Volumes

Volume 1, No. 2: Summer 2005

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This issue includes the following articles plus book reviews and more:

Editor’s Introduction

By

John Hick once wrote, “It is sometimes said, polemically, that nonincarnational theology leads to detachment from the problems of society, leaving the field open to politically reactionary or even fascist forces. I am inclined, however, to think that the opposite is true and that in general, though with many individual exceptions, a conservative theology tends to be associated with conservative political attitudes and a liberal theology with liberal political attitudes.” While there is certainly evidence to support Hick’s charge in the recent culture wars, hopefully, this journal with its aim to provide a biblically informed, Christ-centered, Trinitarian engagement of culture provides one such noticeable “exception.”

The opening essay reviews the late Colin Gunton’s Trinitarian engagement of culture in The One, the Three and the Many. As Bruce McCormack notes, Gunton maintains, along with Erik Peterson and Jürgen Moltmann, that the idea of “an absolute and unitary God provided support for absolutist forms of political order.” For Gunton, the concept of the Trinity provides relational space to mediate between the One, championed in classical times by Parmenides, and the Many, championed historically by Heraclitus. Gunton argues that the doctrine of the Trinity undercuts the absolutism of Parmenides. While McCormack is not convinced that a Parmenidean account of the One leads to absolutist views, nonetheless, he shares Gunton’s concern for overcoming political absolutism. McCormack emphasizes the need to move past the Parmenidean view of God as beyond knowing and toward the knowledge of God rooted in Jesus Christ. McCormack writes, “Where . . . God is truly known in Jesus Christ, there a leveling process occurs. Christ alone is King; every human stands—equally!—under His Lordship. None may ‘lord it over’ his fellows. But only where God is truly known!”

This same attention to revelation finds resonances in the two essays that follow. Paul Molnar argues that mythological or projectionist theologies, as espoused by Gordon Kaufman and Sallie McFague, far from liberating humanity, actually lead humanity into deeper alienation from God, self-justification, and self-imposed oppression with no hope for salvation. While acknowledging the important efforts such theologians have made in drawing “attention to important excesses and errors on the part of Christian theologians of the past and present,” they replace one set of errors with another. Although Kaufman seeks to overturn authoritarian conceptions of God, Molnar argues that Kaufman himself displays an authoritarian air in excluding the traditional view of God’s independence and of Jesus’ uniqueness as God’s only Son. Moreover, while Kaufman rightly critiques instances of Christian imperialism, he fails to see that these instances arise not from affirming Jesus’ uniqueness but rather “result whenever Christians do not take seriously enough Jesus’ uniqueness as the one Lord of life.” If imperialism is to cease, we need not a Parmenidean agnosticism leading to projectionism, but a Christ-like activism rooted in the God made known in Jesus Christ.

This brings us to R. Kendall Soulen’s article, which traces a connection between religious pluralism’s espousal of God’s essential namelessness and the recurring problem of imperial power. Whether Egyptian, Roman, or modern versions, empires favor a nameless deity that makes it easy to project their own political exploits onto the divine void. Soulen quotes from Edward Gibbon who claimed that in the time of the Caesars, all the religions were “considered by the people equally true, by the philosophers equally false, and by the magistrates equally useful.” A nameless deity is malleable and cannot hold in check the expansion of the market or its dehumanization of life. Soulen contends that “the pluralist theology of religion unwittingly provides a spiritual rationale for the unlimited dominance of the marketplace, for the commodification of all things, including religion, and indeed, human life itself.” In the end, those who suffer under the bondage of modern Pharaohs will join the Jewish slaves of old in demanding of those who claim to be God’s spokespersons, “Who is it that sent you? What is his name?” While religious pluralists rightly maintain that, “God cannot be circumscribed” or domesticated by human conceptualities, contrary to pluralists, Soulen argues, “God can be identified.” God will not allow himself to be imprisoned in divine ineffability, for the true mystery is that God makes himself known. While “a nameless God is infinitely malleable,” a named God or person “is the very opposite of a commodity.” In the end, we bow not before Pharaoh or Caesar, but before the one named Jesus, who exegetes the divine name for us in human history, and who as the revelation of that name “puts down the mighty from their throne and exalts those of low degree.” The God who appeared to Moses as the LORD calls to account all other lords who would commodify God or his creatures, and tells them, “Let my people go.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., was by many accounts a modern-day Moses, who called on God in Jesus Christ in his protest against the American empire with its historical commodification and dehumanization of his people. LeRoy Haynes, Jr. points out that King, in the tradition of Black slave preaching, drew deeply from the well of biblical prophecy and Jesus’ love ethic to find the resources for confronting the fallen principalities and powers to let his people go. While admitting that King’s model of non-violent confrontation has limitations, Haynes claims that it remains effective, more effective than his critics realize. For one, King develops a love ethic based on the example of Christ that aims at social transformation rather than limiting Christ’s ethic of love to the individual, religious sphere. Moreover, King’s model of social transformation aims at reconciliation between the oppressed and their oppressors. No wonder, King’s model has proven effective not only in the United States but also in South Africa and in other places around the world.

