My morning Edifier had me reflecting on a Matt Brown post from earlier this week, where his alma mater Cedarville University canceled under pressure a visit from emergent-flavored speaker Shane Claiborne. Cedarville's been torn between being an old-school Baptist/Reformed college and a more generically evangelical college, moving more towards the latter as of late, which displeases the more old-school stakeholders of Cedarville.
Much of the critique of Claiborne comes from who his friends are; Claiborne hangs his hat on the Sojourners' group blog which includes a who's who of the emergent/evangelical left like Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis. Claibourne's bio shows a degree from Campolo's Eastern College and has a ministry that focused on helping the poor with more than a bit of a radical edge; his current book is subtitled "Living as an Ordinary Radical."
Is he a bit too far to the theological left for Cedarville, even the new Cedarville? I haven't read his book or his theology as of yet, but many of the people he hangs with are less than orthodox, as is his college background. The Princeton Seminary he went to is mainline Presbyterian (PC-USA) and Eastern is mainline American Baptist; the two denominations have seminaries in Richmond, VA that have strong links. It's not the pedigree of someone who I'd invite to a conservative evangelical college, especially if I wanted to keep my job for an extended period of time.
However, that message of a radical missional approach to the Gospel may well be a message that Cedarville needs to hear, even if the speaker's theology might be to the left of the Cedarville norm.
Conservative Baptists, like the Southern Baptists I've been hanging out with since moving to Lexington and the old-school GARBC Baptists who make up Cedarville's core constituency (I was baptized at a GARBC church, and many of that church's kids went to Cedarville) tend to focus on sins of commission, like bad language, improper sexual behavior, lying, and other capital-s Sins. The focus is often on avoiding what God doesn't want you to do.
However, focusing on those sins of commission will often leave folks with a tin ear towards sins of omission, or not doing the things God would want us to do. That's not to say that you don't have missional Southern Baptists who are actively looking to minister to the needy; my pastor is one who has missional in his working vocabulary and is trying to move things in that direction.
One of the things that the emergent-church folks have focused on is being more proactive in ministering to the needy. They're correct in pointing out that modern evangelical churches have a tendency to be insular clubs that create programs for their members but don't do a good job of reaching out to the spiritually, emotionally and economically needy. That's doubly true of suburban churches, whose members often don't really want to get their hands or minds dirty trying to minister to the folks in the grimier neighborhoods.
The emergent folks point out the need for better orthopraxy, doing the right things in ministry, rather than mere orthodoxy, or believing the right things. Of course, you need both; many emergent folks are falling into the Social Gospel trap of focusing so heavily on orthopraxy that they chuck their orthodoxy and the power of the Word with it.
Such ministry to the poor sounds a bit too much like the Social Gospel to many theological conservatives. However, a lot of the critique has political overtones as well beyond any theological differences. For instance, I was thumbing through the academic help wanteds (no, I'm not going anywhere, but I was curious) and found this job posting for Cedarville for a "endowed Berry Family Chair in Free Enterprise"-
Responsibilities include promoting the principles of global free market economics in the context of biblical perspectives on economics and economic issues. The mission of the Chair shall be to engage in activities that facilitate the spread of and reinforce the foundation of free enterprise principles to students and other university constituents who will influence their culture, organizations, and professions through service anchored in biblical truth.
Endowed Chair will be expected to develop upper division economics course(s) within the Department of Business Administration, work with university faculty to revise a core curriculum course to include free enterprise principles, explore the feasibility of proposing an Economics major at Cedarville University with special emphasis on free enterprise and governmental policy analysis, and develop a proposal for a Center for Free Enterprise at Cedarville University of which the Chair would assume directorship.
As Director of the Center for Free Enterprise the Chair will: conduct and/or collaborate on research leading to publication and presentation, develop conferences and seminars, assist in finding additional funds needed to support the Center, recruit Center Fellows, explore the possibility of inviting visiting scholars to the Center, assist in developing expertise among faculty and students in free market responses to various business related issues, establish an advisory council that meets annually, and attract world class free enterprise academics and practitioners to the Center.
They're looking for a Ph.D. in Econ, so I'm not the guy I'm looking for; my Ph.D. is in Finance.
Cedarville seems to have fully bought into what is being called "full spectrum conservatism" in the presidential primaries, accepting economic as well as social conservatism in the package. For me, the hermeneutic of economic conservatism is a bit shakier than social conservatism; I accept the free-market take, but my acceptance flows more from common sense than from applying Scripture.
Such a economically conservative school might not appreciate an politically liberal speaker, even if the message of radically living out one's faith and doing the stuff Jesus would do if He were around in the flesh fits in nicely with the Gospel. Economic conservatives
hate it often squirm when you talk about Jesus' "Jewish liberal" side; Mike Huckabee has found that out the hard way the last few months.
Cedarville would be more comfortable with Josh Claybourn's Christian libertarian take than Shane Claybourne progressive take. However, when it comes to living out your faith, both Cedarville and I could use some of Shane's radicalism, even if I'd vote for Josh for Congress (he's about a decade away from being eligible for president) over Shane.
We need both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, avoiding both sins of omission and commission. We need the compassion of a bleeding-heart liberal for the poor; having the political worldview of one is another matter.