Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nigerian Christians and turning the other cheek

Here is an interesting, short piece from Christianity Today about violence against Christians and their responses to it in Nigeria. Which side sounds more reasonable? Which sounds right? Take a look, and think on these things: "Church Leaders Debate Self-Defense."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Martin Luther on authority in the Church

I grew up in the Southern Baptist church in Louisiana. One of the great strengths of that tradition is its emphasis on scripture: Baptists love the Bible, and they understand how fundamental it is to the Christian life. This, you'll sometimes hear, is a credit to the Reformation: Baptists are good Protestants--sola scriptura ('the Bible alone') people.

But is this really what the Reformation was all about? Did the reformers want to rid themselves of any authority other than scripture?
Well, let's see. In 1539, Martin Luther wrote a treatise entitled "On the Councils and the Church," where he spends a lot of time considering the issue of authority. Particularly, what authority should be granted to the Church Fathers and the councils of the ancient Church--specifically the councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) that produced the Nicene Creed and the councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451)--and how such authority is related to the authority of scripture.

Luther admits up front that "the fathers were occasionally very human, and had not overcome what is written in the seventh chapter of Romans." As such, these men can't be entirely trusted--scripture must be our master and judge. Here he's actually echoing the great Church Father, Saint Augustine, who once wrote: "I have learned to hold the Scriptures alone inerrant. Therefore I read all the others, as holy and learned as they may be, with the reservation that I regard their teaching true only if they can prove their statements through Scripture or reason." Again, scripture is the judge, and by it the Christian must measure the words of the Fathers.

Luther turns next to the question of the councils. It's important to remember, he stresses, that the councils and their creeds do not present new articles of faith--they simply reiterate and defend traditional ones found in scripture. In this way, the authority of the ancient Church councils rests entirely on the authority of the Bible: “if there were no Holy Scripture of the prophets and apostles, the mere words of the council would be meaningless, and its decisions would accomplish nothing.”

So far, there's nothing for a Baptist to argue with here. Luther wants us to judge the Fathers by their faithfulness to scripture and to remember that Nicaea, Constantinople, and the other councils stand on no foundation save the Bible.

But as you read on, you might notice something curious.
While criticizing the canon laws of the Roman Catholic church, Luther remarks, "there is too much evil, so much that it crowds out the good, and... a greater measure of good is to be found in Scripture and also in the fathers." What's this? I thought the fathers had been set aside--they're too human to rely on. Is this just a slip of the tongue? Not likely, as that's the second time he makes such a remark in one paragraph. What then?
Martin Luther is making an assumption that someone raised among Southern Baptists would not make, and this is why his words may seem contradictory to us. Luther takes for granted the authority of the Church Fathers, as well as that of the councils. His treatise does not set out to establish their authority--this is a given--but only to show us how to understand that authority rightly. It's an authority that is ever subject to scripture. That is the position of the Protestant reformers (or at least Luther and Calvin, the two everyone is interested in claiming).

And even here, is there really anything for the Baptist to argue with? After all, truth is truth, and it has a claim on us, right? It doesn't matter if your pastor or Saint Augustine says it--if it proves true, according to scripture, then you need to pay attention.

But why is Luther so interested in these Church Fathers anyways? Why not just read the Bible, if it has the final say? This question might sound good at first, but I think it only really makes sense if you haven't read the Fathers. Luther was convinced that there was a great measure of good in their works because he knew them, and he knew from experience that there
are treasures stored therein. If you want to know why Martin Luther thought so much of these ancient Christian writers, then you should just go pick one of them up and see. Athanasius's little book, On the Incarnation, is a great place to start (and you can get it with an introduction by C. S. Lewis--always a plus!). If there is truth to be found here, then we Christians need to be looking for it (Phil 4:8). Martin Luther certainly thought that they could do us some good.

Friday, November 25, 2011

the China price and me

"Everyone wants as much as possible for as little money as possible," he said.

This is the lament of a Chinese factory manager, a supplier of products for Timberland, in Alexandra Harney's The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage. I'll come back to his--Zhang Yisheng's--words in a moment. First, the book.

The China Price, as the title indicates, looks at the cost of our cheap outsourced Chinese manufacturing: the human cost, the environmental cost. Harney describes, mostly through accounts of individual factory workers in one Chinese province, the effects of U.S. multinationals' 'race to zero', the quest for ever-cheaper production of their goods. She gives you glimpses of the impact of poor working conditions on workers' health, the feebleness of western brands' attempts at enforcing compliance with codes of conduct for working conditions and salaries, and a system that leaves no room for extra spending on things like air conditioning or maternity benefits for workers.

One of the problems she describes is particularly telling. Falsification of factory records is rampant in this business, as factories struggle to maintain at least the semblance of compliance with western brands' codes of conduct.

At the heart of the falsification problem is a lack of law enforcement by Chinese officials. Although China's laws on wages and hours are good, they are poorly enforced, particularly in regions that want to attract and retain foreign investment... But the companies themselves, and to a certain extent their shareholders and customers, are also partly to blame. The expectation of simultaneous price declines and improvement in working conditions has put undue pressure on Chinese suppliers and compelled them to cheat.

Here's how that last sentence works out in practice: western brands are tough bargainers, and they constantly shift orders to different Chinese factories, going where the prices are lowest at the moment. Yet, compliance with their demands concerning workers' pay and hours and working conditions will cost the factories extra money, thus increasing the overhead for production at the factory. When it costs more to produce there, the brand takes their business elsewhere. In effect, the brand's insistence on cheap products disallows any improvement of workers' rights in a given factory.

As Zhang said, "everyone wants as much as possible for as little money as possible." It seems to me that this--more than any government corruption, unfamiliarity with talk of human rights, hypocrisy in western executives, or any other factor you could name--this is the real force driving the China price. This is a price that children pay who are working in factories, Chinese workers pay when they aren't given any compensation for overtime hours, domestic workers pay when their jobs are outsourced, and the planet pays, as China is the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, pollutants that have literally crossed the Pacific and been measured on the west coast of the U.S.

