The Vocation of The Intellectual: James Sire Explains What I Do For A Living

Religion on July 29th, 2013 1 Comment

For most of my career, people who work for churches and Christian ministries have never understood what it is I actually do for a living as an academic and research fellow. James Sire, however, gets it. I wish I could put the following quote as a disclaimer in everything I write so that those who work in ministries and in the church world understand why I do what I do. Here are his profound words:

An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces, starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought, inviting them to dine and have a ball but also suiting them for service in workaday life. A Christian intellectual is all of the above to the glory of God.” -James Sire, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling

Forging Men For The Kingdom: Legacy Conference 2013 Slides

Masculinity, Religion on July 25th, 2013 No Comments

Track: Manhood
[Thursday, 10:15am-12:15pm]
Forging Men for the Mission of the Kingdom
-Anthony Bradley (@DrAntBradley)

This workshop unpacks the biblical themes in stages of development from being a boy to becoming a God-made, Jesus-conformed man. We will explore God’s design for developing men during the following stages: initiation and transformation, determination, the consolidation men as warriors, kings, and artists, the development of men as lovers, leadership development, and men as community sages. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which wounds and spiritual warfare can sabotage what God intends for men of the Kingdom along the way.

The Power Point slides: ForgingMen.Legacy.Summer2013

POTUS is right about the black experience

Politics on July 20th, 2013 2 Comments

President Obama is right in his reminding America what it means to be black in America. I spent several years being called the “N” word and racially slurred by Calvinists and some in the PCA. You can read about my experience here.

Like the President said, “those sets of experiences informs” how we talk about race. He is 100% correct.

I was recently in the midwest at a conference in a 5-star hotel (wearing a suit, BTW) and I walked up to an elevator with a blonde, white woman. When the elevator doors open to go up I walked on the elevator alone. She just stood there. I even stood there and held the door for a second. Then I was remind of regular watching of women in NYC clutch their purses when I walk by. It is what it is.

How Evangelicals Can Learn About the Black Experience

Uncategorized on July 20th, 2013 No Comments

A white evangelical recently asked me if there were any “Christian books” to help him learn about the black experience. My recommendation was to skip the books and actually have some black friends as peers (esp. from the the black church tradition) and the kind that won’t allow you to rest in your socio-cultural assumptions (i.e., they will call you out). There is nothing more powerfully challenging than to be in a friendship with someone from a different culture. You can’t learn about another culture from within your tribe. You have to leave it to learn. I also suggested becoming members of a black church and being minorities for once. Part of the privilege of being white (esp. a white evangelical) is that you can live your life avoiding peer and professional relationships with people of color, blacks and Latinos do not have that option.

But if you need a book to move things along start here.

What do evangelicals mean by “cultural engagement?”

Religion on July 18th, 2013 20 Comments

CulturalEngagement I Googled “cultural engagement” and this was the first image that popped up. I have no idea what it means. In fact, I’m not sure what evangelical means by “cultural engagement.” They use that term a lot but I’m not really sure what they mean by it. What does “engage” mean and what is “culture,” etc. What does it mean to “engage” culture? What will be done to the culture and how do we know if Christians are engaging it or not?

Please add your perspective below!!

Thanks!!!

What muted and sidelined the Presbyterian voice in religion and society?

Religion, Uncategorized on July 9th, 2013 10 Comments

francis-schaeffer I’m returning to a question I asked last summer but with a slightly different angle. Last summer, I asked what happened to popular Presbyterianism in a world where the Calvinist resurgence is almost entirely Baptist and non-denominational.

In the 1980s and 1990s when I was first introduced to Reformed theology three names dominated the seen were James Montgomery Boice (Senior Minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia), Sinclair Ferguson who was teaching full-time at the time at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and R.C. Sproul. They are all Presbyterians. In those days “Calvinism”/”Reformed” and Presbyterian were synonyms.

Dr. Bill Evans, the Eunice Witherspoon Bell Younts and Willie Camp Younts Professor of Bible and Religion at Erskine College, has two reflections on how conservative Presbyterianism lost its mojo in recent years here: part 1 and part 2. These posts are helpful.

Matthew Tuininga proposes this as a possible explanation:

Presbyterians have increasingly turned inward, becoming more and more obsessed with intramural squabbles over secondary and even tertiary points of doctrine, and even with turf wars between ever shrinking (proportionally) seminaries and denominations.

