Just Published: “Interpret Carefully” in Christ and Pop Culture

I suggest three fundamental approaches to finding the best possibilities in Silence. When I go to watch Scorsese’s movie, I’ll be hoping he chooses to emphasize elements such as these; I shall be elated if that happens and critical if it doesn’t. First, it is possible to read the very cryptic section that follows the end of the main plot as offering a definitive reinterpretation of the plot. When the story moves on past the self-justifications Rodrigues offers for his apostasy, and instead traces the bureaucratic records concerning the household where the new apostate has been set up, it is possible that we are meant to see that both Kichijiro and Rodrigues return to the faith. That is, though both of them break under pressure, they are subtly called back to the faith; their baptismal faith repeatedly subverts their apostasy, and triumphs over it when they are punished. To weigh this very heavily in our evaluation, though, we need some basis for disregarding pretty much every conclusion that Rodrigues draws from his experiences. Most importantly, we need a reason to believe that Rodrigues has returned, or returns periodically, to a faith that specifically repudiates his claim that Jesus personally called him to commit an act of apostasy.

(source: Interpret Carefully: Balancing Caution and Hope in Responding to Shusaku Endo’s Novel Silence – Christ and Pop Culture)

Holiness in the Church

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The Green Room carries the latest in my series on three models of the kingdom of God:

In some ways fortification churches do best at emphasizing the cruciform nature of discipleship to Jesus Christ. Believers are required to submit to the death of their desires for both individual comfort (as against the accommodation paradigm) and corporate influence (as against the dominance paradigm). The church is not here to make us comfortable and happy, nor is it here to influence society; it is here to become like Christ, regardless of the consequences.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated!

Theological Education at TGC

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Today TGC carries my article on the challenges facing theological education:

How we got into this mess is a long and complicated story. One of the biggest problems is the 19th-century German research university model of education, with its emphasis on abstraction, fact/value distinction, and scholarly specialization. That model is now the only model of what counts as “knowledge” in the Western world, and theological schools are not immune from its dominance. Theological educators are professionally evaluated and promoted based on whether they produce scholarly books and articles (judged by the 19th-century German research university model of “scholarship”) much more than on whether they produce disciples.

I’m honored to be spearheading a new event, Karam Forum, March 2-3, where theological educators will collaborate and equip one another to meet these challenges. If you have the exciting privilege of being a theological educator, consider joining us!

Practical Recovery Steps for Culture Warriors

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Aside from the obvious (lose the Republican GOTV organizer’s email address) what practical steps can culture war churches take to move to a more theologically sound way of advancing justice and mercy in the public square? In my latest for The Green Room I focus on three specific steps, including:

The Past: Dominance paradigm churches overestimate both the moral and religious integrity of the American past. There is, to be sure, much that is morally good and authentically Christian in our national history. But it is important to see the ugliness and the Romantic, heretical religious individualism as well. Nothing other than God and his word (incarnate and written) is really pure.

This will not only (hopefully) cure us of poisonous nostalgia and teach us to set forward-looking rather than backward-looking goals. Knowing more clearly the story of how (e.g.) Christianity was essential to the abolition of slavery will also help us to see the deficiencies in our account of moral knowledge.

Real moral goodness is known by nature but it is not fully known by nature. The gospel, the cross and the whole biblical story from beginning to end help us understand what it means to be good in a way that those outside simply don’t have access to. This means the church does not just fight for the good in the public square; it has to develop and offer to each culture a unique understanding of what it means to be good in the context of that particular culture.

Next in the series, what fundamentalist/isolationist churches can teach the rest of us about cultural engagement.

Culture Warriors Can Look Deeper

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The Green Room carries the latest installment of my series on how to grow out of inadequate models of the kingdom of God; this one is on how culture-war churches can look deeper at their theology to find ways to grow:

“I just don’t understand it,” the world-famous culture war pastor said to me. His voice was soft, his head cast down, his tone sorrowful. “I don’t question that they’re believers. They are. I know they are. But I just don’t understand how anyone who believes in Jesus could vote for politicians who support abortion.”

“They” were the black church, which votes overwhelmingly Democratic.

Next up: Practical steps these churches can take to move toward a deeper theology of culture.