It's easy enough for Christians to condemn greed. "Everyone wants as much as possible" is an evil, and we can name it without too much trouble. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal" (Matt 6:19).

But what about the other part? "For as little money as possible." Frugality probably does not strike you as much of a vice. Isn't that just good stewardship, effective use of our resources? Like John Wesley said, we are to make all we can and save all we can, so that we can give all we can. Right?
Maybe this is not always true. Maybe this is not always the most faithful route. Maybe at times following Jesus means paying a higher price so that others can pay a lower one. Today is Black Friday, a day all about savings, as retailers slash prices on everything to meet the American consumer's voracious demands. As the Christmas shopping season kicks off, perhaps this is the perfect time to start thinking about the effects of our spending, beyond the nearest effects on our own bank accounts. Perhaps this is the best time to start asking questions and investigating the ramifications of our savings for our neighbors and God's creation.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Prothero on America, the 'Christian nation'

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University and the author of some recent popular books on religion, like God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter and Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't has written an opinion piece for CNN on Americans' reactions to the recent events at Penn State and the allegations against Republican presidential-hopeful Herman Cain.
I have to give Prothero credit: for someone who self-identifies as "religiously confused," I think the man has a nose for what is and is not a biblical, Jesus-centered, Christian response to the goings on in the world. Check out his piece, and see what you think.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Mississippians are voting on "personhood."

That's right. Today, the people of Mississippi get to cast ballots on a proposed state constitutional amendment that would

define personhood as "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

Recent polling suggests that the amendment will pass. [UPDATE: the amendment was actually voted down on Tuesday.] Meanwhile people are (naturally) arguing over the issue, especially the reality that this is not legislation, but rather the spring board for future, unknown legislation--with this unknown-factor raising the suspicion of pro-choice voters and some calls for caution among politicians and some in the pro-life camp.

First, let me say up front that I am pro-life. I don't just mean 'anti-abortion' here: I'm against war, the death penalty, abortion, or anything else that amounts to government sanctioned killing. When I read the arguments of one pro-choice woman in MS, quoted throughout the CNN article, who advocates "the ability of families to make the choices they want with their doctors," I am almost entirely unmoved. Our American obsession with choices does not give us license to kill. Period. In my mind, the pro-life voice in the article has the much stronger position, countering that this is a human right issue and complaining of the contradictions in a state constitution that supports abortion but prosecutes for "fetal homicide" resulting from an assault on a pregnant woman.

Nevertheless, I see a couple of serious problems in this picture.

First, democracy, the voting public, does not have the authority to decide these questions. That's insanity. I've posted this quote from Cicero on the wardrobe before, but I think it bears repeating:
If it were possible to constitute right simply by the commands of the people... then all that would be necessary in order to make robbery, adultery, or the falsification of wills right and just would be a vote of the multitude.

This ancient Roman statesman saw the problem clearly enough. "The right" is not subject to a vote.

Cicero goes on to object further that the such a vote would subject truth to "the behest of the foolish." I don't intend to make any comment on how educated the voting public in the United States is, but I can say this: I have my high school diploma, a bachelor's degree, and am nearly done working on my master's, and I don't think that I personally have any right to vote on such an issue. There is no shared foundation of beliefs in our culture that can be drawn upon to answer the question the people of Mississippi are being asked. This is the second problem. Biologically, we know what a fetus is, and we know what a human being is, but there's absolutely nothing in biology to tell us whether a fetus ought to be called human. Philosophically and religiously the US certainly lacks the kind of coherence that you would need to answer this kind of existential question. Perhaps the question could have been settled a few centuries ago, when American thinkers could agree that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," but today the nation cannot agree on any 'self-evident truths' upon which to base these sorts of claims.

This is no less true for Christians. As a Christian, I can voice a strong opposition to abortion; I'm convinced that it conflicts with the teachings of Christ and the scriptures more broadly, as well as two thousand years of Christian thought and practice.* Yet even Christians share no consensus on the question of whether life begins at conception or not. This vote is leaving the issue at the mercy of individual whims and opinions, which is no way to handle such an important question.

So, while I am eager to broach the crucial human rights issue of abortion, I'm not comfortable with what's happening in Mississippi today. Even if the amendment passes--a clear victory for the pro-life movement there--I think we are looking at a defeat. This places a power in the hands of voters that isn't theirs to wield, and such a proposed amendment (proposed by a "nonprofit Christian ministry") assumes an easy answer is available to a question that I don't see how anyone, besides a Roman Catholic, can answer either easily or definitively.

There must be a better way to go about this.

* For a powerful example from Christian tradition, consider the words of the early Church writer Tertullian (c. 160- c. 240):
With us, murder is forbidden once for all. We are not permitted to destroy even the fetus in the womb, as long as blood is still being drawn to form a human being. To prevent the birth of a child is a quicker way to murder. It makes no difference whether one destroys a soul already born or interferes with its coming to birth. It is a human being and one who is to be a man, for the whole fruit is already present in the seed.

Apology 9.8

Monday, October 10, 2011

busy times and old posts

If you have checked wardrobe lately you will have noticed the distinct lack of blogging going on here. As usual, school has shown my summer free-time-for-blogging to the door, and most of the free time that's left and might have been so used has been devoted to being a husband. Apparently that takes time too!

So, just to provide those of you stopping by with something, I thought I'd offer a few links to past posts that I thought were good, interesting, or useful. Maybe you've seen them all; hopefully you haven't. Several of these have to do with the question of how we ought to read the Bible; one is about doctrine; one is particularly related to Christian living; one is just fun. Check them out.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Thank you, Dr. Atheist Professor, thank you.

Earlier this week I came across this remark, and I found it downright refreshing. It's nice to hear someone else say this every now and then:
I don't want people like Richard Dawkins to be banned from arguing that Darwinism implies atheism, but I do wish that people like him would bother to learn some Christian theology before they presume to pontificate. Dawkins would be rightly pissed off if someone criticized Darwinism without knowing anything about, say, selfish gene theory.

