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The Biggest Threat?

So, I’ve posted a few critical articles on Mark Driscoll lately, and as I’ve said before, I believe that his theology and practice is sub-Christian and a major threat to the gospel and its embodiment in the world.  However, this leads me to wonder, who do we consider the greatest threats to the gospel within the broad scope of the Christian community today?  What teachers, pastors, or theolgians do we find to most unhealthily problematize the gospel?  I’m curious to see who people might identify.  So, I pose the question, who, among today’s Christian teachers and preachers do you consider to be the most dangerous to the mission of the Christian gospel in the world today?  And why?


  1. It depends: Are we talking about influence or about the ideas themselves. There are a bunch of academics who have dangerous ideas but don’t have any influence on normal Christianity.

    My candidate for both categories is the always absurd John Shelby Spong. Say what you will about Driscoll, at least he doesn’t actively seek to uproot and denigrate much of the Christian tradition. If you need any more reason why Spong is dangerous, just take Rowan Williams’ words for it: “I cannot in any way see Bishop Spong’s theses as representing a defensible or even an interesting Christian future. And I want to know whether the Christian past scripture and tradition, really appears to him as empty and sterile as this text suggests”

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 5:24 pm | Permalink
  2. Oh yeah, Williams also said that Spong’s work was based on confusion and misunderstanding that he found “astonishing”.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 5:28 pm | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    The thing about Spong is that he’s such an idiot as to be utterly uninteresting. For that reason it’s hard to view him as much of a threat. I feel the same way about these neo-atheists (Harris et al.). The sorts of people who find what they have to say compelling were probably no threat to darken the door of a church in the first place and likely lack the intellectual resources to investigate Christianity in an honest way. For my money, it is the evangelical mega-churches of various flavors, from Hagee to Driscoll and the way that their egregious theologies end up filtering down in to the larger evangelical consciousness, to the point where they end up affecting even well-intending far less “radical” believers. The problem with the denial of any sort of robust interpretive faculty in the church is that people end up buying whatever the latest charismatic preacher happens to be selling, because he’s preaching from scripture, isn’t he?

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 5:54 pm | Permalink
  4. Hill, yeah BUT Spong has, to my great embarrassment and chagrin, had a great influence on both the clergy and laity in the Episcopal Church. His ideas are a threat to historic Christianity and he’s had the influence to unsettle at least province of a major Christian communion.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 6:14 pm | Permalink
  5. Rev. Mike wrote:

    This could take all night. When you consider the broad range of charlatans on TV today, it boggles the mind. From the other Mike Murdock to Robert Tilton, the entire “seed of faith” movement just boggles my mind. My blog has been active in spurts for the past few years, and as a result, I get about 11 hits a day on average. It’s unbelievable how many of them are Google searches for Mike Murdock, where people are looking for the TV preacher.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 6:26 pm | Permalink
  6. Hill wrote:

    James, I see what you are saying, but I’m much more inclined to view Spong as the fruit of the modern Episcopal Church rather than the other way around. Once you have an episcopacy willing to even consider tolerating someone like Spong, the jig has long since been up. Likewise, that any clergy would be taken in by what he had to say, which is ludicrous even from a secular point view, suggests that there were already massive problems. That he was a bishop in the Episcopal Church for over 20 years while being completely beyond the pale of anything that resembles Christianity in any form, much less Episcopalianism, is a travesty beyond comprehension.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 6:52 pm | Permalink
  7. Spong may be wrong theologically about 99% of the time, but when it comes to the one percent, the one lost sheep, banished from the fold and anathematized, he has proven himself to be utterly faithful to Jesus’ radical gospel of God’s scandalous love of the outcast.
    On the other hand, Rowan Williams, whose theology I agree with 99% of the time, is, in my view, lamentably timid in risking his neck for the 1% for fear of it ‘dividing the church’.
    I am sincere in wondering which of these two is the greater threat to the gospel today.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  8. roflyer wrote:

    Oh, I don’t know. Sure Spong is a total sell out, but I’m not so sure he’s the “biggest threat to the gospel.” At least he hasn’t totally sold out to American imperialism like Novak, Neuhaus, Elshtain, and the all the other flag waving idiots.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 7:49 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    The very suggestion that Spong and Williams could be compared as to their detrimental effect on the church is utterly appalling.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  10. Dale wrote:

    Benny Hinn, et all… (‘faith healers’)
    Joel Olsteen, et all… (‘motivational self-help in Christian dross)
    Spong, et all… (Christians that hate the bible… who would’ve seen this one coming?)

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    I’m with Halden. Your post defies comprehension.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
  12. dan wrote:

    I wouldn’t be able to identity any one greatest representative, but I think that the so-called ‘health and wealth’ gospel is probably the greatest internal threat to Christianity.

    This ‘gospel’ is achieving monumental growth in the two-thirds world (oddly enough, it seems to go hand-in-hand with the spread of global capitalism), and I think it wins based on numbers alone.

