Month: December 2012

Yoder’s call to missionary arrogance

Yoder is rewarding because he never says quite what I expect, or how I would expect it to be said. But is he right when he calls the church to missionary arrogance? My trajectory has been away from anything which smacks of that. Here is what he writes, back in 1963, collected in the new book of popular writings, Radical Christian Discipleship:

I do not intend to challenge the need for growth in modesty and cultural perspective, but I do intend to challenge the tendency to make a hobby out of a corrective. Today’s more urgent need is no longer perspective and modesty. What today’s world and church need most is a recovery of the missionary arrogance of the New Testament church. To arrogate (the verb from which we get the unpopular adjective arrogant) means to make claims for oneself or for one cause. If the claims we make are for ourselves, then it is understandable why we need to overcome our arrogance. But if the cause for which we are making claims is the cause of the one true God, then anything short of absolute demands is unfaithfulness. (p. 45)

I’ve met too many arrogant Christians arrogant about different things. Yet in the time since he wrote, surely he would only insist more strongly that the urgent need is ‘no longer perspective and modesty’? But which things to be arrogant about? Or maybe not ‘arrogant’ at all, in its normal usage – he is reclaiming the word, as he does so often. Instead, ‘make claims’ for the ’cause’: proclaim the kingdom without apologising.

(He was speaking to a Mennonite audience at Goshen. Would he have given the same address to an audience of conservative evangelicals? Maybe not, although I’m certain he would have given it to an audience of liberals for whom it would have been a hard saying.)

I need to digest this some more.

Fundamentalist tendencies in evangelical churches

Over at a Theology of Love, John Arthur recently quoted a blog post which seems to have disappeared in which the author, Bruce, writes that:

As much as Evangelicalism might seem and deny it, Evangelicalism is a Fundamentalist religion. Some Evangelicals eschew social Fundamentalism but ALL Evangelicals embrace theological Fundamentalism.

Bruce is somewhat right in as far as it is true that most evangelicals would affirm many of the same core beliefs as fundamentalists. Indeed, it is the attitude toward people who disagree which has always been a key distinction between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. There are other differences, though, and a wide spectrum on the issue of biblical authority that Bruce mentions later in the quote on John’s post.

I see fundamentalism as a thread which runs through almost every evangelical church – at least in Perth. The two movements can be separated and distinguished in their pure form, but in any church they exist in blended form. There will be at least some members of the congregation who are fundamentalist to a lesser or greater degree. (To a lesser extent, this could be said about liberalism in a number of evangelical churches too – the person sitting in a Baptist church who quite likes Spong, but this is less common.)

Roger Olson is a theologian I like a lot, and one of his talents is astute classification and unpacking of labels and movements; he wrote a great post on the difference between fundamentalism and evangelicalism back in April. He comes at the issue as a postconservative evangelical who a lot of conservative evangelicals would like to place outside the fold, but he provides a strong argument for why his brand of evangelicalism is a legitimate heir to the original neo-evangelicals.

In brief, I consider some of the fundamentalist tendencies typically found in evangelical churches to be:

  • Young earth creation (because of its anti-science obscurantism and its suspicion of biblical scholarship.)
  • Some forms of inerrancy – certainly not all of them – which make an idol of a certain uninformed reading of the Bible and reject even evangelical scholarship about historical and cultural background.
  • An attitude of separatism from people who disagree – this is the most important one; a young-earth-creationist who can respectfully disagree with others and not make it a test of orthodoxy is not so fundamentalist.
  • An obsession with predictive prophecy, Israel and/or the Book of Revelation. This is the one on the rise, probably even more so than young-earth creation.

The challenge is that even if a pastor is not fundamentalist at all, the members of the church are influenced by so many books, conferences, websites and friends that inevitably some of them will have picked up these ideas. Fundamentalist ideas will sit in the soup of people’s worldview alongside lots of other flavours. So it would be wrong to dismiss anyone as a ‘complete’ fundamentalist on the basis of one extreme opinion or reaction.

I’ll be interested in your thoughts and experiences, though I may not be back online for a couple of days.

Climate change scepticism and worldview dissonance

A conversation I had the other day has been on my mind ever since.

It was with an old friend who I don’t see that often, but whose intelligence I’ve always respected, and who I’ve always regarded as being moderate – especially for a reformed evangelical – and considered. He’s always been interested in hearing my outlandish opinions. The surprise was the revelation that he was a climate change sceptic, and a passionate one.

It went deeper than that, actually – my new understanding of his worldview is that he regards the ‘climate change industry’ and ‘alarmism’ are part of a leftist strategy – if not conspiracy. I was surprised to hear ‘the left’ used so pejoratively by him as he expounded on the left’s agenda of curtailing economic growth, redistributing income, and enforcing political correctness. This left you talk about as the enemy, I said at one point – I’m sort of a part of that. Not completely, but my  instincts tend to go that way.

I left burdened and exhausted by worldview dissonance. How was I meant to weigh up his objections to the climate change consensus? I’d encountered them before, reading The Australian every weekend, but my friend has more of a background in science than I do. I felt disturbed considering the world through his eyes and seeing so many things I value and strive for as worse than useless, as what was wrong with the world.

I remain convinced that climate change is a real and present danger, that a simpler lifestyle and society are the answer to many of our problems and that unchecked capitalism is a dangerous and cruel thing. Yet I am chastened, and I now fear, just as I thought that the environment had gone mainstream in churches, that there may be a powerful conservative backlash, not even coming from  fundamentalists but from evangelicals.

Worldview dissonance is an everyday occurrence for me, taking as I do the minority view on so many issues. Why not on this one? How do we ever make up our mind on anything? Should we trust our own judgements, when there are usually wiser and more intelligent people with a different opinion? Welcome to pluralism, hazard of a postmodern society where there is no consensus. Humility required. And put a face to every contrary opinion; there’s probably someone you love who holds it.

On The Road 54: Jesus is the centre of our faith

Finally finished the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand e-journal, On The Road, issue 54, “Jesus is the centre of our faith”, three months late but here at last. It’s a mix of the scholarly, the personal, and poetry. You can now choose from the traditional PDF version, or – as a trial – flowing text ebook versions from one of these links:

Some quotes as an entree:

“I suspect she just can’t be bothered with all my pharisaic like theological gymnastics just to get to a position to which she already knows in her heart to be true. She knows it to be true because she’s spent a life time trying to be like Jesus, rather than me who has spent a life time trying to wrestle with scripture.”
– Chris Summerfield

“There were many tragedies in the 20th century. Among the least spectacular but most significant was that we picked at the threads of our relationships so much, that we unravelled the entire fabric of many of our communities – and now find ourselves without the support we need from our human safety nets.”
– Dave Andrews

You can subscribe for free by emailing me – nathanhobby at


Quote: Tom Wright on the ‘delay’ in Christ’s return

The problem of the delay of the parousia is a modern myth. The problem is caused by liberal Christianity’s no longer believing in the resurrection, which means that the weight of God’s activity is pushed forward in time. There’s not much evidence that the early church was anxious about this. First-century Christianity didn’t see itself so much as living in the last days, waiting for the parousia, as living in the first days of God’s new world.

We are still awaiting the final outworking of what God accomplished in Jesus, but there are all kinds of signs to show that, though the situation is often bleak, we are in fact on the right road.