An oddball Evangelical finds a home in Orthodoxy

One of his first converts was Samuel Crane, who had been a devout Calvinist but was deeply perplexed by the apparent contradiction between the idea of an eternally fixed number of elect and reprobate and the idea that salvation was free for anyone to take: He supposed it must be as the [Calvinist] minister said, for he was a good man, and a very learned man; and of course it must be owing to his own ignorance and dulness that he could not understand it. On one occasion, as he was returning home from church, meditating on what he had heard, he became so vexed with himself, on account of his dulness of apprehension, that he suddenly stopped and commenced pounding his head with his fist, for he really thought his stupidity must be owing to his having an uncommonly thick skull. When Crane finally accepted Methodism, “he found a system that seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures, with common sense, and with experience.”

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Religion

Unlike Samuel Crane, I was not as perplexed by Calvinism as I probably should have been. Yet the Sunday after my 49th birthday, I left Calvinism and formally entered the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. It seemed to harmonize with itself, with the Scriptures (including the ones we were never told to underline), with common sense, and with experience. It was so obviously right once I explored it that I assumed lots of others would follow. It’s fair to say that only one did.

So I’m left wondering "why me?" Why am I the lucky one?

It’s inevitable that telling of one’s religious conversion — and it’s hard for me to view a move from Calvinist to Orthodox as anything less than a conversion, though both are Christian in some sense — will have a whiff of proselytism to it. I’ve tried to minimize that and just tell my story, though my story would be incomplete without a modest conclusion.

Major life decisions, I’m pretty well convinced, rarely hinge on arguments. They’re always undergirded by life experiences and attitudes, which are at most obliquely causal. They’re also so complex as to seem inexhaustible. I told a fuller story of going Evangelical-to-Calvinist-to-Orthodox in one truthful way almost five years ago: A life in a string of epiphanies – Tipsy Teetotaler ن.

But I often think that seeds were planted, and that my disposition somehow was shaped, decades earlier, so that my reception into Orthodoxy truly was a sort of "coming home" — like an adoptee stumbling across his birth parents.

Here’s what I mean.

My favorite Bible verses were not even in the "Top 100" list of favorite Evangelical Bible verses.

As long ago as high school, I became (and remained) fixated on some New Testament passages that were, shall we say, far out of the Evangelical mainstream.

First was Ephesians 3:17-18 in the Living Bible that was so popular then, praying that “Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts” and “May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.” My Evangelical contemporaries were likelier to pick John 3:16 or Acts 16:31, relieved that one key decision for Christ, once-in-a-lifetime, sealed the deal and there really was nothing more required.

But I didn’t think I had the deep roots the Apostle was praying for, but I wanted them, for myself and my friends. I may even have declared it my “life verse,” life verses being an Evangelical kid thing at least where I was. If I did, it has held up very well.

But in Evangelicalism, sinking deep roots seemed to be off the radar, or reduced to a matter of becoming more theologically astute, doing more Bible study, elaborating doctrinal outlines and such. Those are mostly good things (I’m not so sure about doctrinal outlines any more), but they amount to knowing about God, not knowing Him or having deep roots.

I was also fascinated with Romans 12:2, about the transforming of our “minds” (which came close to “life verse” status), which I thought would eventually come if I became more theologically astute. That was a fool’s errand.

And then there was a real baffler, Hebrews 6:1-2, which referred to “repentance from dead works … faith toward God … the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” as “the elementary principles of Christ!” I just couldn’t imagine what more advanced there could be than these seemingly weighty things, but I wanted it. And here I wasn’t convinced that theological astuteness in the Evangelical manner had any chance of hitting pay dirt.

I wanted to worship God when I went to a "Worship Service"

Call me petty, or Aspie, or whatever, but I thought worship services should be full of, like, y’know, worship or something.

I had no objection in principle to Christians playing hail-fellow-well-met, back-slapping and exchanging anodynes and nostrums, or talking like coaches getting the guys ready to go out there and win one for Jesus. But the time and place for that was somewhere other than the Nave between 9:30 and noon on Sunday.

So it seemed to me, and I was adamant about that. The irresistable force of happy-clappy and motivational Church services was strangely resistable to me.

