Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Posts Tagged ‘Syncretism

Why the Final Episode of LOST was so Frustrating

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I feel like I’ve got to get this out of my system to justify spending 6 seasons watching a compelling narrative only to be severely disappointed.  WARNING, this will contain spoilers, read on at your own risk.

There were two things that were compelling about the LOST narrative:  it’s characters and it’s mythology.   I believe that humans are hard-wired for stories.  The most compelling stories are stories that illuminate some aspect of the Biblical storyline of creation-fall-redemption-re-creation.  LOST focused heavily on the brokenness, alienation, and self-destructive patterns of its characters/candidates.  We can empathize with the fallen condition of these characters – sons that didn’t measure up to their overly-expectant/deceptive/abusive fathers, addiction, purposelessness, and low self-esteem.  We can empathize with the arcing of their characters as they realize their brokenness is due to a lack of community and that when we ask for help, redemption comes.

My frustration with the LOST narrative is its re-creation (I am not prepared to speculate about whether the flash-sideways end state of most of the characters is purgatory, a kind of heaven, or some sort of eternal recurrence, so no comments there).   The fallen condition was redeemed through community and I was tracking with the arc of the storyline until the re-creation narrative (the final 10 minutes of the show).   One of the things I have thoroughly enjoyed throughout LOST has been its intelligence and inter-textuality, continually making reference to excellent works of literature and philosophy.  I share the same love for many of the authors referenced:  Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, Fyodor Dostoevsky, C.S. Lewis, and Søren Kierkegaard.  However, if the writers had even a cursory understanding of these writers (or philosophy in general), they would quickly dismiss the blatant syncretism of their own re-creation narrative.  Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, dismembers the ‘One God, Many Paths’ sentiment of our day, showing that it is reductionistic and dangerous to pretend we are all the same.  The quality of dialogue between Jack and his father was poor, the imagery was trite and reductionistic, and the final montage cliche.

My two cents, feel free to disagree with me…

Best Links of the Week

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Stephen Prothero, religion Professor at Boston University, deconstructs the reductionistic idea that all religions are fundamentally they same.

Amazing composite picture of the most recent solar eclipse.  Note the detail on the moon and the magnetic affect on the solar flares emanating from the sun.

Apparently, Google Streetview is also logging your Wifi information and MAC addresses.  This is not good if you care at all about privacy.  I certainly hope they reconsider publishing this information later this year.

10 Strangest Alternative Safes.

Stephen Hawking presents argumentation that belief in aliens is rational, mathematical.  If I affirmed macroevolution, I think I would be in agreement with Hawking on this point.

Incredible photos from Iceland and the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Andy Crouch (Culture Making) reviews James Daveson Hunter’s new book, “To Change the World

The Washington Times on “Financial Fascism

How Goldman Sachs Screwed Ghana”  Goldman Sachs has a number of folks in the Obama administration:  Gary Gensler (Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission); Mark Patterson (former Goldman lobbyist and Chief of Staff to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner); Robert Hormats (Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs); Stephen Friedman (former COO and Chairman of the Board of Goldman Sachs [he still sits on the board] now Chairman of the United State’s Presidents Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board); Henry Paulson (former CEO of Goldman Sachs, former Treasury Secretary, and chief architect of the nationalization of crappy securitized debt).  It should be noted that George W. Bush had deep relationships with Goldman Sachs.

And for your viewing pleasure, here is Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) skewering a Goldman Sachs Executive on one of Goldman Sach’s self-proclaimed “shitty deals,” it happened to be some CDOs: 

Best Links of the Week

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The Danger of an Unconverted Seminary

Which is your favorite?  Did I miss anything extraordinary?

1.  “The Danger of an Uncoverted Seminary” – a very worthwhile read, from a mainline perspective, on thedechristianization of the West and how seminaries ought to be adjusting to this shift.  We’ve never been more like the 1st/2nd centuries – pluralism, syncretism, and a world where the velocity of ideas was ever quicker due to new trade routes.

2.  Very disturbing Gallop Poll showing that 53% of democrat leaning voters think positively about “socialism.”  This is insanity.  People need to read history.  Also included in the poll were voters impressions of:  small business, free enterprise, entrepreneurs, capitalism, big business, and federal government.  Also, 63% of all polled (both democrat and republican) thought Barack Obama was a “socialist.”

3.  Google has been doing lots of stuff this week: “Is Google Planning to Add Storeviews to Google Maps?“;  “Google Creates Experimental Fiber Network…(capable of 1Gb/s)“; they also are launched an offensive on Facebook over their Gmail client – “Google wants to be Facebook and Facebook wants to be Gmail“.

4.  Ligonier has a huge compilation of links on the New Perspectives on Paul, from Turretin to present.

5.  Proposed Obama 2011 budget cuts could drastically reduce charitable giving from taking away line item deductions for those in 28% and higher tax brackets.

6.  A fascinating piece on First Things entitled, “Vampires and the Anthropic Principle.”

7.  First Things has an interesting info-graphic and analysis of the 210,000,000 Facebook profiles and friend networks:  “The Localism of Facebook Nation

8.  “The Government Has Your Babies’ DNA

9.  Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post writes on the fallout of the Amazon v. MacMillan.

10.  Only 4 men have been to all 44 Superbowls, here is their story.

11.  “Physicist Discovers How to Teleport Energy“:  infinite possibilities here.

12.  A very scary article from GQ about cell phone radiation and brain cancer.  The writer talked to several investment bankers in their late 30s/early 40s who have been using cell phones since the brick days… and have brain tumors.  This is not a tin foil hat, conspiracy theory article, it is cogently written.

