top billing

Last night I attended the installation ceremony for Todd Billings, who will now occupy the Gordon H. Girod Research Chair of Reformed Theology at Western Seminary. The evening was bittersweet, as Todd has been diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that has no known cure, but as he reminded us last night, the Heidelberg Catechism begins “that I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Todd began his inaugural lecture by having the audience recite Question 1 of the Heidelberg, and then he compared this to the creed of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which essentially says that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself. God won’t interfere in your life unless you ask him to, and only then to resolve some problem and restore your happiness.

Todd argued that the Heidelberg begins with displacement—we are not our own—whereas the creed of MTD focuses entirely upon us and our felt needs. Todd noted that MTD comes out in theology today when leaders assert that their felt problems are the ones that Jesus had in mind, and then they leap over 2,000 years of tradition to discover “the real meaning of Jesus” that the church had buried all this time. Todd gave examples of Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus on the left, the Patriot’s Bible on the right (what does Jesus tell us about the founding of America?), and N.T. Wright in the middle, whose 2013 Calvin January series lecture was entitled, “How we’ve all misunderstood the gospels.”

Rather than start with our own questions and then try to find some correlation in Scripture—which usually amounts to finding that Jesus was some misunderstood revolutionary whose dreams didn’t catch on until us—Todd said we must drill deeply into our own theological traditions until we hit the water table of the catholicity of the church. We must find those universal truths that Scripture and tradition have always taught us, for not only are they what is most important but also they are what will unite us together.

Jamie Smith gave a response that echoed these themes, which made it a very good night. Join me in prayer that God will heal Todd, for the sake of his wife and two toddlers but also for the sake of his church. God bless Todd Billings, and may he continue to bless the church through his ministry.

4 Comments

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  1. Thank you for sharing this Mike. I don’t know Todd be he sounds like the kind of Professor I would have loved to sit under. Grace and Peace.

  2. While I have always had a problem with his continual use of “New” and other terms such as “Secret” (although I understand his use of them to try to appeal to those turned off by skewed Christianity), if you actually read McLaren’s works, you’ll find he does not “leap over 2,000 years of tradition” but rather most of the points he makes have been made repeatedly over the last 2 millenia by important Christian voices. His debt to historical movements within the Christian church is very explicit in his A Generous Orthodoxy:
    Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/conservative, Mystical/poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished Christian.

    I also think it’s a false rap on N.T. Wright to make such a charge. It’s hard to believe that anyone could have read any of Wright’s books and make that accusation.

    I think both McLaren and Wright are in the tradition of reflective Christians throughout history who have tried to highlight the true Gospel message and discarding the many distortions of it which have developed.

    Even in the case of The Patriot’s Bible, the charge is not accurate. While I think their approach is seriously wrongheaded, much of the institutional church has often tried to tie themselves to nationalism ever since the days of Constantine. That work is part of a very sad, but also very long, history of distortion of the Gospel.

  3. Bill,
    From what you have posted so numerously on this blog I believe you to be an emergent especially after defending McLaren. He denied Jesus is God in his biography, you know? But of course, what do I know? I only read the Bible with the church of the past 2,000 years.

  4. I’m not sure what you mean by his “biography.” He doesn’t have an autobiography, and I’m not aware that someone else has done a biography of him, but that would be their view of him, no his own. If you have a quote that you want to discuss, provide it. I don’t agree with him on everything, but that doesn’t sound like him.

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