by Bo Sanders
Three interesting conversations have recently merged in my little corner of the interwebs:
- The Republican presidential primaries have brought to the limelight some very complex subjects like race, economics, and religion that are handled with stereotypical banter, generally at increased volume.
Santorum is an uber-Catholic, Romney is Mormon, Newt wants the Evangelical vote and all of this is contrasted to Obama’s social-justice-Jeremiah-Wright past. The religion aspect of this election year is going to be fascinating.
- The release of Tony Jones’ e-book on Atonement [ you can find Bill Walker’s excellent review here and our TNT conversation with Tony here] has again called into question supposed evangelical orthodoxy centered around Penal Substitutionally Atonement.
I point out that in our national militarism mentality and our cultural myth of redemptive violence, that PSA is playing a role in our religious silo that is spilling over in unhelpful and even harmful ways.
- When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God is a new book from T. M. Luhrmann is a sociological study by a trained anthropologist of two charismatic congregations (one in Chicago & the other in California).
The author calls them evangelical – in contrast to pentecostals who speak in tongues – even though I am not sure that the Vineyard (which both of her congregations are) are wholly representative off all the different camps that come under that tent.
Last week I posted that I was ‘worried about worship’ and one of my concerns dealt with the epistemology behind the band-centered worship expereince. I said
“ Is this situation inflamed by an epistemology employed by evangelical and charismatic churches? I don’t know how else to say it but …. if you think that you are singing to God (vs. about God) and the God is actually listening to you and evaluating what is going on, then are you more critical of both the sour-notes and distracting ‘self’ behavior or overly elaborate performances?”
As I read the review of Luhrmann’s new book in the New Yorker magazine (“Seeing is Believing” by Joan Acocella) I was amazed at the obvious parallels to what I had attempted to address. Unfortunaly, the New Yorker requires that you subscribe to the magazine in order to read the article… so I can’t just link there for you. If, however you get the chance to pick up the magazine or copy it at the library, it is well worth your time.
Without the article to link to I will just offer a couple of related thoughts:
The three step plan to Hearing the Voice of God (the Father) is exactly – 100% – my experience of being raised evangelical. So many people that I talk to who were/are charismatic or evangelical have this exact same experience [she also mentions there lack of social service, lack of political involvement, and lack of theology]. The thing I still find shocking is that so many of those outside those groups do not know that is what it is like inside, and how often those inside don’t know that this is not everyone else’s experience of the christian faith.
David Bebbington in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Routledge, 1989) did a masterful job of find some common theme that ran through evangelical history. This was a tough job (not always obvious) and has resulted in much debate about if these can even be called one grouping in any coherent sense. I am leaning more and more toward saying that Evangelicalism is not an official membership but is rather a dynamic relation between experience and expression. These two things are facilitated by an epistemology that is more central than any doctrinal or theological markers. Over the last 400 years what has been defining is not the political involvement (it has changed) or what was believed (it has adapted) but the experiential component (enthusiasm) that manifests is a distinct expression.
I have been out of the worship-band culture (Hillsong, Matt Redman, etc) for 2 years. I recently preached at a church with a worship band. What stood out to me so forcibly was the word “You”. I didn’t know why at first but as the service progressed I was struck by how many (all) the songs were addressed to ‘You’. You are holy, you are famous, I need you, etc. It stands in stark contrast to songs sung to God or about God like: a mighty fortress is our God, Oh God our help is ages past, and even Holy is the Lord God Almighty.
I often get to hear Mainliners talk about the alien experience of stumbling upon a christian music station on the radio. I also get to hear visitors to our pipe-organ-hymns-only church wonder about the lack of intimacy and excitement. I think it has less to do with the music style and more to do with the epistemology of singing songs to a ‘You’ and all the assumptions that would accompany that subtle change.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this – agree or disagree