Do you feel like an “old-school confessionally reformed high-church calvinist presbyterian” in a world where the “low-church-biblicist-revivalist-Evangelical-pietist-enthusiast-sentimentalist-experientialist- liberal-fundamentalist-transformationalist” household just keeps winning the day?
You are in the Outhouse my friend, and you are not alone.
First, what the Outhouse, in this contributor’s mind, is not. Contrary to the assumptions of wider religious blogdom, it is not a place for forms of evangelism or apologetics or admonishment or accusation or impunity or anything else one might find in t he proper confines of the Church. Neither is it a place to build community or nurture relationships or perpetuate the public square, etc. So if you take yourself so seriously that you either feel compelled to thump someone’s chest or whimper because you think yours was, the Outhouse may not be good for you. This is neither community nor the courts of the Church. While as prone as anyone to falling below the threshold of maintaining a sense of self-transcendence, the Outhouse desires to be painfully realistic about the fact that nothing is getting eternally solved or temporally created here. In other words, it doesn’t take itself very seriously.
I rather conceive of the Outhouse to be a place of rumination and reflection amongst nearly like-minded people where certain assumptions are in place. By like-minded I mean those who have been persuaded in confessional Reformed orthodoxy and take certain things for granted. The Outhouse is less interested in debating the finer points of confessional Reformed orthodoxy, like Calvinism (or popular contemporary controversies), and more interested in reflecting upon the broader implications of it in our day over against the implications of the larger Household (a concept explained below). Another forum might be better suitable for those who wish to join the cacophony of cracker-jack apologists, evangelists, theologians and social critics.
What’s in a name?
Names are important for various reasons. Our time seems smitten with divorcing form and content, which renders something as seemingly inconsequential as a name as, well, inconsequential. But the name Confessional Outhouse does point to some measure of meaning. This will start out sounding odd but bear with it. I was a sociology minor. One of my pet hack theories was that human society is made up of “households.” Everyone belongs to a series of households. These households can range from being a white male in North America (and its antitheses) to being left-handed to having a sugar-tooth. The point is that one’s world view and how one either behaves and/or is treated, is largely effected by whatever households one inhabits. Obviously, one may be a part of multitudes upon multitudes of households. Thus, I tend very heavily to think in terms of households. At the risk of merely reducing the main themes or topics of the Outhouse to those which are sociological over against theological, for good or ill I have nevertheless conceived of Outhouse in this way. Let’s just see what happens.
The name comes out of a discussion elsewhere in which the topic was what I hope will be a favorite theme of the Outhouse: the two-kingdom theory, or more specifically, the W(as in Westminster) Two Kingdom theory. The ramp up to the 2008 Presidential elections are in high gear, and the players are all predictably vying for what TIME magazine calls the God-vote. (I personally like to follow TIME’s regular God-o-meter to monitor just where the efforts have been in the last week.) The topic was Obama’s efforts at capturing some portion of the God-vote. Ever since I read DG Hart’s personally seminal The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, it has become impossible not to think of myself as being in the Confessional Outhouse when I hear certain figures and their pundit-corollaries speak. Hart’s basic thesis is that American Protestant religion is a two-party system, both of which fall under the rubric of Evangelicalism. In the one party is the more progressive or mainline tradition; in the other is what one might conceive of in the Religious Right quarters. Having been bred in one and married into the other and never feeling at home in either, this thesis explained why. Thomas Oden, in After Modernity What, famously observed that “Fundamentalists and Liberals have more in common than either would want to admit.” This, to me, is the same idea Hart is getting after, namely that the chief operating principle in most of the Household is that the Gospel has a direct bearing on and obvious implications for the temporal world. From there flows the application of that principle in its necessarily diverse and often times hostile, opposite interpretations and accounts for most of what one observes in the activities of the Evangelical Household. At the end of the day, indeed after experimentations of the 20th century and those leading up to it, American Protestant religion offers the believer only two parties within one Evangelical Household: conservative or progressive/liberal. (Maybe for the more savvy there exists a third option which is simply a weird hybrid of the two.) These are cultural, versus cultic, terms and the main operating categories for most of American Protestant expressions of religion and life. And it is usually put into the clearest relief in things like American political venues, in which Jesus is one candidate’s favorite philosopher or the head coach to another’s perception of society building. And, at least to this Reformed and Presbyterian Confessionalist, such banter makes it fairly clear that one is out to pasture.
This rather grousing observation about being in the Outhouse was actually preceded by a previous evening worship service in which, for whatever reasons, it hit me between the eyes once again that the Evangelicals had won the day. Maybe it was the heat of the unusually warm October day that had built up and made this cold-blooded mid-westerner a bit more chaffed than usual. Or maybe it was the dude up front, in his clogs and Havana shirt, casually talking and occasionally stopping so another dude could get up with his gee-tar and sing those theologically fraught words, “Doo-dee-a-ha-ha-yeah-yeah-yeah, yummm.” Whatever it was, it was once again clear I was in the Outhouse. It was a like a mid-life crisis, one of those moments akin to when a man realizes he will not even come close to realizing all the high aspirations he’s ever had. He has always known it and endured like a good doobie, taken his place amongst ordinary men, but something trips it off again and sends him reeling. In the same way, I have always known that Confessionalism has lost huge to the Evangelicals. Worse, it’s not as if there are clear lines designating the two camps. Those who would call themselves Confessionalists behave very often like the Evangelicals. Well, this could go on and on, but the point is simply that the Outhouse was conceived in grouchiness along these lines. I will do my best to comport myself, but I cannot promise that my grouchiness won’t bleed through. -Zrim