Music selection was what really bugged me. By the time I was Christian Reformed, I was in a Church that had a full Psalter, versified for congregational singing. But even there, we sang way too few of them, preferring to sing things that were relatively emotional and manipulative, that 100 years earlier would have gotten one in deep trouble in that denomination. I called them "gospel songs" instead of "hymns," but I see some sign that my terminology isn’t undisputed. In any event, they weren’t Psalms, which alone were sung in the CRC until maybe the late-19th Century.

There were other things I could have taken exception to, but the music was what got me riled. And then a faction of the Church wanted drums and guitars and more "celebrative" services, which horrified me. I just didn’t think that an emotion jag meant one was worshipping.

So my entire Protestant experience of "worship" was years of drought with an occasional delightful shower (a very good "hymn" as I defined hymn).

(Brief digression: to my knowledge, the Orthodox Church only sings one hymn that appeared in any hymnal in any church I regularly attended. We sing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent on Great and Holy Saturday. I’m even allowed to do the versified version, Picardy (8.7.8.7.8.7), which is used in Western Rite Orthodoxy. We share some ancient hymns with Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, too, but I was never Episcopalian or Roman Catholic.)

I had, apparently, a latent desire to worship with my body

As noted in my prior telling of my conversion:

My first experience of [Orthodox] Liturgy shocked me. I found myself immediately making a clumsy sign of the cross and genuflecting toward the Catholic hospital chapel’s altar, like a Roman Catholic.

It felt good. It felt as if those bodily gestures had been bottled up and were now breaking out. They felt natural

Maybe I should call those feelings “epiphany number four,” but it didn’t impress me quite that strongly at the time. And there’s a reason I blog under the rubric “Intellectualoid”: I tend to discount feelings as a reliable guide.

I didn’t consciously experience that Liturgy as "I’ve come home," but there was more than a whiff of that to it.

Orthodox worship is full of signing ourselves with the cross, bowing, kneeling, prostrating. My experience of body-involvement in Protestant worship was limited to a few gestures like holding up hands and lifting up fluttering eyelids, which somehow felt ersatz.

I was at best reluctantly dispensational premillennialist

Again, I told about my relationship to dispensationalism as Epiphany 3 in my prior telling of my conversion. It’s not worth quoting again, but my hesitancy about dispensationalism left me outside of the Evangelical mainstream.

I hesitate to make discomfort with that novelty a mark of Orthodoxy, because dispensationalism is only about 200 years, when Presbyterian, Reformed and Anglican churches were already a few hundred years old. My attitude toward end-times prophecy would have been pretty mainstream in any of those slightly-older churches, as it’s totally mainstream in Orthodoxy.**

But in my perception, dispensationalism is a mark of mainstream Evangelicalism and even has infected Presbyterian and Reformed Churches that tend to the Evangelical side. So my discomfort was likely to crop up most anywhere I went in Protestantism in these days.

I believed the Creeds and thought they were important

I suspect that the "Apostles Creed" is said rarely in frankly-Evangelical Churches today, and that the Nicene Creed is vanishingly rare. That’s a trend I think was starting 50 years or more ago. (Spot check: Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois lists its "Beliefs and Values" as "Love God. Love People. Change the World." That’s even worse that I feared.)

The Apostles Creed, though, remained a weekly feature in the Christian Reformed order of worship, with the Nicene Creed thrown in occasionally for a little spice.

By the end of my 20s, I think, I began calling myself “orthodox with a lower-case O.” I was, I thought, a “Mere Christian,” which I described as “believing the ecumenical creeds of the Church without mental reservations.” I learned more about them when I was Christian Reformed.

I’ve learned even more as an Orthodox Christian, but that could be its own story.

I wanted the original faith, which I took to be the purest

I wanted to be orthodox in that creedal sense. I and others detected proto-Calvinism in St. Augustine, and he was early enough that I thought I had finally joined with the early church, which is also what I wanted.

But I knew almost nothing about actual Orthodoxy. (Summary of what I knew: The Russian Orthodox have some awesome music. Orthodox Priests wear beards and funny hats. Orthodox isn’t the same as Catholic. Those were, mostly, true.)

An iconographer I met recently told of his first encounter with Orthodoxy:

I went to the Holy Land and encountered Orthodoxy. I didn’t know what to make of it. It was Christian, but vastly different, far older than my Methodist Church.

Indeed, and a few centuries older even than St. Augustine, who I looked to to buttress the "original faith" bona fides of Reformed Christianity.

