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Is Christianity Just About What’s Happening In Your Head?

February 26th, 2010
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In the recent post on the question of antinomianism and the continuing aversion to conversation about the good works Christians are to be doing, Pastor Fast offered a fascinating quote that I think goes to the heart of a lot of the problems we face. What do you think?

“Stanley Hauerwas has said that modern Protestantism has been the only form of Christianity in history to suppose that one could be a Christian by virtue of things which happen entirely inside one’s head. This supposition is true of modern Protestantism’s conservative and liberal versions alike—here Friedrich Schleiermacher and Dwight L. Moody basically agree.”

David Yeago
Sacramental Lutheranism at the End of the Modern Age

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  1. February 26th, 2010 at 07:22 | #1

    No, it isn’t- but I would say that there’s also a great danger in trying to use the law (as Yeago and the other so-called “Evangelical Catholics” in ELCA want to) to make the Church a power in the world. They believe that they can do this by a quasi-Thomistic ethics and by a unity of the Church centered on the Roman pontiff. He and he alone (they claim) will have the authority to “enforce” doctrine.(I have noticed that certain Missourians have been attracted to the theology of Root and Yeago. Missourian should not be deceived, they’re just as dangerous as some of the tendencies in Elert and Forde, just in the other direction!). In the same way, Missouri has the problem of the church-growth movement. Though Christians make a difference in the world through vocation, the Church is the location where all live the vita passiva, the passive life before Christ. The Church was not meant for earthly success via the law, it was meant to bear the cross in the world.

  2. Pr. Tom Fast
    February 26th, 2010 at 10:05 | #2

    Dr. Kilcrease,

    I respect and appreciate your comment and certainly have no intention to end up where Yeago, Root or Hauerwas end up. Thank you for the admonition. Yet I would contend that a critical reading of Yeago and Root is far, far better than no reading at all. And to make matters even more complicated, I have learned a great deal by reading Yeago and Mattes/Forde. Though I am not at all well read wrt any of them and do know there are fundamental theological disagreements between the two camps, there is much to be gained in wrestling with them both, imo. But to debate who to read and who not to read entirely misses the point of the post.

    The excerpt I posted as a comment on McCain’s antinomian post was offered for the sake of diagnosis, and not prescription, nor to promote a particular scholar’s theology. I just happen to think Hauerwas’ observation has some real merit and applied directly to the concern McCain’s post raised.

    Hey, if Elert would have come up with a similar comment as pithy as Hauerwas’, then I would have posted that, and gladly. :-)

    The vita passiva, the live of love as expressed in the Table of Duties, and the bearing of the cross in the world is self-evidently not something that goes on entirely inside one’s head. So your point serves to validate my decision to post the excerpt.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. February 26th, 2010 at 12:05 | #3

    Pastor Fast,

    As I state at the beginning of the post, I do not disagree with the statement at all. In fact I warn my students about thinking of Christianity as private truth that sit in the conscience and doesn’t have anything to do with the real world. I was merely expressing my worry that far too many people in Missouri are getting far too close to people like Yeago and Root. In fact, from my perspective that was one of the more problematic part of the Scott Murray book on the third use of the law. Yeago turns out to be something of a hero in the end. People need to understand that Yeago and Root are far more theologically dangerous than Forde is, who has, in my opinion, has several holes in his thinking, but is not the demon that some people in the LCMS want to make him out to be (neither is he greatest theologian of our times, as some other people want to characterize him as). I thought that it was necessarily to comment in the way that I did because what Root and Yeago mean when they say they want Christianity to be a public reality is for it to be a power in the world through the law. That’s not what Christianity is about and I want to warn people away from that temptation. So, I agree with your point, I just want everyone to be aware where Root and Yeago take things.

    Peace, Jack K.

  4. Randy Keyes
    February 27th, 2010 at 17:39 | #4

    While I understand the sentiment, I don’t believe it is accurate. If one examines the Fundamentalist/Liberal split in the Zwinglian-Reformed church through the works of Gresham Machen and J. I. Packer or even if one goes back and reads “The Fundamentals” I think you will find this statement going down the wrong track.

    The liberals became consumed with the temporal, the fundamentalist with the eternal. This then led to their different foci. Also, there was “guilty by association” on both sides. If you stood strong for the exclusivity of the Gospel, the liberals hated you as you were intolerant. If you tried to say you needed to be concerned about the welfare of the poor, then you were preaching a “social gospel” and clearly you were preaching “a different gospel” than the Apostle Paul.

    I think I understand where the author is trying to go, and if his conclusion is that both roads were influenced by the enlightenment and overplay the place of reason in conversion I would understand, but from this brief quote, that doesn’t seem to be where he is going.

    • February 27th, 2010 at 18:51 | #5

      I agree with your assessment, entirely, but I don’t think the author has any of what you are talking about in view, but rather is commenting on the lack of sacraments in protestantism, and a means of grace theology.

  5. Pr. Tom Fast
    February 27th, 2010 at 21:23 | #6

    Parenthetically speaking, it is interesting to step back and watch, even in “sacramental” churches like those of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, to see worship promoted as an opportunity for generating attractive experiences of various kinds for the worshipper. A guy would think that if you really believed the Holy Trinity was present in the assembly, then the Holy Trinity might get just a little bigger billing. At the very least, you would say: “Come and see Jesus!”

    Strange. But not so strange, if Yeago’s take on the gnostic influences present in our culture is at all accurate.

    I wonder what kind of marriage it would be if a wife was primarily interested in how she felt about her interaction with her husband to the neglect of paying any attention to the husband himself? Sounds to me like an impending divorce, should something not change. And the Church is the Bride of Christ.

    I suspect our “worship wars” in American Lutheranism are about far more serious matters than most people seem to think.

  6. Pr. Tom Fast
    March 1st, 2010 at 09:58 | #7

    Alright McCain. I’m going to stir the pot a little.

    Does the point made by Yeago/Hauerwas have anything at all to do with rubrics?

    Please explain your answer. :-)

    • March 1st, 2010 at 11:34 | #8

      Since you seem to think it has some significant contribution to make to the point, go for it.

  7. Pr. Tom Fast
    March 1st, 2010 at 11:56 | #9

    I thought you’d never ask.

    Well, I think the purposeful and absolute division between substance and style that is taught wrt Liturgical practices in the LCMS is futile. In other words, I’m not sure a division ever really happens. The two might well be joined at the hip and be indivisible. And so what we see regarding ceremony, rites, etc… is very closely related to what we actually get.

    Let me illustrate by using real life examples.

    In one and the same town, you will have a pastor who deeply bows in front of the altar during the Service. Just across town there is a pastor who, during the Service, sits his derriere on the altar or, perhaps, drives his Harley down the aisle and parks it in front of the altar.

    Unless the Gospel does little more than free us from all order and form and/or Christianity is about nothing more than what goes on in between the ears (both of these issues are critiqued by Yeago and are related to the post)……those two Liturgical ceremonies mentioned above signal a substantial difference. At least that is what I suspect is the case. Perhaps I’m off base. But you asked. :-)

    So I think our differences warrant quite a bit more attention than a three day theological conference on Worship. But what do I know?

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