    However, there’s even more to it than that because I think that the megachurch methods (already mentioned above) and the self-help variant of Christianity (also mentione above) could all fit under the category of ‘health and wealth.’

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:11 am | Permalink
  13. Hill,
    That’s a good observation; it’s more fun to blame it all on crazy Spong.


    I’m all for welcoming or embracing or including or whatever flowery term you want to use to describe ministering to the marginalized, but not at all for the way Spong does it, and that’s precisely why he is a menace. For Spong, including those who have been previously shunned means disparaging and dismissing the entire Christian faith. So really he’s only welcoming those “lost sheep” into a bankrupt, sub-Christian faith. The ends do not justify the means, and so I cannot say that what you see as the 1% that Spong gets right is in fact right.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:23 am | Permalink
  14. Jon wrote:

    Obvious answer: Pretty much everyone on TBN.

    But I think the Prosperity Gospel is more of a symptom of something deeper that isn’t limited to just the health’n’wealth preachers. There is a general notion that being a Christian somehow means “blessings” and “happiness”, where I’ve actually had to experience a conversation between two people over whether or not it’s a sin for a Christian to be depressed. The Prosperity Gospel is simply an outgrowth of a kind of Christianity that promises God’s blessings, that offers promises about how life in Christ should look, but which amounts to gospel-flavored manure.

    In my mind it’s this kind of Christianity that’s most problematic, rather than just pointing fingers at individuals.

    Though… Joel Osteen is probably the poster boy for it (I decided to name a name).

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:57 am | Permalink
  15. BLDavis wrote:


    I understand the criticism of “American imperialism” (even if that has become an overused buzzword), but to call someone like Neuhaus or Novak an “idiot” is a bit unjustified. Perhaps you could demonstrate that Nuehaus is an idiot (not just in disagreement with you over “American imperialism” or “flag waving”, but an actual idiot) ?

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 6:22 am | Permalink
  16. Andrew wrote:

    Man, you people really just can’t help yourselves. You’re almost like fundamentalists. Who’s the greatest threat to the church? Those who feel like they need to point out who is the greatest threat to the church, with all the presumed authority of the Office of the Holy Inquisition.

    Please, get off of Spong’s back. The man is a bit of fresh air for a Christianity that is too focused on orthodox people like Williams, who has indeed been a problem too, if you want to call it that, what with his namby-pamby pandering in the controversy over homosexuality. While he may be a decent theologian, as an archbishop (and supposed leader), he has no spine.

    And for the record, Spong may spout-off a little nineteenth and early twentieth century liberal theology, but what he does do is something authentic for Christian faith–sit by the athetist and agnostic, and ask the questions they ask, and try to provide genuine answers (or no answers) that they can resonate with. If you want to call that problematic for Christianity, then go continue creating your little fideistic Christian enclave somewhere with the Stanley Hauerwases of the world and stop lambasting others who are trying to actually communicate authentically to those who live around us in the secular, postmodern world.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 6:57 am | Permalink
  17. Andrew,

    Of course all this depends on how you define “authentically” in your notion of “communicate authentically to those who live around us in the secular, postmodern world”. My point is simply that it is not authentic Christian communication when it denies Christ’s resurrection or the Scriptures, for examples. A dialogue with others that thinks it needs to do so is in my judgment namby-pamby and spineless. Thanks, though, for the suggestion of starting a fideistic enclave with Hauerwas, and the fact that you think that that would be a bad thing nicely confirms my suggestion why Spong is a threat.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 7:26 am | Permalink
  18. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I have no idea what that would look like.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 7:28 am | Permalink
  19. Hill wrote:


    Have you actually read Spong? Your characterization of what he is doing is utterly disingenuous. He denies the central tenets of Christianity (including a belief in a ‘theistic’ God whatever that might mean). He may be doing something authentic, but it has very little to do with the Christian faith.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 7:58 am | Permalink
  20. Nathan Smith wrote:

    There is no doubt that the prosperity gospel is the biggest problem in America if you look at the sheer number of people who consume it on a weekly (or daily, thanks to TV) basis. Spong is not even a theist, let alone a Christian. He makes a big splash with provocative titles to his his books, but they are so incredibly rhetorically empty that I find it hard to believe that many follow him wholesale. He preaches to what he calls the silent majority in exile, but I doubt he has all that large of a flock.

    That being said, he is both an effect and a cause of the current illness of the ECUSA (of which I am a member). I can only cringe at how many people have taken his ideas to heart.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  21. Scott Lenger wrote:

    I think that pseudo-theologians/teachers/pastors might present the greatest threat. Potential candidates could include:
    Oprah Winfrey
    Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh
    George W. Bush
    Barak Obama (yes he is far more theologically articulate than the others in this list, but the Christian undertones in his campaign’s message of “hope” are nevertheless quite problematic for me.)

