Remember to support EricL and his work at top right…
Remember to support EricL and his work at top right…
“Lead, Kindly Light, amidst the encircling gloom…”
John Henry Newman (1833)
The past week has left me exhausted, and with more than a slight sense of alienation. Eugene Peterson’s initial statements in an interview seemingly endorsing same-sex marriage, the fierce and vehement reaction from conservative evangelicals, and the subsequent clarification of Peterson’s views reaffirming a traditional view, have filled the internet and allowed for an unleashing of vitriol by progressives and conservatives alike. I have been left saddened, rather than exultant. I am saddened not owing to the issue itself and/or its resolution, but rather by the so many unguarded, uncharitable and, at times, personally abusive comments made by both sides. One commentator made the observation that no matter what else took place, Peterson’s legacy has been undeniably tarnished in the eyes of many.
Legacies are often difficult to evaluate, especially when they are attached a man. It is, however, even more so the case when we try to evaluate the legacy of an historical movement that has influenced most the Christian Church for over a century, but has now increasingly faded into obscurity. Here I am speaking of the Anglican phenomena of the Oxford Movement, for it was a movement that has influenced almost every part of the Christian Church, even down to our own day and time, whether we know it or not.
The Oxford Movement had a concern for the renewal of worship and a return to the theological values of the ancient Church, which, its leaders believed, had become undermined by a politicizing of the ecclesiastical practices and structures of its day.
Central questions included:
“How much should contemporary culture influence the Church?”
“What is central and essential to Christian worship?”
“What is the role of the State in the life of the Church?”
“How is a Christian to view Church History?”
These are questions that continue with us to this day. For that reason alone, there might be value in reassessing the lessons and legacy of the Oxford Movement.
John Henry Newman considered a sermon preached in the University church in Oxford, England, on July 14, 1833, by John Keble, Professor of Poetry, to be the real beginning of the Oxford Movement. His subject was ‘National Apostasy’, and the congregation included representatives of the university, judges and magistrates of the region who had gathered for the Annual Assize sermon. Keble claimed that both church and state were ‘drifting’ or ‘slipping away’ from the calling which God had given to each for the fulfillment of His purposes. Keble’s remedy was for the Church to return to its central role as an instrument of salvation which had been brought into being by God through the work of Christ and the continuing witness of the apostles. Therefore, the Church did not receive its mandate from contemporary society or the requirements of the government of the day, but from God alone who had given the Church its ultimate authority. Few could have seen the full implications of this single sermon.
The initial result was the publication of a series of ‘Tracts for the Times’ by the leaders of the new movement who took as their chief aim the defense of the Church as a divine institution, a concern for apostolic succession in ministry and the use of worship as contained in The Book of Common Prayer as a rule of faith. Keble, Newman, and E. B. Pusey were soon joined by influential supporters in R.H. Froude, R.W. Church and R.I. Wilberforce, who added their intellectual vigor and literary skills. The ‘Tracts’, in time, became lengthy and detailed theological treatises which called into question the status quo and were attacked by the liberal party within the university and the Church alike. Not unlike blog posts of today, however, they enjoyed a wide readership and began to shift the nature of national and, indeed, international ecclesial debates. Some of the leaders, however, became increasingly disenchanted with the continuing debate. After many, including most notably, John Henry Newman, made their way to the “safe harbor” of the Roman Catholic Church, it seemed that the movement was dead.
Three factors, however, ensured its continuing vitality. These three factors, I believe, are still worthy of imitation in our own time and circumstances.
Firstly, the intellectual foundation established by the early leaders in their scholarly and literary activities, notably the Library of the Fathers, made a major contribution to the study of Church History and spirituality. Many of the Church Fathers had never even been available in translation. The study of the Fathers, once a key element in Reformation theology, had largely been abandoned by Protestants. Among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the Fathers were the domain of the few, not the many. Now, the situation changed. Critical texts, once nowhere to be found, were prepared. The new movement honored learning and scholarship and provided opportunities for the same all the way from the smallest local parish to the oldest universities in the land.
