Tag Archives: evangelicalism

Tradition V. Scripture? A ludicrous idea to the medievals


Complete writings of church fathers before, during, and after the Council of Nicea (325)

Complete writings of church fathers before, during, and after the Council of Nicea (325)

Why did C S Lewis so strongly rely on the integrity of the Christian tradition? Why was he a “traditional” Christian–a reader of the church fathers, a student of the medieval mystics, an appreciator of scholastic theology? For one thing, he saw what many modern Christians do not: that the boundaries marked out by tradition and the interpretive frameworks provided by it strengthen our ability to understand and live the primary revelation of Scripture.

Tradition in the early church: Irenaeus and the Cappadocians address the heretics

One barrier that still stands in the way of broader acceptance of tradition among free-church Protestants is the misunderstanding of the Reformation that says that medieval Christians treated tradition as a source of authority separate from Scripture.[1] The notion would have been ludicrous to medievals. Scripture and tradition had never been separated in the early church. The church had met together in councils repeatedly to discern the meanings of Scripture. The resulting creeds (elaborated out of long-repeated local church creeds that developed out of the heart of worship) became part of tradition, as protections against wildfire teachings such as Arianism, docetism, and monophysitism.

The very New Testament canon itself, whose now-accepted list of books did not appear until 367 AD in an Easter letter of Athanasius, emerged out of a process of communal discernment led, as they believed, by the Holy Spirit. Which books and letters, when read in the congregations, evidenced spiritual power and truth by supporting and edifying the congregants and building up the church? No serious Christian thinker until the Wycliffes and Huses of the late medieval period—when tradition had become a crutch and a tool of power on the part of some of those at the top of the church—seriously doubted the seamlessness of Scripture and tradition and their necessity to one another. Continue reading

Where have all the artists gone? Protestant suspicion – and Catholic celebration – of the arts


English: Madonna and child, thought to have be...

English: Madonna and child, thought to have been damaged during the English Civil War, at St Mary’s Roman Catholic church, Brewood, Staffordshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the “creation chapter” of my forthcoming Getting Medieval with C. S. Lewis, after a brief reflection on the opposite-but-the-same Western tendencies that have crept into our Protestant churches – Gnosticism and materialism – I turn to the arts to see how these tendencies have manifested themselves there.

Evangelicalism and the arts

Let’s put a finer point on the issue by looking briefly at the evangelical Protestant churches and the arts. Where are the arts in modern orthodox Protestantism? One author looks at the century from 1860 to 1960 and finds only C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot practicing the creative art of literature to a high degree from an orthodox Protestant stance. During the same period, the Catholics produced an embarrassment of literary riches, from Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor to Gerard Manley Hopkins and Evelyn Waugh. All these, and many other Catholics, were “world-class writers,” and all orthodox Christians. The same seems to be true – perhaps even more so – in other fine arts. Similarly, few evangelicals have excelled in the worlds of television and movies. Indeed, “evangelical Protestants, especially, have not only not shone in the fine arts, they have often opposed such arts or valued them only as vehicles for evangelism, objecting to much of their subject matter.”[1] The author concludes that the problem for Protestants (and the superiority of Roman Catholics) in the arts stems from a difference in approach to Creation. Whereas Protestants often emphasize how fallen Creation and human society are, the theology of the Roman Catholic Church has proved more Creation-positive, and thus more likely to affirm and create images of the world, whether literary or in the visual arts. Continue reading

Ethically stunted? The moral morass of Evangelical America


Circles of hellOne of the chapters of my forthcoming Getting Medieval with C S Lewis pulls the threads of that 20th-century moral philosopher (for that was what he was, at his core) for his medieval and classical ethical sources.

Befitting a book that proposes to unpack for evangelical readers a “care package” from what most would consider a very unlikely source – the Middle Ages – I am doing my best song and dance to draw them in. Part of that is putting “Saint Lewis” on the cover. But another part is starting each chapter with a clear and compelling portrayal of “the modern situation” (if you like, postmodern situation) that we find ourselves in: the problem that needs fixing.

This is only classic marketing protocol: state the problem, then give the solution. I’ll let you judge whether I manage to do this well in this draft of the introduction to the chapter tentatively titled “The moral fabric of medieval faith”:

I had finished the first year of my seminary Masters program. Back home, my evangelical pastor pulled me into his office: “How can I address the character issues in my congregation without seeming legalistic? Anything I say on morality seems to pull against the Gospel message of grace!” The question was heartfelt. But after a full year in a church history program, I was at a loss for a helpful answer. Continue reading

15 reasons why evangelicals attack evolution


Reblogging in entirety from Alan Jacobs‘s tumblr:

In the domain of religion and science, decisions, actions, attitudes, practices, and conflicts of the present moment require careful assessment for what they mean now and how they may affect the future. Conservative Protestants today, for example, offer many reasons for leaning against or actively combating the consensus of modern scientists concerning evolution. Some of those reasons concern narrowly defined issues of physical evidence or the interpretation of specific biblical passages, while others range to broader issues of theology, philosophy, ethnicity, family order, public education, or government. To offer historical explanations for the standoff, which this paper tries to do, is not the same as explaining the individual motives of those who engage such issues today. But it is a good way to see that contemporary stances represent an amalgamation of discrete attitudes, assumptions, and convictions, and that the components of this amalgamation all have a history.

