Tag Archives: religion

Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic

Today we continue a mini-series on the philosophy of doing history. In the next few days we will take a look at all sorts of views regarding how to do history. These views range from critical realist accounts all the way to post-structuralist accounts and even some feminist accounts.

“Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic” is a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde confession. In the same man there exists two persons. The first is a “historian and polemicist of literary theory, who could speak with passion, without noticeable impediment about literature as a political instrument.” (59) This man could murder a piece of literature and expose show how literary texts are devious acts of power. The second is a man who simply enjoyed the pleasures of reading good literature. One might imagine that the second man is Dr. Jekyll, a polite, composed, model citizen and that the first man is Mr. Hyde, a ruthless villain, robbing people of the pleasures of life. Although many non-academics might see things this way, the fact is that in the academy – specifically literature departments – the second man is the one who is paraded as a model to be emulated and the first is deemed to barbarous to roam the halls of the elite institutions of academia. Such a man is called “non-literary.”

In explaining his experience of living as a literary critic and a lover of literature Frank

Frank Lentricchia

Lentricchia exposes some of the absurdities of the sort of literary criticism practiced by various approaches to the study of literature, including (but not explicitly named) the New Historicism. He explains that at one point he was convinced that as a literary critic he could “be an agent of social transformation, an activist who would show his students that, in its form and style, literature had a strategic role to play in the world’s various arrangements of power” and that all literature was “either in opposition to or in complicit with the power in place.” (60) However, Lentricchia eventually came to believe that this sort of approach to literature, which is standard in literature departments is misguided. He now believes that literary criticism is “a form of Xeroxing.” (64) Literary critics a live in an echo-chamber, when they speak of the imperialism, homophobia, sexism, etc. hidden in a literary text, they are simply voicing their own ideological concerns. Instead of being concerned with the “power plays” supposedly voiced in literary texts, Lentricchia now contents himself with simply trying to “describe what is on the page.” (67) And thus, it seems that for now Lentricchia’s Mr. Hyde, the lover of literature, has eclipsed Dr. Jekyll, the literary critic.


This essay does a fine job of exposing the fact that literary criticism can serve as a form of political activism. The literary critic, by exposing the supposed ideologies present in great works of literature, believes she can shape and mold her audience towards pursuing a better world. There is something noble about this. However, Lentricchia, rightly in my mind, exposes the fact that in their desire to make the world a better place, some critics can read things into texts that are not actually there simply because the critic is driven by a particular agenda. This is what he calls “Xeroxing.”

The act of “Xeroxing” is a danger that is not just present for the literary critic but the historian as well. Its too easy to read sexism or racism, issues which a historian is right to be concerned with, into historical texts which are neither sexist or racist. “John Calvin did not allow women to take the pulpit in Geneva, therefore he is a sexist.” “Peter Martyr Vermigli never attempted to teach outside of Europe, therefore he is euro-centric.” These are potential examples of “Xeroxing” in the discipline church history. Lentricchia is right, we should attempt to allow our “texts” speak for themselves instead of imposing our own judgements upon “texts” for issues that “texts” are not even concerned with.

See, Frank Lentricchia, “Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic,” Lingua Franca 6/6 (September/October 1996): 59-67.


Rogue One and the Return of Reverence (Spoilers)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

(Donnie Yen)

Ph: Film Frame

©Lucasfilm LFL
This morning over at First Things, Marc Barnes published a wonderful article on “reverence” and the Force in the Star Wars movies. Here he argues that Episodes 4-6 display a sort of religious reverence for the Force. But in the prequels, the Force loses its sacred status and becomes a magic weapon. He connects this to the secularization of the Force (think Midi-chlorians). The secularization of the Force in the prequels leads to irreverent use of it. “The Force is used so often, and for so many purposes, throughout the prequels—from eating pears to throwing people—that it loses its religious valence and becomes just another technological element: blasters, lightsabers, X-wings, Force.” You can read the article here: Rogue One and the Return of Reverence (It contains spoilers).

