Monday, June 4, 2012

A Review: Christian Worldview and New Creation

Lately, we've been 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:
The sixth and final scholar to comment on a/the Christian worldview is OBU Professor Alan Bandy.  For what its worth, this was my favorite essay in the series.  Bandy notes the urgency and difficulty of holding two seemingly contradictory ideas in tension in our theology: On the one hand, God's creation is good (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).  Yet on the other hand, something is wrong.  Bandy's conception of what has gone wrong includes not only individual sinfulness, but also global brokenness -- a subtle but important acknowledgement that while individual sin is serious, there are pressing social and systemic problems that God cares about and that any biblical worldview calls us to engage.

Bandy argues that "the Christian worldview not only explains what is wrong, but it also tells us where we are headed."  Bandy is the only author in the series to invoke the idea of covenant, which seems to me to be an absolutely central (and unique) concept in any biblical worldview, though he veers closer to supersessionism than I would want to go.

Still, Bandy accomplishes a lot in his short essay.  While affirming that the Christian worldview offers an answer to the question "What is our destination?", Bandy steers clear of absolute pronouncements about what that destination looks like.  He introduces the scriptural concept of new creation in light of its relation to the Christ event and the idea of covenant.  Rather than presenting the Book of Revelation as a primer in dispensationalism, Bandy shows how it can and should comfort us, just as it comforted its original hearers.  Bandy sums it up well: "All of history is moving toward the new creation that God has planned."

Few conservative scholars of apocalyptic literature writing for a mostly lay and mostly fundamentalist audience could resist engaging in the eschatological debates that these people seem to find so interesting.  Bandy does not define "the end of the age," nor does he speculate about its timetable.  I interpret Bandy's restraint as a sign of both pastoral and scholarly maturity.  Instead, he reiterates original themes of Revelation that are almost always lost in fundamentalists' obsessive "end times" debates: comfort, redemption, and the sovereignty of God.

I'm confident that people learned a lot from Professor Bandy's essay.  I certainly appreciated it.

Now, let's be frank.  Bandy has been caught in the crossfire of Save OBU's pushing back against Stan Norman's agenda.  We feel OBU has unnecessarily put him in a difficult position.  But it's not his fault and he didn't do anything wrong.  Also, just because some faculty members think Bandy won the promising teacher award because of fundamentalist affirmative action, we have it on solid authority that he is a very fine teacher who goes out of his way to let his students know he cares about their flourishing and success -- both inside and outside the classroom.  I don't know whether Bandy was on the search committee that led to Prof. Mudliar's hire.  Either way, he will now be able to see firsthand the awkwardness, anger, disappointment and disillusionment that arises when faculty are either not consulted or overruled, and a new colleague is brought in primarily on the basis of ideological conformity.  (I'm assuming Provost Norman and/or Dean McClellan commandeered the process that brought Prof. Mudliar from SWBTS to OBU and that this could not have been the result of any normal search process that includes faculty input.  But that's a separate issue for another day.)

The rift at OBU is not between junior and senior faculty or between fundamentalist and moderate faculty.  The rift is between a few administrators and virtually all faculty -- between those seeking to restrict academic freedom and undermine OBU's great liberal arts tradition and those seeking to uphold, honor, and build upon that proud and noble heritage.

Reflections on the Baptist Messenger "Christian Worldview" Series
For those who know the OBU religion department, I'll leave it for you to contemplate why certain professors contributed essays to this series and not others.  I suspect these essays may have looked quite different had the relatively more senior (and relatively more moderate) professors participated in this exercise.  And those who knew the OBU religion department in a bygone era will have no trouble imagining how different this series would have looked had legendary faculty like James Timberlake, Rowena Strickland, and Don Wester written the essays.

Having endured many years where moderates comprised a majority in OBU's religion department, one can only imagine the elation Dr. Jordan must feel to be able to showcase the new OBU in the third-largest newspaper in Oklahoma.  OBU's provost, who was previously rejected for the School of Christian Service deanship, has now provided cover for the BGCO fundamentalists to get what they've always wanted at OBU.  The dean, an old friend, has loyally done his part to execute the plan.  A legitimate philosopher was terminated in order to make way for an eager apologetics specialist.  And now a relatively unaccomplished (but doctrinally pure) seminary professor is filling the slot recently occupied by a leading Baptist historian (the baseball equivalent of buying out the contract of a future Hall of Famer, then overpaying for a guy who's hitting under .200 in Triple-A).

While most of Bison Nation and the rest of the world alternates between laughter and tears, a select few are tickled pink that their worldview -- apparently "the Christian worldview" -- now prevails in OBU's administrative suite and in a growing number of classrooms.

Tomorrow, Veronica will provide more analysis on the Messenger's worldview series and its implications for Christian liberal arts education.

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