Wednesday, June 20, 2012

rational conversion

Good article by Alister McGrath on his conversion in CT this month.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

confession is good for the...pulpit

Just finished a book by PTS grad David Lose (didn't know him; I think he was there after my time).  This is his dissertation:  Confessing Jesus Christ:  Preaching in a Post-Modern World.

While it reads in places like a dissertation, it also provides a strong theological and hermeneutical basis for preaching in the 21st century.  He argues that confession provides a pulpit for both talk about God and proclamation of the Gospel.  I will admit that confession has provided me with a useable hermeneutic.  Here are notes taken from the book:

Lose proposes that preaching that seeks to be both faithful and Christian tradition and responsive to our pluralistic, postmodern context is best understood as the public practice of confessing faith in Jesus Christ 
                Modern era was inaugurated in years following the Peace of Westphalia (1648) that brought an end to the 30yrs War and marked dawn of Enlightenment.  Enlightenment sought to erect society guided on universally valid rationality, not superstitious belief.  There is philosophical emphasis from ontology (Being) to epistemology (Knowing).  Diogenes Allen has 4 pillars of modernity:  self-contained universe; rational basis for morality and society; belief in inevitable progress; and assumption that k is good. 
Post-modernity says language cannot refer beyond itself and reality is a socio-symbolic construction; this dissolves teleology leaving the specter of meaninglessness.  Following this, humanity is now responsible for the world it makes.  Third, PM says language cannot refer beyond itself; language becomes its own prison.  Fourth, truth is really just what is favored or popular.  Derrida’s ‘deferral of meaning’ can become a ‘deferral of responsibility’ in that real life is trivialized into discourse. 
Non-foundationalism says that beliefs are groundless.  Fideism implies a blind commitment to beliefs.  DL says that non-foundationalism is also fideism by way of one’s experience and formation [blik].  DL says cannot escape fideism but do have choice b/w maximal and minimal fideism.  George Lindbeck, Yale, has post-liberal proposal that different cultural-linguistic traditions represent distinct, entities incommensurable w/one another.  This emphasis on internal meaningfulness negates possibility of critical conversation. Lindbeck says can only evaluate a tradition from inside.  Thomas Kuhn has sense of incommensurability that opens door to critical conversation. 
Ricoeur, borrowing participation and distanciation from Gadamer, says there is creative tension of these in interpretation texts.  This is reaction to Romanticism that said first had to und before could explain text.  Ricoeur says cannot explain apart from und; these are in dialectic.  Dialectic moves forward. 
Post-modernism says truth is never complete but is open.  DL sayspost-modernism helps Christians by clarifying faith, showing that it rests on confession of revealed truth, or in other words faith alone. 
Homologeo can serve as official acknowledgement with Jesus acknowledged when secular Greek is overlaid with Hebrew sense to convey a binding religious confession.  Mt 10.32-33 and Lk 12.8,9.  Here confessing resembles witnessing.  Here confession is more than official; also a binding relationship of mutual fidelity.  This aligns one with Jesus.  Rom 10.9-10.  Faith finds it full actualization only in its articulation. 
Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness:  The Church as the Image of the Trinity.  Church is assembly that gathers in Christ’s name.  Church is assembly but assembly is not yet church.  Need cognitive specification for personal identity with Jesus Christ; need personal identity with Jesus Christ for cognitive specification to have content.  These two coincide in act of confessing faith. 
B.A. Gerrish, Saving and Secular Fe:  An Invitation to Systematic Theology.  Saving faith is perceiving one’s experience under the image of divine benevolence and consequent living of one’s life out of an attitude of confidence or trust.  Faith is never faith in isolation; faith socializes.  Creeds and confessions are primary instruments of this socialization.  In post-modernism, Church’s confessions and continual confessing is its only possession.  Search for historical Jesus folks would hold faith captive to historical science as doctrine of creation held it to natural science.  Historical anchorage is found in life of Church—body of Christ.  Gerrish gives greater detail to Volf’s ‘cognitive specification.’ 
Douglas John Hall, Confessing the Faith.  Confession is communication @ truth, or at least what one believes to be true.  Confession is assertive and, while articulating the Christian tradition, articulates the Christian tradition in response to the current need of the world. 
Summarizing V,G & H, DL says that confession designates a summary of the church’s essential assertions concerning God’s act in Jesus Christ.  And, confession denotes articulating faith as a living response to the proclaimed word and to current situation/crisis of the world.  DL says preaching is an assertive utterance, that seeks, non-coercively, a response of faith.  Gerrish articulates the sociological role of confession.  Karl Barth says of preaching that church must be built afresh each time; conformity to the confession is first, everything else is second. 
                Lucy Atkinson Rose says that there are 3 dominant approaches to preaching in 20th c:  traditional (“sacred rhetoric”, John A Broadus), kerygmatic (Karl Barth) and transformational (narrative, Craddock).  Word for homiletics is derived from Greek word for conversation, omilew.  DL says there must be paradoxical mixture of trust and suspicion to read biblical texts faithfully.
Preaching proclaims the gospel that puts hearers into communal narrative while being encountered by the gospel.  DL uses confession to describe this.  Confession is fides quae creditur (faith which is believed) offering communal identity and way to interpret world.  Confession is also fides qua creditor (faith by which it is believed). 
Bruggemann rejects historical-critical method to pursue a rhetorical interpretation and has view of scripture as testimony.  Because of this, readers make scripture truthful, subjectively.  Authority of the Word then resides w/human community.  DL says probem is not in understanding the text as witness but his understanding of witness.  Brug’s use of witness takes an OT legal motif and makes it governing.  And he occasionally misunderstands the legal motif of witness.  He also inflates role and importance of readers.  He underutilizes confessional nature of witness.  DL says in contrast that biblical authors confess that their writing correspond to reality, they believe this and are committed to this belief.  DL shifts attention from Brug’s reader back to text claiming to witness to the truth.  Speech-act theory elucidates how bible functions as true word of God.  Scripture is not just assent but also commitment; not just recognition but also judgment.
We enter into dialogue w/text demanding some response; text speaks so that we are in I-thou relationship; text calls our presuppositions into question.  DL posits 4 steps in moving from text through preaching to community.  First is approaching text on behalf of congregation; second, listening to text’s distinct confession; third, discerning confession in light of canon context/community context/preacher’s context; fourth, articulating the new confession.
Some homileticians (Augustine and Craddock) say rhetoric is neutral; this increases import of hearers; DL calls this homiletical Donatism.  Others (Karl Barth and Tertullian) say rhetoric is incompatible w/gospel; this decreases importance of hearers; DL calls this homiletical Docetism.  DL says Paul does neither in preaching Jesus Christ.  Persuasion is not goal of preaching.  Preaching as confession allows both identity and separation.       

