Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Roger Olson is a regular contributor at the Think Tank, which, most recently, featured his article concerning the future of Evangelicalism. My personal interest in a more irenic and Spirit-filled interaction between the various corners of evangelicalism naturally stimulated interest in The Mosaic of Christian Belief. I've been looking forward to reading something of a more "editorial' style, and Olson's discussion of the various continuities and discontinuities which beset Christian theologies seems like it'll satiate both my desire to investigate this topic and my craving for a more conversational style. If it turns out to be as engaging as I'd hoped, I may end up reading the companion volume as well!
John Stott says on the back cover, "I defy anybody to emerge from exposure to this book unscathed. In fact, my advice to would-be readers is "Don't! Leave the book alone!" - unless you are willing to be shocked, challenged, persuaded and transformed." That's some superlative praise from a highly respected churchman! I have to admit that I'm a little less excited to bite into this one, since my reading to date on the topic of social justice has had an overamped ideological "prophetic call" devoid of a "feet in the dirt" kind of instruction as to how I can contribute to God's kingdom plan in this area. Nonetheless, I trust that Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen will offer some helpful insight!
I confess that I've never heard of Veli-Matti Karkkainen - but I've yet to read a single volume entirely devoted to an ecclesiological survey, and I figured that this might be a good place to start. The table of contents detail the figures Karkkainen intends to deal with, and include notable figures such as Hans Kung, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf and Leslie Newbigin. He also expands his discussion of the topic to include a wider international perspective, with considerations of Asian, Latin American and African perspectives. After having read An Introduction to Ecclesiology I hope to have a stronger grasp on the contemporary scene in this important area of theological consideration.
Of the four books, I'm looking forward to reading this one the most. The Economy of Grace was featured in an interview with Kathryn Tanner I happened to catch on InterFaith Voices (NPR). I was fascinated with the idea of a practicable theological economics centrally focused around the concept of grace. What I heard in the interview echoed Yoder's sketches of Jubilee abundance with the attempt at a more detailed, practical outworking. Since questions of neighbor love inescapably involves economics, and the system we imbibe and within which we participate necessarily rewards injustice, a theological conversation with capitalistic ideologies seems as though it should be an invetible challenge of the Church. Here's hoping the conversation doesn't descend into a baptized socialism . . .
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I recently enjoyed reading Stephen Bush’s proposal for a middle-way “between Hauerwas and Constantine” (what he calls “a stereoscopic political theology”, as opposed to the “monosocopic” vision of those who see the church as the only legitimate political enterprise). Bush’s paper did a wonderful job of giving expression to the gastronomic tension which has characterized my contact with the “radical orthodoxy” of neo-traditionalism. The initial enchantment that comes from beholding the magnificent, towering ideology of Yoder’s ecclesiology soon plummets into saddened disbelief at the church that actually exists in our world today. When one’s eyes are open to the extent to which powers and principalities dominate the institutional realities where we live and minister, a conscientious first response is to form apocalyptic communities in the desert rather than face the hopeless task of reform in the church, much less the state. But Bush perceptively points out that while we bear the ethical responsibility of picturing the coming kingdom, our hope is that Jesus will not only make things right in the world, but that he will transform the body of Christ to resemble its ideologue: “to be theologically accurate, we must start by noting that it is the eschaton that is the true political alternative to both nation-state and the church (emphasis mine).” That is to say the church doesn’t merely triumphantly mirror kingdom life in hopes of drawing sinners into our communities, we draw sinners into a shared groaning for God to bring the kingdom in which he establishes justice. Therefore our confession and transparent neediness forms the platform upon which meaningful political cooperation can occur without idolatrous culpability. With this tension between church and state eased (though not finally resolved), it is easier to see how one can act on the inevitable urge to support, pursue and endorse those public policies that manifest neighbor love while not engaging in idolatrous collaboration with alternative kingdoms; and that is a freeing consideration. Christian virtue is free to act outside of the singular desire to simply display Christian virtue – acts of justice, kindness and sacrificial charity can be conducted without fear of distorting ideological baggage being inadvertently attached to such actions. In other words, the desire to communicate Christian ideology doesn’t trump the actual enactment of that ideology for the benefit of those served by it. As far as I understand, Bush isn’t endorsing the Constantinian compromise to effect structural change under detached moral principles for the benefit of all – rather, he’s pointing out the moral responsibility of those who have the power to act justly to act justly even if their actions may not be construed as acts of biblical faithfulness. This, of course, doesn’t collapse the distinctions between the moral pursuits of the church versus those of the state. The church must take special care to not compromise its message in order “to help people”, not least by refusing to divorce its pursuit of particular policies from the storied ethics that drive our concern; but on the other hand we should take seriously the moral responsibility of being de-facto constituents of a participatory (albeit pagan) system.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Grand Rapids Theological Seminary has generously posted some audio links for a seminar on the emerging movement featuring Brian McLaren, Steve Wittmer and and Ed Dobson. I can't wait to listen to the debate and collegial interaction! Go check out the details with the preceding link, or simply download them here:
Session 1: The Emerging Church: Past, Present, and a Kairos Moment
Session 2: The Emerging Church: A Historical/Theological Professor’s Reflections
Session 3: The Emerging Church: A Pastor’s Reflections
Session 4: The Emergent Conversation: Present and Future & Challenges and Potential
Session 5: The Emerging Church: Reflections & Questions
Speaking of the emerging church, I just came across a rather stinging rebuke from Richard John Neuhaus on the subject (mentioned in Harbinger) - perhaps it's worth reproducing below in the hopes of generating some heated opinions.
