Thursday, January 31, 2008

What does it mean to be a "Christian in Context"?

If we truly aim at being "Christians in Context", we have some work ahead of us. Many scholars, pastors and theologians are very good at being Christian: they know Jesus and the Bible like Aunt Jemima knows pancakes. Many laypeople are good at being Contextual: they live, eat, sleep and breathe in a context of Consumerism and mass media inundation.

The problem, then, is obvious: the theologically and biblically astute need to become more culturally and contextually aware and those who are "in the trenches" need to understand the war they are waging and how they should do so.

Enter Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends (Baker Academic, 2007). This collection of essays, edited by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (TEDS) and a couple of his PhD students, is a great place for both parties we've spoken of to bring either Christ into their context, or their context into their Christianity.

Vanhoozer and his cadre of disciples view the elements of human culture as "texts" to be read and interpreted. Some of the specific texts they tackle in their essays are: the checkout line in a grocery store, a song by rapper Eminem, mega-church architecture, Ridley Scott's Gladiator, the culture of busyness, and even the blogosphere!

The book begins with a chapter by Vanhoozer, entitled "What is Everyday Theology? How and Why Christians Should Read Culture." This essay serves as an introduction to the whole book. It is Vanhoozer's prolegomena and methodology for the specific analyses made by his students in the rest of the book. In my opinion, the whole book is worthy of a thorough read. However, if nothing else, I commend this first chapter to you as a primer on cultural engagement.

Here is a brief rundown on what Vanhoozer has to offer:

1. Analysis of "What Culture Does": Vanhoozer states explicitly that his aim in the book is to keep Christians from being merely passive, undiscerning consumers of culture and instead to be active participants in culture, knowing both how to read culture and how to write culture. This is Vanhoozer's genius. He understands that culture is both an expression of the human heart and condition, but also that culture and cultural constructions shape the human psyche. So culture, if I read Vanhoozer rightly, both provides a context in which the gospel can be "contextualized" and also can shape people in ways that are antithetical to the gospel of Jesus. In this way, Vanhoozer avoids the pitfall of those who see God all over popular culture (e.g. Craig Detweiler), and also avoids the type of cultural isolationism that characterizes most fundamentalists. Vanhoozer urges us to be voracious readers of the "texts" all around us, in order that we might more effectively minister the gospel and also so that they don't have the ability to shape our psyche unawares.

2. Theological Bearings for "Cultural Exegesis (Interpretation)": Vanhoozer doesn't blithely tell us to be engaged in culture. Instead, he offers us four classic Christian doctrines that should encourage this type of engagement:
  • The Incarnation: the supreme revelation of God was the Word inculturated and incarnate in First-Century Palestine. This reminds us of two things: 1) What God wants to communicate is not already available in the culture, but 2) that God spoke into the culture in a very human and relevant way to say what he had to say (ie, Jesus Christ).
  • General Revelation: the idea that evidences and messages from God are all around us in nature, Vanhoozer says, should lead us to conclude that at least some of what is going on in popular culture and the arts is not just babble, but rather an attempt to grapple with the revelation of God that is all around us.
  • Common Grace: If, as the Reformers said, God is still operative even in the unbelievers, perhaps our reticence for cultural engagement is unfounded. Vanhoozer here quotes Richard Mouw, who says "God has a positive, albeit non-salvific, regard for those who are not elect."
  • The Imago Dei (Image of God): Here Vanhoozer asserts that, though fallen, man has not completely lost the image that was imprinted upon him in the Garden of Eden. He wonders aloud if Genesis 1:28 is not a mandate for humans to be, like God, creators and "culture-makers." The implication is: if culture-making is a commission given to mankind, ought not Christians to be engaged in it?
3. A Balanced, Transformative Theology of Cultural Engagement:
As I've noted throughout, Vanhoozer's purpose for urging us towards "cultural literacy" is so that we might be better fitted for kingdom ministry:

The mission of the church is to cultivate the life of Christ in ourselves, our neighbors, and our neighborhoods. This means inculturating the way of Jesus Christ in concrete contexts. The church should be not only a "school of faith" but a "school of understanding" that trains the imaginations of its student-saints to see, judge, and act in the world as it really is "in Christ."

When the people of God fulfill their vocation, the church becomes not a sign of the times--this way lies cultural conformism--but rather a sign of the end time: a work and world of
evangelical meaning. The church's life thus becomes an "apocalypse"--a revelation, an unveiling--that unmasks the powers that be and reminds us that they will not, contra appearances, be dominant forever. The church is to be a glimpse of the new world in the midst of the old, a reminder that the old order is passing away and a standing witness to the new. Accordingly, it is charged with the task of being a permanent revolution to prevailing plausibility structures. To "do church" is to engage in a different kind of politics, the "art of the impossible," an art that challenges our tired conceptions of what is possible. For "with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26).


