TNT: S T U for the ABC’s of Theology

Micky and Callid join Bo to discuss Salvation, Theopoetics and Universalism for the ABC’s of Theology. S-Salvation

You can read the original posts here:

S is for Salvation (Micky)

T is for Theopoetics (Callid)

U is for Universalism (Bo)

 

You can follow the rest of series here [link] 

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri

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Jonathan Merritt, Bagel Thins, and Social Media No-Nos

Jonathan MerrittWell, the crew is back together in sunny Oregon after various trips to the east coast. They pick up right where they left off. Christian complains about Bagel Thins (“They’re really just less convenient bread…) and the ridiculous economics of eggs. Andy shares the ethics of his becoming a vegetarian.  Amy brags about her and Zoe’s unmatched ability to come up with names for pets.

Our guest on this week’s show is Jonathan Merritt. Jonathan is an award-winning religion writer who serves as senior columnist for Religion News Service and is a contributor to The Week. He has published more than 1000 articles in respected outlets such as USA Today, The Atlantic, National Journal, Christianity Today, The Washington Post, and CNN.com, and has a new book out, titled Jesus is Better than You Imagined.

In the interview, Christian and Jonathan discuss laws that give businesses permission to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, whether or not evangelical publishers can allow authors to write about particular views that are in conflict with evangelical beliefs (like sexuality) and why Christians seem unwilling or unable to have those conversations. Then they move on to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling, corporate personhood, and the mess that results when one tries to apply the term “Christian” to a business. Finally, they discuss Jonathan’s book, which chronicles a period of profound spiritual emptiness that prompts him to go on a journey to find God in unexpected, unpredictable places, and the surprising ways God met him there.

In the Echo Chamber, Christian, Amy, and Andy talk about social media do’s and don’ts, prompted by a recent piece in Wired magazine. What should you do if you have a Google Glass? How many pictures of your kids in your social media stream is acceptable? What in the world is “vaguebooking?”

Finally, there are a couple movie recommendations, one that is currently in theaters, one that’s available on Netflix, and Amy’s creepy, crawly, but sometimes necessary, Fear of the Week.

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TNT: Jesus & Bible Movies

In this throw-down Bo chats with Micky, Callid, Pete Rollins and Tripp about all of the Jesus and Bible themed movies and what they mean to our culture.TNT

Earlier, Bo had blogged some thoughts about this whole issue. Now the gang chimes in.

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Jesus (movies) On My Mind

I have Jesus on my mind a lot these days.son-of-god-movie-poster-6

The ‘Son of God’ movie was released last weekend. I was semi-interested in the conversation surrounding its release but with a trip to the East coast for family stuff and being off the internet most of time, I watched it all from a distance.

The previous week I had been up in the desert to visit a secret location of a major motion picture set about a movie involving Jesus (that is all I can say at this point). We got to talk to the big-time actor who is playing Jesus and to the writer/director who’s ideas about Jesus were some of the most interesting I have heard in a while.

Reading the script ahead of the visit to the set really hit a nerve with me – I often talk, when I preach, about the importance of both how we imagine Jesus and how we image Jesus.  [note to progressive & liberal readers: if you don't think that is a big deal, hang out after the sermon with me sometime and listen to the concerns]

I happen to be reading the script at the same time as I was preparing a series for the Loft LA called ‘A Different View of the Cross”. We are going to take the 5 weeks of Lent and explore different atonement theories that have come up through history.

It would be an under-statement to say that I have over-prepared for this series.

Now, all of this was going on at the same time that we had put our interview with legendary German theologian Michael Welker about his new constructive Christology (God the Revealed: Christology).

When you put these four things together (national movie release, reading a new screenplay, preparing a lenten series, and putting out the Welker podcast) that is a lot of Jesus – even for me.

 

 

What I  thought might be fun would be to throw this out on a Friday night and see what kind of conversation might develop over the weekend.

Here are three questions: 

  1. Did you see the ‘Son of God’ movie and what did you think?
  2. If you are not planning on seeing it, why?
  3. Why do you think there are so many Bible themed movies coming out this year? (Noah, Moses, Left Behind, etc.)

 

I would love to hear your thoughts!

 

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A ‘Kind’ of Conservatism

Three encounters in the past month have opened my eyes to a ‘kind’ of conservatism that I am suspicious I was not hip to previously. In the heated spectrum-thinking cultural climate that exists today, it is easy to get distracted by the exaggerated and inflammatory. What is more difficult to perceive is a kinder, gentler conservative mentality.

