The Wise Fool in Shakespeare and in Life and in Scripture

Historically, plays and entertainment in various cultures have had the figure of a jester, clown, or fool. William Shakespeare’s plays sometimes redesigned this character where he made the fool a central figure of the story, and not just a jester. Influenced by the Bible, Shakespeare played on the biblical notions of the wise man; his fools are often “the wise” who have prophetic revelations for the main characters of the plays that are often themselves shown to be the true proper fools. His fool is often the only one who is not afraid to speak the truth, providing commentary on both the story and the other characters. One of the most fascinating examples is found in King Lear, a play that explores with the ideas of reality, folly, magisterial delusions of kings, and what is wise and what is foolish. He can see through the duplicities and falsehoods before everyone else, and he also stays by Lear’s side and does not abandon him to his madness.
Shakespeare’s fools take some getting used to by the audience, since at first glance they posture as a clown or buffoon, but with closer examination their lines convey some of the wittiest and most logical reasoning in the plays. Besides often giving comic relief in light of tragic circumstances or tragic character flaws in the main characters, the fool often gives us wisdom, playing on the biblical theme of “the wisdom of God is folly/foolishness to the world.
Not all of Shakespeare’s fool follow the same pattern, since some are simpler, and even some darker, than others and give less insight.[1]

One of my favorite fool-dialogues and descriptions is from the Twelfth Night where Viola gives us her definition of the fool, and also the longer selection below where they dialogue wittily and very humorously:

VIOLA

This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, cheque at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practise
As full of labour as a wise man’s art
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit.

A dialogue from the Twelfth Night below gives us a good example:

Clown

Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft
prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may
pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus?[a made-up philosopher][2]
‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’

The original fuller text alongside a modern rendition from “no-fear shakespeare”[1]  
Original Text 

Enter OLIVIA with MALVOLIO

OLIVIA

Take the fool away.

Modern Text

Enter OLIVIA with MALVOLIO

OLIVIA

Get that fool out of here.

FOOL

Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.

FOOL

Didn’t you hear her, guys? Get the lady out of here.

OLIVIA

Go to, you’re a dry fool. I’ll no more of you. Besides, you grow dishonest.

OLIVIA

Oh, go away, you’re a boring fool. I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore. Besides, you’ve gotten unreliable.

FOOL

Two faults, madonna, that drink and good counsel will amend. For give the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry. Bid the dishonest man mend himself. If he mend, he is no longer dishonest. If he cannot, let the botcher mend him. Anything that’s mended is but patched. Virtue that transgresses is but patched with sin, and sin that amends is but patched with virtue. If that this simple syllogism will serve, so. If it will not, what remedy? As there is no true cuckold but calamity, so beauty’s a flower. The lady bade take away the fool. Therefore, I say again, take her away.

FOOL

Madam, those are two character flaws that a little booze and some common sense can fix. If you hand a drink to a sober fool, he won’t be thirsty anymore. If you tell a bad man to mend his wicked ways, and he does, he won’t be bad anymore. If he cannot, let the tailor mend him. Anything that’s mended is only patched up. A good person who does something wrong is only patched up with sin. And a sinner who does something good is only patched up with goodness. If this logic works, that’s great. If not, what can you do about it? Since the only real betrayed husband in the world is the one deserted by Lady Luck—because we’re all married to her—beauty is a flower. The lady gave orders to take away the fool, so I’m telling you again, take her away.

OLIVIA

Sir, I bade them take away you.

OLIVIA

I told them to take you away.

FOOL

Misprision in the highest degree! Lady, Cucullus non facit monachum—that’s as much to say as I wear not motley in my brain. Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool.

FOOL

Oh, what a big mistake! Madam, you can’t judge a book by its cover. I mean, I may look like a fool, but my mind’s sharp. Please let me prove you’re a fool.

OLIVIA

Can you do it?

OLIVIA

Can you do that?

FOOL

Dexterously, good madonna.

FOOL

Easily, madam.

OLIVIA

Make your proof.

OLIVIA

Then go ahead and prove it.

FOOL

I must catechise you for it, madonna. Good my mouse of virtue, answer me.

FOOL

I’ll have to ask you some questions, madam. Please answer, my good little student.

OLIVIA

Well, sir, for want of other idleness, I’ll bide your proof.

OLIVIA

I’m listening to you only because I’ve got nothing better to do.

FOOL

Good madonna, why mournest thou?

FOOL

My dear madam, why are you in mourning?

OLIVIA

Good fool, for my brother’s death.

OLIVIA

My dear fool, because my brother died.

FOOL

I think his soul is in hell, madonna.

FOOL

I think his soul’s in hell, my lady.

OLIVIA

I know his soul is in heaven, fool.