Sunday, January 27, 2008

What’s your view of church?

I’ve attended many different churches since I began walking with the Lord. I grew up Roman Catholic; not by choice but by pedigree. Being half-Italian and having that religion be the more prominent of my parents is typical in America. As a result, until the age of 23, my view of church was a droning dead cemetery full of ritualistic and superstitious nonsense where a man who could never marry wore strange robes. Though after being saved I began my Protestant journey at an inter-denominational, theologically Baptist church called Bethlehem Community Church in Delmar, NY. Though not as contemporary as people who are among the contemporary movement would say, it nevertheless was much different that I was used to. I then attended a full-blown Pentecostal church where the “gifts of the Spirit” were allegedly in full force. After an unwarranted bad experience there due to some personal convictions, I then tried a supposedly modern church where a “come-as-you-are, we-wear-jeans” mentality was fostered. I quickly learned that that church had no interest in spreading the Gospel, only spreading a new way of doing church…a new way of doing church, hmmm?

That experience made me think for the first time about “doing” church. How is church supposed to be done? Do we have to have choirs? Can we have a worship band? Should there be a dress code? Should we administer the Lord’s Supper every week? Thoughts like these ran rampant in my head. Now I must add that at that time in 2003 I had recently become convinced of the endangered theological position commonly known as Calvinism. But I didn’t and still don’t hold to most of their common customs. Though they scream bloody-scripture when you dash a question at their liturgy, I am nevertheless still convinced that most of it is just down-right traditions.

So how do we do church? That’s a good question; one that Norm and I are seeking to discuss in the up and coming months. Nowadays if you have a deep conviction for orthodox theology, the only place you can really go to church is an antiquated society of tradition-holding Presbyterian churches. On the other hand I see nothing inherently wrong with wearing jeans to church and maybe even bringing a drink in the sanctuary. But in order to find this you have to go to a theologically bankrupt community of Joel Osteen followers. But do these things really matter? Some might say they do. What's your view of church?


Friday, January 25, 2008

CIC News!

I'm happy to announce that my life-long friend Norman Jeune III of Anaheim, CA has agreed to join the ranks of Christians in Context as Co-founder and Vice President. Norm has a vast background in theological knowledge and exhibits the principles and practices held by Christians in Context. He embraces the same mind and heart that are at the foundation of the ministry and plans to contribute right away. He currently holds a BA from Biola University and a MA in New Testament from Talbot School of Theology. I am grateful to be able to co-labor with Norm and look forward to a long and fruitful partnership.



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Monday, January 21, 2008

A CIC update-

As I continue to pray and seek the Lord's will with respect to this blog (and my ministry), I've taken one further step in developmental process. The first five or so postings have given me a better idea of what I plan to blog about and who my ideal target audience will be. Therefore as you may have read in the very first posting, I sought more of a radio ministry focused on discussing debatable Christian topics within a layman format; and I still do. Though as I continue this endeavor more fully I plan on beginning with this blog. That said, I've added a subtext to the name of my blog, "from orthodoxy to orthopraxy." For those who don't know, ORTHODOXY means "right belief or right thinking" and ORTHOPRAXY means "right action or right practice. " Reason being, while I love theology and talking about an array of different topics, I want to also focus on the practical implications that go along with the ideas or beliefs. As R.C. Sproul has once said (...and I paraphrase),"What you believe about God will directly determine how you live."


Sunday, January 13, 2008

A little ditty on the book I'm reading...

As the top of the right column states, I'm currently reading D. A. Carson's A Model of Christian Maturity which is an exposition of 2nd Corinthians 10-13. So of course the first thing I do before read the book is read the text several times to get a feel for what Carson plans to exegete. While I certainly enjoy reading this section because it reveals a side of the Apostle Paul that we're not used to, I must admit that at first glance I didn't really see where Carson was going to go. However as I have made my way through the first 50 pages, I'm overwhelmed how much this section actually does show the character of a mature Christian. However, I was interested to see how Carson was going to apply this to our 21st century minds (actually 20th century, since the book was written in 1984). Before he beings the exposition Carson examines the background of what Paul is up against when he begins this section. One thing I was able to profit was an appreciation of what Paul was in fact up against. I'm going to quote a section that I just finished reading and then state a few comments of my own as I can relate it.

