Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cynicism

The Lord has been rooting into the dark crevices of my heart lately and using my wife and Paul Miller's A Praying Life to do it. Self-awareness is always a painful affair - I'm more content to be 'other-aware'. Which is why cynicism has been the perfectly insidious companion for me.

Masquerading as my humble opinion among equals, cynicism allows me to perch above reality, offering objective critiques of its pitiful participants. Cynicism is a knowledge that obscures reality. To see past everything is really to see nothing at all as C. S. Lewis would warn.

I set out to judge institutions (e.g. culture, christendom, church). But institutions means people. And people mean the God they serve. Asking what good can come from Christendom?, can't help but ask what good can come out of Nazareth?.

I used to think the opposite of cynicism was naivety. Now I know its intimacy. Miller remarks, cynicism is "too aware to trust or hope". My 'keen awareness' keeps me arms length from real people with real struggles (who are actually a lot more like me than I care to admit).

My last defense of my sin is that the church needs cynics; it needs people like me who are sharp, insightful, and willing to call her on her faults. A cynic feels like he's in the thick of body life, mourning, striving, thinking; he's really on the bleachers. He's calling plays at the TV from his armchair to teammates he's never gotten to know.

In reality the church needs prophets, pastors, and friends, never cynics. In short, she needs real people. She needs me to speak, and pray, and confess from the midst of my own failings and longings. And I need her.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What About Inspiration?

For some time now, there has been a growing skepticism about the ability of higher criticism to provide adequate answers to the questions we bring to the Bible. In its place, it would seem that literary criticism is taking its place as the biblical study du jour. I, for one, think this is largely a good thing. This means that the biblical text is taken as it exists and studied as such without feeling any compulsion to do the messy work of attempting to pull it apart limb by limb. Dissection gives way to observation as identifying literary devices supplants finding redactors.

In spite of the strengths of bib-lit-crit, I wonder if in its rise something that has historically been emphasized has been neglected. Upon completing my first semester of seminary, I was asked by a friend what I thought about biblical inspiration. To my chagrin, I realized that I had not even thought about it at all during the previous semester. If that brief dialogue were isolated, I might have just assumed it was discussed in class while my brain wandered through the Alps or something. However, subsequent conversations with classmates revealed that this is more than incidental. An emeritus faculty member even mentioned it as a criticism of where the school as a whole is headed. Needless to say, this is troubling. What about inspiration? If my school represents anything of the trends happening in 21st century evangelicalism, what has changed that this no longer warrants discussion?

My suspicion is that inspiration has been lumped with a good deal of theology that has, in many places, fallen out of fashion. And so, as premillenial dispensationalism and Dobson-esque Republican Christianity have disappointed many younger evangelicals, and therefore been (probably rightly) abandoned, inspiration has likewise been tossed out with the proverbial bathwater. This is further enhanced by the rise of an approach to biblical studies that does not demand inspiration as a key doctrine. Whereas much of the older conservative biblical criticism attempted to hold out against form criticism by emphasizing inspiration, the new criticism is amenable to both liberal and conservative approaches. The Bible then becomes, reverently, very good literature, but what makes it distinctive from Dostoevsky is lost.

Any thoughts from the other corners of Christendom?

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