I have been reading a number of books, trying to find a new text for my “Church and Culture” course next semester, knowing that the deadline for ordering texts is coming up soon. It is one of those courses that needs to have something current, but so far I have not found what I’m looking for.
I am reading a very good book at present, Things Hold Together by Branson L. Parler. It looked promising in that it just came out, the author is only 32 and the theme is right on but with a subtitle of John Howard Yoder’s Trinitarian Theology of Culture, it immediately gets a bit weighty for second year college students. The other interesting thing is that Parler has his PhD from Calvin Seminary and teaches at Kuyper College. How much more Reformed can you get? And yet this guy knows and loves Yoder’s work more than most Mennonites! And if neo-reformed people knew Kuyper a bit better we might see a lot more similarities between the two theological camps.
Without getting too technical about the background of the book [one needs to be familiar with Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture for this], the basic thesis can be summed up by the following quote from the introductory chapter:
“A basic theological and ethical rule, then, is that what God desires of humanity’s cultural life in creation does not contradict what God desires of humanity’s cultural life in redemption and reconciliation. Moreover, the God of creation and redemption is the God who is guiding the church and all creation to its appointed destiny. Yoder sees the church’s life as a sacramental presence and power. As sacramental presence, the church is both a sign and seal of where God is taking the whole creation.” Wow! Do you see what I mean? One has to read this over a few times to understand its profundity, kind of like reading Yoder himself.
His third chapter is about the Bible and creeds, God’s words and our words. This chapter is particularly relevant for us as a Bible college. As an Anabaptist college we have traditionally taught primarily biblical theology but there has been pressure recently to teach more systematic theology. There are a lot of good insights for us in this chapter. Here’s one:
“Scripture can never be completely conflated with our interpretation of it… Our reading of Scripture is always affected by prior interpretations in church history, contemporary concerns and priorities, and by our language and logic. Yet those realities do not make our interpretation of Scripture hopelessly subjective nor do they demand that the entire process of interpretation be controlled by a particular agent of office in the church.”