Thursday 17 September 2009

Divine flu: a health warning

by Kim Fabricius (originally printed in this month's Reform magazine)

This is an ecclesiastical health warning for “divine flu”. There are two potentially fatal forms of this malady afflicting the church. One is caused by the Tweedledum virus, the other by the Tweedledee virus.

Theo-chemically, the viruses are mirror images of one another, and can only thrive in symbiotic relationship. The technical terms for the related illnesses they cause are “neo-liberalism” and “conservative evangelicalism”. Here is a list of ten symptoms associated with each pathology. Sufferers may not exhibit all of these symptoms, but if you experience some of the symptoms you should immediately seek medical attention.



• Feel the omission Old Testament readings from Sunday worship is a welcome relief rather than an egregious truncation. They regard the preacher as a reflector on experiences, or a community life-coach, rather than one called to confront the congregation with God’s living word of grace and judgement.

• Tell us the Creeds are old-fashioned, bang on about “relevance” and, with “chronological snobbery” (C. S. Lewis) masking historical ignorance – the idea that the Church Fathers or Reformers believed in a bearded celestial pensioner is risible – instruct us about what modern people can and cannot accept.

• Give Trinity Sunday, the climax of the Christian year, a miss. Or if that is not possible, delight in the crypto-unitarian images – the three lobed-leaves of the shamrock, or the three states of water – of the children’s address, as if the doctrine of the Trinity were a mathematical puzzle rather than a description of God’s very identity.

• Deny the divinity of Christ (while acknowledging him as great guru, right up there with the Buddha), speak of the resurrection as a “spiritual” reality (i.e. as something that happened to the disciples, not to Jesus), and so cannot worship or pray to Jesus; and, consequently, don’t know what to do with Paul.

• Think “Calvin and Barth” is the name of a comic strip, that orthodoxy is dull rather than dangerous, and that John Spong is a “progressive” theologian rather than a recycler of Enlightenment ideas.

• Mistake counselling for the cure of souls, clinical psychology for spirituality, and prefer the nostrums of Myers-Briggs and James Fowler to the wisdom of the Desert Fathers.

• Argue that Jesus’ silence on the subject of homosexuality is germane to the contemporary debate about same-sex relationships, presumably not realising that an argument from silence is a non-argument, i.e. a fallacious argument.

• Believe near-death experiences are relevant to our understanding of what St. John calls “eternal life”.

• Seem reluctant about declaring that “Christ died for our sins”, and shy, even embarrassed, about saying that they are “born-again”, or that they “love the Lord Jesus”.

• Are fans rather than followers of Jesus when it comes to his absolute rejection of violence; for example, they will kill other people if the state tells them to.

Conservative Evangelicalism


• Read the Bible only in the original version – the NIV, of course! – as if there were a neutral and stable position from which this library of a book could be translated, as if translations weren’t themselves interpretations, and as if our interpretations of these interpretations didn’t go all the way down and resist closure – they do.

• Hold tenaciously to the quite unbiblical, relatively newfangled, and deeply problematical doctrine of biblical inerrancy.

• Act like the doctrine of penal substitution is in the Creeds, find nothing at all sub-Christian in the idea that God “punished” Jesus on the cross, and deploy this model of the atonement as the litmus test for distinguishing “real” Christians.

• Argue that the Levitical and Pauline condemnations of homosexuality conclusively settle the contemporary discussion of same-sex relationships, insisting, however, that “while we hate the sin, we love the sinner.” (Gay/Lesbian Christians: “Yeah, right!”)

• Worship with “choruses” that are four lines long, a half-inch deep, and take 20 minutes to sing.

• Punctuate their prayers with the word “just” (“Father, we just pray this, and Father, we just pray that”) with mind-numbing repetition, and assume that the more people you have praying about something, the more likely you are to get a result.

• Despise Richard Dawkins while actually believing in the kind of God he rightly rejects, as if the existence of God were, in principle, demonstrable, as if the proposition “God exists” were a hypothesis to be affirmed or denied, as if God were simply the hugest of individuals.

• Treat the visions in the book of Revelation as if they were the prognostications of a Nostradamus rather than imaginative murals of encouragement for confessing churches and protest against militant empires.

• Believe, sometimes with quite unpleasant schadenfreude, that hell will be full rather than empty – and that they have access to the Inferno’s census.

• Are fans rather than followers of Jesus when it comes to his absolute rejection of violence; for example, they will kill other people if the state tells them to.

I repeat: both forms of divine flu are very serious and potentially terminal. However, if forced to choose, this theo-clinician would say that neo-liberalism rather than conservative evangelicalism is the greater danger to the life of the church itself. Why? Because (to rephrase the American Presbyterian Hugh T. Kerr) it is easier to cool down the feverish than to warm up the undead.

Neo-liberals, the problem is not that you are too critical, but rather not critical enough; and conservative evangelicals, the problem is not that you are too biblical, but not biblical enough. Let the healing begin!


roger flyer said...

BRAVO, Kim! Brilliant.
Help! Where's the doc? I'm sick with both flus.

Brad East said...

