Category Archives: Church Life

Unity of Churches? What Does the Bible Say?

I think modern calls to unity and ecumenism are wrongheaded. Al Kresta talked about it in the podcast below calling Evangelicals “separated brethren” and I believe Steven Greydanus has said that evangelicals are “sheep outside of the fold” and/or a younger brother of RCC. Thus, we don’t experience the “fullness of the Gospel” because we are not under the umbrella of the RCC. These RCC can correct me if I’m wrong but it seems as if they hope for a formal unity where everyone, including the Orthodox are under the RCC. Evangelicals work with the same assumptions. George Yancey has written about it in, “One Body, One Spirit: Principles of Successful Multiracial Churches” and in other places. And progressives actually seem to have no problem coercing others into what they believe. They want everyone to follow their liberal agenda’s, ie., everyone SHOULD be welcoming and accepting of LGBT and SSM (not just between races and ethnicities but anyone who is different). This was something that really struck me as I read, Skillen’s “Recharging the American Experiment.” In there, Skillen’s said that the government should not coerce theological conscience. There are some churches that believe in SSM and some that do not. As we live in a pluralistic society, all should be allowed to exist in their differentiation. By implication, this could be the same for churches between themselves. Churches don’t tell others churches what they should believe with regard to a host of issues. So it should be the same with SSM. Churches are not united for a myriad of reasons—theological, moral, worship style, ethnic, etc. The problem with calls for unity, it seems, is that this is:

1.An ideological utopian vision influenced by modern Kumbaya culture.

2.It is not what Jesus had in mind in John 17.

Here is D.A. Carson on John 17. The John 17 unity prayer needs to be understood within the greater context of the Father’s protection for those who would be followers of the Messiah.

“The constant goal is that the disciples be one as Jesus and his Father are one. Like any analogy, this cannot legitimately be pressed without limit. The unity enjoyed by Jesus and his Father has numerous features that could not be duplicated in the unity among believers. For instance, Jesus and his Father are but two; the believers are many. Jesus and his Father stand together in their creative work (1:1–3); this cannot be predicted of the disciples. Jesus and his Father enjoyed the brilliance of pretemporal glory (17:5); but obviously that unity could not in the nature of the case be shared by temporal creatures. Many other such distinctions suggest themselves on the basis of the fourth Gospel alone. Yet clearly the analogy is important, and must not be robbed of all content by endlessly peeling the onion. Many of the relational ties between Jesus and his Father described by John’s Gospel are functional in nature. Moreover, as chapter 2 of this book demonstrated, if Jesus stands with his Father with respect to man in revelation and authority, he simultaneously stands with man with respect to his Father in dependence and obedience. Within this framework, the Father and the Son enjoy a perfect unity of love, of purpose, of holiness of truth. Now, Jesus prays, so protect these people you have given me that they may be one as we are one: one in love (a theme already stressed, 13:34f.; 15:13), one in purpose (obedience, fruit bearing, witness—all prevalent themes in these chapters), one in holiness (it is not for nothing that Jesus here addressed his Father as “Holy Father,” and will shortly ask him to sanctify the believers), one in truth (they, unlike the world, have come to recognize the fundamental truth that Jesus is the revelation of God). This theme of unity is an important one in Jesus’s prayer. It is picked up again and repeated (17:21, 22, 23), and so we shall return to it in the last chapter of this book—at which time its relevance to the modern church may be usefully explored. For the moment, it may be helpful to note that if the prayer is a request that Jesus’s disciples be protected in order that they may be one in love, purpose, holiness, and truth, it follows that the greatest dangers lie in those things that seek to destroy unity in love, in purpose, in holiness, and in truth. An adequate catalog of such evils, coupled with a careful assessment of their danger, would immediately double the length of this book. Such a catalog would include jealousy, hate, friction, arrogant isolation, selfishness, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, a wretched tongue; for these vices seek to destroy the unity of love. The catalog would go on to mention one-upmanship, an uncooperative spirit, brinkmanship and impatience (which threaten unity of purpose), all kinds of sin (which abhors holiness), and lies, dogmatic half-truths, unwillingness to admit error or sympathetically learn from one another, chronic unbelief (which conspires to obliterate unity in truth). From all such evils, good Lord, deliver us.”

