Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Sneaky Idolatry

(An excerpt from my work on John's Spirituality)

That’s one of the major claims of the Revelation of John:  we can only see the world for what it truly is when we are gathered to worship the Creator and the Lamb.  Since the Apocalypse was supposed to be read and heard when Christians gathered for worship on the Lord’s day, it is telling that this vision, filled with idol imagery and false worship, was part of their worship experience.  You would think a description of such blasphemous things would be banned from their meetings, that getting Christians to envision idols and false worship would be counter-productive.  It is a bit odd, isn’t it?  Gathered for worship to focus your attention on the one true God, all of the sudden—as a part of your worship experience—you’re picturing your neighbors worshipping the wrong god.  It’s one thing to see with your mind’s eye Michael kick the dragon out of heaven, no longer able to accuse us because of the “blood of the Lamb.”  (Imagine the cheers coming from the crowd.)  But encouraging these Christians to imagine idolatrous worship, perhaps even stirring up memories of their religious past as idol worshippers, seems out of place to us.  Idolatry should be the last thing on your mind when you’re worshipping God.  But, first-century worshippers couldn’t afford to ignore the obvious.  They lived in a world filled with idols.  In their day, you couldn’t open your eyes without seeing one—not to mention the fact that idolatry was embedded in every facet of life:  politics, economics, and religion.  Shutting your eyes and refusing to think about idolatry wasn’t an option.  Instead, according to John’s vision, what Christians needed to do was open their eyes to the lies, the deceit, the pretense of false worship—especially the worship of Caesar.[1]  And, the only way they could see the truth was when they worshipped God.[2]  The Revelation of John was a call to “first-commandment faithfulness.”[3]  Therefore, “those who bear witness to the one true God, the only true absolute, to whom all political power is subject, expose Rome’s idolatrous self-deification for what it is.”[4]

That’s what happens when we worship God:  we not only see the truth about God but also recognize the pretense of self-deification—those competing for the honor due exclusively to God.  During worship services, we often say our God is “worthy of worship,” which makes me think about who or what is not worthy of worship.  Government is not worthy of worship.  Wall Street is not worthy of worship.  The military is not worthy of worship.  Nature is not worthy of worship.  Education is not worthy of worship.  Lawyers are not worthy.  Preachers are not worthy.  Physicians are not worthy.  Politicians are not worthy.  Entrepreneurs are not worthy.  Entertainers are not worthy.  No one or no thing is worthy of worship but God.  You would think, therefore, that we would be especially vigilant to protect God’s honor, refusing to allow idolatry to creep into our worship services.  Since God doesn’t share his glory with anyone, we would be reticent to give glory to any person as part of our worship to God.  And yet, it happens all the time.  We applaud musical performances.  We create church celebrities through video.  We pledge allegiance to governments.  We sing songs about our native land.  We exalt politicians when they visit our worship services.  We praise soldiers for their military service.  No one questions the legitimacy of these practices.  It all happens automatically, as if it were a natural part of our worshipping God.  Our adoration is impulsive, worshipping God one minute while venerating our heroes the next.  Indeed, it’s not much of a stretch to praise those we idolize even while we’re praising God.  And we thought idolatry was only a first-century problem.

This particular year, the Fourth of July fell on a Sunday.  The auditorium was decked out in stars and stripes.  An American flag was draped over the cross.  The choir called us to worship with a hearty rendition of “God Bless America.”   Then we sang several patriotic songs, “O beautiful for spacious skies,” and “You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag” and “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”  The pastor stepped forward to lead us in the pledge of allegiance and offered a prayer for the leaders of our nation.  Next, the music director invited the congregation to join in a medley of service anthems, asking members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines to stand while we all sang their fight songs:  “First to fight for the right and to build the Nation’s might . . .  Roll out the TNT, anchors aweigh.  Sail on to victory and sink their bones to Davy Jones, hooray . . . Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun; here they come zooming to meet our thunder, at ‘em boys, give ‘er the gun . . . From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles, in the air, on land and sea . . . .”  With the words “roll out the TNT” and “give ‘er the gun” still ringing in my ears, the choir sang “Statue of Liberty” while patriotic and religious images were projected on screens behind the choir.  At one point, a picture of an American soldier appeared on the left screen while an image of the crucified Christ was projected on the right as the choir sang, “as the statue liberates the citizen, so the cross liberates the soul.”  Troubled by the vision and audition, I looked around to see if anyone else was offended.  The congregation was glowing with adoration, taking in the spectacle with pride and wonder.  I kept thinking about the mixed message, unable to get out of my mind the images of a man who kills his enemies juxtaposed next to the man who died for his enemies.  Throughout the sermon, while the preacher effortlessly blended freedom in Christ with the religious liberty protected by our nation, I imagined what a “God-and-Country” worship service would look like in the first-century world.

