“Vintage Church” vs. “Pagan Christianity”

The Emerging church movement (if you want to call it by that name) raises some good questions, and give the question “What is the Church?” new life.  For this I really appreciate the Emerging movement. Though it suffers from the unfortunate problem of being wrong, it has — much like the Reformation — the virtue of reacting against something that deserving of reaction.  While the reaction is against  the standard Ol’ Megachurches in particular, at its root the reaction is against Protestant ecclesiology.

Observe the battle between Reformed Protestant Megachurch leader (though in some ways “Emergent” himself) Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill church (author of “Vintage Church”) and Frank Viola and Co. and their recently published “Pagan Christianity”.  A fun, quick read of this is a review that Driscoll commissioned.

The aforementioned review refers early and often to Methodist NT scholar Ben Witherington’s responses, which are certainly worth the read.  He aptly takes on many of the falacious and provocative claims of the book, and replaces them with (gasp!) the historical truth that the ancient Church was a kind of institution.  As an Orthodox Christian, I have nothing else really to argue for; Witherington has done the heavy lifting for me.  Viola and Barnes have stirred up the curiosity, and to those who do their homework the question is posed: What do I do next?

…in an effort to bait you into reading Witherinton’s responses…

My point in the above critique is simply this— calling more high church worship ‘pagan’ is not only a tragedy which impoverishes the soul. It’s a travesty. And saying over and over again that there is not a shred of Biblical evidence for sacred buildings, particularly church buildings reflects both historical myopia and bad theological analysis of a theology of holiness and worship. Such a view is narrow where the Bible is not narrow, and it fails to grasp the great breadth of ways in which God can be truly, and Biblically worshipped and served, and is indeed worshipped and served around the world every single week. We do not need to be liberated from holy worship—we need to be liberated in and by it, in whatever form it may legitimately take. And that’s the Biblical truth.

A Take on McLaren

As many of you know I try to stay abreast of the Emergent(ing) church literature, and I’m particularly interested because it is both a real divorce from traditional Protestantism and also a natural and unsurprising outgrowth of traditional Protestantism.  I’m been paying particular attention to Vintage Church author Mark Driscoll’s heated disagreement with the authors Pagan Christianity.

The issues brought up by McLaren and Co. require a response, even if, like me, one responds by making them irrelevant.  That is to say that I became Orthodox and the new vision of “what the Gospel means to us today”,  “organic” Christianity, and “rediscovering” the historic Church was replaced by something solid and formative, rather than something McLaren and/or I form.

Something similar is said by Fr. Gregory Jenson on the AOI blog.  It’s self-admittedly strongly worded, but I think he’s getting at something.

McLaren is not presenting us with a new kind of Christianity but simply a re-working of Evangelical Christianity. While he claims his work is post-modern, it isn’t. For that we should look to the works of John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and David Bentley Hart. Read these theologians and the intellectual and spiritual poverty of McLaren’s work and the emegent church movement is clear.

Whatever good points there might be in his re-working, in the end McLaren’s “new kind of Christianity” demonstrates the inherent and internal theological and spiritual weakness of the Reformation in general and of Evangelical Christianity in particular. That weakness is the weakness of a merely partial faith, a faith that is not orthodox (or Orthodox) because it is not catholic (or Catholic) and not catholic (or Catholic) because it is nor orthodox (or Orthodox).

While I respect Milbank and Hart, I don’t believe that they are the best to contrast against McLaren.  Certainly one could say the same about Luther, Calvin, Newman, and Chesterton.  One could say the same about Ben Witherington or Pope Benedict.  I’m tempted to say the same about Tim Keller. The contrast here is between the Church and McLaren’s vision of the Church.

Viewed in this light, the debate about McLaren, the emergent church movement and a “new kind of Christianity” is the theological equivalent of intramural flag football. You got a lot of guys on the field but none of them are particularly fit or skilled. And certainly none of them play at a professional level.

To push the analogy just one more step, the professional level that McLaren and his critics merely imitate, is the catholic tradition of theological orthodoxy of the Church Fathers and the sacramental, liturgical and ascetical practice of the historic Christian Church. Whatever our differences, this tradition is to be found in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Achbp. Rowan Williams to Speak at St. Vladimir’s Seminary

As I wrote in Orthodoxy Today, it’s not just internal forces tearing the Anglican communion asunder — it’s outside forces too.  While most see Pope Benedict’s recent establishment of “Ordinaries” to help facilitate Anglican’s move towards Rome as a slyly hostile move, the invitations “home” from the Orthodox have taken on a much more hospitable and friendly tone.

This is evidenced by the head of the worldwide Anglican communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, speaking in January at St. Vladimir’s seminary. This is another move made by serious Anglicans in aligning themselves with the Orthodox Church rather than the RCC.  To be sure, Archbp. Williams has contributed a great deal to the “West” about Orthodoxy, but one wonders to what extent this has ceased being about politics and become one of fraternity.

So Rome is beckoning, and the Orthodox Church as well; who is offering the Calvinist-leaning Anglicans shelter from the storm?  Do not expect such an invitation from the Reformed Episcopal Church, an organization that has very little of “Reformed” identity officially tied to it or its hierarchy. Just try to find Calvin or Luther on their website.  Their concerns are of staying faithful to the teaching and practice of the Apostles, not of the Reformers.  An REC friend of mine recently told me that Metropolitan JONAH’s address to the ACNA in Bedford this summer was welcomed heartily by the REC delegates.  The same could not be said of the rest of the ACNA, many of whom took strong exception to his refusal to consider the ordination of women and his denouncement of Calvinism.