The same Spirit of prophetic utterance which fell upon the orator and activist, King, has fallen on the musician, Bruce Cockburn, if one takes to heart Brian Walsh’s essay. Whereas King attacked segregation laws in the United States, Cockburn attacks the market laws of global capitalism, which of course includes the United States. Walsh calls to mind Elie Wiesel’s claim that the twentieth century is the age of the refugee and wanderer. In the face of exile, we are tempted to forget our predicament or the way back home. Cockburn’s music does not allow us to forget. Cockburn challenges the commodification of life, and provides an alternative vision of hope to the secularized salvation that technology promises. Cockburn maintains that this secular state of affairs devalues life and suggests a crisis of the spirit. Drawing on biblical imagery, he develops a sacramental view of the creation endowed with the Spirit. Walsh argues that, “Cockburn seems to be saying that there is no light, no dawn of new creation, without the illuminating and enlivening power of the Spirit.” The Spirit who anointed Jesus and birthed the church bears witness to the world through them, and prophetic voices like Cockburn, and inspires hope for the dawn of a renewed creation when we will find our way home.

The Asian hymnographer, I-to Loh, calls on the churches in Asia to remember their own identity as they are faced with the threat of Westernization in music. Loh suggests that Asian churches are in danger of becoming what some call “banana churches”—their Asian identity is only banana-skin deep. The rest is Western, through and through, including their worship music. Loh’s “life’s work has been this struggle between contextualization and Westernization or globalization.” While Loh does not think globalization is “inherently bad,” it is “problematic when it promotes the wholesale supplanting of local cultures by Western ideas.” Loh urges greater attentiveness to the image of God manifest in every human culture and to the incarnation where God in Christ through the Spirit takes on human, enculturated form. In this paper, reminiscent of his highly acclaimed Sound the Bamboo, Loh presents samples of Asian church music and Asian themes in his call to Asian churches to remember their identity and return home.

Even as Loh warns us to move beyond “banana churches” in Asia, Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs challenges our perceptions of organic food in North America. Her essay, “The New Word for Pure is Organic,” launches Cultural Reflections, a new section of the journal, which will provide short reflections on aspects of contemporary culture. Muhs wonders if organic food stores provide a new avenue for the expression of cultural elitism and spiritual purity. As she asks, “Are we presently running away from third world sautés because they are not organic, or because they have become too popular with the general populous of American society? Are we now leaning towards vegetarianism like the third world does out of necessity or out of spirituality?” Cultural barriers, such as those between classes and races, are not fixed and constant, but are variables, as the authors of Divided by Faith point out in their discussion of racialization. Perhaps food functions as one such barrier between classes today.