OLIVIA

I know his soul’s in heaven, fool.

FOOL

The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.

FOOL

Then you’re a fool for being sad that your brother’s soul is in heaven. Take away this fool, gentlemen.

OLIVIA

What think you of this fool, Malvolio? Doth he not mend?

OLIVIA

What do you think of this fool, Malvolio? Isn’t he getting funnier?

MALVOLIO

Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him. Infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool.

MALVOLIO

Yes, and he’ll keep getting funnier till he dies. Old age always makes people act funny—even wise people, but fools more than anybody.

FOOL

God send you, sir, a speedy infirmity, for the better increasing your folly! Sir Toby will be sworn that I am no fox, but he will not pass his word for two pence that you are no fool.

FOOL

I hope you go senile soon, sir, so you can become a more foolish fool! Sir Toby would bet a fortune that I’m not smart, but he wouldn’t bet two cents that you’re not a fool.

OLIVIA

How say you to that, Malvolio?

OLIVIA

What do you say to that, Malvolio?

MALVOLIO

I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal.

I saw him put down the other day with an ordinary fool that

MALVOLIO

I’m surprised you enjoy the company of this stupid troublemaker. The other day I saw him defeated in a

has no more brain than a stone. Look you now, he’s out of his guard already. Unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagged. I protest I take these wise men that crow so at these set kind of fools no better than the fools’ zanies. battle of wits by an ordinary jester with no more brains than a rock. Look at him, he’s at a loss for words already. Unless he’s got somebody laughing at him, he can’t think of anything to say. I swear, anyone smart who laughs at these courts jesters is nothing but a jester’s apprentice.  
OLIVIA

Oh, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets. There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail. Nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.

OLIVIA

Malvolio, your vanity is damaging your good taste. If you were generous, innocent, and good-natured, you wouldn’t get so upset by what the fool says. You’d think of his wisecracks as harmless little firecrackers, not hurtful bullets. A court jester isn’t really criticizing people, even if he does nothing but make fun of them all day long. And a wise person doesn’t make fun of people, even if all he does is criticize them.

 
FOOL

Now Mercury endue thee with leasing, for thou speakest well of fools!

FOOL

You speak so highly of fools! I hope the god of deception rewards you by making you a wonderful liar.

 

[1] From http://nfs.sparknotes.com/twelfthnight/page_38.html accesses 8/18/2015.


Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

1 Cor 3 18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours,”

1 Cor 1 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19 For it is written,
“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  26For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29so that no man may boast before God. 30But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

[1] There have been many things written on Shakespeare’s fools: one example available for free is See Frederick B. Warde, The Fools of Shakespeare: An Interpretation of Their Wit, Wisdom and Personalities (London: McBride, Nast, and Company), 1915.

[2] Possibly means something in Latin (Opalus is Opal, Quin to negate, “without”).

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Don’t Be Naive: or, “judge a righteous judgment”

foolsdance“Thou shalt judge . . . . a righteous judgment”

Rom 16:17-18 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

διχοστασίας      divisions
σκάνδαλα          obstacles
χρηστολογίας    smooth talk
εὐλογίας           flattery
ἐξαπατῶσιν       deceive
ἀκάκων             naïve

Warnings against those who use smooth talk (rhetoric) and false logic to bring dissensions and digressions from the truth abound in scripture. For those who claim that we “must not judge” things (what others say, believe, or do), we see in this passage a strong exhortation to “keep your eye” on things contrary to the teaching you have learned. More than that, we are to turn away from them! We often think of this perhaps just in terms of smooth talking salesmen, or some such, but in this case we can understand this as anyone who persuasively in words, print, or other means presents ideas that are not true (true: in accordance with Scripture) so that we might believe in them. Many terrible ideas are being published in beautiful books and beautiful words, and many a hip preacher and teacher can get the crowds shouting on their feet for ideas that will in the end bring down the house (being built on sand). Oftentimes, the ideas will seem a bit novel, but not so apparently diverting from orthodoxy that they are obviously departing from the truth. The seriousness of falling prey to such subtly false rhetoric is a matter of disobedience or obedience to Christ. It is in this sense a matter of life and death, the necessity of having biblical discernment and assessment of people’s logic (thinking/reasonings) and their rhetoric in communicating. This necessity of discerning flattery and deceptions of many kinds requires true wisdom from God, to have skillful discernment and assessment, so that we can clearly distinguish (judge) truth from falsehood, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. Naïve, fools listen to the songs of folly and foolishness, dancing their tune, and this is the epitome of unreason and irrationality. Logic and rhetoric therefore have as their primary concerns the very Truth: what is true to reality not imaginations, what is right, and to what is true to the character of God and all who represent him. We would be wise to listen to the words of wisdom here in Paul, and thus walking with the wise (Prov 13:20) we might become “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).

“Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!”

bored with books

On boredom, creativity, and the not-so-necessary

There have been a number of articles and books in recent years with this same title. I suppose copy-write laws do not apply to titles. So here is another, though much briefer (for those who get bored).

I have been known to tell my children (three marvelously curious boys) that “boredom is a sin” for those of us who live in God’s endlessly extraordinary universe of people, places, creatures, and things of every size, shape, and color imaginable.  Yet, I have learned a qualification to this sentiment from some of these recent publications, that boredom can actually be a good, since “downtime” with nothing to do is a necessary counter-balance to the frenetic-(fanatical)-fever-pitch over-scheduling of our lives and our childrens’, many of whom have never had the delicious languidity of a summer day laying in the hay or along a brook with a good book, day-dreaming in leisure of very little that may be deemed “matters of consequence” by those  mostly concerned with what-is-necessary. Deprived of the gift of boredom, and tethered to the ever-present-absent, and virtual (not-real), in-iverse of the NET, we lose the moment of imagination and creativity. As Richard Simon quotes Paul Persal, that in worshipping “Nowism” we have “an addiction to technology and the instantaneous response, the disconnection from the natural world, the final triumph of consumerism and the desperate longing for more and more and more.”[1] And as Richard Winter quotes Mary Pipher,

“Most real life is rather quiet and routine. Most pleasures – a hot shower, a sunset, a bowl of good soup or a good book. Television suggests that life is high drama, love, and sex. TV families are radically different from real families. Things happen much faster to them. On television things that are not visually interesting, such as thinking, reading, and talking, are ignored. Activities such as housework, fund-raising and teaching children to read are vastly underreported. Instead of ennobling ordinary experiences, television suggests that they are not of sufficient interest to document.”[2]

Boredom, all the same, can be related to Sloth in its “refusal to delight, a loss of wonder and a worship of numbness.”[3] This is the side of boredom that we parents fear, that it can become a “Slough of Despond” (a swamp of despair). So, we compel them anxiously: “Don’t Just Sit There, Do something!” Yet, we must admit, at that moment we may have killed off their innate ability to imagine in their quietude and solitude, and to begin to create out of their boredom something beautiful and lasting in their God-given drive to respond in wonder and worship of our awesome Creator, in awe at all that is, and at what can and could be . . . at what is still possible.

As Winter says further,

“In God’s creation we can find so much to take an interest in, but it takes effort and self-discipline for us to stop long enough to look and marvel at the structure of a flower or a leaf, to wonder how long it took a mountain to form, to see reflections in the smallest puddle, to watch the wind blowing seeds from a flower, to want to know what each snowflake looks like, to marvel that our nails and hair and skin are constantly growing, to learn the names of birds and trees or to learn to listen to bird songs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, ‘Aurora, Seventh Book,’ expresses something of this:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes–
The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.”[4]

And so, to do my part, I will be joining the Slow Food Movement, and, if they will have me, the Slow City Movement . . . to better learn the lessons of discipline in my boredoms, and the gift of leisure in God’s Sabbath design of things that ironically enables us to fulfill our vocations. The days of rest being made for us, and not us for them . . . as Jesus tried repeatedly to convince the Pharisees; always concerned with matters of great consequence they could see nothing good in Jesus feeding his disciples from the fields on a languid summer afternoon, nor with the opening of the eyes of the blind (and the bored) so that they can praise him in wonder at his glory and love.

In contrast to these sentiments, revivalist-mountain-top-experientialist-culture, ever tries to find more exciting and glamorous ways to get the bored, young people “pumped up” and thrilled that they are in the middle of something BIG that God is doing: the larger the crowd the better, the more hip and appealing the speaker the better, the more loud the music and moving the crescendo of noise the more certain God is REALLY present . . . the more exotic the mission . . . Yet, contrarily, “The work of ministry is not so much about finding new, tantalizing ways to make people excited about Jesus, but about the timeless rituals that shape their hearts.”[5]  It is in the seemingly insignificant liturgies of our daily life of loving and serving and praying and learning and working, in leisure and play, with regular folk, that we must walk the talk of faith in the valleys of the ordinary, where Christ is Lord of every (extraordinary) atom that sustains our oftentimes not-so-glamorous and boring lives.

[1] Richard Simon, “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There,” Family therapy Networker 23, no 1 (1999): 36.

[2] Richard Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Rediscovering Passion & Wonder, Downers Grove: IVP, 2002, p. 116.

[3] Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, p. 120.

[4] Winter, Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, p. 124.

[5] Daniel Darling, “Boring Church Services Changed My Life,” Christianity Today Pastors, February 2017, accessed on July 18, 2017 at http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/channel/utilities/print.html?type=article&id=137763 .