Secondly, their emphasis upon a renewal of the Church’s liturgical life made worship central and re-established the Holy Eucharist as normative Christian worship – a consequence of their reading of the early Fathers – something that has influenced the renewal of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental life to this day. Liturgical texts were revised, hymns were written, ancient prayers were translated, and people were instructed as to the meaning of what was said and done in church. Moreover, liturgy – literally “the work of the people” – allowed for the active participation of the laity in worship.
Thirdly, the Oxford Movement went beyond the academic and upper class environment in which it had been born. In practical terms this was a result of sympathetic clergy being given the worst possible parish assignments by their church superiors, usually in the slums of city centers, which it was thought would kill the movement. It had the opposite effect as clergy made the Incarnation, the love of worship, and social concern central to their lives, and filled their churches with those who lived on the fringes of society. The beauty of Jesus in worship was a light in the darkest industrial centers of America and England as almost abandoned churches were painted, restored, renewed and filled with those who had never before entered a place of worship.
Yet, with all of this, the Oxford Movement eventually failed, becoming a small subset of the Anglican world. They failed, firstly, because they succeeded. The Eucharist became normative in the Anglican communion and far beyond – Methodists, Lutherans, and Reformed to name a few. Liturgy and the study of the Church Fathers also gained adherents across the ecclesiastical world. They won the argument. In becoming a small subset of Anglicanism, they failed when they became more interested in the style of their chasuble, the length of their surplice and the arrangement of their altars, more than in the lost at their door or the theological enablement of their people. They eventually became a theological echo chamber counting externals as more important than the care of their people, outreach to the poor or the reaffirmation of their theological underpinnings.
These are lessons for us.
Denominational Christianity, as it has been known, is failing. Most denominations may well be beyond the point of recovery. The larger evangelical churches thrive, for the moment, in the suburbs, not in the slums. Many Christians, especially evangelicals, look to the State to uphold faith values. Meanwhile, other Christians, often progressives, call on the State to enforce their particular view. Scholarship is decried by some or embraced by others, but it has failed to take a central place in informing our actions or faith decisions unless one “party” or another can harness it to their particular point of view. American and Western European Christianity has become eclipsed as the faith increases at a staggering rate in Africa and Asia, often as they face real, not supposed, persecution.
So, we return to legacy.
I wonder as I look around us today in 2017, what will our legacy be and how will future generations evaluate our contributions to the faith, to scholarship, to theology and worship? Will they consider them to be substantial or mere vanities? Will they consider them to be significant or trivial? Or, as has been done in the case of Eugene Peterson, will they parse out the legacy, accepting what they want and rejecting the rest. Perhaps…
We cannot answer such questions with absolute certainty, yet in our day of suburban church planting seminars, worship choruses with life spans measured in months, and publications aimed primarily for sales rather than insight, these questions must be asked. In looking for historical models for renewal, we might do well to look to the legacy of the Oxford Movement. We might also wish to learn the lessons of what happens when we lose the vision that first impelled us.
A Daily Prayer
May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then in His mercy may He give us a safe lodging, and a holy rest and peace at the last.
John Henry Cardinal Newman
Jesus Foretells Destruction of the Temple
1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.
2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Signs of the End of the Age – to a Jew the destruction of the temple would mean the end of the world – so this turns the conversation/
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray.
5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.
7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.
10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.
11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
Today, just as conservative evangelicals were dragging Eugene Peterson to the fire, he issued a retraction.
As the conservatives were taking down the heat, the liberals came and asked if they could borrow some kindling.
Earlier today, some conservatives “knew” that this darkness had lurked in the heart of the man before it was exposed.
This afternoon, the liberals are sure that he sold out for money and influence.
On these very pages, (to my shame) Peterson has alternately been accused of being gay and being greedy.
All of this about a man who has faithfully served the church for decades as a pastor and writer.