That particular year, the autumnal equinox fell on a Sunday.  Christians in Ephesus are gathered in the hall of Tyrannus for their special worship service.[5]  The walls of the lecture hall are covered with murals depicting momentous events in the life of the Ephesians:  citizens welcoming the victorious Mark Antony, the erection of the temple to Augustus, the birth of Artemis, scenes from the games held in Domitian’s honor.  In the corners, Roman standards decorate the hall—a Roman eagle perched on top of the flag at the front.  A bust of Caesar stands in the pediment over the entrance, welcoming congregants as they gather for worship.  As the service begins, a dignitary recites the inscription etched on the temple to Augustus, extolling his generous benefaction of the city.  A chorus leads the congregants in singing selections from the Psalter, mixing in well-known anthems sung during the festival of Artemis—hymns of gratitude for the fertility of the land, the protection of their city, and the prosperity of their harbor.  After a few ex-soldiers are encouraged to stand and recite the sacramentum, the preacher offers a midrash on Isaiah 45:1, comparing Caesar to Cyrus, quoting lines from Paul’s letter to the Romans:  “Let every person submit to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority unless it is given by God” (13:1).  As he points to the bust of Caesar and the Roman standards, blending the pax Romana and the pax Christi, the staccato rhythm of his cadence accentuates Paul’s words:  “he who resists authority opposes the decrees of God . . . It is a minister of God . . . It does not bear the sword for nothing . . . This is why you pay taxes, for the rulers are ministers of God . . .  So render to them what is due to them:  taxes, customs, fear, honor” (vv. 2-7).  After the homily, a patron invites everyone to his villa to celebrate the love feast as members embrace one another, passing the peace of Christ.

This is how easily idolatry sneaks into our worship of God.

[1]“The local manifestations of the imperial cult seek to foster ongoing awe and gratitude toward the emperor and Rome.  John replaces these feelings with indignation, enmity, and anger in order to support his agenda for Christian presence in Roman Asia:  fostering critical witness, with no room for idols, no room for assimilation to, and support of, the mechanisms of imperial legitimation,” deSilva, Seeing Things, p. 203.
[2]“These elemental forms of perception of God not only require expression in worship:  they cannot be truly experienced except as worship,” Bauckham, Theology, p. 33.
[3]Talbert, Revelation, p. 11.
[4]Bauckham, Theology, p. 39.
[5]For an excellent description of life in Ephesus, see Paul Trebilco, The Early Christians in Ephesus from Paul to Ignatius (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004), pp. 11-52.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Worship as warfare

(An excerpt from my work on John's Spirituality [IVP Academic])

After Christ revealed the truth about the seven churches (1:9-3:22)—strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities—the seer’s first glimpse of what’s really going on in the world comes from a heavenly perspective.  Having been called up to witness the worship of God and His Lamb (4:1-5:14), John looks down upon the world as the sealed scroll is opened, bringing about the judgment of God on earth (6:1-8:1).  It’s significant that John’s vision of “things to come” happens during heavenly scenes of worship.  Even though John is called up to heaven, passing through the heavenly portal that brings him into the throne room of God, even though he sees and hears different kinds of heavenly creatures offer unceasing praise and adoration, the worship of God is not shut up within the heavenlies.  Indeed, devoted worship of the Pantocrator and the Lamb extends to the earth, with “every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea” joining in festal praise (Rev. 5:13).  The interplay between scenes of heavenly worship and the things “that must take place” reveal the eschatological purpose of worshipping God.  According to John’s vision, when we worship God we are able to see the end of the world.  Not only that, those who have ears to hear the reading of John’s Revelation and join in heavenly worship end up participating in the unfolding drama of this eschatological narrative—the story of heaven invading earth.2  In this way, then, “the kingdom of God and the rule of the Messiah—future, eschatological claims—are acclaimed in heavenly liturgies as present, ‘eternal’ realities.”3  Indeed, every time we gather to worship God, we’re declaring war on the world—like street-prophets holding up signs that say, “The End is Near.”