Barnes says,
But the prequels give us a lesson that life repeats. No matter how amazing something is, if it is susceptible to our power and manipulation, it gets boring….Only that which is not “currently” out of reach, mysterious “by the research standards of today,” can be approached with reverence…..Reverence is an emotion that responds to the presence of a value higher than ourselves—a value that exists in its own right and does not need us. Reverence is not oriented toward the useful, no matter how awesome the use. The prequels irreverently secularized the Force, making it a controllable entity, measurable and understandable, infinitely use-able.

He then praises the new films, Force Awakens & Rogue One, for how they bring back a sense of Reverence to the Force, and really to the world. Its really a great read. You should check it out. Thought it does contain some spoilers if you haven’t seen Rogue One Yet (who hasn’t!!!!).

Now, the real reason I’m writing this is to make a comment on his thesis. Barnes seems to think that the irreverence displayed in the sequels and the “commercialization” of the Force was more so a reflection of the film makers/writers pandering to audiences. The audiences wanted to see the Force in full effect! They wanted to see some spectacular fights and some super powers! However I disagree. I think the irreverent use of the force in the prequels is intentional. Reverence is something that only returns once the Jedi are forced into exile.

Think about the story line of the prequels. Part of it revolves around the idea that the Jedi losing touch with the Force. E.G. Yoda can’t even see the Sith before him and the council is a mess. They have lost touch with the Force and what it was intended to be used for. The fact that the Jedi irreverently start using the Force is part of the story line.

Also, I think there’s something to be said about the Jedi reclaiming the true “meaning” of the force when in exile. Exile tends to bring clarity. It’s in exile that one gets vision. Think of Scripture for a minute, who is known as The Seer? John, who is exiled on Patmos. When does Israel finally see its vocation? When does it begin to see its future liberation and God’s kingdom? It’s in exile. Think of the book of Ezekiel & Jeremiah… This is where the real parallels come out.

Ezekiel & Jeremiah chide the Elders of Israel for being BLIND, for making alliances with foreign kings. They chide the Elders of Israel for trusting in the Temple as a power, rather than God himself. Israel has sought safety in the power of God rather than in God himself. Much like the Jedi in the prequel, Israel has commercialized & mechanized God’s powers. In doing so, they have treated God irreverently, even desecrating the temple. Its only when Israel is sent off into exile that they begin to the real power of God. Similarly, its only in exile that the last surviving Jedi (Obi-Wan and Yoda) recover a greater reverence for the force.

Two Quick Political Philosophy Reviews – Balibar and Rawls

Spinoza and Politics (Radical Thinkers)  – Etienne Balibar

This book was great. I read it as a 3rd year philosophy student at UCLA and I took 2 classes on Spinoza. In one class we studied The Ethics, and in the other we read the Tractatus Politicus. Balibar’s book was mostly about the Tractatus Politicus and his theological essay as well. Balibar’s ability to capture Spinoza’s themes without resorting to the use of technical language was extremely helpful. Because Balibar explained Spinoza at an intuitive level, it made for a light yet informative read.

According to Balibar the fundamental theorem of Spinoza’s metaphysical politics is that reason and imagination interact in a certain way to create a stable society. It turns out that state itself determines if and how this interaction will proceed. Because 1) the state determines how the interaction between imagination and reason proceeds 2) this interaction determines the stability of the state thus 3) the preservation of the state’s existence is in the state’s own hands.

A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith: With “On My Religion”

A Brief Inquiry is Rawl’s undergraduate thesis. In it you can see that he was formulating his more mature political philosophy in this theological work. His focus on community in explaining sin and faith is an interesting take on the traditional definitions of sin and faith which involve rebellion or obedience to God. Although this interpretation of the meaning of sin and faith might not be the traditional one, it is orthodox nonetheless. It is interesting to see what kind of philosopher Rawls was becoming even at a young age.