- Michael Ruse, professor of history and philosophy and science at Florida State University and atheist, in an interview with American Scientist from 2005 [italics added]

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the environment and justice

Last month a friend of mine remarked in the blog comments that, by being environmentally conscious, "we not only care for the environment but we in turn care for people who depend on the environment, which of course is all of us." This point is so simple, and so important. If present human exploitation of the planet's resources is indeed eroding the earth's capacity to support its inhabitants--present inhabitants or those of future generations--then Christians already, without any further theological rationale, have reason to protest, to model a new way of living, over against the wasteful and neglectful practices rampant today.

David Bookless, co-founder of A Rocha UK and author of God Doesn't Do Waste, has written on the intertwining of issues of justice and ecology. The below paragraph, from an essay in Mission in the Twenty-First Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission, offers a startling diagnosis of one point in this convergence. Consider this well (italics added):

Transforming the unjust structures of society must mean addressing not only the global injustices which prevent the poor from accessing development, but also questioning our very aspirations of development towards lifestyles we now find to be unsustainable. At the launch of the Stern Review on 'The Economics of Climate Change' it was rightly commented, 'The impacts are inequitable: poor countries will be hit hardest and earliest, when it is the rich countries responsible for three-quarters of greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere'. Yet, the nettle that nobody will grasp is this - while we believe in justice and a better life for all and support the aspirations of developing nations, there is simply not enough to go around if all earth's citizens want to live at the levels the West considers 'normal'. Statistics vary from country to country, but if everyone wanted to live at the levels of the average UK citizen, we would need more than three planet earths to support the world's current population. Justice must look not only at increasing access for the majority, but at drastically reducing the living standards of the wealthy western minority.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Come O Thou Traveler Unknown"

I recently had the opportunity to preach on the story of Jacob wrestling God in Genesis 32, and I knew early on that I wanted this great Charles Wesley hymn to be a part of that Sunday service. The entire hymn is something like 16 verses, but we contented ourselves with the four in the United Methodist Hymnal. I think this is lovely, and I know that it's not very widely known today, so here it is--enjoy.

"Come O Thou Traveler Unknown"

Come, O thou Traveler unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me by my name,
Look on Thy hands, and read it there;
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
but confident in self despair!
Speak to my heart, in blessing speak,
be conquered by my instant prayer.
Speak, or thou never hence shalt move,
and tell me if thy name is Love.

'Tis Love! 'tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy bowels move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is our faith green? pt. 2

In part 1 we surveyed the biblical picture of the creation. We saw that:
  1. God is interested in the whole world--plants, animals, and all--not just the people, and God plans to redeem that world along with humanity.
  2. The natural world, along with humanity and the angels, offers up praises to God in its own ways. It's the work of a praiseworthy Creator every bit as much as we are.
  3. God gives care to his creation: "When you open your hand, they are filled with good things" (Ps 104:28).

I think that the great agrarian writer Wendell Berry was entirely correct when he remarked that the "conservationist indictment of Christianity is a problem... because, however just it may be, it does not come from an adequate understanding of the Bible." Christians may be culpable in some of humanity's destructive, historical attitudes towards the Earth, but they were not following scripture closely at these points. If the Church allows the scriptures to inform our understanding of the created world around us, then we will inevitably be called to a new, particular kind of holiness: an ecological holiness.

an old commission heard anew
As the first point from part 1 indicated, the bondage of creation in Romans 8, the groans, the decay, all speak to the devastation of sin's reign over this world. This contrasts starkly with the energy of Genesis 1, the explosions of new life, and a young planet lush with potential. It is only after the Fall that the soil of the Earth is placed under a curse (Gen 3:17-19). God's new creation work in Jesus Christ, witnessed to by the New Testament, looks to heal this wound. And humanity plays a crucial role in this new creation.

In Romans 8 we find creation, as N. T. Wright has put it so well, "waiting - on tiptoe with expectation, in fact - for the particular freedom it will enjoy when God gives to his children that glory, that wise rule and stewardship, which was always intended for those who bear God's glorious image." The healing of creation is tied to the redemption of human beings. The Christian is called to "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires... and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph 4:22-24). As God makes us new, restores the image of God in humanity, we need to revisit that command of God in Genesis 1: "fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen 1:28). Humanity was made the stewards of God's world--stewards in the old sense, someone left to care for another's property in his or her absence. As Wright says, it's our true fulfillment of this call that creation waits for--on tiptoe with expectation. It awaits the good dominion of the image of its good God.

This isn't a healing that we can complete of our own efforts and ingenuity, but a work of God that will finally come to pass with the revealing of his sons at the resurrection, at the words: "I am making all things new... It is finished!" (Rev 21:5-6). But the Christian life is nothing other than the living now of the life of the Kingdom coming. We have to strive after this renewed stewardship of the earth in the here and now. This is part of the reality of being new human creations in Christ, and it's especially important today, given the rapid decay the world suffers at human hands.

What would be the marks this renewed stewardship of God's planet? Let's consider the other two biblical points from part 1.
First, right stewardship of the world must keep in mind creation's song of praise to God.
I recently came across this prayer from Walter Rauschenbusch which comes straight to the point:
O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals [and all creatures] to whom thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of humans with ruthless cruelty; so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that all creatures live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee in their place better than we in ours.

The question Rauschebusch forces us to ask is striking: is our use of this planet conducive to the praise of creation we see in the Psalms, or to the groans of travail of Romans 8? Are we treating the world around us as raw material and food, or as fellow creatures praising God together with us? Yes, God has given us provision out of the other creatures of the world, but our use of those creatures far exceeds our need. In the United States alone, 9 billion pounds of food ends up in the garbage every year. Is that a use of the created bounty around us that shows concern for the world's praise of God? What about our treatment of animals raised for food? Are commercial chicken farms places where creatures can flourish and offer jubilant praise to their God? Or do they offer up groans of travail?