A second bravo, sir. An expert diagnosis.

Fat said...

Dr Fabricius,
The symptoms are laid out before us, the prognosis is grim but not hopeless. What do you prescribe?
Will it taste yukky if I am a wide eyed evangelical.
What will either patient's quality of life be in the future?
Will I be able to play the piano again?
Is there a vaccine on the horizon?

JD said...

"Despise Richard Dawkins while actually believing in the kind of God he rightly rejects, as if the existence of God were, in principle, demonstrable, as if the proposition “God exists” were a hypothesis to be affirmed or denied, as if God were simply the hugest of individuals."

I think Thomas Aquinas might want to have words with you about this. He and many other great theologians before and after him clearly thought that the existence of God was metaphysically demonstrable (see Edward Feser's magnificent book, "The Last Superstition"). And implicit in any profession of faith IN God is acceptance of the hypothesis THAT God exists. I'm afraid this criticism is nothing more than an allergic reaction to bad apologetic arguments and, ironically, a symptom of the neo-liberalism that Fabricius rightly deplores.

Unknown said...

I think, JD, it rather comes from his Barthian disdain of so-called "natural theology." The neo-liberal's criticism is hardly worth engaging, but if you disagree with the fideists (as I do), then at least you've got arguments to consider.

Ah, the glorious middle. I live and breathe among the latter, and I must agree with your conclusion, Kim.

"Liberalism can only be defined negatively. It is a mere critique, not a living idea."

Sally said...


Tim Chesterton said...

Bravo, Kim!

Anonymous said...

Ah, the middle path! Didn't a certain Buddha suggest we take a similar path...or am I sounding like I have a symptom of one of the flus? Atishoo! Oh crickey!

But seriously, well done and thank you for pointing out some of extreme symptoms of contemporary Christianity in such a clear and provocative manner!

Helegant said...

Don't we all deride the extremes that don't agree with our view, whilst swallowing the extremes that do without even straining?

Anthony Paul Smith said...

So it's your way or the highway?

Evan said...

It's not that I necessarily disagree with you, Kim, but I think sometimes this sort of critique can be so easy as to become suspicious.

It's similar to the way one feels here in the U.S., after months of chortling knowingly with Jon Stewart & co., that we've exhausted the capacity for cleverness of satire on Palin/tea-partiers/birthers... at a certain point one wonders what exactly is being accomplished by all this.

The whole idea of neo-liberalism and conservative evangelicalism being "mirror images of one another" also reeks of the via media/third way fetish that can be so frustrating about folks these days. Again, not so much because any of this is necessarily wrong, but because it doesn't seem to really do all that much on a constructive level.

I share your sentiment on many levels. But I can't help but feel like it's all too conveniently stated- like the joke's really on those who are tickled pink by this sort of thing.

Perhaps I'm just channeling the new essay from Christopher Hitchens (although I'd be the first to say that you do satire at a level that the objects of Hitchens' critique simply cannot). Nonetheless.

Evan said...

...also, since when is Trinity Sunday "the climax of the Christian year"? A post-Nicene liturgical innovation to buttress the proclamation of orthodox doctrine, sure. And that's cool. But if we're going to construct calendrical hierarchies, I can think of a few Sundays (as well as a Friday) that might be further ahead in line for accolades.

I think this smacks of reactionary (if well-intentioned) creedalism, and also of a trinitarianism that I thought still had almost four years left to go of its F&T moratorium.

Mark Byron said...


I'm not perfectly familiar with the liturgical calender, but Trinity Sunday (right after Pentecost) marks the end of the Easter period and a long return to Normal Time before Advent kicks in around Thanksgiving.

True, Good Friday and Easter would trump it in importance, as might Palm Sunday, but it is the end of the active part of the liturgical year.

Kim: Generally good job, although the average evangelical churchman would think Richard Dawkins used to host Family Feud(actually R. DawSON) and the flu is more pronounced with folks toting a KJV or ESV.

Anonymous said...

I laughed a lot! And then I prayed for us all!

roger flyer said...

I like what Evan is saying, but I think we all needed to hear Kim's deliciously (even dastardly) diagnosis. Theological flu is very contagious.

H Phelps said...

"I repeat: both forms of divine flu are very serious and potentially terminal. However, if forced to choose, this theo-clinician would say that neo-liberalism rather than conservative evangelicalism is the greater danger to the life of the church itself."

Just as I've always suspected. Claims for a "dangerous" orthodoxy merely mask a form of (reactionary) conservatism, albeit one that on the surface appears more enlightened, even trendy.

geoffc said...

Punctuate their prayers with the word “just”

This made me laugh, and brings back a lot of memories of youth group.

It's almost the liturgy to follow for those who have rejected liturgical worship services.

Nick said...

Love it. Especially the "Punctuate their prayers with the word “just” (“Father, we just pray this, and Father, we just pray that”)".

However, you forgot to add the new mutation of the Tweedledum virus which joined with the the Tweedledee virus to create a Neo-Orthodox virus:


Quite a feverish obsession with accusing the Church Fathers of 'Platonism' or 'Hellenism' or 'Paganism' or 'Stoicism' or 'Epicureanism' or whatever form of philosophy seems work.

