Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Working Definition of "Christianese"

It seems that I haven't posted anything in almost three weeks, so here is a comment I made on a blog post written by my pastor Cor on "Christianese" sayings in which I give my definition.
I was thinking and journaling about this a few days ago. I define “Christianese” as a) Words or phrases that are used and thrown around in Christian culture as if they had very precise, technical, literal meanings, but whose meanings are actually broad, ill-defined, and vary from person to person. This fuzziness is often comfortable because it’s easy to hide behind. e.g. “Walk with God”, “pursue”, “call”, “doing life together”, “struggles”, “broken”, and, of course, “religion”. It’s unfortunate because some of these words represent important Biblical concepts that I worry we’re losing focus on. 
Or b) Words or phrases that are used in Christian culture to mean something only tangentially related (or not related at all) to their literal meaning, often by way of an allusion to a Bible verse. e.g. “Unequally yoked”, “born again”, “stumbling block”, “sprinkled”, and (sorry [Pastor] Steve) “garden glimpse”. 
Or like Tim said, c) Subtle ways to establish your “right-ness” over other Christians that are stolen from upright Christian discourse, like “biblical” or “Bible-believing”. 
Any of these things can make “Christianese” virtually impenetrable to non-Christians (and even to Christians). Although Cor, I would distinguish between Christianese (which I would say tends to be contemporary and endemic to Christian culture) and theological jargon like “omniscient”, which has been around a lot longer and is better-defined and understood outside Christianity.
The other comments on Cor's post are also worth checking out for other good examples and fun at contemporary Christian culture's expense.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Bible Made Impossible (Also, possible free book)

I just finished a book that struck me in a way very similar to James Hunter's To Change the World, Christian Smith's The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. It is a piercing critique of the biblicist view on scripture (related to Biblical literalism, fundamentalism, and conservative evangelical theology) that is fairly prevalent in American evangelicalism. For those who have studied Grudem's Systematic Theology, this book is a fairly strong counterpoint to its initial chapters on scripture.

I was going to try to summarize and critique the book similar to what I did for To Change the World (but hopefully much shorter), but luckily I found another blog post that does a better job of it than I would have anyway. The summary of Smith's argument is pretty good and complete, supported with myriad quotations, and I would agree with most of the points the author raises at the end. Huzzah for laziness!

Anyway, though I don't fully agree with this book I so strongly believe it has a message that the church needs to hear (I wasn't aware of what biblicism is or how pervasive it is in the American church or my own faith) that I am looking into ways to buy a bunch of copies to give away to people. If this subject matter interests you (and I strongly believe it will), contact me or reply to this post if you are interested in a copy. (Please don't share this with your thousands of internet acquaintances)

Submission to the Governing Authorities

In light of the recent election, I had plenty of political things to say, but I decided not to say them for lack of sure footing. What I will say is my thoughts on a passage being thrown around a lot of late, Romans 13:1-7. How I usually compose posts is by writing a combination of notes and outlines, which I then expand into a full post. My notes are fairly clear this time, though, so for something a bit different I thought I'd leave them in this form and let you unpack them. (I promise I'm not just being lazy) If this crashes and burns I can easily turn it into a full post

Pre-context: Exhortations on how to live in right relationship with God (12:1-3), the church/using our gifts (4-8), and with individuals in general (9-16), and with our enemies (16-21)

Post-context: The supremacy of love (8-10) and call to live not for this world but for the next (11-14)

13:1-7 is about living in right relationship with the "governing authorities"

1-2: The governing authorities of this world reflect God's total authority and so, reflecting our submission to God, we should also submit to them or they will bring a reflection of His judgment on you

3-4: Confusing part--the authorities convey approval on those who do good and God's punishment ("the sword") on those who do evil

5: For these two reasons (rulers reflecting God's authority and bringing His wrath), be subject to them

6-7: Give to the authorities what is theirs, just as you give to God what is His (echo of Matthew 22:21)

The trouble: Paul says "rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad", yet he had been repeatedly punished and persecuted for preaching the gospel, which is morally good conduct

I see three possibilities for resolving this:
  1. Paul had some different definition of "governing authorities" in mind than political rulers
  2. He was referring to the fact that Christians have nothing to fear from anything in this world (end of ch. 8) while evildoers with no fear of God have nothing higher than the authorities to fear
  3. He had a different meaning of "good conduct" in mind
  1. Unlikely--who else could he mean? Church government? But church elders certainly don't bear the sword (the end of 12--we are to leave it to God's justice) Interpreting it as government just makes by far the most sense
  2. This seems to undermine his own argument--he is saying that to avoid having to fear governing authorities we should watch our conduct, not simply remember that God is supreme above them, which on its own would seem to imply that there is no need to submit to human authority because we have nothing to fear from it
  3. "Good conduct" could mean something like "good citizenship"--distinct from moral good. This seems like the most likely possibility.
The Greek work for "good" here (ἀγαθός) is also used to mean worldly possessions in Luke 12:16-21 and superficially pleasant or beneficial in Luke 16:25--doesn't have to mean moral good

Paul's command to "do what is good [citizenship]" is not universal--it is in response to desire to not be afraid of the authorities (leaving room for disobedience if civil law contradicts God's commands)
This also shows that civil authorities can reflect God's authority and wrath, even without His justice--they are separate things

Interesting question: Would Paul say the American Revolution was justified?