Second, right stewardship of the Earth should reflect the image of God's own care for the world. Is the planet satisfied by the fruit of our work (Ps 104:13)? Or is the land poisoned by the chemicals we pump into it, and the water by toxic runoff from the land? Our growing landfills are certainly not filling the world with 'good things'. How can our methods of commercial fishing--not to mention the startling reality of overfishing the oceans--possibly align with God's particular and extravagant care for the world?

So: is our faith green? If by that we mean 'does the Christian faith have within it a mandate to care for God's creation?' the answer is yes. For Christians in the 21st century this mandate is particularly pressing, as we face unprecedented threats to the world, plant, animal, and mineral. Faithfulness in this day must mean, among other things, rethinking how we go about working and keeping the land, or how we indirectly participate in all manner of dominion over the earth that falls shockingly short of God's intentions.

What now?
What should we do? If creation care is inherent in Christianity, how should we live?
The first, absolutely crucial step for all of us (and this is really where I still am) is to be informed. 'Earth' sections can be found on numerous news websites--that might be an easy way to start. (See, for instance, The New York Times and The Telegraph.) Popular books on these issues abound, from Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals to Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded--you don't have to agree with every conclusion these folks draw to learn from their work. There are also documentary films covering the gamut of issues at play in all of this, like the recent film on dumpster diving and food waste, Dive! Because the factors contributing to contemporary ecological devastation are so numerous, this step can be daunting; nevertheless it is crucial.

Of course, we also need to take action. This can take any number of forms. Recycling your plastic bottles or purchasing some reusable grocery bags are among the simplest steps you can take towards a lifestyle that is less exploitative of our planet's resources. Earth911 is an informative and practical site for green concerns. Local Harvest is also a great website for finding out about opportunities in your community for supporting agricultural practices that are less environmentally harmful.
More than all that, some of us, in some congregations and communities, need to be vocal about this. Let fly in your Sunday school class that you're recycling plastic bottles--offer to take some off of other people's hands. This is not the time to labor silently, looking for God's rewards in secret; this is the time for prophetic declarations and demonstrations. The consumer practices of American society, practices in which we have all been entangled in some way or another, defy the Church's call to stewardship of God's world. This collusion must be named and rejected, and the Church must pursue a new way of living in the world. Because of the depth and reach of our failure here, our repentance, our turning, has to be loud and clear.

We must also pray. Perhaps we need to pray the psalms, and allow their understanding of the world sink down deep into us. We might pray for particular concerns we have, local, global, immediate or long term. A simple place to begin might be to allow these familiar words take on new meaning the next time you offer them to God: "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven."

There is so much more to be said, and so many other courses of action before us, but my discussion will have to rest here. As I've said, I'm just beginning to understand and appreciate this issue myself, and my own steps towards a new life alongside God's creation have been small. Still, I'm convinced that the responsibility of 'dominion' laid on humanity is today calling affluent, Western Christians to account. We simply cannot go forward with the understandings, explicit or implicit, of the world that have guided us for so long. Scripture and the harsh realities of the day call us to something new. Our place is to answer, to join God in this aspect of his all-encompassing, new-creation work. It's a much bigger work than we thought.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Is our faith green? pt. 1

I don't have to tell you how a rising 'green' conscience is changing--at least at a surface level--how our society thinks about the environment. Water bottles proudly advertise: "Smaller Cap = Less Plastic." Reusable grocery bags hang before your eyes at every turn, daring you to walk out of that store with disposable plastic bags in tow; recycle bins near the exits offer you an out, in case you snubbed the earlier green option. The owners of hybrid gas-electric and alternative fuel vehicles are routinely offered rebates as well as state and federal tax incentives. An Earth-consciousness is slowly seeping into the popular psyche.

This is also an impulse being embraced by many churches. Recycle bins are filled with worship programs at the end of many a Sunday service. Churches provide community gardens to foster closer ties between people and the land they walk on. (Read, for instance, the story of Anathoth Garden at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church in North Carolina.) We even have The Green Bible, including essays by Christians from across the spectrum--N. T. Wright to Brian McLaren to John Paul II--and printed on recycled paper with "soy-based ink, and water-based coating."
Yet for all the ardor of a green Bible, many Christians are skeptical of this trend, to say the least. This movement as it has been embraced by some Christians has been reviled by others as 'nature worship', cultural captivity, and, worse yet, a thinly veiled liberal political agenda.

Where should we stand on these matters? Is this a legitimately Christian concern, or has the church adopted some popular, secular interests?

Creation in the Bible
As usual, I want to start with the Bible, because I'm convinced that the Bible tells us who we truly are and gives us a story for understanding the world around us in truth.
Many readers are convinced that scripture's teaching on "the heavens and the earth," the plants, and the animals is pretty straightforward: these things will pass away. The Bible is really concerned with the story of humanity, and the redemption of humanity. The other works of God's hands are fleeting, and they ought to be on the periphery (at best) of our vision and aims.

This is simply not true. Humanity is at the heart of God's saving work as it's witnessed to in scripture--the Word became flesh--but God's plan is for all of his creation, not human beings alone. If we think our Lord is not interested in the non-human creation, that these things are simply going to pass away, we need to look at the Bible again.

Romans 8 is often cited in this discussion, and rightly so. Here Paul offers us a vision of God's redemptive work that is much wider in scope than we might expect. At the heart of the letter to the Romans, he writes:
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (8:19-23)

Just as we await the resurrection, the whole creation likewise awaits a redemption from its bondage to decay. As John Wesley commented here, creation is not going to be destroyed but delivered. The created order is awaiting the revealing of the sons of God, the people of God who will worship the Lord and exercise right stewardship over the world--the restoration of God's intentions for humanity in Genesis 1-2. This is the end that God's saving work is moving towards. Salvation is so much bigger than we have been giving it credit for.

We also see the picture of a restored creation in Isaiah, where we are given a striking image of the animal world at last at peace. "The wold shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat..." (11:1-9; see also 65:17-25). My favorite is the image of the bear and the cow grazing together. The prophet does not envision a great, climactic work of saving individual men and women, but a restoration for all of God's creatures, down to the animals. This is the reality of the new heavens and the new earth. This is the substance of God's words in Revelation: "See, I am making all things new... it is done!" (21:5-6)
The Bible's story of salvation is a story about all of creation, not just humankind. Maybe this truth will help us hear the Jesus' Great Commission in Mark with new ears: "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation" (16:15). This is good news for the whole creation.