The Orthodox Church recognizes Augustine as a Saint, but an unusually flawed one owing to his isolation in the West, when was still a Christian backwater, and his substantial ignorance of Greek and the Greek Church Fathers. So when I thought Augustine was early enough to be the original faith, I was wrong for practical purposes.

Afterthought

These are the things in my history and attitude that I think foreshadowed that my heart would find rest only in the Orthodox Faith. I began writing this many months ago, thinking that more proto-Orthodoxies would occur to me, but they really haven’t, and I don’t want to make things up.

My story would be incomplete were I not to say that all these desires that made me an odd-ball Evangelical and Calvinist have been (or are being) satisfied in Orthodoxy (though I’ve come to understand Creeds differently now). I cannot deny that they might have been satisfied in traditional Roman Catholicism, but that seems largely to have disappeared as Rome has Protestantized in the wake of Vatican II.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Shame Culture and lesser things

In twenty minutes or so, the Saints and the Bucaneers, Brees and Brady, will be competing. 85 total years of quarterback. And they’re both still really good. So I’m done websurfing today.

Someone pointed out that according to the prophecies of Q, in turn according to the consensus of Q scholars (since Q is reportedly pretty cryptic), President Trump is to sweep up the evil, cannibalistic, pizza-pedophile Democrats and RINOs. I confess that I’m no Q scholar, but his days are prima facie dwindling down to a precious few.

I’d bet a modest amount that, rather than admitting their delusion, QAnon scholars will reinterpret things. My money is on some version of “this will all come to pass at the great and glorious second coming of The Donald in 2024. It is prophesied.”

This will be the proof, for those in the real world, that Q goes beyond politics, beyond conspiracy theory, and is in fact a new pagan religion (and one that’s less rational than worshipping nature) even if (this being America), it’s a paganism with some distracting Christianish cammo.

Shame culture

David French is trying to analyze some fundamental things, and not being a Southerner, I don’t quickly grasp it. But my absolute favorite Orthodox Priest-Blogger, Fr. Stephen Freeman, writes much of the crushing weight of shame, and he writes from southern culture, so French has my attention.

[W]hat we’re watching right now in much of our nation’s Christian politics is an explosion not of godly Christian passion, but rather of ancient southern shame/honor rage.

There’s an enormous amount of literature describing shame/honor culture in the South and shame/honor culture generally, but I like this succinct description from David Brooks:

> In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. In a guilt culture people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad.

Shame/honor cultures are very focused on group reputation and group identity. Again, here’s Brooks:

> People are extremely anxious that their group might be condemned or denigrated. They demand instant respect and recognition for their group. They feel some moral wrong has been perpetrated when their group has been disrespected, and react with the most violent intensity.

Brooks was writing about the general growth of shame culture in America, including in left-wing circles on campus. But doesn’t this sound familiar on the right? Have you noticed how much of the GOP, the party of white Evangelicals, is often positively obsessed with grievance, how it marinates in anger at the insults of the “elite” or the “ruling class”?

Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, has done an immense amount of good through his organization, Samaritan’s Purse. He and his legion of Christian employees and volunteers have sacrificially served the sickest and most vulnerable members of society. But when it comes to politics, Graham’s voice is radically angry and viciously tribal.

David French, Where Does the South End and Christianity Begin?

This is of concern to me in part because my Christian tradition has by some accounts grown faster in the south than elsewhere, but angry tribalism contradicts the Orthodox faith profoundly.

Trump’s Big Lie

[I]t was striking that President-elect Joe Biden chose the term [“big lie”] when he slammed two Republican senators — Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley — who have amplified Trump’s falsehood.

“I think the American public has a real good, clear look at who they are,” Biden told reporters two days after the Capitol was attacked. “They’re part of the big lie, the big lie.”

Biden nodded to the term’s origin in Nazi Germany, as embodied in Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

“We’re told that, you know, Goebbels and the great lie. You keep repeating the lie, repeating the lie,” Biden said. “The degree to which it becomes corrosive is in direct proportion to the number of people who say it.”

A big lie has singular potency, says Timothy Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University, whose books include studies of Hitler, Josef Stalin, the Holocaust and tyranny.

“There are lies that, if you believe in them, rearrange everything,” he says.

“Hannah Arendt, the political thinker, talked about the fabric of reality,” Snyder says. “And a big lie is a lie which is big enough that it tears the fabric of reality.”

