God Doesn’t Need our Help, But He Asks for It

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James K. A. Smith wrote a new blog post this morning: God Doesn’t Need Our Help. And since, per usual, no comments are allowed, I thought I’d respond with a post of my own.  And, per usual, your comments are welcome!

He begins with this notion that there is now a “new apologetics” afoot in Christianity to make the faith more palatable in an age of intellectualism and postmodernity:

In our age of post-Christian anxiety, where so many worry about young people leaving the faith and the implausibility of Christianity in a secular age, we get a new apologetics.  The goal of the new apologetics is not to prove or defend the puzzling and scandalous aspects of orthodox Christianity.  Instead, the goal is to show that “authentic” Christianity, or the “true” Gospel, is not offensive–that the “God of love” worshiped by Christians is pretty much the God you would want.

I’m guessing that the efforts he has in mind are generally emergent-style approaches, such as Brian McLaren’s “Naked Spirituality” or Rob Bell’s “Love Wins.”  These folks make God so warm and fuzzy as to remove all objectionable content, Smith is arguing.  One wishes he would provide specific examples, and then counter with a better approach.  He does gloss over a few such theological touchstones like hell and the atonement, but fails to articulate what he feels is an insufficient understanding, or how he would like it framed.

He goes on to note the dubious path of this ‘new apologetics’:

That presents a challenge, of course, but the challenge is not located where you might think.  Instead of spending its energy on articulating, explaining, and defending the coherence of biblical, historic Christianity (including all the “hard truths” that attend it), the new apologetics expends its energy convincing the skeptic that all sorts of aspects of “Christianity” are, in fact, non-essential accretions or downright deformative perversions of “true” or “authentic” Christianity.  This is undertaken in the name of removing “intellectual hurdles” to the Christian faith.  If you look again at how many new apologists frame their “reconsiderations” of hell, or the doctrine of the atonement, or the doctrine of original sin in light of evolutionary evidence, or traditional Christian sexual ethics, I suggest you’ll often find they “frame” their project something like this:

“These are aspects of Christianity that are just not believable today.  But that’s OK, because it turns out that they’re also aspects that are not really biblical and not really Christian.  So don’t let those things stop you from believing.” [Then cue your favorite tale about “Hellenization” or “Constantinianism” or “fundamentalism” here.]

Where to begin?  First of all, most efforts I am tuned in to that are rearticulating the faith have nothing to do with making Christianity more palatable, but with honest attempts to engage the biblical and historical material, and go where the evidence leads.  He intentionally twists this around, noting that many begin with deciding something is not believable, then attempt to justify it biblically and historically.  Is there any evidence that this is the actual motivation of these “new apologists”?  It is quite a charge to make, and we might wish to have this in hand before agreeing to the point.

Smith wishes that this new approach would spend its energy “articulating, explaining and defending the coherence of biblical, historic Christianity (including all the “hard truths” that attend it).”  Yet the hard truth here is that a single, unified “historic Christianity” simply doesn’t exist.  It’s a convenient fiction by which we tell ourselves we are simply walking the path that began with the first disciples undistorted down to our day.

As Harvey Cox notes in The Future of Faith: “When I attended seminary, most historians conveyed the impression that once upon a time there was a single entity called “early Christianity,” but that gradually certain heresies and schisms arose on the margins and disrupted the initial harmony.  In the last few decades, however, all these assumptions have proven erroneous.  There never was a single “early Christianity”; there were many, and the idea of “heresy” was unknown.”

Speaking Of…

Are some folks interested in changing theology to make it more ‘believable’?  Probably.  That may well be true in certain cases.  But many, many folks I study and read are simply interested in studying the biblical and historical record to know what a text or doctrine actually meant when it was written, and the context in which it arose. The consequences for theology only come later, if at all.  It strains credulity to imagine this hard work of studying, gathering and analyzing all the evidence from linguistic, archaeological, cultural, literary and historical sources is done simply for the sake of inventing a more believable Christianity!

In fact, Smith himself would prefer us to begin with the answers, pay attention only to evidence that supports his version of orthodoxy, and ignore everything else.  Which does the very thing he claims the “new apologetics” does: it makes Christianity more palatable for his particular audience.  Smith teaches at Calvin College, a private, Reformed institution.  [Cue your favorite tale about “John Calvin” or “Heidelberg” or “ham on buns.”]

