My Take on (American) Evangelicalism

Thanks to my friend Tish for posting this, I assume at least partly in response to this. And also one should see this, with which I heartily agree.

Of course “evangelicalism” is a slippery term b/c it is both a sociological descriptor and a theological tradition.

Question: where does Catholic Christianity figure in all this?

Reason I ask: I walked away from evangelicalism (at least in my own mind!) not so much b/c it was so militantly opposed to progressive culture (in terms of science, poverty, & liberal politics … the things cited in the title of Tish’s blog post), as Tish’s interlocutors (eg, Rachel Evans) seem to be saying and against which Tish seems to be protesting, but precisely for the opposite reason.

I see evangelicalism as being part and parcel with secular culture: individualistic, private, trend-obsessed, market based. (Example: show me a church planter’s vision statement [the mere fact that evangelicals use “vision statements” speaks volumes] that does not tacitly try to position itself in terms of the contemporary religious “market” in America.)

Which of course is why many, many of those who decry evangelicalism are themselves … evangelicals. It is now trendy in evangelical circles to be progressively anti-evangelical. (Witness the “emergent church” … as I throw up in my mouth a teency bit.)

Evangelicalism, as best I can discern, is not sacramental; it is not sacred; it is not other worldly; it is not mystical; it is not transcendent; it is not rooted in history (by and large). I say this as an ex-evangelical (said in the most wounded tone of voice I can muster, imagining myself to have gone through a painful “de-conversion” experience.)

I’ve been convinced for about a decade now that evangelicalism is actually the reverse face (the “kissing cousin” or the “other side of the coin”) of our distinctively American secular culture.

 

 

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Rainbows & Light (Nyssa & Desmond)

Gregory of Nyssa and quantum physics (about which I know almost nothing) agree: the rational mind cannot fully grasp the nature of light.

William Desmond might say that it is “overdetermined:” the problem is not that light manifests too little to our souls (mind, sense perception, imagination), but rather that it manifests too much. We cannot stare directly at the sun. Light is both wave and particle at the same time (which makes little sense rationally).

This “overdeterminedness,” Gregory argues, characterizes the Christian God who manifests himself (“godself” if you like) by revelation and who is apprehended by faith.

In Gregory’s words, in the context of his rainbow analogy for the Trinity,

… for just as in the case of things which appear to our eyes experience seems better than a theory of causation, so too in the case of dogmas which transcend our comprehension faith is better than apprehension through processes of reasoning, for faith teaches us to understand that which is separated in person [in the three persons of the Trinity], but at the same time united in substance. – St. Gregory of Nyssa, Epistula XXXVIII, quoted in Adrian Pabst, Metaphysics 71.

What is the relationship between nature and grace, between philosophy and theology, between reason and faith? Here we find a clue: faith apprehends that which overwhelms and transcends reason. Against virtually all modern thought beginning with late medieval nominalism, faith is more than reason, not less.  Which is what John Milbank is trying to get at with his language of “intensities.”

Question: how does Desmond‘s “overdeterminedness” differ from Marion’s “saturated phenomenon?”

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A Grand, Heart Felt, Merry-Old English “Thank You!”

I have many, many reasons to be grateful. God in his faithfulness has showered my life with one blessing after another.

And yet, there is one gift I have recently received for which I must express thanks.

Bouquet and I had a wonderful trip to England earlier this summer. In addition to getting to Oxford to present a lecture at an academic conference, we had the opportunity to re-connect with some specific things which are truly life-giving to us: medieval history, Christian mystery, bucolic country sides, and plenty of time to stroll around (around Oxford, the Cotswolds, Salisbury, and London) and just be together.

The conference at Oxford was a success, and I felt like I did well in my first academic lecture to a group of peers and colleagues. In Oxford we stayed at St. Stephen House, a seminary founded during the Anglo-Catholic “Oxford Movement” of the 19th century, for the training of Anglican clergy and which is a part of Oxford University, and there Bouquet got to hang out with a group of pastors from all around the world who were studying CS Lewis. In Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds I went on a glorious 12 mile run through the meadows and ancient streets which I will never forget. In Salisbury we lingered at Old Sarum for hours and just reflected on God’s work in the world and in our lives. In London we worshipped at St. Paul’s (a 5 minute walk from our “hotel,” a glorified college dorm at the London School of Economics).

All in all the trip was wonderfully rejuvenating professionally (I’m hoping that my presentation will be published), pastorally (it was great just to observe how the clergy in England carry themselves), and personally (we ate lots of savory Indian food!). Our imaginations were kindled and our hearts and minds quickened. I had a sense that the Church of England is alive and that the Gospel continues to penetrate the culture. The sermon at St. Paul’s (as well as the worship at St. Mary Magdalene, Oxford) were Spirit-filled. At St. Paul’s there must have been 750 worshippers in attendance, from every conceivable tribe, tongue, nation, and people … listening attentively to a sermon about learning to live like Jesus Christ.

But the main point is that none of this would have been possible without our true family, the people of God at Christ Church (not Christ Church, Oxford but Christ Church Tyler). It would not have been possible without my bishop and my rector who allowed me to enroll in a PhD program. It would not have been possible without several friends who supported us financially and spiritually. It would not have been possible without the vestry’s generous gift of a continuing education fund. There are just to many people to thank!

Most of all, of course, we give thanks to God in Christ Jesus.

Thanks be to God!

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