I have to say that I've got some mixed feelings about Neuhaus' sentiments here: on one hand there is so much nauseating affected excitement within popular Christianity as to bestow the label "movement" with discrediting regularity; and so I am fairly sympathetic with Neuhaus on that score. But on the other hand he seems to dismiss the conceptual engine of the emerging movement, which is far more searchingly academic in character than the straw man he so triumphantly tumbles. To dismiss the important methodological and theological stimuli behind the emerging movement is a brash act of hand-waiving that fails to benefit either side of the issue. In any case, here it is:
Friday, September 16, 2005
Above it you'll find a search window for "google scholar", which attempts to return references and links related to scholarly topics. Here's a search result page for the query "Just War Theory and Aquinas", to get an idea of the sort of results to be expected. Nifty little instrument.
Because the main mission of Soylent Green is a public service to provide miscellaneous information, check back to see local movie times and weather. In fact, maybe I'll add a recipe search window next. Here's one for an herbal tea that boosts lactation, just to whet your appetite:
Breast Milk Tea:
Use 1 teaspoon *each* of fennel, cumin and dill, steeped in 8 oz of boiling water for 15-20 minutes. Drink one cup, three times a day. Results should be noticeable within 24 hours. Then you can increase or decrease frequency as needed. Or you may want to try fenugreek tea or tablets, for the tea: use a teaspoon of whole fenugreek. Steep in boiling water for 15 minutes or so and drink three or more times a day.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Andrew Sullivan, in his TIME magazine article on the one-year anniversary of the attacks, “Most of us know that there is no moving on from Sept. 11. It wasn't a random tragedy for which grief is a slow-acting salve. It was a massacre—a premeditated murder of civilians by men possessed by a theocratic ideology. It was an invasion—the violation of sovereign American soil, the erasure of a visible monument to American success and energy and civilization. It was a crime—the filling of the air of a great and free city with the irradiated dust of innocent human lives. It was a statement—that radical Islam intends to attack and destroy the very principles of the Enlightenment that underpin the American experiment—freedom of religion, of conscience, toleration and secularism.”
Later on in the same article he observed: “[Sept. 11th] showed us that we stand deeply vulnerable to a destructive force in some ways more dangerous than even the last two totalitarian powers Americans were called on to defeat. This enemy refuses to fight with honor; it hides and disappears and re-emerges whenever its purposes are served; it may soon have access to weapons that Hitler and Stalin only dreamed of. But it cannot be defeated the way Nazi Germany and Communist Russia were defeated because it is more like a virus than a host, infecting and capturing nation-states, like Afghanistan, and then moving on to others. So we will have to act to pre-empt it this time, in Iraq and elsewhere, or it will be too late to resist it at all. For Sept. 11 showed that, for the first time in history, the American homeland is actually vulnerable to a deadly foreign enemy.”
These comments aren’t new or revolutionary – they reflect the same oft repeated sentiment offered by the President immediately following the attacks, and that of most Americans: 9/11 has changed the world; nothing will ever be the same again.
