Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Resisting faith; Renewing faith

 Thinking about Vice Moderator Landon Whitsitt's idea for a new book:

When I began studies at Sacramento Junior College, about thirty-five years ago, the philosophy department was small. Classes often contained no more then five people and so there were fewer professors. One professor, in particular, has never faded from my memory. He was Presbyterian; I was not at the time, but I was a Christian. The professor had diabetes and was going blind. As we began modern philosophy we were stuck; he could not get past Augustine who he apparently loathed. And he planned, when he retired, to write a book disproving the Incarnation. I felt sorry for the downtown Presbyterian church where he taught the book of Romans.

This was an intriguing time for me because I was living in the midst of the Jesus Movement and as I watched hundreds of young people come to Christ I also watched the declining faith of this professor. He at one point was befriended by two of my young church friends who became his readers. We prayed together for him.

I have often thought, because of the professor, of how easy it is, in rejecting Christ or for that matter simply ignoring the essentials of Christianity, to miss the events swirling about us. And it surely has to do with a belief that the Christian faith evolves into something new as it aligns with each new culture. This is what I thought of as I read our vice-moderator, Landon Whitsitt’s, recent blog posting, Remix Reformation: A book proposal. It was at the end where he gives an abstract of what, perhaps, he is going to write about that my thoughts occurred. Whitsitt suggests that each church age is resistant to the new evolving faith:
At each stage of the advance, the form of Christianity that was prevalent resisted the progression of the faith. Notably, Protestant persecution occurred during the period of the Inquisition. Today, however, the extreme measures taken by the Inquisition simply would not fly. What has risen in its place is a vitriolic coercion in the defense of orthodoxy, which often takes the form of laying the blame of the decline of Christendom at the feet of progressive Christians.[1]

The only way for Christianity to move forward is to nullify and neutralize the neo-orthodoxy that is attempting to retain control.
Perhaps it is my love of history that prompts me to write about this. But both the present and the past are missing in the quote. The past that is missing is the understanding that the Reformation turned God’s people back to grace, justification, the word of God and faith. Martin Luther’s writings are full of Paul. Reading John Calvin is a partial reading of Augustine placed beside Paul. It isn’t that the Holy Spirit turns the Church back to an earlier day, but he does turn the church back to Christ, to the word, to faith. And persecution often follows those who turn, because the Spirit turns them to Jesus.

The present that is missing is the growth of Christianity in the global south and Asia. The growth is not a growth of progressive Christianity, but a growth of orthodox Christianity. And as usual, in the history of the Church, is the horrible persecution that meets that growth. There is in this post-modern world a very busy inquisition.

But are progressive Christians the cause of the decline of Christianity in the Western world? Maybe, partially, but it is undoubtedly the lack of fervor and passion among the orthodox. It is we, who must love our Lord with greater devotion. It is we who must be more often in his word. We must lift up the name of Jesus over all the ills of our broken world and our broken denomination.

I do not know if the philosophy professor was reconciled with the redeeming Lord, he died a few years later after I moved on to another university. But I do know the love of Christ endures in some older Presbyterians who found Christ in the midst of the Jesus Movement. That is a part of the history of the Western Church. Lord Jesus, renew again your Church.

[1] Whitsitt has changed neo-orthodoxy to Christian fundamentalism writing in a comment, "Perhaps “Neo-Orthodoxy” is not the term of choice. I am speaking of the religious dogmatists who are currently on heresy hunts for anyone not professing a strict, classical orthodoxy. What’s the term for that? I like Barth. I don’t see the world as he does, but I like what he’s doing. I’ve always been more of a Schleiermacher/Tillich fan."


Kevin T. Smith said...

Beautiful. Well put. Thank you.

Dave Moody said...

Schleiermacher, eh? Makes sense...

Viola Larson said...

It does make sense. Also Tillich ...

Debbie said...

I haven't read Whitsitt's post. But is he saying he thinks there are fundamentalists in the PC(USA)? Then he's becoming yet another progressive to either a) reveal either great ignorance about what PC(USA) orthodox believers actually believe, or b) reveal great ignorance about what fundamentalists believe, or else c) have the willingness to ignore the true definition of "fundamentalist" in order to make a what would be, in the PC(USA), a slur against PC(USA) orthdox. None of those would make him look good.

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Viola Larson said...

Debbie I am not sure. There is a link to his article in my posting. However, given what he says I believe he is at least equating orthodoxy with fundamentalists which wouldn't be true. He doesn't speak of the PCUSA in particular.

I think it would be helpful if he explained what he likes about the theology of Schleiermacher and Tillich. The reason I say this is because Schleiermacher did not believe in the deity of Christ-plus other things, and Tillich's "ground of being" is pantheism or panentheism.

Anonymous said...

I think it is revealing that Mr. Whitsitt thinks he or anyone can "nullify or neutralize" whatever it is he doesn't like (be it neo-orthodoxy or fundamentalism or some other bogeyman). It is also, I think, profoundly deluded to believe that doing such, even if it were possible, would be good for Christianity. The most revisionist churches are the ones that are falling the fastest. They have little to offer sin-sick people or a conflicted world. But my impression of Mr. Whitsitt is that he enjoys being provocative.

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Reformed Catholic said...

I'm wondering if he would have had anyone interested in his proposed book, had he not been elected vice moderator of the last GA.