The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mass defection, Mere Christianity, and The Post That Ate Touchstone

A lively discussion recently ensued when S.M. Hutchens of Touchstone Magazine blogged on the subject of On "Using the Greekā€ (Why Evangelicalism is Falling Apart)
His general point is that Evangelicalism as a movement would gain greater coherence if it would make a "general movement away from self-assertion and self-definition towards shutting up and listening to older authorities, a re-entry into the life and mind of the Church as it was before Evangelicalism came along, and will exist when the movement is only a footnote to its history."

Somehow he touched a nerve among his readers, who have left 75 comments to that post, as well as a total of 84 more at follow-up posts here, here (by Russell D. Moore), and here (by James M. Kushiner).

I won't even try to dissect the multiple strands of argument that ensued, but I'll attempt a few highlights - like the Coming of Christ, this post definitely caused the thoughts of many hearts to be revealed (cf. Luke 2:35). Some debated the merits and demerits of "Evangelical bashing" while others discussed the pros and cons of Sola Scriptura. Still others, especially one or two very young female commentators, lamented that a magazine & blog dedicated to "Mere Christianity" had a definite leaning against certain positions such as the ordination of women. Still another thread of discussion concerned lingustic issues concerning the generic use of the word "man". Somehow the Philokalia came into the discussion, and a few who seemed to have read it started quoting Philokalia passages at one another. One young Orthodox man, very knowledgable in Linguistics, made this pronouncement: "... those not yet deep in the bosom of Orthodoxy are warned away from it left and right because in spite of how plain you think the meaning is, it is too rich to be of use to non-Orthodox and can only lead astray. Quite a pity to see Bishop Kallistos' translation available for all and sundry at bookstores." I have a (little-used) copy of the Third Volume on my office shelf, which I may eventually actually read after I've spent years studying the Christian and Jewish thought of earlier centuries. A thought - Bishop Kallistos Ware is himself an Orthodox spiritual elder, and yet by being an editor of a published edition he is (gasp!) a party to the exposure of the Philokalia to "all and sundry" people like me. How is that justified?

One of the Philokalia experts also blamed the alleged errors of a significant "Emergent/Emerging guru" on his being a former "'technical writer,'" that is, a professional dilettante." I don't know much about the "Emerging Church", and this "guru", whoever he is, may indeed be a poor theologian. But if being steeped in the Philokalia results in judging perfectly honorable professions such as technical writing to be inherently amateurish and unworthy of a theologian, then I think I'll find something else to study. (Update: that may have been a bit harsh - I don't mean to imply in any way that study of the Philokalia caused this attitude, only that Christians should do better.)

Well, there's more, but I'll let you discover on your own, if you're so inclined. My understanding of "Mere Comments" is that all are given a place at the discussion table who share in "mere Christianity" in the sense of adherence to the central teachings of Christianity such as the Trinity, Divine/Human natures of Christ, etc. "Mere Christians" in this sense are found in Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches alike, but the discussion certainly showed that "mere Christians" aren't "merely mere" - nor should they be.

In other news, this past Sunday I participated in the defection of 7 former Catholics to Lutheranism, in the process of the welcoming of 10 members into the Country Church. All three families represented were part of one extended family, and each had formerly been a Catholic/Lutheran blended family. I suppose Jack T. Chick would applaud, though not for long, because I somehow suspect that Lutheranism isn't his favorite brand of Protestantism. Furthermore, the fact is, I'm one of the very least pugnacious toward Catholicism of anyone in my church body. If someone asks, I'll certainly tell you forthrightly what my differences are with Catholicism - and they are true, significant differences. But to me the thing I found most positive about our recent admission of new members is simply that these are families becoming more active in their faith as families, finding a place where they are spiritually fed through Scripture, sacrament and fellowship, and making use of their spiritual gifts.

The flow hasn't been entirely in one direction, of course. Just this summer two young ladies married into Catholicism, one from the Town Church and one from the Country Church. The mother of the bride from the Country Church herself had been Catholic before marriage. This kind of thing happens all the time these days, and flows in both directions. My main concern is that people are fed with the spiritual food of Scripture. I've heard this indictment from several former Catholics in our churches, that they were never taught the Bible. Of course there are Catholics who do teach the Bible and some Protestants who don't. But it seems to me that even those (Orthodox and Catholics) who would place Tradition alongside Scripture as authorities would have to say that Scripture is the most primary of primary sources (*alert - bait for discussion - we'll see if anyone bites*).

One thing I like about our Town and Country Church environments is that, since the Town Church is the only one in our tiny town, and the Country Church is the only church open within a 12-mile radius, that there gets to be a certain "Village Church" atmosphere in which we're simply the Christian Church in our localities, rather than the "Lutheran as opposed to __________" in town. We are Lutheran of course, and the preaching and teaching that happens conforms to Lutheran teaching. Furthermore, I would welcome the opening of other Christian churches in our localities. Indeed, would that there would be such a revival that we had to open 4-5 new churches just to hold everybody! But we have a little taste of what it would be like if there were no denominations, but just Christian churches. Know what I'm saying?


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