This shouldn't surprise us. After all, the biblical authors see plants and animals as gloriously more than simply the raw materials necessary for our well-being. The Psalms remind us again and again of the full, scriptural vision of creation.
Psalm 148 in a bright shining example of this: this poem pans across the whole of creation, showing the praise of God on all lips. The angels and heavenly hosts praise God, the sun and moon, fish, hills, the fruit trees, beasts and livestock, and, finally, humanity. Taken together, all of Gods works--not just human beings, not even just men and angels--all of God's works offer praise to their maker in a a great symphony of creation.
The world is not simply a resource at our disposal: it is the Lord's (Ps 24:1); it offers up praise to him; he rejoices in it (104:31), and he intends to redeem it. Anything less than this falls short of the scriptural portrait of our planet.

Psalm 104 provides a final, crucial element in our whirlwind survey of creation in the scriptures: God provides for his creation.
We see especially in vv. 10-30 God's unbridled attentiveness to the creatures he has made: giving water to wild donkeys and cedars alike, a home to the stork, food for man and beast, refuge to rock badgers, creatures to play in the seas. The psalmist is reveling in the vast menagerie the greets her eyes, and she insists that God gives care to every obscure corner of it. "The earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work" (104:13). Our Maker in hands-on in his continuing care for his world.

In part 2, we'll think about where to go from here--how should Christians live, in light of a biblical picture of the Earth?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

what is a biblical prophet?

I was reminded today of some interesting observations in Walter Brueggemann's classic book, The Prophetic Imagination. Brueggemann opens the first chapter with a description of the "tired misconceptions" that plague study of the Old Testament prophets.
The dominant conservative misconception, evident in manifold bumper stickers, is that the prophet is a fortune-teller, a predictor of things to come (mostly ominous), usually with specific reference to Jesus. While one would not want to deny totally those facets of the practice of prophecy, there tends to be a kind of reductionism that is mechanical and therefore untenable. While the prophets are in a way future-tellers, they are concerned with the future as it impinges upon the present.

'Conservative' readers of the Bible, Brueggemann suggests, think of a prophet exclusively in terms of prophesying about the future. This is the reductionism he's talking about, and he insists that this is a mischaracterization of the Old Testament prophets. After all, the prophetic words quoted by the New Testament authors make up just the tiniest bit of the enormous books of prophecy in the Old Testament. The prophets have other intentions.

Brueggemann continues:
Conversely, liberals who abdicated and turned all futuring over to conservatives have settled for a focus on the present. Thus prophecy is alternatively reduced to righteous indignation and, in circles where I move, prophecy is understood as social action...

'Liberals', on the other hand, reduce prophecy to a call to social justice. Yes, social action does loom large in the prophetic books (a fact some conservative readers may not be aware of--I know, because I remember the shock of learning it myself), but it is not the whole of biblical prophecy.
It's not surprising that this Old Testament scholar thinks both approaches fail to really grasp the ancient Israelite understanding of prophecy.

Do either of these camps sound familiar to you? While I know what he's talking about, I have never moved in the liberal circles Brueggemann did. My upbringing tended in the other direction.
In the church I grew up in, 'the prophets' were limited--unintentionally, of course--to Jonah and Daniel. They might also pop up around Christmas, heralding the coming of Christ through the words of Isaiah. This left me, and probably many others, with an odd picture of the prophet: he is one called to deliver the word of God, which is usually a cryptic word that can only be deciphered by a look to the future: the time of Jesus, or even to the present. And occasionally prophets are swallowed by big fish. Prophecy was "futuring," describing coming events in God's work, whether that's the incarnation or the crucifixion, or the international, political maneuvers that will trigger Jesus' return.

Unfortunately, this idea of a prophet sends you back to scripture with some odd reading glasses on. Daniel, Revelation, and some spots here and there in the other prophets fit your mold; the rest don't, and they usually get ignored because of it. In the end you're left with wrong-headed way of reading a few books, and the others you don't read at all. That was my experience, at least, and maybe it will sound familiar to you.

Brueggemann wrote these words over thirty years ago, but his descriptions still hold true in a lot of ways. Perhaps then we should pay some attention to the alternative he suggests:
The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.

The people of God are called to live as an "alternative community" in the midst of the world. At times that people loses sight of this vocation, though, and their faith, their distinctiveness, is domesticated. They cease to offer an alternative to the ways of the world. This is where the voice of the prophet is needed, reminding the people that the order of the present world is illegitimate and must be rejected. God has promised a newness that they are to live in anticipation of. Thus the word of the prophet is, as he said, about the future "as it impinges on the present." The prophet's words are meant to reorient us towards God's coming kingdom, so that we can live as God's people in the world now.

How does that image of the prophet sound to you? Does it seem to capture well what the ministries and Ezekiel and Isaiah are aiming at--not just Daniel? Does it give the prophets more of a word for the church today? After all, if they're only speaking about the end of the world, their word to us might not seem too important unless that end is very near.

How are you reading the prophets? What kind of preconceptions are you bringing to scripture here? How has it hindered (or helped) your hearing of God's word?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Christians and the environment

Christianity Today recently interviewed Eugene Peterson and Peter Harris on a Christian approach to the environment. Peterson is probably best known for The Message, his popular paraphrase of the Bible, but I've found much of his other work to be really thoughtful and provocative.

Lately I've been considered writing a bit on Christians and the environment, as I feel that--while in some quarters this topic is probably over-emphasized--in many churches this question has yet to be raised, this challenge yet to be faced. With any luck, I'll get to this in the near future. Until then, enjoy this interesting interview.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Resurrection of the Body

I had a conversation last year that left me a little shocked and not a little frustrated.

