Theologizing and Cultural Transformation

Why would I name a whole blog, “Storied Theology,” as if the most important thing I had to say deals with some new-fangled theological method?

Why would I care if someone starts with natural law or the story of Jesus when they begin speaking of God?

How could it be anything other than, mostly, a waste of time to invest a life trying to get people to read scripture in more faithful continuity with the biblical story?

One answer to this cluster of questions is shown, in the negative, by the work of Douglas Wilson that was quoted on the Gospel Coalition website this past week. (My thoughts about it here.)

That such a moment could surface depends on myriad pieces being in place. One of them is this: the Gospel Coalition promotes a reading strategy of scripture that demands of modern people that we accept and attempt to emulate the patriarchal cultures from which the biblical texts arise.

Without a narrative hermeneutic of the cross, they have no recourse for retreating from readings that reinforce use and abuse of power. Indeed, their readings quite often demand that we all submit to such.

Patriarchy isn’t a culture moment of separate but equal… although, come to think of it, “separate but equal” is helpful inasmuch as it conjures up America’s attempt to run a “separate but equal” system which demonstrated itself to be an enshrinement of inequality.

Patriarchy is a web of cultural expressions tied to the common assumption that men are better than women: smarter, more competent, stronger, morally superior, inherently more valuable.

Patriarchy is a web of cultural expressions designed to maintain people “in their place” by the exercise of power or passive submission appropriate to their inherent value.

The problem with appealing to “nature” in theological argumentation is that patriarchy arises from a world within which physical power is the means by which leadership is acquired and exercised. Patriarchy is the fruit of a world where being able to hunt, kill, subdue, colonize, conquer leads to prominence.

Patriarchy is the fruit of the reign of the world by Egypt and Babylon, by Assyria and Media, by Greece and by Rome.

I get it. Power and conquest lead to rule.

And that’s why it’s absolutely crucial that Christians learn, again and again, the story of the cross. Here we learn that there is true power, yes, but that it is had and gained by denying the power structures of the world. Paradoxically, it is gained by losing its power to theirs.

You cannot fill the role of the patriarch in a cruciform manner, because the patriarch is the crucifier, not the Crucified.

This is but one instance of how far we are, as evangelical Christians, from having our minds transformed by the gospel story.

The Gospel Coalition’s headline description on its blog reads as follows:

Equipping the next generation for gospel-faithful ministry and promote church reform and culture transformation. Led by Tim Keller and Don Carson.

I like the goal. But it calls into question what “culture” we’re hoping to transform from and what we’re trying to transform to.

If the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be poured into the wineskins of God-given Jewish practice and belief without blowing them up, how much less can we anticipate that pouring the gospel into anti-Kingdom power structures will “transform” those structures to be more like Jesus–rather than blowing them up?

Propping up an account of sex as conquest is an understanding that maleness, physical strength, even possession of a penis per se, reflects the cosmic reality that God desires men to rule through the power of their might.

This is the theology of the world’s kings.

But it is not the theology of the King over those kings.

The story of the cross upends the story of power that props up too many of the power structures that enable us to have a voice among the people who would follow Jesus.

The heart-searching that should follow in the wake of the “sex as male conquest” debacle is much farther reaching than what J. Wilson has admirably led in. It should call us all to reexamine the ways in which we think that God’s desire is to reaffirm the power that we happen to have, the power meted out to us by the rulers of this age–who crucified the Lord of glory.

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