This version of the faith is meant to be more amenable to his audience, precisely because it is the same version that his students’ parents hold and the same version his administrators hold, not to mention the donors who fund the whole enterprise.  In seeking to display honest attempts at understanding the Bible and church history as dishonest marketing efforts for Christianity, Smith succumbs to his own charge: he defends the status quo under the guise of honest theological discussion.

Instead of having a response to those who may look at early church doctrine and the influence of Hellenization (i.e., being shaped by Greek thought and philosophy), he wants us to ignore it.  Instead of acknowledging the troubling political realities surrounding the church councils at which some of the core doctrines of “historic Christianity” were founded, Smith would prefer us to just ‘take their word for it’ and carry on, because ‘there’s nothing to see here.’  Who cares if Nicea was presided over by a corrupt Roman emperor who had power and national unity in mind rather than any real interest in theological accuracy?  That’s no business of ours!  Our charge is to assume they got it exactly right, and continue to uphold the “hard doctrines” upon which our forebears spent so much personal capital.  Speaking of ignoring intellectual challenges.

Listen to Calvin College’s own statement of its calling, as articulated by Neal Plantinga:  “We [Christians] learn to distrust simple accounts of complex events and to be prepared for the place human irrationality has in the course of human history. All this equips us to understand the world in which we are to be peace agents. Just as no CIA agent would be sent to an area of which she was ignorant, so it’s folly for us to expect to serve and transform a world we do not know.”

Indeed.

Smith argues that such a “new apologetics” (which, by the way, is a convenient title for something that doesn’t exist) avoids intellectual rigor, but it is clear enough that he is the one advocating for ignoring historical realities that might challenge one’s doctrinal heritage.  Yet to articulate that would ruffle some institutional feathers (something a few of his colleagues learned is not to be done).

I hate to break it to Jamie, but there is no “new apologetics.”  However, there is renewed interest in discovering more closely what was going on in the first century in Galilee and the Ancient Near East, what was behind early church councils that codified doctrines for all time, and what it might look like to live out a meaningful Christian faith today.

Old Faithful

Smith then goes for the bread and butter of his audience:

But it seems to me that this sort of project is predicated on a particular account of faith that is often left implicit.  In particular, it seems to assume that if someone is going to come to believe the Gospel they must be convinced since their belief is a matter of their choice.  Or at the very least, the intellectual hurdles that stand in the way of their believing must be removed.  If we do that, then the way is clear for them to choose to believe.

The new apologetic, in other words, is fundamentally Arminian, perhaps even Pelagian (and yes, I know the difference*).  The drive to eliminate intellectual and “moral” hurdles to belief is a fundamentally Arminian project insofar as it seems to assume that “believability” is a condition for the skeptic or nonbeliever to then be able to “make that step” toward belief.

While this might confirm a lot of prejudices, it should be said that this is an odd strategy if one is an Augustinian or a Calvinist–since in an Augustinian account, any belief is a gift, a grace that is given by God himself.  So if God is going to grant the gift of belief, it seems that God would able to grant and empower a faith that can also believe the scandalous.  In other words, God doesn’t need our help.

Here Smith attempts to resuscitate a long-dead theological squabble because he knows mere mention of the word “Arminian” still might rankle a few folks in West Michigan.  To get non-Reformed folks up to speed: Arminianism is based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and his historic supporters known as the Remonstrants. It is known as a soteriological sect of Protestant Christianity. The crux of this  Arminianism lay in the assertion that human dignity requires an unimpaired freedom of the will.  In other words, one can choose faith or resist it.  One can choose to follow Jesus, or not. (Seems fairly obvious on the face of it).

Ah… but how do we pair this common sense, seemingly obvious reality with the doctrine that God has elected people before they were born for either heaven or hell?  Forget common sense: nobody chooses Jesus.  Jesus chooses you.  In a word, Arminianism attempted to give people dignity, to show that faith is not a farce, and that God, in essence, hasn’t rigged the game.

But let’s wake up to the fact that such arguments are about things that have little or nothing to do with a life of actually following the very earthy (and earthly) Jesus of Nazareth, whom one can scarcely imagine had time for such esoteric theological squabbling.  Smith is worried we might violate a theological construct from the Middle Ages that almost nobody cares about today.  Rather than constructively present a coherent theological impetus for engaging the world and society today, including concerns about peace and conflict, environment and ecology, and human sexuality, Smith would rather us look worriedly over our shoulder at a conflict from 600 years ago about something that no one can figure out conclusively anyway.