"I believe in the separation of the body and spirit at death."
"But what about the resurrection of the body?"
"Is it the resurrection of the body?"
"That's what the creed says."
"... but what is 'the body'?"

At this point I, the second voice, was caught in something of a stunned silence. I was listening to a well-educated, intelligent, confessing Christian deny the bodily resurrection of the dead. I don't remember now what exactly I said next--only being dissatisfied with it and thinking of a hundred better responses later that day.
Of course, for all my talk about being 'shocked' or 'stunned' I realize that I might have had the same conversation with a hundred thousand different people across the US. There is some serious confusion here; which is why I'm blogging on it. This post won't reach a hundred thousand people, but it might reach a handful, and that's better than none.
So let's talk about the resurrection of the body.

"I believe in... the resurrection of the body"
This is a clause in one of the ancient creeds of the Church, the Apostles' Creed. This classical statement of faith concludes: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen." Christians have been confessing a future, bodily resurrection since the earliest centuries of the Church.
We see this not only in the creeds, but also in the early Church Fathers. As early as Polycarp (c. 69-c. 155) and Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 ), one who denied the resurrection of the body--even if they affirmed the immortality of a disembodied soul--was considered to be no Christian at all.
If you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians...

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 80

Saint Augustine later claimed that "all Christian doctrine perishes" if we take away faith in the resurrection of the dead.
These are strong claims. Where did the Fathers get such confidence? And what do we make of it? Clearly people have believed in a bodily resurrection for a long time, but is this a biblical idea?

The short answer is 'yes, absolutely.'

the Resurrection in scripture
The most powerful discussion of the resurrection in the Bible, I find, is in 1 Corinthians 15. Here Paul discusses, among other things, the centrality of Jesus' own resurrection to the gospel and the implications of Christ's resurrection for the eternal hope of believers. This long, detailed, and adamant discourse came after the apostle discovered that some in the church in Corinth had dispensed with a belief in the resurrection of the dead, the raising of corpses (15:12). Paul, anticipating Augustine's confession centuries later, reasoned that if the dead are not raised, inevitably "our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (14).

Paul says much in the chapter that is pertinent to our topic, and I encourage you to go and study 1 Cor 15 closely, but here I will highlight two claims the apostle makes:

  • Jesus is "the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (20). The "firstfruits" are but the beginning of the season; just as Christ was raised, so the full resurrection harvest is yet to come. The death Adam brought into the world reaches out and touches all, and likewise the resurrection that came with Christ will come to all at His return (21-23). Easter was the beginning of the final resurrection of the dead.
  • In the resurrection of the dead, we will "bear the image of the man of heaven," Jesus (49). This is "a resurrection like His," as Paul writes elsewhere (Rom 6:5; see also Phil 3:20-21). This is, finally, Paul's answer to the question "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" (1 Cor 15:35ff). If you want to know, look at the body of Jesus.
Our expectation of resurrection and our very understanding of resurrection are rooted in the risen Lord Jesus.
Here, then, is the answer to my friend's question: "but what is 'the body'?"
'The body' is the thing that came out of the grave on Easter morning. This thing could enter a room through locked doors, but it could also be touched, and could ingest broiled fish. This is no disembodied spirit. The portrait of the future resurrection is a real body--different, made new and changed, but very real.

Richard Hays, who for my money may be the finest New Testament scholar alive today, summed up the early Church's belief (and 1 Cor 15) well:
The early Christians proclaimed that God had broken the power of death by raising Jesus bodily from the grave; therefore, the New Testament writers and the early Christian creeds looked forward to the resurrection of the body as the consummation of God's redemptive action in the world.

Belief in the bodily resurrection flows naturally out of our confession of the victory of God in the resurrection of Jesus.

a full, Christian hope
The gospel, then, is not about "this soul, stranded in some skin and bones" (sorry, Bono). That's the ancient pagan philosophers talking--an attitude that has quietly crept into the Church's popular theology. Paul's gospel was mocked by many of his hearers in Athens precisely because of his belief in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 17:32). The 2nd century Greek thinker Celsus ridiculed this hope, calling it "the hope of worms"--and he sure didn't say that because Christians believed in the eternal bliss of a disembodied spirit. Any notion today of a soul going off to heaven at death is the descendent of this ancient pagan thought, not the Christian teaching. The Church has always witnessed to God's healing, not discarding, of the body.

I realize that this will all sound pretty scandalous to a lot of people. We're so used to the comforting talk of escaping the sufferings and difficulties of our bodies. It's a message that you hear at many Christian funerals, from the pulpit and in the private consolations offered to the bereaved. The idea is that we can take hope--we who are left behind, or we who look forward to freedom from our own pain--in the knowledge that the troubles of life on earth will pass away for eternity. We just have to hang on.

There's a grain of truth in this, but it's taken the wrong way. Yes, there is freedom ahead, and a time when "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore" (Rev 21:4). These old things will pass away.
But this does not come with the abandoning of the body. We do not, in death, throw off the flesh like a husk that has served its purpose. The body is not abandoned but transformed. God is going to make all things new. That's the heart of the gospel and the hope of believers. Suffering, all enmity, and the poisoning of our bodies that came in Eden will be extinguished--all of Creation will be put right. "'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:54-56).

That is the hope of the resurrection of the body. As long as we feed each other a different message of another 'hope', we are missing out on the power of the truth of the gospel to heal and minister to the people of God.

Much of this post is indebted to the work of Richard B. Hays, "The Resurrection of the Body: Carnis resurrectionem" in Exploring and Proclaiming the Apostles' Creed and Brian E. Daley, "A Hope of Worms: Early Christian Hope" in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

"second meanings" in the text

As my last post indicated, lately I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms, as I prepare to teach a Bible study on the Psalms for Spring Hill United Methodist Church this summer. It’s been some time (almost two years!) since I’ve been able to really read Lewis, and I’ve really enjoyed this visit with an old friend. He’s as interesting as ever.

