Afternoon coffee 2017-09-12 – Nashville and speaking Christianly

Matthew Lee Anderson, “Evangelicalism’s flight 93 moment: Reflections on the Nasvhille statement” at Mere Orthodoxy = Anderson went quiet for a while in order to concentrate on his doctoral studies. Either he graduated or is far enough along that he can return to writing. Good. A longish article that is difficult to summarize. If I understand it correctly Anderson critiques the conservative evangelicals who signed the recent Nashville statement that seeks to affirm traditional Christian teaching on sexuality. Anderson does not – at least not that I can tell – criticize what the statement says. So much as he critiques (1) how the statement says which (1b) reflects in part what it says and (2) those who signed it for not giving adequate attention to conservative evangelical critiques of the statement. So progressives and progressive Christians fell over themselves to attack it. Sure. And I appreciate how Anderson responds to that.

While more sober criticisms contained enough truth to sound respectable, they were soon overwhelmed by farcical counterstatements that reaffirmed the progressive sexual ethic is not recognizably Christian. Their pseudo-theological dressings mean you have to squint to see what they really want: polyamory. Which is mildly disappointing, I must say. A paganism undefiled by the trappings of evangelical formalism would be more fun than the lukewarm, ‘respectable’ version on offer. Progressive Christians should put down their Enneagram charts and make paganism great again. After all, I can think more enjoyable ways of fighting to make polyamory permissible than releasing a statement.

More importantly there are conservative evangelical voices (and some traditional Christian voices that are not evangelicals) that Anderson argues are largely being ignored. And that is a problem. One key point is that evangelical Christians should first confess and repent what we have done and not done. And then we can dare catechize fellow Christians on sexuality. Anderson later on in his article points out parts of the statement that appear to single out gay Christians who adhere to traditional Christian teaching and practice. Perhaps one can summarize that the statement is peculiar in and of itself. And especially in terms of how its signers and supporters defend it. Including against conservative evangelical critique.

In short: the Nashville Statement is more apt for catechesis in our endless culture war than the confident, faithful affirmation of the Gospel within our churches. We know it is more apt for such a purpose partly because that is how its defenders have used it, contrary to their claim that it is not a “culture war document.” The statement’s affirmations and silences, its form and its presentation are consciously designed to reach as broad an audience as our media allow. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But it is literally unbelievable that the drafters are “astounded” by the attention they have received. How precisely does one write a statement announcing a crisis, and then claim to be surprised when controversy ensues? When Owen Strachan touts the statement made “national news” for purportedly non-controversial beliefs, it’s hard to not wonder: Is it possible they have had their reward in full? 

One last point. Along the way and toward the end Anderson addresses the issue of good intentions and how both progressives and apparently evangelicals use them as a catch all excuse and defense.

The appeal to intentions in order to settle matters of dispute is a shibboleth in evangelical circles, but there are (at least) two deep, relevant problems with it. First, it is ironically a close cousin of the ‘spirit of the age’ that the Nashville Statement so forcefully denounces. One person ignores the social and material conditions of their bodies and angelically asserts they have a different gender; another ignores the social and material conditions of their words and angelically asserts that they have meant something different than what we heard. Such a principle is self-exonerating; it means no one can be wrong about what they have done, because their private, inaccessible intentions are the final arbiter of what they’ve done. It is a principle that subsequently breeds deep self-deception and insularity, as it is a trump card that ends disagreement and dissent.

If Anderson is correct this is a serious problem. It is one of the reasons for my suspicion of “progressive” cultural politics and religion. “We mean well” we hear from people who sometimes say things that are foolish and heretical and who – to be blunt – sometimes hurt people and wreck churches. (Disclaimer – I am not saying “progressive” politics or religion are always bad or abusive. I am saying that over the last few years I observed and experienced foolish and hurtful being dished out by progressives. Who mean well.)




