25 October 2006

A "Call" Considered.

A few weeks ago, I noted the appearance in Christianity Today a document called, "A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future." I only gave it a once over at the time, but it struck me as an attempt to have the post-modern cake and eat it too.

Now Touchstone has put together
a symposium responding to the "Call" by a string of the usual Touchstone suspects from various Christian traditions. They are Gillis Harp, D. G. Hart, S. M. Hutchens, Wilfred M. McClay, David Mills, & Russell D. Moore.

Stipulating that I've only given the "Call" a superficial reading, and likewise that I've only barely skimmed this one of the respondants' critiques, I think Wilfred McClay nails it:

". . . The use of concepts like “narrative” and other such academic terms is not necessarily self-undermining, so long as it serves merely to aid and amplify. But when the concepts of “story” and “narrative” appear as frequently and centrally as they do in this document, one cannot help but conclude that they are being used as a way to evade questions about what is actually there, behind the story—about the actual referents of the Christian faith, the things that the story is about.

Nor is the language of “narrative” the vocabulary with which the biblical God narrates. There is no glimpse here—not a one—of the actual and authoritative language of Scripture as generations of Christian worshipers in North America have known it and experienced it and proclaimed it.

Arguably the single greatest strength of Evangelical Christianity is its reverence for the Word, its lively attention to the text, its loving embrace of the actual words and verses of Scripture. But we don’t get any of that here. Instead, we are being offered a boatload of stale seminary talk: the “story” of “Creation, Incarnation, and Re-creation,” the notion of “Christ’s recapitulation of history,” worship that “enacts God’s story,” and so on.

As I read the document, I found it curious that the authors repeatedly spoke with such abstractness of the “Triune” or “Trinitarian” character of God. Then it dawned on me why. They were doing so to avoid using the inflammatory word Father—another word that never once appears in this document. Nor do they ever use the masculine personal pronoun for God.

The authors have done this self-editing skillfully, even tastefully. You might almost not even notice. But they have done it quite intentionally, and their doing so shows why they have not yet come to grips with what is entailed in appropriating the authority of the past—which means the whole history of what the Church has been, and not merely what has been going on in a few North American seminaries since 1968.

If one radically edits the past before appropriating it, then it is no longer the past that one is appropriating, but a version of the present. Language matters, and the preference for academic over Scriptural language in this document is powerfully indicative of which worldview actually gets to do the trumping.

How will one utter the Nicene Creed when the word Father has been proscribed? But if one substitutes some other term— Creator, or Mother, or Dominatrix, or whatever word is in fashion this week—how is one doing anything other than rejecting the past, and extending the sway of the status quo? That indeed is what I would call a very serious form of “cultural captivity.”

Again, here's the whole thing.


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