In chapter 10 of the Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis is musing on the Church’s traditional claims that the Old Testament is often speaking of the New—that the ancient Israelite authors frequently speak about the events of Christ’s life or the doctrines of the Christian faith, though they probably do not know it. For instance, when St. Augustine read Psalm 18:9—“He bowed the heavens and came down”—he thought only of Jesus: the one who would “descend to men’s infirmity.” As Lewis puts it, “the full significance of what the writers are saying is, on this view, apparent only in the light of events which happened after they were dead.” This is one way the Church worked out the meaning of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 24:27 that “all the Scriptures” can be interpreted with reference to himself.

In the discussion that follows, the Inkling does not try to account for these “second meanings” in the Psalms themselves; that comes in a later chapter. Lewis does, however, consider this general idea of second meanings in texts, reading an author’s words “in light of that fuller truth and hearing it in them as an overtone or second meaning.” This, he suggests, is not “foisting on them something alien to his mind, an arbitrary addition,” but “prolonging his meaning in a direction congenial with it.”
Lewis sees this move as distinct from, on the one hand, claiming prophetic inspiration or, on the other hand, dismissing apparent similarities between an earlier word and a later reality as coincidence. Essentially, he’s looking for an agreeable rationale for the identification of, say, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah with Jesus Christ. The route he follows towards this rationale is, I think, brilliant and provocative—though I’m not ready to endorse what follows.

Two examples are crucial in his discussion. The first is a fiction. Suppose a biologist teaching on adaptation describes a hypothetical animal that has evolved in a particular, hypothetical environment. Some time later, such an animal is in fact discovered, and it is, of course, in just the sort of environment the biologist had described. “This resemblance,” Lewis claims, “is not in the least accidental. Insight and knowledge, not luck, led to his invention. The real nature of life explains both why there is such a creature in the universe and also why there was such a creature in his lectures.” The man’s intimate knowledge of the operations of the world refined and directed his imagination as he made an example for his students—refining and directing it towards truth.

The second example comes from the writings of Plato (c. 429- c.347 BC). In the Republic, the Greek philosopher suggests the righteousness may only be understood in its true nature if one imagines “a perfectly righteous man treated by all around him as a monster of wickedness. We must picture him, still perfect, while he is bound, scourged, and finally impaled (the Persian equivalent of crucifixion).” Is it a coincidence, Lewis asks, that Plato’s picture of righteousness evokes so clearly the death of Jesus some four hundred years later?

Plato is talking, and knows he is talking, about the fate of goodness in a wicked and misunderstanding world. But that is not something simply other than the Passion of Christ. It is the very same thing of which that Passion is the supreme illustration… If Plato, starting from [the example of Socrates, recently executed] and from his insight into the nature of goodness and the nature of the world, was lead on to see the possibility of a perfect example, and thus to depict something extremely life the Passion of Christ, this happened not because he was lucky but because he was wise. If a man who knew only England and had observed that, the higher a mountain was, the longer it retained the snow in early spring, were led on to suppose a mountain so high that it retained the snow all the year round, the similarity between his imaged mountain and the real Alps would not be merely a lucky accident. He might not know that there were any such mountains in reality; just as Plato probably did not know that the ideally perfect instance of crucified goodness which he had depicted would ever become actual and historical. But if that man ever saw the Alps he would not say “What a curious coincidence”. He would be more likely to say “There! What did I tell you?”

Because Christianity is true, the logic goes, Plato’s true insights centuries before Christ become entangled with that truth, and so can indeed be said to speak to the reality of Jesus. The Passion of Christ is a genuine second meaning of this passage in the Republic. It is not the meaning Plato had in mind, but it is "congenial with it."

(This is, I believe, how Lewis understood his own Narnian stories as well. What happens at the Stone Table in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is not supposed to be an allegory for the death of Christ. Instead, it’s the story of another world where truth is still true. Aslan had to die, just as Jesus had to die, because this is simply how things are, and how things are redeemed. Good Friday is thus a genuine second meaning to the story.)

Lewis is not trying to prove anything here. He doesn’t present this discussion as evidence that the psalmists of ancient Israel (or anyone else) did in fact somehow write of Jesus of Nazareth centuries before his birth. He simply offers this as an explanation for why reading the Old Testament in this way may not be such a bad thing. Truth, which is perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ, will always look a certain way, no matter who says it or when it is said. Every now and then, the finest minds may just glimpse it, even if the revelation itself is still to come.

What do you think of this? Does this make Christian readings of the Old Testament any easier to swallow—if they were at all distasteful to begin with? What about Lewis’s assumptions about the nature of truth and revelation?

As I said, I think it’s a really brilliant discussion. Still, I’m quite sure where I stand on the question as a whole.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lewis on the Psalms

The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance… I am comparing it with the merely dutiful “church-going” and laborious “saying our prayers” to which most of us are, thank God not always, but often, reduced. Against that it stands out as something astonishingly robust, virile, and spontaneous; something we may regard with an innocent envy and may hope to be infected by as we read.

- C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms chapter 4, "The Fair Beauty of the Lord"

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

the Lord's Prayer and practical Christian unity

This week blogger Rachel Held Evans is hosting the Rally to Restore Unity. To join in, here is a short word on the topic that some people may need to hear.

The prayers of Jesus in the Gospels have a lot to say about Christian unity.
One might immediately about the 'High Priestly Prayer' of John 17, where our Lord utters words that ought to keep Christians up at night.
My prayer is not for [my disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

That's right folks, Jesus--whom we might expect to have other things on his mind just before his arrest--prayed for the unity of believers. He does not pray for right theology, strength amidst trials, that his followers keep themselves unstained by the world, or any number of other important things. The Son requests of his Father that "all of them may be one," and he implies that the proclamation of the Church--that Jesus was sent by the Father--hangs to some extent on the unity of the Church.

Unity is nice to talk about, but talking (even coming to some brilliant conclusions!) does not effect unity, bring together disparate communities, right?

Well, actually it can.

Blog posts about unity, books about unity, sermons, are meant to prod the flock towards action, but that may or may not bear any fruit. Those words don't effect anything in and of themselves.
But Jesus has given us some other words that do.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Here Jesus doesn't pray for unity; he holds out words around which all his disciples may come together, unified in prayer.

