Church & State

I'm looking for a job and taking some summer classes. One is on the intersection of Church and State, the history of democracy, and the like. It's a directed study so there are only a few of us doing it. You can see our class page, and read what were thinking about here. Below are some excerpts of what is being said.

I said:
My main problem with Hastings is that he assumes that democracy is a good thing, maybe it is, but he doesn't seem to address this.

I would also like to get everyone's take on the degree of truth to the idea that the Reformation, and specifically Reformed theology gave rise to democracy. Obviously that's not the narrative of the secular majority, but among Christians?

What do you guys think?

Greg Replied:
I need to do some more reading, but it seems that the free church tradition especially believes that democracy is the direct result not only of the Reformation but the correct reading of the NT after the Reformation set it free from the chains of the Roman Catholic Imperialist Church. However, a casual conversation with a political theorist that studies Western political thought will reveal that they care very little about the role of the Reformation or the churches involved in the democracizing of America.

That said, it is true that the Reformation "liberalized" Europe and
allowed people the opportunity to not have to deal with the Roman Church and, thus, they were able to do anthropology separated from theology and thus produce theories regarding the capabilities of humans that would not have been possible under the Catholic Church. However, Protestantism did not always suppor these benevolent views of human nature either. There is just something about the doctrine of total depravity that is hard to reconcile with the enlightenment view that human reason can solve all problems from government to science.


Does Diversity Include the Mainstream?

A while back I posted an article entitled The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary, which was also published in Fuller's student newspaper. I then e-mailed some of my favorite proffs to get their reaction.

Dr. Ryan Bolger and I have subsequently carried on an e-mail conversation which he gave me permission to post, and which he posted to his blog as well. (i suspect there will be more comments on his site, click here to read them.)

Ryan's point was this: I don't need to talk about the main stream, I need to bring light to other voices.

Dear Professors,

I’ve taken classes with each of you, and really respect you. Just wanted to give you the opportunity to respond (or not) to a blog post of mine which I submitted to the Semi for publication. (no word yet on whether it will be or not) It’s titled The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary. Below are a few excerpts and the link.

There truly is a lot of intellectual diversity at Fuller, maybe more than any other seminary, but none-the-less not as much as I thought, and think would be appropriate for the type of place Fuller is striving to be…

I want to hear about Catholic views, feminist perspectives and the like, but I also want conservative views given their day. Usually they aren't, and that's unfortunate. Where is the intellectual diversity, and exercise of robust thinking that grapples with all relevant views? Are we really getting a good education if what so many evangelicals believe is given the brush off? How many times have the words Rick Warren, or Left Behind brought snickers or outright laughter? I happen to appreciate most of the critiques of those positions, but what I don’t appreciate is the outright dismissal of positions that are embraced by so many evangelicals. Think about it. In a place where many are preparing for pastoral ministry which will place us in contact with all manner of views, both liberal and conservative, why are we short changing conservatives? Even if one thinks that a given position is the downfall of Western civilization, one must understand one’s opponents. Presently I would argue we do not, nor do we have the opportunity to.

What is further ironic, is that many professors here are educated in secular institutions where anything remotely evangelical is brushed off as being thoroughly unintellectual, but now they do the same thing to conservative evangelicals, fundamentalists, some postmoderns and positions historically unorthodox.

Here's a solution. Bring in outsiders, guest adjunct professors to teach classes from positions that are not evangelical, someone from Notre Dame to teach Roman Catholic theology, or someone from Dallas to teach Dispensational theology, even someone from Claremont to teach early church history from that perspective.

This would give us the opportunity to truly dialog with other positions on both the left and the right, without having to rely on the second hand generosity of the faculty who though they often mean well, can not do justice to an issue or perspective the way a true believe would.

David Best

From: Ryan Bolger
To: David Best
Subject: Re: The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary

David, thanks for your comments. I don’t ever recall snickering, but if I did, I regret it...
Keep in mind diversity is about hearing the voices that are usually unheard or silent. Purpose-driven and Willow Creek are omni-present; I don’t need to teach these ‘principles’ because they are the primary discourse. I believe I serve my students best by questioning the status quo, unveiling the unquestioned assumptions in our churches and culture, deconstructing with an eye to liberation. But I always seek to do this respectfully, and if that is what your plea is about, to that extent I agree with you...
Peace, and congrats on graduating...

From: David Best
To: Ryan Bolger
Subject: RE: The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary


You have never disappointed or offended me, and I have learned a great deal from you. I wouldn’t necessarily want you in particular, or any one person to change. I probably did a poor job of communicating my critique in that article.

My critique was of our shared Fuller sub-culture as a whole. Who or what you or any particular proff believes or critiques does not bother me at all. I can’t emphasis this enough. Rather it is what I perceive as group think, and yes, a bit of disrespect, or more often, character creation that concerns me.