A firm, and determined insistance on the Trinity which ignores the contribution of the Fathers to this doctrine and rather finds it crystal clear in whatever biblical, Christological event is chosen.

An deeply ironic obsession with applying existential philosophical models to revelation resulting from strange hallucinations than depict the biblical authors as somehow possessing the mind and metaphysics of Hegel far before he ever existed.

An identity crisis whereby the theologian becomes a magician who can determine the shape of biblical revelation so that suddenly (presto!) creation, the cross, the resurrection or whatever 'event' works becomes the epistemological centre of all knowledge.

It always good have a bit of a laugh at ourselves, whatever theological model we hold to.

Nick Russell

Jordan Mattes said...

While I am not particularly religious, this is a breath of fresh air. Good job.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this. If nothing else, I appreciated how in the end liberalism was the primary disease. This is b/c i am growing weary of the Christian-blogging trend of primarily targeting conservative evangelicals as the bane of real Christian discipleship while a dismissive "oh, and uh, neo-liberalism is bad too" suffices for neo-liberalism. Conservative evangelicals are probably easier targets, but that is why i appreciate a little neoliberal bashing. So, thanks Kim.

adhunt said...

It's official, "reactionary" is the new word that should be banned from all theological dialogue. Uhgh.

H Phelps said...

I think it would be better to ban "church," "orthodoxy," "biblical," and so on.

michael jensen said...

'thank you Lord that I am not like other men, and particularly that conservative evangelical/neo-liberal over there...'

Anonymous said...

Many of us in the US are scratching our heads at this conclusion. Cool down the feverish? To me it appears that there is an epidemic and the fever only gets hotter. Yes, liberalism is basically embarrassing to participate it, but it isn't the ignored zombie undead setting the tone for all public debate and politics.

You think the two sides of the coin are those undead and those with a fever; I would counter that perhaps one is undead and one is un-unliving.

Anonymous said...

"that neo-liberalism rather than conservative evangelicalism is the greater danger to the life of the church itself."

no. you just don't like their style...

John Hartley said...

My thanks, too, for a great post! I recognise that I too have all the symptoms of both.

However, are not "Genes" simply viruses which have, after passing through their virulent phases, mutated and entered into symbiotic relationships with their hosts?

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY

roger flyer said...

(Roger Flyer, in his last role as St. Antony, slinks off to the desert to contemplate the state of the church and the world...)

Sean said...

Hi Kim,

I'm inclined to agree with Evan. It's not that I disagree with you, and in fact I think most or even all of your criticisms are right. But when I try to figure out the heart of all your critiques, it's essentially this: the Bible cuts through (i.e. stomps on) everyone's, including neo-liberals' and conservative evangelicals', beliefs about God.

If that's an accurate description of what you're trying to get at, I guess I'm a bit troubled by the question: by voicing your criticisms in the particular polemical style you have, don't you risk falling into the same trap of being too sure that you have all the answers and have a complete mastery over the Bible? Obviously, I'm not accusing you of letting that actually be the case. I'm just highlighting what I think is a very significant risk and danger.


kim fabricius said...

Thank you for all the comments. I feel both heartened and chastened. Evan and Sean are right that there is nothing particularly constructive here, except the clearing of debris, and I hear what you guys are saying. However Anthony’s snappy reading – my way or the highway – is both rich (You don’t fuck AUFS, sir – AUFS fucks you) and perverse: I am not unchurching those whose theology I find impoverished – the "flat tyre theology" (Barth) of the liberals, the Groundhog Day theology of the conservatives; indeed, with Rowan Williams (AUFS crowd grind their teeth), I am sure that "we must turn away from the temptation to seek the purity and assurance of a community speaking with only one voice and embrace the reality of living in a communion that is fallible and divided." I may think that theirs are uninteresting voices, but I am not silencing them, just commenting on them in my sarky sort of way. As for the Pharisee jibe, well, no doubt Michael thanks God he is not like Fabricius. I would too if I could. Mercutio, I think, is the more apt, and ironic, allusion. Besides, any psychologist will rightly tell you that I am shadow boxing.

There is also the ecclesial location of my piece to consider. I write as a minister in the United Reformed Church in the UK, and in response to recent articles and letters from our national magazine Reform. Several of my bullet points respond specifically to assertions made there, particularly by liberals whose breathtaking, patronising ignorance of church history and disrespect for our Reformed heritage drive me nuts. The conservatives are actually pretty quiet at the moment – human sexuality is on the backburner.

The URC is in steep decline, of which there are social-scientific diagnoses – and grim prognosess – and the managers, of course, are their with their snake oil. More hopefully, a process has begun to reacquaint our local churches with, er, the Bible and prayer. But, on the whole, we have completely lost our way, lost our sense of Reformed identity, and there is little fearless and fructifying indigenous theological work that is responding to the barren zeitgeist, in good Barthian fashion, "as if nothing has happened," rather there is an inevitable pragmatic, even Pelagian, subtext to most of it, as if our job is to "fix" the church. Moreover, the giants under whom I studied – Caird and Newbigin – and some with whom I worked – Gunton and Stanton – are now dead, and while there are a few tall folk around, I think we are now a pretty vertically challenged denomination.

