Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mounting pressure against Bush

It seems -- to use storm-laden language -- that the levee has broken: Republicans in growing numbers are openly opposing the war in Iraq. The White House's "sunny" announcements about how the insurgents are in their "last throes" is being seen for what it is: a false, rose-colored reality.

I think it is indicative of our situation today that Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, the man responsible for the term "freedom fries" in 2003, has been openly opposing the war since this past summer. Now more Republicans are joining the effort to bring troops home.

Apparently in response to such growing pressure, Bush released the offical "strategy for victory," which you can read about here.

Click here for an interesting column about Bush's shrinking comfort zone.

Just Added: One columnist's 18-month exit strategy out of Iraq. Any responses?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Some troubling news

Kissing in public? A fine of €2,500.
Women dressed in American clothes? Arrested.
Drinking alcohol? Public whipping.
Buddhist monks? Their throats slit.
Christian students? Beheaded.

Only in war-torn Southeast Asia.

The easy answer is more violence. The hard answer is how to respond in a way that does not violate our own beliefs and builds unity rather than furthering its disintegration.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

Amy and I are spending Thanksgiving with some friends from Wheaton -- Tom, Becca, and Joel. Tom and Becca live near State College, PA, which is about 3.5 to 4 hours from Princeton. The drive wasn't bad at all, and their place is really great: it's the old governor's mansion now turned into four apartments. And just like the weather reports predicted, snow fell for the first time last night. I hope to have pictures up in a couple days. Enjoy your turkey!

Monday, November 21, 2005

More Jüngel

A few weeks ago, my Jüngel bibliography had to be updated, probably for the last time. While skimming through the index of John Webster's book, Holiness, I came across a reference to an article by Jüngel that was unfamiliar. I set out to the library, found it, copied it, and now I'm making it available to those who are interested. The article is "Theses on the Relation of the Existence, Essence and Attributes of God," from the Toronto Journal of Theology, volume 17. The article is written in a way reminiscent of the Scholastics, and the argument is particularly pointed in dialogue with and in opposition to Thomas. I will pass it along to those who want it.

In addition, I have turned my entire Jüngel corpus into PDFs, including all the books (save one, which will be completed by the end of the year, hopefully). I think I will start digitizing more of my library. I have quite a few valuable books, and digitizing makes a lot of sense for someone who wants to preserve these books for generations. And the ability to have these documents available at the click of my mouse is extremely appealing for research purposes.

Friday, November 18, 2005

HP4

I've just returned from the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. My verdict: Not as good as film #3, but better than the first two. The movie captures some things rightly (especially the graveyard showdown between Voldemort and Harry), but glosses over too much important material. Of course, in the long run, I agree with most of their editing and storyline decisions; a movie can only capture so much. I still highly recommend it. And if there's anyone reading this blog that is against Harry Potter (God-forbid) for religious reasons, or just does not care about the series, I'd be happy to argue otherwise.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Norwegian kitchen appliance rock??

Nothing surprises me anymore, but here's something unusual: a Norwegian trio of rock musicians who use kitchen appliances for percussion. Check out their rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Click here to see their homepage, or here to see video diary entries for their US tour. A part of me feels like it's a joke. But another part of me wants to see their live concert.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Podowon Korean Presbyterian Church

Here are two photos of the church where Amy and I are working currently.



The building is quite old, and the present congregation has been there for several decades, I believe. The parking lot is rather small and cramped.



Services are at 11 am, with a children's service at 10. After church, Amy and I tutor several women who are studying to be nurses in English. They are all relatively new to the U.S., and some of them just arrived this semester. Working with them (and the children) is one of the highlights of being here.

The difficulties abound, though I will not mention them all here. One of the most aggravating problems is that the church, in all there years here, has not thought to hire someone fluent in both Korean and English. That alone is sufficiently frustrating. On top of that, it seems like most of the adults really do not care about the youth in the church. From what the kids have told us, and from the general attitude of the adults, the parents think the extent of their duty is to force them into the church building and expect the teachers to turn them into perfect Christians. Of course, all the while, the parents exhibit very few Christian virtues in their own lives at home. Hence the first word from the mouths of these children regarding Christianity is sad but true: hypocrites.

Amy and I are wondering whether or not we should stay. It's been a difficult two months already. But we really care about these youth, and the nurses are really enjoyable. The high schoolers are all forced to be there against their will, and at least one of them cannot wait to leave home so that he can put the church behind him. What does one do in this situation? Well, Amy and I have thrown out all the manuals on youth groups and forged a new path. No more cliche worship songs, no sermons, and little if any prayer. These youth want to deal with the real issues of Christianity. So we told them that we would support them in not coming to church, which is something they probably have never heard from a youth pastor before. We've encouraged dialogue about other religions, and on Friday one of the high school girls brought a Buddhist friend from school. We are letting them talk about what they really think about Christianity.