"Judaizers will seek to prove their spiritual superiority by making much of their racial and covenantal pedigree (2nd Cor. 11:21a-22); sophists will judge a person's right to lead by the competence or otherwise of his rhetoric (v. 6) and by his ability to command a considerable income (v. 7); and visionary enthusiasts will judge a potential leader by the number and vividness of his alleged spiritual experiences (12:1-10). But all such criteria, Paul perceives, depreciate Christ. If an essential element of true spirituality is race, then it is not Christ's cross-work and our consequent relationship to him that are determinative; if standards of rhetoric and the ability to command a purse are prime conditions for leadership in the church, then a servant mentality is depreciated (even though Christ himself displayed just such an attitude), and culturally bound standards of oratory usurp the place of unchanging and culture-transcendent truth; and if a display of the visionary's enthusiasm is the 'sine qua non' for advanced leadership, not ony is the church vulnerable to fraudulent claims, but the claimants themselves are likely to glory more and more in the esoteric, and not in the sufficiency of the grace themselves. " pages 48-49.

In my short 6 year Christian walk I've encountered many different issues which I've experienced first hand and others I've just read about. Let me draw the comparisons to which I've come across and I'll let you judge for yourself if my assumptions are somewhat accurate. As far as the Judaizers, I see a number of sects and denominations which exhibit this mentality; the first of which is the Roman Catholic church. There are many within this denomination who feel that just because they are apart of this church ethnically (born into, ex. Italians), by no means render's them apart of the covenant of Christ. I see this also in many Baptist churches ever since I moved south. There seems to be a common thread amongst many so called Christians who think that just because their father is a Pastor or they attended a private Christian academy means they are chosen of the Lord. But I've seen, similar to Catholics in NY, a widespread knowledge of the things of God, but no fruit thereof. Can we say false sheep?

For the modern day sophists I would compare to those churches which happen to be over theological, which anyone who knows me might be surprised to hear me say. By this I mean many churches go above and beyond the realm of sacred Scripture and into the realm of philosophical-speculative-theology which ultimately produces a dead faith and an unhealthy overabundance of theological speculation that leaves the practice of Christianity on the roadside and adds to the work of the cross. We find this mostly in liberal churches, though their tendencies are creeping there way back into the church surreptitiously.

The visionary enthusiast, well, I have two words, Rick Warren. I've written a bunch on him in the past, but here I will comment a little. We can trace all the way back through church history the presence of this mentality, and more than ever has this permeated the thinking of our leaders. More than not will you find a job description for a Pastor closely related to a Commercial Lender in banking. High energy, entrepreneurial minded, people oriented, good organization skills...does this sound like what the Apostle Paul wrote in 1st Timothy chapter 3?

Its time to tend to the children and attend my marriage class with Dr. Catanzaro from Southeastern Theological Seminary. I'll have more later...


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Exploring and expanding

So far I've shared the idea with several of my fellow pilgrims across differing fields within Christianity from lay Christians to Pastors to Theologians. The reception has been fairly good. At this point I haven't thought of exactly "how" and "where" to start. This blog has been a good place, but as far as implementation, well, the idea still needs continued thought and prayer. My inkling is to stick out this blog for now and develop the conversation a little. I know that many of my fellow Christians don't care enough about theology to want to listen and interact with it. Though I do believe there are enough spread throughout the US who would want the conversation to being. I'm motivated by truth, I hope you are as well. I gained massive opposition when I became convinced of the grace of God as understood by Reformed Theology. But like Luther, unless I could be convinced by Scripture that these truths were in fact incorrect, I wasn't able (and still have not) to recant. But really I learned the most about God though discussion and debate. Why? Well it forced me to search the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11). And I'm of the belief that orthodoxy (right thinking) produces othropraxy (right practice). There is nothing like knowing how truly forgiven one is when you realize how truly worthy of hell you are.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Calling all Armchair Theologians...

So I've started this blog as sort of a precursor to a bigger idea that I plan on pursuing. For some time now I've pondered the idea of starting a ministry of my own devoted to basic discussion of topics within Christianity that aren't really available to the layman's layman. Furthermore I want to create sort of an open forum-type atmosphere for a discourse on topics without fear of incrimination. What I mean is this: rarely do you find a ministry devoted to bridging the gap between Sunday school and Seminary in such as way as to protect the non-negotiable doctrines and hear out those that are negotiable, while at the same time appealing to the "armchair" theologians such as myself. Ultimately I want to start a radio ministry that selects a topic for each show by having guests from local churches, seminaries (really anybody evangelical) to discuss their thoughts. Basically I'm looking to create a ministry that encompasses the premise of Ligonier Ministries, Alpha and Omega Ministries, and The White Horse Inn; coupled with a feel (I am soteriologially Reformed). Though I feel the conferences, seminars, and cruises are profitable, the average (interested) Christian doesn't have the time or the means for these. And blogs, well, I don't see this being an extensive thing, just a place to get updates on shows. This would give even local and national ministries a place to get some advertising and propagate their ideas.

I still have much to consider before beginning this project, but if anyone out there has any interest in building upon this idea, or even if you care to drop a line of consideration, please do so. My email is Your prayers are mostly coveted!

Isaiah 66:2,

Damian M. Romano
Raleigh, NC