The difficulty of breaking down barriers can be illustrated not only in terms of organic food but also in terms of the ongoing tension between the left and right in American society today, as noted at the outset of this editorial. One theologian who attempted to be a moderating and mediating voice between respective camps was Prof. Stanley J. Grenz, one of the journal’s contributing editors, who died unexpectedly on March 12, 2005 from a brain hemorrhage. Theologian Roger Olson, on the Westminster John Knox website’s memorial to Grenz, says, “Stan Grenz was the consummate mediating theologian, always building bridges between church and culture and between confessional communities within the church of Jesus Christ. He was passionate about relationships and believed that they are embedded in the very nature of reality. His theology was aimed at drawing people within the circle of faith into dialogue with each other; his was an irenic and collaborative project rather than one that drew boundaries and passed judgments . . . .” Christianity Today noted in its own remembrance that Grenz was no ivory tower theologian; he was always seeking to bridge the gap between the academy and church and broader culture. I continue to be grateful to Prof. Grenz for his help in promoting the journal in its early stages, and for contributing an essay to its inaugural issue in December 2004. As with many others, we at Cultural Encounters are in his debt. It is our hope that as Cultural Encounters proceeds, it will display Grenz-like charity toward contrary views, noting their strengths even while remaining critical, and will speak forth Christ into the contemporary cultural context. To the extent that the journal does so, it will serve not only as an ongoing “exception” to Hick’s rule concerning incarnational theology noted at the outset of this editorial but also as a fitting tribute to Grenz’s own theological legacy. In view of this aim, we dedicate this issue to Prof. Grenz’s memory and legacy.

Paul Louis Metzger, Editor

The One, the Three, and the Many: In Memory of Colin Gunton

By
Princeton Theological Seminary

This article reviews the late Colin Gunton’s Trinitarian engagement of creation and culture in The One, the Three and the Many. The thread which runs through the book as a whole is, as the title suggests, the problem of the one and the many—a problem that had its source in ancient Greek philosophy in the conflict between the Heraclitean and Parmenidean descriptions of the “real.” For Gunton, the concept of the Trinity provides relational space to mediate between the One, championed in classical times by Parmenides, and the Many, championed historically by Heraclitus. Gunton does not make a convincing case for claiming that the overarching influence of the Parmenidean account of the One inevitably leads to political absolutism. The solution to political absolutism is to move past a Parmenidean view of God as beyond knowing and toward the knowledge of God rooted in Jesus Christ, for where God is truly known in Jesus Christ, there a leveling process occurs. In the course of discussion, consideration is also given to Gunton’s theological methodology and use of terms like perichoresis, hypostasis and sociality in context, which he terms “open transcendentals.” Originally presented to the Reformed Theology and History Group at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, November 2003, the essay evaluates as well Gunton’s contribution to Reformed theology and his enduring significance for the theological enterprise. Here it is claimed that Gunton’s legacy for Reformed theology has less to do with his doctrinal proposals than it does with his theological style.

Response to Bruce L. McCormack’s Tribute

By
Multnomah Biblical Seminary

Myth and Reality: Analysis and Critique of Gordon Kaufman and Sallie McFague on God, Christ, and Salvation

By
St. John's University

This article explores the thinking of Gordon Kaufman and Sallie McFague to explore how their understanding of theology as mythology leads them to believe that our concepts of God and Christ need to be thoroughly deconstructed and reconstructed in light of our best understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. Kaufman understands God as an “ecological-processive reality” which he equates with the “cosmic evolutionary movement” of the world itself. Since God cannot actually exist in his own right, independent of the world, Kaufman insists that any such realistic understanding of God represents false reification. McFague believes that we can never really know who God is but nonetheless thinks her models of God as mother, lover, and friend better describe God than the traditional view that God is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hence she thinks of the world as God’s body and confuses God’s being with the world by saying that the world “is not something alien to or other than God.” Both Kaufman and McFague argue that Jesus can no longer be seen as the unique savior of the world because in an evolutionary context it is impossible to believe that one human being could have the kind of cosmic salvific significance ascribed to him by the tradition. This article contends that in rejecting the fact that God, and not we, determines the meaning of who he is, and that Christ alone saves us because he alone is the Word of God incarnate, Kaufman and McFague argue that salvation must be equated with our attempts at humanization. This form of self-justification not only ignores the reality of sin, but ascribes salvation to us by making our justification by faith and grace irrelevant. This is why McFague believes salvation “is not a once-for-all objective service that someone else does for us” and that the world today needs many saviors. Molnar contends that such thinking changes the good news of the Gospel into the bad news that we are alone with ourselves and in need of new mythologies to help us save ourselves; and until salvation is accepted with gratitude as an act of grace, we will always think that it is we and not God alone who justifies and sanctifies sinners.

