Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank 
Wednesday, December 14, 2005, 10:46 PM - Blogosphere

Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank is a group blog that supports Generous Orthodoxy, a network aimed at "Renewing the Center: Beyond Theological Liberalism and Conservatism." GO's main page is given over entirely to a set of epigrams suggestive of its task. Perhaps the most salient of these is one from Hans Frei:
My own vision of what might be propitious for our day, split as we are, not so much into denominations as into schools of thought, is that we need a kind of generous orthodoxy which would have in it an element of liberalism—a voice like the Christian Century—and an element of evangelicalism—the voice of Christianity Today. I don't know if there is a voice between those two, as a matter of fact. If there is, I would like to pursue it.
The site's introduction page goes on to explain that GO "represents the perspectives of those who are variously called progressive evangelicals, postconservative evangelicals, post-evangelicals, younger evangelicals, liberal evangelicals, and/or left evangelicals"--or to put it another way, Christians who adhere to the evangelical tradition but are uncomfortable with the politics and dogma of the Religious Right.

This feeling is not uncommon among evangelicals. Dave Tomlinson captures it poignantly in the introduction to The Post Evangelical (1995; rpt. Zondervan, 2003):
Most of those who contemplate the possibilities of being "post"-evangelical do so because of a difficulty they find in reconciling what they see and experience in evangelicalism with their personal values, instinctive reactions and theological reflections. For some people the agony created by this conflict is very considerable. . . . One young man, who had grown up in an evangelical home, spoke with pain about the dilemma: "I don't know where to go. I no longer feel I can call myself an evangelical, yet don't wish to be a liberal. What am I?" Other people are more nonchalant about it, like the young woman who told me: "Evangelicalism helped me to begin with, but I feel I've outgrown it now." Arrogant? Possibly, yet she was voicing something which cropped up continually in my discussions with people: the feeling that evangelicalism is supremely good at introducing people to faith in Christ, but distinctly unhelpful when it comes to the matter of progressing into a more "grown up" experience of faith.

What do they mean by "grown up"? Lots of things, but I will just mention the one which is cited most often: the desire to interact on a more positive level with theologies and perspectives which do not come from an evangelical source.

The feeling people have is that such perspectives are only ever mentioned in evangelical circles in order to be promptly dismissed as rubbish or as a disgraceful compromise. "I have suffered twenty years of religious and theological censorship," one person exclaimed. "I have been warned about this and told to keep away from that. I've had enough of it. It's time for me to make up my own mind." (2-3)
Although some people who feel this way simply reject the evangelical tradition, Tonlinson continues, many find that "when the chips are down, [they] quite often discover that their evangelical background still counts for something." (5) The solution, he and others believe, is not to walk away from evangelicalism but rather to reinvent it: "To be post-evangelical is to take as given many of the assumptions of evangelical faith, while at the same time moving beyond its perceived limitations." (7)

That will do for a start, but it's still pretty nebulous. Puzzling out the specifics of post- or progressive evangelicalism is a project that has been underway in patches of the evangelical community for well over a decade. (The Emergent movement seems to be a hub for this activity.) The purpose of Generous Orthodoxy is to facilitate the process: "We are here to provide networking, resources, and information for progressive evangelicals and interested onlookers. . . . Our desire is to help foster a sense of connectedness among progressive evangelicals in the U.S. and throughout the world."

GO ThinkTank, for its part, "is a collaborative blog that is authored by progressive evangelicals in the academy. The goal of ThinkTank is to share resources and foster critical reflection upon the Christian tradition and the wider culture." A lot of intellectual firepower has been mobilized to carry out this mission: I counted 37 contributors listed on the masthead. Most seem to be seminary faculty and students, but the list includes at least one philosopher and one anthropologist.

Though registered only in July 2005, already has a hefty number of posts, most of them discursive and of unusually high quality. For an introduction to ThinkTank's concerns, try two early posts: Two Types of "P" Evangelicals and Post-Conservative Evangelicalism: An Update After a Decade.

