Priestly Goth

my over all reflections as the Priestly Goth

Review- Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal

Milton Brasher-Cunningham’s book Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal is a feast packed into a small book.  It is a book to savor, and to return to again and again.  A mixture of prose, poems, and recipes creates a delightful read, and a sense of sitting around Milton’s table or sitting with him in his kitchen as he prepares a meal.  This is a rich book that weaves together reflections on the place of meals and foods in our life and relationships and through these stories of food and cooking illumines the author’s understanding of the Eucharist.

Each Chapter of the book is opened with a poem and concludes with a food poem, I mean, recipe.  The connection between the poem the chapter and recipe aren’t necessarily obvious, though the dish of the recipe generally functioned as a central component of the chapter it concludes. I found this as an encouragement to make my own connections and conclusions as a reader.  Through the poems I anticipated what I might find in the coming chapter and the recipe allowed me to savor the chapter just read. In doing this I was continually longing for something more.  Each chapter left me feeling that there was a hollow part of Brasher-Cunningham’s account of meal and Eucharist.

There is so much to affirm and to relish and savor in this book about meal and Eucharist.  The connections between breaking bread around dinner table with friends and family, and the bread broken and distributed, and cup blessed and passed are beautiful and moving.  Yet, these metaphors and reflections tended to send me to the anthropocentric aspects of Eucharist.  In the we make meals, Brasher-Cunningham seems to conclude, so we as humans of faith make the Eucharist.  We become the body of Christ by what we do, by the connections that exist between meal and Eucharist.  I find this hollows out the Eucharist of its divinity.  The transformation offered as only that which other fallible foible filled humans, Rather than by the very presence of the God-human Jesus Christ in bread and wine.

Keeping the Feast then attends to one side of the equation of the Eucharist, and is a beautiful reflection on how one may weave altar and the meals we share with friends and family every day.  The lopsidedness of the book left me wanting more.  And perhaps that is part of the point.

Check out Milton Brasher-Cunningham’s recipe blog

Review of The Shack Revisited

I begin this review with a confession. I’ve never read The Shack.  I remember when it rose in popularity, but I didn’t read it.  I didn’t read it because, I must confess, I have a deep bias against popular spirituality and the books and the book industry around said spirituality.  The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going on Here than You Ever Dared to Dream, by C. Baxter Kruger, seeks to show that The Shack is steeped in Trinitarian theology, and an articulation of God’s revelation of God’s self as triune.  Having never read the Shack, I leave to others whether or not C. Baxter Kruger correctly interprets the Shack.  However Kruger’s presentation of the Trinity from the lens of the Shack shows that one can think and imagine the traditional Trinitarian theology in dynamic and contemporary ways.

Kruger uses the story of the Shack and its presentation of God to illuminate and illustrate the Trinitarian theology of traditional and historic Christian orthodoxy, especially that of the Cappadocian Fathers.  Baxter begins with the character of Papa, who is personified as an African American woman.  Kruger seeks to show that the Shack’s presentation of God as Papa, Jesus, and S… is orthodox and consistent with traditional Trinitarian teaching. In so doing the author presents a very good summary of orthodoxy and Trinitarian theology.

As someone who has never read the Shack Kruger’s Revisiting the Shack is an interesting read, as it is a thorough going Trinitarian theology that is illustrated with examples from the Shack.  While if one has read the shack the author is demonstrating the Shacks orthodox theology. The shack revisited is an accessible and intellectually satisfying articulation of Trinitarian dogma and Christian orthodoxy.  If you think Christian Orthodoxy is represented by those who criticized the Shack and who have a religion of the Bible, the Shack revisited is definitely worth your consideration.  Kruger uses the Shack and it’s themes and imaginative presentation of the Trinity to show how much contemporary Christianity in the United States has missed the central reality of the Christian faith, relationship in and with God as the Holy Trinity.

For more from the Author:

You can find C. Baxter Kruger on Facebook and Twitter.

