Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Story We Find Ourselves In: A Review

The Story-McLaren
Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
In this continuation of Neo and pastor Dan’s story, McLaren does not succeed in giving us much that is genuinely insightful or with great impact. Besides a couple of genuine moments in the story line in which characters appear to come to terms with God and their spirituality (even then, though, McLaren is extremely shy of the concept and the word “conversion”), there is not much in either the fiction or the theology to recommend.

One general point of critique would be the postmodern penchant for story and dialogue in which no clear point is made and, allegedly, no side is taken. As philosophers no less than Aristotle and Davidson have pointed out, a good story or metaphor has a plot or makes a point. What is a metaphor or a story but a clever and unique way of saying something fairly specific? Dialogue simply for the sake of dialogue is basically (and maybe literally) meaningless. Christ did not speak in parables in order not to make a point.

As for the theology, most of what McLaren has to say in this second part of his trilogy is wrapped in politics, an obvious adherence to evolution, and his clear aversion things traditionally evangelical. The only “bad guys” in this work are caricatures of traditional evangelicals. At times McLaren seems to toy with Monism, Pelagianism, and a general lack of definition of sin and redemption. The concept of redemption looms large in his book, but it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what needs to be redeemed except white evangelicals and conservative politics. In other words, sin does not play the role it needs to in order for McLaren’s version of redemption to be meaningful.

At one point near the end of the story when McLaren is laying the foundation for the third book’s plot, his theology hits the surface. Dan and Neo are reflecting on the death of one character and Dan is questioning him about heaven and hell. Neo is talking around the issue and Dan presses him on the point. Neo’s, and apparently McLaren’s, response is, “Why do you always need to ask that question?” Neo then continues to evade giving a clear or distinct answer to the question. The answer to why the question of heaven and hell needs to be answered is obvious-because it is the one final question every single human being ever born needs to face. Seems to me that a caring and thoughtful response would not be a gloss but an answer.

Unless you are interested in understanding the theology of the emergent church movement, I would not recommend this book.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Serious Times: A Review

Originally uploaded by Phil Steiger.
One of the waves of Christian authorship in popular level non-fiction right now deals with what a worldview is and how it gets worked out in a believer’s life. Among what is out there right now, there are a lot of relatively simple and shallow works, and then there are well researched and documented books that are wonderful in their own right. A few span the gap of popular appeal and readability and solid scholarship well, and Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter In An Urgent Day is one of those.

The book itself is fairly short and can be read easily in a few days or a week if one chooses. And due to the fair sized splash the book has made, there are a few resources and aids available to help in the study and application of the book’s topic matter. The accompanying website,, is a good source for further reading and study for the Christian life.

The first three chapters, “The Second Fall”, “The World That Lives In Us”, and “The City of Dreadful Delight” set the cultural stage for the believer. What I appreciated most about this section of White’s work is that he deals honestly (though admittedly briefly) with a few of the major cultural shifts the West has seen. Specifically he deals well with the Enlightenment and its effects on culture. It seems that the Enlightenment has become a popular whipping boy in current church thought, and too often what is whipped is a straw-man or simply a caricature so distorted that it is simply false.

The second set of chapters are well organized around the topics of “Deepening our Souls”, “Developing Our Minds”, “Answering the Call”, and “Aligning With The Church.” Each chapter is worth the book not only in the concepts White puts across, but in the endnotes and resources for further study.

After each chapter there is a short, one to two page biography highlighting the point of the chapter. Often these biographies take over the substance and ideas of a book, but he has kept them brief enough and too the point so that they serve the broader purpose of the book quite well.

As a pastor, this is the kind of book that I would choose for a small group of believers who are serious about the call on their lives and/or interested in leadership within the church. Contrary to the books typically chosen for those kinds of leadership groups, this work is not specifically interested in leadership techniques. Instead, and to its great credit, it is interested in helping each and every believer live lives of significance, and in my opinion, it goes a long way toward reaching that goal.

Good Resource - Serious Times Website

Serious Times

I have recently finished reading the book that this website is based upon, and I enjoyed it greatly. It was a great, and rare, mixture of a work on Christian worldview being accessible and steeped in serious scholarship itself. I hope to get a review written on it, and in the mean time I would encourage you to take a look at it if you would like a book on this subject that will also provide a great resource for further reading.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

What Is a 'Religious Point of View'?