But Smith knows this much: in Calvinistic circles, accusing your opponent of being an Arminian ends the argument.  Case closed!  They’re heretics, so they’re obviously wrong.

In Closing

Jamie Smith’s conclusion: God doesn’t need our help.  He can choose us or not.  He can save our world from ecological or military disaster just fine without us.  He can grow his church without us (wait, I thought we were the body of Christ… but I digress).  Why worry about new constructive efforts for living out the faith today?  Why bother with things like Christian education?  Why even write blog posts on the topic?  Such human efforts are surely irrelevant in the face of this austere and omnipotent Calvinistic Zeus. God must be genuinely grateful for such an eloquent defense of his inscrutable ways (though God knows he doesn’t need it).

Much of this seems contrary to the picture one finds in the Scriptures: a God who willingly partners with humanity, and sets them as caretakers over his entire creation (The original Hebrew hides this line in chapter 2: “Just kidding, Adam!  Don’t need you at all.  Especially if you mess things up.”).

All through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures God not only needs our help, he asks for it.

A Jewish perspective (which, by the way, precedes later “heretical” developments like Pelagianism or Arminianism by just a wee bit) is that God has chosen to partner with humanity.  That he does, in fact, need us, and has chosen to need us.  To say otherwise is to belittle the hard fought efforts of people such as Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and many, many other unheralded people of faith who work hard every day to bring a bit of God’s healing into this broken creation.  And more specifically to Smith’s point on belief: God has used men and women to carry the message of the gospel to people far and wide so that they would believe, from the very beginning.

As Jesus said to Paul on the road to Damascus:
“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

God doesn’t need us?  Someone forgot to tell that to Jesus.

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23 thoughts on “God Doesn’t Need our Help, But He Asks for It

  1. Having newly discovered your blog site, I am intrigued. The pub part was a bit off-putting, but the content is especially interesting to me because I have been for several years developing a book called Revisiting Scripture (look it up on Kindle/Amazon if interested) that addresses the question of what Scripture actually, in context, says. The more I’ve read the… scathing… exchanges on some sites, the more I come to understand that the biggest obstacle seems to be the assumptions they bring to the study of Scripture. If it can’t say X then, by Jove, it won’t say X! In my study, folks who call themselves Christians seem to fall into three groups:
    1. Those who see the entire OT and NT as applicable to Christians…every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every k verse, every line.
    2. Those who see the NT as the primary guide for Christians…the better Covenant of Hebrews.
    3. Those who see all written Scripture as old and being replaced by new revelation… or new meaning that ignores the context and meaning of Scripture passages to the original hearers.
    I favor #2!

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  2. Hi club,

    I’m not sure I’m seeing where he commented as to Brad’s assertion. Specifically, Brad’s assertion is that Bryan’s professed beliefs are unbiblical. I don’t see any counter to that in what Bryan said, except to call discussions about Calvinism/Arminianism “hot air” and note that both positions have been argued and neither is in him mind “the difinitive Chirsitan position”.

    Certainly Bryan is free to respond or not respond as he chooses. However, Bryan led off his response to me by noting that he does not intend to pronounce anything as heresy, as if that is what I had asked.

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  3. Hey club,

    As I noted, I was not asking Bryan to pronounce one view or another heresy. I was asking if he cared to comment on someone else’s prnunciation about his (Bryan’s) professed beliefs. See the difference?

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    1. Eric – Yes, I see a difference, though I don’t see why you think Bryan’s comment wasn’t responsive to your question. He commented on Brad’s assertion, in response to you, and thereby demonstrated that he cared enough to comment. So, the answer to your question was “yes.” Yet, you responded as if he hadn’t answered your question. Do you understand my puzzlement?

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  4. Hi Brian,

    I see you go to some length to counter what you veiw as the error of your fellow Calvinist. As a pastor in a Reformed denominiation and contributor to an ostensibly Reformed publication, do you care to comment on Brad’s assertion that “Calvinism is the heresy”. That would make you and your denomination heretics. Worthy of comment?

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    1. Hi Eric-
      I’m not that interested in pronouncing one view or another heresy. I’m more interested in a biblical theology that isn’t hampered by dichotomies constructed by medieval theologians over esoteric things that have textual support both for and against them. I’m more interested in articulating and living an incarnational faith that seeks to embody Jesus’ teachings in our world in practical ways. It is less interesting to me to consider whether God chose my path beforehand, or partners with me in the process, or somewhere in the middle.