Atonement and Epistemology: How T.F. Torrance’s Pneumatology Unites the Two

Over the last several months I have been very interested in T.F. Torrance’s theology. My interest in Torrance began when I took Oliver Crisp’s “Contemporary Theories of Atonement” class and read Torrance’s book “Atonement.” About a month ago I recieved a call for papers from the Evangelical Theological Society, this year’s Western Regional Conference was going to be on “Evangelical Perspectives on the Holy Spirit.” They keynote speak will be Michael Horton. I decided to submit an abstract for the conference, and lo and behold my abstract was accepted! Thus I will be presenting my paper on April 19th at Vanguard University. Here is the abstract I submitted:

Atonement and Epistemology:

How T.F. Torrance’s Pneumatology Unites the Two

Christopher G. Woznicki

Fuller Theological Seminary

Two topics that have dominated much of evangelical theology over the past several years are atonement and epistemology. The discussions have usually revolved around debates over penal substitution, and foundationalism/coherentism respectively. However these discussions have not had much bearing on one another. T.F. Torrance’s pneumatology draws these discussions together. This paper argues that Torrance’s theory of the Holy Spirit’s role in atonement provides us with the tools necessary to form a robust religious epistemology.

According to Torrance all genuine knowledge involves a cognitive union of the mind with its object, this calls for the removal of any estrangement or alienation that may obstruct or distort this union. In Torrance’s schema atonement accomplishes the removal of this estrangement and alienation. Torrance understands atonement as the recreation of the bond of union between God and humanity. The recreation of this bond is accomplished objectively through the hypostatic union but is actualized subjectively for the believer through the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus for Torrance the union which is necessary for knowledge of God is only made possible by the Spirit’s work in the atonement. This has profound implications for the task of doing theology.

Interpreting the History of American Evangelicalism: 2 Lenses (Part 2: Revolutionary Religion and Creationism)

In this brief series of posts I would like to examine the history of American Christianity through two lenses: 1-the lens of democratization and 2-the lens of doctrinal disputes. In today’s post, which is the second post in this series we will take a look at two movements in American Evangelicalism which can be interpreted in light of the pattern of “democratization.”

(Note: I am not using the term fundamentalist in a derogatory way. The term fundamentalist is a technical term referring to those who were opposed to liberalism and signed on to the “Fundamentals of the Faith.” Nor do I advocate for a particular understanding of the Genesis narrative.)

The first movement occurs during the initial rise of evangelicalism. Evangelicalism prior to the Revolutionary war displayed many of the populist patterns described by Hatch. Early evangelicalism had plenty of charismatic populist leaders, including the Wesley brothers, George Whitefield, and William Seward. Also, the church hierarchies in the colonies were quite weak, ordinary lay people began to distrust and criticize their pastors and even organized movements to have some of them removed from their positions. Thus the traditional hierarchy of clergy over the laity began to slowly dissolve. Finally there was also an emphasis on the personal religious experience of conversion, or being born again. Often these experiences occurred outside of the established church, in revival meetings or in home groups similar to that of the Methodists. However, even for early evangelicalism we see a trajectory towards becoming more middle class and staid. Certain groups became the establishment: Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. But more importantly there were groups that moved from being against the establishment towards working alongside the establishment: Methodists and Baptists. These two groups were greatly influenced by Whitefield’s methods of doing ministry, however they eventually became middle class. As religion prior to the Revolution became more middle class, the shape of evangelicalism began to change. Churchgoers began to value education from elite institutions such as Harvard and Yale. Christians began to form well-organized voluntary societies with leaders who were well respected by the society. Finally they began to stress the notion that it was one’s duty as a Christian to move up in society, both as an individual in the marketplace and as a religious institution among a multitude of churches. Evangelicals had accepted the principles of business that were revolutionizing the burgeoning industrial world.

The major difference between pre-revolutionary war evangelicalism’s movement towards the middle class and pre-civil war evangelicalism’s movement towards the middle class is that the key leaders within early evangelicalism were not trying to be upwardly mobile, while key leaders within later evangelicalism like Charles Finney and Nathan Bang were very conscious of their move towards respectability.