Onto the little bulletin board to the right of my desk I recently pinned Jaroslav Pelikan’s inspirational statement: "If Christ is risen – then nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen – then nothing else matters." It helps me to hang in there – or at least it will until I am slaughtered in the letter section of next month’s Reform.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so here's the thing: try as I might I read the Bible (NIV or any version) and can't see Jesus' absolute rejection of violence? What disease have I got other than an inability to read - where is the absolute rejection?

Anonymous said...


If I could temporarily make myself the target of everyone's criticism: I see a correlation between groups that dismiss and deride "conservative evangelicals" (never mind Fundamentalists, who are beyond the pale) and groups that are dying. Liberalism is dead, ecclesiologic ally speaking. So is neo-orthodoxy, if it ever had a churchly influence comparable to liberal Protestantism.

You don't have to be a genius here: Finke and Stark's work on The Churching of America provides a pretty compelling explanation, at least in American history, for what happens when that embarrassingly conservative, sectarian form of the Gospel becomes a subject of derision: churches die, with alacrity.

I'm not making an argument here from sustainable churches to right theology (then Mormonism would be a good model for us); I am saying that Barth and Co., which includes all "middle way" approaches between theological liberalism and crunchy, embarrassingly conservative Christianity have been around long enough for us to answer this question: when denominations/groups embrace this theology, what happens to them? If you're in doubt, just study the history or start asking awkward questions about divinity schools and their effects on churches.

I know Christians in the underground church in China, as well as people in other contexts where they face sharp and deadly persecution, and this middle way stuff does not hack it for people like that; it's the luxury of the comfortable church. It's not stuff people die for. It’s not stuff that motivates people to spend their lives sharing it. A friend in Orissa state in India recently had most of the people in his oversight suffer intense persecution from Hindus. The vast majority of them lost their homes, some their lives. And the theology he teaches you would probably find embarrassing; it more conservative than “conservative evangelicalism”; it’s far less compromised, for more clear sighted about the costs of being a Christian.

The provincial idea that inerrancy is new or innovative is historically untenable; only middle-way types think this (usually people who used to believe in it, but then don’t want to become liberals; so they make fun of it), as honest historians from B.A. Gerrish (see his essay on Luther and Calvin's view of the Bible in “The Old Protestantism and the New”) to patristic scholars like Kelly have long acknowledged that such a view has been the normal one throughout the church.

I'm fine with people deviating from traditional positions: on sexuality, the Bible, whatever; I just prefer them to be honest about it, not act like the traditional view is what is in question. Maybe the tradition was wrong; if so, that’s what I’ll say. I won’t try to rewrite it.

I also won’t try to act like the Christians in Africa and China, and everywhere else it’s spreading have more in common with my school (Yale Div.) or blogs like this than they do with the forms of Christianity everyone finds so embarrassing here. Once they have established themselves and laid institutional foundations, I’m sure they’re theological progeny can mock them as well.

In the meanwhile, it may be worth considering that, if you love the church, as I'm sure you do, your own attitude towards certain forms of Christianity may be a big part of the problem you're confronting.

roger flyer said...

Anon and all-

What happens when you wake up one morning and you have to say to yourself out loud:
"I don't love the church."

That's my sad story and I'm sticking to it.

Anonymous said...

" know Christians in the underground church in China, as well as people in other contexts where they face sharp and deadly persecution, and this middle way stuff does not hack it for people like that; it's the luxury of the comfortable church. It's not stuff people die for. It’s not stuff that motivates people to spend their lives sharing it. A friend in Orissa state in India recently had most of the people in his oversight suffer intense persecution from Hindus. The vast majority of them lost their homes, some their lives. And the theology he teaches you would probably find embarrassing; it more conservative than “conservative evangelicalism”; it’s far less compromised, for more clear sighted about the costs of being a Christian. "

Unfortunately there are very good reasons for being skeptical of many of the beliefs of very conservative Christians and you don't get around that by pointing out that conservative Christians are the ones supposedly most likely to die for their faith. What about Bonhoffer? And aren't there secularists and members of other faiths who risk their lives for their non-fundamentalist Christian beliefs in totalitarian societies? Does this mean everyone is right? Other people make undeniably self-sacrificial and heroic choices even in our society and they are not necessarily Christian. (Pat Tillman, for one, whatever one might think of his choice).

I'm a middle-way Christian myself, to lay my own cards on the table. I felt a little unease with Kim's post, though I agreed with much of it, but I think I feel more unease with the critics here. (And I got nothing from the Christopher Hitchens essay that someone linked to, except further evidence that this man needs to retire from public life and limit himself to writing essays on non-political subjects. One of the things wrong with our society is the utter shamelessness of people who have been both incredibly arrogant and wrong.)

Another anonymous

Anonymous said...