The posts on ThinkTank tend to be fairly long and often require you to read even longer posts and essays elsewhere. It's time-consuming but worthwhile for someone like me, who pretty much fits Tomlinson's portrait of an alienated evangelical. I wonder how meaningful it would be to Eric Williams (Ales Rarus) or Laura Curtis (Pursuing Holiness), who seem quite comfortable with their faith traditions.

ThinkTank is already a Slithering Reptile in the TTLB Ecosystem, and credited with sixty links.

Make that sixty-one.
2 comments ( 121 views )   |  permalink

Ales Rarus 
Tuesday, December 13, 2005, 05:18 PM - Blogosphere

Ales Rarus is the creation of Eric Williams, a 28-year old graduate student in artificial intelligence at the University of Pittsburgh. The phrase is Latin and means "rare bird," more or less. (See Eric's explanation for details.) Latin, indeed, crops up all over the blog. A permalink is "nexus"; the comments link inquires "Habetne nemo opinionem?" until a comment is received. Then it reads "Vox, sola in eremo, annotatit" until the second comment, after which it exults, "Accolae enuntiant." This is either charming or deeply weird. I think it's charming.

Eric himself goes by the nom de blog of Funky Dung, a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song, and henceforth I'll use Funky Dung as his preferred form of address.

Funky Dung has one of the most complete introductory pages I've seen. And he has something I don't think I've ever seen: a statement of faith. That's completely in keeping with Funky Dung's rationale for blogging: "to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media." He's been at it now over well over three years.

Although Funky Dung purchased only in July 2004, he had been blogging regularly on a predecessor site since his first post in April 2002. Most new bloggers, unsurprisingly, have an interest in the phenomenon of blogging, and one of his earliest posts dealt with Blog Ethics. Most of his early posts are of the "filter" variety; i.e., here's a-link-and-here-in-a-sentence-is-what-I think-of-it. Such posts can make for pleasant reading if you follow a blog on a regular basis, but you can't dive into the archives, as I've done, and get much out of it. Maybe few others did, either. I notice that in the first year most posts are followed by a forlorn "Habetne nemo opinionem?" (Though to be sure, some of them do in fact contain comments. Go figure.)

Since Ales Rarus is now a Large Mammal in the TTLB ecosystem, with a link score of 242 and 188 hits/day, plainly Funky Dung has developed a following. But exactly when and why that occurred is hard to reconstruct. My sense is that it probably began when Funky Dung began to blend more discursive essays along with the filter posts, for he turns out to be a very capable lay apologist for Catholicism. That, at at any rate, is the quality that most appeals to me about his blog and the principal reason I've transferred Ales Rarus to my blogroll. As a sample, see The Church in the Modern World. There's also this interesting recent comment on a key difference between the most venerable Christian churches and their Protestant, especially evangelical, counterparts:
Churches of sufficient high-ness, e.g., Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and (occasionally and in spite of their struggles) Anglican, see themselves as the One, the Holy, the Catholic, and the Apostolic church advertised in the Creed. Such churches see themselves as occupying uniquely, not merely notionally (as in a agnostic sense) but actually, the place of Ark of Salvation for the entire world. (Parenthetically, this is the "elephant in the room" in ecumenical engagement between Protestants and Catholics. They can find mutual agreement in many things, but this audacious view the Catholic Church has of itself ultimately destabilizes any mutual accord.. . .)

Thus, such Churches consist in not merely the delivery of God's Word to the world, which the [Protestant evangelical] megachurches sometimes do very well, but in the delivery of the Sacraments, i.e., objective, physical marks of grace normatively necessary for eternal salvation, to the Faithful. This latter ecclesial definition was watered down slightly by Luther in his reformation, watered down considerably more by Calvin's, and is rejected out of hand by the heirs of the Anabaptists, which today include nearly all "megachurches" and all their (smaller) fellow Low Church Evangelical Megachurch- Wannabes.
In addition to his blog, Funky Dung has been energetic in the Catholic sector of the blogosphere from a technical standpoint: He hosts, for example, the St. Blogs Parish aggregator. It's still a work in progress and not immune from tampering: When I tried it, the first thing I saw was a long list of links like this one: http:// - www.- sexual - relations. - info/index2530. - html (hyphens added), which in turn led to a porn site. (Indeed, I imagine they all did.)