Another movement in which we see a shift from being populist towards becoming more middle class and staid is within the fundamentalist creationism movement. There are various reasons why fundamentalists disagreed with evolutionary theory, however there are two which are especially relevant to understanding how it was a populist movement. The first is that for most fundamentalists, it was impossible to reconcile evolution with a literal interpretation of Genesis. Fundamentalists had a democratic hermeneutic, they believed that the Bible was best interpreted by the naïve readings that common people would give it. Another reason why fundamentalists distrusted evolution is that it strained common sense. Among fundamentalists, Scottish commonsense realism was one of the most influential philosophies. Thus that which makes most sense to the common man was most likely to be true. For fundamentalists it did not make sense to say that the complex universe in which we live in arose spontaneously with out God’s help.

The fundamentalist creationism movement had populist tendencies, especially when it came to its epistemology, but also when it came to organizing movements against those who advocated for evolution. As creationists and evolutionists clashed in the public square, in cases like the Scopes Trial, it became clear that fundamentalists were losing their position in society. Thus they interpreted these battles as an assault upon Christianity. They tried to win this battle, but eventually they failed. As a result fundamentalists were exiled from academia. But fundamentalists would not accept this as a complete loss. If they would lose their position and prominence in mainstream culture, they would form a new one. They would form new schools and have different ways of doing science. Thus fundamentalist began to open numerous bible colleges. Also, creationists would advocate for different ways of doing science, ways that were founded upon Baconian principles and Scottish commonsense realism.

The case of the fundamentalist battle over creation is another instance in which a populist movement shifts towards becoming the establishment. However this case is a bit different from the others. Fundamentalists wanted to become the establishment, however they were eventually pushed out from prominence and were even pushed out from mainstream culture. Thus it was impossible for them to become the middle class establishment. However that desire to for prominence and respect played out in different ways. They would create their own culture with their own educational institutions and scientific principles. In essence they took what mainstream culture saw as respectable and imitated it. To sum things up we might say that those in the fundamentalist creation science movement desired to become the establishment but couldn’t so they settled for imitating the establishment.

Missiology: Urban Mission Part 9 – Retelling the Story: Looking to the Cross

Over the last few days I have been posting some thoughts on an issue facing the future of the church, namely the explosion of urban populations. I started by taking a look at some of the issues brought about by the urban explosion. Today, in our final entry, we will wrap up the story that we started with in the beginning. Also we will see how the gospel addresses the issues brought up in the paper.


VI-Retelling the Story: Looking to the Cross

Her church was known for it’s gigantic cross that overlooked the valley. In fact on a clear night when the cross was light up it was visible from miles away. One night after going to church she sat in the parking lot staring up at the cross. She pondered and prayed about the conversations she was having about the city. Had she been wrong? Was the city really a hellhole, and it needed rescuing? Or was it the place where God worked and dwelled? She looked up again at the cross, which stood at the edge of this city, and she remembered Hebrews 13:12-14 which says: “Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city to come.” As she sat there remembering what Christ had done for her on the cross, she was flooded with emotions. She realized that Christ’s work on the cross was the ultimate act of justice and solidarity. Christ bore our shame and punishment even when he didn’t deserve it. The only reasonable response to his sacrifice for her was to enact justice and live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. She realized that the gospel leads her to doing justice, and doing justice opens the city up to receive the gospel. In other words her “justification by faith leads to doing justice, and doing justice can make many seek to be justified by faith.”[1]

She also remembered Revelation 22:1-2, where the water of life flowed through the city of God to the tree of life which produced leaves for the healing of the nations. She wondered about this tree and her mind went back to the tree on which Christ was crucified. On the cross he was slaughtered and by his blood he ransomed saints from every tribe and language and people and nation for God (Revelation 5:9). People from all different backgrounds were together worshiping Christ, there was unity in the midst of diversity!

The more she thought about the cross, the more she realized God’s heart for the city. It seems as though the future of the church is in fact in the city. Yes, the city has its challenges. The church in the city must deal with poverty and it must deal with cultural heterogeneity and the issues that come alongside of it, but the cross brings healing where there is injustice and it creates unity. She looked to the cross once again, and but this time she saw that God really loves the city. God loved the city so much that he gave his Son for it. Staring at that cross on that hill outside of the city she realized that we must participate “in what God is doing. We do not bring God’s reign to the city. God is already there. He invites us to join him in his activity. In humility we must realize that we will never have the answers. We cannot meet all the needs. We are not the answer.”[2] Christ is the answer for the city.