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  22. Ted Grimsrud wrote:

    As an Anabaptist, I would see any Christian who separates belief and practice as a significant threat to the good news to which Jesus witnessed. I wonder if this would likely include most “orthodox” Christians insofar as they privilege doctrine (as in creeds and abstract ideas) over faithfully following Jesus’ teaching–a privileging that allows them to support violence in the face of Jesus’ message.

    The obvious examples would be Christian Right leaders such as Dobson, Robertson, and Neuhaus (and also, when he has written on an issue such as the death penalty, Antonin Scalia).

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  23. Halden wrote:

    This discussion of Spong reveals the utterly problematic nature of the whold discourse of “authenticity”. A healthy dose of Charles Taylor is needed here.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  24. Andrew wrote:

    James (and others),

    How is asking the questions of the atheist or agnostic not authentic? I submit that you are the one being inauthentic, since it seems that you would choose to ignore engaging the epistemological holes in theories of the resurrection (which of course Bultmann himself first pointed out), and ignore (almost inexcusably) the identity of the Bible as a man-made document, put together by men (not women) who had enormous political and religious power and advantageously used it to frame the canon we now have–their own interpretation, and not that of anyone else. Why is this so difficult? Biblical scholars point this out all the time as historical fact, though I figure you ignore them because they must be those shitty liberals whom you ignore at Hauerwas’ instruction since you’ve already drunk up all of that postliberal, traditionalist Kool-Aid.

    Who is the bigger threat here? Hauerwas actively encourages Christians to separate from the world (though he adamantly denies he does), because it is implicit in his blanket denunciation of democratic and theological liberalism. He can’t say something positive about democracy and freedom, or engage genuinely with postmodern philosophy (or any philosophy at all except ancient philosophy) to save his soul. Much of the positive things he might have to say (about capitalism and consumerism) get drowned out by how much he shouts the epithet “liberal” at the wind.

    If I want Christian authenticity, I’ll choose a theology and its proponents that either engages better with ancient philosophy (i.e., process theology, like that of John Cobb or Marjorie Suchocki) or with modern and postmodern philosophy (i.e., constructive theology, most importantly that of Peter Hodgson). I’m certainly not going to go with Stanley Hauerwas (or, for that matter, John Howard Yoder), who–for all the positive work they have done, such as Yoder’s refocusing on implications of discipleship–wouldn’t know what authentic, critical analysis of and interaction with the biblical text was if it came up and hit them upside the head.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  25. I tend to agree with something like Ted´s position, though maybe being even more critical of the established church. To me, Haldens way to frame the question seems to communicate a fear that “the church” might be led in the wrong direction, which presupposes that “the church” is basically sound accept for a few “false teachers” out there.

    My (anabaptist-inspired) view is that the established church/christendom/christianity is something other than the way of Jesus and the church Jesus is building. The established church is corrupt, since it doesn´t (generally!) train people to obey the instructions of Jesus. That doesn´t mean that there are no disciples within these structures, or that everything is satanic within the established denomination and churches. But generally speaking, christianity is in opposition to God´s Messiah.

    For this reason, I´m not that afraid of false teachers. The false prophets are dominating the established churches and the true believers/disciples of Jesus, are in minority.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink
  26. Halden wrote:

    I love the way “authentic” is being thrown around by Andrew. It perfectly illusrates the problem with the whole discourse. Charles Taylor’s The Ethics of Authenticity does a great job of deconstructing this modern notion and the reductionist ontology of the individual behind it.

    Also, any claims that Hauerwas (let alone Yoder) is unable to engage with democracy is simply misinformed or willfully ignorant. His latest book, Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, co-authored with Romand Coles shows just how seriously Hauerwas takes the traditon of radical democracy. I tend to doubt that Andrew has read much at all of either Hauerwas or Yoder given his silly comments. The idea that Yoder wouldn’t know what “critical analysis of and interaction with the biblical text” simply makes clear that he has not read Yoder’s voluminous and nunaced readings of the New Testament both in The Politics of Jesus and beyond.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  27. Halden,

    That was a bit cryptic…How can you seemingly agree with Spong be detrimental and then invoke Taylor? Are you suggesting that authenticity is not doctrinal? I agree it is not only doctrinal, that faithful praxis is a necessary component to fidelity, but such a point does not, I think, mean the irrelevancy of doctrinal commitments. I’m probably not well versed in Taylor enough to make sense of your “let the reader understand” comment.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  28. Halden wrote:

    Sorry, James if I was unclear. I don’t agree with Spong on anything that I’m aware of, except perhaps that racism is bad and that gravity is a real thing. What I mean about authenticity is the way in which Andrew is using it to describe some sort of semtimental, or interiorized notion of being true to oneself, or to certain seemingly self-evident liberal platitudes.