Baxter Kruger – Free Downloads

Beauty, Truth, and Cathedrals

I’ve gathered From my Twitter feed the role of beauty and cathedrals was addressed at Emergence Christianity – A National Convention( #EC13 #BigTickle) .  This Luther quote was thrown out there as an answer to the problem (though it is only a problem for a certain mindset admittedly dominant among Protestants):

 “The people need beauty as well as the Gospel because they live in a world of ugliness.”

I prefer “Beauty will save the world.”

Luther’s quote at first glance makes beauty and physical and material beauty in particular secondary.  It divides off beauty from the truth of  the Gospel.  Beauty isn’t the Gospel it only possibly maybe, if the conditions are right serves truth and the Gospel.  God apparently isn’t beautiful, in God’s economy beauty is a second thought.

The Dostoevsky quote, or more to the point a what is said by one of the characters in the Idiot, sees beauty as intrinsic to the world, the gospel, God, and Faith.

This vision is in my mind much more sacramental and truly ecclesial than Luther’s perspective (Which incidentally was also the Frankish perspective at the time of the Iconoclast controversy in the East, and why Frankish Theologians didn’t quite get either the controversy nor understand the theology of the 7th Ecumenical council though they accepted it).

Now one may misunderstand me when I say “sacramental” if one hears reference only to seven (or two) sacraments, and not the condition of possibility within creation itself for the Seven (or Two) Sacraments.  For a full and concise treatment of this condition of possibility I recommend Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World.

If we live in a world of ugliness it is because the world has ceased to be what God intended for the universe.  If God can be joined with creation, if bread and wine can be come the body and blood of Jesus Christ, if water can be our passage from death to new life, it is because what is physical, what God created was always supposed to be our communion with God.  If we see what is beautiful and do not see God it is not because beauty is a distraction or secondary, or non-essential, but because the world is no is no longer for us what God created it to be.

But now, as I sit with the Luther quote i have a second thought.  If we no longer hold that beauty is secondary, and if we hold that God is to be met in our physicality,  Luther’s quote is perhaps the same as the Dostoevsky quote.  The ugliness is due to the fall, to our loss of God in the everyday.  We then need Cathedrals, Icons, and beauty to have the truth of the Gospel, and have God, because in the present age the world is opaque to Beauty, but it is to be translucent.  It was to be our connection to our Life.  Sacraments return to us physical things as the whole universe was to be for humanity, the means of our communion with God, our very sustenance in body and soul.  Then in a Cathedral we are in the presence of God through its beauty.  This was my experience of the cathedrals of Europe as a child.  I carried that experience with me until I rediscovered the broad and deep theology of the Sacramental transfiguration of the World in Jesus Christ.


Review: Daniel Meeter, Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)

Daniel Meeter’s Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell) is a mixed bag.  At points the author’s analysis is spot on, at times a little heavy handed in what he rejects, and at moments deeply moving.  Some of this mixed bag is that I clearly am not the author’s audience: I’m a lifelong Christian and a pastor, I long ago wrestled with questions of Heaven and Hell and in my way came to analogous conclusions of the author (I just never wrote a book on them.)  While I know that what Meeter’s calls conventional Christianity, the faith of those who raised me in and taught me the faith only resemblance to Meeter’s “conventional” Christianity was their traditional Christian beliefs about the afterlife.  Interestingly enough this form of the Christian faith I was raised in  while we believed in hell, the reasons given for being a Christian are all the reasons outlined in Meeter’s book.   So I wonder are his somewhat idiosyncratic (and defensible from scripture) position on heaven and hell, necessary to make the point he was trying to make.

He admits the book isn’t really about the afterlife, heaven or Hell, it is an introduction to the Christian life and faith. As a summary of Christian life and faith for the uninitiated, it is a great book.  The author presents Christian faith clearly and without deriding or dismissing other faiths and religions lifts up Christianity as a desirable spiritual path.  Yet, this summary is framed in a critique not only of a contemporary conventional view but one long held by orthodox, evangelical, catholic tradition. So, how is a new Christian or returning Christian to navigate this idiosyncrasy?