My conversation with Public Theologian below has sparked a question for me: in matters of the public square, what compromises a “religious point of view”? This question is of amazing importance in our culture right now as a number of public evangelicals and others do their best to advocate for a Christian point of view while there are entire organizations dedicated to removing a religious point of view from the public square. Hence, the definition of what compromises a religious point of view is of pressing importance.

As a case in point, during the Terri Schaivo scenario I listened to Senators argue that we as a country cannot protect her life because that was a religious point of view and religion does not belong in legislation. I find that line of thought appallingly shallow and dangerous, but it highlights my question. As another case in point, many label the science of ID as a religious point of view, and therefore it cannot be seriously taken as science. So must the science that we are allowed to teach in public schools necessarily lead to atheistic conclusions? No matter how scientific a point of view is, if it leads to some form of Designer or Theism, must it therefore be rejected? Apparently so.

So, what compromises a “religious point of view,” and more to the point, how should they be handled in the public square? Can a certain definition of a “religious point of view” necessarily exclude it from serious consideration in the broader public? (Now that I get to thinking about this, it will take far more than a post, and far more than a series of serious posts to appropriately address this topic-but, here goes…)

Are they views that are simply in accord with views held my one major religion or another? As uselessly broad as this proposal sounds, I would argue that it is more of a reality for us politically than we might imagine. The Senators who argued that legislation should not be in favor of Terri Schaivo living were espousing this point of view, and those who reject any form of scientific endeavor that may not lead to atheism are also espousing this view.

But as a principle, this proposal simply cannot stand. Christianity, for instance, views cold-blooded murder as wrong. Our laws see it the same way. So if this proposal were to stand as is, we must reject all laws prohibiting murder out of hand. These kinds of examples are multifold; so this definition should be rejected, and thus the reasoning behind the Senatorial and scientific views above must also be rejected.

Are they views that begin with expressly religious premises? In other words, must we reject all views as inappropriate for public consumption if the reasoning for those views begins something like, “because God said…” or “because my Holy Book says…”? As a definition of what a religious point of view is, we are closer to the truth than the last proposal. At least here we are beginning on territory claimed by a certain religion, and supposedly reaching conclusions agreeable with that religion. In this way, when we assert the proposition, “this is a religious point of view,” we are meaning to say something like, “I am beginning with principles taught by a certain religion and reaching conclusions in accord with the same religion.” But, of course, it must be added that just beginning with, “because my Holy Book says…” does not guarantee conclusions that are actually amenable with that religion.

But even with views that are this expressly religious, there is no good reason to reject them out of hand in the public square. First, to do so would commit the genetic fallacy. In this context that would mean we reject an opinion about a matter simply because it comes from a certain sector of society or a certain point of view. We would not reject the truth of “the sky looks blue” just because it was uttered by a serial rapist. Second, the worth of any point of view in the public square is a function of its truth, not its adherents. So, if Intelligent Design wants to be heard in the larger scientific world, and its proponents have done their homework, it should be heard. Then and only then should its claims be considered as true or false. Instead, it is being prejudged in relation to its most typical adherents-conservative Christians. (That, in my opinion, is why it is not being given a hearing in the larger scientific world-not because it is 'unscientific'.)

So I am going to leave off here-this will get too long too quickly. I would love to hear other proposals and thoughts.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Pentecostal Pastors and Theological Influences

Pastor's Most Influential Books

Why is this the case?: Pastors who lead charismatic or Pentecostal congregations were by far the least likely to include books on theology among their chosen titles: only 2% did so.

I know polls are limited in their scope and actual sampling, but somehow I am not all that shocked. Don't get me wrong-I read books on church culture, leadership, theology, philosophy and so forth, and I have nothing against any of these categories as such. But I find it a little disheartening that Pentecostal pastors were the least likely to be influenced by a work of theology. (Remember-I am a Pentecostal pastor myself.)

Maybe this is why I can't find much in the way of serious Pentecostal scholarship in the areas of ecclesiology, theology and worldview. Can someone help??