That’s why worship is an act of war in the Revelation of John.4  Notice how all seven visions of the end of the world begin with a heavenly scene.5  Sometimes John saw the heavenly temple of God (Rev. 8:3-5; 11:19; 15:5-8).  Other times he saw the throne of God and His heavenly council (Rev. 4:1-5:14; 14:1-5; 15:1-4; 19:1-10).  Whether in the temple or around the throne, each vision begins with a festal gathering of worshippers.  Then, God executes judgment on the earth, launching His invasion with armies of heavenly beings—from horsemen to angels—so that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ” (Rev. 11:15).  In the unfolding eschatological drama, two overlapping worlds (spatial and temporal) blend into one:  heaven crashes into earth; the future is precipitated by the present.  The dystopian scene is replicated over and over again.  After the saints worship God and the Lamb, all hell breaks loose on earth.  And so, the way John sees it, the Apocalypse is an unveiling of—a behind-the-scenes look at—what happens when we worship God.  The seer is pulling back the veil, helping us see the invisible war occurring in the visible world as the reign of God is established on earth as it is in heaven.  More than that, the seer’s vision is a call to participate:  when we worship God we wage war against the powers that oppose him and us.  Worship, therefore, becomes a subversive act whereby we overcome the idolatrous powers and their pretentious rule.  Despite the ruinous effects of evil powers trying to destroy God’s creation, we are declaring in worship, “Our God reigns!”  Indeed, the apocalyptic vision of a dystopian world is a Christian hope of God turning the world right side up, when earth is elevated to heaven’s purpose through divine purification.  Furthermore, the promise (perhaps even evidence) of a dystopian world is, therefore, the apocalyptic sign of God’s reclamation of all creation.  That evil is putting up a fight by trying to muck up the place is proof that God, the Lamb, and his slaves are winning the war.  It’s just a matter of time until every one sees it on the last day, when heaven and earth become one.  In the meantime, one must have ears to hear the audition in order to envision the end—now and then.

1 Contra Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, The Book of Revelation:  Justice and Judgment, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1998), 122, who argues that John’s auditors do not take part in the heavenly worship until the end, i.e., in the new heaven and earth.  Yet, there is no service of worship in the visions of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-22:5).
2 Leonard L. Thompson, The Book of Revelation:  Apocalypse and Empire (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1990), 66.
3 Ibid., 65.
4 Bauckham, Theology, pp. 67-70.
5 I follow Talbert’s schema, “Seven visions of the end times,” Apocalypse, p. 26.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

In Defense of Redford College

(Here's a guest post from my colleague, Dr. Zach Manis)