 

On Jesus Calling by Sarah Young [The New Mystic]

On Jesus Calling by the Sarah Young [The New Mystic][1]

Since the very popular author Sarah Young has now published her own Jesus Calling Devotional Bible, I think it is even more pressing that we address her hugely successful devotional book published some years previously, called Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. In this earlier devotional publication she claims that its content came to her by direct dictation from Jesus. My concerns with this devotional are not with its content per se; it is her claims of direct communication from Jesus (which seems comparable to the increasingly common New Age channeling practitioners who also claim to receive messages, even sometimes from Jesus). If Young had not put this in the form of direct revelation from Christ to her (and presumably to all believers), but rather as Christian reflections to encourage and teach others, it would not be so problematic. In fact, I would find it a bit more acceptable if she had only claimed that this was a literary and imaginative work for devotional encouragement, but that is not the case. Most seriously, as with all claims of direct messages from God, in Jesus Calling Young’s claim of direct (dictation)[2] revelation would logically necessitate some kind of divine inspiration, and thus infallibility, and thus inerrancy (as the logic goes). Although Young denies inerrancy for these “messages from God,” I do not see how anyone can accept her claims without attributing to her works unwarranted authority.

Young’s mystical orientation puts her in company with many other, similar Christian mystics, “listeners” who have “visualizations” and experiences of losing “all sense of time.” Young’s theology may be otherwise orthodox, as far as I know.  As several reviewers have noted, however, the theology of Young’s devotional is thin. Indeed, the most common theme seems to be simply “Don’t worry, trust me,” in the traditional, pietistic motif of “let go and let God,” or, “cease striving.” Further to that thin theme, there is the central mystical thought of “empty yourself and your mind” that I find very unsatisfying as a model for the Christian life in a fallen world. Indeed, the biblical model is to be filled with the Word, so that his word dwells in us for fullness of life.

The message Young conveys in this devotional of dictations is that scripture was not sufficient for her, and need not be for us. As she writes, “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more” (xii).  And, since God has given her a deeper peace from “personal messages” directly from Jesus, we too are encouraged to get solace and peace with this fresh new word from Christ himself to her. She offers to her readers that “more” she yearned for, but it is a further word, not the scripture. The fundamental doctrines of the Protestant faith include the sufficiency of scripture and the cessation of divine revelation with the closing of the canon.  Any claims of something “more” beyond that have historically been rejected as usurpations, and thus unauthoritative. Also, by adding biblical scriptures to the bottom of her revelations, Young gives further unjustified authority to the words she claims come directly from Christ.

Works such as this one undoubtedly indicate a spiritual hunger for more teaching that “speaks to the heart and soul” in our times, and perhaps particularly in Reformed circles that tend sometimes to especially emphasize the mind and thoroughgoing theology. Yet, in response to that suggestion, I propose that any downplaying of the “heart and soul,” and the human need to be ministered to there, is entirely out of accord with our history of Protestant, Reformation piety. Just consider, for example, Jonathan Edwards, “Religious Affections.” I do think there is a widespread hunger for something more in this area. Indeed, there may be something of a famine in our times, but I think it is the meat of the Word through the Spirit that alone produces a true “experience” of God and his presence (this is not to say we do not read other books to learn, grow, and get encouragement, etc., but that we do not consider them in any way as further revelation).

In sum, since our experiences are such unreliable guides for piety, we must depend on the scripture alone as our authoritative rule and guide for life and faith. Sola scriptura was about both the authority of the Scripture and its sufficiency. Indeed, I believe that we do not need to “yearn” for anything more than sola scriptura. Jesus is calling, but he never calls us to go beyond scripture.

Stephen Hague

[1] Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004.

[2] On dictation notions of inspiration, ironically, no Evangelical theory that I know of seriously entertains inspiration of biblical revelation in the terms she describes that her messages are received by dictation.

Yada: The Wound of our Knowledge

Yada: The Wound of our Knowledge (in appreciation, for Steven Garber)
“If you know, you care; if you don’t care, you don’t know.” S.Garber