      The very fact that there are groups that honestly argue that “Calvinism is the heresy” or “Arminianism is the heresy” shows that neither is the definitive Christian position, and the whole discussion sounds like a lot of hot air to people who have already kissed religion good bye for such internecine arguments.

      A lot of good people throughout the history of the church were labeled heretics. In fact, pretty sure that was even true of Jesus…

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      1. Hello again Brian,

        I’m not sure why you answered by explaining that you have no interest in pronouncing one view or another heresy – that’s not what I asked. What I asked was whether or not you felt it worthy of comment or reaction that Brad left a note on your blog referring to you and your denomination as heretics (by nature of being professedly reformed), given your stridency in defending other parts of your belief system. If not, then so be it, but I never asked for you to pronounce anyone or any system of beliefs as heresy.

        Why you feel the need to disparage “midieval theologians” in the course of your answer is not apparent, unless you felt the need to highlight your enlightened progressivity as opposed to those at past times in the church’s history who were hoplelessy dichotomistic and less cultured.

        The fact that there are competing theologies within the history of the church does indicate that there is not one theology that can be said to represent the entirety of the church throughout history, but is does not negate the fact that certain theologies are bilbically accurate and others are wrong. There is knowable truth.

        After all, as an ordained minister in the CRC, didn’t you answer affirmatively the following question from the form for ordination of ministers: “Do you subscribe to the doctrinal standards of this church, rejecting all teaching which contradicts them?”

        And didn’t you also sign your name to the Form of Subscription or its sister the Covenant for Officebearers in which you were asked to “affirm three confessions—the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort—as historic Reformed expressions of the Christian faith, whose doctrines fully agree with the Word of God. These confessions continue to define the way we understand Scripture…”?

        Knowing the content of the confessions, unless you lied in your oath, you surely don’t view the distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism to be a bunch of “hot air” or an unnecessary dichotomy.

        Whether or not Jesus was labelled a heretic is completely immaterial as to whether a particular theology is heretical. It is demonstrable that there are heresies, so appealing to the fact that Jesus was labelled a heretic to obfuscate a conversation about heretical doctrine is a non-starter.

        In the end, it’s your blog, and you’re entitled to refute what you will and not refute what you choose to ignore – I have no problem with that. I just thought it interesting that your professed theological beliefs didn’t warrant any defense when directly attacked.

        Have a great day!

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  5. God doesn’t need us, but God wants us — wants us to be that which He intended us to be: living, feeling, thinking Beings. We were made to be problem-solvers, made to build and destroy. We were, further, made to have dominion over the World as care-takers.

    Calvinism is the heresy. The very notion of an ethical code implies the existence of human Will (redundantly, “free will”.) If there was no human Will or meaningful choice, the whole notion of an ethical/moral code would make no sense, whether the code was spiritual or secular. Yet, the Bible is full of ethical and moral standards.

    As to a “new apologetics,” sure it exists. But so what? Faith does not exist in a vacuum since, while there may be a True Divine, decent religion and spirituality are HUMAN responses to it. Human spiritual ideas will naturally evolve with changing cultural realities. This necessitates, in turn, new apologetics. This is not the product of weakness but strength through adaptation.

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  6. Might it be as simple as emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble? God is Holy and Righteous, or Love and Light. Of course it’s both and, but if we put holiness first then love is subject to it. If we put love first, well the emphasis changes everything. Love needs relationship. Love will die for relationship. I’d say God needs us and Jesus death proves that.

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  7. I find it ironic that a denomination that talks a lot about the sovereignty of God actually behaves as though His sovereignty does not extend over scientific or historic inquiry. They cannot admit that God might be allowing us to discover truths that were (of course) known to Him all along. So why didn’t He just spell everything out literally in the Bible? Maybe because He’s more interested in teaching us to admit the frailty of our knowledge, to be open to the full mystery that He is, and to trust that despite our foundations being shaken from time to time, He is still in control.

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  8. Interesting rebuttal, Bryan. The fundamental difference, is perspective. Using Israel’s captivity as an example, from God’s perspective, Israel was completely powerless to save themselves, so God rescued them. From Israel’s perspective, Moses worked with God to lead the people to freedom. Moses chose to obey, Moses talked to Pharaoh, etc.