There has been a lot of commotion over the past few weeks on the internet regarding the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry at Southwest Baptist University.  Maybe you’ve heard some of it.  Maybe you’ve heard a lot of it.  According to the critics of the college, a grave injustice has been perpetrated against an innocent man, Dr. Clint Bass, who was fired for the reason that his colleagues held doctrinal beliefs that are “liberal,” while Bass himself espouses a pure and unadulterated conservative Baptist theology.  This narrative is exciting—Let us rally to the defense of justice!—and in the mouths of Dr. Bass’s supporters, nearly all of whom seem to  share his theological persuasions, self-aggrandizing.  It is also, unfortunately for Bass and his champions, flatly false. The truth of the matter is not nearly as exciting, or nearly so flattering to Dr. Bass.
The fact is that Clint Bass was fired for gross professional misconduct.  His intention, as best I can tell, was to get most of the theology faculty of Redford College fired, myself included, by any means necessary, and arrange to have us replaced by those who share his narrow and intolerant version of Christian theology in its most minute detail. (Bass has presented his own views as being simply those expressed in the most recent version of a prominent Baptist confessional statement called The Baptist Faith and Message.  The evidence suggests otherwise, but we’ll ignore this for now.)  His methods were patient—spanning at least the last five years—and deliberate, as well as seditious and quite treacherous.  The colleagues that he betrayed are the same ones who voted to hire him, to recommend him for tenure, and to promote him from Assistant to Associate Professor.  Colleagues who have, up to this point, respected him as a teacher and scholar and supported him in all of his professional endeavors.  In response to this support and show of collegiality on the part of the other professors in Redford College, Dr. Bass borrowed a page from one of his research interests, the Puritans—the worst possible page, I’m afraid.  He planned, organized, and did everything in his power to carry out a witch hunt.  He seems to have convinced himself that all of these actions are justified, and even noble, insofar as they were done in the name of God and the advancement of doctrinal purity.  But it is a dark thought that treachery is justified in the service of a good and righteous cause. 
What I have to say about this whole sordid affair will begin with some remarks about my experience in Redford College up to this point, will then move to a consideration of Dr. Bass’s allegations against me personally—as well as the “evidence” upon which they are based—, and finally attempt to bring into focus what I think is really at stake in all this, which is nothing less than a fight for the very soul of the university. 
When I applied for the job of Assistant Professor of Philosophy over thirteen years ago,  I told the faculty members who interviewed me that one of the most attractive features of the position, for myself as a Christian philosopher, was the prospect of teaching in a department with colleagues who are experts in other disciplines, such as biblical studies, theology, and church history—disciplines in which I have no formal training, but whose content I was (and continue to be) eager to learn more.  I was sincere in this remark.  Coming to SBU was an opportunity to be a part of a community of Christian scholars from whom I had much to learn, and, being a product of a liberal arts education, the desire to continue learning throughout the length of my life is one that is deep in the marrow.  
Over the years, I have frequently availed myself of the opportunity to learn more about important biblical and theological matters by bringing my questions on these topics to my colleagues, who have generously given of their time to share their wisdom and learning with me.  Sometimes, the questions I have brought to my colleagues have been about issues that I have encountered while reading Scripture or trying to understand theological matters that have troubled me.  How should we understand this particular hard saying of the Bible?  How do we make sense of that particular theological problem?  As a Christian philosopher, I believe that we should not ignore difficult or troubling questions of these kinds.  Our God is big enough to handle our toughest questions.  We should bring them to Him, every last one, in earnestness and humility.  And often, when we do so, our Lord teaches us through the members of His body, the Church, including members of the community of faith of which we are a part.  For myself, some of the most helpful and influential members of the Body through whom I have been instructed are my colleagues in Redford College. 
My efforts to learn from my colleagues have almost always been rewarded, first, by a warm reception of my questions, followed by a hearty exchange of ideas, and ending with greater understanding, on my part at least, as I have learned from their wisdom.   But, I am sad to say, this has not always been the case.  A few years back, in the Fall of 2015, I was on sabbatical, working on a book-length project on the problem of hell.  Reflection on this topic had led me to begin wrestling with some questions about how to understand the relationship between Christian tradition and the Baptist faith.  For example: What authority does Christian tradition have, according to Baptists?  Don’t we have to recognize tradition as having some authority in order to make sense of such matters as the canonization of Scriptures (the selection of books that would be included in the Bible)?  After all, if the church councils in which these decisions were made are regarded as having no authority, what assurance do we have that the Bible contains all and only the “right” books?  These sorts of questions are very much outside of the discipline in which I have been trained, and they are questions to which I did not see any obvious and satisfying answers.  But I recognized them as being clearly important questions.  I wanted to begin trying to sort through them and (hopefully) gain some insight and clarity, and I thought that there was an obvious way to go about this.  What I needed, in this case, was insight from someone who is an expert in either church history or Baptist thought.  And what luck (I thought to myself): we have a member of our own department who is an expert in both!  That person, of course, was Dr. Clint Bass.
