Christian Intellectuals

It would be valuable to have at our disposal some figures equipped for the task of mediation — people who understand the impulses from which these troubling movements arise, who may themselves belong in some sense to the communities driving these movements but are also part of the liberal social order. They should be intellectuals who speak the language of other intellectuals, including the most purely secular, but they should also be fluent in the concepts and practices of faith. Their task would be that of the interpreter, the bridger of cultural gaps; of the mediator, maybe even the reconciler.

Half a century ago, such figures existed in America: serious Christian intellectuals who occupied a prominent place on the national stage. They are gone now. It would be worth our time to inquire why they disappeared, where they went, and whether — should such a thing be thought desirable — they might return.

—Alan Jacobs, “The Watchmen”

At Least, Even If

OK, my little system is AT LEAST, EVEN IF. I provide definitions for religious concepts in the form of axioms in a manner that is compatible with naturalism (falsifiable and provable). Even in the sciences, we must admit we don’t have a complete understanding of most concepts, so AT LEAST could be applied to natural concepts too (the Universe, gravity, etc.)

Basically, this is a ground floor which doubt can dip no further. It allows us to always feel intellectually honest about pursuing God, religious ritual, fellowship and even Jesus himself.

God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial construct rooted in evolved neurologic features in humans. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace and empathy for others and is warranted.

Prayer is AT LEAST a form of mediation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.

The Bible is AT LEAST a set of writings where a people group describes their experience with and understanding of God over thousands of years. EVN IF that is a comprehensive definition of God, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.

Jesus is AT LEAST the idea of a man so connected to God that he was called the Son of God and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around his teachings; he was very likely a real person. EVEN IF this is all Jesus is, following his teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.

Structuralism’s nihilism | Peter J. Leithart | First Things

“Post-structuralism extends this nihilistic direction of structuralism, but deconstruction, like Foucault’s archeological or genealogical method, arises more directly from the failed promise of structuralism. In the hands of some practitioners, structuralism became another form of foundationalism that claimed to discover the ground of language and culture, and post-structuralists have come to doubt the scientific pretensions of structuralism.”

Structuralism’s nihilism | Peter J. Leithart | First Things

Exemptions

Creating exemptions for the Sermon on the Mount and explaining when and where Jesus’s teaching does not apply is fine (in theory, I suppose); but at some point you have to decide what Jesus DID mean with his kingdom imperatives on nonviolence and enemy love. Which is to say, we eventually have to ask ourselves what DID Jesus intend and when DO we need to turn the other cheek? If our default response to this portion of the Sermon on the Mount is to craft exemptions, we might give the impression that we really don’t believe in Jesus’s ideas of nonviolent resistance to enemy love AT ALL.

Brian Zahnd – A Farewell to Mars

Prophetic Energizing

The resurrection of Jesus is not to be understood in good liberal fashion as a spiritual development in the church. Nor should it be too quickly handled as an oddity in the history of God or as an isolated act of God’s power. Rather, it is the ultimate act of prophetic energizing in which a new history is initiated. It is a new history open to all but peculiarly received by the marginal victims of the old order.

The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann (107)

Good Liberal Fashion

The crucifixion of Jesus is not to be understood simply in good liberal fashion as the sacrifice of a noble man, nor should we too quickly assign a cultic, priestly theory of atonement to the event. Rather, we might see in the crucifixion of Jesus the ultimate act of prophetic criticism in which Jesus announces the end of a world of death (the same announcement as that of Jeremiah) and takes that death into his own person. Therefore we say that the ultimate criticism is that God himself embraces the death that his people must die.

The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann (91)

The Freedom of God

The point that prophetic imagination must ponder is that there is no freedom of God without the politics of justice and compassion, and there is no politics of justice and compassion without a religion of the freedom of God.

If a God is disclosed who is free to come and go, free from and even against the regime, free to hear and even answer slave cries, free from all proper godness as defined by the empire, then it will bear decisively upon sociology because the freedom of God will surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion.

The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann (18)

Dominant Conservative Misconception

The dominant conservative misconception, evident in manifold bumper stickers, is that the prophet is a future-teller, a predictor of things to come (mostly ominous), usually with specific reference to Jesus. While one would not want to deny totally those facets of the practice of prophecy, there tends to be a kind of reductionism that is mechanical and therefore untenable. While the prophets are in a way future-tellers, they are concerned with the future as it impinges upon the present. Conversely, liberals who abdicated and turned all futuring over to conservatives have settled for a focus on the present. Thus prophecy is alternatively reduced to righteous indignation, and… prophecy is mostly understood as social action.

The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann (12-13)

Outside the System

The principalities and powers will always seek to capture and enslave God in an attempt to use the name of God to underwrite current power arrangements. To go against the status quo, declare the powers, is to go against God… Consequently, before proclamation to human captives can be made – freedom to those being oppressed by current power arrangements – the prophet must dare to proclaim that God is not the spokesperson for the status quo, but rather stands outside the system – free – to speak a word of judgment.

The Slavery of Death – Richard Beck (120)