So, while I understand that the present misuses and misunderstanding of both heaven and hell (that basically deny the importance of the resurrection) would need a critique of these conventional misunderstandings, I think the presenting as orthodox the rejection of the traditional view is a little misleading as well.  Also I think the positive presentation of Christian faith for the seeker could have been presented without throwing the doctrines of hell and the afterlife out the window.  In this sense I think the author throws out the window the baby of traditional doctrine of an afterlife separated from God (Hell) with the dirty bath water of cultural accretions, misunderstandings, and plain old mistakes of what Hell is.   He simplifies the Hebraic view and treats it as static denying that Gehenna has its own evolution within Hebraic thought. Meeter pits Hebraic ideas against Hellenistic, but Hebraic thought and culture are not normative nor are they the word of God.  The author’s talk about Gahanna while at points accurate is also misleading, since Jesus is using a physical place as a metaphor for a spiritual state, and the pairing of an undying worm with constant fire, doesn’t seem to be the description of a physical place.  The fire of Gehenna would go out, and any worms there will die eventually. I agree with him that hell, or unending torment isn’t the reason to be a Christian.  I even agree that the popular versions of Hell distort what it might actually be, but I think the doctrine of Hell stands, and to some degree the author gets Hell wrong even as conceived by C.S. Lewis and Dante. Thus for both Dante and Lewis as representatives of imaginative presentations of hell from an orthodox and catholic perspective don’t see the torment so much as external punishment but that in hell, God gives us what we said we wanted in this life.  The traditional hope of the restitution of all things is that even after death our souls may awaken to God’s love that is a consuming fire.  The traditional doctrine is more complex than the conventional view that Meeter rightly critiques but in his critique conflate the two. Meeter gives short shrift to Tradition in part due to an anti-Hellenistic bias.

In the end I think you can keep much of the traditional view of the afterlife and keep the emphasis of the book on other things like, love, relationship with God, saving your soul etc., as the reasons for being a Christian.  I have always seen and been taught to see the afterlife as consequence, or corollary to who and what you were in this life.  I have over time come to view heaven less and less as something way out there, and more the deep dimension of the created order where God’s will is done.  In the end I feel the author had a bone to pick on the afterlife.  A bone I share if you are talking about many contemporary conventional views of the afterlife, but I disagree that Augustine’s and Calvin’s views as such, and thus of the Christian Tradition, are the same as the current conventions.  What I’d rather have seen is showing how the current views are (often in subtle and minor ways) distortions of the views held in the Christian Tradition. Thus a great book of introduction to Christian faith and practice is muddied by an unnecessary rejection of tradition.

Daniel Meeter’s blog:

Booksite with links for title on Kindle, iPad, and Nook:

Holy Terror: Mel White’s compelling and human account of the Christian Right

Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right tells us to deny Gay equality, by Mel White is a compelling read with an immediacy that draws one in and keeps one’s attention.  Mel brings us into his insider view of the Religious Right .I grew up in an (moderate) Evangelical denomination in which I’m ordained, and so I’m somewhat familiar with most of the Fundamentalists Mel White is writing about.  Even so I got a better and more human view of the leaders of the Christian Right than I had before reading Holy Terror. Mel White doesn’t just give us a peek inside he offers analysis of the movement and its faith and politics.  White concludes with a way to engage and counter the Christian Right and their anti-homosexual ideology.

Part one and two of Holy Terror, gives us a look inside the rise and workings of the Religious right by looking at six main evangelical and fundamentalist leaders and a gathering of fundamentalists at Glenn Eyrie conference center in Colorado in may 1994 .  White introduces the reader to the Fundamentalist leaders and their beliefs about homosexuality; we meet them through Mel White’s recollection.  In part two we move from Mel’s own personal knowledge of the leaders to transcripts of video from a closed conference at Glenn Eyrie.  In this we get a glimpse of the ideas, the personalities and the tactics of these who have had political as well as religious goals to spread their ideas and ensure that America remains a “Christian” nation in name and morality. From the author’s perspective they are genuine and authentic but honestly wrong about a number of things but most relevantly, wrong about homosexuality.  In these first five chapters White walks the line between a sympathetic account of those with whom he has major disagreement and a biting expose on what Mel White believes to be a dangerous group.

