The Courage to Be Protestant

David Wells was the guest for the 5 October White Horse Inn. If you haven’t heard this interview you must. You should also ask your pastor and elders to listen to it. David has diagnosed very well what is happening to “evangelical” churches. The pastor’s move from the pulpit to the plexiglas lectern to the barstool may seem harmless enough but it’s symbolic of a more fundamental move.

This morning I spoke to an adult class about the dangers of doing theology, piety, or practice, as William Willimon has warned, “in translation mode.” For the liberals, “translating” theology became, as one of our class members pointed out, “transforming” theology. The fall, the incarnation, and the resurrection all became metaphors for something else, usually religious experience or morality.

Fundamentalists, however, also practice theology “in translation mode.” They do it when they tell people that the symbols of the apocalypse really stand for very modern things (e.g. helicopters, Russia etc). In the case of the fundamentalist transformation, suddenly the mystery of the Apocalypse is removed and what was intended to be difficult has become “easy.” The fundamentalist is the (modern) autonomous, sovereign arbiter of symbolic meaning. He has the key in his hand and that key is his assumption that national Israel is that center of redemptive history, that Jesus works for Moses (contra Hebrews) and thus that the newspaper unlocks the Scriptures.

In both cases, it is not Christ’s people being drawn into the revealed narrative of creation, fall, and redemption but rather the biblical narrative has been “translated” (transformed) into modern categories thus fundamentally warping the story. In the translation/transformation mode we’re still autonomous, we’re still calling the shots. We’re not speaking God’s Word after him but trying vainly to make God do our bidding, even if we clothe it in pious language.

Ultimately, whether we did it “modernity” or whether the emergents and emerging movements do it in the name of “postmodernity,” it’s still translation or transformation.

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