Monthly Archives: January 2014

Evangelicals: On Reading History Sympathetically

I was reading Rachel Held Evan’s blog about the Bible here.

My buddy, Brent L. White deals with her hermeneutical approach here. See also, Glenn Peoples post here that Brent refers to.

My approach is going to be slightly different in this post. I’m not going to deal with her hermeneutical approach but more with her historical approach or lack thereof and her point of hindsight. In her blog, Evans makes several quotes on different issues found within the Church in general, as well as evangelicalism and more specifically fundamentalism. She has quotes about inter-racial marriage, slavery, science (specifically the Galileo controversy ie., the terra centric and thus a anthropological view of the universe), the annihilation of North American tribal peoples, women’s suffrage, and lastly segregation.

The whole project of RHE’s is that she wants to show that we cannot have certainty as certainty about something has not only been shown to be wrong upon further enquiry but has also been the condition that is present wherein we commit atrocities in the name of God. It also seems to be the case that if we can be shown to be inconsistent in one place, we may be inconsistent in another. Personally, I’m rather sympathetic to the certainty issue and not so much with the inconsistency one.

Regardless, there seems to be an inconsistency on her part because, well, she is a product of evangelicalism itself and as a result could be even more charitable than she makes herself out to be (“Look at the history of the church! [in those quotes] Terrible!”). What I mean by that is this. Evangelicals are notorious for being ahistorical. For example, this is seen in our churches when we come together to worship. Our buildings are rid of liturgical artifacts and we don’t realize when it comes to Bible reading that we read with rose coloured glasses– ie., that our biblical approach is not “objective.” And the same could be applied to what RHE is bringing up in her post. That is, she basically takes history out of it’s historical context. It’s not all about hindsight or progress. What we might want to do is ask about RHE’s and those who look at history the same way she does if they make a proper “distinction between those who love(d) history and those who use(d) history” for their own ideological purposes.

In other words, LOOKING BACK on history we might see what we think is an inconsistency but it is only an inconsistency with OUR times and not necessarily with their OWN times. History is a complex art. Not only must we get our facts right (which I’m not so sure RHE’s does even here on some if not most of those quotes) but we need to balance those facts against the wider backdrop of the times in which those acts took place much of which can come up with significant different interpretations which is ultimately why we have different volumes of books on specific events and persons of history.

One of the things that irks me about evangelicals deals specifically with the ahistorical and thus uncharitable view of that “bastard child” fundamentalism. Yes, there is progression. Yes, we move on to other questions. But I’m not referring to that. I’m referring to looking specifically at the HISTORY of fundamentalism with charitable eyes. Let me provide an example of this.

The other day I was reading a bit of a book called, “The Sword of Lord” by Andrew Himes. The book is an excellent part biography (as Himes was related to some of the big names within fundamentalism as a movement) part history book of fundamentalism. The nice thing about Himes’ book, is that it is sympathetic towards fundamentalism. It’s not that he agrees with fundamentalism it’s that he seems to realize that nothing occurs within a vacuum of sorts especially, in this case, a historical vacuum. Here are a few paragraphs I found interesting in the book.

“In general, a fundamentalist outlook made a lot of sense in a world in which you needed to be certain where to stand in order to survive the next day and to defend the lives and welfare of your family. Fundamentalism was a rational, and emotional, response to a dangerous world where you needed to know who was a sheep and who was a goat, who was for you and who was against you, who might slip a blade between your ribs and who would love you back.

Likewise, fundamentalist religion has reflected the absolutism of fundamentalist politics. Historically, Christian fundamentalists in America focused on identifying and proclaiming the set of doctrines or beliefs that have been held by orthodox Christians since about the fourth century the blood atonement, the virgin birth, the inerrancy of Scripture, the resurrection of Jesus, and his awaited return. Fundamentalists then militantly defended those doctrines against perceived heretical threats from liberals and modernists in the early twentieth century. It is striking, however, that those doctrines deemed “fundamental” did not include such core Christian doctrines as the Triune nature of God. They did not include the doctrine of salvation by faith through grace (the heart of the Protestant Reformation). And they included nothing from the revolutionary teachings of Jesus during his earthly ministry.

It is evident that the selection of ‘The Fundamentals” a century ago was time-bound, driven by the specific terms of a battle over doctrine fought by two groups of people bitterly opposed to each other.