Funky Dung also has the distinction of being the first blogger, among a number who have back-tracked to this site, to leave a comment. Actually two comments, the second of which asked me to email after I'd written up my reconnaissance of Ales Rarus. So off I go to do so.
6 comments ( 148 views )   |  permalink

Conservative Blogs Are More Effective 
Monday, December 12, 2005, 02:12 PM - Caesar and Christ
. . . writes Michael Crowley in yesterday's New York Times Magazine:
That might sound counterintuitive. After all, the Howard Dean campaign showed the power of the liberal blogosphere. And the liberal-activist Web site DailyKos counts hundreds of thousands of visitors each day. But Democrats say there's a key difference between liberals and conservatives online. Liberals use the Web to air ideas and vent grievances with one another, often ripping into Democratic leaders. (Hillary Clinton, for instance, is routinely vilified on liberal Web sites for supporting the Iraq war.) Conservatives, by contrast, skillfully use the Web to provide maximum benefit for their issues and candidates. They are generally less interested in examining every side of every issue and more focused on eliciting strong emotional responses from their supporters.
This squares reasonably well with my own reading of liberal and conservative blogs--except for the implication that liberal blogs are, in fact, "interested in examining every side of every issue." Much as I'd like to believe otherwise, that's hogwash. Indeed, it's hard to find blogs of any kind that explore all sides of an issue.

Evangelical Outpost 
Monday, December 12, 2005, 10:32 AM - Blogosphere describes Evangelical Outpost as "a conservative blog from an 'evangelical worldview.' The posts are intelligent and cover a wide variety of topics, from science to the media to discussing 'What's an Evangelical?' Evangelical Outpost includes a frequent series called 'Know Your Evangelicals,' a brief bio of important people in the evangelical community, like Chuck Colson, T.D. Jakes, and Jim Wallis."

I always appreciate it when a blog has a good, solid, easy-to-find page that introduces the author(s) and explains its main raison d'etre. (And yes, I do plan to create one of my own, once I figure out who I am and what I'm doing here.) In the case of EOP, the principal author, Joe Carter, has just such a page. His first post dates from October 23, 2003. (He may have had a predecessor blog--TTLB lists an alternate URL to a blogger site--but since it redirects to the current site so quickly it's hard to be sure; the blogspot posts may simply be incorporated into

The earliest posts deal with pop culture and politics and, since a broad swath of advertising now yawns between each one, are irritating to scroll through. But a week into his venture he has a post that nicely catches the Waiting for Godot aspect of having a new blog and faithfully posting before you've developed a readership. Since my other blog now receives about 200 hits a day, I'd forgotten this feeling. My work here at Radical Civility has revived it, and for that reason The Perfect Post really resonates with me.

How far he's come. EOP now enjoys "Mortal Human" status in the TTLB ecosystem. As of today it has a link score of 1429 and receives 935 hits/day, making it #15 out of all blogs listed.

Yet oddly enough, there's something homogeneous about the really big blogs. You'd think they'd each have a really distinctive voice, and I suppose if you follow them carefully enough they do, but if you're just dropping in they sort of run together. For one thing, the designs are very "busy"--lots of advertising. Most are politically conservative, but more seriously, most are filter blogs rather than discursive blogs. A discursive blog is more or less like this one--a series of short essays. A filter blog trades mostly in links to other sites, along with brief commentary.

The quality of the selections is partly what gives them their heft, but a lot of their bigness simply stems from the fact that they're big: a blog reaches a critical mass of links and suddenly the links continue to mount because everyone now assumes their blogroll must contain a link to it. That holds true even if one is selective about one's own blogroll. But many of the major blogs--Evangelical Outpost among them--have a policy of reciprocity: they link to anyone who links to them. That provides a nice incentive to small-timers hungry for all the links they can get. EOP's reciprocity blogroll currently lists 777 blogs. The number of external links is supposed to be a measure of influence and importance. And it is. But a reciprocity blogroll can exaggerate the effect. Indeed, that's largely the point of having one.