    There are too many passages in scripture that talk about God’s sovereign will and his calling of some people and not others. To us, God’s choosing Jacob over Esau seems completely arbitrary. Basically, we have to understand that God’s character, love, governs his choosing, and that his choosing is right, every time.

    Does God need our help. No. Does he choose to use people for work and missions? Of course, as Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3.6-7). God is all and in all.

    As to the idea of free choice giving people dignity? I don’t agree at all. Our dignity comes from being created in God’s image: his perfect moral character. Since the fall, that image is dead, unless we are reborn in the Spirit.

    I’m too much of a cynic to subscribe to the idea of human dignity but this is from reading Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And also from the book of Judges 17:6 “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Finally, Romans 3:10, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” A spiritually dead person can’t seek anything. God first must act and bring to life by the Spirit, isn’t this what Jesus told Nicodemus?

    One last thought, you characterised Constantine as a “corrupt Roman emperor who had power and national unity in mind rather than any real interest in theological accuracy.” What’s your source for this? Didn’t Constantine choose to follow Christ? If so, shouldn’t he have been merely obeying Christ? If, as you suggest, Constantine was corrupt, does it necessarily follow that the results of the council are corrupt and or wrong? Or, if you suggest that Constantine’s conversion was merely a tactical move and was not at all true, then shouldn’t we doubt anyone’s conversion?

    I apologise in advance if I’ve misrepresented you in this post. It is not my intention to do so. I pray that God will continue to work powerfully in you and in Christy and your family to spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord!

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    1. Hi Paul-
      Thanks for the comments. I get all the theology that it is God who works in us… just pushing back a bit on the idea that God doesn’t need us at all… Frankly I’m not interested in the mysteries of how/why/when faith happens, as I’m not sure the chief end of man is to have a dogmatic point on obscure spiritual mysteries.

      More to the point of the post, it seems to me that God invites us into joining his work in the world, which he has chosen to do with, in and through us. Without Paul’s planting and Apollo’s watering, would God still make it grow? I’m sure he could, but he hasn’t chosen to do it that way.

      So as the title of my post suggests, God may not need our help, but he clearly asks for it.

      As for Constantine, if you want to read more, I’d suggest my wife Christy’s book, Cracking the Pot for a good starting point; or for a more in-depth look, I’d recommend Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll. The turn the church took under his rule was not for the better, in my opinion, and it is quite a stretch to consider that his actions were simply out of ‘obeying Christ.’ As for where that leaves one regarding the results of the council, well… that’s a good question. But just because one likes the result doesn’t mean the process doesn’t matter.

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      1. “I get all the theology that it is God who works in us… just pushing back a bit on the idea that God doesn’t need us at all…” When does Smith insinuate that this is what he means in his post? He’s addressing the “mysteries of how/why/when faith happens” side of things that you are clearly not interested in. It seems that he is only trying to say, stripping away what the church has historically affirmed as truth in order to make Christianity easier to believe, carries the presupposition that it is up to us to convince or “win” people to Christ. Therefore it’s fair to disagree with him, but responding with polemics is unbecoming.

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      2. Thanks for stopping in, Tyler.

        The idea Smith is advocating is that God doesn’t need us, so all our efforts to articulate the faith are in vain. This would, ironically, include his. I was responding to say that, actually, God has chosen to use us to communicate himself to the world. It’s fairly nonsensical to say otherwise. Further, Smith is blatently mischaracterizing (or as you would say, using polemics) to dismiss current attempts to articulate the faith in light of recent scholarship and research. One wishes he would actually engage the substance of these shifts in faith rather than dismiss them as mere PR attempts to make Christianity easier to swallow. No polemics were intended, I’m simply trying to respond and point out that Smith shouldn’t get away with dismissing what he doesn’t like without actually engaging it, and labeling folks Arminian is hardly useful to the project, since most efforts he is denigrating have no stake in that fight. (By making this accusation he is attempting to shift the arena of the conversation to more familiar ground for his readers, but this has little or nothing to do with the “new apologetics” he is discussing!).

        His response to my attempts to engage on this topic so far have him ignoring what I’ve said while reminding me that he is a big-shot writer and I am a lowly blogger. Pretty much a reprisal of the method in his original piece.

        Together with you, we can hope for better in the future.