About Rickwright67

I am the pastor of a Methodist church, spent 18 years ministering with internationals, as an adjunct taught Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew, husband and dad, love astronomy, space exploration, science-fiction, computers, animals, cinema, and more.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Ecclesiology, Logic and Reason, Marriage, Rhetoric, Sexuality. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Afternoon coffee 2017-09-12 – Nashville and speaking Christianly

  1. Rickwright67 says:

    Thanks for leaving a comment. I agree and disagree with parts of it. (1) The church where I served for a long time, the last few years was largely controlled by a handful of openly “progressive” people, became an increasingly oppressive environment. I shunned Southern Baptists for years because of the takeover, then started hanging out with them again, mainly because they persisted in being kind. In one year among Southern Baptists I experienced vastly more encouragement, support, friendship, collegiality than during eighteen years among progressive Baptists. In my experience progressive Baptists don’t always live up to their own rhetoric.

    (2) I notice how often progressive Baptists point to the takeover of the SBC as their catch all rationale. At some point that rhetorical card starts to wear out. I know about the takeover, I’ve read the books, my professors left SBC seminaries, my wife went through it. The current reality is not perfect, but Southern Baptists are much better than how progressives talk about them. Because we disagree strongly with them on a few key issues doesn’t mean they fit the caricatures progressive Baptists sometimes toss around. We demonstrate how much we have lost the virtue of reverence.

    (3) The excesses of the French aristocracy do not excuse the brutality of the Revolution. “Every revolution carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction” (Frank Herbert, Dune). This is a blind spot for progressive Christians. We often become what we hate. And become (like) the enemy or even worse. Progressive Christians are unaware how much they imitate conservative takeovers. I have experienced this first hand. Progressive theology and behavior need to stand on their own merits.

    TS Eliot commented on liberalism’s greatest problem =

    That liberalism may be a tendency towards something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards, something definite.

    (4) It’s fine if you regard the Nashville Statement as a blunt instrument that hurts and destroys. However there’s no way it is “meant” to do that, that those who wrote and signed it *mean* to hurt and destroy. Just as progressive Christians don’t mean to abuse and oppress anyone outside a one point deviation from their place on the theological spectrum. That’s precisely the point Anderson makes. Progressive and conservative Christians alike abuse the good intentions card. “Yeah but we mean well”. And (depending on your point of view) they leave a trail of wounded souls and wrecked churches.

    I attended a moderate-liberal seminary and was the “top” graduate of my class. I considered myself a moderate Baptist Christian. My last year at an increasingly “progressive” Baptist church was… extremely unpleasant.


  2. Rickwright67 says:

    One of my “policies” is sometimes to let people write what they have to write without me responding ad infinitum. You write from your experience, and mine is different. My experience of Southern Baptists (whom I used to avoid) has been vastly more positive than my experience among “progressive” Baptists.
    I am regularly forced to ask the difficult question why some people think it is important to be part of a church where they disagree so strongly with what most of the people profess.

    You ask “how would I like it?” (1) I don’t like it (2) in my experience progressive Christians don’t even like it when people leave, and aren’t terribly open about their true agenda, partly because they don’t want people to leave and take their tithes and offerings with them and…

    (3) “My way or the highway”? They never spelled out the choice quite so openly. One side “won” and is calling the shots. In any case I left. I chose the highway. So have others over the last few years.

    You raised the issue of churches thriving, and the church I left is rapidly shrinking. Your second comment largely repeats your first, and I cannot tell that my first reply made any difference. Which takes us back to my second sentence. I ran into this regularly at the increasingly liberal church where I served. “Southern Baptists this and that” and what they describe simply doesn’t match my experience. At such point there’s nothing more I can say, when people are determined to view their theological opponents a certain way. Your first reply does not seem terribly connected to the post or the article to which it refers. My impression is that it touches on something larger and you wanted to vent and take swipes at more conservative Christians for taking a stand and parting ways with moderate or even “progressive” Baptists. Which is fine but also means your comments are an attempt to take the topic of this post in another direction and to sermonize for your own cause and concerns.


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