[1] Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just, 140.

[2] Jude Tiersma, “What Does it Mean to be Incarnational When We are not the Messiah?,” in God So Loves the City, eds. Charles Van Engen and Jude Tiersma, (Monrovia: MARC, 1994), 15.

Simple Smallgroups (pt. 3): Pattern 1 – Connecting

Pattern 1: Connecting

I’m trying to keep these short, I promise! But sometime I just can’t help myself, I am a loquacious person. So the last time we took a look at how the three patterns play out in the Bible and in the history of the Church. This time we will take a more in depth look at the pattern Bill Search call’s connecting and Soma calls community.

Community (No not the show….)

Community is one of my favorite shows on NBC; well at least it used to be, it quickly got supplanted by 30 Rock (Tracy Morgan is a genius or stupid I don’t quite know). Anyway I’m not telling you that I like community just to tell you about what I do on my spare time, I’m going to try to make a point. In Community we have a band of disparate characters with nothing in common other than the fact that they go to a crummy jr. college. The cast of characters is diverse: a black Christian lady, an asian Spanish teacher, a WASP lawyer, an Indian nerd, a black nerd, and a white “activist,” oh yea and the old guy. (By the way where are the Hispanic characters? Personally I am offended.) So you have this rag tag group that goes through ups and downs, fighting and laughter, pregnancy and murder by paintballs. Yet there is something that keeps drawing this group back together. What is it that draws them back together despite it all, and especially despite Pierce’s diabolical schemes? It’s the fact that they are a real community, they are a family that has covenanted together to stick through with everyone’s bs at least until the end of the semester.

Community shows us that community is hard. Its not natural. Its hard because we live in a world plagued by sin. Everyone is inherently looking after their own good, they are turned in on themselves (incurvatus en se). This show shows us how hard it is to maintain in the real world.

The people in our community can be irritating and exhausting. But so can you. The people in our group will let us down, and you will let them down too. You will undoubtedly have an EGR in your group (extra grace required). And if you don’t have an EGR, that means that its probably you… just saying. But the fact is that community is worth it. We were created for community. God is a Trinitarian community. The Church is a community thus as Christ’s redeemed community should be a priority for us, especially us shepherds. As shepherds we are called to shepherd to flock. Notice: a flock. Not one sheep. Not two sheep, but a flock. A community of sheep. So lets take a quick look at some things that kill community.


How to Kill… Community

        Bill Search points out three things that kill community: time, relational exhaustion, and wierdos.</br>

  1. Time: The fact is that we don’t have a lot of time. How many times have you been asked someone else to hang out or get some coffee only to hear: “yeah we should totally do that let me look at my schedule and I will get back to you.” And then never hear back from them? Or how many times have you heard “I would love to hang out, but I’m just so busy right now.” Is there ever going to really be a time when you aren’t busy? I doubt it. Life is by nature busy. Now sometimes these excuses are legitimate and sometimes they are just BS. It’s hard to tell. Either way a lack of available time does not strengthen community, instead it kills it. So as leaders we need to make sure that people understand that community is a commitment. If community is going to happen its not going to happen on our free time, we have to be intentional about allowing it to form if we are going to experience meaningful Christ centered community.
  2. Relational Exhaustion: All of us have other relationships. Family, friends, ministries. Our list of relationships can often get long, and the fact is that we often end up ignoring a lot of the most important ones. So if we already have all these relationships why add more through our Lifegroup? Well the plan is that Lifegroups will allow us to form relationships that function on a different level than so many of our other relationships. In a Lifegroup we give people permission to check our blind spots and to call us out when they see sin creeping up. Ideally this would also occur outside in our normal relationships too, but often it doesn’t. So here is my warning: don’t overextend yourself in your relationships. Be intentional with who you are investing into. As a leader you can only have so many intentional relationships. In this season your Lifegroup is one of those sets of relationships. If you feel like you are relationally overextended it might be wise to seek counsel to see if this is where God wants you in this season of life.
  3. Wierdos: Yes wierdos… I know its insensitive to call someone a weirdo but its true. You know those EGR’s, the ECR’s, the EBH’s… No you don’t know them? Well they are the “emotional black hole.” Every group has one. If you don’t shepherd them well and don’t protect everyone else from getting get sucked into the lifeless vacuum (I know I’m a jerk…) the entire group will suffer and community will die. These kinds of people require a lot of care and a lot of discipline. You have to put them in their place for the sake of the rest of the flock but you must also realize that they are a part of your flock so its your duty to protect them. Beware the weirdo, creeper, dolt, awkward person, they can kill your group.


