Some friends and I are beginning to plan a multi-day seminar on Christian humanism to be given to a group of scholar-teachers from across the country next spring. As we consider themes that might prove both interesting and helpful to such a group, I’ve framed some elements (still well short of an outline) as follows:
Nascent learning outcomes
Definitions: What, simply defined, is Christian humanism (hereafter, “CH”)?
Scriptural warrants: What are some key scriptural foundations of CH?
Doctrinal warrants: In what key Christian doctrines has CH been grounded?
Chronological scope, depth in the tradition: How has CH been present and active in all periods of Christian history?
Patristic roots and forms: How were the Church Fathers Christian humanists?
Medieval roots and forms: How were the scholastics and renaissance thinkers Christian humanists?
Reformation roots and forms: How were the Reformers Christian humanists?
20th century: CH as a tradition reclaimed during times of crisis: What social circumstances and intellectual contexts led WW II – era thinkers to attempt to reclaim facets of CH for their time? Are there parallels between the crisis of that era (to which some thinkers responded by looking to re-excavate CH) and our own moment of multifaceted crisis?
21st century: Application today: If CH is appropriately considered as a “crisis philosophy” that has something to say to our moment, then do we need to recapture CH today – particularly in contemporary North American culture?
In light of theologically, biblically, and historically weak popular presentations of faith & work arguments, we must speak primarily in theological terms
We must not speak in narrowly theological terms
In other words, we must draw on a theological discourse that embraces and can be embraced by all current Christian traditions (e.g. not a discourse that is exclusively neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian, or Wesleyan/Pentecostal, or grounded in Catholic social thought, etc., but informs and converses with all of those traditions and more)
We must draw on a theological discourse that stretches back to the earliest church
We must draw on a theological discourse that is clear about what human beings are, how we (are to) flourish, and how we are (to be) redeemed
We must draw on a theological discourse that is not narrowly “spiritual,” but instead addresses the broadest possible range of human activities (including all major sectors of work) and that affirms material and social as well as spiritual flourishing
We must draw on a theological discourse that therefore includes a well-articulated approach to human cultural (including economic) activity
We must draw on a theological discourse grounded in undeniable major orthodox doctrines such as creation, the incarnation, and the atonement, and with clear scriptural foundations such as Genesis and the Gospels
Christian humanism is the only theological tradition I know of that fulfils all of the above criteria
Here’s a piece I did a little while back on Patheos.com on who evangelicals are and where they’re headed – getting to the nub of the matter.
A little taste:
“What do this fundamental immediatism and this youth-driven quality mean for the future of evangelicalism? First, they very likely mean that whatever touches the hearts and minds of the generation rising right now – the adolescents of today – that will shape evangelical worship, ecclesiology, and doctrine for years to come.
“An optimist could point to the dynamism and renewal that emerged from past youth movements, or to the laudable and faithful concern of many young evangelicals today for justice, creation care, and other historical blind spots of the movement.
“A pessimist, however, would say that this is very bad news indeed. They could point to sociologist Christian Smith’s famous diagnosis of evangelical youth as mired in “moralistic therapeutic deism”: the theologically vapid belief in a kindly grandfather God who lavishes blessings and requires no accountability—this we might call immediatism gone, at last, to seed . . .”
We all know medieval people were ignorant, gullible bumpkins who didn’t even understand the gospel message of grace, right? After all, they believed in a flat earth, salvation by works, and a monastic life completely shut off from culture and society. Uh . . . no.
Darlington Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA), Darlington, PA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
An interesting counterpart to Avery Dulles‘s “five models of church” (institution, mystical communion, servant, herald, sacrament) is the triad of church emphases laid out by Tim Keller in his paper “What’s So Great about the PCA?” (For those who don’t know, PCA = Presbyterian Church in America). Lots could be said about this article or this denomination, but I’m most interested in these qualities that Keller borrows from George Marsden and describes as facets of Presbyterianism in America, and indeed facets of the PCA, resulting in significant infradenomenational tensions:
The doctrinalist impulse puts the emphasis on the corporate and the objective. The stress is on ministry done through church courts—Session, Presbytery, and General Assembly‐‐ and on people being brought to Christ through objective ordinances and processes like baptism and catechism. Continue reading →
Please pray for someone who has been, over the past two decades, one of the most important voices in Christian reflection on culture: Ken Myers of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. He has recently suffered a massive, life-threatening heart attack, followed by a miraculous recovery. The facts of the heart attack are laid out here and updates on Ken’s recovery are being posted here.
I do not know Ken personally, but I have benefited immensely from his work at Mars Hill Audio Journal over the years. If you don’t know of this valuable resource, subscribe now! Or at least find out whether your local/college/seminary library carries the wonderful interviews this former NPR reporter has conducted over the years and produced in this journal.
Ken, my prayers and thanksgiving for you are going up to God right now. May you enjoy many more happy and productive years.
While I agree that Constantine is not the whole story of the development of Christendom. In my understanding, he is but one step – a formative one – in a longer slide toward Christendom (which is not the same as saying “perfect before/all bad after.” I think we need to at least characterize this shift as my friend Alan Kreider does from the imperial accommodation of Christianity (Constantine) to imperial adoption of Christianity (Theodosius). There is a difference between declaring religious tolerance of Christianity and making it the Imperial religion.
To me, this is an important distinction. As I responded initially to David: Continue reading →
Roger Olson‘s The Story of Christian Theologyis a big, rambling narrative compendium of juicy information about the development of Christian theology through history. Unlike almost any other book I can think of on historical theology, this one is accessible to a lay, non-specialist audience. Though it needed a good edit (it could have been trimmed to about half its size), it is still a compelling read.
One of the places where Olson shines is in describing the original and development of key theological concepts in the early church. And of these, one of the most fascinating is the use of the termLogosby the mid-second-century apologist Justin Martyr. Here we find a pagan philosopher converted to Christianity who still (of course!) uses the equipment of the Greek thought-world, in particular the term Logos–also used in the Hebrew tradition, to describe Christ to other pagans.
Here is my reworking of Olson’s account. As this is from lecture notes, I have not always used quotation marks when I am quoting Olson verbatim. Best assumption: much of this is in his own words. As always when I present notes from a book, my abbreviations are in play: X for Christ, xn for Christian, xnty for Christianity, etc.:
Without doubt Justin Martyr deserves his reputation as “the most important 2nd-c. apologist” because of his creative ideas about Christ as cosmic Logos and about Christianity as true philosophy. Continue reading →
As a student of medieval faith, I often see sophisticated appropriations of “non-Christian” cultural materials into a Christian framework. The original case of this, of course, was the 2nd-century apologists’ use of Greek philosophical material in explicating the faith to their contemporaries. Another example would be Gregory the Great‘s instructions to the monks he sent to evangelize England, that they should not destroy the pagan temples but “repurpose” them. Continue reading →
Into her famous mid-20th century essay “The Dogma Is the Drama,” mystery writer, religious playwright, and Dante translator Dorothy L. Sayers inserts the following scathing and humorous assessment of what many unchurched people think the church believes. Sadly, this portrait may still not be far off. And as they were then, these sorts of mistakes are still largely the fault of the church itself.
Q.: What does the Church think of God the Father?
A.: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfillment. He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferers by means of arbitrary judgments and miracles, distributed with a good deal of favoritism. He . . . is always ready to pound on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary. Continue reading →
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