In his cover story for The New York Times Magazine this week, Snyder calls Trump “the high priest of the big lie.”

As for where big lies lead, Snyder writes: “Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president.”

Can The Forces Unleashed By Trump’s Big Election Lie Be Undone?

Flight 93 (still)

Somewhere along the line, the “Flight 93 Election” proponents decided that their insane gamble with the country had paid off in a fabulously successful Presidency, and that was that, in saecula saeculorum. After January 6, they’re trying to change the subject:

[Laura] Ingraham says that the idea that character and norms don’t mean anything to people like her is a “straw man argument,” while always only being willing to criticize Trump’s “tone” and “style” and praising Trump for “fighting for others.” Is that what he was doing when he lied about having won the election and encouraged an angry mob of wayward souls to march on the legislative branch and his own vice president? Who was doing the fighting that day? Who was fighting for whom? And how many ultimately died? Ingraham says that the rioters were not intent on overthrowing the republic, but were just “desperate people.” Who, exactly, made them feel so desperate? Who told them their country was being “stolen” from them? It wasn’t Mitt Romney, and it wasn’t National Review.

Enter Anton, who took a brief victory lap on “predicting” that the Left would get crazier before asking if National Review’s subscribers knew that its editor had made the case for supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016 (he didn’t), and blasting Lowry for publishing his column in Politico where they couldn’t see it. Of course, Lowry’s column is now up here at National Review, where all of his Politico pieces eventually go up, but even if it wasn’t, he has not exactly hidden the ball on this site.

That Anton and Ingraham disregard the truth so blatantly and resort to such tinny arguments is probably a sign that they know that their Flight 93 presidency is ending very badly, that the project that they invested in so fully and threw away every standard to support is coming apart at the seams.

They’re letting their desperation show.

Isaac Schorr, Ingraham and Anton vs. Lowry: The Sad Descent of the Flight 93 Apologists | National Review

Cruz’s and Hawley’s Infamy

Some Republicans are hurtin’ because of what their party did over their objections. Not one pair — who are involved not romantically, but as rivals for Trump’s shitty mantle:

After the fact, the White House very quickly found itself in a supercharged version of the situation that Cruz and Hawley are also in. They presumed they could cynically ride this movement for their own ends. They gleefully lit match after match, and eventually to their horror they managed to set themselves on fire along with everyone else. They clearly incited these events. They saw them spin rapidly out of control. They ended Wednesday afternoon with five people dead, the Capitol defiled, and the country stunned. They definitely wanted to overturn the election, which by itself is a subversion of representative government. Their efforts produced a messy putsch into the bargain, and got people killed. They should be punished for it as severely as the law permits, and they should never be allowed to live down their responsibility for what happened.

Kieran Healy, What Happened? H/T Conor Friedersdorf, Recommended Reading (a paid Mailchimp weekly email)

The Falkirk Center — Liberty University’s continuing shame

Helfenbein has stated that the goal of the Falkirk Center is to have “massive cultural influence,” and I believe him after watching 12 hours of Falkirk’s nonsense podcast episodes, reading months’ worth of its articles, and scrolling through its near-endless social media feeds. “This is not your dad’s or granddad’s think tank,” says Helfenbein. Yeah, well it’s not your dad’s or granddad’s critical thinking either.

Much of Falkirk’s content is facially ridiculous, deceptive, or easily debunked. But that’s because Falkirk is not selling truth. Like any propaganda outlet, Falkirk melds partial truths with distortions to create a coherent worldview—one that comforts the audience while misleading it. There is no other way to explain the debunked claims of election fraud that Falkirk treats seriously, or the consistently shoddy interpretations of the Bible and history that would be considered sophomoric in Liberty’s own undergraduate classes. The Falkirk Center doesn’t even do a good job at creating alternate realities. Everything falls apart under the barest level of scrutiny—that is, if you can steel yourself to actually engage with all the mind-numbing content.

The Falkirk Center: Liberty University’s Slime Factory – The Bulwark

Antifa? Yeah, that’s the ticket!

One of the organizers of the Trump boat parade that sank a family’s boat in Portland, Oregon, in August was arrested Wednesday in the attempted coup on the Capitol.

