And so it ends
Not that I have done much on this blog as of late anyway, but this blog is now officially closed. Baltiblogs itself will continue to run as usual, since the good folks at coptix have taken over the rest of the administrative tasks.
The major reason for this is that my family has moved to Atlanta. The move was/is a good thing, but we do miss the friends we made back in Baltimore.
Even though I was not able to do much in 2006 or even 2005 with happy hour, I also miss the blogging community, and wish everyone the best.
I'm going to give blogging another shot on atlblogs. We shall see how that goes.
On Unity, the Gospel, and Cynicism (Revised)
Originally this posting was slightly different. Although I still believe what I originally said, I've attempted to revise this to better highlight that the point of much of this is reflection on lessons I hope I've learned over what has been a difficult past couple of years. That is all.
I believe that one of the hardest tasks in the world is receiving criticism. Any time someone points out a failing, real or imagined, the initial response is to raise the drawbridge, call out the guard, and engage in a systematic exposition of why the attacking person is, in fact, dead wrong.
But such a reflexive approach is in stark contrast to the gospel, and to the life and pattern to which Christ calls us. To me, at least, it seems that an attitude informed by the gospel recognizes that we are all screwed up far worse than we can begin to imagine and that most likely there is at least some way we are not living in a manner consistent with Christ.
To put it bluntly and personally, if someone comes up to me and says that I am in sin, odds are that he or she is probably right. Said person may not correctly identify the sin, but there is probably something I need to repent of and bring before Jesus.
I am not saying that the gospel entails perpetual self-flagellation, merely that our default posture should be one of humility, not of immediate defensiveness. Paradoxically, a strong grasp of the gospel recognizes that we (I) have an extraordinarily weak grasp of the gospel, and that it is solely by grace that we have a hope of being righteous.
On a slightly different note, something I read recently by J.I. Packer in Knowing God has stuck with me. Packer writes (p. 106):
Among the seven deadly sins of medieval lore was sloth (acedia) - a state of hard-bitten, joyless apathy of spirit. There is a lot of it around today in Christian circles; the symptoms are personal spiritual inertia combined with critical cynicism about the churches and supercilious resentment of other Christians' initiative and enterprise.
Behind this morbid and deadening condition often lies the wounded pride of one who thought he knew all about the ways of God in providence and then was made to learn by bitter and bewildering experience that he didn't .... For the truth is that God in his wisdom, to make and keep us humble and to teach us to walk by faith, had hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which he is working out in the churches and in our own lives.
Packer's point, as I understand it, is that often we become cynical about failure in the church when we think we have all the answers and know the "right" direction a church should go. What is needed is not more people (i.e., me) playing God and throwing a fit when things don't go the way they think they should, but the humility and grace to trust that a loving God is still at work.
It's also pretty cute (I think).
The Same Mistakes
For various reasons, extra-curricular reading has been even more limited than usual. However, I did finally manage to finish D. A. Carson's Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. Carson's book is a fair and even critique of the movement and (I think) provides some needed warnings to it. Some of the things, for example, I had wondered about after reading McLaren and others, but couldn't define well, Carson does.
Several of the Amazon reviewers seem to be pretty upset with Carson's work and charge him with gross misrepresentation of the movement/conversation/whatever. That may be true. Still, when a movement almost seems to pride itself on being vague and imprecise, it shouldn't be surprised when it is misrepresented. And that, incidentally, was one of Carson's points: too much rhetoric and vagueness and after a while no one knows what you're talking about.
Anyway, one critique Carson made that I found intriguing was that elements of emerging church theology are actually repeating the same mistake as elements of fundamentalism. Carson notes the irony that, "Of all the Christian writers who explore postmodernism, none is quite so modernist - so absolutist - as the emerging church movement leaders in their defense of postmodern approaches." He then goes on to observe
One of the striking commonalities among [the emerging church] leaders is the high number of those who come from intensely conservative or even fundamentalist backgrounds. When they describe the kinds of churches from which they spring, a very high percentage of them have emerged from a tradition that is substantially separated from the culture. These churches often lay considerable emphasis on getting certain doctrine, often cast in fundamentalist mode, nicely constructed and confessed. ... [This] shows that a fair amount of its heat and overgeneralizing seems to spring from the mistaken assumption that most of traditional evangelicalism is just like the conservative churches from which they came. That betrays the narrowness of many of their backgrounds and helps to explain why their rhetoric and appeals to postmodern sensitivity sound so absolutist: this is the language and rhetoric on which they were weaned.
There are, actually, a number of things I do like about the emerging church. Still, I think Carson is right on this. When I've read some of the leaders rail against excesses and weaknesses within evangelicalism, sometimes I've wondered who they were actually talking about.
Current listening: I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness, Fear Is On Our Side
[The] second reason The Da Vinci Code has been such a phenomenon ... [is] the pestilential lack of biblical literacy in this country today. If more people knew even the basic history of their faith, they would have dismissed The Da Vinci Code for what it is. Unfortunately, it has troubled them deeply because, built on what they take to be historically arguable facts, the story actually seems plausible to them. The Church has done a poor job of equipping its people for the work of debunking silly stories like this one, but all the blame cannot be laid at the feet of the Church. I know many churches where Sunday school classes in church history or the background of the Bible are readily available, and yet people stay away in droves. Our penchant for self-help classes, counseling seminars, and books on anything but the stuff of Scripture has left us thoroughly unable to respond when arguments contradictory to the faith and claiming to be based on history are put forward as truth.
To that one can add the general problem of historical myopia within evangelicalism. Regardless, before too many Christians become apocalyptically apoplectic about Dan "666" Brown, it might be wise to reconsider some knee-jerk anti-intellectual attitudes.