But what happens to fundamentalism when its original enemies have succumbed to the passage of time or have been replaced by new opponents and the specific terms of the debate of a century ago become irrelevant? How does fundamentalism remain relevant in a world of evidently breathtaking diversity an array of different spiritual practices, philosophies, and explorations of the meaning of God and spirit none of which can seemingly claim to be authoritative? What does fundamentalism evolve into when the children of fundamentalists turn out to be more interested in following Jesus and practicing Christian, love than arguing over arcane points, of doctrine?”

I think RHE could not only be a better historian (not someone who uses history for ideological purposes) but someone who realizes the complexity of history and tries to balance it with a more charitable and sympathetic understanding.

The Problem of Single Issue Voting

My online buddy, Derek Rishmawy has an interesting post on single issue voting in the context of abortion that you can read here.

I like how he puts the issue within historical context ie., nobody ever complained when MLK marched against racism and racism only, or women’s rights or ecological rights for the environment. I also liked how he was sensitive not to make general statements about individual cases though the fact remains that one cannot simply believe that there is not some level of “convenience” that is the reason behind so many abortions per year in the U.S. and the total amount of abortions overall since Roe vs Wade. I know this doesn’t sit well with many folks because for them it’s obvious that abortion is a very heart-wrenching, personal matter. But let’s face it–1.2 **MILLION** abortions a year are due to very heart-wrenching painful decisions? Well, not really. Not when the reason is say, standing in the way of future career goals or when we have a culture whose first response to a crisis pregnancy is not one of life but death. Regardless, this post is not about abortion per se, but rather about single issue voting.

As much as I liked the comparisons between each of the single issues that Rishmawy brings up, I still think it fails but not for the reason he gives. On his reasoning, one could still end up voting or concentrating on single issues which I think are not good from a philosophically political stance. After all, what if you get a candidate in office who may believe in life here on the one hand, but votes or passes laws that undermine that very life you are trying to save over there on the other hand? What if he/she votes for laws that weaken the family such that it causes a woman to not want to keep her child? This is the problem of single issue voting as I see it. Whenever we vote for someone, we need to keep in mind questions about the overall competency of the candidate, soundness of mind, voting record on this or that issue, etc. In doing this, I’m not saying that other issues would not be important and life issues wouldn’t be “up there” in terms of priorities, but there can be contradictions if we are not careful to weigh EVERYTHING.

Jesus Clad in American Mythology or Cultural Location?

Here’s a nice little quote I keep going back to from a book I bought a number of years ago from a Christian book store in the Detroit area. The book is called, “Nine Great American Myths: Ways We Confuse The American Dream With The Christian Faith” by Pat Apel. The quote:

“The problem arises, as Calvin pointed out, when we assign to Jesus a character different from that which He received from God. In the derision of Jesus during the passion, the Roman soldiers dressed Him in purple as King of the Jews. They were using Jesus to mock the Jewish insurrectionists of the day. Halford Luccock writes that ‘this indignity has been afflicted upon him again and again. More than once has he been…clad in costumes that do not fit his personality, with the result that the man who walks before us has been so completely disguised as to be unrecognizable.’

When we place Jesus in the garb of the American mythology, we are repeating the mockery inflicted upon Him during the Passion week. That is the problem with American religion–it renders the Christian faith unrecognizable.”

I think a lot of times the Christian Church has blind-spots in which that “draping of Christ” with some cultural aspect or another goes on for quite some time. And thus, she is not going to be spotless. In some instances though, it may be so imbedded into her theology that it’s hard to separate the two if even it should be separated (and there may be reasons for this ie., the possible perception of the undermining of authority).

In other words, it’s hard to imagine ANY form of Christianity that is not historically and culturally located and thus, those “barnacles that attach themselves” to the “purity” of the word of God as expressions of that word.

Satan and Religious Tolerance

Over the last few days I’ve seen on my facebook newsfeed a couple of interesting posts at blogs I frequent. So what I will do is provide two different posts concerning the two different blogs each touching on the issue of religion in the public square.

This first blog posting has to do with this recent news story.

Honestly, I don’t see what the fuss is about. On the one side we have some conservative Christians who may prefer that they get privileged status over other religions and the progressive folk come along and say, “If you’re for religious freedom, what about the religious freedom of those who differ from you?”