So with his permission, I sat in on a few of Dr. Bass’s lectures at the beginning of his History of Christianity I course, which covers the period of time in church history most pertinent to the particular questions I was asking at the time.  And on a few occasions, I stayed after class was over to ask some follow-up questions.  It is worth pausing at this point to reiterate the purpose of these conversations.  The point was to try to articulate a certain problem that I was thinking about, to someone who is an expert on the topic to which the problem pertains, in order to find out what are the best possible answers to the problem that can be given (or, at least, the best possible answers that have been developed thus far).  Dr. Bass gave me his answers, and (though I don’t have a clear memory of the exact details of the conversation, I think it’s likely that this is what I did, because it’s what I usually do in these conversations) I “pushed” the questions a bit, to try to make sure the problem was being posed in its sharpest form,  in order to try to discern whether the answer being proposed was fully satisfactory.  This is the way that philosophers go about trying to answer hard questions.  We engage in a dialectic—a back-and-forth discussion in which all sides of an issue are presented, defended, and critiqued—in order to assess the relative merits and strengths of various possible solutions.  In short, I was applying a philosophical method of inquiry to questions of church history and theology. 
I’m afraid that all of this must have been very confusing to Dr. Bass.  At least, that’s the most charitable interpretation that I know of to explain the actions he took in the wake of these conversations.  He seems to think that I was expressing to him a set of settled theological convictions.  But of course, I wasn’t: the whole point of sitting in on his lectures and conversing with him afterward was to try to figure something out, to try to discern what the best available answers are to a certain set of questions that I had been wrestling with.  The conversations were fairly short, and few in number.  But apparently, whatever views he thought I was expressing in those conversations were views that he found troubling. 
So what did he do? 
Before answering that question, let me ask another: What would you do in this situation?  Let us suppose for present purposes that Dr. Bass’s confusion in this situation was sincere, in order to attribute to his subsequent actions the purest motives possible.  Now put yourself in his place.  Suppose that one of your colleagues seemed to be expressing to you in conversation a set of views that you considered to be mistaken, problematic, or disturbing, and suppose that these views pertained to matters of the Christian faith.  Suppose that your impression of your colleague’s views was based on a few, short conversations.  What would you do?  My guess is, if you are motivated at all by Christian charity, you would go to that colleague, to engage him in conversation, in order to get clarity on the matter.  You would probably say something like the following: “In our conversation the other day, I thought I heard you say that you believe [such-and-such], which seems to me a badly mistaken, and maybe even a dangerous, thing to believe.  Did I understand you correctly?  Is that really the view that you hold?”   
This, I’m sorry to report, was not Clint Bass’s reaction.  His way of dealing with the situation was rather different.  Judging from the campaign that has been carried out against Redford College, and the particular “evidence” that has been presented against me, personally, it seems that what Dr. Bass did is this.  He took out his collection of secret notes, in which he compiled a record of comments from his colleagues that he had heard—or thought he had heard, or heard that someone else had heard—a record of comments that he deemed “un-Baptist,” and he added some choice “quotes” from our conversation to his record.  He behaved, not like a brother in Christ, but like a secret agent in a police state, assigned the task of continual surveillance of his peers, for the purpose of trying to amass evidence by which they might some day be prosecuted for supposed thought crimes.  This is not, let us say, a clear depiction of the Pauline admonition to believers given in 1 Corinthians 13.
I suppose I should add that there was nothing personal about any of this—at least, nothing “personal” in the sense of singling me out for this kind of treatment.  Dr. Bass behaved this way toward all his colleagues in Redford.  Consider the following quote, from a recent Facebook post by the Dean of Redford College, Dr. Rodney Reeves, in which Dr. Reeves explains the way that Bass handled suspicions that he (Reeves) held a variety of “objectionable” views:
“Never once did he [Clint] ever discuss these things with me. Never once did he ask me what I believe about these things. Never once did he respect me enough to say, “hey, I heard some students say this about what you believe. Is that true?” I would do that for him. I have done that for other faculty. This is what Jesus taught us to do: go to each other to clear up a matter (Matt. 5:23; 18:15). But Clint didn’t do that. He chose, instead, to call into question my theological integrity by spreading lies about me.”
In the smear campaign against Redford College that has unfolded over the past weeks, one of the pieces of misinformation that has been repeatedly propagated is that Clint had approached us, his Redford colleagues, about these matters of theological concern, and had discussed them with us.  Let me be clear and state this in the most unequivocal terms: Clint Bass did not came to any of us, ever, to express his concerns about our theological views and to allow us to address his concerns in person.  Never.  Not one of us.  Not in 10+ years of teaching in the Redford College of Theology and Ministry. 
Dr. Bass is now apparently trying to pass off an intradepartmental email exchange from January 2018 as evidence that he discussed these matters with us.  But the contents of the email prove otherwise.  For those of you unfamiliar with the email, which has been (of dubious legality) posted publicly online: Dr. Reeves received an email from a “concerned parent” who was inquiring as to what kind of theological education their son could expect to receive from our college.  Dr. Reeves’s asked for input from the rest of the faculty before responding to the parents, and in light of the feedback he received—which did not include any suggestions from Dr. Bass—, he wrote his response and emailed it to the parents.  After the reply to the parents had already been sent, Dr. Bass followed up with a “Reply All” message to the entire Redford faculty, chastising Dr. Reeves for his treatment of the matter. 
For the moment, let us put aside considerations of how extraordinarily unprofessional and disrespectful it was to rebuke the Dean of our College in an email sent to our entire faculty, after having himself made no attempt to contribute to the discussion up to that point, rather than approaching Dr. Reeves in private with his concerns.  Let us for now focus on a different question.  Is it reasonable to consider this email from Dr. Bass an acceptable substitute for approaching members of the Redford faculty in person, and (at least at first) in private, to try to understand our individual views and to give us a chance to explain our theological positions?  Of course not.  To present this exchange as evidence of Dr. Bass’s engaging the Redford faculty with legitimate concerns, in good faith, is simply laughable—or at least, it would be, were the matter not so serious. And yet there is no other occasion on which Dr. Bass came to any of us to discuss his concerns.