Parts Three and four move into analysis and response to this religion with a narrowing agenda and focus on homosexuality, taking up an overtly political agenda to carry out its ends.  Chapters six and seven show how the Christian Right and Fundamentalism are both a Christian and an American heresy.  In chapter six we see how the Christian Right has made an idol of the United States.  In Chapter seven White shows us how fundamentalism as a phenomenon is a form of fascism.  While White makes some interesting points in these two chapters, I feel the book is at its weakest here.   White doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with his own analysis of fundamentalism qua fascism.  Even so, if we leave aside the labels, chapter six and seven do show how a narrowing of a focus and an obsession with homosexuality and gaining political influence has distorted Christian faith.

Part four White asks what shall we do, (or to quote Francis Schaeffer “How Then Shall We Live.”).  In these chapters White is the most compelling and vulnerable as an author.  These three chapters mirror the first three chapters where we see the founders of the Christian Right in their humanity and genuine (if wrongheaded) beliefs.  In the last chapters White seeks to show himself as someone who has struggled with the appropriate response to the Christian right, and still struggles in himself with the desire to demonize.  His solution to his own anger and frustration and pain is three-fold: “reclaiming” political values, reclaiming moral values, and non-violent resistance.  Chapters 8 and 9 have parallel weaknesses to chapters six and seven, but in chapter ten White shines again as he invites the reader on a journey of following Christ through the challenging path of non-violence, in response to and engagement with the Christian Right.

In Holy Terror, Mel White gives a compelling and riveting account of the Christian Right and its narrowing focus and intensified political activity in opposing homosexuality.  White goes beyond the “ Lies the Christ Right Tells us to Deny Gay Equality” to both give a human picture of those involved but also offer us a way to with White engage and counter the Christian Right in its Political agenda.  While there are some deep flaws in Holy Terror they are the flaws of a human on a journey of following Christ in the midst of pain and controversy.

Mel White Links:

Mel’s website:

Mel’s blog:

Mel White on Anderson Cooper:

Mel White on Facebook:

Mel White on Twitter:

Ecclesiology, Barth, and Scripture

Things are dovetailing in my mind today.  I have started reading Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, with two others, one a friend and one a new acquaintance.  We are taking our time so we are now through his discussion of proclamation and its relation to the Word of God and to dogmatics.

As we discussed this portion of the Church Dogmatics, I recognized how Barth was speaking to me differently than when I first picked up the dogmatics in writing an independent study paper for my Religious Studies course in college.  In that paper I was attempting to navigate between a sense of Scripture as Word of God, opposed to the fundamentalists notions of the Scripture as Word of God of those who had taken over the congregation my family and I had been in since I was in Jr. High.  Barth helped articulate my experience and understanding of Scriptures as the Word of God, even as I affirmed their humanity and the historical limitations of the Human Authors.

In this reading of Barth and in our discussion last night, I found a very different experience. Barth is still help in giving articulation to my theology and faith.  The difference is that I found myself defending the Roman Catholic views Barth is criticizing, and at points agreeing with what Barth thinks is wrong headed, but also feeling that at points Barth doesn’t get Roman Catholic theology at least not if it is taken in it’s broad sweep and not just its articulation in the last two centuries. On my first reading of Barth years ago, I was able to give articulation to my faith in following Barth.  Reading the Church Dogmatics I’m finding that my faith is being articulated in my disagreement with Barth.

Even so, his placing proclamation at the center of the church does appeal to me. Though, I can’t see proclamation as being in competition with (or as Barth would say prior to) the Sacraments.  Or I say yes Proclamation but feel that such is not simply spoken, but can be non-verbal (I’m an artist and iconographer, so one shouldn’t be surprised.)

