Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Dispensationalism Outwitted (some day)

[The following is a letter I sent to 20 professors in Theology or Divinity schools around the country. I know only two of them. Pretty ego-maniacal, no?]

Please pardon my intrusion. If an "obsession" is a "compulsive, often unreasonable idea," then I am obsessed.

I don't know about your university, but mine fits the current definition of education as "industry." Our students (like your school's undergraduates) are consumers of degrees in business and advertising and pre-law, ad infinitum, which are designed to make them better "consumers" in later life. Our students have grown up in a culture where consumption is all.

My students are not unintelligent or lazy. They are the cream of the crop. They are here instead of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or the University of Chicago because it never occurred to them to be anywhere besides Texas. They are Americans---they live not in the "information age," but in the "money age." However, they do have some slight side interest in ideas, especially in what they think "religion" is. Those who are serious about their faith---at least those who are willing ever to bring it up in a first-year writing course---are almost certain to believe in some form of dispensationalism (whether they know it or not) or, at the very least, some brand of "fundamentalism."

And therein lies my obsession. My students and the undergrads at your university have no ability to discover real "theological" information. Those who want to know anything about faith or religion or morality go FIRST, LAST, and ALWAYS to the Internet. And what they find is a diet of right-wing, dispensationalist, pre-or-post millennialist crap. WHERE IS THE VOICE OF BIBLICAL (as opposed to Darbyesque) THEOLOGY, REASON, HISTORY, AND FAITH on the Internet?

Are academic theologians so preoccupied with writing for each other, with protecting their intellectual property, that they are unwilling to write for common, popular consumption? I hate to be the one to break it to you, but "real" people don't go to theology libraries and check out books. "Real" people don't look up "theology" on "Real" people don't even read the Journal of Lutheran Ethics or Sojourners. "Real" people---including graduates of universities like yours and mine---look for the quick fix. The result is that this is not the "information age" theologically. It is the "mis-information age" theologically. Can't you help change that?

What "real" people get when they GOOGLE religious topics is a stream of millions of websites about Revelation 20:1-17 or some such explaining why we are already in the middle of the fourth (or is it the fifth?) dispensation, why crushing Palestinians is essential to the Second Coming, why "liberals" are to be equated with the anti-Christ, and why gay Americans certainly will not be raptured when the time comes.

You all are a fairly representative sample of academic theologians. I GOOGLED each of your names. (I looked at only the first two pages of "hits" for each of you. Mea culpa.) I found for each of you a faculty page at your school. I found reviews of your books. I found quotes from some of you. I found a few interviews. I found a couple of inspired and inspiring sermons. I found one article listed with "Project Muse" (no student of mine will go to the trouble to register there).

From the 19 of you, I found ONE EXCERPT---ONLY ONE---from a book and, of course a couple of you have written in "Sightings."

I know that one of you has taught a "Seminar on Heresy in the Middle Ages." I know that one of you has taught such topics as "Early Christian Apocalypticism: Genre and Social Setting;" "Crisis and Catharsis: The Power of the Apocalypse;" "The Apocalypse;" and "The Combat Myth in the Book of Revelation." I've read reviews of books by many of you. I know some of your students. I even know a couple of you. So I know you are all capable of writing so laypersons can understand.

The INTERNET, the great source of "information" in the world, is devoid of theologically sound information. Websites for some churches (the ELCA is one I know) have introductory "Sunday school" materials. But theology? real spiritual formation? historical information? Biblical studies? Not for public consumption, apparently. Where are your articles? DOES ANY OF YOU EVEN HAVE A BLOG? If I am incorrect, please let me know.

This rant started today because I received a message on my BLOG from someone suggesting that I need to study Revelation---so I can understand why John Darby's writings are correct. I looked for something by Bruce Metzger for her to read---and all I could find was about a thousand reviews of Breaking the Code. I am not really obsessed with dispensationalism, but it is representative of the kind of backwoods theology that has American thinking so firmly in its iron grip (all the way down to the White House) that it is threatening the fabric, social, political, and religious, of our society.

You have an obligation to teach, to preach, to share your spiritual path, not just with your students, but with the world. Get it on the INTERNET! Please!