As followers of Jesus, what should we make of that sentiment? Has this admittedly horrifying national tragedy really changed the world? In his Olivet discourse Jesus declared, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” These words weren’t meant to be an eschatological escape hatch by which we avoid very real issues for which we are called to be responsible salt and light in favor of more "heavenly" concerns – but the point is clear. We’ve always had war. Humanity has continually witnessed violent rebellion against sovereign nations (that’s how America was born, remember?) – violence, pain, suffering and evil are as old as sin. But these words, "9/11 has changed the world" are not only dissonant with Jesus’ own realism – they also ring hollow to those countries who’ve suffered injustice on an even larger scale before 9/11, and continue to suffer today. American culture tends to insulate us from the concerns of other nations by their sheer irrelevance to our own well-being. The far-removed turmoil of Rwanda, Darfur, or Nepal are so outside the pale of national self-interest as to not qualify as “world changing” horrors for the people of the United States. It seems as though September 11th, 2001 didn’t really change the world – it continues to be mostly devoid of incarnational, self-deprecating neighbor-love.
But there was a day in human history that really did change the world, because it put an end to the politics of death. One day in 30 AD Jesus the Nazarene (a man attested to us by God, who was delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God) we Americans nailed to a cross by our self-involved godlessness and sin. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. Therefore let Americans know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom, by our sin, we crucified. And if Americans are pierced to the heart, let each one of us repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins; and we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for all Americans, and their children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.
The future of America may be uncertain – but the future of those who trust Christ for the forgiveness of sins is not. Their future is a kingdom in which death has been put to death, fear has been exiled, swords have been made plowshares, and all nations and ethnicities have been reconciled into one New Humanity. In this kingdom the law is love, the economy is grace, and the King is God with us. It is a kingdom to come, yet has broken in on our world through the resurrection of Jesus and the Church which His new life empowers through the Spirit.
Rooted in the Spirit’s filling power Paul can raise a defiant voice to the powers that continue to rule below: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Monday, September 12, 2005
And at that a Christian might at first take heart – but consider: what do all those bumper stickers really mean? One author put it this way: “The American people’s yearning for God’s blessing is prompted by a desire for His immediate protection. For many, “Bless America” means simply, “Preserve our nation”. For many others it means something as down-to-earth as, “God don’t let me die. Don’t let my children die. Don’t let my spouse die.” For still others, it might mean something more mundane: “Don’t let the stock market drop any further”; or “Stop the rise in unemployment”. In many mouths it is a prayer for the preservation of our nations freedom and prosperity. “Blessing”, then, is associated with protection, safety, freedom and prosperity.” It seems that what Americans want is health, not holiness; safety, not salvation; wealth, not worship. In short, Americans wants God’s blessing, but they don’t want God.
9/11 showed that America’s faith is very different than Christian faith. The god whose slogan is on all of our currency, the god whose name is invoked by politicians and news media, and the god whose blessing can come on America without repentance and without faith seems to be someone other than the God of the Bible! This god is a lower-case “g” – he has no name. He’s not YHWH, the covenant keeping God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who has revealed Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ – he’s the god of Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, Mormon Americans, pagan Americans, and every American – but he’s not the God Christians worship. He’s a god who can’t deliver, and whose promises to bless and keep America aren’t necessarily endorsed by the Living God.
Americans have always believed that God is with them, and that her heritage somehow underwrites God’s promised blessing to keep them as His people. But God only has one people – the blood bought bride of Christ made up of those who have turned from their sin, been forgiven, and have been incorporated into the Church where Jesus has become their new Lord. That’s not to say, of course, that America can’t come to know the true God and be incorporated into His One people, the Church. Peter said in Acts 10:34-35, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.”
The Gospel is freely available to every nation on earth. But in order to believe, first Americans must forsake their false gods, and the way of life these gods commend. In a word, she must REPENT. The American people have to be willing to do more than make a benign private decision to adopt a new religion; the call to repent is a call to tear down the curtain which seperates private faith from public life. Repentance means that Americans must risk their financial prosperity, military might, and what little they have left of any international respectability to follow Jesus. They have to forsake the alternative path of carnal vengeance, consumeristic selfishness, capitalistic gluttony, colonizing arrogance and cultural decadence in order to embrace the Kingdom Way. Jesus said in Mark 8:34, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Until she does that America can’t even define blessing, much less receive it.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
What evangelicals like myself are a little slower to learn from Job’s friends is the one blessing they actually did bestow upon him, which is, of course, being respectful enough to keep silent for at least a little while (Job 2:13). Four years have passed since Islamic extremists smashed two fully occupied commercial jets into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. In a single day they murdered over 2,900 people; 2,900 souls, including men, women, children, Americans, internationals, Muslims, Christians and pagans, perished in one dreadful instant. The President of the United States declared what many Americans felt after seeing another plane explode into the side of the second building, and as droves of the doomed flung themselves from the towers’ top windows rather than being burned to death – “The world has changed”, he said. There was the almost universal feeling that we weren’t safe anymore.