Today I’ve been at the North Park Theological Seminary Symposium on the Theological Interpretation of Scripture. This years theme is Family.  Related to my disjunction with Barth, is that in this a symposium on Scripture and its interpretation, we seem to be facing so far in our sessions the limits of Scripture.  This limit has lead me to wonder  about (at moments out loud) both the history of interpretation in a broad sense, but also the authoritative interpretation of these texts as the Tradition of the Church.  That is I’m questioning if we can hear or even really know how these texts were understood and heard in their original contexts.  Not to say there is no reason to attempt a reconstruction of that, but what is more compelling is the interplay of interpretation across time.

We can’t seem to escape the church, that Scriptures are interpreted overtime, that there is accretion but also that past interpretation retains a certain contemporaneity .  Yet, the Protestant response, and certainly Barth’s response to the history of  interpretation (or Tradition) is not to seek out a continuity, but to emphasize disjunction and interruption which lead to the need for constant re-evaluation.   In the face of this I find myself wanting to say yes to the limits but answer those limits through continuity and seeking the way God is at work in the Church  as the Body of Christ joined to its head through time in the messiness of individual members and groups of individual members, even in Christians failing to live out our being as the Church, the Body of Christ.

This doesn’t quite lead me into the arms of Rome or Orthodoxy, why? I think it is that as is Rome and Orthodoxy don’t quite present me with a sense of proclamation and deep significance of Scripture.  I perhaps am a catholic and ecumenical evangelical, the proclamation of the Gospel and Word of God need to be emphasized, but with out denial or displacement of sacraments and tradition.  It’s a strange place to be.

Dissatisfaction and Longing : Gothic sonic identity part 1

This is a post in the series on my “sonic identity”  a project of reflecting on music and identity following on the path of the Anglobaptist who is exploring such things as part of his Ph.D in Liturgy and Music.  There were a number of posts around this topic earlier this year at one can be found here, and my introduction to this series is here.

At a recent Goth club Back to the Grave, these two songs were played (among many others): Homosapien and Temple of Love. I like both songs though stylistically they are different. They are though both songs from important figures in the Goth scene, Sisters of Mercy (Andrew Eldritch) and Pete Shelly of the Buzzcocks.  I’ve been dancing to both of these songs at Goth clubs for a very long time.  Years ago a friend of mine put on  Temple of Love and said this is the quintessential goth song.  One could of course argue whether or not saying so was hyperbole, but Temple of Love still gets a large number of people out on the dance floor of any goth club. Pete Shelly’s Homosapien is less quintessentially goth in style, but was played in goth clubs.  Shelly’s solo work is synth pop and new wave, though often with a punk edge, as in this song.

But what do I mean by a “punk edge”.  By punk edge I’m touching upon (I think, Tripp correct me if I’m off base here) sonic identity.  One aspect of Punk is expression, often in anger, of dissatisfaction with the way things are.  This dissatisfaction is at times mistaken for winning, but this dissatisfaction is a desire for something different.  The goth aspect of this  includes a certain resignation that certain things simply will be the way they are, always with biting critique.  Goth dissatisfaction can also be expressed as an opting out of this status quo.

Take some time to listen to the sounds in each of these, The lyrics match but I think the lyrics conform themselves to the sounds of longing, dissatisfaction, rejection, and resignation:

Homosapien by Pete Shelly:

Temple of Love by Sisters of Mercy:

Both songs are about love but they aren’t simply love songs.  

Homosapien is a love song that is seeking something more in love than the systems of love and romance currently provide.  The song explores in the context of romance larger dysfunctional patterns in our culture that get in the way of the ideals of love and romance (BTW it is also a song about two men in love, and was banned initially by the BBC for this, I don’t want to get distracted here but it also calls into question  attempts to categorize our sexuality  this too is part of my sonic identity).  Homosapien expresses dissatisfaction but  longs for union beyond romance, longs for a truth and a label that unifies.

“I don’t wanna classify you like an animal in the zoo
But it seems good to me to know that you’re Homosapien too”
A love beyond the broken  patterns of the world just might be the way forward.