‘Go Tell Pharaoh’ Or, Why Empires Prefer a Nameless God

By
Wesley Theological Seminary

This paper argues that there is an elective affinity between the religious conception of God’s essential namelessness and imperial power, and that the Scriptural conception of YHWH, the named God of Israel, stands in stark conflict with both. In the ancient world, the marriage between the doctrine of God’s namelessness and imperial power was most fruitfully consummated by Graeco-Roman civilization after Alexander the Great. Soulen argues that in the modern world, a similar marriage may be taking place between modern theologies of religious pluralism and the expanding empire of modern market economics. Ultimately, he suggests, it is the biblical God YHWH, not the nameless deity of religious pluralism, who can oppose unlimited expansion of market economics into all spheres of life.

Click HERE to view the full article.

The Theology and Philosophy of King’s Concept of Non-Violence

By
North Portland Bible College

This article examines Martin Luther King Jr.’s paradigm of non-violent engagement through attention to King’s personal history, his theological and philosophical development, his developed understanding of non-violence, and critiques of King’s paradigm. While admitting that King’s model of non-violent confrontation has limitations, the claim made here is this essay argues that King’s paradigm is more effective than his critics realize. For one, King develops a love ethic based on the example of Christ that aims at social transformation rather than limiting Christ’s ethic of love to the individual, religious sphere. Moreover, King’s model of social transformation aims at reconciliation between the oppressed and their oppressors. King’s non-violent paradigm should be the initial strategy for addressing injustices and wrongs throughout the world for social change because it causes the least harm to the opponent and has proven itself as to be one of the most effective methods for social transformation.

‘At Home in the Darkness, but Hungry for Dawn’ – Global Homelessness and a Passion for Homecoming in the Music of Bruce Cockburn

By
University of Toronto, Wycliffe College

Themes of homecoming in the face of the forces of homelessness have been ubiquitous in the lyrics of singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn over his thirty-five year career and twenty-seven albums. Whether the forces that render people homeless are identified with militarism and imperialism (dominant themes in Cockburn’s early work) or with the neo-liberal forces of global capitalism (in the more recent albums), the critique is the same. But such homelessness can only be countered by a radical vision of homecoming. The imperial eschatology, which is “hooked on avarice,” can only be demythologized by an alternative vision of hope directed to homecoming. This paper will investigate Cockburn’s commitment to opening up human experience, giving voice to human longing for homecoming in the midst of displacement, and how he does so by facing head-on the essential sadness of exile with both prophetic critique and a spirituality of hope that takes most of its cues from biblical metaphors and images. Insofar as exile is never simply a matter of physical displacement from a homeland, but more perniciously a captivation of the imagination that leaves the exilic community lost in amnesia, forgetting the way home, then Cockburn’s artistry could be said to be driven towards a liberation of the imagination towards homecoming.

In Search for Asian Identities in Asian Hymns: An Overview of Texts and Musical Styles in Sound the Bamboo

By
Southeast Asia Graduate School of Theology

This article deals with the search for Asian identities through hymns largely published in Sound the Bamboo: CCA Hymnal 2000 (originally published in 1990; revised and enlarged in 2000). It contains 315 hymns with 44 different languages from 22 Asian countries, and was mainly collected and edited by the author. After a brief introduction discussing Christian faith and the recent impact of globalization on Asian churches, the author summarizes features of texts and prominent themes and general musical styles in Asian hymns. The focal point is on the search of Asian musical identities through the analysis of harmonic languages, such as adopted Western harmony, indigenous/traditional harmony, contextual harmony, and contemporary and international styles. The author finally uses two of his own compositions to demonstrate his personal search for Asian identities, and concludes that the best of Asian musical styles have emerged from approaches that are ethnic and indigenous, with syncretic harmony, and those that are innovative, incarnational, and confessional.

Volume 1, No. 1: Winter 2004

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This issue includes the following articles plus book reviews and more:

Editor’s Introduction

By

Cultural Encounters — A Journal for the Theology of Culture will pursue a biblically informed, Christ-centered trinitarian engagement of contemporary culture.

This new journal is a publication of the Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins of Multnomah Biblical Seminary. In the tradition of New Wine, New Wineskins, the journal seeks to bring Christ to bear on contemporary culture in an academically rigorous manner.