And yet in all the amusing and uncomfortable accuracy of the symptomatic diagnosis, (I claim the conservative evangelical strain myself) the central claim that these two strands can only exist in symbiotic relationship remains unproven and somewhat unchallenged.
For instance, I can appreciate why rational and sentimental approaches can be portrayed as polar expressions.
But I don't understand why liberalism and conservatism, which both seem to be driven by divergent hermeneutic principles are polar opposites.
Perhaps, instead, if both these positions share anything it is that they both share a position at one point of a polar extreme against the other extreme which is a moderation that accepts all things and dismisses only certainty.
My appreciation, too, for the comment about cooling down the feverish in contrast with warming the undead. (Zombies are all the rage in popular culture these days)

roger flyer said...

Anon said: "The vast majority of them lost their homes, some their lives. And the theology he teaches you would probably find embarrassing; it more conservative than “conservative evangelicalism”; it’s far less compromised, for more clear sighted about the costs of being a Christian. "

PLEASE...some examples of theology worth considering losing my life for...

Anonymous said...

Another anonymous,

"Unfortunately there are very good reasons for being skeptical of many of the beliefs of very conservative Christians . . . "

That's why I said that I wasn't making an argument from church growth/sustainability directly to proper belief; people are willing to die for their country even today. Being willing to die for something is deeply underdetermined with respect to its meaning and significance; indeed, I think many would say it's simply a necessary condition for being living a good life: loving something more than one's self.

My point was that certain kinds of belief are not commensurate with certain kinds of things: you can't build churches on certain kinds of theology; people don't care about evangelism who believe certain kinds of theology; certains kinds of theology don't generate radically different forms of living, etc.

Moreover, if you believe that "true forms" of Christianity are self-sustaining and ultimately reproducing (and I think that's implied in the NT), then you can make broad historical arguments, or at least raise questions, about the development of certain kinds of theology, like liberalism.

Much of the lifeblood of the church is not adequately captured in formal theology, and especially not in modern theology departments. It's in the lives of regular people, for whom, as Paul made abundantly clear, Christianity would always be most appealing. Good theology (among other things), I think, articulates, not destroys, the life of the church as it has been liven and is still lived.

I don't think one can have it both ways: certain communities and their intellectual manifestations simply destroy any orthodox form of Christianity; such communities and their products can either be resisted and challenged or assimilated or accommodated.

Middle ways are transition routes: out of one thing into another. They are never stable, and therefore the easy way to see where they lead is to watch their progeny. "Middle way" parents inevitably produce children either more conservative or more liberal than themselves; but not "balanced" like their parents were because the children lack the subjective complications that make their parents want to cling to something they also don't fully accept anymore.

Thus, in churches and in denominations, middle way thinkers produces children that are either simply liberal, generally speaking, or more conservative. The trend is normally liberal, I think, particularly in denominations. Ultimately I doubt "middle ways" are anything more than pyschological frameworks necessary for people to successfully narrate their identity in a way that avoids construing it as simply inconsistent. That's why the "middle way" of Kim will be one more extreme to navigate between for others.

Again, one does not have to be a genius to look at churches like the Episcopalian church, which has been declining basically since its inception, to guess what will happen to it in the near future, just as one doesn't need to be a genius to look at demographic data about Europe to figure out what will happen. Certain ideas and forms of life kill themselves. That's happening in Western Europe; it happened in liberal theology. Now liberal theology is an academic option among many, but rare are the Gerrishes or Hodgson's who will defend 19C classical liberalism. I suspect the same will happen with Barthians; it will (already has, in some ways) become an academic option, sort of like structural-functional, cultural, or sociology of knowledge approaches in sociology.

For reasons like this, and a host of others, the "very good" reasons for skepticism of conservative Christian are strongly relatived by the very good reason to question the validity of many of the factors that constitute the necessary background within which those "very good" defeaters can have teeth.

But we are now off topic, perhaps.

roger flyer said...

Nice stuff, Ms. anon.

Daniel Strand said...

Mr Fabricius,

How clever an article. As satire goes, bravo, you have hit the nail on the head! Provoke, incite and possibly illicit some reactions, positive or negative. As far as serious critique, perhaps you are playing to an audience that will too easily agree. As one of those "conservative evangelicals" who believes a lot of that utter nonsense (inerrancy and the like) I hope you will be so kind as to stoop down to my poor soul and offer some "cooling down" methods from your high perch, wherever that might be.

BTW-When did pacifism become the badge of orthodoxy these days? Did I miss the memo?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Strand. I can see Jesus rejecting violence in the context of a fucking brilliant recovery of the lex talionis tradition - what had been given as strict justice had become rough justice, what was meant to be set in a judicial context had been wrenched into a personal context - and so Jesus rejects violence. But 'absolute' rejection of violence? Hauerwas would be proud.

But if Jesus absolutely rejects violence then something caught him by surprise and severely pissed him off by the time St John wrote his imaginative mural of protest against militant opporession ... because he looks pretty violent to me. 'Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword to strike down the nations ... he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty ...' Apocalyptic imagery and all the rest: does Jesus do fight club or not?