That question is a fair one, but my problem is, once again, that there is this sort of lumping together by progressives of those who believe in legitimate religious freedom and those “privileged” conservative Christians. Now, there may be a fuss but that fuss, for the most part, is put up by those conservatives and those who think that a Christian view of politics means either some sort of theocracy or that laws should reflect a strictly Christian bias, ie., this issue right here that we are speaking of, ie., reflecting the Christian religion above the rest. However, this is a narrow understanding of politics and really doesn’t reflect the Kingdom of God as it stands at this moment in history. It’s a carry over from an “over-realized” eschatology.

In other words, as Christian scholars believe, we are at a time normally called, “the already not yet” or an “in-between-the-times.” That is, we taste some of the fruit of the coming Kingdom but not all of it and not in it’s fullness. That time will be ushered in via Christ and could be catastrophic or progressive in nature. It’s this idea that because we taste some of this Kingdom fruit, we tend to think that the Kingdom has arrived already. And if the Kingdom is thought in this over-realized eschatological fashion then that means that justice is thought of this way as well because without the Kingdom we cannot have justice. They are are after-all inextricably connected. With the Kingdom comes justice–ultimate justice. However, if we have the more accurate view that we live in-between-the-times, then that will or should reflect a more accurate view of justice ie., not ultimate justice but pen-ultimate justice. That is, we will have to settle for a justice that is second best. So how does this relate to this Satanic monument that some Satanists want to put up?

Well it relates in that because we Christians have to settle for a less than best justice ie., every one doesn’t worship in truth, ie., it would be great if everyone worshipped the true God of the universe and so everyone must be treated equally with regard to religious belief and practice. And this has been spoken about for some time now by the likes of
Paul Marshall among others, where he says in his book, “God and the Constitution” that there are suggestions within Old Testament Israel for religious tolerance of the foreigners religious practice within the nation. So this should inform us as to the allowance and toleration of sin and evil and other religions.

As side from that, something needs to be understood about religion and government itself. Religion is inevitably not simply a private concern but spills outward into all areas of life. Government doesn’t have the right to define what TRUE religion is and so must protect the right of all citizens to worship as they see fit. A public justice would require government to treat everyone equally in terms of both private and public practice of religion. What government does not have the authority to do is to establish any ONE religion. If everyone is suppose to have the right to practice their own religion then a government establishment of religion would be contradictory in terms of it’s EQUAL TREATMENT of all citizens.

So it seems that if religion is going to spill out into all areas of life which would include the display of religious symbols in public, then it would only seem fair to allow for a Satanist monument. The only question would be one of cluttering the state capitol lawn.

Should We Take Every Opportunity To Evangelize?

I remember back in the 1980’s when I was a teenager, the big controversy was whether God could use rock music or not or whether rock music was of the devil or not (I still have the Peter brothers book on Christian rock music). For some of my Christian friends the bewilderment was over whether you could “worship and praise God” through screaming guitar riffs. Along the same vein was the idea that every opportunity should be evangelistic in nature. I believe it was Keith Green or someone in the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) industry that asked if “every church service had to end in an altar call.” Most of my Christian friends thought that it had to end this way. But not only that, for some, it had to not only end in an altar call, but it had to end successfully with SOMEONE’S salvation.

Well along came Francis Schaeffer who spoke about making good art simply to make art and that was, in itself, an act of worship. This past week as I was reading James Beilby’s book, “Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It” I came across this part:

“Finally, we must be faithful to God’s purposes in specific situations. In some cases, apologetics appropriately and naturally leads to an offer for a person to commit her life to Christ, but in the vast majority of cases, our apologetic endeavours are a small step in a person’s long and a winding journey that one hopes will culminate in relationship with Jesus Christ. Just as in 1 Corinthians 3:6 where the apostle Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow,” our responsibility is to be faithful to our call in whatever situation God has placed us and help our interlocutor move one more step toward Christ, whether that step be merely acknowledging that not all Christians are morons or committing his life to Christ. In other words, we must approach each apologetic situation pneumatologically, acknowledging that the Holy Spirit has preceded us and will work after we have left. Our task is to discern what God requires of us in each situation.”

I gather from what Beilby is saying, is not only does one NOT have to use every opportunity to preach or to convert (that’s the Holy Spirit’s job anyway) but to “just be yourself” for that in itself can go a long way in helping someone come to Christ. Maybe them seeing that you are not a moron will be all the witness someone needs.

While I have come to see this “take every moment as an opportunity to evangelize or convert” as reductionistic, in some ways though, I can see the heart behind it. Christian folk desire to “glorify God in all they do” and though expressing that desire may be slightly reductionistic, I can’t fault them for that heart desire.