Misreading Tolkien and Misreading Scripture: Responding to O’Keefe and Reno

I am reading John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno’s Sanctified Vision for the independent study on hermeneutics and theological method I am doing this summer. I have found the book fairly helpful overall, and think the authors are right to commend the church Fathers as models for Biblical interpretation in many ways. The authors do good (albeit somewhat tendentious) work arguing for whole-Bible/“intensive reading” strategies and the validity of typology as part of theological method. When they come to allegory, though, their argument almost immediately goes off the rails with a deeply misguided interpretation of The Lord of the Rings. I offer a critique in two (brief) parts:

 

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Soma and the Silencing of Evangelicalism After Trump

In his novel Silence Japanese writer Shusaku Endo tells the story of two Portuguese missionaries in 17th century Japan. After initial pioneering work by Francis Xavier in the 16th century, a small native Japanese church had begun to flourish in the mid-to-late 16th century, possibly growing as large as 100,000 people. Then the government took a hard anti-Christian turn, closed the island to foreigners, and began a harsh regime of persecution against the Japanese Christians.

At the center of this persecution were small icons called fumi-e, pictured above. During the torture, the government officials told the Christians that all they needed to do to end it is agree to trample on the fumi-e, which was understood to be a way of renouncing the faith. To make sure it took, it was common practice in much of Japan to require former Christians to step on a fumi-e once a year. (Silence spoilers below the jump.) Continue reading

Reviewing Jonathan Leeman’s “Political Church” Pt 1

Other Posts in the Series:

A few months ago I asked my friend Joseph Minich if he’d be kind enough to review Jonathan Leeman’s Political Church for us. He said he would. And then wrote 9000 words about it. We’re going to run his review in its entirety, but we’re doing it over two days. Today’s first part is simply going to be a summary of Leeman’s argument. On Wednesday, Minich will turn to making a critical assessment of Leeman’s work.

Before handing things off to Joe, I wanted to take one paragraph to explain why we’re running a review of such length. The answer is simple: I expect ecclesiology to be one of the defining debates of our generation in the western church.

We’re at something of a turning point in the west. The old mainline denominations are failing. In one sense we all ought to say “good riddance” as nearly all of them have long since become apostate. In another sense, however, their loss is still devastating. These institutions are the oldest Protestant institutions in North America and they are collapsing before our eyes. Rome appears headed a similar route for the most part, although I expect there will be a few regions that remain more orthodox, thanks largely to the influence of orthodox bishops. (This isn’t intended as a slur against Rome; rather it’s simply an assessment of the fact that Francis appears to be pushing the church in a more episcopalian direction not only theologically, but in terms of its polity.)

What we are left with is evangelicalism—and evangelicalism is comprised chiefly of relatively new institutions that do not know their tradition’s history, do not have discernible mechanisms for learning their history, and do not have solid answers for questions of ordinary parish ministry, church life, and church governance. If the American church has a future, it will be because God is faithful to us and aids us in finding solid answers to the vexing problems of church life and governance.

Therefore, taking the time to think about these questions and to address them faithfully is important. So yes, we’re running a 9000 word book review. But we’re doing it because, first, we need to faithfully depict Leeman’s actual argument and, second, we need to interact with it critically. Whatever one might think of Leeman’s book, one must recognize the value of Leeman’s contribution to the evangelical conversation about the church. His book will, I hope, encourage many more  people to reflect on these questions carefully and deeply. I also hope that this review by Joe will help further that work. (NOTE: If it would be helpful to you, I will be uploading a PDF of the review that will be available when we publish the full review on Wednesday. So if you would rather read a print out than read 9,000 words on a backlit screen, we’ll have that for you on Wednesday.) On that note, I’ll pass it on to Joe.

Introduction

Daniel Rodgers has called our era an “age of fracture.” This expression captures the identity crises which exist among all institutions seeking to navigate their way through what is often termed “liquid modernity.” The “evangelical” community is no exception to this identity crisis. The diversity of its many self-professed adherents as well as the speed at which independent influences randomly and variously come together (or apart)  leads many to think that orthodox American evangelicalism is fundamentally ungrounded. Continue reading

On the Quirky Author Bio

If you’ve spent any amount of time online then you have come across a weird genre of online writing that we’re going to call the Quirky Author Bio. You’ll find them at the end of blog posts all over the internet. It goes like this: “So-and-so is a writer from (city, state) whose hobbies include cooking, reading, and poking badgers with spoons. He has a pet porcupine named Mr. Prickles and loves making home-brewed kombucha. His favorite word is ‘onomatopoeia.'” (NOTE: If the subject of said biography is a Christian male, the odds of the bio also including awkward or creepy references to the man’s wife and her physical attractiveness are ~60% with that figure rising to ~85% if the man in question is reformed.)

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6 Theses on Online Writing and Civility

Civility is being debated in the blogosphere once again. The impetus for the latest discussion is the recent firing of Matt Bruenig, a lawyer and left-wing online writer who used to publish with the small left-wing think tank Demos. Bruenig was fired recently after making some rude comments toward two women on Twitter, one of whom is the director of a major left-wing think tank, a long-time Clinton ally, and quite possibly Hillary Clinton’s future chief of staff. Vox has a good summary of the story. Continue reading

Reviewing “You Are What You Love” by James K.A. Smith

I’m pleased to run this guest review by Dr. Jeffrey Bilbro of Spring Arbor University of James K.A. Smith’s new book You Are What You Love. You can follow Dr. Bilbro on Twitter @jeff_bilbro.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Verses like this one are often cited to urge the importance of Christian worldview training. They seem to indicate that the Christian life is about thinking the right thoughts. Yet in the previous verse, Paul tells the Roman Christians to “present your bodies” to God, linking the way we use our bodies to intellectual renewal. Continue reading

Reviewing “Disrupted” by Dan Lyons

About two-thirds of the way through Dan Lyons’ new book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble my mind went, as it often does, to an excerpt from a Wendell Berry essay. The essay is “Two Economies” and in it Berry begins by talking about how the great problem facing us today is that our economies are not large enough to hold all of life. If there’s a fact that looms large throughout Lyons’ darkly funny new book, that is it. Continue reading

Housekeeping News

Hey all, here are a few brief housekeeping things I wanted to draw to your attention.

Secure Browsing

First, if you at the URL bar, you’ll see a padlock next to the URL for the website.

mere-o-secure

This is a sign that Mere O now has an SSL certificate, which is another way of saying the site is now secure. This has some benefit for us with ranking in Google, but the larger reason for that is so that we are able to receive online donations to help with our costs. Continue reading

3 Lessons from “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens”

I was planning to read Larry Taunton’s The Faith of Christopher Hitchens before reading Samuel’s review for us. His review made me push it to the top of my “too read” list. And then I got the thing and read it over two days, such was my delight with it. I’m not sure I recall the last time a book I expected to like enormously still far surpassed my expectations of it. Continue reading