All of this is allowing us to demonstrate by our actions what we want them to eventually learn: that Christianity cares more about people than about doctrines, morality, and duty. When all is said and done, I hope they will all see a new side of Christianity -- centered on Christ -- even if they do not choose to believe it in the end.

A bibliography of theological writings challenging the impassibility of God

• Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Mysterium Paschale.

• Jüngel, Eberhard. God as the Mystery of the World.

• Lewis, Alan E. Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday.

• Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God.

• Weinandy, Thomas. Does God Change?.

• Weinandy, Thomas. Does God Suffer?.

There are more titles within the "open theology" movement, but most of them lack the necessary theological rigor. I have yet to come across an contemporary Eastern theologian arguing against impassibility. There is, however, a prominent book by an Orthodox theologian arguing against the aforementioned theologians in favor of impassibility. That book is The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth, by David Bentley Hart. If anyone knows of other good books that should be on this list, please let me know.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

McLaren and the "Emergent" Church: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I know I promised to start some discussions about history and revelation, but the occasion of a talk by Brain McLaren in the Seminary chapel makes it necessary and relevant to dialogue about the "emerging church" and the state of Christian churches in America in general.

I will not attempt to summarize what McLaren spoke about (partly because it requires quoting his rhetorical flourishes), but those who feel "in the dark" should read, or at least skim thoroughly, his most recent and best work, A Generous Orthodoxy. Those who are familiar with McLaren's writings probably recognize his characteristic weak areas, which were evident as expected in this talk. I will highlight a few of these weak points in a bit.

First, I want to highlight where I am in agreement with McLaren and why. I will present these in numerical order, but there is no reason for this order, other than the order in which they come to my mind. To begin:

(1) I agree that the church in America is facing, or will face very soon, an emergency of drastic proportions. I hate to sound apocalyptic about this, but I think McLaren is mostly right in this regard. Of course, he is by no means the only one aware of this pending disaster. He is simply one of the most outspoken about it. The nature of this emergency is up for serious debate, but I think McLaren summarized it well when he stated that we are in a paralyzing "Cold War" scenario, in which churches and individuals have chosen "sides" (e.g., conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat) which characterizes the Other as "wrong." Such a state of affairs freezes the faith (making it no faith at all), emphasizes "safe" models of "success," searches for profitable and powerful "solutions" to keep denominations and churches alive (but only superficially), and all the while forgets (intentionally or unintentionally?) the Gospel. This is obviously a gross oversimplification, but it is largely true.

(2) I agree with McLaren's over-simplistic but generally correct statement that the "Mainline" churches are dying, and the Religious Right churches are going brain dead. And I also agree that, for now, the Religious Right is going to see (a Pyrrhic) victory in its pursuit of establishing the new American civil religion. But that will not be the end of the story (cf. Revelation).

(3) I agree that the church today needs to not shut down failing churches (usually to provide financial stability for the denomination), but that to keep Christianity alive, we need to plant new churches. And these church plants need to be characterized by innovation within the local cultural context, not imitation of the "parent church" or what the denominational "ideal" is according to those in power. Denominations need to take a financial risk by planting churches that are not financially secure by any means. Denominations need to be prepared to lose money on a church plant, rather than keeping the money safe -- and hence, unused. (Parable of the Talents, anyone?)

(4) I agree that churches need to welcome and encourage the theological thought of the younger generations, marginalized persons and people groups (and that includes ALL people groups), and those who do not have the means to go through professional education. In other words, churches need to recognize the abilities and possibilities among those who are ignored -- ignored quite often, unfortunately, by those who received a high-class seminary education. Much of this new thought will not take place in book form, but rather through the various artistic and creative means at people's disposal. Do churches today have the ears to hear and the eyes to see what is being produced?

(5) Finally, I agree with McLaren's hesitance to use the term "emerging church," though we need to consider his rhetorical alternative, "the church emerging." I also agree with his preference for the term "emergent conversation," since it does not give off the sectarian flavor of wanting to establish just another denomination in a vast sea of others. We do not need the Emergent Church as equivalent to the Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church, etc.

Okay, enough with the sermonizing. All of what I just stated was present in McLaren's talk tonight. But we need to address the holes and the inherent problems.