Give Me Some Space

So obviously there are things that will kill your Lifegroup’s connection. So what strengthens it? I want to suggest one thing: create a safe space.

“We can use big words like authentic, confidential, honest, and safe, but ultimately what we mean is that we hope people feel comfortable in our group.” If our members aren’t comfortable they probably won’t connect. Now creating a comfortable space can happen in two different ways: relational spaces and physical spaces.

If people don’t feel relationally safe in our groups they will not connect. Have you ever been to a group that feels awkward? Or a group that has someone that makes you nervous? Or how about a group that has someone that you don’t trust? Its easy to kill a Lifegroup when people don’t feel relationally safe in that group. The group will always stay shallow, people won’t share their lives, and people will not grow in your group. So as leaders its our job to make sure that our groups are relationally safe. That is why we sign covenants at the beginning of each quarter. That is why we have the “vegas rule of Lifegroups.” However you must remember that creating a safe place is not a guarantee that community will happen, there are a lot of other factors involved, however it does make it a heck of a lot easier. After all your role “is not to force connection but to facilitate a safe relational space.”

The other way we can facilitate connection is by creating safe physical spaces. This means don’t have your Lifegroup in the Valley, I’m just kidding, this means having adequate lighting, air conditioning or heat, enough chairs for everyone. Think of it this way, have you ever been at church and its way too hot for you to focus on what the pastor is saying? Well that can happen in Lifegroup too. A safe and comfortable place will help people engage and thus it will also help people connect with one another relationally. Another way to create a comfortable physical space is to offer snacks. Snacks are good… I’m just saying.


Community: What it Doesn’t Looks Like

        Connecting is simply a growing relationship with an identified group of people who meet regularly around the presence of Christ. Its not complicated. Community doesn’t have to be the deepest thing that you have ever experienced in your life. If someone doesn’t break down crying confessing their sins in your group each week you are not a failure. If this were the standard for connection then few groups would ever qualify as really having a meaningful connection. Yes intimacy is good, in fact its great, but you should not determine your groups success only by means of intimacy. Bill Search makes an interesting suggestion. He says that connecting in Lifegroups isn’t a small bull’s-eye that we aim for, it’s more of a pattern that has varying degrees of intensity. This intensity will fluctuate from group to group and season to season.

So remember, if your group doesn’t feel like a family of brothers and sisters, that does not mean that your group is a failure. Don’t set yourself up by having dangerous expectations. Afterall there are a bunch of different ways that people connect; we don’t always have to share our deepest, darkest secrets to truly connect.

Wrapping Things Up

        So we took a look at the first pattern: connecting. We will be sticking on this pattern for a little while, so get comfortable. Next time we will be applying some of this stuff to our specific groups. Until then, remember that we are created to connect and that levels of connection vary from group to group. One last thing, I talked a lot about practical ways to kill your group and practical ways to strengthen it. However there is a theological truth that we need to remember if we are going to understand this pattern. Through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross for us we receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit reminds us as individuals of our union with Christ. The entire Church experiences union with Christ, therefore as individuals our connection isn’t merely a natural connection. We are quite literally united with Christ on account of his work for us on the cross. The Holy Spirit reminds us of this. We must remind ourselves and each other of this if we are going to truly be a community that experiences union with Christ.