Now if you've seen your wife's belly ripped open and your children torn from the womb and placed on spears because you're a Christian I would think Jesus being a bit angry is at least one avenue of biblical witness which stops you thinking que sera sera and going and doing likewise to your enemy ...

On this blog my impression is that we are fans rather than followers of Jesus when it comes to his absolute warnings about the reality of hell.

"Yes, but ..." I know, I know. Kinda like Jesus on violence, ain't it?

kim fabricius said...

Who said anything about a "middle way", as in "third way", let alone the "middle/third way"? I also realise that "neo-liberalism" and "conservative evangelicalism" are not monoliths, that a kind of "clash of civilisations" dichotomy is well simplistic and reductive (the old saying about "lables are libels"). But if there is any truth at all in the tags, and if neither the one nor the other is either credible or gripping, then we must speak of numbers three-plus simply because that's the maths of the matter. And of course there are, in fact, plenty of theologians who would be mistyped as either liberal or conservative, and who are not clones of each other, who are out there in the broken middle (if we're going to use the word "middle", then I would insist on that Rosean modifier) - like, er, most of those who comment here - faithfully seeking an understanding of the gospel for which they would die. In short, I am not reifying the number three, but I am saying liberalism/conservatism is a Hobson's choice.

roger flyer said...

Kim's post has lit a few fires in the Northumbrian skies...Here comes St. Columba coming in from the sea to see what the fuss is all about.

Anonymous said...


It's not a little tendentious to barge into the conversation, bewildered, asking who said anything about a "middle way/third way" when you set up two extreme that are "mirror images" of each other and clearly made each of them out to be the thing to avoid.

The whole question is the credibility of your portrayal (e.g. you are simply wrong about inerrancy, and I would appreciate if you acknowledge that or explain why Gerrish, et al. are wrong) of the positions, and thus the credibility of the "broken middle" you see as avoiding their errors. Your portrayal is tendentious, plain and simple, and therefore it lacks prima facie credibility, as does any posited, if only implicitly, alternative.

What precisely needs arguing, not asserting, is the possibility of a genuinely distinct tertium quid that is neither conservative nor liberal; conservatives and liberals both deny that there is such a thing, arguing attempts at it are simply inconsistent lapses into one or the other positions. Barthians and Co. always seem to assert this most fundamental and controversial point, rather than address the many sharp criticims of it offered by both of the ostensibly avoidable sides in the "liberalism/conservativism" binary.

This is not at all unrelated to the review recently posted by Ben; indeed, even McCormack's work on Barth has the comical effect of arguing that he is genuinely orthodox while also claiming him to be a genuine heir of 19C liberalism, that he misread Schleiermacher, conflating him with Troeltsch, etc.; whereas (in my view) people like Troeltsch had the virtue of knowing where they came from and eventually admitting why the old liberalism's positing the superiority of Jesus simply wasn't tenable given its methodological assumptions.

In sum, it would be nice to see less question begging going on here, less dancing around what are the fundamental arguments, rather than assuming a position on them from which one can lampoon the alternatives (not that I don't enjoy the lampooning as much as the next reader; I do). And, my broad point is that we can look at history and learn a great deal about the credibility of such attempts. Europe is its own parable; and while many will be its interpreters, no one can deny that it is killing itself. I think that's a strong argument against whatever, in the end, it's fundamental Weltanschauung is. Mutatis mutandi, I think the fate of liberalism and the ecclesiological effects of liberalism and neo-orthodoxy (e.g in seminaries and divinity school) is not irrelevant to an assessment of their credibility, especially if one is concerned about the church.

adhunt said...


For one thing, for the purposes of conversation can't you at least come up with a witty pseudonym or something? There are at least 3 or 4 Anon's on this thread and it can get confusing.

I feel you are saying one thing and then another in such a way as to make your comments unassailable. You say that you're not equating Church growth or sustainability with good theology but then you point to the fact that it is "Conservative" Christians who are growing and/or willing to die for their beliefs to sustain your critiques.

Well lets have's one or the other. As another Anon pointed out, you miss entirely Bonhoeffer as an example of a Martyr who was borderline liberal in many ways, nd you tease on the Episcopalians but fail to notice that Anglicans compose the third largest grouping of Christians in the world and they have long been considered a "Third Way" folk (uuhhhhmmm Hooker anyone?). Indeed it is the three largest Churches who are the ones who make room for large numbers of nominal Christians for whom your understanding of "conservative" would never fit.

The Prosperity Gospel charismatics are also one of the fastest growing mutations of Christianity. Are they vindicated in your mind because they are not suffering the same fate as Europe?

Or do you care to note that even Southern Baptists are very quickly losing members? ALL Christianity in the West is shrinking, and rapidly. The Evangelicals are just a couple decades behind the Mainline and but for immigration the Roman Catholics would be devastated.

Would you feel better if commenters started coming out of the woodwork to "declare" their willingness to die for the Gospel? Asking something such a thing is ridiculous as none know how they would act until such a situation presented itself and to say otherwise is an exercise in Pride of such heights that it is practically Babelian in its verticality.

