April 30, 2011

There are some incredible videos of the recent Tornado pandemic in the South, especially Alabama. Watch with fear and trembling, and, of course, pray. At last count, the death toll is 337. And to top it off, they’re now predicting massive flooding.

Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul

If you want to witness the gross abuse of the term, “inclusivism,” in the hands of a conservative evangelical blogger, then read this post from Trevin Wax of Kingdom People, a blog with a fairly sizable readership.

Does the following sound accurate?

An increasing number of evangelicals find the “inclusivist” view of salvation appealing. This view maintains the traditional Christian belief that “Jesus is the only way to God” while denying the necessity of placing personal conscious faith in Christ for salvation. In other words, there is the possibility that other religious paths lead ultimately to God through Christ, even if the adherents never profess faith in Christ.

What? “Other religious paths”? So, according to Trevin, an inclusivist believes that a Buddhist by way of his Buddhism may be saved, or a Muslim by way of his Islam may be saved, or a Hindu by way of his Hinduism may be saved. Is this actually what inclusivists are saying? Would most inclusivists articulate it this way? Of course not, but a nuanced and responsible articulation of the inclusivist position is not nearly as effective.

An evangelical inclusivist is more likely to say that the Hinduism (etc.), as with the Law, is often an indolatrous hindrance to be overcome by God’s electing grace. Such a grace can convert and bring repentance, relinquishing the dependence on oneself and the idols that serve man’s pride instead of love. Such a grace can bring light to the understanding, the light that Noah and Job received apart from the Temple and apart from the knowledge of Christ. Yet, this light is Christ: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. …The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1: 4, 9). That is where the inclusivist begins: with Christ and with grace.

As a side note, if a “personal conscious faith in Christ” is such an absolute condition for salvation, then how is the infant saved or the severely mentally handicapped saved? Even though he rightly believes in original sin (i.e., we are sinners before we actually sin), the exclusivist recognizes that such indomitable barriers, for receiving Christ with “personal conscious faith,” do not limit God’s grace from reaching the infant or handicapped. If the exclusivist is willing to admit such non-normative means for salvation, then the inclusivist position is hardly much of a stretch.

Eros and Pietism

April 13, 2011

This passage from Helmut Thielicke’s The Ethics of Sex seems to be accurate, with more than a little relevance for evangelical churches here in America:

Pietism, in contrast with Luther, raises the psychological question. It had to arise for Pietism if only because even in the realm of piety it always started out from experience, the experience of conversion, regeneration, repentance, joy in the Lord. In conformity with this interest in the psychic experience the eros experience also called for interpretation and theological evaluation. And yet this question was not posed in such a way that the eros experience as such, having its own value as an encounter with the created world, became the object of the question. Hence this kind of psychological interest, despite its new sensitiveness, was not capable of opening the way to a relationship with modern forms of experiencing eros and marriage. Rather in Pietism the psychological question was focused on the compatibility of the eros experience with the experience of union with Christ. But since the eros experience as such was not thought through theologically and thus remained a spiritually unsubdued element of strong psychic force, its relation to the religious experience could be regarded only as competitive. Here was a power that sought to fill up the whole of the psyche to the limits of its capacity.

[John W. Doberstein, trans., Harper & Row, 1964, p. 302]

In Pietism’s defense, nobody has a good grasp at controlling eros. The objectivity of confessionalism, or even secularism, may help, but we’re all pretty messed-up. It sucks being postlapsarian. Pietism’s “Jesus-love” — the emphasis on a personal and affective relationship with Jesus Christ — may be inadequate but so is the stoicism, whether confessional or secular, that attempts to counteract this.

Image: Amor und Psyche by Antonio Canova

The Civil War

April 13, 2011

I thoroughly enjoyed the cover article for the most recent issue of Time Magazine, “Why We’re Still Fighting the Civil War.”

South Carolina born and North Carolina bred, I naturally received the sympathetic interpretation of the Southern cause. Frankly, I’m still sympathetic, trying as much as I can to situate myself in the time and context. But, as the article illustrates, everyone knew that slavery was the central issue of contention, and slavery was the driving engine for confederate independence and economic solvency. Still, with over 600,000 dead (!), it’s hard to justify the war and the abolitionists who precipitated it, along with Southern arrogance. I’m now anxious to read this book in the Library of America series.

Image: “Charge at Trevilian Station” by Mort Künstler