Sunday, June 3, 2012

history in 3rds

Having read, and provided some commentary, on two of the three prevalent views of history via Stanford's Fukuyama and University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer it seemed time to complete the triumvirate with Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order

Huntington, a Harvard professor, wrote this in 1996.  I have the 2011 paperback edition.  Huntington, unlike Fukuyama who argues that liberal democracy is driving history or Mearsheimer who argues that power and the desire for regional hegemony drives history, asserts that culture and cultural norms for civilizations drive history.  Here is an early quote, "Peoples and nations are attempting [today] to answer the most basic question humans can face:  Who are we?  And they are answering that question in the traditional way human beings have answered it, by reference to the things that mean the most to them...They identify with cultural groups:  tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations and, at the broadest level, civilizations...We know who we are only when we know who we are not and often only when we know whom we are against."

His book is more expansive than the other two cited in that 20th century geo-political history does not provide the majority of evidence for his argument.  He is willing to go back to civilization clashes pre-dating the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  He sees history moving between western civilization (a society based on Judeo-Christian principles ostensibly) and Islamic civilization.  A third Asian civilization exists but lacks clear identity other than as neither of the other two.

I surmise that Pat Buchanan has a worn copy of this book within his possession.  Huntington writes of continual clashes between the East and West, particularly in the fault lines of Europe with immigration providing a constant battleground.  I will add that Huntington seems very prescient in arguing that these fault lines would expand; while reading portions I was reminded of 9/11's stated terroristic origins.

It's an interesting read and again provides a broader range of history.  This work, as well as the other two cited, are on my shelf at Calvary should anyone want to borrow them.

clarence jordan

Short, but important, piece from HuffPo on the late Clarence Jordan.  If you don't recognize the name, be certain to read this.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

the origin of memorial day

Here.  Presented without comment.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

electronic media and loneliness

There is a long-winded, but very insightful, piece on Facebook and loneliness in last month's Atlantic.  You can find it here.  The article may need more than one sitting to complete.  I also found the last two screens the most interesting; those are the pages backed with some research. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm an introvert and not active on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

the gangs that need to change

Kennedy is a criminologist/social scientist/urban-ophile.  He is also IMHO the leading voice on effectively dealing with crime.  This book is an autobiographical, social science presentation on dealing with inner-city criminality.  Kennedy is on faculty at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice with the City University of NY.