As far as inerrancy I would be VERY interested in anything akin to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in the Patristic fathers. Hell, Calvin was fine saying certain books were not written by who the Bible "says" they are, and Luther was willing to jetison several books from consideration as Gospel truth, so I'm skeptical of your assertions that it is the uniform picture of the Church's historical position.

So some will die for Conservative Evangelicalism, some will die for America, some will die for Allah, but none of that really even matters when considering a proper theological response to the action of God. All of your contributions so far can be summed up in, Liberals and Neo-orthodox are shrinking, so it must be wrong. Next time make an actual argument or move along.

Evan said...

[Kim:] "Who said anything about a "middle way", as in "third way", let alone the "middle/third way"?"

I haven't read all of the new long posts and won't at this point, but I believe I was the one who brought this up. Contra the later poster who came to my defense, Kim's probably correct that I oversimplified things a bit. I'd be more inclined to stick with the via media accusation than the third way, but I agree with you that this wasn't exactly your intention. That said, any time one battles a Scylla and Charybdis, I think at least the impression of this contrived middle way suggests itself, even if it's not totally accurate. So I don't think the move towards that was entirely out of the blue.

Phillip said...

Well like it says in Babylon 5 'You'll die for the One but are you prepared to live for the One'.

David said...

Dear Rev. Fabricius

Although I find the language unnecessarily crude, I think one of the Anons above has a point about Jesus and the lex talionis tradition - that's a strong exegetical position on how to understand Jesus on violence. So, while I know your piece is a satire to make a point etc, etc, but Jesus 'absolute rejection of violence' is a point you raise against both constituencies and so it seems to take on even more pointed significance for you. Can you please shed any light - exegetical/theological - on why you think it is absolute?
Yours aye

kim fabricius said...

Hi David,

For an extended answer to your question, the best thing to do would be to go to the sidebar under "Categories" and click "pacifism". There you will find, among other posts I have done on the issue for Ben, my "Ten Propositions on Peace and War", along with the ensuing rich discussion (which persuaded me to do some more work on the post for the chapter in my book, including adding some comments on "holy war" in the OT). I hope that you will find what you are looking for there, even if you do not agree with it.


David said...

Thanks Kim, much appreciated, will take a look.


David said...

Just had two of your posts there, VERY VERY much appreciated Kim: I love your breadth of reading and the way you put things. I'm afraid I can think of ifs, buts and maybes when Jesus' turn the other cheek command(s) etc are read in the light of their lex talionis tradition and so it's my no means obvious that his prohibitions are absolute i.e. he's rejecting Christians acting violently personally, taking the law into their own hands etc, etc - as Anon said, rough justice instead of strict justice. But then this line of thinking can be squared with the STATE bearing the sword etc, and so what happens if a Christian is in the police or army etc: it's easier to accommodate violence in a judicial context for believers.
And when you say "And in the rest of the New Testament, including Revelation, military imagery is deconstructed and deployed in the service of peace: the Lion of Judah goes “Baa!” (Revelation 5:5-6)" then I am left thinking this is very selective - does the Lamb not then roar again there?
Just trying to get my head round this ...

David said...

i.e the Lamb more than roars in Revelation 19, for instance. How do you understand that chapter? 19:11-16

Adam Kotsko said...

The choice of the conservative over the neo-liberal is pretty facile. It feels to me like an "at least it's an ethos" stance -- sure, liberal Christians seem too wishy-washy, but they're also better people. Evangelicalism inculcates something just short of mental illness in its followers.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for that powerfully cogent response to conservatives; it shows you've really given them a sympathetic and fair hearing.

I just heard the a Bishop of Rwanda speak last night about his involvement in post-genocide Rwanda: if conservative evangelicals are "just short of mental illness," my guess is you would class Bishop Rucyahana as needing to be institutionalized (God only knows what we should have done with Paul . . . ).

roger flyer said...

I guess you're a liberal and mentally healthy, but a bit wishy washy, right?

kim fabricius said...

With conservatives, at least on a Sunday you're likely to get a reading from Isaiah rather than Kahil.

Anthony Paul Smith said...

I'd gladly trade Isaiah for people who do anything, just anything at all, for justice. Conservatives fight for oppression as if it were the second coming itself.

Adam Kotsko said...

No, Roger, I acknowledge that I'm a bad person -- and in large part, that's because of the way I was shaped by my conservative evangelical church, where I was constantly around back-biting, paranoid, passive-aggressive people and where I learned through vivid example that people who seem to be caring and helpful almost always have an agenda. I would take the atmosphere of my ultra-liberal seminary over my evangelical undergrad college any day, because the liberals were actually good people.

Anthony said...

Presumably Adam the next time you're around liberals who leave a bad taste in your mouth (or do they not exist?) you'll just switch back to being more conservative. I mean, what a lot of pissing in the wind this is, a few lines here and there on the evils of conservatism or the evils of liberalism and vice versa, all conservative evangelicals are sickos, all liberals are lovely and vice versa - all Barthians are adulterers, all Calvinists burn heretics: I mean seriously, what the heck are we all doing prancing around spouting such twaddle and I'm as much a part of it as anyone else. Pissing in the wind and letting off a bit of steam.

