I was thrilled to have Mark Galli, a Senior Editor at Christianity Today, respond to my critiques of his insightful essay on evangelicalism. I asked him if I could repost his comment here, and he graciously accepted. My reply is at the bottom.
Matthew, thanks for the careful reading and reaction to my piece—and, of course, for bringing it to the attention of your readers. One reason I follow this blog is it’s willingness to do more than drive-by shootings, but to engage more deeply and thoughtfully in issues before us.
I hardly think my take is the only nor necessarily the most incisive, but I think it is true as far as it goes, and more conversation about the issue (short of navel gazing) should prove helpful. A few points of clarification and/or further discussion:
“Galli doesn’t say it, but by framing theology within the context of our ecclesiastical struggles…”
I would not call such struggles “ecclesiastical” (though I wonder if the word meant is “ecclesial”). To my mind, evangelicalism is not in whole or in part a church; it is a movement of like-minded Christians who come out of a variety of church traditions. As such, the later concerns about “the Church” I don’t find germane to this essay.
Thus I am not trying to locate “the church” but only us as individuals and as members of one sub-movement or another at Golgotha. Given the point of the piece, the Cross—vs. the Ascension, Pentecost, and so forth—has to be at the center of the piece because I’m trying to draw out a Lutheran/Barthian paradox that right now we evangelicals stand on the razor-edge of both judgment and grace.
In some ways this is, as noted, “only the starting point” but Matthew’s inclusion of the word “only” (perhaps inadvertently) suggests one problem I’m trying to address—grace as assumption, an “of course,” a given, a mere prolemgomena, something we can acknowledge and move on from to get to more substantive matters. If we do not grasp that this “starting point” is also the middle point as well as the end point—the “impossible possibility,” a supernatural miracle which leaves us dumb struck and in awe—well, all the pnuemetological character of the faith will become nothing but abstract mysticism.
As for the supposed “obligation” to attend to the “pragmatic aspect” in future issues: since I’m talking about grace, I am implying faith, and in implying faith, I am implying obedience. Instead of “acquiescing to the problematic methodology” I am critiquing, it may be that I am trying to follow the biblical teaching that indeed there is no faith without works. The issue is not the horizontal as such; it is the idolatry of the horizontal.
In fact, there is no evangelicalism without the horizontal: evangelicalism is a movement of like-minded pietistic activists. We have never left our respective rooms and gathered in the “mere Christian” hallway (to use the image of C.S. Lewis) to merely worship and bask in God’s grace—but always to do something. We simply cannot not talk about the horizontal. The horizontal is the movement’s charism. But it becomes “empty works,” idolatry, “works righteousness,” and even Pelagianism if Christ-centered grace does not precede, sustain, and conclude its activism.
This Christocentricism must be a regular feature in our life together. And so the closing admonition is a good one—as is the larger theological vision of the Ascended Christ and the role of the Holy Spirit. Our activism, our works, our transforming work and our transformation, should point like John the Baptist in Grunewald’Crucifixion, to Christ.
Does this make sense, or have I missed some crucial point?
Thanks for the kind words, and the clarification. They are both much appreciated.
I’m still working through many of these issues, and you’re much further down the road theologically than I am. I really appreciate the clarification that your not concerned with ecclesiology in your essay. I misread you on that, and I apologize.
In fact, thank you for the gracious smack-down. It’s not often that I read a critique of something that I write and find myself nodding in agreement as much as I did here.
That said, while I was clearly interpreting “evangelical” in such a way that it had ecclesial connotations (under the mistaken notion that ‘ecclesial’ and ‘ecclesiastical’ could be used interchangeably), I wonder whether the fact that you used it strictly of individuals is at the core of the problem you are identifying. Grace must be experienced and articulated in an ecclesial context if it is going to maintain its vitality and evangelicals are going to avoid the traps that you identify. But you hint at that when you discuss the preached Word and our inductive Bible studies, which is (perhaps) the source for my misreading.
Additionally, I still have a few worries about where we stand when we look at the cross, even as individuals. In the Episcoaplian liturgy of Holy Week, for instance, they extinguish the Christ candle on Good Friday so that we can identify with the disciples. I think that practice is problematic, as the subsequent reality of the Resurrection and Pentecost definitively change the way we look at Christ. We can’t stand at Golgotha, at least not the Golgotha represented in Grunewald, as the only means we have of accessing the death of Jesus is in and through the resurrection power of the Spirit.
Our Christocentrism, then, needs to be of a different sort than Luther or Barth’s (or the medieval Catholics). It needs to be pneumatologically powered, a point which while present in Luther and Barth, seems to often get pushed to the background (at least in my understanding). Calvin and Wesley are much better on this issue, I think.
I think, though, that there’s probably not much real disagreement here except on matters of presentation. But those matters…matter.