Nothing he could say at this point (outside of a complete apostasy from the faith) should be able to negate a life given in baptisms, funerals, sermons, writing, and loving the people of God.
We might disagree with him and even do so with vigor, but the record of his life is there for all to see.
It should be celebrated by all of us.
It won’t work that way, though.
We live in a warped and despicable time where everything (including people) is either all good or all bad, left or right, black or white.
Humans can’t live in that space for long, anymore than they can live underwater or in outer space for long.
We are fallen and broken creatures who depend on the recognition of our mutual fallibility to survive in society.
Martin Luther wrote and said some horrible things.
So did Calvin.
I know things that Chuck Smith said privately that would cause a riot if I posted them.
The church still rightly celebrates Luther, Calvin, and Chuck.
We celebrate what they gave us that was true and holy and we also recognize that they had the same need for grace that we do.
We dare not negate the work of God through them, lest God cease to provide such gifts to His ungrateful people.
Peterson may be spared from the fires, but he’ll still smell like smoke.
It’s inevitable that soon the flames we stoke to burn others may end up burning us…
Make your own application…
Eugene Peterson affirms biblical marriage after all, according to this article.
“To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything,” he said in a statement Thursday afternoon.”
Based on my knowledge of Peterson, I suspected that the old sage had been blindsided by a reporter with an agenda.
This clarification won’t go far enough for some, especially those who “saw this coming” and spilled much ink and bile writing about it over the last 24 hours.
A long and illustrious career of serving the people of God has been sullied in the eyes of many.
As Swift once said; “falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it”…
We’ll miss you, Eugene…but you undoubtedly see the wisdom of retirement at this point…
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ ” (Luke15:1-2)
Imagine for a moment that you are present in this crowd of Pharisees, scribes, tax collectors and sinners who are surrounding Jesus. You hear what everyone is saying and are able to discern what many are thinking. An argument has broken out and the issues are very serious.
The Pharisees and the Scribes
On one side of Jesus are the Pharisees and scribes. The Pharisees (meaning “separated ones”) were a Jewish sect which developed oral tradition, controlled the synagogues, and promoted the way to God through strict obedience to the Law. They were known for their strict observance of external rites and outward forms of piety, such as washings, fasting, prayer and alms-giving. The scribes were teachers and expert interpreters of the Law.
As far as the Pharisees were concerned, tax collectors and sinners were to be banned from the synagogues, treated as outcasts, and shunned. If Jesus was truly a man from God, it was inconceivable to the Pharisees that Jesus would receive sinners, much less eat with them.
The Tax Collectors and Sinners
On the other side of Jesus were the tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were known to be particularly greedy and dishonest men who employed coercive methods to collect taxes for Rome. The term “sinners” was applied to anyone who lived a publically sinful life. This would include outwardly immoral people, such as thieves and drunks, adulterers and prostitutes.
This was not the first time these sinners had heard the accusations, condemnation and utter disgust from the Pharisees. They were not ignorant of their sin or status among their people. Yet, here was a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was willing to receive and eat with them. This Jesus spoke with authority, unlike the scribes; He cast out demons, healed the lame and forgave sins. These sinners had never before encountered a man of God like Jesus. So, without fear or shame, they drew near to Him, not for a sign, but simply “to hear him.”
Sitting between the Pharisees and the sinners was Jesus. He appears to enjoy socializing with sinners, but at what cost? The Pharisees were indignant: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus himself was being numbered with the transgressors; He was bearing their iniquity by association. The way Jesus is going, He may pay with His life!
“So he told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’ ” (Luke 15:3-7)
Jesus describes himself as the shepherd of a small flock of sheep within all of Christendom. Each one of His sheep is precious to Him. Therefore, Jesus will spare nothing and search anxiously to find any of His sheep which goes astray and becomes lost.
Without the voice of their shepherd, the sheep are easily distracted, stray and become lost. Once lost, the sheep cannot care for themselves, are prey for predators, and will perish if they are not soon found.