Adam Kotsko said...

Right, Anthony -- it's impossible that evangelical churches might be forming their members in an undesirable way. We might as well just focus on what a jerk I am and leave the larger questions alone.

Adrian said...

So the AUFS crowd can have a comment policy as strict as all get out, but posting that evangelicals may be mentally ill on another site is cool and the gang.

Adam Kotsko said...

From a post where I respond to Kim at length: "I claimed in comments that evangelicalism “cultivates something just short of mental illness.” That statement was exaggerated, hurtful, and intolerant, and I apologize for it."

Anthony said...

Adam - the issue isn't whether evangelical churces might be forming there members in an undesirable way - goodness knows many are - but that you then say and liberalism is so much better because I know so many nice ones. That's not an argument. It's precisely because you haven't focused on the larger questions that you get a response like that. It's like someone posting saying: liberal theologians I know in academia try to sleep with their students or whatever blah blah and I got sick of it and now I've found a lovely evangelical church and so BOTH EXAMPLES DESCRIBE THE WHOLE of evangelicalism/liberalism. Pissing in the wind.

Anthony Paul Smith said...

The comment policy we have isn't there to shut down disagreement or make sure everyone plays nice. On the whole it is there to get people not to bog down the debate in being clever. Feel free to give it a try and see if your comment gets through! It's like a game! For the whole family!

Seriously though, we hardly delete anything. Hell, the latest person to be subjected to the policy was ME when I took something off topic in an unhelpful way!

Adam Kotsko said...

So, Anthony (non-Paul Smith), you've never heard of the idea of purposeful exaggeration? The very post we're commenting on is an example of that time-honored rhetorical technique, and I answered in kind (in a way that admittedly misfired). If you read the post I link, I nuance the hell out of it. Or we could just keep talking about what a total dick I am and how nothing I say has any basis whatsoever.

Evan said...

"Feel free to give it a try and see if your comment gets through! It's like a game! For the whole family!"

I think, when my daughter is old enough to read, I'll be sure to make a house rule that she can't visit AUFS until she's 18.

Tarantino movies are another matter entirely.

Anthony Paul Smith said...


That's fair. One of my most shameful moments as a blogger was being harsh towards a commenter only to find out he was like 15 or 16. So I guess AUFS is Rated R.

Evan said...

I'm just having fun... if my daughter could keep up with you guys I'd be happy for her to do so.

There are worse things on the internet than blogging theorists.

Anonymous said...


The basic response to what you've said about conservatives is that it's simply fallacious; you've had a horrible experience with them; okay. So have I; so have many of people I know and have read.

Many of us are still conservatives, and I know plenty of conservatives who are nothing like what you describe (speaking of justice, have you ever heard of Redeemer Presbyterian Church?).

You can't generalize from your bad experience to "conservative evangelicals" as a whole (they're as monolithic as "liberals" are) especially when what you describe is hardly novel or unique to one group: it's sin, nuanced by the social and historical particularities of American conservative Christianity.

Your point about liberals being harmless is correct, if you beg every relevant question before the argument begins. If you don't, then liberals, on any orthodox view, are misleading people with potentially eternal consequences. You can dismiss that kind of talk, of course, but only by assuming that most of the Christian tradition's exclusivism and belief in post-mortem justice is crock.

And it may be. But the point is that it's not much of an argument to simply assume it is, to assume, by the way you engage the position, that it's false. That's not engagement, nor it is argumentation.

Can you imagine how many people will have had a "bad experience with liberalism," if they discover what their liberal churches and professors taught was false, and disastrously so? If we care about truth, regardless of where we stand, we can't ignore questions like this when we're engaging liberalism/conservativism.

For orthodox believers, the stakes are high.

Are the stakes, in fact, as high as traditional Christians have thought? That's part of the question, and it should be part of the discussion, not something assumed to be false in the way one "interacts" with the traditional position.

Adam Kotsko said...

Again, I refer you to the principle of selection in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

Evan said...

It's worth noting that the defender of the liberals is the only one I see calling us back to Scripture.

Matt Stone said...

Nice one Ben

Elaine said...

I have not been able to read the whole conversation, but do wish to challenge one of the "symptoms" of conservative evangelicalism.

"• Worship with “choruses” that are four lines long, a half-inch deep, and take 20 minutes to sing."

I agree that this form of worship can be empty and mindless, but no less so than liturgical forms of worship using a prayer book and hymns. Either form must be approached and engaged with fully, using the mind, opening the heart. A repeated chorus can be seen as a form of contemplative prayer, not merely a repetitive time waster.

J said...

Deny the divinity of Christ (while acknowledging him as great guru, right up there with the Buddha), speak of the resurrection as a “spiritual” reality (i.e. as something that happened to the disciples, not to Jesus), and so cannot worship or pray to Jesus; and, consequently, don’t know what to do with Paul.

Is there something wrong with that? "Blessed are the meek": the dharma, dewd, or close to it.

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