EOP does have its share of discursive essays. These days, for instance, Carter is doing a multi-part series on scriptural inerrancy and has a nice recent piece entitled What the @*&#...?: A Christian Critique of Swearing. (As a former Marine, he's fairly tolerant of swearing, though he says that the longer he's a Christian the more circumspect he is about using it himself.) But having come from a conservative evangelical background myself, I find a lot of this stuff to be old hat. I'd rather read something that surprises me, which is why I probably won't be reading that much of Evangelical Outpost.

UPDATE, Jan. 7, 8:33 p.m. - Evangelical Outpost won a 2005 Weblog Award for Best Religious Blog.

The Politics of Church 
Sunday, December 11, 2005, 11:45 AM - Not to Fight with Beasts as Men
An aspect of religion that I have never gotten used to is that it has a political dimension. In fact, I'd say that church politics is probably the main reason I find myself unable at present to attend church or even really to believe in a distinctively Christian theology. I adhere to it as an ethical system principally because it's what I know.

At the same time, I recognize that this perspective is naive. Politics, defined in its broadest sense as the use of power over people, is endemic to human activities. And the greater the perceived stakes, the more intense the politics.

For a fairly workaday example of church politics in action, consider two posts by "Christian Grewal," the pastor of a Toronto church whose parishioners are mainly Chinese:
More than a decade ago, most of the other Chinese churches in Toronto serviced the Cantonese-speaking community, while our church serviced the Mandarin-speaking community (Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese). Despite very different political and historical backgrounds, Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese worshippers co-existed rather peacefully in our church. Part of the reason was the fact that since coming to Canada, it was nice to worship in their own dialect; so politics and nationality took a back seat. . . .

[R]ecently all this has begun to change. In an effort to raise the numbers in his Mandarin-speaking service, a Pastor at one of our neighboring churches has taken it upon himself to label our church "Taiwanese," thus tearing open an old wound and polarizing the two groups within our church. This man would send his people over to our church, or to co-operative special services (where several Chinese churches would get together) to spread his campaign of misinformation. He would tell other pastors that there were four Chinese churches in our area and one Taiwanese one (meaning us, HWC).

Notice the subtlety in his language? He openly recruits people (especially leaders) from our congregation by visiting them in their homes or inviting them over to his church to run a Bible study. Thanks to this pastor some families have left us, and we're now known as the "Taiwanese church in Downtown Toronto." As well, the Mandarin-speaking Christian community in Downtown Toronto is now nicely split along the lines of National identity (Mainlander vs. Taiwanese). I think, for this pastor, sheep stealing is easier than actually going out and evangelizing others.
I would imagine that from God's perspective, it is a matter of indifference as to which church these parishioners attend. In other words, I don't see how anyone's spiritual well-being is intrinsically being threatened here. However, it's impossible not to sympathize with a pastor who feels his membership is being poached, and I can assuredly attest that the tactics of which he complains--and quite likely any counter-tactics he may himself adopt--are apt to create the sort of conflict that does indeed have adverse spiritual effects.

Conflict is bound to arise. The trouble with Christians--I can't speak knowledgeably of other groups--is that when it does their repertoire of skills to deal with it is no more advanced than that of others. Pastor "Grewal" seems an appealing character, based on my limited reading of his blog, and he may well be very adept in matters of this sort. But I have sure known plenty of pastors and lay leaders who weren't.

How to address the problem? I think the first step would be to go straight to the other pastor for a one-on-one. A useful guide to this sort of thing is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (1999). A precis of its approach is Bruce M. Patton, Difficult Conversations With Less Anxiety and Better Results, Dispute Resolution Magazine (Summer 1999), 25-29.

Back Next