Four years is a lot of time for reflection, and it’s certainly seems long enough for silence to be broken. But the question is, what sort of words does the Church have to offer? What should we say to these things? It’s potentially a very politically explosive topic for Christians to discuss, given how America has responded since then. Conservatives, liberals and moderates are at war about the war in Iraq, and whether America should or shouldn’t have responded this way to the horrifying events of that day. So what can we say? Not only is it not a very safe topic, but it’s a potentially very confusing one – not even all Christians are sure about whether America should or shouldn’t have responded the way it did. Issues of how the church should relate to the state, what constitutes a just war and whether there is such a thing as a Christian foreign policy aren’t easy subjects; they’re very complicated, and no matter what we conclude, we should approach them with a lot of fear, trepidation and even an appropriate amount of uncertainty (check out some book reviews representing Just War and pacifist variations on the topic).
But there is a message that the Church has to offer Americans in light of Sept. 11th that we can proclaim boldly, without fear, because it is the one thing God has actually given us to say: and that is the message of the Gospel. It’s a message that neither republicans nor democrats can bring, because it’s a message about a kingdom to which they don’t belong. It seems that the one message Americans need to hear about Sept. 11th is something that only the Church can say.
But America isn’t just confused about the Gospel, or ignorant of it; the problem is much worse than that. She believes a gospel, it’s just not the Gospel. When Christians respond to Sept. 11th with the Gospel, we’re not just filling a vacuum in the heart of this country – we’re smashing idols. We are, as Paul says in 2 Co. 10:5, “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” Missionaries to foreign fields spend years studying the culture so that they can determine what kinds of idols and false beliefs need to be confronted with the Gospel; but on Sept. 11th, 2001 God revealed some of these things to us. What emerged in this tragedy for our country was America’s false fears, fruitless faith and her uncertain future. And even though these things have already faded from the minds of most Americans (we’re so quick to forget), I’ll never forget how universally they were on the lips of every American in the months following that attack.
Terror. That’s the word which is still being used to describe what happened, and the purported war on terror(ism) that sprung from it. Never before have people in this country felt so vulnerable – these things didn’t happen in Beirut; they didn’t happen in Israel; they didn’t even happen on an island off the American continent somewhere as with Pearl Harbor – thousands of people were killed by foreign attackers within our borders, under our noses, in our faces, in a major city of the United States. And the enemy proved to be practically invisible! They went completely undetected, and we have no idea how many more of them are still within our borders. The attacks were soon followed with mailed packets of anthrax, and even the possible threat of a manually detonated nuclear attack. If something like this can happen once, it can happen again. And they’re promising that it will.
There are so many levels at which this event exposed American fear, but the most obvious one is the fear of death. Perhaps no other people in the world are as simultaneously both afraid and fascinated with death as the United States is. The fact that we’re afraid of death can be seen in how our society handles it – the dying in this country are invisible – they’re carted off to nursing homes, hospitals, and ultimately funeral homes. Americans never have to see them; we don’t have to touch them, or be reminded that it’s going to happen to us. At the same time Americans spend millions of dollars getting plastic surgery, lathering on cosmetic creams, distracting ourselves with toys and entertainment, and going to Disneyland where one can “be a kid forever”. We try to keep death as far from our eyes as possible, and we’ll spend as much money as it takes to prolong it for as long as possible, because we’re scared to death of death.