    Fidelity is absolutely central and I would distinguish it from authenticity. Fidelity is faithfulness and submission to an other. Authenticity, at least in contemporary discourse is a romanticized notion of being truly yourself. That, at least is what I take to be the substance of Taylor’s critique of modern identity and the discourse of authenticity that underlies it.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:32 am | Permalink
  29. Andy wrote:

    I don’t think anyone’s mentioned Tim LaHaye, but I would put him at the top (even above Osteen). The influence of his eschatology on Christians is impossible to overestimate. The danger of this theology in terms of environmental policy, foreign policy, not to mention missiology is insidious and rampant.

    I am a mainline pastor, and I would say that no matter what theologians may say about eschatology, almost everyone in the pews is a premillenial dispensationalist.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:33 am | Permalink
  30. jake wrote:

    From my perspective the biggest problems are from a number of theologians that are all in one club. These people are not academic theologians, they seem to frown upon acadamia and promote personal revelation as the highest form of wisdom.
    Joel Rosenberg, Hagee, Rushdoony, Robertson, Falwell and many more.
    They do not have huge effects in the halls of the intellectuals…but in the churches and political world they have a huge impact on culture and politics.
    they deny and shirk the accountability of other academics and develop abberant theology. They claim that typical academic pursuit is bowing to the secular humanist controlled education system and becoming worldly. They prooftext with complete disregard for context and piece together a theology that is dangerous and unbiblical.
    PROBLEM TWO: they purposefully avoid the intellectual crowd and seek the support of the anti-intellectual everyman. The majority of denominations in the US do not support and agree with dispensationalism, but a majority of the people do. The dispensational leaders do not follow the top down model, they are amazing at grass roots support and develop “prophecy experts” among laymen who then see themselves as wiser than their pastors or leaders.
    PROBLEM THREE: The zionist ideas are becomign more and more apparent in the foreign policy of the u.s. of a and is highly problematic. we are not only fighting arabs but the devil who uses the arabs. and israel is the promised land that must be defended. with no regard for palestinians or others in the region. Israel is ordained by God, end of story. We also do not need to be accountable for the environment, global safety etc. the world will be destroyed soon anyways…

    this is not a bizarre cult…i encounter these people everyday. at the risk if implicating myself and taking away any credibility…i work for a christian book store. kinda like a closet marxist working for mccarthy.
    but the books that consistently sell are the books on this topic.
    time after time people come in promoting Joel Rosenberg’s novels of the end times as “prophecy” and a must read as a they are the true revelation of God.
    Dispensationalists are a huge threat and need to be addressed.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  31. Halden, my ignorance not yours.


    I would simply dispute the fact that the writers of the Bible had “enormous political and religious power.” I’m sorry I just don’t by the Baur/Ehrman thesis. Sure there are biblical scholars who point this out “all the time” (whatever that means), but there are just as many who raise serious questions about those who do so. You’ve just assumed that your favorite scholars are the true scholars. So no, I haven’t ignored the quesitons, I’ve just come to different conclusions.

    Thanks, though, for assuming the worst about me, that I think liberals are shitty, that I am a fundamentalist, that I ignore anything that challenges my faith, that I drink Kool-aid. It’s funny that in the name of tolerating the questions of the atheist or agnostic, you have to denigrate me just like a fundamentalist would to anything he or she couldn’t understand. I guess on your view disagreeing with “liberals” (such a worthless term) means that I have ignored them.

    So wonderful that you’ve defined the terms of debate in your favor, i.e., that any who disagree with you are ignorant and unwilling to listen and to be written off by calling them bad names that justify my desire to not take them seriously. Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I forgot, it’s me who is the fundamentalist here. I must just be ignoring the powerful logic of this enlightened liberalism, secularism, freedom, autonomy and tolerance.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 10:55 am | Permalink
  32. dan wrote:

    Oh, and Bono and Oprah. I forgot to include those two under the ‘health and wealth’ umbrella, but they are prime examples of it. Of course, Oprah doesn’t really count since she wouldn’t identify as a Christian, but Bono fits nicely.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:09 am | Permalink
  33. Geoff wrote:

    I’m going to go ahead and give the G.K. Chesterton answer:


    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  34. Andrew wrote:

    James (and Halden, and others),

    I’m simply doing a little of what one of your friends, Mr. Hauerwas, does every day: exaggerate to piss people off just because I can, critique everyone except myself, and not really produce any significant theological or ethical work to speak of that significantly engages modern or postmodern culture.

    How does it feel to be the recipient of that? Not much fun, probably.

    In a nicer way, I’d have to say that I think you are still ignoring the conclusions of scholars like Ehrman, which are–as plain as I can put it–just historical fact. I’d assume that you disagree because, well, your faith tells you to–which means that you disagree because you have faith that God really had a hand in some way (and for yourself, probably not just some way, but a significant way) in the formation of the biblical canon. It is a metaphysical conclusion concerning the material. And in this case, a conclusion that ignores historical fact. Call it what you want–I don’t care if you don’t by Ehrman’s conclusions–but don’t call it just disagreeing with him, like your conclusions might be more historically plausible. Call it what it is: willfully ignoring the known historical evidence because of your own metaphysical beliefs and conclusions.