Concerning giving voice to the margins, it is our shared value for diversity and giving voice to the margins that prompted that article.

“Purpose-driven and Willow Creek are omni-present; I don’t need to teach these ‘principles’ because they are the primary discourse.” The primary discourse where? Not at Fuller. I’m too busy with my studies here to know what is primary else ware. What I’m hearing here at Fuller is a lot of sameness. I generally like what I hear; it’s what I’m not hearing that give me pause.

At Fuller, the mainstream has become the margin. Bottom line, there is not enough diversity at Fuller, because seemingly everyone is singing the same tune. Like when goth kids wanting to be different all dress differently, the same.

Tell me I’m all wrong, maybe it’s just the classes and proffs I’ve taken, and not Fuller as a whole.

Question for you. Can I publish these and any subsequent e-mails in this thread to my blog with a link to the original article? If not that’s ok.

Thanks for your time.

David Best

From: Ryan Bolger
To: David Best
Subject: Re: The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary

David, it is fine if you post these...

Just to continue, I don’t think our role at Fuller is to reinforce mainstream discourse, but to prod, poke holes, agitate, shine a light...Purpose Driven has sold, what, 19 million copies — do we really need to teach more of that? Or do we need to champion the voices typically not heard? So, for me, diversity is not giving mainstream thought a central place — it belongs at the margins at a seminary. If all we did was reinforce previous understandings of church and culture, I think we would be failing in our role as a seminary and our prophetic voice would cease...
Anyway, my two cents!!

David, your forthrightness always impresses me — thanks for speaking up when you see contradictions...
Peace, my friend, and congrats again on graduating...



Calvin on Prayer

Following are excerpts from my spirituality paper, the beginning and end specifically.

In the contemporary spirituality setting, largely we have two things, books written by contemporary authors, and re-workings of ancient texts that seem to meet our present needs. What I will examine in this paper, the spiritual teachings of Calvin on prayer, do not seem to meet our present need. For some, myself included, the spirituality of John Calvin represents a hard word from a man known not for his soft ways but for his controversies and his scathing critiques. This seems especially true when one turns to his theologically robust, Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is not a work written for our own time. But then, maybe our own time needs the voice of the other, to remind us of where we have been.

By accessing Calvin in his own words we gain nuance. Interestingly enough, the longest chapter in his Institutes is on prayer. In it, he details in earnest the many things necessary for rightful praying, answering many questions along the way. I do not believe that one can lay the type of foundations for the church that Calvin has laid, without a robust spirituality. The judge of time, renders many works smaller than they first appeared. This is not the case with Calvin’s Institutes.

In summation, Calvin’s rules are these: 1. Pray in a proper frame of mind, divested of all earthly, distracting thoughts. 2. Pray with a sense of urgency, recognizing that all we need comes from God. 3. Pray with humility, acknowledging one’s proper place under God. 4. Having done these three things, pray expectantly; with an appreciation for the holiness of God that strikes terror, and the goodness of God that gives hope, these two being intimately bound up together.

A healthy spirituality is theologically informed. On the one hand we cannot let the musings of humans rule over our real experiences. But on the other hand, our real experiences should largely conform to the orthodox teachings of the church. If they do not, it may be acceptable, but probably is not. Regardless, it is not lightly that we stray from what the community has decided is normative. A figure such as Calvin is helpful in this respect. By returning to him in his own words, we gain access to a tradition that though sometimes hard, is enlightening to what may be some of the defiance’s of our own contemporary tradition. We have to ask ourselves, do we pray with a proper frame of mind? Do we pray with urgency, recognizing our desperate need for the life giver, and what is more, the life sustainer? Do we pray humbly, recognizing that though we in the West “have it all” we often lack what is most important. And finally, do we pray with fear, yet grateful expectation? Often we do not. If we are to mature in our spirituality, we need more than the latest best seller on the topic. We need a hard voice to call us to repentance, fear and awe, a place where our spiritual life can flourish.



So a lot has been happening since I last posted. Finals, job interviews, and alas the highlight of it all, graduation.

I’m still looking for a job, so if you know of something you think I would be a good fit for, let me know. (you can see my resume here)

Graduation was pretty cool. Dr. Mouw, the president of Fuller, did a great job orienting our praise toward Jesus Christ. Obviously, God deserves the praise for all his many blessings, graduation was a good time to do that.

Then today, I had the opportunity to preach for the first time in quite a while. It went really well, but in hindsight, as always, there is a lot I would do differently. That said, it went fine. The topic was lament.

In the next few days I’ll post a few of the things I was working on at the end of the quarter, including some of the points from that sermon.