Kristina Malimon, 28, was arrested on charges of unlawful entry and violating curfew. Her mother, Yevgeniya Malimon, 54, was also arrested on the same charges.

Malimon is the vice chair for the Young Republicans of Oregon. According to her bio on the organization’s website, she is also an ambassador to Turning Point USA and Liberty University’s pro-Trump think tank, the Falkirk Center. She is also listed as a delegate for the Multnomah County Republican Party.

Julia Reinstein, Kristina Malimon, Organizer Of A Trump Boat Parade, Arrested (Buzzfeed).

Yeah. It was all Antifa false flag stuff. That’s the ticket.

TOS

We talked about why we need more social media bans earlier this week and a friend who works in a tech-adjacent sector sent along something great. My buddy drafted the “Terms of Service” agreement he would use in the event he created a social network. Here they are:

> This social network is like a party I’m throwing at my house, and you’re all invited. So here’s the deal. I’m not gonna write a whole list of rules on a chalkboard like I’m your third-grade substitute teacher. I don’t mind you being rowdy because this is a fun party in my house. But if you cross the line, I’ll kick you out on your ass. Where is the line? I’m not going to try to explain it to you, so just keep yourself in check so you don’t cross it.
>
> But I’m not going to make any pretense here that I’m “fair” or “objective”. If I like you, I’ll probably let you get away with more. If I don’t like you but you’re still making the party cool, I’ll probably cut you some slack. You might get a warning, or you might not. Look, I’m partying too, and I don’t always have time to do warnings. Sometimes there will be a misunderstanding and I’ll kick you out when I should not have, and maybe I’ll regret it later. But probably not.
>
> But if you’re a real ass, you’ll be kicked out so hard that you’ll be staggering your drunken way down the street, mumbling to yourself about how unfair it was, and hearing the loud music from my amazing party which will be going on without you. And we won’t even miss you.
>
> So don’t complain to me about my party. Behave yourself and know that I am arbitrary and capricious in defense of the rocking time we are having. And don’t ask me to be “fair” because I’m just not.

This is exactly right. A TOS is not Hammurabi’s Code. It’s a set of guidelines subject to change at any minute that exist not to protect any individual “rights” but to make the product the company owns function better.

And people who pretend that this isn’t the case are either lying. Or socialists.

Jonathan V. Last, This Cult Is Ruining People’s Lives – The Triad

This, too, needs to be said:

I am insisting upon a different sort of consistency, one that rejects easy explanations and accepts that occurrences like the breaching of the Capitol on January 6 are as complex as any other part of human life. What I refuse to concede is the inhumanity of the costumed hundreds — a fraction of the total number of those who had traveled to Washington to hear President Trump speak. It is absurd, as Dickens once put it, to talk of such an event

> as if it were the only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown—as if nothing had ever been done, or omitted to be done, that had led to it—as if observers of the wretched millions … and of the misused and perverted resources that should have made them prosperous, had not seen it inevitably coming, years before, and had not in plain words recorded what they saw.

Last year I recognized the unmistakable signs of coming violence, and not only of the sort we are used to regarding as “political,” the surge in crime rates, drug addiction, sexual exploitation of children, and so-called deaths of despair. I for one do not understand how it is that people accustomed to talking about the very real consequences of unemployment, who take mental health seriously and understand the relationship between crime, education, poverty, and civil unrest, were able to wave away the cost of our lockdown measures.

… Washington, D.C., is under martial law, which means thousands of National Guardsmen reading Atlas Shrugged or sleeping under the same statues protesters would have been allowed to destroy only a few weary months ago. Joe Biden’s inauguration will become what President Trump once fantasized about: a military event, a quasi-fascistic spectacle of raw power, like the proclamation of a new emperor by a detail of leering praetorians.

This is the sort of thing people usually protest.

Matthew Walther, Where do riots come from?.

Not all January 6 demonstrators are criminals in any sense, insofar as not all entered the Capitol.

Not all January 6 demonstrators who entered the Capitol are guilty of the same seditious crimes.

For Civic Hygiene and deterrence, we need to hammer the worse offenders with the most serious charges the evidence supports. I don’t know how many of those there are, but I wouldn’t be surprised by hundreds of 10+ year sentences.

But I’ll be disappointed if some who entered the Capitol, if convincingly chastened, don’t get something like probation with low felonies reduced to high misdemeanors if the probationary period is completed without violation of any conditions.

Lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas

This isn’t about, anymore, the Electoral College, this is about the future of the party, and whether you’re going to ostracize and excommunicate President Trump from the party. Well, guess what? Millions of his fans will leave as well.

Rand Paul, quoted by Zachary Evans, Rand Paul: Senator Warns Republicans Will Leave Party if GOP Senators Back Impeachment | National Review

He’s probably right, which is what makes doing the right thing for the country so hard now that Trump has taken the GOP from Zombie Reaganism to the main host of QAnon.


The Four Caucuses of the GOP.

Here’s where we are: the GOP (at least in the House) broke down into four broad groups: The Profiles in Courage; the Sedition Caucus; the Mugwumps; and the Terrified.

I. The Profiles in Courage Caucus

The 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump

II. The Mugwump Caucus

This consisted of representatives who seemed to fully understand the enormity of Trump’s conduct… but still voted against impeachment.

III. The Sedition Caucus

We know their names: the 138 GOP reps who voted to overturn the presidential election, even after the failed insurrection attempt. Many of them had also signed a letter of support for the absurd and mendacious Texas lawsuit that sought to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters, and overturn the presidential election.

They make up nearly 2/3 of the House GOP Conference.

IV. The Terrified.

We don’t know how many Republicans were simply too afraid to vote yes, but fear was definitely a factor.

Charlie Sykes, Defeated, Disgraced, Twice Impeached – Morning Shots


When Trump leaves office, my party faces a choice: We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them. We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud Officer Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both.

In 1922, G. K. Chesterton called America “a nation with the soul of a church.” But according to a recent study of dozens of countries, none has ditched religious belief faster since 2007 than the U.S. Without going into the causes, we can at least acknowledge one cost: For generations, most Americans understood themselves as children of a loving God, and all had a role to play in loving their neighbors. But today, many Americans have no role in any common story.

Conspiracy theories are a substitute. Support Donald Trump and you are not merely participating in a mundane political process—that’s boring. Rather, you are waging war on a global sex-trafficking conspiracy! No one should be surprised that QAnon has found a partner in the empty, hypocritical, made-for-TV deviant strain of evangelicalism that runs on dopey apocalypse-mongering. (I still consider myself an evangelical, even though so many of my nominal co-religionists have emptied the term of all historic and theological meaning.)

Senator Ben Sasse (emphasis added) did not willingly lie down with the Orange dog, but his party did. He really grasps the nettle here. Highly recommended unless you shun politics entirely.

Un-learning

I recall from my late high school days a presentation by Moody Bible Institute about its school for missionary aviators in Tennessee. It has stuck with me for something like 55 years now that applicants who already had pilots licenses were not ahead of the game: “We have to un-teach them everything they’ve learned.”

Moody was quintessentially Evangelical, so it’s a bit ironic that Evangelicals must now unlearn what they’ve been taught in order to become better, more historically-rooted Christians.

Take conversion, for instance (a topic I began last night, not knowing I’d be continuing).

“Saints are made by good conversions.” In this challenging and provocative book, Gordon T. Smith contends that a chief cause of spiritual immaturity in the evangelical church is an inadequate theology of conversion. Conversion, he says, involves more than a release from the consequences of sin–the goal is spiritual transformation. But there is little transformation without a complete and authentic conversion. The key is beginning well. In this age of false starts and stunted growth, maturing Christians need help reflecting on and interpreting their own religious experience. Christian leaders need to rethink the way that conversions happen. Beginning Well is a catalyst toward this end. Surveying Scripture, spiritual autobiographies and a broad range of theologies of conversion (Protestant and Catholic, Reformed and Wesleyan), the author seeks to foster in the Christian community a dynamic language of conversion that leads to spiritual transformation and mature Christian living. In the process he moves us from a short-sighted “minimalist” view to one that recognizes seven elements necessary for good conversions. This book–a stirring call to rethink the relationship between conversion and transformation–is a must read for pastors, evangelists, spiritual directors, seminary professors and others who are concerned about the nurture and development of Christian converts, and the nature of authentic religious experience.

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Beginning Well: Christian Conversion & Authentic Transformation.