  1. Does theology matter,
    or do anything?
    Or mean anything
    to matter
    to anything
    or anyone?
    Do we need it
    anyway
    for anyone
    to mind it
    at any time?
    Does it do anything?
  2. Since so much
    depends upon
    the nexus
    between knowledge
    and responsibility,
    knowing and doing;
    since our survival
    depends upon
    our truths being true
    to the way the world
    actually is,
    why we continue
    even when everything
    that might be done
    is still undone,
    and why when words
    become flesh
    we step in
    and begin
    to know
    and finally see
    what love
    will ask of us,
    and to find
    it is more
    than we are able
    to give.
  3. To know is to care
    to remember
    the telos of life
    to do what we know
    in love.
  4. I am not
    what I could be,
    nor will be,
    until He makes me
    as he wills and is.
  5. Our names
    are hidden
    on the inverse
    curvature of the earth’s horizon
    which disintegrates
    with each stroke of the rower’s oar
    whose name is not known.
    A Great White was tagged
    and named Mary Lee
    and was spotted near our shore today.Ever-receding
    with each [shudder] of strength and oar
    the alphabets of our names
    tumble with abandon
    seemingly random re-organizing
    across the rim of visible space
    spelling catastrophe
    of immeasurable magnitude
    when these waters covered our earth
    our home our names
    now rewritten in a cursive
    of love we do not yet know,
    names written on a stone
    hidden in the heart of the sea
    beyond the cold arc of the sun
    burning like white steel
    hot and blinding letters
    too scorching to touch or say
    we watch for when
    they will be known
    letter by letter
    pronounced with thunder and rain
    and with no more sorrow nor melancholia.
  6. I longed
    for my children
    to know the world,
    but also to care.

Is the PostModern (PoMo) Emerging and Missional Emergent Movement now passé?

untitledAt the grassroots level, this Postmodern movement was fueled by much dislike of uncool fundamentalism and its “culture” (or lack thereof). This reactionary component, and their seeming lack of positive direction and definition, has been particularly defining of the movement itself. The question still remains, nevertheless, where were we supposed to be emerging from and where to? But now the question is, is the emerging movement itself  actually in retreat today? As a reactionary movement against what was “before,” once it too becomes post, or “before,” does it too then not become passé?

One of “emergings” key spokesmen once suggested that the theologizing of prior centuries was only for prior centuries and was not as deep and profound as what is happening today in the emerging movement (see “some quotes” below). The uninspiring, ho-hum, aspect of this is that the mainline church and its neo-orthodoxy previously had lived long in the universe of the “journey” not the “destination,” seeking “questions,” not “answers,” living in “tension” not “resolution.” They spoke eloquently in paradoxical terms of “concealment as an aspect of revelation,” and in the “affirmation of doubt” and “silence,” of “engaging” not dogmatizing or “getting it all down” (whatever that means). Propositionalism became a pejorative term applied to those who have too much certitude in what they believe. Objectivism was rejected as the idol of those who believe Truth is absolute and absolutely true. Within this, there was a call for hermeneutical agnosticism in regards to the biblical text. While this has the virtue of claiming humility, it just might lead to pride in doubts about what can be known of the text. While emergers rightly emphasized contextual mission as the mission of the church of God, they fail to remind us that mission has always been the mission of the church, despite its many failings, and I can think of no theologian who ever denied that mission. In regards to all of these characteristics, this now aging movement may well be seeing a glimmer of a new emerging from this hermeneutical agnosticism. In what I have observed (my entirely unscientific impression), there seems to be a greater longing for certitude and a theological house built on solid rock, not sand. Being “post” everything may have been found wanting.

Indeed, the “post” nature of the emerging movement was one of its most puzzling features. Emergers have been said to be “post-modern,” “post-liberal,” “post-evangelical,” “post-doctrinal,” “post-Bible-study-piety,” “post-systematic theology,” and “post-conservative.” I think “post-rational,” “post-linear,” and “post-historical” could be added to this list (see Scott Mcknight’s article, “The Future or Fad: A Look at the Emerging Church Movement.”) In fact, even though Mcknight says this “post” is not “better” but “after,” this reactionary characteristic describes at least a drift away from what preceded, regardless of internal assessments of what they are now post. Even if this shift was not intentional or always conscious, it is professedly a drift away from traditional evangelicalism, conservatism, doctrinalism, sytematics, traditional Bible-Study, and personal piety, etc. I would agree that it may also have represented a drift away from the old liberalism (“post liberal”), but only in so far as it is aligned with Neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodoxy, though a reaction against the old liberalism, simply refashioned the Modernists’ (Historical-Critical) rejection of scripture itself as the only revealed Word of God, divinely inspired, inerrant, as propositional revelation, and translated this view into a Neo-orthodox version riddled with dialectical tensions. In this regard, I propose that it was always in danger of becoming post-orthodox. Indeed, as with most fads, thankfully, it seems to be coming into a “post-emerging” phase, as already noted, and as a fad that relished being “post” (as in “better than what preceded”), it is now surpassed by a hunger for reality of a truly biblical theology and living.

