Reformed Amnesia?March 31, 2013
Vinoth’s critique of The Gospel Coalition’s assumptions about the portability of their resources and ministries is, in my experience, very apt. The language of ‘Theological Famine’ is unhelpful hubris by a group who either don’t know, or do know but dismiss the character of theological activity in other places. As you say, Matthew, not ‘wrong’, but their materials demonstrate a lack of understanding of cultural and conversational diversity which would hamper the appropriation of their work in large sections of (for example) Australia – both in terms of marginalizing other gospel partners who don’t conform to TGC formula (so prescriptive as it is) and also in terms of those on the fringes of faith, those damaged by Christendom, and those who have complete ecclesial and biblical illiteracy – and these three categories account for roughly 90% of our population., not to mention important dialogue to be engaged with the 2% Muslim and 2% Buddhist components of our national sociological fabric.
Where it seems that TGC take the religious landscape of the eastern states of the USA as ‘normative’, missionally, we engage a whole different set of concerns, constraints and conditions here. I give my little island as an example, because many people often mistakenly think there is not much difference between our cultures- but if the gap is so great between our two nations, both colonized by the same empire within a few centuries of each other – with similar strategies of slave labour, indigenous anihilation and cultural dominance, how much more untranslatable must TGC scripts be in other places?
Here is a brief overview of what I find immediately unhelpful about the profile and bias of the Gospel Coalition.
(This data reflects the profile of their cited sources, both the blogroll and the regular contributors)
1) Geography: Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Tennesee, Kentucky, Cayman Islands, Vermont New York, Georgia, Texas.
TGC doesn’t even represent a good spread of states on the North American continent, let alone other continents. I’d be willing to trust that these guys have their ear to the ground in their own backyards – but they represent strange, distant, foreign, incomprehensible discussions. It does me good to listen in sometimes and try to get a feel for what is going on for others, just like I do here at vinothifes. But TGC don’t seem to realize how indigestible their answer to the so-called theological famine would be.
2) Gender: TGC lists 19 male contributors and 2 female. One of the females expresses her ministry only in partnership with her husband, and the other is distinctly tagged as teaching and ministering among women only. Of the scripture indexed sermon resources, 100% are by men. In parallel, women are portrayed in discussions about marriage (with men) and family. Beyond the statistical testimony, their commitment to complimentarianism is
3) Denominational Groups: Presbyterian, Baptist and independent churches and colleges alone are represented in the identified contributors. However, one contributor’s focus is the ‘conversion’ of catholics’, presented in a way which is disrespectful and discredits a significant expression of Christian faith, apparently not to be regarded as full brothers and sisters in the Christ, or at best with suspicion. Another writer derides Anabaptist traditions of peace-making in the hyperbole of ‘rewarding terrorists’. It is hard to see how these approaches don’t either shut down conversation with genuine gospel partners, or simply become inflammatory.
4) Preaching and clergy-centric.:The methodology of the Gospel Coalition boils down to a strategy which places all their theological health and missiological success bets on the same horse – the preaching of the male clergy. That this is promoted in a community of followers of Jesus is astounding. If there is one indispensible criterion of Christian faith, it is the incarnation and bodily death and resurrection of Christ. Our faith is not an apologetic or philosophical combat, but a witness to embodied and inspirited life. This is where our faith matters: in embodied lives, especially in the embattled bodies of the poor, abused and marginalized in whom we recognize the likeness of Christ, far more readily than the polished voices of indoctrinated orthodoxic tropes and referents.
5) The Gospel Coalition represents a strong proclamation of the theological heritage of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards and Spurgeon. If you search their website for these names, each of them delivers over 2000 (3000 in the case of Luther) citations. Just by comparison, Barth, Bonhoeffer and Chesterton score around 700, Bosch, 200; Moltmann, 61; Brueggemann, 32; and perhaps most telling…Gutierrez 11.
That this ‘reformationesque’ strand has a place in the history of Christian thought is undeniable. That it is only one strand, culturally constricted and no more ‘orthodox’ that other strands is also well remembered. That it is being currently effectively bankrolled by an affluent part of the world does not protect it from being a thin strand that – if remaining isolated will break. The integrated conversation that has been debated in the comments of Vinoth’s post is as important for the survival of the reformed voice, as it is for the whole weave of Gospel fabric.
Like Matthew I hope to witness fruitful conversation between diverse strands of faith.
Much has been written in recent days of the simple lifestyle of the new Pope. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he shunned the archbishop’s palace and chose to travel in public buses. A few days after being installed as Pope, he celebrated mass with the Vatican City’s gardeners and refuse collectors; and has opted to perform the traditional foot-washing ceremony of Maundy Thursday, not in St Peter’s Basilica, but in a juvenile prison in Rome.
However much we may disagree with the Vatican’s views on priesthood, celibacy and lay ministry, we cannot deny that the Roman Catholic Church regularly provides more examples of incarnational servant-leadership than any other Christian denomination. A prominent evangelist, apologist or mega-church pastor who lives like Pope Francis would be as rare as a snowflake in hell. A lifestyle that revolves around self-promotion, business-class/first-class air travel, conferences in luxury hotels and convention centres – this is…
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