Evangelicals are known for their emphasis on conversion. But what about life after conversion and beyond justification?
Desperately needed is a comprehensive theology of the Christian life from beginning to end, along with the means of formation and transformation. In Called to Be Saints, Gordon Smith draws on a distinguished lifetime of reflecting on these themes to offer us a theologically rich account of our participation in the life of Christ.
Both profound and practical, this book is a trinitarian theology of holiness that encompasses both justification and sanctification, both union with Christ and communion with God. Smith unfolds how and why Christians are called to become wise people, do good work, love others and enjoy rightly ordered affections.
If holiness is the ongoing journey of becoming mature in Christ, then there is no better guide than Smith. Christians in every walk of life will find this a rich resource for learning what it means to “grow up in every way . . . into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity, which was Evangelical enough to win a book award from Christianity Today.

This volume offers much-needed theological reflection on the phenomenon of conversion and transformation. Gordon Smith provides a robust evaluation that covers the broad range of thinking about conversion across Christian traditions and addresses global contexts. Smith contends that both in the church and in discussions about contemporary mission, the language of conversion inherited from revivalism is inadequate in helping to navigate the questions that shape how we do church, how we approach faith formation, how evangelism is integrated into congregational life, and how we witness to the faith in non-Christian environments. We must rethink the nature of the church in light of how people actually come to faith in Christ. After drawing on ancient and pre-revivalist wisdom on conversion, Smith delineates the contours of conversion and Christian initiation for today’s church. He concludes by discussing the art of spiritual autobiography and what it means to be a congregation.

Book notes for Gordon T. Smith’s Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation.

Next, they really need to unlearn the heresy of chiliasm/millenialism in all its forms, not just the novel and particularly virulent dispensational premillennialism.

* * * * *

Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1

[O]nce you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness,
And they will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach ….

Wendell Berry, Do Not Be Ashamed

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.
Continue reading “Un-learning”

Not just another warring Hobbesian voice

The press — especially the prestige press like the New York Times — has trouble seeing religion as anything real. They so thoroughly view everything through a political lens that they assume that religion is just politics in disguise.

Some Christians feed that perception, though — and insofar as they do, they are behaving somewhere between dubiously and very badly — closer to the latter than the former, in my opinion.

Consider:

In a conversation with a young friend, I was told that “politics is the only way to get anything done.” This is not true. Politics (the use of civil power) is a means to gain the upper hand in a Hobbesian struggle. It is war, fought by other means. It is for that reason that politics is a questionable activity for Christians. The victories achieved are often brief, and, depending on the opposition, only maintained by the continued use of force.

It is profoundly the case that civil (or military) force are not the tools of the Kingdom of God. It is among the many reasons why the Kingdom of God is not, and never can be a human project …

What Christ brought was not a set of ideas to be shared in the Hobbesian conflicts of this world. What He brought was the Kingdom itself and the means for our entrance into that Kingdom and for its life to be manifest in us. It has become commonplace for modern Christians to espouse some ideas based on Christian “moral principles” and to make them the guiding light for political projects, sometimes saying that they are “building up the Kingdom in this world” (or words to that effect).

When the Christian life is reduced to moral and political principles, it simply becomes one more warring voice within Hobbes’ nightmarish description of life. This is true regardless of how noble our intentions might be. This is also deeply frustrating for us. The Christian life as moral and political principle does not require anything more than new opinions. It masquerades as renewal and change when it is nothing more than the same war fought by unbelievers.

Fr. Stephen Freeman

In my perception, “building up the Kingdom in this world” is a characteristically progressive Christian trope.

The dread “Religious Right” tends so strongly toward dispensational premillennialism that it would be a feat of theological code-switching of epic proportions for them to say that with a straight face. That doesn’t mean the Religious Right doesn’t “espouse some ideas based on Christian ‘moral principles’ and to make them the guiding light for political projects,” however — which feeds the media bias first cited above.

On the precedent of the Apostle Paul, however, I think we may assert our legal rights defensively (and in most cases, Christians are legally aggressed against more than aggressors).

But we mustn’t kid ourselves that we’re building the Kingdom of God when we do. Whatever you label it, it’s something other than that.

* * * * *

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes. Where I glean stuff.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving.

Neither Nor

Neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, I nevertheless pay a lot of attention to both, because they are where the culturally significant religious action is in my homeland.

Likewise, I pay attention to doings in the Republican and Democrat parties. The sicknesses of those parties is also part of the sickness of my homeland. Politically, I’m not as settled in my American Solidarity Party affiliation as I am in Orthodoxy religiously.