In reference to the emerger’s (and PoMo’s) original rejection of “Modernism,” I suggest that the traditional use of this term “modern” has been abused in the discussion, since in theology and hermeneutics it referred to the classic formulations of the early Historical-Critical scholars (now often called “liberal”), and in reference to history it would take us back nearly to the Renaissance and not to twentieth century Evangelicalism (the well-bred whipping-boy of Neo-Modern PoMos). Indeed, the early modern period begins in the Middle Ages. Perhaps on this point, the Neo-modernists could do better at informing us illiterate modern masses precisely what part of this vast history they reject and accept, rather than characterizing certain isolated aspects of modern Evangelicalism and pejoratively calling them “Modernist” in order to tar and feather them for future reference in the history books of the post-post-post-modernist era. Which raises another question, do we ever finally arrive at what is “post post”? Are we yet, and forever then, truly prepost? Also, I suggest that it would be vain to suggested that this search for something “post” everything is a continuation of the principle of ecclesia reformata est semper reformando (a reformed church is always reforming), since this principle is about remaining faithful to the orthodox “traditions of the apostles” handed down to us.

Another prevalent aspect of emerging was their proposed dichotomies for framing a new perspective on orthodoxy. I culled the following examples from the emerging-church literature. I have not listed any dichotomy that I have not observed at some point in the literature on “emerging.” These are not my “stereotypes” of this movement, but the explicit assertions made by those either seeking to explain or advocate emerging (my comments are in parenthesis):

  • emerging is about ecclesiology not about epistemology (I suggest that this is patently false, since discussions and assertions about epistemology litter the emerging terrain)
  • emerging is missional in contrast to pre-emerging Christendom (this is historically inaccurate, since the church, when it has been acting biblically, has always been truly missional)
  • emerging is missional not theologically defined (this is a contradiction in terms, since all truly biblical, missional activity must be theologically rooted and motivated)
  • emerging is formational not informational (this is doubly a contradiction in terms, since formation cannot emerge without information, and indeed spiritual formation has always depended upon sound theological “information”)
  • emerging is about God as “being right” not about people being right or wrong (this is naïve, since such disjunctive affirmations remove human, theological responsibility before God)
  • emerging is pro-Jesus not creedal, systematic, or logical (this is semantic mysticism, and the old “no creeds but Jesus” idea is essentially creedal)
  • emerging is relational not rational (ditto)
  • emerging is pro-church not doctrinally unified (this rejects the principle of the purity of the visible church, and to be pro-church necessitates being pro-doctrine, though imperfectly)
  • emerging is a community not denominational or ecclesiastical (this collapses the visible and the invisible church, and diminishes the communities created by denominations and churches)
  • emerging is about micro-narratives not about meta-narratives (this makes true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible, since our “micro-narratives” have true significance only in so far as they correspond to the meta-narrative of the gospel of redemption)
  • emerging is more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy (this false disjunction suggests that living is prior to believing. Yet, since our living is motivated by our Lord, how do we practice what we do not doctrinally affirm?)
  • emerging is about being post-everything but it is really post-little. I suggest that the Emergent-Emerging-Village did not equal a revolution or reformation but a fun playing-field in which “traditional” cultural, theological, and philosophical borderlines were understood as in motion. Indeed, some in the emerging movement even tried to push out traditional Christian moral boundaries. Since blogs have been one of the primary mediums for the emerging discussions, it is difficult to identify all of its diverse shifts with confidence(oops!). Ironically, the driving engine of much of the emerging moment seemed to be Neo-Modernism which is strangely akin to Neo-orthodoxy, one of the many versions of twentieth century heterodoxy (even though not all emergers share PoMo denials of “absolute truth”). Neo-modernism presents the other straw-man of the Transcendental Great Other who is a god mostly unknowable. Indeed, this god lives in the great cloud of unknowing, and is the dialectical tension inhering in all of modern life. This transcendent god, or Transcendence as God, is mostly silent. Nevertheless, we sometimes get a glimpse in the Bible, in a sunset, or in human culture and traditions, all of which are somehow, inexplicably, relative to collective interpretation by the PoMo community. This deistic formulation strangles prayer and basic Bible study, in my view, as it did in the Mainline of my lost youth. And, as it has in the West as a whole. And this is why it contained within it the seeds of its own undoing.

In its rejection of pietism, Neo-orthodoxy loathed piety, since its impersonal god makes no distinctions between the warmth and zeal that true knowledge of God in Christ engenders and the excesses of nineteenth century revivalism. Similarly, many in the emerging movement seemed to dislike pietism. Most strangely, the emerging and PoMo movements both seem to simultaneously disdain pietism and also what is pejoratively called “old Princeton” (Scottish Common Sense Realism), or rationalism. Nevertheless, the frequent PoMo denigration of the Princeton theologians for their rationalism has not considered the history of their piety.[1] These Princeton theologians, condemned in PoMo judgment, had heart-religion on fire for God. Their heart-religion was not unbridled, subjective emotionalism. Nor was their academic work intellectual, rationalistic gamesmanship. Rather, their academic labors fueled their passion for the gospel of Christ. Indeed, I think it is unsustainable that the Princeton theologians advanced rationalism, but rather they believed in rationality as a God-given gift. They also understood the significance of the battle for Truth, and they believed that theological formulation, expression, and creeds mattered as a matter of life and death. I do not mean to romanticize these Old-Bygone-Theologizers, but mention them as an example that highlights the many false dichotomies and straw-men the PoMos’ love to burn, leaving nothing but ashes in their historical stead.