“I have gone astray like a lost sheep” (Ps 119:176)
We are led astray by the combination of our itching ears and the voices of the many hirelings who take from us the Word of Christ crucified and turn us inward for evidence that we are His sheep, whether through emotional experience, moral living and/or good works. Left on our own, we deceive ourselves either like the Pharisees, who could only clean the outside of the cup, while on the inside they were full of greed and wickedness (Luke 11:39), or like Judas, who thought His betrayal of Jesus was an unforgivable sin. In either case, we become lost and are unable to return to our Shepherd; He must come and find us.
And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. (Luke 15:5)
Jesus comes to and finds us through His Word according to which He died for us, and bore our sins in his own body on the cross, and put the devil with death and sin under his feet, and has led us to eternal life. Jesus always carries us as long as we live, so that we need not look to our life, how good and strong we are, but only lay upon his shoulders.
When Jesus finds His lost sheep, He is not angry, does not scold nor yell, but lays it on His shoulders and rejoices. For He knows how weak we are and, in addition, that our old nature, the world, the Law, sin and the devil never give us an hour’s rest, but always lead us astray. Therefore, everything depends only upon this: that we rightly learn to look upon Christ according to the Word, and not according to our own thoughts and feelings, for human thoughts are frauds and lies, but His Word is true and cannot lie.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
Jesus spoke this parable in front of the entire crowd, but not everyone belongs to His small flock. Jesus seeks only the lost sheep. They are the ones who hear His voice and neither despair of their wickedness nor prefer their own thoughts or the wisdom of other voices to that of Christ. Lost sheep hear the Gospel and turn (i.e., repent) to Jesus; that is they feel their sins, are sincerely sorry on account of them, and wish to be rid of them. Thus, nowhere else do lost sheep feel safer and more comfortable than when Jesus lays them securely, and carries them forgivingly, on His shoulders.
If we hold fast to this Gospel, then we too can experience true peace and joy in and through Christ the Lord. It pleases Jesus to save us this way, and not only Jesus, but there is joy in heaven over each sinner who Jesus returns to His little flock. Amen.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1-4) Amen.
Lord help those of us who love Eugene Peterson.
Long time readers here will know that I have been a staunch defender of Peterson and a grateful student of his works.
There won’t be enough time in the day to defend him from his legion of enemies now, even if one wanted to.
I can’t agree with our modern day sage on this matter…as my mentor said with concision, we (the church) can’t overturn two thousand years of Christian teachings and tradition on sexual morality because the culture changes.
None of us have that right.
Scripture, tradition, and reason stand against such.
Peterson here is not making an argument for his position, but showing his heart…which has always been pastoral.
He’s undoubtedly known folks who were gay that appeared to be walking in faith and it is those relationships that defined his thoughts.
This is an apologetic that is not foreign to me…I have those friends too.
It is, however, a faulty apologetic.
I disagree with him, but I can’t and won’t condemn him.
I do wish he had been more careful and thoughtful with his words.
The tragedy here is that the vast amount of spiritual wisdom that Peterson has provided over the years will now be tainted by this short statement in response to a gay affirming reporter.
Those who have always despised him will use this as proof of their righteousness in slandering him and those who might have found help in his works may never read them at all.
Whenever his work is recommended, his position will be used as a caveat to it’s reading.
Peterson will now be defined by this statement, by this one issue that has consumed us.
I’m not moving his books to a lower shelf.
History will treat him better than we will…when this issue has shrunk to its proper size.
Bounded on both sides by years of losing and misery, the 1993 club caught lightning in a bottle and made it all the way to the World Series. The winning brought great joy in a variety of ways: the unexpectedness of it all, the respite of relief it brought, and the many different ways the team found to win. But what also made the year so much fun was the colorful cast of characters that comprised the 1993 Phillies.