13. Awkwardfamilyphotos.com – self-explanatory, hilarious, and definitely awkward.

14.  “The Beauty of Waves“:  series of photos from LIFE Magazine of beautiful waves.  Photography done by Clark Little.

15. Several people in the Philippines have been murdered by singing the triumphalist Frank Sinatra song, “My Way,” read the NY Times article.

16.  12 really random things you can buy on the internet (I fancy both the tanks and the giant floating hamster balls).

17. NY Times article on the ‘Shortage of Men on College Campuses.’

18.  Foxnews on proposed new government administration to study climate change.  File under:  big government and waste of money.

19.  NY Times Op-Ed chilling story on “The World Capital of Killing.”

20.  “Will the Baby Boomers Bankrupt Social Security” – CNBC article

21.  Ed Stetzer on potential upcoming shifts in pastoral ministry.

22.  Low intelligence second most important indicator (behind smoking) as predictor of heart disease.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Part 8: Contextualization

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Contextualization: Are you balanced?

Moving forward, I am not sure if there is a more important issue for evangelicals than proper contextualization (assuming we are holding to orthodox Christianity). Contextualization is the art of explaining the Bible (especially the Gospel) without sacrificing the message, to people with varying cultural distance everywhere in ways they understand.  We are always contextualizing; under/over-contextualization is still contextualization.  We speak differently to children than adults; Westerners, than the Near East, than the Far East.  Contextualization is far too big a topic for one post, so this post serves the purpose of barely introducing the subject.

There are two obvious dangers in contextualization:  Under-contextualization and Over-contextualization:

Under-contextualization [fundamentalism, traditionalism]

Under-contextualization occurs when we ignore real cultural differences that are barriers to understanding the Gospel.  The fundamentalists were notorious under-contextualizers.  The main mistake that most under-contextualizers make is stating that all contextualization is wrong.  The problem with this kind of statement is that we can never avoid contextualization.  Language is the carrier of culture.  If I speak in English (or any other language), I am contextualizing.  It is ethnocentric of the highest order to think that when you speak all people should be able to understand you.

Over-contextualization [syncretism]

I think it was Mike Glodo, who said that,

Missionaries are the best heretics.

His point is that as missionaries are advancing the Gospel in culturally distant places, they face difficult decisions on how to far to go to explain the Christian message.  Do you allow ancestor worship in Japan?  Do you allow polygamy?  Do you worship at the mosque as a follower of Allah and Isa (Jesus) in a Muslim country? Do you think there are believers in the Roman Catholic church, and if so, do you partner with them in Italy?

The great danger of over-contextualization is compromise.  We compromise the Gospel when we marry it to some other worldview/faith that is against the Gospel.  It is inappropriate for us to marry Christianity to modernism (as evangelicals have done for some time), post-modernism (as the emergent church encourages), or any religion Islam/Voodoo/Oprah-Tolle.  This is syncretism.

Most of us will not be facing questions of how far to go to evangelize Muslims in the middle East but we do need to think through how far is inappropriate in trying to seek the lost here in America.  On this matter, Gregg Allison (Southern Seminary) has a more substantive paper addressing contextualization in the emergent church that is worth reading.

Proper contextualization

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was famously quoted as saying (in reference to defining hard-core pornography),

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.  But I know it when I see it

I cannot define proper contextualization, but I know it when I see it.  Proper contextualization is an art and not a science.  Proper contextualization requires spiritual maturity.

If you were to spend time listening/watching a single treatment of the matter, I would highly commend D.A. Carson’s speech on contextualization in this video from closing message from The Gospel Coalition, 2009.  You can tell he has really though through the subject in his speech and that is likely do to his thoughtful book, Christ and Culture Revisited.  Here is a snarky little snippet from the Gospel Coalition message:

Paul refuses to circumcise Titus, even when it was demanded by many in the Jerusalem crowd, not because it didn’t matter to them, but because it mattered so much that if he acquiesced, he would have been giving the impression that faith in Jesus is not enough for salvation: one has to become a Jew first, before one can become a Christian. That would jeopardize the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus.  To create a contemporary analogy: If I’m called to preach the gospel among a lot of people who are cultural teetotallers, I’ll give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel. But if they start saying, “You cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol,” I’ll reply, “Pass the port” or “I’ll think I’ll have a glass of Beaujolais with my meal.” Paul is flexible and therefore prepared to circumcise Timothy when the exclusive sufficiency of Christ is not at stake and when a little cultural accommodation will advance the gospel; he is rigidly inflexible and therefore refuses to circumcise Titus when people are saying that Gentiles must be circumcised and become Jews to accept the Jewish Messiah.

The operative question is what is the proper relationship of the church to the world.  Ray Pennings has a nice summary of the four Reformed positions on the churches relationship to the world:

So to summarize the discussion within Reformed circles today: The neocalvinist says the fundamental presuppositions underlying the debate need to be changed if we are to have meaningful engagement. The two kingdom perspective responds that it won’t happen; when we try to engage in discussion, we end up calling things Christian that really aren’t, resulting in pride and a misrepresentation of the gospel. The neopuritans say that that is why we should avoid a systemic approach; we should focus more on the individual needs of our neighbors and show them, both in ministries of mercy as well as by positive examples, that faith makes a difference. The Old Calvinists say that in all of this activity, we are losing our focus and getting dirty as we dig around in the garbage cans of culture to retrieve a penny or two of value from the bottom. We and our culture need heart-surgery, not band-aids.

Here are a handful of other helpful articles/links:  Jonathan Dodson, and Hunter Beaumont.

Moving forward, my encouragement to evangelicalism is to think through this relationship thoughtfully.  This will require balance, which is the final subject in this series of posts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward.

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