Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cedarville Canceling Claiborne

Few people know that in my personal history, I almost transferred to Cedarville halfway through my undergraduate career. I was accepted. Credits transferred. Campus visited. But at the last minute, I did not. Maybe one day that story will be told (it's a good one). My cousin did atttend and graduate from Cedarville. She enjoyed it.

But my reason to not attend Cedarville wasn't because it was too conservative. It would have been a breath of fresh air compared to where I was coming from.

In Today's Christianity Today, they posted "Braking for Bloggers," telling of bloggers, outside the university, who raised such a ruckus that the administration canceled Shane Claiborne's lectures on his mission and social work.

The accusation against him: He's Emergent.

Yet he doesn't identify himself as Emergent.

There are several factors at play here. One, Cedarville is a conservative university... leaning heavily toward the fundamentalist spectrum. It is where Bob Jones University student would consider transferring to find freedom but without being called a 'liberal compromiser' (a pejorative term from early 20th century brand of Christian fundamentalism).

Two, anyone who is trying to live the good news of Jesus that has a different texture to mission than Christian fundamentalism will be suspect. There's little way around it. If you don't use the typical accepted vocabulary, then expect suspicion. I've been at the brunt of it myself with no good Biblical reason, but that I just don't fit the sub-culture.

Three, with the new research and re-examining of the faith through the lens of Scripture and history, anyone who doesn't tow the conservative, evangelical party-line will be considered 'Emergent' (which is another pejorative word for those who still call themselves evangelical but don't tow the party line). It is unfortunate that using the word 'emergent' is the only option, but that's the term many use for lack of a clearer, more nuanced one (since we have to call names and categorize people, right? Right?). It would be like saying anyone who doesn't live on American soil isn't American. So an American citizen studying in Japan would fall under this label. The label is false and hurtful.

I haven't read Claiborne, but I have read about his mission. And I have sympathies with Claiborne as I don't call myself 'Emergent' either, though I've been accused of it from time to time (I even give lectures on nuancing the idea and what's going on in the church these days... the difference between being historical and postmodern, between being Emergent and emergent, between strong foundationalism, moderate foundationalism, coherentism and skepticism, etc.).

I'm trying to follow Jesus the best I can, with the resources I can. And I'm discouraged that so many, who identify themselves "Christian," will use loaded words like "unorthodox!" when something smells remotely unusual to them.

Here's a clear example: Try telling a Baptist that 'church membership is not a biblical idea.' Report back. You may be called someone 'causing dissension in the Body.' You may be called 'uncommitted to the cause of Jesus.' You may be called 'in rebellion to your church leaders.' You may even be called 'unorthodox'.

Yet anyone would be very hard-pressed to find church membership in the Scriptures. I've read articles where the author has prior commitments to church membership and so makes assumptions of the text. But reading the Bible as a first-century Jew, you will not find one mention or even a hint that there was some sort of formal agreement, signing on the dotted line, telling people this was required to be 'inside' the real church.

In addition, even if you did find a hint, it wouldn't be ranked up there with Orthodoxy. You don't find it in the Creeds. At best its a tertiary teaching. My personal view is that we only get it through eisegesis, yet it has become a sacred doctrine of many conservative churches. Are will we willing to exclude, call names, cancel dialogs because of it?

So let's use the term 'orthodoxy' for the true cases of orthodoxy. Some could even say the early Creeds themselves (by which we measure Orthodoxy) aren't orthodox... as there is no mention that Jesus is Jewish and born of a Jew or King of the Jews. We only get the mention that he was God and born of a virgin. Yet without his Jewishness, he can't be Messiah and there is no 'church.'

So let's be careful with our name calling.

One last point that I think motivates the whole enterprise: I think Cedarville is concerned about its constituency, reputation, and financial backing. Instead of stepping into wider vistas of understanding God's work in the world, it is stuck looking over its shoulder at who is following. And I think that shut Claiborne out. If the University is to bow to unwarranted concerns of those on the outside afraid of the dialog of ideas (do those outsiders decry that Darwin's books are in the library?), then why even have a University? We can see how education can quickly go from a center of knowledge into a center for propaganda, massaging our own unchallenged assumptions. Of course, this erodes faith as well and we wonder why our children grow less interested in church... maybe because truth, knowledge, understanding, love, and life are being choked.

This is why many Christians, like Clairborne, are speaking out to make a difference. Lest we forget, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom"... not our 'old time religion.'


Paul F. said...

I've never heard of Cedarville until today, so I have very little (i.e. nothing) to offer concerning the school's decision to cancel him because of his 'emergent-ness.'