    If “liberals” is such a worthless term, then why defend Hauerwas (which I took that you implicitly did in your first post here), a man who uses it all the time, throwing the term around like it is a curse word? I’ve read Hauerwas (and this is for Halden, too), and many more people than me come to the conclusions about him that I did here. Read Princeton ethicist Jeffrey Stout’s “Democracy and Tradition” for one of the most informed (and yet forceful) critiques of Hauerwas (and his sidekick whom he got all of his anti-liberalism from, Alasdair MacIntyre) around.

    Honestly, that kind of mixture of anabaptistness and traditionalism (which, as I have been noticing, Anglicans like Halden here tend to just eat up) is the as-yet unnoticed underside of the fundamentalist coin, because it ends in a sectarian mentality and an uncritical fideism to the biblical text. The most horrible thing of all is that Hauerwas completely hijacked the work of Yoder to get to it; Yoder’s work focused on the church, and never had anything to do with anti-liberalism politically. Combining it with the seriously anti-modernist tendencies of MacIntyre is what made the lethal concoction that is Stanley Hauerwas today. And it is the reason he needs to be avoided, for the most part, at all costs.

    But again, I’m a pretty liberal baptist (not anabaptist), and thus I believe in freedom (in a multitude of forms). So while I’ll gladly critique Hauerwas (and Rowan Williams, as I pointed out in my first post), I’ll publicly call neither of them heretics or threats to supposed “orthodoxy” (mostly because that term if fluid and can’t be defined, because there was no Christian “orthodoxy” to begin with, and thus that all definitions of it imply a form of hegemonic theological imperialism). I even implied places (if you read carefully) where all (Hauerwas, Yoder, and Williams) had made positive contributions to theology.

    As to the argument over “authenticity,” I haven’t read much of Taylor (though “A Secular Age” is on my short-list), but I see no problem with authenticity as being “true to yourself,” because I believe doing so implies being true to God because it means being true to the person God gave you the potentiality to become. Being fully “human” is to me an essential part of the gospel. It is not romanticized, which is itself an epithet thrown at the type of Hegelian/Schiermachian philosophy in which it takes root, by those whose understanding of theology still depends on a far more ancient (and, I would add, heirarchical and hegemonic) idea of submission to an “other” that is in many way disconnected from the human experience.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  35. Halden wrote:

    This discussion continues to be illuminating as to how the Spongesque mind works. Ehrman’s utterly idiosyncratic and shoddy work on the NT canon is unquestionable historical fact and everything else (i.e. Bruce Metzger, F.F. Bruce, N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham and a host of far more distinguished sholars) is stupid fundamentalist nonsense. As if “historical evidence” does not require interpretation! Lurking behind Andrew’s statements is the oddly conservative and fundamentalist belief that there are simple objective truths out there that are self-evident, requiring no interpretation and that we can know them without processing them through a fiduciary framework. All of this is but a rather thinly veiled ideological cloak for the truth that Andrew’s and Spong’s faith is telling them what to do and their metaphysical beliefs are determining their conclusions as much as everyone elses. There is no reasoning that is not mediated through faith-commitments. To imagine that it is otherwise is laughable.

    What a fanciful imposition of the fact-value dichotomy! Such folks persis in the myth that through some sort of Promethean intellectual prowess have transcended the contingencies into which all other poor fundamentalists remains sadly mired. It’s always quite amusing, if a bit sad and quaint to listen to someone that still buys the Enlightenment myth of the objective scientific self. They are the funnest fundamentalists to watch rant and rave.

    Oh, and I’m no Anglican and have no idea how anyone could have gotten that idea. Stout’s book on democracy is pure Emersonian abstraction and has been roundly responded to by Hauewas and others. I remain unconvinced, based on his statements that Andrew has really done any real reading of Hauerwas or Yoder. Having read Resident Aliens a few years back doesn’t really count as actual engagement with Hauewas’ thought. And anyone who thinks that Yoder’s work was not anti-liberal has clearly not read much of him either.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  36. Andrew,

    So I see Ehrman is your orthodoxy, and you just choose to ignore anything and willfully deny anything that is at odds with it. Why would I even waste my time; the moment I present evidence, you’ll just conclude I am ignoring the conclusions of Ehrman because my faith and metaphysics tells me to do so. Wonderful. But again, I’m the anti-intellectuallist here. I’m done with this bit of non-sense.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:15 pm | Permalink
  37. Ted Grimsrud wrote:


    I would like to know what you mean by “anti-liberal” when used of Yoder. I think I’ve read about everything he ever published (and much that he didn’t), and I can’t think of anything that is “anti-liberal” (but, as I say, I’m not sure what you mean). I agree with Andrew that Hauerwas “hijacked” Yoder in a way that does seem close to sectarian. (Even though Stout does not like Yoder, I think Stout’s powerful critique of Hauerwas [which I don't think Stanley really answers except to grant many of Stout's points] helps me differentiate between Yoder and Hauweras in important ways.)