Temple of Love is angry and more resigned.  The powers of love and romance, the god(dess), aren’t kind but are capricious and promise one thing but in fact give us something else.   Temple of Love tells us it is better to give up on the promise of the goddess of love, and accept the capriciousness of this power.  Be ready to ended it all if needed and remember all romance has the power to give is a one night stand.  The gods of love and romance can’t keep their promises, and so even this ideal, these gods will fade away like all other powers.

“The Temple of love is falling down.”

Dissatisfaction, anger and deep longing walk hand in hand in this landscape.  There is also in these songs a piercing and critical insight into what is believed to be true and what actually works itself out in our daily lives.  Both songs step away from the ideal of romance. Temple of Love abdicates from the ideal entirely, and resigns itself to bleak but honest world without promises.  Homosapien seeks in love something beyond romance, it seeks a love that is transformative, though it seems a little bit like a pipe dream.

This resonates with me deeply.  The sort of Christian faith I was raised in taught me to distrust the powers and ideals of the world.  While there was nothing wrong with falling in love, romance and falling in love were simply shadows of a deeper truth about love.  If romance was the only story about love it was seen as idolatrous, a god(dess) in competition with the God who is Love beyond romance and sex, and “falling in Love.”  Such a temple would of course be doomed to fall from the perspective that makes relative all love in the face of the Other who is love.

The dissatisfaction and the longing in these songs, I hear (and have always heard) with a Christian heart: One should not be satisfied with the world and the powers as they are for what is, is off kilter and a distortion of what should be.  The world as we find it isn’t what God intends.  The longing is for the reign of God.  I hear in this longing a desire for God who is Love, a Love beyond any human love, a Love that keeps it’s promises, but always in unexpected and transforming ways.

“We’re (however we label ourselves or are labeled) homosapiens too”, made in the image of God, and the powers of this current system, the gods and goddesses we create and to whom we build temples, are all passing a way and their temples are falling down.


Deserts and the Parish

This past Sunday our closing hymn at Reconciler’s service, was “Your Kingdom Come, O Father”, the final verse reads “The desert, as you promised,  Shall blossom far and near; and through earth’s mist and shadows the sun ‘mild rays appear.  For that blest day we wait, Lord, when doubt and darkness gone, we witness earth’s redemption , and summer morn shall dawn.”  That verse along with David Nyvall’s essay the “Expanding Parish Boundary” , have me thinking about my ministry (priestly goth) as one both pastoral and (new) monastic.

Monday’s are my “day off.” (which is tricky since my living doesn’t come solely from being a pastor)  I don’t do any work specific to Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, and seek to not do any work directly related to my being Prior of Holy Trinity.  But neither ministries are very official. I don’t have an office: spiritual direction and pastoral counseling and conversation  rarely take place in a formal setting.  Ministry of a priestly goth is social, it is about presence, virtual and in the neighborhood where I live.

This past Monday as I was using social media I received a request for prayer, it led to a short but all the same, pastoral conversation.  It is with a person I know, but not well. the person is in my social networks, virtual and actual. His request and the conversation wasn’t something I could just ignore, tell him to come to the office at such and such a time.  In some sense at that moment I was his pastor, his priest.  I don’t know why, other than that he knows I’m a pastor.  Perhaps he simply saw me on line and knew i was a pastor and so reached out to me in a moment of need.  It was not bounded in any of the ways pastoral ministry has been bounded and we were taught in seminary to bound our ministry. (this is another post, I mention this not to critique my seminary training, or other ways of bounding ministry, simply to point out a difference.  Also, without these other forms of boundary and limits, I would have little clue how to act in healthy ways, in this vastly different context.)    This reminded me of David Nyvall‘s (founder of North Park University and Theological Seminary), collection of essays in which he writes about how an ordained minister has an ever-expanding parish boundary.  At times the landscape of my life and ministry seems a bit like a flat expanse of wilderness.  The features seem indistinguishable, where one thing begins and another ends isn’t always clear.

Except in the little things.