However, I did listen to a really interesting interview that Claiborne did with Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith. While I don't agree with some of his conclusions about certain issues, I can't help but appreciate the humble attitude he has about those conclusions. It's almost like he realizes that he's not infallible while still having conviction about his beliefs. What a concept.

Here's the link to the Speaking of Faith page. You can listen to the interview and/or read a few things by Claiborne.


jeremy zach said...

Like Paul, I know nothing about Cedarville, except that it is in Ohio. However I am half way done with Shane Claiborne's book "The Irresistible Force."

I am just bummed out when I hear about these types of situations. I think it is a shame that a Christian University cancels on a Christian guy who is on fire and deeply passionate.

How can you fire or cancel on somebody who is on the same team?

Dale Fincher said...

Thanks, Paul, for the link.

Jeremy, it's part of the fundamentalist sub-culture... I spent many years in it. It makes sense when supporters are crying theological-foul at a University, especially when said university needs those people to keep it open.

It is a shame, though. Maybe St. Francis had it right that when we are poor it is easier to say what needs to be said. What can they take away from you, afterall? When you have nothing to lose, especially financially, then you can more boldly speak.

This has also been my experience with non-profits in general. Start saying things the core supporters don't like (even if it's true) and you'll often see silence from the leadership on that issue.

It's tragic that money still talks so widely, even among those who claim the power the gospel.

Then again, I do want to be careful to not misinterpret actions and words in the broader spectrum. But I do see the Cedarville incident as one motivated by supporters. The article even says the admin, faculty, and students were all interested to have Claiborne come. Cedarville may want to rethink what power they give certain supporters to define what a good University should do.

The dividing lines are still rigid among many in the Bible-belt... of course, they wouldn't like Fuller grads either! :)

jeremy zach said...

hahahahah ohhh no....These type of Baptist and Fuller grads do not play very well.

Rumor has it that Biola is having a difficult time canning their student covenant/contract (no drinking, smoking, swearing, lusting, etc..) because of Biola's financial contributers. The people with the money are the people with power.

There is no office or litmus test for determining precisely who is an evangelical and yet we all know that not everyone who claims the label deserves it. Also, when attempting to identify whether a person or a group is Christian, they often turn to examination of doctrinal beliefs.

I would argue that authentic evangelicalism as a shared experience and a distinctive spirituality represents a move from “creed-based” to a “spirituality based” identification of evangelical faith. Doctrine/theology provides a criterion for discerning genuine faith without being a litmus test. We tend to forget that there was authentic Christianity before there was orthodoxy.

david rudd said...

i'm a cedarville alum ('95) who, based on what i read here, would be pretty close to on many things.

i'm pretty disappointed in this whole thing. i had hoped that the way Cedarville handled Soulforce last year, as well as some faculty decisions recently indicated a new direction for the school.

i'm still hoping we may learn more about this incident that will shed a little light onto why this decision was made.

i truly hope it wasn't done to "shore up the base"...

Dale Fincher said...


Thanks for the comments... do post up if you get some more insight into this.

I have a suspicion that Cedarville is stuck in a similar position with a lot of evangelical institutions, who want to expand the dialog and push into new frontiers of thought but feel tied.

In other words, we'll be hearing more stories like this as time goes on...

Anonymous said...

Reading this article it just seems to me that from the "fundamentalist" view, "We have met the enemy and he is us." The fundies (and I once was one not too long ago) have come full circle and are now carbon copies of the very types they rail against. A war of tit-fot-tat is waging in the conservative ranks. I believe they have adopted Sean Connery's definition of the Chicago way (from the Untouchables).
When will we ever learn?

Dale Fincher said...

persifler, good comment.

I think many movements work like this... they start well, work against the tide, have a healthy vision, but slowly morph into the thing they fought against so long ago.

E.g. I have friends who attend Calvary Chapel, and they suffer from this. Once vitally reaching the down-and-outers, striving against separatist fundamentalists, and now they carry the fundamentalist tone with only a few trappings left of their former self.

Now, the next question is for us...how do we grow in the kind of humility and wisdom to move with the Spirit and not settle on yesterday's accomplishments and become mere stagnant lovers of our self-made tradition?

Dale Fincher said...

Jeremy, I overlooked your comments on Feb 12 (left unmoderated without a notice)...

You've raised an intersting new discussion on what 'evangelical' is... my understand is that it comes from the 'euangelion' of the NT... surrounded by an emphasis of faith proclamation, intiated to large degree by Billy Graham when he broke from Fundamentalism (around 1949).

I still see it as largely credal-based with an emphasis on conversion... and I find much of it carries residue from its Fundamentalist Father.