    I understand Yoder to be arguing that the “politics of Jesus” is normative for the entire world, not just for the church. His problem with the kind of Christian “liberalism” that Reinhold Niebuhr critiqued was that it left the message of Jesus in its full radicality behind when it entered the public square, not that it thought Christians should engage the “secular” political world.

    I see Yoder’s arguments in BODY POLITICS and Stout’s in DEMOCRACY AND TRADITION about the democratic conversation as being pretty compatible.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  38. Halden wrote:

    Ted, you may have read more Yoder than I, but I will attempt to respond based on my understanding of him. Yoder seems to clearly state at many points in his corpus that Christian ethics is for Christians and that practicing the politics of Jesus is only possible by the miracle of the Holy Spirit (i.e. in The Original Revolution). This seems to mitigate any notion that Christian ethics are “normative fo the entire world”, at least on my interpretation.

    What I mean when I say that Yoder is anti-liberal is that Yoder opposes any understanding of politics within which the radicality of Jesus’ message must be left aside (as you mention). My understanding of liberalism (by which I mean the traditon of liberal democracy, not liberalism vs. conservativism in American politics) is that of a political system which insists that religious convictions cannot have direct political relevance or influence over the shape of the polis. The traditon of democratic liberalism is predicated on the Enlightenment notion of religion as private. I think it is fair to say that Yoder opposed such notions, wouldn’t you agree? Perhaps we’re just using the term “liberal” in different ways.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  39. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    I, for one, think Ehrman is one of the best NT critics (far better than Wright, Bauckham, et. al.), but I’ve never been able to understand why people have found his theological conclusions threatening or convincing. He continues to think that the “orthodox corruption” of scripture is a serious challenge to historic orthodoxy and the inspiration of scripture. Many people follow him uncritically on this point, such as Andrew. Listen Andrew, Ehrman’s critical work doesn’t substantially differ from most mainstream biblical scholarship. In fact, his work is considered conservative by some! He has become popular as a result of his theological conclusions, which are poorly thought out, not his biblical scholarship. This is not an unimportant point. Ehrman is simply not a theologian nor does he really claim to be, but his books sell because of his provocative titles and the way in which he has dealt theologically with the historical and textual data. The problem is NOT with Ehrman’s critical work, he is a great text-critic, but with his complete lack of theological training. He’s the product of both modern biblical scholarship and evangelicalism. Like many biblical scholars he has no idea how to think theologically and seems to have many misperceptions on what theology is all about. He is also, and I think this explains a lot, a lapsed evangelical. You know the theo-logic at work in much of this tradition: If the Bible is not historically inerrant, then our faith is ill founded.

    So, Andrew, please don’t go spouting off how Ehrman’s critical work has somehow dismantled historic Christianity. It is just plain theologically naive.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  40. Halden wrote:

    Very good, Ry. I agree, though I am not impressed with him even as a biblical scholar over Wright and Bauckham (they have other problems of course).

    I think your diagnosis is the very same as that of Bruce Metzger with whom Ehrman co-authored The Text of the New Testament. Meztger was very puzzled over how Ehrman managed to go off the rails as he has done.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  41. Ted Grimsrud wrote:

    Good points, Halden.

    I recently reread THE ORIGINAL REVOLUTION (which I think is a wonderful book), and I can see your point. As is often the case, we need to be attentive to Yoder’s footnotes to get a sense of the subtlety of his argument. In footnote #10 of the chapter “If Christ is Truly Lord,” he (albeit cryptically) explains that by “Christian” he means, essentially, a person who follows the way of Jesus (and implies that most self-termed Christians are not “Christian” in this sense and that there are “pagans” who may approximate the Jesus way; scattered throughout Yoder’s writings are references to Gandhi–every single one is positive).

    So, the “miracle of the Holy Spirit” could be seen as the work of God (and Yoder emphasizes strongly that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father are one in will) to break through the human proclivity toward violence and domination to Jesus’ way of genuine healing love whenever it happens.

    Yoder mentions on numerous occasions the idea that the Christian community serves the function of initiating creative responses to social problems that serve as “pilot plants” and have a transformative effect on the wider world. The “politics of Jesus” have to do with followers of Jesus living together in ways that witness to all of creation the will of God for all human political life. This is what I would mean in saying that for Yoder “Christian ethics are ‘normative for the entire world.’”

    That is, for Yoder, “the politics of Jesus are normative for the whole world” on Jesus’ terms, not the world’s. The “evangel” is for everyone, and includes the belief that faithfulness to the way of Jesus is for everyone–but such “faithfulness” cannot be imposed on people who do not accept it for themselves.

    It is term “ANTI-liberal” that is part of the issue, I think. Yoder would certainly disagree with “liberalisms” insistence that religious convictions cannot have direct political relevance (as would Stout). However, his efforts are constructive rather than dismissive. He’s concerned with encouraging Christians to embody Jesus’ way “for the sake of the nations.” Hauerwas all too often seems more concerned with warning Christians “against the nations.”