I never was a partisan activist for either party, though I considered myself a Republican until January 20, 2005. GOP insanities bother me more than Democrat insanities because I never hoped for much from the Democrats (though it earlier seemed an inversion of the characteristic party tendencies when Democrats became the party of war on the defenseless unborn while Republicans nominally rose to their defense; I now recognize that the Democrat “party of the ordinary man” is dead).

I think Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter, still considers herself Republican, and she, too, focuses more on GOP shortcomings. If you can get through the paywall, her April 13 Wall Street Journal column will reward you:

Mr. Trump came from the chaos, he didn’t cause it. He just makes it worse each day by adding his own special incoherence … He happened after 20 years of carelessness and the rise of the enraged intersectional left. He … can’t capitalize on this moment—he can’t help what is formless to find form—because he’s not a serious man.

Republicans will have to figure it out on their own. After they lose the House, they will have time!

Here’s what they should do: They should start to think not like economists but like artists.

The thing about artists is that they try to see the real shape of things. They don’t get lost in factoids and facets of problems, they try to see the thing whole. They try to capture reality. They’re creative, intuitive; they make leaps, study human nature …

If an artist of Reagan’s era were looking around America in 2018, what would she or he see? Marvels, miracles and wonders. A church the other day noted on Twitter that all of us now download data from a cloud onto tablets, like Moses.

But think what would startle the artist unhappily. She or he would see broad swaths of the American middle and working class addicted and lethargic …

A Reagan-era artist would be shocked by our culture, by its knuckle dragging nihilism … The artist would be shocked that “the American dream” has been transmuted from something aspirational and lighted by an egalitarian spirit to something weirdly flat—a house, a car, possessions—and weirdly abstract.

And think twice about your saviors. Those NeverTrump folks trying to take back authority within the party—having apparently decided recently not to start a third one—are the very people who made the current mess. They bought into open-borders ideology. They cooked up Iraq. They allied with big donors. They invented Sarah Palin, who as much as anyone ushered in the age of Trump. They detached the Republican Party from the people.

I also listened to a fascinating podcast last night on a late drive back from a meeting in Indianapolis.

Historian Michael Doran from the Hudson Institute traces The Theological Roots of Foreign Policy, American foreign policy in particular. He starts with Andrew Jackson and traces the “Jacksonian tendency” through the manufacture of dispensational premillenialism with its Zionist obsessions, William Jennings Bryan, Harry Truman and to Donald Trump (in a party jump that’s part of our ongoing realignment — my comment, not his).

Then he traces the competing “progressivist tendency” from mainline missionaries (who substituted imperialist-tinged foreign aid for the mandate to preach, baptize, and teach the Christian faith) through its descendants — John D. Rockefeller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, William Sloan Coffin and others less familiar and memorable to me because they’s not my religious kin as are the Jacksonians.

If you’re looking for a satisfactory wrap-up, it’s not here. Once again, I’m neither-nor.

UPDATE: Doran’s article appears in print, close to verbatim from his speech so far as I can tell. By June 1, it should be free.

* * * * *

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A life in a string of epiphanies

I’ve been blogging now for more than seven years, and religion has been a frequent topic. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never set out an orderly account of my religious pilgrimage or explained just what my beefs are with the Christian traditions I’ve left.

I intend to remedy that right now.  Continue reading “A life in a string of epiphanies”

Is it good for man to be alone?

  1. It is good for man to be alone
  2. The end of White Guilt?
  3. Manchurian Candidate?
  4. Kristoff #Fail
  5. Hal Lindsey update
  6. I’m no big deal
  7. Go back to your own country!
  8. Sudden, involuntary, chaotic simplification

Continue reading “Is it good for man to be alone?”

Sunday 10/23/16

  1. Pride
  2. Introducing American Folk Religion
  3. No Illusions
  4. We must keep this quiet …
  5. Judging the Economy
  6. Late-term/Partial-birth
  7. The choice facing voters in November

Continue reading “Sunday 10/23/16”

Tuesday, 8/9/16

  1. The Anti-Discrimination Religion
  2. Dialogue
  3. Essential, contingent and normal generic statements
  4. Religious humanism’s bad odor
  5. Sausages and laws
  6. Sewage and Wine

Continue reading “Tuesday, 8/9/16”