When you say 'spirituality based" with "shared experience," what exactly do you mean? That might be a new vein of evangelicalism, but I'm unsure if that is what it has been for the last fifty years...

Anonymous said...

That hits it square on the head: traditions. How do we guard against the slippery slope that leads from the ideal to the trappings of our own self-made traditions.

Jim Park a missionary to the Philipines came by a couple of weeks ago and talked to our church about the work over there. We asked him point blank what the difference was between what they were doing over there and what we are doing over here. He said the difference is they are actively, passionately, seeking God and His power in their lives, and all for God's glory. Waiting on God's direction to move, not moving and then asking God to bless the direction they have chosen. Praying with the expectation that God is going to answer their prayer; praying as if it is already done. Living by faith and giving God all the Glory for what is done.

In the light of that I feel so ashamed of my self imposed traditions, my attempts at trying to put God in my box and setting my boundries on Him. Ashamed at my own inadequacies and selfish lack of attention in giving God all the Glory for everything.
I guess I am having a crisis of religion, not of faith mind you, but of religion. I am finding that much of what I held on to so dogmatically for years is only traditionalism and chaff. I am in the middle of a sort-of spiritual inventory, if it doesn't measure up along side the Scriptures then I am forcing myself to let go and cling to the Word instead of all the traditions. Pray the Lord will give me wisdom for the journey.

Dale Fincher said...

persifler, good comment. I think reflecting on how other cultures are responding to the gospel should be a check/balance on how we approach it ourselves.

It is good to always rethink what we are doing, our agenda, our means to accomplish it. To give the Holy Spirit play in our lives is dangerous, but life-affirming if undergirded by truth and accountability in the Body. I've seen it happen in some American churches, but very few. We're too busy either anchoring to the past and what our 'constituency' has done or looking to the future and how we can 'hollywoodize' our churches for 'relevance.'

Both hurt us. But what can lay leaders do? These are areas that officially-titled leaderhship doesn't feel the need to be accountable because it isn't a clear-cut 'sin,' like adultery. If they see 'results' (as in, numbers), it validates their model and program. But it might actually be more dangerous to more people... scary thought, that. But I don't want to be too sensational about it.

Paul F. said...


You said that one of things Park attributes to the spiritual life of those in the Philippines is that they wait on God's direction to move, "not moving and then asking God to bless the direction they have chosen."

This is how I used to approach life, but found it to constricting, and then, I'm pretty sure, un-Biblical. There were times I had a strong desire to pursue something, but was waiting on God to tell me "Go do that!" I later began to realize that God gives us the desires that we have, and that it's okay to just go and do something because we have that desire.

Of course we have to be really honest with ourself as we evaluate whether these are desires the line up with God's word or if these are just fleshly wants for non-Godly things.

It seems to me that God is much quicker to tell us "That is not what I want you to do" than "This is what I want you to do." In other words, he allows us great freedom to accomplish his will (reaching the lost) in the way that fits our own personalities. I think we have Biblical precedent of such a view as well. In Acts, we see Paul heading off to visit another country and the Spirit stops him. Then he heads off in another direction to another country and the Spirit stops him again. Finally, he heads off in a third direction and the Spirit encourages him to go. Each time, we don't see Paul just waiting to "hear from the Lord" about what he should do. He knew the Lord's will is to reach the lost and he began to do it. Then for whatever reason, the Spirit didn't allow him to go about that in certain ways.

Just a different perspective on this issue that I found particularly helpful in my own spiritual journey. Do you know of Scriptures that seem to indicate that we should wait on the Lord to tell us specifically what we should do before we head out? I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Paul F.,
I didn't mean to imply that they were just waiting around on some word from God to move, I meant it more in the sense of contrast to the model in America of, "We're going to this and do it this way... Now, Lord bless it." I meant to imply they are more of the "If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that."

I agree that just waiting around creates laziness and apathy which will quench zeal. On the other hand, one can get ahead of the Lord and find themselves beating the air and getting nowhere. That will cause burnout and frustration.

The one thing I do know is that on the whole we (Christians in America) do not have the power of God on our lives. I serve the same God who consumed the soaked altar on Mt. Carmel, who stood in the ship and spoke, "Peace... be still." to the storm, who said rise up and walk to the lame, who said 'It is finished' from an old regged cross and who conqured death, hell and the grave by rising three days later; yet I find myself akin to Lot, vexed by the influence of the world around me and having no power with man or God.(so-it-seems) That is what I am working out. No, I'm not setting still, but I have been out there in the field (the wrong field) by myself before beating the air and it is a tedious journy back to where I left Christ. Yet, He is always right there waiting for me. I am beginning to ramble now. I hope I have made some sense of my thoughts here.