Friday, June 1, 2012

A Review: A Christian Worldview and Human Sinfulness

This week, we are reviewing a series of essays in the Baptist Messenger (BGCO newspaper P.R. publication) on the concept of Christian worldview.  Five of the 6 commentaries are written by new (Whitlock-era) religion faculty and administrators.  Other posts in the series include:

Anyone who's been paying attention to the Save OBU movement will know that we've been pretty hard on Rev. Dr. Stan Norman, OBU's Provost and Executive Vice President for Campus Life.  (He's also the new editor-in-chief of the alumni magazine, apparently... micromanage much?)  His fingerprints are all over every negative policy and personnel change we've protested.  Every indication is that he has been a one-man wrecking crew at OBU -- wasting no opportunity to undermine her reputation, academic standing and integrity, or authentic Baptist liberal arts heritage.  While I would have written an essay on Christian worldview differently, please understand that Dr. Norman's "worldview" essay is the absolute least of our concerns about his corrosive presence on Bison Hill.

If you came expecting fireworks like yesterday, you'll be disappointed.  Norman's contribution to the series is nowhere near as bizarre/wacky as Prof. Mudliar's.  In fact, it's not even an original essay for the Messenger.  Rather, it was excerpted from a 2007 edited volume to which Norman contributed.  While I wish Stan Norman spent his time writing commentaries for the Baptist Messenger, unfortunately he was probably too busy doing whatever he does to earn dismal evaluations from OBU faculty.

Norman takes up the topic of sin.  And holy total depravity, Batman!, Calvinism has come to Bison Hill!  So as to not make light of how extra bad and super serious sin actually is, I'll let you in on some psychological information about me.  For a variety of reasons including birth order, family dynamics, and a misguided internalization of religious indoctrination, I grew up taking sin very seriously.  In fact, my guilt complex has actually caused a lot of emotional problems for me.  I beat myself up for the littlest things, and when I make legitimate, consequential mistakes, it has been completely debilitating.  So it was pretty perplexing and actually kind of insulting to read the implication that anyone who doesn't agree with Norman "regard[s] the sinfulness of humanity lightly or glibly."

Like the previous three essays, Norman draws a strict dichotomy between "the Christian worldview" (which is perfectly, eternally, and self-evidently correct) and everything else.  But even though interpretations and nuances differ, Holy Scripture is indeed largely a story about, in the words of English clergyman Eric Milner-White, "the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child."  Every Christian worldview takes sin seriously.  Ours is a redemption story.  But Norman wants us to believe that since he has gone to extremes to come up with long, wordy strings of hyperbolic phraseology to express how bad "the sin problem" really is, he must have some unique insight that other inferior worldviews (Christian and otherwise) lack.

Since I've already expressed (and taken heat for) my dissatisfaction with the logic of scapegoating and the doctrine of penal substitionary atonement elsewhere, I'll be brief in my theological critique.  Norman's claims, without scriptural support, that "the severity and depth of sin is nowhere more fully revealed, and its judgment nowhere more strongly depicted, than in the crucifixion of the Son of God."  I guess you could say that, but you could also point to a number of Old Testament passages where Israel's sin grieved the heart of God.

In addition to depending on the efficacy of scapegoating and penal substitution, Norman's worldview also demands belief in the historicity of the Genesis 1-11 narrative, namely "an actual historical Fall."  (If you have the audacity to think that some of the Genesis narrative may actually be mythical, maybe the website that Prof. Mudliar approvingly cited in his creationist essay will help convince you: Click here to see where logic goes to die.)

For Norman, sin is apparently exclusively an individual problem.  In spite of the overwhelming scriptural evidence that God relates to people not only individually, but also collectively (Exod. 6:7, Lev 26:12, Jer. 30:22, Rom. 11:26, etc), Norman not only fails to engage social sin, but actually scoffs at the notion.  Citing Marx and Jose Miranda, Norman inaccurately states that those who critique unjust social structures somehow believe that social justice would necessarily eliminate any possibility of conflict and wickedness.  Thus Norman's worldview conveniently absolves us of even caring about systemic oppression, for sin will persist even if social ills are addressed.  But letting one's politics dictate one's theology is by no means unique to Stan Norman.

Don't look for words like "love," "mercy," "grace," or "kindness" in Norman's essay -- you won't find them.  The emphasis here is on judgment.  Also, forget about the notion that Christ is the supreme revelation of God.  That is so 1963 according to today's fundamentalist Southern Baptist leaders.  The Bible is God's revelation now -- and don't you denigrate Scripture by saying that is merely a record of God's revelation!

As for the concept of worldview, we're starting to see a pattern here.  Using "Christian worldview" language, fundamentalists are able to cast aside not only those evil secular ideologies and pesky other religions, but also whatever parts of the diverse, ancient, and theologically rich Christian tradition they happen not to like.  Thankfully, I don't think anyone's falling for it.  The Christian -- and Baptist -- "worldview" is a lot broader than the new fundamentalists want to acknowledge.  They may have all the power now, but their attempt to co-opt "the Christian worldview" actually marginalizes them and confines their influence to a shrinking, insular sphere.  And they are pretty much antithetical to the project of higher education -- Christian or otherwise.  I think that explains why Dr. Norman has been such a flashpoint for criticism (from faculty, students, alumni, retirees, and now the Save OBU movement) of all that has gone wrong at OBU in recent years.  Nothing against him personally, he's just a terrible fit for OBU.

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