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  42. Halden wrote:

    Yes, certainly I think we cannot limit — as Yoder did not — the ways in which the politics of Jesus can sovereignly break into the world beyond the church in surprising and miraculous ways. However, I do think that in Yoder’s thought there is a persisting differentiation between the church and the world. The church will always be the church and the world will always be the world until the “war of the Lamb” brings about the consummation of all things.

    As for political engagement, I think Yoder’s use of “middle axioms” in his The Christian Witness to the State is instructive for an attempt at ad hoc Christian political ethics.

    As to the issue of liberalism and Stout I think the difference between Yoder and Stout lies in that while Stout may allow that religous convictions can have a seat at the table in public discourse, he does not allow for the church qua church to be an immediately political body in the way that Yoder does. Insofar as that is the case Stout remains a liberal, albeit a chastened one, while Yoder I think is clearly a couple more steps removed from any sort of liberalism, at least as conventionally understood. This, of course does not mean that Yoder was anti-democracy, which clearly he was not as his article “The Christian Case for Democracy” makes abundantly clear.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  43. Ted Grimsrud wrote:

    So, a key issue is what we mean by “church.” Yoder and Hauerwas seem to have huge differences on this issue, though I don’t know that either wrote about the differences. Hauerwas is way more hierarchical; Yoder more focused on the face-to-face fellowship.

    When you say (correctly, I believe) that “in Yoder’s thought there is a persisting differentiation between the church the world,” we need to ask (1) what we mean by “church” here–I think Yoder clearly means something along the lines of “the fellowship insofar as it is embodying Jesus’ way” (not any institution with an ontological identity), and (2) what is the purpose of this differentiation–more to sustain a separated identity as an ends in itself or more to sustain a separated identity as a basis for serving as a truly transformative influence in the wider world.

    I think you are correct about the difference between Stout and Yoder.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  44. Andrew wrote:

    My “orthodoxy” isn’t Ehrman per-se, for like I said before, the term itself is worthless to me. I think Ehrman’s biblical criticism is top notch, and much better than Wright, because he seeks, again, to ask the tough questions of the text (and of theology). He doesn’t serve up the traditional answers to textual problems like, for the most part, even Wright does. (In fact, much of the time he simply says there are little answers to be found at all, which is probably the closest to the truth that we can get.)

    Of course his theological conclusions will sound ludicrous to most evangelical or orthodox Christians (and I’m not saying they aren’t sometimes a stretch), but he asks the serious questions of the agnostic and atheist–especially in his most recent publication on evil and suffering. Again, of course he sounds weird to those who consider themselves “orthodox,” because he doesn’t think the traditional “orthodox” answers do justice to the weight of the questions at hand. And he isn’t afraid to say it. Do I agree with all of his theological criticisms? Certainly not. But are they worthwhile to consider and seriously meditate on? Most definitely. And to swipe at them from the “orthodox” position is, based on that position’s past history of theological and political hegemony, the ultimate form of elitism and snobbery. (For the record, I’m also a Crossan reader, just to name one more scholar that I think does great work. Not to mention most feminist and liberationist scholars, from Elizabeth Johnson to Ruether to Sobrino.) Does that make me doubly heretical? I’ve got twenty dollars here that says it does.)

    About Hauerwas: Again, he hijacked Yoder, because Yoder never wrote concerning a critique of political democratic liberalism per-se (which is what Hauerwas simply can’t stop writing about), but instead critiqued theological liberalism. It took Hauerwas encountering MacIntyre at Notre Dame for the attacks on political liberalism to begin. Since then, they’ve never stopped. They’ve only gotten worse, and succeeded only in informing a generation of white Protestants upset at theological liberalism that they can and should unquestionably protest against all forms of liberalism, without furthermore ever demanding any action from them to materialize that protest, allowing them to just sit by and act theologically and ethically superior to everyone else, societally disengage, and keep reading their Bibles uncritically as if we live in a pre-modern, rather than postmodern and pluralistic, world. It is a sectarian mindset, regardless of Hauerwas’ attempts to say that it isn’t (which, like another reader said above, are never really attempts at engagement, as with Stout, but instead a subtle dodging of the questions that turns into an acceptance of his analysis).

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  45. Halden wrote:

    Yes, Ted I very much agree with you on the difference between Hauerwas and Yoder on the nature of the church. I do, however think that the church has an ontological identity, but certainly that cannot be reduced to heirarchy or institution. I am definitely a propenent of the gathered believers’church over-against other models that assert the sheer givenenss of the church-as-hierarchical-structure.

