Friday, January 20, 2006

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,
Our nation turns it's lonely eyes to you.
What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson.
Joltin' Joe has left and gone away

Joe Dimaggio was perplexed and a bit hurt by these lines from "Mrs. Robinson", and deservedly so. After all, he hadn't gone anywhere; he had merely retired from baseball and returned to private life (although the story may not be true, I heard that he once confronted Paul Simon at a New York dinner party and demanded an explanation). Regardless, the line is not about DiMaggio per se - it's about our yearning for greatness, and the vacuum we feel when it's not there. It's my opinion that these lyrics could easily apply to our own time, and perhaps to any time in history. The public figures of the present always seem small and pathetic compared with the greats of the past (and that's doubly true for today's baseball players).

But there's little doubt that we're suffering from a lack of leadership in the church at the moment, and it's primarily a lack of theological leadership, in my opinion. Sometime I feel like singing, "Where have you gone Karl Barth? The lonely Protestants turn their eyes to you." But Barth is just as gone as Joltin' Joe, and nobody has taken his place. The theological titans of the mid-20th century - Barth, Tillich, Niebuhr - were true public figures, commanding the attention of not only the entire church, but of the culture as a whole. There is not a theologian today that can compare.

Due to this void, theology has been pushed from the town square, and now resides in various ghettos on the edge of the town. We have both liberals and conservatives to thank for this situation. The former never liked doctrines, and the latter were more interested in fighting extra-theological battles (abortion, homosexuality, and Happy Holidays). Sadly, the result is a profound lack of theological clarity, not on social issues, but regarding eternal matters like the Trinity, christology, and nature of sin and salvation.

As Protestantism lacks a hierarchy (and I'm not in favor of changing that fact), we're always in need of towering figures like Barth, since they have a steadying effect on the church. Due to their influence and personal authority, they mediate between the various centrifugal forces that are always threatening to pull the church apart. Most importantly, they keep the church's focus on the Gospel, and prevent it from becoming consumed by secondary matters.

Coo, coo, ca-choo, Mrs Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo) God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson Heaven holds a place for those who pray (Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

1 comment:

Luthsem said...

Great Post
We need theologians of the cross!