Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kingdom of ?

The Emerging/ent church has been pivotal in bringing kingdom understanding back into the forefront of our thinking. This has been a necessary emphasis that I applaud, but have sometimes been uncomfortable with the implications that many have drawn from this. I was happy to see Brian McLaughlin quoting Scot McKnight on this subject. McKnight articulates some of the issues very well in this concise quote:

“It’s a bit of a hobby horse for me, but it will be until I get this kingdom series done. I see many today equating “kingdom” with “justice” and defining “justice” by freedom, rights, etc.. So that kingdom becomes working for what is good in this world. Fine. When God’s kingdom comes such things will be manifest. But, I believe kingdom is so tied to faith in Jesus that we are severing kingdom from church, kingdom from Jesus, kingdom from discipleship, and are left with nothing more than the social gospel of Protestant Liberalism. (I am hearing the ghosts of Troeltsch and Rauschenbusch.)”

Similarly, Pannenburg argues for the necessity of the church in directing people toward the eternal:

“The Church is necessary so long as the social and political life of man does not provide the ultimate human fulfillment that the Kingdom of God is to bring in human history. In this way we see that the Church is not eternal, but is necessary for the time this side of the Kingdom.” (W. Pannenberg, Theology and the Kingdom of God, 83 quoted in Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today, 399)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Book Review: Truth and Authority in Modernity

Newbigin, Lesslie. Truth and Authority in Modernity. Christian Mission and Modern Culture Series. Valley Forge, Penn.: Trinity Press, 1996.

The late missionary statesman, Lesslie Newbigin, contributes mightily to a valid articulation of Christian faith in the midst of cultural transition. This pithy treatment of the notions of truth and authority glides deftly through the topic without distraction or tedious philosophical prevarications. For those of you familiar with Newbigin’s writings, this book works with many themes common to much of his writing. This book is unique among his works in the singular focus on the notions of truth and authority.

With irascable clarity, Newbigin tackles the epistemological assumptions of the Enlightenment. Rationalism founded on skepticism (Descartes) changed the criteria of what was considered authoritative truth. Building a worldview from this foundation “was bound to lead to the triumph of skepticism and eventually of nihilism, as Nietzsche foresaw.” (8) This kind of search for certainty inevitably comes up empty, always subject to the arbiters of truth and their presuppositions.

Newbigin holds that faith should be primary, not doubt. He is not advocating a total lack of skepticism, it must remain in check. Neither is he promoting the “leap of faith” initiation to belief. It was a mistake, posits Newbigin, to allow Christian faith to become captive to skeptical rationalism without first recognizing that skeptical rationalism was subject to its own type of faith. Newbigin resets the conversation with a focus on relationship. Modern thinking has rendered itself devoid of seeking or understanding purpose (teleology). If one believes in a personal Creator, then one’s epistemological foundation cannot be built on doubt and purposelessness. The implications of this line of thinking are enormous for theology and philosophy. Modernist hyper-rationalism run aground fostering some to turn to hedonistic nihilism and others floundering in search of purpose.

Truth and Authority in Modernity is a great, quick read that gives all of us something to think about. I recommend this book along with all of Newbigin’s books. For a more complete treatment of these themes and others, his Gospel in a Pluralist Society is a great choice.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Unhindering the Good News

I have recently perused an older commentary on Acts by Frank Stagg titled, The Book of Acts: An Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel. I love the subtitle of this commentary. It is too rare that we really consider the power of the Gospel. We have become so obsessed with the forms of Christianity that we impose structures and categories and formulas on our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus. These impositions on the Gospel are natural for us for a number of reasons that I won't explore just now. The problem is that we have become so comfortable and accustomed to these structures, categories, and formulas that we no longer realize that they are add-ons to our theology and practice. Now we suffer from an intense confusion about what is the basic to the Gospel. We have effectively read our institutions and traditions back into the Scriptures so thoroughly that we render the Gospel hindered.

When we look at Acts, even is such a brief number of years, there is a repeated effort at removing the hindrances to the good news of Jesus. These hindrances come at us from several angles, cultural, religious, institutional, and political. Perhaps our efforts should be geared toward unhindering the Gospel.