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Right Place, Right Time

“When I lived in Paris, I wished I were there in the 1860s, as the city was undergoing dramatic social and urban transformations that marked its destiny. When I lived in New York, I wished I had been there in the 1910s, when massive migration and city-building were forming its inimitable character. And when I lived in Los Angeles, I wished I had been there in the 1950s, when it gained prominence as a hub for postwar innovation. Living in Phoenix over the last eight years, I have felt that I am finally in the right place at the right time.”

– Nan Ellin, Phoenix: 21st Century City

Image: Burton Barr Library via willbruderarchitects.com


I Too Believe

“When a Christian says, ‘I believe,’ he or she always means, ‘I too believe’ – I believe what the prophets and the apostles believed, I believe what the community of faith believed through the centuries. They believed, and together with them I too believe. What I believe as myself, a person living in a particular time and place, is important. But at its heart, that should be nothing but a personally and situationally appropriate variation of what others have believed and what I have received.”

– Miroslav Volf, Against the Tide

Header photo via Wikimedia.org

Divine Love Made Food

“All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: “O taste and see that the Lord is good.” Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for Him.”

– Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

Header image via eater.com


Latin American Evangelicalism

David Bebbington, a British historian, famously outlined four key characteristics of the evangelical movement: conversionism, biblicism, activism, and crucicentrism. These are what evangelicals, by and large, would consider the essentials.

Among evangelicals, however, there has historically been plenty of disagreement on all manner of “secondary issues.” Because of this, we evangelicals have been a tough bunch to pin down by those whose livelihoods depend upon pinning groups of people down. Those four characteristics, after all, don’t really align with the categories that are most of interest to these observers. They say nothing about political allegiances, after all. They don’t reveal what kinds of consumers we are. And they don’t prescribe the causes in which our activism will focus. Once again, there’s theoretically room for discernment and adaptation in each of these areas.

Yet in popular understanding, at least in the West, evangelicalism has often been understood to be roughly synonymous with a certain politically partisan agenda. I don’t just mean that this is one way evangelicals are understood. I mean that for many, it is the way evangelicals are understood.

20263173That these understandings are problematic is fairly obvious. But the problems are compounded by the fact that evangelicalism is now a thoroughly global movement, rendering such caricatures even more inadequate than they’ve been in our own Western context. That’s why a book like Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Religious Perspective is so fascinating.

“At its core,” writes historian Mark Noll in his chapter, evangelicalism “is a faith with a global vision.” He goes on to say that evangelicals have “demonstrated an extraordinary ability to cross borders, to locate themselves in many places and within a wide variety of organizational forms, and yet, in adapting, to retain their essential character.” That “essential character,” we can assume, is more or less in alignment with the four characteristics.

The book features essays by evangelical scholars from around the world, and sandwiched by more theoretical and topical chapters, the heart of the book is section two: “Evangelicalism at Ground Level.” In this section we read case studies and analyses from scholars representing each of the major regions of the world. Being something of a Latin Americanist, I paid close attention to the chapter by René Padilla.

“The growth of evangelicalism in Latin America is an unprecedented phenomenon with social consequences,” Padilla writes. “It is changing not only the religious but also the sociopolitical landscape of Latin America.”

Despite the faithful witness of such figures as Bartolomé de las Casas and Archbishop Óscar Romero (the latter of whom is this very day being beatified in El Salvador) – as well as countless other ordinary priests, nuns, and laypeople – for many in Latin America the Roman Catholic Church was historically seen, as Padilla puts it, “as a political religion used to legitimize the colonial establishment.”

In more recent years, after decades of religious hegemony, economic hardship, and political instability, Padilla says that Latin America has “entered a period of history dominated by technocracy, the mass media and an openness to change in every dimension of life.”

These disruptions have led, among other things, to a crisis of authority – a crisis, as Padilla says, with “profound religious repercussions.” He observes:

Latin America has become a shopping mall of religious options! As Peter Berger observed, secularization brings about a demonopolization of religious traditions and leads to pluralism. This leads in turn to a “market situation” in which “the religious tradition, which previously could be authoritatively imposed, now has to be marketed.” Christianity has no future in Latin America if Christians do not take seriously this aspect of today’s religious context. The end of the Constantinian era, marked by “the death of Christendoms,” is the starting point for understanding the growth of evangelicalism in Latin America and the role of evangelical churches at the beginning of the third millennium.

As we read projections about the continued growth of evangelicalism, which in Latin America and elsewhere usually means Pentecostalism, we’d do well to keep some these broader trends and explanations in mind, without ignoring the fact that, as Padilla reminds us, these seismic shifts in religious practice are “a concrete result of convictions and insights pointing to spiritual realities that escape the analysis of social sciences.”

These observations should also prompt us to pray. Samuel Escobar, an evangelical from Peru who has devoted much of his life to serving the church in Latin America, laments some of the unintended fruits of the growth of the evangelical church:

It looks as if growth and our anxiety to have a new social role have transformed Evangelicals from a sacrificial and disciplined minority into a middle-class subculture in which ambition for power and social prestige have taken the place of discipleship. Eschatological hope and dynamics have been set aside.

I owe a lot to Christians from throughout Latin America who have in a number of ways shaped my own faith, and I am committed to continue to learn from the beliefs and examples of these brothers and sisters. In many ways, their challenges and struggles are not so different from our own. But whereas I’m inclined to puzzle over what it means to meet Jesus in the lives of the poor, so many of Latin America’s spiritual giants don’t need to. The majority of them still have no need to “opt for the poor” as a certain theological framework once put it. Rather, as Padilla writes, by and large “they are the poor.” And we need them. Desperately.

Header photo via Missão Aliança


In Defense of Books

“What does it mean when what you own is essential to who you are? In our everyday grasp of owning things, we tag it materialism, consumerism, consumption. But I trust you’ll agree that the possession of books is not identical to the possession of shoes: Someone with a thousand books is someone you want to talk to; someone with a thousand shoes is someone you suspect of belonging to the Kardashian clan. Books are not objects in the same way that shoes are objects. This is what Milton means in his sublime ‘Areopagitica,’ as necessary now as it was in 1644, when he asserted that ‘books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.’ Potency of life, purest efficacy, living intellect: These are the world-enhancing elements you have in any well-made book worth reading.”

– William Giraldi, “A Bibliophile’s Defense of Physical Books

Header photo via archdaily.com