The Bible and Science
Perceptions of Calvinism
Rachel Held Evans got corrected in her quick and dirty lumping of Calvinists with respect to NT Wright. Through the comments found J Todd Billings and a nice piece clarifying some things between the new Calvinists and those of us who have been in that camp a long time.
For the non-Reformed, TULIP provides a wonderfully convenient box into which Reformed theology can be placed—and criticized.
TULIP perpetuates a basic misunderstanding about the Reformed tradition: that predestination is the center of Reformed theology from which all else flows. Predestination is indeed important in the Reformed tradition. The Bible speaks about predestination, and the teachings of Calvin and the Synod of Dort seek to use this doctrine in a pastoral way to encourage humility and gratitude to God for salvation. But predestination is one among many teachings that rise and fall on the basis of scriptural exegesis in the Reformed tradition. The New Calvinists have served to further make Calvinism synonymous with a small portion of Reformed teaching.
Risse then notes other popular healing practices of the Middle Ages that were integrated into the monastic medical routine, including herbology, bathing (not otherwise common!), preventive bloodletting, and diagnostic examination of pulse, urine, stool, and blood. Particularly important (and germane to the last thematic chapter of my Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants) was that fact that, as Risse tells us, “one of the most important functions of the Benedictine monastery was the preparation for death, involving sick brethren who failed to recover.” Among other things, Risse notes that “periodic visits to the sick by members continued. Some brethren remained with the dying inmate throughout the day and night, praying and reading from the Scriptures by candlelight. The point of this vigil was to ensure ‘proper passing’; nobody should be left to die alone. If death became imminent, the whole monastic community was summoned and the monks congregated around the sick on both sides of the bed alternately to pray and sing, using music to ‘unbind’ the pain and thus provide the departing with spiritual nourishment for the journey to the beyond. Death was usually announced by the clapping of boards or ringing of bells, with burial in the monastic cemetery after elaborate funeral ceremonies. The deceased monk’s name and date of death were inscribed in a memorial book, and he was henceforth included in all intercessionary prayers.” (105)
Modern America appears to be preoccupied with the preservation of youth and beauty, with is catered to by the plastic surgeon. Society seems content to cling to the illusion that youth–and life–can last forever.
However, the millions of dollars people spend to stay young will not delay the inevitable. The fact is that life will end, and how Americans choose to cope with this reality gives us an overall picture of our society’s position on death; generally speaking, the American attitude is one of avoidance.
A major factor contributing to the American view of death is the fact that it has been hidden from us. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the dying remained at their homes and their primary caretakers were family members. Children were present along with everyone else throughout the dying process and the subsequent funeral preparations (O’ Connor 1).
Once death occurred, it was the family who handled the funeral arrangements. Family members washed the body, built the coffin, and prepared the grave site (O’ Connor 3). The visitation or wake was held in the home of the deceased.
“Each person learned about death firsthand. From caring for the dying family member through disposition of the corpse, death was within the realm of the family” (DeSpelder and Strickland 12).
American Church History
James Bratt’s excellent The Geography of Faith.
The crusade against totalitarianism done and won in 1945, Americans instituted a new era by moving outward again, this time to the suburbs. Protestant mainliners tried to follow along with their 1950s low-brand “community church,” but much of their leadership was trying still to give the nation direction, which became a problem in an era of great national turmoil. The divisions of the ‘60s claimed the Protestant mainline as a prime casualty. By the end of the troubles religious custody of the nation had passed to upsurging evangelicals who were eager to say what was right about America again, the rightest thing being that it was still God’s chosen land. The suburbs, and then the exurbs even farther out, proved to be evangelicals’ favored turf, and their genius at exploiting their market was evident in the architecture of their megachurches which replicated that of the center of suburbia, the shopping mall. The megachurch’s huge auditorium served as the anchor store; smaller rooms along radial arms were boutiques for the religious consumer’s special need.
It will take some time before this phase of American re-location is fully passed, but the signs of trouble are well advanced. Suburban poverty is up, way up; its properties high among the foreclosed; its automotive lifeline pinched by $4 going on $5 a gallon gasoline. The Kingdom of Roberts and the Cathedral of Schuller—monuments both to their age—have gone the way of all pride. The megachurch more generally is proving to be a true descendant of the ‘50s community church: low cost of entry breeding far too thin a loyalty and way too easy an exit. The suburbs’ children are opting for cool cities and no cars in place of the geography of nowhere and auto addiction; the creative edge of American life is re-gathering toward the center again. There, house churches, hipster communities, and Tim Keller’s kinder-gentler-and-intellectually-competitive evangelicalism vie with and for the rising tide of the “none’s,” people with no religious preference. The future of American religion belongs to those who can fathom, meet, and anchor these post-seekers on their new native grounds.
Interesting report on how Christian and Jewish traditions view calling Yhwh “Father”