Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why Reformed Theology Must Adapt or Become Irrelevant II

A couple months I began some thoughts on the current state of reformed theology, and particularly areas where it must adapt if it is to remain a vibrant and relevant expression of the Christian faith. This post is my second on this theme.

One of the basic principles guiding the “mega-church” movement is homogeneity. For many churches, homogeneity is a deliberate strategy and goal, for many Reformed churches, homogeneity is a reality. The vast majority of American Reformed and Presbyterian churches are primarily white, middle-class, cultured English-speakers. While homogeneity may be a sociological phenomenon and a desired result for some churches, stagnation in this state is a failure in realizing the identity and mission of the church.

I am happy to say, I am a member of a church which attempts to break the standard reformed sociological straightjacket with a significant Hispanic ministry, and have had the privilege of serving another groundbreaking church in Camden, New Jersey. Sadly, churches such as these are the exceptions, and true anomalies within the broader Reformed community. The OPC as a whole has a small but significant outreach into the Spanish culture in the United States, which really excited me. Yet there are numerous other American sub-cultures, African-American, the urban poor or younger individuals, which have had no significant contact or outreach by Reformed churches. Unless Reformed theology desires to remain an insignificant fringe movement in the American church, it must deliberately find means to interact with and influence the existent American society.

Perhaps the greatest reason for the sociological isolation of Reformed theology is its cultural history. Reformed theology and Presbyterianism in America are closely connected with Dutch and Scottish cultures, and continue this connection today. In terms of missions and growth, Reformed theology is having a significant impact in Africa and Korea, yet in America it struggles reaching out beyond its own cultural tradition. Perhaps this is because much of the expressions and forms used in Reformed churches have appeal only to a particular sub-culture. The singing of metrical hymns may be a rich part of the Presbyterian heritage and a great contribution to the history of liturgy, yet it has little appeal for others. Responsive readings from Scripture and from historic creeds and confessions has little impact on a larger culture struggling with literacy. Are we as Reformed churches willing to lay aside out liturgical history in order to connect meaningfully with our culture?

A second contribution to Reformed theologies lack of wider cultural influence is its close identification with a particular subculture. It is commendable that the preaching of the Word, pure and simple, forms the center of the service in Reformed churches. Biblically, this is the way it must be. However, in many churches the sermons are geared towards a small minority of the possible listening audience. Much of the language used in the sermon is well-suited for the churched and the theologically astute. Many times, sermons are rich with information to feed the mind, but poor with food to nourish the soul. Further, many churches in the Reformed tradition balk at the idea of a primarily evangelistic sermon. If this pattern continues, will Reformed churches grow beyond their own borders into an increasingly alien culture? Other forms used in worship likewise contribute to the alienation of much of the wider population. Worship wars generally rage around issues of instrumentation and style of music. By and large, as is evident by looking at the “official” songbooks of most Reformed congregations, a traditional and high-culture orientation is the norm. But does the average Reformed orientation connect with the average American? Does music more familiar to listeners of Public Radio have much connection with the average American listening to the Top 40’s on the radio? Like other Evangelical churches, but perhaps to a greater degree, Reformed churches struggle with retaining their youth not only in the church but the faith. Considering Reformed theology’s view of covenant children, this is not simply a misfortune, but a grave catastrophe. Does the musical choices of a congregation contribute the loss of the church’s youth? I am sure I am not alone in feeling the disconnect between the music style on I participate in on Sunday and the music I listen to the rest of the week. Is it possible that these and other accidental elements of the service, slavishly held on to, contribute to the alienation many young people feel about their church, and their faith? Shall we commit ourselves to a high-culture orientation at the cost of the church’s youth?