It is important to unpack the journal’s aim noted above. First, it is to be biblically informed. We are confident that the triune God is the ultimate communicator, and that Scripture provides the basis for engaging contemporary culture in all its beauty and brokenness—constructively, critically, and creatively. Second, Scripture bears witness to the triune God’s creation and redemption of this world, including culture, through Christ’s incarnational and reconciling activity in history by the Spirit. Thus, the journal will seek to focus on Scripture’s disclosure of God’s activity in history, and how it informs our engagement of culture in its various contemporary manifestations. The editorial team values this two-fold aim and will consider articles for publication on the same basis.

Why this journal? The journal fills a significant need in the academic, theological world. There are many journals on theology, pastoral ministry, and missions, but one would be hard-pressed to locate journals that offer a biblically based and trinitarianly framed engagement of contemporary culture.

Topics of discussion will include such themes as aesthetics, religious pluralism, racialization, materialism, poverty, the increased urbanization of the world, the environment, cross-cultural contextualization, sexuality, genetic engineering, postmodernity, public discourse, politics, and more.

This journal is about Christ-centered cultural encounters. How can theology truly be Christ-centered on the one hand and promote meaningful cultural engagement on the other hand? Is this a contradiction in terms? Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not seem to think so. The Bonhoeffer who claimed that, “The present is not where the present age announces its claims before Christ, but where the present age stands before the claims of Christ . . . ” is the same Bonhoeffer who argued that, “ . . . The word of the church to the world must . . . encounter the world in all its present reality from the deepest knowledge of the world, if it is to be authoritative.”

Perhaps the resolution to any apparent tension should follow the contours of biblical revelation: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The eternal Word of God took on creaturely form, entering into the very fiber of this fallen though favored world in order to redeem and perfect it through the cross and resurrection. What philosophers, sages, and kings would take to be foolishness and weakness are the wisdom and power of God. And this is where all true theological engagement of culture must begin.

Further to what was said above, this inaugural issue of the journal draws attention to points of tension, which one finds Christians wrestling with today on the theological and cultural landscape. The volume begins with Stanley Grenz’s essay on whether or not pop culture is the playground of the Spirit or a diabolical device. Tertullian’s age old question, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” on the relation of biblical Christianity to pagan philosophy finds a contemporary response in the form of a counter question often attributed to Luther, “Why should the Devil have all the good [rock] music?” We will return to this essay’s theme at the conclusion of this editorial. For now, it is important to stress that these are not abstract questions pertaining only to a few academic and cultural elites, for as Grenz points out, pop culture has taken on increased significance. No doubt this is due in large part to the omnipresence of television, MTV, and the like, functioning as the metanarrative structure of meaning for an increasing number of people from all walks of life.

One example of such dominance is the way in which television networks, movie directors, and pop music artists have weighed in on September 11, the war in Iraq, and in support or censure of presidential candidates. September 11 and its aftermath have altered American life politically, militarily, and religiously. On the political and military fronts, people are wrestling with questions of patriotism, pacifism, and whether or not a war is ever just with renewed vigor. It is important that Christians continue to reflect on their view of the church’s relation to the state, including their stance on war. Stanley Hauerwas’ autobiographical account of pacifism and patriotism and Daryl Charles’ defense of just-war doctrine both stir such reflection.

For all their differences over the Christian’s relation to secular politics and warfare, Augustine, and Reinhold Niebuhr, both Hauerwas and Charles are committed in their own distinctive ways to the common good, the pursuit of justice and peace. While Hauerwas calls on the Christian community to become a parochial people, he does not mean that they should privatize faith but rather embody the politics of Jesus. In so doing, they will pursue a very different form of political engagement and just-peace than that found among Christian militarists. As a representative of just-war doctrine, Charles seeks to show that just-war theory classically conceived is based on a presumption against injustice—rooted in charity to protect the innocent—not a presumption against force. Charles contends that contemporary pacifists confuse just-war theory with militarism or jihad, and he attacks the crusade or jihad mentality, which “views war not only as justifiable but as absolute and unlimited in its scope and means.”