Here are 3 places it showed up recently:

  1. In fielding some criticism about our interview with the Cambridge Intelligent Design guest.
  2. In my tussle with the Aquinas crew (and their follow up blog posts)
  3. In conversations with two different pastors that I have known for decades – both inquiring as to my new progressive/emergent take on two thing quite ‘foundational’ to them (creation & evangelism).

The sentences are subtle – but once you pick up a pattern you begin to hear them more clearly.

“Since God is not a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, we gain nothing by using feminine pronouns for God … so let’s just stick with the tradition we have and the way it is in the Bible.”

That was the one that caught my attention. Then I started hearing that same formulation in other places.

“No one has ever provided iron-clad proof of macro-evolution … in the lack of definitive conclusion,Biblical creation is just as valid as any other ‘belief’ since we can’t prove it either way”

or

“You might be right about these cultural changes and the future of the church … but who is to say that your fancy new way will be any better than what we have now?  We might as well not tinker with anything since there is no guarantee it will fix the problem – and might possibly create different or bigger problems.”

This is a subtle type of conserving. It is not the blatant ideological animosity that gets all the press and dominates the airwaves. It is a more quiet concern that we not move too far too fast.

Here is my fear: it seems to me that this tactic is employed by – and born out of – a status quo that seeks to protect / preserve itself.  It is neither aggressive or egregious but is potentially just as harmful as it’s venomous counterpart. MP9004065481-196x300

“I get what you are saying Bo … but what’s not to say that 10 or 20 years from now your new fangled ideas don’t look just as dated and flawed as those you are criticizing today?”

See how it works?  Since my innovation today might seemed cliché to the next generation … let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves and think that we have it all figured out. In fact, why change anything?

This ‘kind’ of conservatism doesn’t necessarily have a radical agenda. It doesn’t need one. It would be just fine if things stayed mostly as they are. It is perfectly suited to the current conditions. Stasis and a romantic reflection on the past is a perfect incubator for its ongoing preservation and, consequently, promulgation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. 

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The Limits of Labels

I have insomnia tonight – a rare occasion these days. I’m not in the mood to read any more about the use of Gadamer’s hermeneutical circle in Practical Theology so I brewed some coffee and revisited some of the online happenings from the past couple of months.

I found 3 pairs of things that I think are worth bringing up again. I will attempt to state everything in the positive as much as possible.

A couple of months ago, I made a case for the usefulness of labels. That included a couple of clarifiers:

  • that the label was used to more accurately locate a person or a thought – and not as a pejorative.
  • that the label was used accurately and not as a means to marginalize or discredit someone.

As I have attempted to make clear in various places, that when those two conditions are not the case it can be not only unhelpful, but flat-out inaccurate.

The second thing I thought was worth revisiting is that original Roger Olson article that got all of this started. Dr. Olson proclaims why he is not a liberal christian. I too have declared that I am not a liberal christian. However, I vary from Olson in my approach in several key ways.

  1. I say that being a liberal christian is a perfectly valid thing to be and that if I were one I would be so proudly. Dr. Olson doesn’t seem to have such a favorable disposition to it.
  2. I attempt to make a distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’. Dr. Olson uses them seemingly interchangeably – especially in the beginning of his article. That impacts his conclusions later on.

These two points of departure are illustrative. I say something positive about the liberal tradition and I distinguish it from the ongoing trajectory of some of it’s heirs.

Here is why that is significant:

First, Dr. Olson references 2 renowned scholars as to their summation of the Liberal tradition.

  • Claude Welch: “maximal acknowledgment of the claims of modernity” in theology.
  • Gary Dorrien: defines liberal religion as rejection of any authority outside the self.

I find myself in neither of these maxims. I know people who fit them to a ‘T’ though.
I ,however, have engaged far too much post-colonial, liberation and feminist theology and am too deep into the hermeneutical turn to be there.

Second – and most importantly – Dr. Olson uses the term freely to say “If you don’t hold to this traditional/classical position .. I think of you as a Liberal.” I am saying that the term should be used very specifically by:

  1. Its historical connection to the tradition of Schleiermacher. 
  2. Its basis in the centrality of the conception of the self as primary.
  3. Its ongoing expression as a ‘constellation of loyalties’ that are in line with the previous two as well as in contrast with Conservative/Fundamentalist positions on the ‘foundationalist’ spectrum.

I don’t follow Schleiermacher, I don’t subscribe to the primacy of the self and I am post-foundational. I am therefore 0 for 3 in the classic conception of liberalism.