    As a Mennonite, I’m sure you can say first hand that Hauerwas’s assertion that he is a “high-church Mennonite” is nothing if not contradictory.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  46. Ted, thanks for pointing out some of the largely ignored differences between Hauerwas and Yoder. Some people seem to ignore their background. Yoder in my opinion should be read as coming from the anabaptist tradition and speaking for these communities into “the wider world”. Yoder stands within the anabaptist tradition and doesn´t seem to have much need to constantly be provocative. Hauerwas comes from a mainline denomination and moves towards/into the discipleship tradition and might have the need to appear radical because of the lack of a substantial sociological base for his theology. Or am I being mean?

    Ted, I also would love to hear your opinion on what I wrote above.

    As to the question of Yoder and whether the way of Jesus is for the whole world, I would point for example to “But We Do See Jesus” in The Priestly Kingdom. As I see it, Yoder presents Jesus as the world´s true leader, and believes that the world will acknowledge this one day (Yoder in my opinion should be read as an universalist, at least in his later days), but at the same time he emphasis (with Halden´s interpretation) the difference between the church (followers of Jesus?, with Ted) and the world in the present time. Some kind of exclusivist universalism (barthian?).

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  47. I think there are at least seeds in Yoder for an hauerwasian critique of political liberalism/democracy, for example in (again) The Priestly Kingdom. Though Yoder is arguing a christian case for democracy, his text implies a deep critique of the language game of liberalism. Interestingly, Yoder appears more ecumenical and Hauerwas more provocative (as in Against the Nations, or For the Nations), but I think in reality Yoder has the more radical position.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  48. Halden wrote:

    I think you are definitely right about The Priestly Kingdom there Jonas.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  49. Ted Grimsrud wrote:

    Jonas, I pretty much agree with your analysis of the difference between Yoder and Hauerwas. My friend Earl Zimmerman’s book, PRACTICING THE POLITICS OF JESUS, does a great job of introducing Yoder’s “sociological base.” Partly, though, this difference is simply a matter of personality. Mennonites aren’t socialized to be “provocative”–apparently Texans like Hauerwas are!

    I also like your sense of Yoder’s “universalism”–though I am afraid he would have shied away from the term.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  50. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    Andrew said, “For the record, I’m also a Crossan reader, just to name one more scholar that I think does great work. Not to mention most feminist and liberationist scholars, from Elizabeth Johnson to Ruether to Sobrino.) Does that make me doubly heretical? I’ve got twenty dollars here that says it does.)”

    You’ve obviously not been around here very long, if you think that most of us would be opposed to you reading Johnson, Ruether, or Sobrino. Give me a break, man. The critique of Spong and Ehrman here is not grounded in some staunch conservatism or traditionalism. I would say that the general thinking of most readers of this blog would probably be of the mind that Spong and Ehrman (and Crossan) are in fact too conservative or too status-quo. That is, the position here is generally from the left not the right.

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  51. jake wrote:

    how come nobody got pissed at my entry? im not up to snuff

    Thursday, June 5, 2008 at 7:11 pm | Permalink
  52. mike d wrote:

    “I would say that the general thinking of most readers of this blog would probably be of the mind that Spong and Ehrman (and Crossan) are in fact too conservative or too status-quo”

    Really – in what sense? I’ve only been poking around here for a short time and while it certainly seems as if the regulars are a bit left of me – I don’t walk away thinking “these guys make Spong look like Carson”.

    Friday, June 6, 2008 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  53. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    The liberalism of a figure like Spong is status quo because his thinking doesn’t adequately mark a departure from capitalism and Western hegemony, but in fact sustains it. Perhaps I shouldn’t speak for others, but I would say that one of the problems with Spong’s theology is that it cannot provide the resources to resist global capitalism.

    Friday, June 6, 2008 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  54. Certainly found a topic for a great number of posts.

    My choices were already selected. George W. Bush who contradicts the very gospel while invoking the name of our savior in its support seems somewhat … antichrist.

    And certainly Joel Osteen is amongst the top echelon of spiritual deviants. The fact that he refuses to confess the gospel exists at all while at the same time preaching pop-humanism in the name of Christianity is nearly vomit-inducing.

    But now we’re entirely geographically cordoned here. For certainly the Lutheran church in much of northern Europe have tolerated priests who reject the divinity of Christ and of the very existence of the Lord. China’s insistence to control the Catholic church in their territory is troubling to the Body in the largest nation on earth. And the Charismatic movement is growing ridiculously fast in Africa which is espousing the prosperity gospel to the most impoverished people on earth.

    Friday, June 6, 2008 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  55. Andrew, Gary Dorrien gives credit to Hauerwas when it is due. And as you self identify in the theologically “liberal” tradition, Dorrien is someone you ought to listen to. I suggest you should look up Dorrien’s forthcoming book on the history of Christian Social Ethics, “Social Ethics in the Making” which will have a chapter on Hauerwas. Dorrien in class even called Hauerwas the biggest ethicist in America now, if not for the last 20 some years. Hauerwas is more complex than you give him credit for, Dorrien does, even if he does disagree with him.

    Saturday, June 7, 2008 at 12:10 am | Permalink

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