions that discriminate against those who believe and teach intelligent design are the exception…or maybe the winds are finally changing in our favor.
At any rate, I understand your frustration. I had to deal with it as an evangelical in a mainline denomination that was controlled by liberals (although I realize the situation is not exactly the same as what you are dealing with).
I also had some disagreement on some minor issues with the very conservative evangelical denomination that I grew up in that made it very difficult for me to be ordained there. That denomination’s faith statement teaches abstinence from alcohol, but I believe that the Bible clearly teaches moderation. I very rarely drink alcohol at all myself and I could have lied about what I believe like some of the pastors in the denomination admitted to me that they did. But integrity is much more important to me than expediency.
BTW, I greatly appreciate that you express that same kind of integrity. Your honoring of Christ in that way is far greater than any position you might attain at an evangelical institution. I’ll continue to pray for you. Be encouraged.



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Dianne P

posted November 14, 2007 at 11:54 am


I’d like to speak to this situation outside of academia. Among our more liberal, fairly educated, social circle of friends and acquaintances (PhDs, attorneys, etc – bachelor degrees being the minimum), I see a desire to discuss the issues. Among the evangelical church group, discussion is mostly off limits. Once I heard someone ask another what they believed about evolution, that person defensively snapped “I believe the bible.” (Sadly, I missed that chapter and verse.)
I certainly agree that one is quickly stereotyped by a few positions, on both sides of the aisle. However, in liberal circles, discussion is prized, even though it may be obvious that you’re thought to be an idiot ;-) In evangelical church circles, discussion is not. Apologies for the generalization, obviously not always true, but in general, has been our experience.
Ironically, in one circle we’re seen to be the conservatives, in the other, we’re seen to be the liberals. Sigh.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 14, 2007 at 12:15 pm


Dianne #57,
I went to a liberal seminary (and I am an evangelical). Discussion was not prized by all the liberals there. I was called an idolater (for worshiping the Bible) by one prof. Another tried to cause trouble for me with the dean. Another just laughed at me. There were plenty of techniques used against me to try and get me to stop discussing.
I also pastored in the same mainline denomination as the seminary I attended. The patriarch of one church was quite angry with me for preaching that the resurrection is a historical fact (in contradiction to the covers of the 3 major news mags that Easter). Another leader at that same church became angry because her daughter asked me if I thought we came from chimps and I told her that that is not at all what the Bible teaches. I could go on.
Bottom line: After innumerable sacrifices in over 8+ years of going through the ordination process in this denomination, I was refused ordination. Why? The official answer: I believed in believer’s baptism (even though I had baptized more infants than I had dedicated during those years). My district superintendent told me that that was ridiculous as did other pastors I knew and that she would help me to fight the decision (which I became convinced God did not want me to do for multiple reasons, including the fact that we were going under financially and could not afford to stay on the poverty level income we were receiving any longer).
The real reason, I believe, is because I do not believe in evolution. The questions that the 3 liberal pastors who interviewed me asked revolved around the issue of creation vs. evolution not the issue of believer’s baptism vs. infant baptism.
My experience, then, is that liberals and evangelicals both take stands on certain issues. The evangelicals in my life have at least been honest about it. Many (but not all) of the liberals in my life have not.



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RJS

posted November 14, 2007 at 12:43 pm


Interesting Brad,
Having thought about this a great deal (an issue from which I cannot escape) I would argue for a position of theistic evolution – and, absolutely, for a real historical resurrection (the cornerstone of the Christian story). But it is the theistic evolution stance and the ramifications of that stance that can get me into trouble in evangelical circles.



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Brad Cooper

posted November 15, 2007 at 7:09 pm


RJS #59,
I’m not ignoring you on this, but I just haven’t had time to respond. And because of the sensitive nature of the issue, I don’t want to rush an answer.



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