I hope these clarifications help clear things up. I have been very grateful for the robust conversation of the past weeks. The pushback has helped me greatly to clear up my position here and hopefully to avoid some of the confusion in future conversations by listing the 3 distinguishing marks of liberalism as well as Welch’s and Dorrien’s summations.

 

 

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Leaving Behind The ‘Liberal’ Label

Once is an incident. Twice is a trend. Three times is a pattern.

This the now the 3rd time this thing idea about shying away from the label ‘liberal’ has come up.

  1. I heard it for the first time almost 10 years ago: “Emergents are just cool liberals”. This came from conservative, evangelical and reformed folks who were squawking at the Blue Parakeets that were new to the yard.
  2. More recently Fitch & Holsclaw leveled the accusation in their new book Prodigal Christianity and Tony Jones took exception.
  3. Then last week the idea was suggested on a different blog that Tripp & I were really just closet liberals who where afraid of the label because of its intrinsic baggage.

I tend to bury my big point in the final quarter of every blog post. For the purpose of clarity I am going to begin putting them at the top of the post. Here is my main point:

There is nothing wrong with being liberal. It is one of many valid ways to participate in the christian tradition. If I were liberal I would be so proudly. I am not liberal. Liberal approaches do not go far enough to combat capitalism, address colonial consequences or repent of the Constantinian compromise that led to Christendom it’s subsequent horrors.

 Tripp and I are not liberal. We are left-leaning. We are progressive. We are postmodern in our approach. We are emergent in our expression. We are playfully heretical (in a good way) and we are innovative where appropriate given our christo-centric hyperTheism.

But we are not liberal. Liberalism doesn’t go far enough in addressing five of our biggest concerns:

  • Critique of Capitalism and Consumerism
  • Post-Colonial consequences
  • Continental Philosophy’s reflection on late modern thought
  • Criticism of Christendom (Western and Constantinian)
  • Our cultures’ dangerous cocktail of Nationalism and Militarism

I have written extensively about how Progressive is not Liberal and even got taken to task over at Scot McKnight’s blog for trying to make that distinction. I will say this again:

There is nothing wrong with being liberal. It is one of many valid ways to participate in the christian tradition.

If I were liberal I would be so proudly. But alas I am not.

 

One last thing in closing:  I understand the historic drift of the term ‘Liberal’. I know what it meant in the 1700’s (specifically as it relates to individualistic epistemology) and I understand what it has become in the late 20th century (a constellation of loyalties and identity markers). I also know about it’s demise as an impotent political approach and I get why some evangelicals are allergic to the term and thus why some would desire to shy away from it. I get all that. I even recognize the unique draw of its individualistic epistemology. 000_0008

What I am saying is that calling me a closet liberal who is afraid to be identified by the label is like saying that I don’t wear ‘medium’ sized T-shirts because I don’t like the letter M. It is to miss the point. I don’t wear medium sized T-shirts because they are not big enough and don’t cover some essential areas that I deeply care about.

i.e.  It just doesn’t fit.

 

I would go on at length but fear it would be interpreted that I doth protest too much. 

 

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When God Is Too Powerful

A dear friend of mine is in her final semester of a psychology degree. Somehow Martin Buber came up. The  famous work  of the Jewish thinker  - “I and Thou” -  is such a powerful idea from the early 20th century that is resonates in both psychology and theology.

Keith Ward explains in God: a guide for the perplexed:

“The word ‘thou’ in English has a rather peculiar history. In the sixteenth century, when the English Book of Common Prayer was first pieced together, it was the second-person singular personal pronoun. Just as in German and French, and many other languages today, it was used to signify an especially close and intimate relationship with the person to whom you were speaking. For formal occasions, or to people one did not know well, ‘you’ was appropriate. But for members of family and close friends, the correct word to use was ‘thou’.” *

Then something very odd happened to the English language. Everyone simply became ‘you’. No one used ‘Thou’ anymore and it became a very fancy and antiquated way to reference someone.
The problem is that is was still used to refer to God (in the books used by the church) and so:

“before long people thought that ‘thou’ was a special word only to be used for God – God being presumably very archaic – connoting very special reverence and respect. So, whereas the writers of the first Elizabethan prayer book had wanted people to address God in a very intimate, almost informal way, most people who love the prayer book now seem to think that it is important to address God as ‘thou’, because only that gives God appropriate respect. Ironically, those who insist on addressing God as ‘thou’ are doing the very opposite of what the compilers of the prayer book wanted.”