A third reason for the isolation of the Reformed community is its attention to matters of doctrine. Doctrinal purity and concern is a great strength, but any strength can become a weakness when abused. Reformed theology does well in fulfilling the Great Commissions’ mandate to make disciples by teaching them to observe all of Jesus commandments, but less so on the “going.” While there will always be dissatisfied Baptists and other evangelicals who trickle into a Reformed church; cross border growth is not viable growth option. Reformed theology must find a way to communicate meaningfully with the “man on the street,” and not only those making the journey into Calvinism. In order for Reformed theology to connect with the “man on the street”, we must not practice theology in a vacuum. Are we are Reformed churches willing to spend less time quibbling about the mechanics of justification and more time considering, by the light of Scripture, the struggles of fallen men and women in a fallen world? Will our study committees and our General Assemblies condemn social injustice and racism as strongly as it does certain movements in Reformed theology and New Testament Studies? Will we spend as much time considering how to meaningfully minister in Christ’s name to the urban poor, the immigrants (legal or otherwise) and the developmentally disabled as we spend considering who can do what and say what in a service?

Reformed theology has much to offer a church needing reform and a world needing a redeemer. Will we be those who hoard these riches for ourselves, or are we willing to do everything we can to share these riches with those who need them?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Reading for November and December 2006

I admit that for two months my reading seems pretty pathetic, but, especially during the end of November and throughout December, I was working a ton of hours with training and the whole Christmas shopping season. So, I had little free time for reading. I did do more reading than is represented on this list, but much was unfinished. So here is the list.

  • New York: An Illustrated History. Ric Burns and James Sanders: 1999

    An overview of the history of New York City from its settlement by the Dutch to the 1970’s, the book examines development of the city and its influence on the rest of the country and the world. In the midst of the main narrative, short articles focusing on a particular area or aspect of the city are interspersed. Figures who receive significant attention are Alexander Hamilton, Walt Whitman, Tammany Hall and Robert Moses
  • Practice in Christianity- Soren Kierkegaard: 1850.

    The book is a compilation of three series of exposition of Scripture passages dealing with the concept of offense at the person of Jesus. Writing under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus, Kierkegaard examines the meaning of the historical person of Jesus in the midst of established Christianity. The first section focuses on Jesus invitation in come to him for rest in light of the contemporary response to Jesus of offense. The second section examines the statement “Blessed is he who is not offended at me.” He considers the various manners in which contemporaries of Jesus were offended at him, at his collision with the established order, his claims of loftiness as a human being, his humiliation as the Godman. The final section examines Jesus’ statement that he would draw all to himself from on high. In this section he emphasizes the pattern of Jesus life of humiliation then exaltation is the pattern for the true Christian’s life. The model for the church on earth is the church militant, and established Christianity denies this reality. This work is one of the most biblical and most convicting for its contemporary application of all Kierkegaard’s works.
  • The Remnant- Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins (Book 10): 2002

    While previous volumes moved forward at a very slow pace, this volume covered nearly a year and a half. The Tribulation force dispersed from Chicago after being found out by the Global Community. After nearly being found out as the mole inside the palace and causing danger for the rescue of a captured force member, Chang played low. The plague of darkness and heat were used by the force to their own advantage. Several plot discontinuities appeared in the volume, the most notable being that after the death of all those without the mark of God at Petra, Tsion later in the volume pleads with those who were undecided.
  • “A Better Possession” New Horizons (November 2006)

    The main article addressed giving for the 2006 Thank Offering. Other articles outlined developments in Home Missions and Foreign Missions. The second part of an article on “Mountain Religion” concluded the series, with the conclusion that “mountain religion,” like all other religions are forms of Pelagianism. Reviews were included on Bebbington’s book on Evangelicalism in the Age of Spurgeon and Moody, and The Letters of Geerhardus Vos.
  • “It Says, Scripture Says, God Says-” Benjamin B. Warfield. The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Volume I- Revelation and Inspiration- pg. 283-332).

    Warfield examines in this article the use of subjectless uses of and λέγει and φησι in the New Testament and their references. Many scholars have proposed that these statements are indefinite. Warfield argues that these statements are not truly indefinite, but have reference to either the Scriptures or God as the ultimate author of Scripture. His argument consists of the perspective on the Word of God held by the New Testament and other contemporary authors; and the lack of good attestation of indefinite λέγει and φησι in contemporary Greek Literature. The strongest argument Warfield offers is an examination in context of many of the occurrences in the New Testament, and showing how a reference can often be found for the subjectless phrase within the larger context.