On my way to the bank I ran into a friend from the Goth scene, who has recently moved back into the neighborhood.  He was on the phone I was on the phone, I passed by with a wave we met up on my way back.   On the way back from the bank outside a local coffee shop I saw a former member of the community, who now lives in Philadelphia.  She’s a musician she was an artist in residence while a member of the community and struggling to believe in her self as an artist and musician.  It turns out she was in town passing through on tour.  She’s produced an album, she has plans and dreams for the future as a musician.   Her time at the community was one of great struggle and uncertainty.  When she left we had hopes but it was not clear what would happen.  In many ways her time with us was very much a wilderness and desert without blossom.  As we talked on the corner I remembered the promise of God we sung this past Sunday.

Here right before my eyes was a desert in bloom, as God had promised.

On the way home I walked with my friend, we talked mostly about his struggles, the deserts in his life, and the hope of rain and the beauty of desert blossoms.  When we parted ways I realized I wasn’t sure if we had talked as friends or as pastor (though he is not a Christian).  On one level it didn’t matter, except if I must somehow keep a realm bounded off from my calling as a minister of Word and Sacrament (as my denomination describes my calling and ordination).

The first monastics went into the desert and people followed, found them out.  The visitors came at all times, without regard to times of fasting, or work, or prayer.  The Abbas and the Ammas were clear, the hermit, the monk was to receive not only the person but what they brought whatever it was.   I may not be in a literal desert but the city is full of  deserted seemingly lifeless places, and full of people seeking life (often in destructive ways) in the deserted desolate places of their own souls, and in which I meet the wilderness in my soul.  Slowly I am coming to see that the desert is my parish, an “ever-expanding parish of the Kingdom of God.”  David Nyvall saw this boundless realm as an ordained ministers “territory”, the parish no longer bounded by territory, or rather only bounded by the ever-expanding territory of God’s reign in the world, a rain that brings life and beauty to places we have abandoned, the desert.

Church and “Ecumenical Protestants”

Recently the Christian Century interviewed David Holinger, about his work in American intellectual history specifically his thoughts on “Ecumenical Protestants”.  “Ecumenical Protestant” is his prefered term from what is sometimes called, the Mainline, liberal, or Modernist.  Thanks to the Anglobaptist I was part of a Facebook conversation around the meaning of Holinger’s account of the success of the Ecumenical Protestants in the mid-20th century, and the meaning of the continued conflict between Ecumenical Protestants and Evangelicals. (side note on terms, while I like his term Ecumenical Protestant, I think his choosing to not find an alternate term to “Evangelical” is problematic since I think “evangelical” has similar problems to the terms “mainline”, ‘Liberal” etc.).

Holinger speaks of the achievement’s of Ecumenical Protestant leaders but also the failure to bring along a number of their constituents.  He frames the achievements in secular terms mostly, and  doesn’t seem to entirely understand the how or why of this failure (at least in the brief interview, I have not read his work.)   I glean from Holinger that  the issue is about Protestantism and its impact on the history and future of the United States along secular  Enlightenment values.  But this might be the issue with the Ecumenical Protestant, it was simply the American version of the Classical Liberal European theology that Barth, Bultmann, Bruener, and Bonhoeffer (I hadn’t realized before so many names begin with B from that period of German theology) appreciated but all found wanting and deficient as Christian faith.

Side note: he names among the values of the Ecumenical Protestants, anti-imperialism, but I’m skeptical, in part because his “Enlightenment-generated standards for cognitive plausibility.” while sounding nice are a form of cultural imperialism.  Cultural imperialism is what others do we simply have standards of cognitive plausibility, but how did we  come to these standards if not based upon cultural presuppositions and assumptions. you can’t divorce the Enlightenment from a particular European culture.

I think “Ecumenical Protestant” is problematic as it basically says that Evangelicals aren’t or can’t be Ecumenical.  The label excludes a certain type of ecumenical Evangelical.  I’m thinking of my own concrete formation in ecumenism at the Evangelical and fundamentalist (heretical to most Fundamentalist) seminary Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.  I have yet to encounter a more diverse setting both denominationally and ethnically than Fuller in the late 1990’s.  Hauwerwas and Moultmann at the time were all the rage in this Evangelical seminary, Moultmann’s student Jaroslav Wolf was one of the  professors of systematic theology.   President Richard Mouw would say to each wave of incoming students. “You all have been told you shouldn’t come to Fuller because it is too liberal…. and you all have been told you shouldn’t come because Fuller is  too conservative.”  The room always erupted in laughter because it was true, we all had been told both those things.  The unfortunate thing for Fuller Seminary was that it was (and I think still is) caught in the Modernist/Fundamentalist divide.