So, now I am wondering, additionally, why we don’t hear multiple Presbyterian reflections on the social and cultural issues of our day as well–employing the tools and categories of the Presbyterian tradition explicitly. I am wondering why are Presbyterians not showing up as leaders in culturally leveraged spaces and discussions within the church or outside of it. I was recently on a website watching what was construed as a “biblical” position on a social issue “X” and about 30 seconds into the video I realized that it wasn’t a “biblical” view at all. Instead, it was a particular denomination’s way of thinking about the issue which was very clear and if you knew anything about that denomination’s history.

I am wondering, then, for those who are raising their children in the Presbyterian tradition what resources exists for forming Presbyterian identity in terms of an understanding marriage & family (i.e., the relationship between covenant marriage & covenant baptism in America’s marriage debate), issues related to social & political power & federal political theory (which is derivative of federal theology), divorce and remarriage, war and social conflict, apologetics, and so on? How does a covenantal world-and-life view, and Presbyterian understandings of power structures, unlock the implications for a theology of work & economics when applied to international third world development, and so on?

By extension, I am also wondering what happened to Presbyterians as known and normative leaders of culturally leveraged institutions in American society and culture? Mark Twain and William Faulkner were Presbyterian. More Vice-Presidents of the United States have been Presbyterian more than any other denomination (Presbyterians rank 2nd for the US Presidency). Presbyterians rank 2nd in terms of placement on the Supreme Court in US History. I could go on. . . .

Again, if you wanted to get Presbyterian reflections on a range of issues in multiple aspects of society and the church, where would one go? What Presbyterians are speaking to these issues or leading institutions that are (like think tanks or colleges and universities)? Dr. Phil Ryken is at Wheaton College but is he the only college president of one of the larger evangelical, non-denominational schools who is Presbyterian? Is that right? Again, I could go on. . .

It just seems that not only have Presbyterians been side-lined and muted in popular Calvinism in America and evangelicalism in general, as I discussed last year, but it seems that they also are not too involved in leading the other institutions outside of the church that shape culture either. What happened?

I know, I know everyone points to Tim Keller but, to be fair to him, he is not omnicompetent and shouldn’t be expected to address everything. Before Keller there was Presbyterians like Francis Schaeffer adding much to these conversations. Who are the Presbyterians speaking to larger culture in the spirit of Schaeffer?

If you have names of Presbyterians I am missing who are currently leading in America’s culturally leveraged institutions please list them in the comment section or if you have any insight as to why many national leaders are not coming out of the Presbyterian tradition (like we saw in the past) I’d love to hear what you think!

To be clear, my question is NOT about the influence of “Reformed” this or that, it is a question specifically about Presbyterianism (OPC, PCA, EPC, the renewal folks in the PC(USA), etc.). In an interview at Covenant College, the Rev. George Robertson said that it is his “dream that [the PCA] would be a leader denomination in evangelicalism, and in so doing, a real influencer of our culture, so that people of North America would look to the PCA for resourcing or guidance.” I’m not sure how this can happen while the mute button is being pressed.

Why I Ask Questions: What Is Research In Religious Studies?

Religion on July 8th, 2013 No Comments

At least once or twice a year I am asked about the nature of my questions regarding evangelicalism. There seems to be some confusion about the nature of my vocation so I thought it might be good to post this reminder. I am first and foremost a researcher in religious studies. In particular, I study the intersection of Christianity and Political Economy with a particular interest in the traditional black church and evangelicalism. This means that I ask a lot of questions using tools for other disciplines. And, no, the the nature of research is not always to have “answers.” Sometimes there are no clear, immediate answers. Researchers don’t always have answers to the questions they raise. Sometimes it takes years of asking more and more questions to arrive a possible answers to initial questions. In fact, some scholars spend their entire careers only asking one question and sometimes dying before answers are ever formulated.

This “Welcome to the Study of Religion” link may be helpful:

Religious studies is the academic field of multi-disciplinary, secular study of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions. It describes, compares, interprets, and explains religion, emphasizing systematic, historically based, and cross-cultural perspectives.

While theology attempts to understand the nature of transcendent or supernatural forces (such as deities), religious studies tries to study religious behavior and belief from outside any particular religious viewpoint. Religious studies draws upon multiple disciplines and their methodologies including anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and history of religion.

The difference is that although I am in a field occupied by many secularists and I am theologian (a Christian believer) operating in this space. I have been doing this type of research and writing for 12 years and currently teach undergraduates on these intersections from a Christian perspective.

Hope this helps!

The Life-Cycle of The Newbigin, Missional Model: About 20 years?