I’ve been predicting a dramatic restructuring of the Protestant denominations during the next two decades, and it looks like it is coming even sooner than that. Anglicanism is fractured, but many of the remnants will find home elsewhere.  The Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists share the Anglican’s “diversity” in respect to liberal and conservative constituents; and soon, I think, they will share their fate.

Manhattan Declaration Draws Fire

The “clarion call” of the Manhattan Declaration that has united conservative Christians from various denominational affiliations has begun to draw fire from gay activist groups.  The Declaration which voices concern over three main issues: religious freedom, sanctity of life, and “the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife” was signed by prominent members of the Christian community.

The Philadelphia Bulletin cites posts from gay blogs calling for letters to be written, and the willful disruption of services:

“It is time we let Bishop Cordileone know there are consequences for his actions,” the blogger states. “Is anyone up for a rally in front of the Oakland Diocese or a disruption of services? Let me know and I’m happy to help organize.”

After listing an address where people could write to the bishop, the blogger goes on to say: “By the way, here are the other Catholic cardinals and bishops who signed the Manhattan Declaration.” Listed are the names of the 17 bishops who signed the Declaration to date.

The blogger goes on to cite Fred Karger of Californians Against Hate who refers to the 152 framers of the document as “zealots” who “drafted, approved and signed their Declaration of War on full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans last week. They threw in some other societal beefs, just to try and mask the overriding issue, their fervent opposition to same-sex marriage.”

I’m not surprised by this.  Is anyone?  Time to go on over and add your name to the Manhattan Declaration.

The Manhattan Declaration

I’ve been arguing (not on-line) that the lines of distinction between Christians, and between Christians and the rest of the world are going to be dramatically re-drawn within the next two decades.  Modernity, Postmodernity, and Decadence in the West (yes, I mean that geographically) have dealt Christianity a series of troublesome blows.  These blows have the Roman Catholic church off-balance and reeling, and have broken to splinters the already fractured Protestant churches.  Oprah-Winfrey-spiritualism, church scandals, inventive readings of Scripture, and hot-button issues like homosexuality and female clergy have not just divided Christians from each other, but also made strange bed-fellows of Christians across denominations and traditions.

A couple years ago the Russian bishop Hilarion Alfeyev raised a call among the clergy in Western Europe to  unite against the rising tide of Postmodernism.  We need to be aware that we have one of the most important things in common; a common enemy.

With this in mind, I think we all need to take The Manhattan Declaration seriously. We’re all very used pointless and vacuous ecumenical statements and joint declarations.  The fact of the matter is that the parties that makes such declarations are never really any closer to unity after their declarations than before.  The Manhattan Declaration is different, largely because the goal isn’t ecumenical reconciliation.  It is survival.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the threatening future that awaits us Christians.  Lawsuits about the use of “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our money, while disheartening, are in themselves rather innocuous.  It is very likely that soon local, state, and federal government will be leveraged against Christians committed to staying faithful to Holy  Scriptures and Apostolic teaching.

Metropolitan Jonah and Bishop Basil, two of our most sensible and uncompromising Orthodox hierarchs, have signed the Declaration; reason enough to take it seriously.

The harrowing fact is that society sees traditional Christianity as a tyrant that has done nothing but start wars and stall progress.  (For a rebuttal to this, check out DBH’s new book.) Like the villagers in Beauty and the Beast they are incited against something true for reasons that are false.  They are not yet at the gates, but they’re reaching for their pitchforks.

“Naive” and “Death By Church”

One of the things I’ve been tracking is the current Christian trend of hating religion and religious establishments.  Sometimes is takes rather hostile and aggressive tones (Derek Webb for example) while other times it takes the form of well meaning Christian encouragement and empathy. I say “encouragement and empathy”, because I’m not really sure what to make of books like Mike Erre’s Death By Church, and other such books.  Regardless of its goal and genre, Death By Church is certainly not pleased with institutionalized Christianity.  If anything it is organized Christianity that plays the part of the Big Bad Wolf as the Christian Red Riding Hood takes the Gospel to the mission field of Grandmother’s house.  But why is this, and how can it be that getting Red Riding Hoods together in a way that makes you file your taxes so often — apparently — creates an anti- Gospel monster?

Personally, I don’t think that it does; or at least that this happens automatically.  I think that there is a very common trendy perception that it does, and the straw man has been scotch-taped onto the real thing.  It’s a part-for-the-whole error, where the sins of the few create the perceived identity for the whole.  More importantly, this trendy habit created by kitsch universalists of the Hollywood variety has not only caught on but picked up steam in the Protestant world.  This is sad, though unsurprising, considering that this habit of mitigating the possibility of  the Church being the present body of believers who are being actively guided and corrected by Christ their Head through the Holy Spirit.  For many, and this includes Protestants, maturity looks like critiquing, and there’s a certain enthusiasm and self-satisfaction that criticism breeds.

Trust me.  As witnessed by this blog, I know the fruits of criticism well.

It certainly is not the case that there is nothing to criticize.  Erre’s shots are moderately delivered at just targets.  For him, Death By Church is a sign of love for the people of God. It is addressed to the church as a kind of warning sign.  This is where the confusion kicks in: that the mean Church is the thing killing the poor innocent Church.  Oh yeah, because the Church (institutional) is not the Church (invisible)?

All of this to say: hating religion and the institutional church (even if I don’t think it is the Church Christ Instituted) makes me sad.  Really, really sad.  It hit me again today when I was listening to the new album from one of my favorite bands, Sleeping at Last.  The song is called “Naive“, and as most S@L songs do, it tries to end hopefully.  I’ve posted the lyrics after the jump. Continue reading ““Naive” and “Death By Church””