Some Christians might chime in at this point that the Lord's Prayer is not meant to be prayed, but to provide a model for our own prayers. After all, Jesus says "pray like this" (6:19). Granted, this is what Christ says in the ESV--though other translations may shock you--in Matthew. In Luke, however, Jesus' teaching is a little different:

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." And he said to them, "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name..." (Luke 11:1-4)

This is not a model; it's a command. 'When you pray, say this.'
Rather than looking at this as some tired, barren ritual that needs to be discarded in favor of contemporaneous prayers 'from the heart', maybe we should trust Jesus. Trust that he knew the right words to give us, that there is fruitfulness in this prayer beyond measure. I have found this to be so.

If, then, we can agree to take up the prayer Jesus has taught us, we'll suddenly find that we're with company. We're shoulder to shoulder with persecuted believers in China and Iran; we're flanked by 1st century believers in Jerusalem and 4th century monks in Egypt; our voices join with the believers in Calvin's Geneva, as they pray these words twice in every Sunday morning service. This is and has been the prayer of the Church from the ministry of Jesus to the present day. This is and has been the prayer of the Church from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The Lord's Prayer gives Christ's followers one voice, even if just for a moment. We are united around our Father, his kingdom and his will, his gracious provision and forgiveness.
We may finish our prayers and go back to bickering about what these words mean today. I suppose there's no avoiding that. All we can do is trust Jesus yet again--trust that his Spirit will lead us in to truth. In the meantime, we are to love one another (John 13:34; 15:12, 17).

This is a small step towards Christian unity, but it is a practical one. This is a prayer the Southern Baptist and the Roman Catholic can say together; the gay Episcopalian priest and the Methodist with a traditional view of sexuality; the Anglican who recites the Creeds and the man who insists on 'sola scriptura!' The Lord's Prayer is Jesus' gift to all of us. Perhaps as we say it the world will see, even just for a tantalizing instant, "that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." It's a small step, but it is a step. Let's take it together.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

a nice quote

Science is not a sinister enterprise aimed at destroying faith. It’s an honest exploration of the wonderful world that God created.

That's from a recent opinion piece on CNN by the vice president of BioLogos, Karl Giberson, "Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you." It's a really nice statement I think, and it really speaks to the opinions that so many hold.
The article itself is not bad; read it if you like, but I'm not really recommending it. I agree with his conclusions, obviously, but he's not saying anything new, and won't convince anyone who is disinclined towards the beliefs of groups like BioLogos. But there's something to that quote.

For those of you eagerly awaiting real posts on wardrobe (so, so many of you...), the semester is wrapping up, and with any luck I'll be able to post some more substantial pieces in the near future!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bono on Jesus (among other things)

This is an excerpt from an interview with Bono in Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, and it's fantastic. It's hard to describe, so I'll leave it to you. But Bono's been reading his C. S. Lewis.
Check it out!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

One more time: tanning is bad.

I have featured articles on tanning beds on wardrobe numerous times over the years, and this is the crown jewel: the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for laws to ban minors from tanning parlors. Amen to that. Check out the link.

If you're interested in older posts on tanning, look here and here.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rowan Williams montage

Today is the Feast of George Herbert, and it was 8 years ago today that Rowan Williams was enthroned as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury. I've recently been doing quite a bit of research on issues in the Anglican Communion, and I have learned one thing well that I did not expect to discover going into this: there are a lot of cool pictures of Rowan Williams out there. So, in commemoration of his assuming the See of Canterbury, I offer this, the first annual wardrobe Rowan Williams montage! Enjoy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Kierkegaard on Love

I love Kierkegaard. This is from his Journals:

Here Luther is again completely right. No one can see faith; it is unseen: therefore no one can decide whether or not a man has faith. But faith shall be known by love. Now men have indeed wanted to make love into an unseen something, but against this Luther, together with Scriptures, would protest, for love is Christianly the works of love. It is really an un-Christian conception of love to say that it is a feeling and the like. This is the esthetic definition of love and therefore fits the erotic and everything of that nature. But Christianly love is: the works of love. The love of Christ was not inner feeling, a full heart, etc.; It was rather the work of love, which is his life.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rachel Held Evans wants to love God with her mind

I thought this was--as usual--a thoughtful and very frank piece from Rachel Held Evans. She's not quite writing about evolution, though the topic does come up, but is really trying to draw attention to the difficulties of trying to love God with one's mind in American evangelicalism.

I'm reminded of the opening line from Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, to which it sounds like (perhaps ironically, here) Al Mohler would object: "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."

Check out the post over on RHE.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Baptists and social drinking

The Associated Baptist Press reports that the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (SBC) has recently decided to 'study' the question of social drinking.

Good for you, North Carolina.

Though I have not been attending a South Baptist church for the last year, my membership is still with an SBC-affiliated body, and I have been heavily involved in SBC churches for the last decade. So you can take my opinion with a grain of salt, or however you like it. But I for one and glad to hear about this development--though I doubt that this will lead to any significant changes in the South Baptist stance on alcohol use (total abstinence) in North Carolina or anywhere else. The very fact that the question is being raised is good enough for me at this point.

As I have blogged before, I do not support drinking. I think alcohol abuse is too great an evil in the US for Christians to (and not all drinking Christians do this, I know) thoughtlessly engage in social drinking. This may not be the case in other countries, but here I find it to be so.
Nevertheless, I agree with C. S. Lewis that a crusade for 'biblical teetotalism' such as that you regularly find in the SBC is "tyrannic and unscriptural insolence." The scriptural support just isn't there (regardless of what Mr. Lumpkins might suggest in the ABP article), and I resent a vocal misrepresentation of the Bible's teachings. That is why I am glad to hear of Baptists raising such issues--of all places, in a denomination where scripture is given such emphasis and authority, the Biblical word on drinking ought to be faithfully taught and preached. Once this is taken care of, then I'll ask the SBC to consider supporting prohibition.

But in the meantime, good for you, North Carolina.