I’ve added three new e-books to the list on my new e-books page.
Baptism & the Body
How Baptism reveals the significance of the body for Christian faith.
What is Evangelicalism?
A discussion of the unsettled self of evangelicalism.
Self and Leadership
A summary of Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve and some reflections upon the relevance of his thought to Christians and the Church.
About Alastair Roberts
Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
Is “A Failure of Nerve” the only one of Friedman’s works that you’ve read?
I’ve also read “Generation to Generation” and am working on “The Myth of the Shiksa and Other Essays”. I find his work intriguing and insightful. For as much as he speaks in terms of evolution, I can just as easily read what he’s describing as the common creationistic way in which God built us.
I look forward to reading your e-book.
I’ve also read Generation to Generation, though quite some time ago now. Friedman’s work is brilliant, I think, with incredibly broad application. I’d be interested to hear any thoughts you might have on the e-book
Well, I finished reading your e-book “Self and Leadership”, engaging with Edwin Friedmen’s book “A Failure of Nerve”. I thought you accurately summarized Friedman’s book and captured his basic ideas.
I’ve intuitively thought something similar to what you mention about Friedman’s ideas ruffling the feathers in particular of the political (regressive?) Left with a militant political correctness, hypersensitivity for empathizing with victimization, perpetuating a victimhood mentality, and recoiling at any form of encouraging people to take responsibility for one’s self and one’s own emotional reactivity. I also enjoyed the nod and connection you made to René Girard’s work. I’ve been interested to understand Friedman and Girard side-by-side as I’ve read both of them in the past year or two.
Since you wrote your e-book and posted it prior to the presidential election in the United States, I’m curious if you have anything more to add to your comments in “Self and Leadership” in light of the social reactivity since the election. In the course of the past year, I’ve thought of the U.S. political landscape as being deeply chronically anxious. And the first thing that comes to mind in the days since the election has been the impression that there has been a marked increase in the systemic anxiety, particularly for elements of the political Left that I find to be irrationally hostile or fearful.
I enjoyed your broaching the matter of chronic anxiety in certain church contexts leading to the “evangelical obsession with the spiritual quick fix, the obsession with theological certitude, etc.” I’m left thirsting for a deeper exploration of the subject or perhaps a desire to sit in on such a church’s “family therapy” session with a Bowen-Friedman family systems therapist. I’ve had the blessing of learning what I know of this from a former pastor and seeing it applied by him in my own local church setting. It proved rather insightful and helpful in a number of situations.
For years, I’ve found the seeker-sensitive church growth movement’s addiction to data from the Barna Group and similar outlets (as you note) and the resulting marketing-like techniques to be … well, “perverse” as Friedman would describe it. The same goes for knowing what to do with data on the ethical behavior of the youth in the church compared to youth in the culture at large. A right understanding of presence in church leadership would do much more to effect the youth. And I agree with your observation of the symptoms of madness at work in evangelical individuals and in evangelical churches toward their surrounding communities. Is it evangelicalism regressing into the worst pathologies of fundamentalism?
When you discuss the problem with empathy, I think you capture well what Friedman is getting at. I think I’ve intuitively grasped what Friedman has tried to say about militant empathy being the enemy of maturity via responsibility and integrity, but I’ve found his explanations murky at times. I think you’re right that this has a lot of relevance to the relationships between representatives of different theological traditions as well as between Christians and non-Christians. The need for playful mischievousness also comes to mind. (I was reading your e-book the other day when I replied to the anti-Trinitarian commenter over at Mere Orthodoxy about the podcast on the Incarnation. I thought some light Friedman-esque devilish playfulness was the right move.)