Religion on July 6th, 2013 4 Comments

The Village Church, an 18-year-old missional PCA church in the Village in New York City, closed its doors for good a few months ago on April 7th. This is a plant of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York. These comments are from Rev. Scott Sherman (one of the founding pastors):

Scot Sherman
May 8, 2013 at 12:44 am
Dear Friends,

Reading these comments is bitter-sweet. I’m so sorry it has come to this.

Despite my inner turmoil and disappointment, I can truthfully say that ABOVE ALL I am grateful to have been a part of TVC. I’m grateful to Tim Keller for challenging me with the IDEA, and for the team of ministry marines who stepped up and served so sacrificially in those first years of planting. It’s been good to see God’s faithfulness as each chapter of the story of the TVC has unfolded. We planted, others watered, God gave the increase.

One of the many beautiful things about life in God’s kingdom is that nothing gets wasted, nothing forgotten. What God has done in and through TVC matters forever. Lesslie Newbigin, reflecting on 2 Tim. 1:12, says : “Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s Kingdom.” The rubble of history is not the last word, friends.

When confronted with sad mysteries, I take comfort that, as Fr. Richard Rohr says, “everything belongs ….Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing; we are in it. The river is God’s providential love – so do not be afraid…Everything belongs; God uses everything. There are no dead ends. There is no wasted energy. Everything is recycled.”

I’m grateful for all of the TVC that was and is good. And I’m just as grateful for the grace that covers all the sin and nincompoopery that made it less than it could have been! I ask you— despite my many mistakes, and those that followed— did God not do a wonderful thing in Greenwich Village?

Scot Sherman

Could this be a normative life-cycle for a baby-boomber planted missional church in the Newbigin framework?

Is Contraceptive Sex Different From Same-Sex Sex?

Religion on March 30th, 2013 5 Comments

What would be an evangelical theological response be to the notion that sex using artificial contraception is no different than sex between homosexuals? If gay sex is unnatural how is contraceptive sex natural?

Linker makes this case:

Gay marriage has come to be widely accepted because our society stopped thinking of marriage as a conjugal union decades ago.

Between five and six decades ago, to be precise. That’s when the birth control pill — first made available to consumers for the treatment of menstrual disorders in 1957 and approved by the FDA for contraceptive use three years later — began to transform sexual relationships, and hence marriage, in the United States. Once pregnancy was decoupled from intercourse, pre-marital sex became far more common, which removed one powerful incentive to marry young (or marry at all). It likewise became far more common for newlyweds to give themselves an extended childless honeymoon (with some couples choosing never to have kids).

From a different angle, the biggest inconsistency is birth control pill using Christians arguing against gay marriage, some people are now arguing. Talking about morality divorced from redemptive history only muddles the discussion. So, arguing on the basis of immorality in the public square will fail every time. This is why Anderson and Robert George (see below) have focused on mothering and fathering as unique natural phenomena with respect to children. It’s not that they are simply against gay marriage morally (which is the only argument evangelicals have) but that human sexuality is about procreation and parenting. Hence, Vincent Palozzi’s Yahoo News article link above. Birth control pills (and other artificial contraceptives) made sex about something else other than its original design which established the “fairness” proposition in the gay marriage debate. Evangelicals seem ignorant (perhaps because they are unfamiliar with theological ethics) that the moral norms in Scripture are not arbitrary but normally point to creational norms with covenantal and redemptive purposes. Again, in Christian ethics, for example, the morality of human sexuality is a means of revealing a biblical theologically reality that is derivative of the doctrines of creation and redemption. Evangelicals aren’t even asking WHY God might have designed marriage and family the way he did (the ethics of the Pentateuch alone should make that clear as well as what theological and eschatological relaties those moral norms point to, etc.) Biblical ethics norms exists for reasons. . . .

As long as evangelicals argue about the morality of marriage divorced from biblical theology, as is currently being done, they will have no basis to argue about the ineffectiveness of the George/Anderson approach. Many are arguing that as soon as Christians started using artificial birth control, esp. the pill, they sacrificed their biblical theology of the body on the altar of America secular pragmatism and gave marriage away–hence the high divorce rate and now this issue (by divorcing sex from procreation). My guess is that evangelicals will not argue theologically against the Anderson/George approach on theological grounds (esp. if they have a robust doctrine of creation) but will rely on the secularist sexual pragmatist Western argument (explaining, in effect, why children get in the way of career pursuits and the attainment of the American dream).

The Myth of the Black Matriarchy During Slavery

Uncategorized on March 29th, 2013 No Comments

This article. WOW.