Some of Dr. Bass’s supporters seem to imagine that he was fired because of his conservative theological views, views to which the administration and the other faculty of Redford College are opposed.  In fact, no one in Redford College had any objection to Bass’s theological views.  By “objection,” I mean that no one held his views against him, nor sought to oppose him, personally or professionally, for any of his views.  Of course, some of us would likely “object” to some of the finer points of Dr. Bass’s preferred theological system in the sense of disagreeing with him, if he had engaged any of us in discussions about such matters.  Disagreements on matters of theological particulars are inevitable among Christian scholars, who spend a great deal of time reflecting on such issues.  Not only are such disagreement inevitable, they are healthy.  It is a sign of departmental vitality when the members of a theological faculty disagree with one another, respectfully and in good faith, about secondary and tertiary matters of doctrine. (I am referring here not to fundamental matters of the Christian faith, like the authority of Scripture or the divinity of Christ, but rather to minor issues, like debates over the “five points” of Calvinism—to pick one example.)  This is healthy for a number of reasons: first, because it means that students will be exposed to a wide variety of options that exist within Christian orthodoxy, matters about which Christians of good will may faithfully disagree with one another.  Second, it means that faculty members will sharpen one another, “as iron sharpens iron,” in formulating their views, being forced by their colleagues to consider opposing arguments and critiques.  All of this is healthy, and to be celebrated in a department of theology.  A diversity of theological opinions on the minor issues (again, not on the fundamental doctrines, but on the secondary and tertiary issues) is part of what makes a department of Christian theology vibrant. 
Throughout the years, some of us in Redford College have sought to model to our student body what it looks like for Christians to discuss differences of theological opinion in a healthy and constructive way.  Public forums, such as the one in which Dr. Reeves and I discussed the topic of hell, are a way of trying to foster an atmosphere of open inquiry among our students, giving them a chance to see what it looks like for professors to defend different, and sometimes opposing, views in a spirit of mutual respect and willingness to listen and learn from other members of the Christian community.  A recording of this particular forum, however, has now been posted online as evidence of our supposed “heretical” views.  Once again, step back from the debates about the theological topics under discussion in this forum, for a moment, to notice how pernicious this is.  An academic event that is meant to foster discussion and reflection among our student body about important theological issues—a worthy goal of a Christian academic community, if ever there was one—is instead put in the service of a witch hunt, presented as evidence of the unfitness of the participants to teach at a Baptist institution.  (For those of you who have listened only to the collection of audio snippets, conveniently compiled for your quick and efficient formulation of a judgment of our views, know that you have been deceived.  If you want to understand anything at all about our respective positions on the various topics that we discussed in the forum, you must listen to the entire exchange, as well as the Q&A that follows, in full.)  It is important to appreciate the message that it sends to our students, to use a recording of the forum in this way, and the chilling effect that this has on the atmosphere of an academic institution.  The message to the community is clear: “Don’t you dare even entertain, much less sympathetically consider, much less endorse, a view that is contrary to what WE believe.” (Here “WE” refers to whatever authoritative body supposedly sets the theological agenda for the university.)  Do you honestly think that students’ faith would be strengthened by there being only one, officially sanctioned set of theological beliefs that the university will allow to be even discussed?  If you do, I would ask you to reflect on the fact that a great many atheists these days describe themselves as “recovering fundamentalists.”  An environment that does not tolerate theological questioning or serious consideration of opposing views is not an effective inoculation against religious doubt.  Instead, it is fertile ground for a crisis of faith later in life, when exposure to such questions and opposing views is no longer avoidable.  We do our students no favors by treating their time in college as a glorified day care for overgrown children, where we will shelter impressionable young minds from any ideas that might challenge their preexisting assumptions, until mom and dad can return and pick them up after graduation.  This is an unbelievably condescending view of our students, who are themselves adults, and fully capable of engaging in rigorous and serious philosophical and theological reflection, and of forming their own views on these matters in a careful and responsible way.
And this brings us, finally, to what I believe to be the heart of the matter in all of this.  The question that this whole, ugly chapter in the history of SBU has so clearly brought into focus is this: What is the purpose of a Christian liberal arts education?  And it is clear that there are at least two very different answers to this question on display in the horde of opinions currently circulating on social media and the larger discussion on the internet.  One possible answer—the answer that is pretty clearly assumed by those who have slandered Dr. Reeves and his teaching ministry to our students—is that its purpose is indoctrination.  On the indoctrination model, a Christian education is one in which professors stand before a class, and present to the students a set of views (no doubt, the professor’s own theological opinions on matters great and small) as indisputable facts that the students shall accept, on the professor’s authority, and repeat back to him/her on an exam, perhaps as proof of the student’s fidelity to doctrinal purity as the professor understands it.  Evidence that this is the model of education assumed by many of our critics—including Dr. Bass himself—is found in their telltale use of the word “teach.”  For example: that “Manis teaches” inclusivism, purgatory, etc. in classes at SBU.   