Your final comments in the last chapter about a triangle between ourselves, our sin, and the Law are very profound. It puts into words something I’ve otherwise had trouble articulating. And it brings to mind the difference in the ministries of two successive pastors at a former church of mine and the futility of trying to will sanctification in churchgoers head-on. One pastor was the fellow who used all these insights from Friedman and had a non-anxious presence that evoked healthy responses, strength, responsibility, and integrity in troubled congregants—both myself and various friends. The other pastor was the living embodiment of anxiety and seriousness. He had no awareness of how his presence was toxically counterproductive to his intentions and his data-dispensing of the Law (i.e sermons) as motivation for sanctification. He drove several of us deeper into despair and anxiety. Ultimately, many of us departed that church for elsewhere.
I think back to a Mere Fidelity episode: “On Sanctification” (June 2014). Toward the end, Andrew says something about lots of Reformed folks who are “broodingly intense” in how they speak so heavily to sanctification that just comes across as so ugly and undesirous about it. That was my own experience of the second pastor I described above. (Both were Reformed pastors.) I’ve still got a lingering bad taste in my mouth for certain popular Reformed bloggers who come across as constantly dispensing unrequested cultural analysis and courses of action. I think there could be a lot to say if you were to go back to that conversation about sanctification and think about the effect that a Christian celebrity’s emotional presence toward his audience or a local minister’s emotional presence toward his flock can either lead believers into greater sanctification (i.e. stir them to greater self-discipline, devotional habits, etc.) by modeling the sort of life they would mimetically desire or can drive them away from it by modeling sanctified chronic anxiety.
Well, now perhaps I’ll move on to your e-book on defining evangelicalism, which, as they say, is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.
Thanks a lot for this great feedback, Aaron!
I’ve used Friedman a very great deal in various places since writing this summary. In particular, I’ve used his thought to reflect upon the peculiar challenge of differentiation in the age of the Internet, for instance. I’ve also related his thought to politics at various points. There are several clear applications.
Your comments about your former pastors are very interesting. I’ve found Friedman’s book to be a rare gem when it comes to helping me to understand the dynamics of realities I perceived yet never could quite pin down formerly.
I finished reading “What is Evangelicalism?” last night. I enjoyed it, where ‘enjoyed’ means I see and sense the same things that you do, so I know I’m not alone nor losing my mind as I beat my head against a wall as I once again live among evangelicals and attend an evangelical church. I think you’ve actually captured the historical roots and the driving force of evangelicalism, the sad degenerative tendency that it is.
I read Nathan Hatch’s “The Democritization of American Christianity” a few of years ago after hearing it referenced by Darryl Hart in his presentation at “Too Reformed To Be Evangelical?” for ETS. Those three presentations by Hart, Horton, and Leithart were helpful on this subject for someone in my position (i.e. classical Reformed Protestant and engaging with evangelicals).
I attended evangelical churches for a number of years during and after college. I think it was initially the liveliness of the people that drew me. But I always suspected that I may end up somehow returning to my more traditional, confessional, and liturgical roots as I grew weary of the endemic liturgical irreverence and disorderliness, the willful historical rootlessness, and the slovenly anti-intellectualism which were becoming apparent. I eventually got out of it for precisely the tendencies and habits that you’ve identified. I spent about seven years in a small PCA church that had a very self-conscious and purpusefullly liturgical and traditional worship culture (essentially an Anglican or Lutheran liturgy and an overt emphasis on the mediation of God’s grace). Sadly, that community disintegrated for me in the past year or two, and my family and I had to go elsewhere. Our local options were Romanist, conservative Lutheran, and Evangelical. Talk about picking your poison! I’d never tolerate the liturgical idolatries in a Romanist church. I couldn’t submit to the confessional requirements (and the denial of the Gospel embodied in such requirements) for Table fellowship in a Lutheran church. So now I’m a Reformed refugee without a people and a culture in Evangelical Shinar, trying to “seek the welfare of the city” where I’ve been sent into exile.
Melodramatic? Perhaps. :-p
Ha! I can relate to your experience, as it is similar to how mine has been in the past. I am currently part of a Church of England congregation, so feel out of place in some different ways.