The ennui of many people today is the ethos of apathy, and worse. Many are adrift in a world that offers them gods fashioned according to their likes and dislikes, their styles and manner of being cool, their personal preferences and i-pod gods for nameless blog-religion. In this context, I have been concerned that this new emerging “reformation” would not lead to a new orthodoxy and orthopraxy of building community, but to a new religion of Neo-modernist transcendentalism and isolationalism. It is therefore my hope that in the seminary/church world the gospel of Christ is not subsumed by the popular “Totally Other” transcendental god of Barthian Neo-orthodoxy and Neo-modernist mysticism. God revealed himself in the sanctuary of Israel as absolutely immanent and absolutely transcendent (without any contradiction or paradox), and this is his consistent revelation through to the end of the Revelation of John. Indeed, in Christ, these complimentary attributes of God become most evident in the incarnation: God Almighty is personally, knowably, present with us. Thus, we can confidently(oops!) proclaim to this adrift generation, desperate for an answer to their ennui, that God is not Totally Other, but has clearly spoken in His Son. His Son is the incarnate Word of God whose word is the seed of the Kingdom of God now here in our midst. The revealed word of God is scripture now here in our hands, and it is the only final, and absolute authority for the people of the Son of God.

The frequent immodesty of “evangelical” PoMo theology, that often rejects previous theologizing, denies that their emperor wears no clothes. That is, their accusations that Modernists are guilty of “cognitive idolatry” may come home to roost, since their new found pride in “humble theology” invokes a self-loathing of their own Evangelicalism. This self-loathing is pervasive, along with its distaste for “fundamentalism” and its cultural separatism. Ironically, justified fears of cultural accommodation run deep in the Neo-modernist movement, but with a brilliant naiveté that if we just admit our presuppositions then we become neutral and objective. If asserting with certitude that we have received what has been passed on to us from the apostles of Christ is idolatry, then surely confident ranting against confidence in the scripture would qualify as cognitive idolatry. It is time that those who are refashioning orthodoxy admit that their own presuppositions are not just about contextualizing the gospel of Jesus, but rather about neutralizing the power of the gospel unto salvation to all who believe.

If asserting that we must be faithful to the scripture is cognitive idolatry, then it is time the Neo-modernists come clean and confess to their own lack of faith and need for prayer. It is time they own up to their own “cultural conditioning” by modernist, naturalist unbelief, and foreswear calling it recontextualization. As one of the philosophical leaders of the PoMo evangelicals likes to say, “Objectivity has been greatly overrated,” I would like to say that this is an overly objective, modernist assertion within his own framework. There is absolutely nothing new in calls to formulate the gospel clearly to each new generation, but the underlying assertion that our formulations are only social constructs “imbedded in particular cultures” is something new. And, this new thing is a departure from the perspective of the apostles on their gospel, in my view.

These are just some of the reasons why I believe that the Post-Modern Emerging movement has come to its end, and has become passé, since the people of God hunger for much more substance in their relationship with Christ the King, our ever-present Savior, than such philosophies could provide. He has called us out of darkness into his glorious light (1 Peter 2:9), and his people need to be encouraged in that absolute truth to live before the nations in true faith and loving obedience.

[1]For example, in Andrew Hoffecker’s Piety and the Princeton Theologians: Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981).

Some quotes about “rejecting” prior theologizing below from Scott Mcknight’s blogsite:

http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=821 “Many of the leaders and thinkers of the emerging movement were nurtured theologically on books like those of Donald Bloesch, Millard Erickson,Wayne Grudem, or even older lights like Berkhof. Emerging leaders know this stuff — and often have moved beyond it or have rejected it.” “What you won’t find in these new discussions is the return to dog-eared discussions like whether or not human nature is tripartite or something else. The issues are bigger, the questions are deeper, and the scope of the discussion wider. When they ask about eschatology, they don’t ask about the rapture, they inquire into what history is, how God relates to history, what the goal of history is. When they ask about Scripture, they don’t begin with inerrancy and inspiration but (like Vanhoozer) how the drama of doctrine is meant to be played out using the script of God as its text.” “Which also means the answers will be bigger and deeper and wider. Perhaps I’ve misstated: this kind of theology might not be pursuing the “answer” but probing the question — theologizing, exploring, pondering, and wondering.”