But at the same time, we’re fascinated. We parade staged, phony death before our eyes all the time. We witness violent, meaningless death after death on television, movies and in music. One columnist said it this way: “Americans are fascinated with death – so long as it’s done at a distance, done to someone else, and done with special effects.” What made the enemies of America who smashed planes into those buildings so terrifying to Americans is that they don’t share this sensibility – they are willing to die in order to kill us! They don’t cling to their lives or go kicking and screaming into death like we do – they welcome it, they even pursue it with determination. They’re willing to die for their beliefs, which is something that simply does not compute for most Americans who don’t even like waiting in line at the ATM. An enemy that’s not afraid for even his own life scares the hell out of Americans who can’t stand to think about death unless its glamorized in entertaining fiction.
A serious reason that death is so scary to Americans isn’t just the indulgent materialistic lifestyles we live (though that’s a huge part of it – we consume more resources than just about anyone in the world), it’s also the fact that we’re terrified by the meaninglessness of it all – the futility of it. Americans don’t mind if their lives are mostly meaningless; they don’t give much thought to life beyond their own personal happiness – but they can’t stand the fact that their deaths would be meaningless. Americans want meaningful deaths without meaningful lives. And so those who died in the World Trade Center weren’t just victims of senseless violence – they were martyrs of freedom. They were characterized as heroes, every bit as much as the firemen and rescue workers at ground zero. Donald Rumsfeld said in a memorial service following the attacks: “Everyone who died were heroes every day. We are here to affirm that. And to do this on behalf of America.” A nice thing to say – but is it true? Did dying in a terrorist siege transform them into heroes, every day? Why isn’t it enough to characterize them as victims, instead of bestowing this additional honor? As tragic as their deaths were, they didn’t give their lives; their lives were taken from them. But Americans just can’t accept that they would die as victims – if they die, especially at the hands of their enemies, they have to die as heroes so that our collective lives as Americans can mean something more than the selfish way we actually live them. It’s interesting that in George Bush’s speech following the attacks he said that the terrorists were attempting to destroy the American way of life, and that in order to show the terrorists that we won’t stop being Americans, the American people need to . . . shop. If that’s all there is to the American way of life, you can see why Americans don’t do death very well.
But the Gospel confronts our fear of death with freedom. Not necessarily freedom from terrorism, the freedoms of civil liberty or democracy; that’s not the kind of freedom the Church can offer. We can live with terrorism. We can live without civil liberties. We can even live without democracy – Paul did, and so did Jesus. What we can’t live without, and what the Gospel does offer is freedom from death. Hebrews 2:14-15 says, “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through [His] death [on the cross] He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
Americans may enjoy, for this short period of time in history, some political liberties, but they are slaves – slaves to the devil and slaves to their own lusts. The Gospel has set us free from the fear of death, which means we are free to be the people of God: free to love, because we don’t fear the consequences of love, which could be our deaths!
Like the Muslims who murdered those people, we too are willing to die – but unlike them, we aren’t willing to die in order to kill our enemies, we’re willing to die FOR THEIR SAKE! And just as deliverance from death frees us to love, love frees us from the fear of death. As the apostle John said in 1 Jn. 4:18-19, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.19 We love, because He first loved us.”
This doesn’t mean that Christians are without fear; but our fear is far different from America’s fear – ultimately we don’t fear death, fanaticism or the enemies of democracy – we fear the God to whom both believer and unbeliever will answer. Mat. 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Almost 2,900 people died from the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. America’s Gospel says that this was an attack on our political freedom, and that the answer to the slavery of radical Islam is the spread of democracy. But Americans are quick to forget that nearly 2,600 Americans die from heart disease every day, one person every 34 seconds. On Sept. 11, 2001 35,615 people in this world died of starvation, and around 85 percent of those were children under the age of 5. Surgical abortions kill something like 1.5 million American children every year. Part of what made Sept. 11th so difficult for Americans is that it riveted them to that which they’re most terrified to face – they’re going to die. We're enslaved to sin and death, and democracy can’t free us from that kind of tyranny.
Friday, September 02, 2005
Worldvision is focused on shipping much needed emergency supplies through local churches in the affected areas. Please check the link for bulletin insert and donation information.
Also check out an insightful post by Dr. Ben Witherington which brings balance to the evangelical impulse to declare Katrina an act of God's judgement.
If you're interested in audio resources, you may want to check out this lecture on Job and the problem of evil by Eleonore Stump, which is available through the Veritas Forum. Also available are lectures by Peter Kreeft, Ravi Zacharias and William Lane Craig . Hopefully prayer, hands and feet will unite in the Church to bring hope and the power of the new creation to costal sufferers.