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  9. Even though Smith complained that the watering down of Christianity is a distinctly American phenomenon, I did actually recognize more of what he was describing in my Amsterdam context. I actually left one of the Reformed churches here because I found it so wishy-washy (e.g., a Christmas sermon where the relevance of Jesus’ coming is completely ignored or where many people don’t believe that Jesus was both God and human). I now attend a Reformed church where the laxness of the theology believed there still irritates me at times (e.g., living together and homosexual marriages are seen as acceptable and being excluded from the Catholic mass is absurd), but I with my more conservative ideas am still welcome amidst a congregation which, to my thankfulness, is ministering to the world and my neighbourhood (Red Light District) in a way that many of the more conservative churches are not doing. It feels a bit (and I get this also from your post, Bryan, and that of Jamie) that a dichotomy exists between being relevant to the world and having sound theology. I don’t know the American context that well (only enough to know that the Republicanization of Christianity is clearly not the answer to being relevant and theologically sound), but are we creating a dichotomy that doesn’t actually exist? From what I’ve read, both of you seem to desire to break away from that and so find a healthier way of bringing the gospel to people today.

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    1. Hi Brenda-
      Thanks for the comments— your experience is intriguing and quite relevant to the discussion. As you say (and have experienced to some degree), perhaps there is a dichotomy between being relevant to the world and having sound theology. There certainly doesn’t need to be, as you note.

      My concern is simply that we don’t get so hung up over ‘sound theology’ (which is a dubious notion in and of itself), that we simply turn inwards on ourselves and become—yes—irrelevant to the world. I think the important thing is that we’re doing something because of our faith, as the church you are involved in is doing. There are also scores of theologically conservative churches doing similar great work. I am glad for it.

      All that said, what irritates me is Smith’s ongoing mischaracterization (and disparagement) of theological viewpoints that don’t hold up to his level of orthodoxy, as well as his belittling of the actual research and scholarship that leads to such positions. He knows better, yet uses his position to make those who don’t know better feel OK that they continue on with the theological status quo.

      Theological concerns do matter to the extent that if the church wants to continue to grow and be welcoming to those outside of its circles, it has to be honest about the real challenges to belief that exist today, rather than belittling them. To the extent that the CRC insists on defining itself through past dogmatic stridency, it will continue its path of irrelevancy, while telling itself it’s simply “being faithful.” I’d prefer it rather become a place that insists on being faithful to following Jesus (rather than describing him), of increasing hospitality toward varying theological views, and joining with other partners in the kinds of kingdom work you describe.

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  10. Jamie Smith is a professional philosopher, not a PHIL 101 student. You don’t get to be a professional philosopher without understanding how to provide good reasons for the positions you take–or, to be frank, without knowing how to use illicit means to dismiss critics and persuade the less educated. Unfortunately in this case, as in his past discussion of the Form of Subscription, Smith has chosen the latter path. The fact that Smith failed to support his FoS position with any good reasons and, moreover, committed fallacy after obvious fallacy in criticizing DeMoor and responding to other critics was shameful. My own PHIL 101 students could identify the “mistakes” Smith was making.

    In this recent post, Smith characterizes his opponents as claiming that there are “aspects of Christianity that are just not believable today. But that’s OK, because it turns out that they’re also aspects that are not really biblical and not really Christian.”

    A more accurate and intellectually honest characterization would be that there are aspects of a certain form of Christianity that are not rationally believable in light of modern scholarship.

    Of course, as Bryan notes, Smith does absolutely nothing to demonstrate the falsity of the claims that certain aspects of (one form of) Christianity are not really Biblical. It’s enough for this philosopher, of all people, to dismiss serious Bible and Church history scholarship as a mere “tale about ‘Hellenization’ or ‘Constantinianism’” told to make Christianity more “believable.”

    Does Smith offer any evidence that such a disingenuous PR strategy is the motivation? Of course not.

    I’m a little embarrassed that the entire philosophy department isn’t calling him out on these dishonest moves. Calvin’s philosophy department has historically been top notch. Has the entire department lost its integrity?

    And what happened to the previously thoughtful and philosophically astute James K. A. Smith? If I didn’t know better (and I don’t), I’d think Smith was angling to impress the moneyed “old guard” in the attempt to maintain or acquire some prestigious political position at Calvin College or in the CRC.

    This will be a teachable moment. Here’s the lesson: if you’d like to be rewarded at Calvin or in the CRC generally, then say whatever is expedient to protect the status quo; if you intend to be intellectually honest and scientifically, historically or philosophically rigorous, then don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Watch with me to see whether Smith is officially called out or rewarded for his dishonest “musings.”

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