In contrast to this, read 1 Corinthians 15:3 (NASB95): For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures . .

More thoughts and quotes on Neo-Modernism (a.k.a PoMo)

“The only cure for postmodernism is the incurable illness of romanticism.” (Postmodernism for Beginners by Richard Appignanesi and Chris Garratt)

Post modernism sends the contradictory message that though we are all one community, our individual cultures (“readings” of reality) make true “cross-cultural” communication essentially and practically impossible. That is, if meaning is relative to the individual within his or her community, or that meaning is relative to the community itself, then truly cross-cultural communication is not possible.

LeoPurdue’s comments on postmodernism are worth further reflection (from Reconstructing Old Testament Theology: After the Collapse of History, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005, pp. 278-279):

“The losses to human thinking and understanding, should the post modern agenda be fully implemented, would be enormous. Perhaps the most debilitating one is dispensing with any affirmation as true in any sense of the word. Postmodernists in religion are quick to deny this and reject the claim that they advocate nihilism. But one is hard pressed to see their arguments as anything but nihilistic, similar to the anti-Kantian view expressed by Schopenhauer in his understanding of blind will: there is no meaning whatsoever that may be claimed and attested as objectively and representationally true. For Schopenhauer, the human will seeks to represent the world experienced through the senses in orderly forms through which knowledge may be obtained that is objectively true.(1) Yet we simply construct our world through self-interest with intent to realize immediate goals that inevitably become conflicting and contradictory. Try as they must, humans cannot escape or abolish this will in the attempt to know what is objectively true. Ideas are nothing more than the epiphenomena of a blind and irrational will that expresses itself through self-constructed ideas and actions based on self-interest.”

“If the postmodernists and their intellectual predecessors, including the philosophers of the New Academy, the Romanticists, and possibly even Schopenhauer, are correct, then the interpreter, located in multidimensional contexts, determines meaning. Thus, there is no objective reality, and all assertions are ideological construals of self-interest. Nothing may be affirmed as true whether theological or ethical. There is no basis on which behavior may be judged as ethical or unethical. Yet if we abandon ethics, do we not allow marginals to continue in the squalor of degrading, humanity-denying subsistence or fail to oppose authoritarian regimes in their pillaging, destroying, and controlling, without so much as uttering even a whispered protest?”

“The most significant concern I have with postmodernism is that it is astendentious as the ideologies of texts and interpreters that it strongly criticizes. While no text or interpreter is capable of transcending self-interest, the biased character of much postmodernism is clear. Thus, the criticisms postmodernists raise about texts and interpreters, especially historical critics, are just as partisan, if not more so, since they operate with the deception that their approach transcends ideology. Historical critics may be suffering from self-delusion in attempting to interpret the text as “objectively” as possible, but at least they make the effort. Postmodernists do not. They choose, rather, to reify their own political, social, sexual, and theological affirmations in every text that is interpreted without any accountability to critical scrutiny. They have attempted to construct an approach to biblical interpretation that is ‘beyond criticism.'”

(1)Schopenhauer, Die Welt ale Wille undVorstellung

The Polarities of the Little Prince & the Pragmatist

For ever-curious Julian who asked, what do you think is the meaning of The Little Prince?
For Marcus who marveled with and loved The Little Prince.
For Lucas who so much lives like The Little Prince.

 1. “Unless you become as little children . . .”

Innocent as doves
Wise as serpents,
In undying friendship,
Boundless creativity
And imagination,
Open to the immensity,
The stars of the heavens,
Mysterious and mundane.
Trust, love, responsibility,
And vulnerability.
Matters of significance,
Not necessarily consequence.
What is significant
Is not necessarily
Visible to the eyes.
Wells in the wilderness
Hope in faith,
Possible beauty.
Childlikeness,
not childishness.
To see what is, as it truly is,
Not what we vainly imagine.
Wonder and awe,
The uniqueness of each person
And their loves.
To return to love,
see with the heart.
In death properly faced
There can be new life.

2. “He who tries to save his life . . .”

Will blinded be
By appearances, power-politics
And pragmatism.
Forgetfulness
And growing up
Into vanity,
No wonder
Nor trust, no love, nor
Responsibility,
Selling the galaxies,
The Objectivist utility
Of others,
Awe-less and Serpentine,
Beauty-less and thirsting,
Machinations of consequence
And denial.
When all is said and done,
A barren wilderness of heart
And mind without purpose,
A futile business
Of practicality
And expediency,
The drought of death
In a garden of infinity,
Drowning in the sands
Of insignificance,
Without water in a desert,
Closed to its potentialities
And possible destinations.

[In reality, we are a mix of both the Prince and the Pragmatist.]

pdf: The Polarities of the Little Prince and the Pragmatist