One of those lead characters, and also one of the team’s best players, was Lenny Dykstra. Dykstra was the great sparkplug and leadoff hitter who set the table for the success of that team and so often came through in the clutch. Always playing the game at 100% and with no regard for his body, he did whatever it took to gain success on the field and help his team to win.
As much fun as it was cheering for Lenny Dykstra on the field, there was always a suspicion that he may actually be far from a good person off the field. While there frequently wasn’t nearly as much known about the private lives of athletes back in those years as there often is today with the internet and 24 hour news cycle and social media, what could be seen about the way Dykstra carried himself raised some red flags. Surely enough as the years played out, many stories came to light of the excessively narcissistic conduct of the man and the ways he treated others in a totally rotten fashion. This was all capped off by Dykstra spending several years in prison on a variety of financial fraud and misconduct charges and convictions.
A couple weeks ago I read an interview on Dykstra where he shares about having been addicted to drugs, and then when he beat that addiction he became addicted to money. Money became his new drugs. He then went on to say that he has since overcome the money addiction and is now a much better person. The claim of being a much better person was met by a considerable skepticism by the interviewer (and writer of the article). The interviewer allowed that Dykstra had made some corrections in his life, but was still concerned by some of the ways Dykstra acted and things he said during their time together. It would seem that Lenny Dykstra may have quite a ways to go until most people would recognize him as a “good person”.
Although some of us may have experienced such, many of us have never and likely never will reach the heights of success of a Lenny Dykstra nor reach the depths of his dastardly deeds. We won’t gain the notoriety of being a famous ball player with much personal and team success in the game and we won’t end up going to jail for the terrible ways we treated people and scammed them out of money. We won’t be on the cover of magazines for our athletic exploits nor in the news for financial fraud, damaging our own property, or with accusations of sexual assault.
But we all have those things we struggle with that keep us from being “good people”. Maybe not to the extreme of a Lenny Dykstra, but still constrained, nonetheless, from doing the good we could be doing and in many cases achieving harm instead. Some of us very well may battle with drugs or alcohol. Others of us may actually have as destructive of an addiction to money as Dykstra did.
Yet for others, our addictions and the things that control us may be “softer”. We may not have that strong out of control addiction to money, but finances sure do steer us much more than we sometimes like to admit. Our desires for affluence and/or financial security may many times disrupt the path that God desires for us. Whether it is in how we prioritize our time in our designs to make money and gain material things or in how we covet, “If I could just have….”, we can become distracted from good or better things God has for us.
And it’s not always about money either. There’s also the desires for peace or power or comfort or to be loved or to be entertained or so on and so on. Many matters which can often have overlap with money or with each other. All things that in and of themselves are not bad and can even be good. But when they control us, when they enslave us, this is not good. Some of these things we may not usually even include in our list of traditional “vices”, but they are vices indeed. Maybe we don’t become as rotten as some others we can point to, but we certainly fall well short of what God would have for us.
In the end we are good people because we are all created in the image of God. Yet, we are not good people because our sins and our enslavements are diametrically opposed to God. I may point at a Lenny Dykstra and say that I’m not nearly as bad as that guy. But my idol of personal comfortableness and not wanting to experience discomfort, even when I know God wants me to do something that will make me uncomfortable, sure isn’t making me a much better person.
So we thank God for a Savior, because none of us is going to get anywhere close to making it on our own. When the only other way to make it home safely is to bat 1.000 throughout all of life, there really isn’t much difference between the All-Star hitting .300 and the scrub who can barely put up a .200 batting average. If such batting averages were even tracked, we’d all fall woefully short of the Standard Setter.
We would desire that God would help us to increase our batting average so that we could be a greater reflection of shining light for Him and impact others in a positive fashion. But we also realize that we are a fallen people living in a fallen world who will always struggle with things until we would pass from this earth or until Christ returns and sets all things right. No matter our batting average or with what things we continue to struggle, we are relying on God to pull us through. Because whether we are a Lenny Dykstra or a Billy Sunday or a Charles Manson or a Charles Spurgeon, we’re not going to make it on our own.