The purpose of this paper is to specify fifteen of these attitudes, assumptions, and convictions, to indicate when they rose to prominence, and to suggest how they relate to affect contested issues of science and religion.

Says Jacobs: Anyone who wants to understand, rather than just pontificate about, the strange attitudes many American evangelicals have towards science should read this concise, clear, and authoritative essay by Mark Noll. (PDF)

Says me: I can’t wait to read this. I know it’s gonna be good. If you read it, I’d like to hear your comments.

15 reasons why evangelicals attack evolution


Reblogging in entirety from Alan Jacobs‘s tumblr:

In the domain of religion and science, decisions, actions, attitudes, practices, and conflicts of the present moment require careful assessment for what they mean now and how they may affect the future. Conservative Protestants today, for example, offer many reasons for leaning against or actively combating the consensus of modern scientists concerning evolution. Some of those reasons concern narrowly defined issues of physical evidence or the interpretation of specific biblical passages, while others range to broader issues of theology, philosophy, ethnicity, family order, public education, or government. Continue reading

Too catholic to be Catholic – Peter Leithart


As one who has heard, read, and appreciated Peter Leithart over the past few years, and who has recognize that Leithart values tradition and values a strong ecclesiology, I was particularly fascinated to read his account of why, in light of those values, he will  not become Roman Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox). I find this, on the face of it at least, a valid objection to a Protestant joining one of these older, closed communions. It seems a reason to pause, however much a Protestant (especially of the frustratingly amnesiac, hyper-pragmatic “evangelical” variety) may wish to affirm the greatness and integrity of much historic catholic theology and practice.

The executive summary of what Leithart argues here is this: true ecumenism is incompatible with joining either Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Here’s a sampling of his thought on this score:

“Here’s the question I would ask to any Protestant considering a move: What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople?  Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome? Continue reading

Behold: an evangelical theologian who wishes to medievalize evangelicalism–as I do!


A fascinating evangelical proposal to return to a medieval "sacramental ontology"

A week or so ago, I stumbled fortuitously on a book review in the pages of Books and Culture. Or to be more precise, on the glowing screen of B&C‘s website. This was a review by a Wheaton art historian of a book by the J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, BC. This is an exciting book for me, as it handles with great historical and theological sophistication the themes of earthiness and embodiment, Creation and Incarnation, that have floated to the surface of my own attempt to write about a “usable medieval past.”

The book is Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (2011). I find it rich enough that I would like to blog on it here in the coming weeks. What did Wheaton art prof Matthew Milliner say about it? Here’s a sample: Continue reading

On pulling evangelicals back from the brink of Catholicism – Mark Galli’s wise words


Holy Spirit

Image by Barking Tigs via Flickr

Mark Galli, I love you as a brother in Christ. As managing editor in the flagship evangelical Protestant publication, Christianity Today, you have presented an impassioned and powerful case for why evangelical Protestants tempted to cross the Tiber and join with the Roman Catholic Church should think twice . . . and then remain in the evangelical fold. While I balk at some of your historical characterizations, I affirm your central point.

A word on those historical characterizations. Mark assert confidently: “Huge segments of the church were bound to the chains of works righteousness before the Holy Spirit ignited the Reformation.”

Really? “Huge segments”? While at Duke University (fountain of all wisdom, funded by tobacco money . . . and surprisingly loyal, in at least many parts of the Divinity School, to the Great Tradition), I learned different from David Steinmetz, the (Protestant) historian of the Reformation at Duke . . . unless, David, I interpreted your lectures wrongly:

Continue reading

Good to know that Leadership Journal is in the hands of People Who Read Dead People


If someone has been dead for a while and his book is still in print and widely read, then it’s probably worth reading. And, if we’re honest, there are precious few books written by Christian authors today that will still be read in 24 months, let alone 24 years. I want to use my reading time to immerse myself in powerfully formative material, and not just flash-in-the-pan trends. Does this mean I never read living authors? No, of course not. But if they’re not dead, I like them to be pretty close. I can usually trust that they’re not going to waste what time they have left on this earth writing sappy Hallmark card sentimental Evangelical fluff.

So says Skye Jethani, senior editor of Christianity Today International’s Leadership Journal. I’m sure hanging around LJ executive editor Marshall Shelley, son of the late great church historian Bruce Shelley, has reinforced this commendable preference for history. Whatever the case, it’s good to know that the editors of this important evangelical magazine are inclined to judge the faddish, voguish, trendy, flashy, evanescent words of self-proclaimed leadership wallahs at the bar of history. Vive l’histoire!

The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part IV, conclusion


Continued from “The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part III

Early 1800s - evangelical preacher at camp meeting

Preaching prowess

Certainly prowess in preaching—or at least the appearance of spiritual power attending preaching—was highly valued by Methodists writing about their dear departed. Of Rev. Cicero L. Dobbs it was said:

Brother Dobbs was no ordinary preacher.  He preached a pure, simple gospel that was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Continue reading