Saturday, November 15, 2008
What's On My Mind
I'm getting into the end of the semester, with all the big papers and exams coming up. Because of this, I don't have a lot of time or mental energy to think about blog posts. So instead, here are a few of the school-related things that have been on my mind in the past week (several of which will remain on my mind for the weeks to come:

1) Finding resources for an annotated bibliography on early Christianity as a counter-imperial movement. Funny how all the older (20+ years) resources I found claimed that early Christians were perfectly happy to accommodate themselves to the political power structures of the Roman Empire, whereas all the resources I found that were less than a decade old recognized that this was only one stream of the church (the one that became "normative" after the church finally did accommodate itself post-Constantine), but that there were also many other streams in the first few centuries that saw themselves engaged in active, subversive, non-violent resistance to the Empire.

2) The doctrine of original sin and whether it makes any sense to say that it is a biological inheritance. My contention is that if sin is a relation dysfunction (i.e. broken relationships between ourselves and God and others) then it would have to be passed down through relational, not biological, means - which I identify mainly as the process of socialization.

3) How some conservative evangelicals (especially among certain Southern Baptists and the new Reformed Radicals) are moving back towards fundamentalism. Specifically I'll be researching and writing about how some conservative evangelicals are having the same sort of reaction to postmodernism that the fundamentalists of a century ago had towards modernism.


posted by Mike Clawson at 9:36 PM | Permalink |


At 11/16/2008 12:32:00 AM, Anonymous bud

Hi Mike,

I must admit, as a born again believer, I do not understand postmodernism. Is this declaring that the thoughts of man supersede the authority of Scripture? As I understand 2Tim3:16, there are only 2 choices. Either the Bible is the perfect Word of God, or simply a lie, because it claims to be "God Breathed." Does postmodernism add a "maybe" here?

I apologize if my questions seem to indicate a negative tone. That is not my intention. I sincerely do not understand the questioning of the inerrancy of Scripture, and the claim of being a Christian, at the same time.



At 11/16/2008 10:36:00 AM, Blogger BillW

These are REALLY interesting topics and I'm sure many of your regular readers would like to see the finished copy of some of your papers. Any chance they might someday appear on your web site? (In their entirety...or at least key excerpts?)


At 11/16/2008 01:38:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Bud, a postmodern perspective isn't necessarily about questioning scripture, it's about questioning whether I, as a fallen and finite human being, ever have the ability to understand or interpret it perfectly. Even if I say that I have an inerrant scripture, I'm not willing to claim that I myself am also "without error" whenever I try to interpret it.


At 11/16/2008 03:48:00 PM, Anonymous bud

Thanks for your response. Maybe it is best to just agree to disagree.


At 11/17/2008 08:55:00 AM, Blogger john chandler

Would be curious to see that counter-imperial bibliography once it is put together. That's a "hobby" topic for me...unfortunately I have about ten of them.

Hope all is well with you guys.


At 11/17/2008 09:06:00 AM, Anonymous Karl


On your #3, I've had much the same thoughts. I'm especially interested to note that a lot of Baptist fundamentalists have embraced Reformed Theology within the last 10-15 years.

When I was growing up nearly all conservative Baptists - at least most of the Southern and Independent ones I knew - viewed Reformed theology as a dangerous error. They probably didn't even know the term "Arminian" but they sure knew about "free will." Now many of those same people - or their kids - are embracing Reformed theology. My loose thesis is that the fundamentalist desire for certainty and having all the right answers is a natural fit with the seeming certainty and often more intellectually robust structure of Reformed thought. That combination of fundamentalist ways of thinking with Reformed certainty and systematics, can be a pretty depressing one, summed up by this quote on a friend's Facebook page: "When a man is born he is Pelagian, when he gets saved he is an Arminian and when he understands the Bible he becomes a Calvinist."

On your #2 - I'm not convinced of the biological passing down of original sin either, but are you positing that in theory, with perfect socialization you could produce a sinless person - unselfish, perfectly loving God and others? Rather than the idea that we come into the world as "cracked eikions" from the get-go and that socialization only furthers the cracking?

Your #1 reminds me of C.S. Lewis's comments on intellectuall fashions , noting that fashions come and go in the academy just as much as they do in clothing. Seeing the errors or omissions of past scholarship is good, but does less good if it doesn't caution one about to be wary of the probable errors of the present approach too. Way too many scholars seem to think the current approach they are excited about - whatever it is - finally has it all figured out.


"None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them. "

"A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by that local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age."


At 11/17/2008 02:47:00 PM, Blogger Mike L.


Those are 3 wonderful topics. I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts on each of them.

1) I really enjoyed Dominic Crossan's "God and Empire". Is that one of your more modern sources?

2) I wonder if original sin should be understood instead as an evolutionary product of our survival mechanism passed down through millions of years of survival. To transcend original sin might mean we should become fully human and that means we live in the tension between our primal self-centeredness and our humanity (our desire to transcend our self consciousness). Maybe that also points toward "socialization" as a way to transcend self.

3) I see this trend too. How wide spread do you think this trend is?


At 11/17/2008 04:57:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson


I think you're right on in regards to the appeal of a dogmatic Reformed theology for Baptist fundamentalists. Also, don't forget that the Baptists have their historical roots in Calvinism (specifically English Puritanism).

As for your question on #2:
"are you positing that in theory, with perfect socialization you could produce a sinless person - unselfish, perfectly loving God and others? Rather than the idea that we come into the world as "cracked eikions" from the get-go and that socialization only furthers the cracking?"

I suppose that theoretically perfect socialization could produce a sinless person, but that is a moot point since perfect socialization is clearly impossible in this broken world full of broken people. It could never actually happen.

As for #1, I totally agree with Lewis that the lenses of the past are useful for seeing the errors of our own day, though I would also emphasize that this principle works in reverse as well. When we read the past, we are also able to see their blindspots and biases.

Also, I think we're able to be more inclusive of multiple perspectives when we read both old and new. So, for instance, in my bibliography, the newer resources didn't merely contradict the older assumptions. Instead they broadened them, and showed how that were too narrow and totalizing. Older scholars were saying "the early church only had one dominant attitude towards the Empire", while the newer scholars are saying "Well yes, that was one attitude, but there were other perspectives as well."

I suppose you might say that's the difference between a modern and postmodern approach to history: the difference between one dominant meta-narrative, and multiple competing narratives coexisting. :)


At 11/17/2008 05:14:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Mike L,

1) I didn't use Crossan because our professor didn't want me to go as far back as Jesus and the Apostles (too much cross-over with "New Testament Studies", she wanted me to stick strictly with "church history".)

2) That's an interesting hypothesis. If you develop it into a full-blown paper (or blog post), I'd love to read it. I do think that socialization plays an important role in helping us overcome the inherent self-centeredness that we are born with as helpless and unaware infants (which I don't think is the same thing as culpable sin), and that socialization by broken people who have not out-grown their own self-centeredness will invariably perpetuated this dysfunction in future generations.

3) I think it comes in stages and degrees, and its more about moving in a particular direction than about a definable movement, so I really couldn't speculate as to numbers. However, I do think that certain leaders like Al Mohler, John MacArthur, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll, who I believe are at various stages along the path towards neo-fundamentalism are definitely growing in influence.


Links to this post

Links to this post:

Create a Link