The book details his work over the past 20 years.  Kennedy was an architect of the Boston miracle in the early-mid '90's and their Ten Point Coalition.  This was one of the first large-scale, multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction efforts to combat urban violence primarily through gang intervention via communication.  Kennedy's work asks questions about deterrence.  Do rational threats of punishment affect decisions of gang members?  If not, why not?  If not, can this be changed?  In Trenton, prison was seen as a rite of passage to some; the threat of prison was not a deterrent, for gang members it was more like an occupational hazard.  Kennedy and some others were able to cobble together a group of officials and agencies (including churches and non-profits) to examine a rash of gang-related homicides in Boston.  They found out that there was a small group of hyper-violent offenders that were driving much of the violence.  Law enforcement went after these guys, locked them up and made an example out of them to the others.  In doing so, Kennedy's group soon learned that the gang members and affiliates preferred other options to criminal endeavors.  In many cases, gang members joined gangs for protection, seeing this as the only means for survival, even though the dangers associated with gang membership reduced life expectancy significantly.

The breakthrough, following getting all the various agencies and their agendas unified, was in holding meetings with gang members.  The Kennedy group (my phrase, not his) targeted a neighborhood in Boston that had a particular problem.  They rounded up the worst offenders, those drivers of violence.  They contacted other gang members, inviting them to attend a community meeting with law enforcement et al.  The authorities assured the gang members that no one would be arrested at the community meeting; the gang members could bring a family member or someone they trusted with them.  On the surface, this tactic might seem D.O.A. but it worked with a participation rate above 75%.  At the meeting, the authorities communicated the message that the violence had to stop immediately.  They laid out specific consequences if it did not; here, the presence of state and federal prosecutors was most important.  They also laid out other options for the gang members and had social services present to begin finding housing, jobs, GED classes, etc.  for those interested.

Aside from communicating deterrence in very clear, specific ways, these meetings broke down the perceived barrier between law enforcement and the at-risk community.  Although law enforcement is to protect and serve, they are perceived as antagonists and against the community in many urban areas.  The gangs are not loved in those communities either but some residents express in the book that they feel victimized by both law enforcement and the gangs.

Kennedy delves into the other side of the equation, noting that authorities have a difficult time understanding how a community can tolerate gangs.  The code of silence within a neighborhood after a crime is pervasive (in Trenton a children's adage was 'snitches get stitches').  In some ways, law enforcement had an underlying, sub-conscious feeling of just desserts when a community had a gang problem.

Kennedy was able to breakdown both sides of this dysfunction.  And his process worked.  He sought to replicate it in Indianapolis, High Point, NC, and other cities.  Every place that they followed his methods realized crime relief.  However, when his work was not maintained, meaning consistent communication of punishment with exact follow through coupled with alternatives, the crime returned.

The book details Kennedy's frustrations not with gangs--he solved this riddle effectively and could reproduce those results given certain criteria--but with egotistic and turf-driven bureaucrats.  The gangs in the suits and ties, with the degrees and titles were the ones that gave him the most trouble.  Many preferred more aggressive, made for tv police interdiction to the community meetings.  In an era of zero tolerance and mandatory sentences, when each politician must appear tough on crime, Kennedy's methods, though cost effective and societally effective, appeared soft.

Martin O'Malley, now Governor of Maryland, is singled out particularly for gutting an effective program Kennedy put together in Baltimore (he's from that area) in favor of more dramatic policing.  However, under O'Malley's tenure in Baltimore, crime increased noticeably as did the policing portion of the city budget.

I actually had a pilot program set up to launch in Trenton, in the Goat Hill section of the south ward, that would have followed this.  I had the local community and the Trenton Police Director on board; we were within a few months of launching when I got the call to Waco.  It never moved forward but there are some Trentonians studying Kennedy's work in hopes of reproducing it there.

In some ways, the book allows Kennedy some self-therapy.  His frustration at the civil side of the equation is palpable, almost moving to an indictment of authorities for their obstinacy at dealing with urban violence (murder, drugs, domestic violence) through effective means. Despite some setbacks, Kennedy presents a model for community betterment and empowerment that works and will travel.