(1) First, the "emergent conversation" has yet to provide a systematic (read "consistent" or "orderly" if you prefer) way of how to use and understand the ancient and modern traditions. These innovative, new churches are pulling from all kinds of sources -- using creeds, liturgies, rituals, monastic rules, et al. -- but they have no way of regulating how individuals and individual churches read, understand, and put into practice these traditions. This is a serious problem! I recognize that McLaren does not want to create a new denomination, but what's being created instead is thousands of churches without any regulating authority to guide how these churches develop and use these ancient and modern texts. It is not enough to use the creeds on Sunday mornings. There is a reason why the mainline churches have well-developed polities in order to provide guiding principles for how churches should operate. McLaren's emphasis on innovation is important, but without hermeneutical guides and an understanding about how to appropriate and use ancient texts and traditions, these innovative churches threaten to become islands of individualism without any clear way of connecting these churches into the wider community of saints.

(2) Connected with this criticism is the corresponding lack of critical judgment in McLaren's writings regarding theology. McLaren openly promotes a kind of "generous orthodoxy," by which he means a Christianity that is ardently ecumenical and seeks to bridge the chasms between denominations and theological schools. This is a worthy goal, to be sure, but what he needs is some solid ground upon which to stand and think out of. Jüngel may be polemical and controversial, but that is because Jüngel is unwaveringly consistent and believes the truth should never be compromised for the sake of agreement. McLaren could use a heavy dose of uncompromising commitment to a theological framework. But his books consciously thrust off any such framework. He has no foundation from which to point out the strengths and weaknesses of other people's views. He wants to draw from all these modern/contemporary theologians (and he rattled off a bunch of names right at the start, though Barth, Jüngel, Webster, and Gunton were conspicuously missing), but many of these writers disagree with each other -- so how does he or anyone else in the emergent community read these theologians? I suspect that they pick and choose what they want to emphasize and put into practice, which is probably how many of them also read Scripture. I find this to be very disconcerting. Is Moltmann right about the Trinity? McLaren apparently thinks so, but why? Is Newbigin right about missions? McLaren thinks so, but why? What makes these theologians "right"? And by gathering ideas and thoughts from all these many sources, how does he or anyone else actually differentiate between what is helpful or not helpful? How does he recognize that which corresponds most appropriately to Scripture and the Christian tradition? In other words, how does a movement that tries to use all the traditions actually stand within a tradition? If the emergent community avoids tradition, then who are they and what will they become?

(3) McLaren's books have -- since A New Kind of Christian -- been too comfortable with the oversimplistic understanding of the postmodern as something altogether different and better than the so-called modern. In the book just mentioned, McLaren's characters speak about the year 2000 as the beginning of the "postmodern era," which is not only historically inaccurate, it's also misleading in terms of intellectual developments. (It's funny that in 2002, Jungel wrote about the end of postmodernity!) This is why I am not any more comfortable with McLaren's term "the church emerging." Emerging from what? From a dark womb? from being lost in the thickets? from "postmodernity"? from out of nothing? The church is not emerging; it's already emerged. It emerged with the apostles of Jesus learning to be disciples and "fishers of men"; it emerged even more with Jesus' resurrection and the Great Commission; and it finally became living reality with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. So what is this talk of "the church emerging"? The church has been here for quite some time already. However, reading McLaren sympathetically, I suspect his rhetorical urges have led him to say things he does not mean. What he probably means is that we are ready to shift gears, to emerge into something that is untried and experimental and insecure -- and hopefully a little better.

More of course needs to be said for and against the emergent movement. From a future theologian's perspective, I suggest that this burgeoning community needs to find a coherent and consistent theological foundation in order to emerge with hope for the future. As it is, the community is too focused on their style and environment of worship. But there needs to be a strong, fertile connection with their theology. Some of these communities are getting it right, but because there is no oversight and structure to these independent churches, it's not unlike the evangelical Free Churches, except that these use creeds, candles, and have fancy websites.

In closing, here is a quote from local Portland author, Don Miller, whose books include Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What. He is kind of like an emergent version of Anne Lamott, with a strong West Coast, hippy flair. I recommend his books, which are not theology, but rather hilarious yet serious memoirs about his life and his faith. This passage from Blue Like Jazz is relevant, I believe:
A friend of mine, a young pastor who recently started a church, talks to me from time to time about the new face of church in America--about the postmodern church. He says the new church will be different from the old one, that we will be relevant to culture and the human struggle. I don't think any church has ever been relevant to culture, to the human struggle, unless it believed in Jesus and the power of His gospel. If the supposed new church believes in trendy music and cool Web pages, then it is not relevant to culture either. It is just another tool of Satan to get people to be passionate about nothing.
Personally, I want to take his statements a little further. The Christian church that proclaims the gospel of Christ is not only relevant as Paul the apostle tried to be, but it also subverts and interrupts culture by proclaiming the Word of truth. The gospel of justification through the work of Christ is one that is both winsome in its form and interruptively critical in its content. Such is the nature of Jesus himself, who came in the form of a man, but overturned tables and proclaimed himself to be the way, the truth, and the life.