In my philosophy classes, I do not “teach” anything, in the indoctrination sense of the term.  I do not instruct my students on what they should believe on controversial philosophical or theological matters. (The phrase “controversial philosophical matter” is redundant, by the way. Any topic that is uncontroversial does not belong to the discipline of philosophy.)  The claim that I “teach” inclusivism, or purgatory, or any other view displays confusion about what it is that goes on in a philosophical classroom—or at any rate, what goes on in my classes.    
What motivates the discussions and other content of my classes is a very different model of education, one that stands in stark contrast to the indoctrination model.  One of the primary tasks of Christian education—including theological education—on this alternative model is that of equipping students to think for themselves about deep questions of enduring significance for their lives, including (especially) their faith.  There is a great deal of lip-service paid to “critical thinking” these days, but the reality of actually trying to foster it in students requires that students be exposed to a wide variety of topics, ideas, controversies, and opposing views.  It is not fostered by “teaching” students in the manner discussed above—the method of indoctrination.  It is fostered by introducing students to questions, contemporary debates, philosophical and theological problems, etc. and helping them to appreciate what the issues are and why people may reasonably disagree about them.  It goes on to consider arguments on both sides of an issue (in some cases, many sides), as well as counterarguments and critiques of each side.  And it culminates in equipping students with a method by which they may evaluate these competing arguments for themselves, and to arrive at conclusions in a way that is careful, reasoned, well-informed, and capable of being rigorously defended, all while still appreciating the merits of an opposing viewpoint.  This is not relativism, or subjectivism, or postmodernism, or any of the other boogeymen that haunt the imaginations of Christian fundamentalists.  This is, quite simply, what it is to engage in critical thinking, and what it is to equip students to do the same.
My classes have always been, and will always be, for as long as I have the distinct privilege of being a professor at SBU, a safe place for students to explore ideas, and in particular ideas about important matters pertaining to the Christian faith.  My classes will never be used as a platform for indoctrination—regardless of anyone’s preference or demands to the contrary.  One of the very first things that I try to impress on my students in introductory philosophy courses is that I have no interest whatsoever in producing ideological clones who will parrot my own views back to me.  My students are not only permitted, but positively encouraged, to disagree with me on any matter of philosophical or theological controversy that they wish.  I am reticent to reveal my philosophical opinions in my introductory courses, not because I have something to hide, but because I want to make sure, before expressing my own views, that the students have deeply internalized the point that they cannot settle philosophical questions for themselves by simply deferring to my supposed authority and adopting whatever conclusions I might have reached on the issue.  That is not how philosophy works.  My task as a philosophy teacher is to equip my students to develop and defend their own views.  This is what it is to begin to think critically.  And the fostering of this ability is among the principle ends of a Christian liberal arts university.    
If there is a silver lining on the calamitous course of events that has unfolded at SBU recently, it is this: it is now evident, in the way that this crisis has been handled, that the university is presently under very capable leadership at the highest offices of the President and the Provost.  When Dr. Eric Turner was hired to be the 25th President of SBU, many of us had the sense that his appointment was providential.  It seems clear now that he was brought to the university “for such a time as this,” to lead us through tumultuous waters that very likely would have destroyed our university under less capable leadership.  I am deeply grateful to both Dr. Turner and Dr. Lee Skinkle for their service to our university.  And I am encouraged by what I see in them, both in their leadership and in their character as men of God, for the future of SBU to become a shining example of what Christian liberal arts education can be.  Christian education is a sacred endeavor, and one that can be used by the Lord to accomplish great things in the lives of students, as well as to support the Church and to advance the Kingdom of God.  It is my distinct privilege to be a part of an institution of higher education that understands its mission clearly in these terms.
I suspect that some of you who have made it this far in my “essay” still are not satisfied.  “What about the specific charges of doctrinal error that have been leveled against you?  How do you answer?”  I answer… in person.  I have no interest in trying to shout down the mob.  My weapon of defense is reason, which is, I’m afraid, utterly useless against those who are incapable of rational reflection or critical thinking.  In my experience, individuals are generally reasonable, and quite capable of rational reflection and critical thinking.  The mob is none of these.  So if you would like to hear more about what I believe, or why I believe the things I do,* on any philosophical or theological topic that interests you, I invite you to come by my office some time, or to meet me for coffee, and we will discuss it.  But I’ll warn you in advance (spoiler alert!) that you’ll be disappointed if your vested interest is in rooting out heretics.  I am firmly committed to orthodox Christianity.  I will say it again.  I am firmly and unequivocally committed to the fundamentals of the faith that comprise orthodox Christian theism.  So much so, in fact, that if you can convince me that some belief that I hold is contrary to orthodoxy, I will certainly recant that belief… and thank you for your loving Christian service to me.  What you should not expect, of course, is for me to take it on your word that every alternative to your preferred theological system is beyond the pale of orthodoxy.  You should come prepared with arguments.  And expect that I will do the same.
One question remains: How should we move forward in our personal relationships with Clint Bass?  Here our Lord presents us with only one option: we must forgive.  It is not given to us to forgive some trespasses but not others.  I am praying for Clint daily, as well as for many of his supporters who have joined him in publicly slandering those of us who serve in the Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry.  And I encourage you to do the same.  No reconciliation is possible by any work of man.  But our God is a mighty God, and the conviction of His Spirit is at work in the hearts of all believers.  May we listen to Him and respond faithfully, continually looking forward in hope to the day when we may be reunited in fellowship and communion with each other, and with the Lord.