Fuller had managed a limited escape from the divide through  seeking the Church and the mind of Christ by being ecumenical and non/denominational.  I now wonder though if  it’s unique character was somewhat parasitic off the controversy.  Fuller sought to heal the divide  but to heal it, it had to convince enough people that they hadn’t abandoned Evangelicalism/fundamentalism ( that was still their funding base ), and had to convince enough other people they were open enough to Higher Criticism, feminism, post-modernism German theology etc. to be able to engage the “Ecumenical Protestants” on their own terms.  However, the time the truth on the ground had little to do with siding with either side of the controversy.  One only remembered the controversy in the  rhetoric of the institution that said “We are Evangelicals and not those scary ones!”.  In the classroom we engaged preaching, ministry, pastoral counseling, Biblical studies, and Theology without reference to either  the Ecumenical Protestants or the Fundamentalists.  Inside the Theology and Biblical studies classrooms and among the Theological student body we weren’t learning to be either Ecumenical protestants nor Evangelicals, we were learning from each other as members of the Body of Christ (Orthodox, Catholic, Presbyterian,Assembly of God, Lutheran, Episcopalian, etc, there were too many to list here).

(At Fuller at this time, the school of World missions and the School psychology were each their own worlds, Missions had many more of the died in the wool Evangelicals)

For me the issue isn’t whether or not one is able to advance progressive ideals, nor if one is “evangelical”.  I’m certain in part based on my experience at Fuller that simply  being X sort of Protestant isn’t where the truth lies, rather it is in being the Church, in continuity with the Apostles.  I believe both sides of this divide in american Protestant religion were always expecting and hoping that the Kingdom of God would be established through the Nation State of the United States of America.  If Ecumenical Protestant leaders cared little for their institutions and the congregational identity, it was because they did not believe the church was anything that needed tending.   And they had also replaced a sense of church with their faith in a nation that could be reformed to be that which they didn’t believe the Church could be.  The Evangelicals simply conflated and many still do so conflate Church and nation: America has to be a Christian Nation to fulfill its ecclesiastical destiny of bringing light to the world.  In truth though it is the same thing Nation replaces the body of Christ as sacrament of the Kingdom of God.  Granted this may be the result of Protestant ecclesiology but that is another but related topic and post.

As to letting an institution demise: if Bishop William Temple was making the claim that the ultimate purpose of  the Church is a sign and Sacrament of the Kingdom of God, then when that comes the church is fulfilled, then I heartily agree with Temple, though I think then Hollinger misunderstands what Temple meant about any church being willing to accept its demise if by that demise its ultimate purpose is served.

So, I want a different conversation, I’ve experienced in pockets this different conversation.  I strongly urge us not to pick up a Fosdickian stance, but for us to seek the mind of Christ.  Stop trying to take on the standards of cognitive plausibility generated by Enlightenment and stop resisting those standards. Take up the standard generated by and in Christ! Christ is the the Christians standard of cognitive plausibility.  Taking Christ as our standard and our Mind means we have a great deal of work to do, and that we’ll always be translating for those who aren’t Christians.   Such probably won’t ever work well as a sound-bite, or a rallying cry to reform the nation.  However, Christ is our standard of justice, mercy and compassion.  American Christianity perhaps never understood the radical notion that Jesus Christ is the Justice of God, the one who transforms the world into the Kingdom of God, and that the church is to be the Sacrament of that transformation and dimension of reality.  If we don’t take up this radical idea of the mind of Christ and the sacramental reality of the Church, we will simply be fighting over the control of  a nation and power that like all things of this World is simply passing away.