Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What Happens When Your Rival Falls?

If you were an American who grew up during the Cold War, you knew the score. We were good, the Commies were bad, and we were dedicated to stopping Commie aggression. And of course, we really meant stopping the Ruskies. And then, something interesting happened. Soviet Russia crumbled.


 Okay. Um... now what?

We hit a spell where we had to redefine ourselves as Americans. What does it mean to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way when there was no Soviet Union? What then does it mean to be the defender of the free world? See, this was part of the whole angst of the 90's grunge scene. Who are we? What makes us Americans the good guys? We stopped the Germans, then we stopped the Russians... and now... what? I mean, we couldn't even figure out if we should go over to the former Yugoslav republics and fight someone... because... well... what's an American anti-communist to do when there's no red commie to fight?

Well, now we have the War on Terror. Now we can talk about the Axis of Evil... we can worry that Iran might get a bomb, or look at North Korea with leery eyes. Of course, for a child of the Cold War... the War on Terror just doesn't have the same zing.

But I still think of my time in High School, in college when there wasn't really a good myth to follow. We were set adrift -- and even Rush Limbaugh didn't want us sending troops to the Balkans. What happens when your rival falls?

See, this is a theological problem. Too often, instead of being positive, instead of being mere confessors of the truth, theologians want to be heroes fighting for the "right" side. We want to have our theological rivals, and we want to crush them! We want to fight the "good fight" - which isn't about the daily struggle against sin and temptation in our own lives, it's about crushing theological problem or specter X.

 You know, like Seminex. Or the ELCA. Or Contemporary Worship. Or Keischnick.

But what happens when your rivals fall?

Seriously - what's a good Lutheran conservative fighter to do? What becomes our identity? All too often we will invent a new theological red scare. Did you see that article that prof wrote... sounds like Seminex to me! Or maybe all the pastors I don't like are being influenced by... the ELCA! Or there's not enough Natural Law! Or there are now a bunch of Antinomians floating around... okay, well, maybe not antinomians like there were in Luther's day, but they don't do the Law like I want them to!

 We create new villains. We establish new heavies for the piece. We find some new target to rail against on our soapbox. And what's sad is, our rhetoric changes. There's new dangers to fight off... and well, the old truths we proudly wove... eh. They don't mesh. There's new villains afoot that we have to meet and defeat. And there is a massive disconnect between the old and the new. Thus is the constant temptation when you want to be the hero of the piece.

Remember the good old days when we just wanted everything to be focused upon Christ and Him Crucified for sinners?


Rev. Paul L. Beisel said...

And then you have the people who say, "We're all about Jesus and you're not, so you suck and are terrible theologians because you aren't all about Jesus. Like us." Am I right?

Though, your point is a good one and something that we always need to be on guard against. Creating controversy where there is none. And oh, how we love to do it. But, I'm not entirely certain that there this is a controversy that we have created. I think that people have read other people's writing, and said, "Hmmm...that doesn't sound quite Lutheran." And there you go. I think that it is not wrong to discourse about things, but it's tough to do it when people have bad manners.

God bless!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Yep - it's a constant measuring of ones' own self over and against someone else. I will set a standard - you don't meet it, therefore I am the better Theologian.


Some of this comes from the fact that I'm a historian. Some of this comes from the fact that I became aware of theology and church politics in Junior High while my dad was in the dubious Fort Wayne Class of '91 when Robert Preus was removed. I've seen a lot of fights and the cycles... and the way things swirl... it bothers me.

One fellow I know noted how in his time he had been known both as a terrible lib and as an arch conservative -- not because *he* changed, but lines of demarcation shifted on him.

I kind of get that.

Ah well.

Cheryl said...

Good point and one I have thought of, too (and even considered blogging about). I get very tired of what seems to be the need of some confessionals to continually go after, make fun of, and ridicule those who are supposedly not as confessional or who are from other Christian faiths. It doesn't really help our cause and makes us look mean. I'm not saying there is not a place for pointing out bad theology or worship practice. But we often seem to take such delight in it. I think much more constructive conversation could take place if everyone worked to avoid snark and sarcasm and pursued sincere and earnest dialogue, truly trying to understand rather than come up with the funniest, most cutting comment in the thread.