THEOLOGY & Can the church be both holy and sinful?

by Brian P. Flanagan, America: The Jesuit Review, 10/22/18 and author of Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church (Liturgical Press, 2018).

The Holy and Sinful Church

Catholics in earlier centuries, while maintaining faith in the holiness of the church affirmed in our creeds, were willing to name its failings, including those of its members, its leaders and its communities as a whole. In the midst of the Pelagian controversies of the fifth century, for example, the Council of Carthage in 418 (attended by St. Augustine) taught that when Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, all Christians—without exception—had to ask God “to forgive us our trespasses” in their own voice and not on behalf of some other people, as though they were sinless themselves.

… when Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, all Christians—without exception—had to ask God “to forgive us our trespasses” in their own voice and not on behalf of some other people, as though they were sinless themselves.

Christians did not hesitate to call out the sinfulness of their leaders, as in the quote attributed variously (though likely erroneously) to St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom and others that “the road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring bishops.” Even cardinals were not exempt; according to one medieval folk tradition, a cardinal’s soul was released from purgatory only when his galero, the wide-brimmed red hat hung from the ceiling of the cardinal’s church after his death, finally rotted enough to fall to the floor.

Why, then, in recent years have Catholics been so hesitant to speak clearly and candidly about the church as sinful? For a few reasons—some praiseworthy, some problematic. The first is our firm belief in the holiness of the church. On the surface, it seems that ecclesial sanctity and sinfulness are mutually exclusive—and, in important ways, that is true. The participation in the life of God that we call “holiness” precludes sin, and in the fullness of life that we can look forward to in the reign of God we will be freed from every stain of sin and every shadow of death.

Yet, as St. Augustine taught so well, in our current time between the ascension of Christ and his return in glory, the church is always a “corpus permixtum,” a mixed body of saints and sinners, including serious sinners who remain part of the church even in a limited way. The struggle for greater transparency to God’s grace and greater freedom from sin also goes on in each one of us who prays the Our Father daily; each of us is aware of our need for forgiveness to live a more holy and free way of life. That experience of the church as a mixed body and of ourselves as sinners who are already holy yet still saints-in-progress is part of the reality of a holy and sinful church.

… the church is always a “corpus permixtum,”  – St. Augustine

Read more at … Can the church be both holy and sinful?

THEOLOGY & 5 Five observations and a summary definition of what Matthew (Jesus) meant by “hypocrisy.” #ScotMcKnight

by Scot McKnight, Pathos, 8/8/18.

…Hypocrisy is:

1. Inconsistency between what one teaches and what one does (23:3-4)

2. Desire for prestige and power and congratulation (23:5-12)

3. Abuse of teaching authority through both false teachings and false practices (23:13, 15, 16-22, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28).

4. Overconcern with minutiae and lack of focus on the major issues (23:23-24, 25-26, 27-28): that is, moral myopia.

5. Inconsistency between appearance and practice (23:27-28).

Put together, Jesus accuses the Pharisees for “hypocrisy” because (1) they had abused their teaching authority by teaching false things, (2) not living according to what they taught, and for (3) their desire for power and control. In addition, (4) their teaching was a focus on minor issues to the neglect of major issues.

They flattened the Torah into a listing of God’s will while Jesus saw love of God and love of others as the center of that Torah. If the Pharisees saw love as one of the commandments, however important, Jesus saw love as central and everything as expressive of that love. This reorients all of the Torah, all of teaching, and therefore all of praxis.

To be “hypocrite” is to be a false teacher who leads both self and others astray from the will of God. The term should not be limited to “contradiction between appearance and reality” (the classic definition of hypocrisy)…

Read more at … http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/05/26/heretic-vs-hypocrite/

 

HALLOWEEN CAVEAT: How CS Lewis and Harry Potter view evil differently.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Popularity of “evil characters” (e.g. “anti-heroes“) in movies, books, media, etc. coincides with the increasing popularity of Halloween. In such instances, popular entertainment often frames evil as some thing or some being “outside of yourself.”  You must react to this evil outside of yourself and you must defeat it (e.g. Harry Potter saga, fright houses, horror movies, etc.).

Yet, the scriptures portray evil as more often something within ourselves.  It is an “inner danger” which will be overcome only if we act rightly.

Jeremiah 17:9-10 The Message (MSG)

9-10 “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
    a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart
    and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
    I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
    not as they pretend to be.”

we are born with.

Galatians 5:17-18 The Message (MSG)

16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

CS Lewis got this. Note this comparison between Lewis’ view (which I view as a more biblically valid view) and the outlook in Harry Potter books:

Harry Potter books … If you compare them with the Narnia books of CS Lewis it is very notable that the Potter books are much more dangerous for the heroes. Lewis is far more concerned with inner danger. His heroes know they will be victorious if they only act rightly…  –Andrew Brown, The Church of England should learn from Harry Potter this Halloween, The London Guardian, 10/31/18.

CHURCH EXIT & New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers #LifeWay

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In my consulting on church change and church revitalization, I sometimes encounter a judicatory leader or a parent church that will want to change another church’s theology. But, research indicates that you must be very careful in doing so.

I have observed that churches many times grow around a specific theological viewpoint. Sometimes that theological view is in error, unorthodox, schismatic or heretical. In those circumstances it must be changed.

But in my experience I have also seen churches that, while they may have primarily orthodox beliefs, have a unique view on (what John Wesley would call) nonessential theological points. These might include issues such as charismatic gifts, healing, modes of baptism, etc.

In such latter circumstances, the research cited below indicates that we should move cautiously when changing a theological perspective if it is not an essential orthodox belief … or church exit might occur.

Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers

Don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers
Image: via LifeWay Research

… Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher.

But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.

Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.

Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.

“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”

Churchgoers stay put

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers—those who attend services at least once a month—to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.

Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.

Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.

Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure.

“Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor,” said McConnell.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/july/churchgoers-stick-around-for-theology-not-music-or-preacher

SOCIAL MEDIA & How, in the words of #Luther, it increasingly “curves us inward on ourselves.”

“Social Media and Sin” by A. Trevor Sutton, The Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School, 4/4/18.

…Religion may offer an important explanation as to why this social media platform is so problematic both for society and for individual well-being. Human depravity, original sin, and concupiscence are perennial themes, for example, within the discipline of Christian theology. Augustine and Martin Luther are known for describing the human condition as incurvatus in se (“curved inward on oneself”). Rather than living a life that is aligned toward God and others, human sinfulness directs our life inward, toward self-justification, self-gratification, and self-aggrandizement. The notion that sin has warped, twisted, maimed, and ruined human goodness is as ubiquitous in theology as Facebook is in modern life.

The burgeoning field of user experience design (UX), when put in conversation with the theological notion of human depravity, helps to put the problematic nature of social media into sharp relief. A central concern within UX is user-centered design. As the name suggests, user-centered design advocates for designing with end users in mind. That is to say, technology is designed to acknowledge and accommodate the needs and wants of the user, as designers seek to maximize user experience by creating products that are built around the user’s desires. User research is responsible for nearly all the design decisions at Facebook. In fact, there is an entire department at Facebook dedicated to Human Computer Interaction and UX. Teams of people at Facebook are thus dedicated to researching, and finding ways to capitalize on, the individual behaviors, thoughts, and impulses of users.

Donald Norman, a formative figure in user-centered design, has recognized how designers actually aim to facilitate human sinfulness through that which they design. In the foreword to a book by Chris Nodder, Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation, Norman writes: “But why should design be based on evil? Simple: Starting with evil means starting with real human behavior … And good design results from good understanding.” Norman’s point is rather simple: good design understands users, and it must therefore also consider the depravity of users.

This means that, according to user-centered design, human sinfulness ought to be accounted for and perhaps even exploited when creating products for the digital age. According to Nodder, designers must ask themselves the question: “how do we influence behavior through the medium of software?”

Theology recognizes that human hearts are curved inward, inclined to boast, and always looking for opportunities to prove their own self-righteousness. Human-computer interaction, UX, and user-centered design recognize that social media platforms should be designed to meet the wants and needs of real human users. Putting these two concepts in conversation with one another reveals why Facebook can be so dangerous. Facebook’s technology is designed to accommodate, encourage, and exploit human depravity. The “Like” button on Facebook is not there by chance; the “Like” button was created to satisfy our deep longing to be liked by others, lauded for our accomplishments, and acknowledged for our righteousness…

Resources

– Allen, Mike. “Sean Parker unloads on Facebook: ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains’.” Axios. November 9, 2017.

– Murphy, Mike. “Why Apple’s Tim Cook doesn’t want his nephew to use social networks.” MarketWatch. January 22, 2018.

– Nodder, Chris. Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation. Wiley, 2013.

– Wong, Julia Carrie. “Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart.” The Guardian. December 12, 2017.

Read more at … https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/social-media-and-sin

#GCRN2018 #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork

 

THEOLOGY & The “quadrilateral” … What it means and how its 4 distinctive qualities define “evangelical.” #Bebbington #AlanYeh

by Emma Green, The Atlantic Monthly, 3/12/18.

… Most of the writers in “Still Evangelical?” (ed. Alan Yeh, Biola Univ.) rely on a definition first published by the scholar David Bebbington in 1989, called a “quadrilateral” for its four distinctive qualities. According to Bebbington,

  • evangelicals place the truth of the Bible at the center of their faith;
  • they focus on Jesus’s atonement for sins on the cross;
  • they emphasize a personal experience of conversion or salvation;
  • and they believe they must actively share the gospel and do good in the world.

Read more at … https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/still-evangelical-trump/554831/

MOVIES & How a Hollywood producer uses Oscar season to teach theology

by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 2/15/2015

As a producer for blockbuster films in both the X-Men and Star Trek franchises, Ralph Winter is no stranger to the world of movies. As a devout Christian who once considered going to seminary and becoming a pastor, Winter also knows about teaching theology. It’s no wonder he has combined both…

During Oscar season, Winter often teaches a class at his church on some of the nominated films. “When I am in town, I love doing my class on the best picture nominees and how they match up with what we believe,” he says. “Much like a Bible study, you are simply asking what does it say, what does it mean, and what does it mean to me.”

…Using the same questions he asks as a producer to decide if a story needs to be told, he develops discussions that will help those in the class better understand and examine the meaning of the movie.

“Don’t get me wrong, the audience is very smart,” he told CT (Christianity Today). “They know intuitively if a movie is good or not; they just aren’t able to always articulate why. So the class is first about understanding and learning how to ‘read’ a movie. Then we can thoughtfully analyze each one.”

With the Oscars approaching, Winter gives three suggestions for the pastor or church leader who would like to better understand movies and equip their churches to do the same.

  1. Learn how to read movies, understand what is being said, and how movies can push our “buttons.”
  2. Dig a little deeper to see what the cultural significance might be with the story or similar stories being told.
  3. Develop discerning consumers in our church community, to see what movies connect us to the surrounding community, what challenges there might be to our faith beliefs, and ways to engage in dialogue and action in the community as a result—showing the world who we are…

Additional resources for understanding entertainment through a biblical lens:

The Stories We Tell—Mike Cosper
Hollywood Worldviews—Brian Godawa
Eyes Wide Open—William Romanowski

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2015/02/20/hollywood-producer-uses-oscar-season-to-teach-theology/