Both men caution against militarism and blind nationalism, which would identify America with the Kingdom of God. While Hauerwas contends that pacifists and non-pacifists alike “best serve this land called America . . . by refusing to be recruits for the furtherance of American ideals,” Charles claims that pacifists are “keenly sensitive to the distortions of faith that come with an uncritical view of the state,” a recurring danger throughout the church’s history. According to Charles, “pacifists help sensitize non-pacifists to an all-too-human tendency to rationalize violence in the service of nationalism.”

No doubt, this tendency is in part due to people—whether they be Christians, Muslims, or some other group—divinizing their own cultural perspective, confusing national identity with God’s Kingdom. Christians and Muslims represent two such groups who have been guilty of this crusader or jihad perspective from time to time, perhaps even at the present hour. September 11 placed Islam on the center stage of America’s religious consciousness. The typical American Evangelical Christian response as of late has been to demonize Islam, seeing it as the embodiment of “Satanic verses.” Daniel Brown’s piece offers a thoughtful counter, which hopefully will encourage Christians to take another look at their stereotypical answers. Christians need to be mindful of how often their cultures and civilizations rather than their theologies drive them, and they also need to make certain that they are getting a complete picture of the situation.

Brown opens his paper saying, “It is a depressing time to be an evangelical Christian and a scholar of Islam.” Bridge-building and redemptive analogies have given way to a crusader stance of unveiling Islam to be a sinister religious counterfeit. Brown argues that the current Evangelical claim that Islam is a violent, sensuous, and demonic religion is missiologically imprudent, a distortion of history, and a betrayal of biblical theology. In view of this state of affairs, he calls for repentance, disentanglement from the clash of civilizations, and an educated and constructive engagement with Islamic theology.

Painting Islam as evil sets the sites too narrowly on that which is culturally distant, revealing a failure to see the multiple forms of “evil” in which we participate daily. The Roman Empire, Barnes and Noble, and Walt Disney each in their own way stand opposed to the Gospel, yet cannot help but serve God’s sovereign designs for the good. A God who could use Pharaoh, Cyrus, and Nebuchadnezzar for his redemptive purposes certainly has not met his match in Islam’s prophet, Mohammed. God’s common grace extends even this far. What is required is critical engagement that sees both the good and bad in all societies and institutions in view of Christ’s redemptive work. This will include a prophetic element that challenges both the divinizing and demonizing of this or that culture or civilization.

The last essay claims that while the institutions and technologies of our civilizations sometimes take a turn for the worse and get the better of us and control us, as illustrated by Goethe’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Walt Disney’s Fantasia, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, yet Christ will redeem those fallen structures, including their abuse of space and time, just as through the Spirit he redeems sinful hearts. The Word affirms authentic creaturely existence, while also speaking out against abuses by the powers, and calls on the church to bear witness to his recapitulating and perfecting grace.

Now to the extent that culture, pop or otherwise, bears witness to the destiny of the creation being fashioned around Jesus Christ, it functions as the playground of the Spirit. The cause of this miracle is God’s common grace embodied and enacted in God’s good creation. Thus, while guarding against divinizing culture, Christians will also be on guard against demonizing pop culture, civic participation, other religious traditions, or our own creations, given God’s providential and sovereign care and the irrevocability of humans as God’s image bearers.

One such image bearer who understood well God’s common grace at work in those around him was a friend of the journal staff by the name of Jon Groth, who passed away on August 22. Jon was a man of uncommon grace who gave his life to First Nations people, a people often victimized and demonized by a graceless American church, but who, as Jon rightly saw, did not leave God without witness in their own cultural forms. Jon played a vital role in moving this journal forward from blackboard to print, and so we dedicate this inaugural issue to him. Our prayer is that as this journal moves forward, it will trump triumphalism through attention to the triumph of God’s redeeming love in Christ and will give occasion for ignored voices to be heard singing the song of victory on the playground of the Spirit.

Paul Louis Metzger, Editor

(Pop) Culture: Playground of the Spirit or Diabolical Device?

By
Carey Theological College

Media experts differ widely on the value of popular culture. Is it today’s “face of Jesus”? Or, does it vitiate spirituality and tear down worthwhile societal values? The article traces concepts of culture and culture formation. The author argues that popular culture both reflects and affects the values people construct for themselves. Popular culture is a meaning-making and religious act. By engaging general revelation, it may express human hungers, anxieties, injustices and sorrows significantly and truly. Yet it may provide an alternate reality and narrative, supplanting the sacred metanarrative for the plot of life once provided by the religious community. This reality often centers on entertainment personalities through whom people can vicariously live their lives. Popular culture’s narrative framework for personal identity formation may produce its own “God,” and miss its God-ordained purpose of providing an insightfully human narrative that may through the Spirit lead ultimately to the Logos, Jesus Christ. The article is followed by two critical responses.