* Even after so lengthy a post, please permit me to add one footnote, to my remarks about “what I believe, or why I believe the things I do.”  It appears that some Christians are inclined to hold all of their theological beliefs—from the existence of God, to the authority of Scripture, all the way down to beliefs about church structure—with equal conviction.  I am not a Christian of this sort.  I hold the fundamentals of the faith—what C. S. Lewis termed “mere Christianity”—not only with conviction, but as positively unrelinquishable.  But on a great many issues—and this includes, especially, speculative views about the details of the afterlife—I am content to recognize that the issues in question are not possible objects of knowledge, because they are not a part of the revelation given to us in God’s Word.  Some of these matters are of tremendous importance, in my view—a good example is the fate of those who die in infancy—and I’m convinced that philosophical and theological reflection on these matters can be fruitful and even yield genuine insight.  But the beliefs that emerge from such reflections should always be recognized for what they are: conjectures.  At best, they are informed conjectures, guided by careful reflection on the desiderata of fidelity to Scripture, Christian tradition, deeply held moral and theological convictions, etc.  But there is no sense in pretending that our beliefs on such matters enjoy anything like rational certainty; nor is there any reason to pretend that they need to.  There is a much more sensible—a much more authentically Baptist—position that one can, and should, hold in such matters, and it is this: “IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, IN NON-ESSENTIALS LIBERTY, IN ALL THINGS CHARITY.”