Do you see what happened?  Any words that get attached to our conception of God end up getting co-opted, absorbed and hijack by our conception of God.

We try to use words, phrases, pictures and metaphors to re-present the transcendent divine … but those words, phrases and metaphors end up getting codified then solidified then idolized.
In this way, our imagination becomes an image … and eventually becomes an idol.

I have argued this same sort of thing in “God never changes … or does She?” when it comes to masculine pronouns for god vs. thinking of god as a man.Hand_ofGod2

Instead of understanding Jesus’ language as relational – that Jesus calling God
‘Abba’ (some say “Father” but I like John Cobb’s use of “Pappa”) as saying “I relate to God as one relates to a loving Father/Parent” , we codified and solidified that language and now God is ONLY allowed to be called ‘He’ in some circles. Our imagination is then limited by the image which has become an idol.

Jesus and Unicorns

I run into this same thing when it comes to christology. People often confuse the two approaches of ‘from above’ and ‘from below’ with two results of ‘high christology’ and ‘low christology’. This is true of general theology and views of scripture as well.

Those who are convinced that God needs to be as big, as powerful and as all-mighty as possible are often caught in the slightly awkward position of having to stick up for, defend and police the opinions of other on behalf of this almighty being.

So often in these conversations I want to say “ Just because your god could beat up my god doesn’t mean that your conception in is correct.” Look, if we are just going make bigger and badder things up and then call that “High” … then I want a Jesus who rides a unicorn – cries magic teardrops that become diamonds and never lets anyone get sick or die. THAT would be a higher christology.

Why Are You Doing That?

Normally I wouldn’t go after this topic in such a way, but I have noticed that in our ‘culture wars’ there is a disturbing trend. Really good people with really sincere faith will give themselves permission to behave in really aggressive and judgmental ways and when confronted will respond with either “God …” or “The Bible …”.
That is just one way in which I know that we have a problem. Insisting on calling God ‘He’ (or ‘King’ or ‘Father”)  is the other.

The way that we imagine – or image – God is so powerful, that the words and phrases that we use to describe our conception get pulled into an orbit which threatens to change their very meaning. The gravitational pull of our language about God is so strong that it will actually warp the words themselves.

May god grant us the kindness and humility to recognize that all of our god-language, signs and symbols are provisional at best and to treat other people kindly and graciously as we walk together in common humanity as I and Thou.

 

Suggested Reading: 

* Keith Ward . God (2013 edition): A Guide for the Perplexed (Kindle edition). $9.99

Elizabeth Johnson. She Who Is.  Used for under $10

 

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Call In Challenge: the Church & the World

On the most recent TNT, Bo threw out a theory that the dichotomy between ‘Church & World’ doesn’t work well anymore. Facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

Part of the thought came from  the book Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective by Craig A. Carter which revisits Niebuhr’s influential 1951 work “Christ and Culture”.

Part of it came from The Argument Culture: Stopping America’s War of Words by Deborah Tannen, and part of it was a critique of  The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer In Christian Ethics by Stanley Hauerwas as well as Luther’s famous construct of the  ’2 Kingdoms’.

The main point of contention is that what is now called ‘culture’ is a byproduct of Christendom (part of the church) and is therefore not the same thing that Paul was writing about in the New Testament. The church and the world are not entirely alien to each other. The church is filled with people from the culture and the culture is deeply impacted (or has been) by the church.

So when we quote passages like Romans 12: 1-2 to be not conformed to the world, we have a messier delineation of those categories – precisely BECAUSE they have bled into each other so thoroughly throughout history.

Callid had a different take on the issues as a Quaker. I hope that you will listen to the episode and give us your take!

What do we do with these categories in the 21st century? Go to the homepage and use the SpeakPipe on the right hand side of the screen to leave us an MP3 message for an upcoming TNT.

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TNT: Same Sex Marriage, Rob Bell and His Detractors

Happy Birthday!  HomeBrewed is celebrating its 5th and BoDaddy is celebrating his 40th!

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On this episode of the Theology Nerd Throw-down,  Tripp and Bo talk about same-sex marriage, Rob Bell and his detractors.

This all started when Tripp posted about big platforms coming out in support.

Then Bo posted about Rob and his detractors.

It came to a head when Bo responded to an odd post about how this paints Jesus in a weird light.

You will have to listen to the hour long conversation to put all the pieces together.

 

At the end – we talk about this Summer’s book series called “High Gravity” with Peter Rollins.

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