Response One — ‘(Pop) Culture: Playground of the Spirit or Diabolical Device?’

By
Multnomah Bible College

Response Two — ‘(Pop) Culture: Playground of the Spirit or Diabolical Device?’

By
Multnomah Biblical Seminary

On Being A Good American: A Christian Meditation

By
Duke University

Hauerwas reflects on the fact that both the political left and the political right in America consider his work to be insufficiently patriotic. He notes that some allege he has done much to discourage Christians from patriotism and participation in the democratic process in general. Much of the critiques center on the issues related to pacifism. In this essay, Hauerwas contends that the politics inherent in pacifism offer a constructive way for Christians to understand how rightly to serve their neighbors. John Howard Yoder’s understanding of pacifism and Augustine’s account of politics in the City of God offer further help in understanding the tensions inherent in Christian engagement with the world. In the end, liberalism construes America as universal in such a way that the church cannot accept “patriotism” as commonly understood. Patriotism can only be a virtue for Christians when we remember that we have a more parochial loyalty to Christ and the church, which must always take precedence.

Click HERE to view the full article.

Justice, Neighbor-Love and the Just-War Tradition: Christian Reflections on Just Use of Force

By
Union University

Christian moral thinkers virtually from the beginning have found it necessary to respond to the common objection that war and armed force are contrary to Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount to turn the other cheek and not resist evil. Significantly, throughout the historical development of just-war thinking, Christian theologians discuss war under the heading of charity. What does love require? The consensual wisdom of the Christian moral tradition is that resisting evil and upholding the common good are consistent with the nature of charity. While Jesus does not indicate how we might respond in situations that entail a third party, Christian ethics does not require that we “turn the cheek” of another party in the direction of an aggressor. To the contrary, charity expresses itself in protecting an innocent third party from oppressive injustice. The enduring political-moral wisdom at the heart of the just-war tradition, though frequently misunderstood or ignored, is supremely relevant for today. Whether in the domestic or international context, it seeks to protect the common weal. Armed force by a duly constituted authority–to restrain and punish evil–is the other side of promoting the common good and civil society. From the standpoint of Christian faith, this can be a valid expression of charity, since justice, rightly construed, seeks to protect one’s neighbor and safeguard the social order.

Clash of Cultures or Clash of Theologies? A Critique of Some Contemporary Evangelical Responses to Islam

By
Smith College

This article describes approaches to Islam by evangelical authors after 9/11, and argues that the polemical tendencies in the writings of evangelical authors including R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and Don Richardson are missiologically imprudent, a distortion of history, and a betrayal of biblical theology. A responsible evangelical approach to Islam, by contrast, will take account of the presence of evil in all civilizations, the sovereignty of God over all cultures, and the doctrine of common grace. Evangelicals should disengage from the so-called “clash of civilizations” which pits Western civilization against Islamic civilization and should instead focus their efforts on theological engagement with Muslims. The article concludes by suggesting some directions that a theologically informed evangelical engagement with Islam might take.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and the Savior of the World: Space, Time, and Structural Evil

By
Multnomah Biblical Seminary

Drawing from Goethe’s poem, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” this essay claims that human creations often get the better of us. For example, we often become possessed with going faster and faster and become isolated from one another when we get behind the wheel of a car. It is important to restructure reality, including our use of space and time. As firstborn over all creation and firstborn from among the dead, Jesus restructures all things, including our creaturely framing of space and time so as to serve others rather than enslave them. Jesus’ reconciling activity of making time and space for us bears implications for the church’s own use of space. Whereas our commuter churches often look more like self-contained structures of metallic monads lost in space, city buses bear greater similarities to the kingdom of God: the gate of entry into the bus is narrow; yet the demographic base is very wide, made up of various sectors of society. Jesus has made it possible for us to make space and time for those we would otherwise disregard.