If this is the case, as I believe it is, Sunday morning is not the most segregated hour in America. That is an ideological utopian vision of how one believes things ought to be. James Kalb and of late, Jared Taylor have spoke about some of the sociological aspects of human communities where they expound on the idea of “birds of a feather flock together” and “where we find ourselves naturally.” Let’s face it, it’s right there in front of our faces EVERYDAY. Diversity. Diversity is with us as a constant—as the way of the world. Why do we still have the black race? Why do we Asian peoples? Why do we still have Anglo-Saxon European peoples? Spanish and the sub varieties therein. As said above, people group together for various and myriad reasons. It is still basically the same in schools, in marriages, and in friendships. This is not to say that persons from one group will not venture into another group, but if it is done, it will be done organically without changing the distinctions of that particular group.


Yeah…Jesus Didn’t Condemn Having Wealth and Resources

I saw two pieces on Facebook about five days ago about the top 1% of the richest in the US. The first was by fiscal Marxist David Fitch a professor of theology at Northern Seminary 🙂. I kid, I kid…you can see that article here.

The other was by my Facebook friend, Dwayne Polk, whom for purposes of credentials worked for Greg Boyd and is a graduate of ORU (Oral Roberts University) in theology. Here is what he posted:

“If I were President, Id just make a public call to the 1% to help *personally* fund the things we cant get past Congress that are needed. I mean, go straight to them. And on television. Social media. All that. Call out names. And id appeal to them as Americans and Americans OF FAITH and talk about the Golden Rule…and Loving the Neighbor as Oneself. I would put overt pressure on them to help the American people in a failing governmental system.

But thats just me.”

Eric Reitan, a professor of philosophy at Oklahoma State University had this to say:

“And then realize that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk both have well over 100 billion in personal wealth. Making $100k a year without taxes and it would take you a *million years* to achieve that level of wealth. Or invert it: Elon Musk could spend $1 million a year on his own pleasure (meaning about $950,000 a year on mere luxuries) and it would take him a hundred thousand years to exhaust his wealth–and he’s unlikely to live more than 40 more years. While money does add to happiness in the sense of ensuring needs are met, lifting away anxiety, enabling one to pursue meaningful activities and develop talents, and providing resources for sustaining meaningful relationships, the amount needed for this falls well short of a million a year. Meaning if Bezos gave away to those in need 99.99% of his personal wealth, he’d be left with far more than the maximum wealth required for optimal human happiness (and might be more likely to be able to access the other necessary conditions for true happiness, such as the cultivation of benevolence).”

Now, let me start off saying this.

A. Christians should struggle with their wealth and riches INTERNALLY. However, most of what passes for critical self (or otherwise ie., Christian community as a whole) is negative. It sees it FIRST in terms of what is said in the quotes above or, to put those quotes another way, it sees wealth and riches and capitalism in general, in terms of exploitation, or class warfare or oppression.

B. I’m a believer in “free markets” as far as markets are free. What I mean by that is not that a society can’t have government regulation, (I am not wholly put off by the government regulating when it should. This is really not much different than what Roger Scruton talks about when he spoke at his website about the environment. That is, for an example, if a private company spills waste into a river and pollutes it, it should bear the brunt of the costs of what it has done. This is only proper from a conservative point of view because at a base instinctual level one should care about the community to which they are attached to. However, this doesn’t rule out government intervention if need be. You can read Roger Scruton’s post here) but rather the market itself is very much one sided in terms of corporate pressure in marketing of said product(s) ie., as Cavanaugh asks, “When is the market free? How can we judge when any particular transaction is free?” Freedom isn’t merely negative ie., freedom from coercion (as Milton Friedman would have us believe).

Here’s my main point though that I posted to Facebook of which I think really get’s to the some of the assumptions that guys like my Dwayne and Eric Reitan are working with.

From Facebook:

“I’m not a full fledged libertarian, though I do think libertarianism makes some valid points, especially as it concerns economic inequalities. I mean there is this sin called, “envy” and it rears its ugly head in more ways than one—not just between individuals but between those who say they are advocating for the poor by criticizing those who have resources (which, for me, is quite a relative measure ie., one can complain about Bezos EXTRA BILLIONS that could go to the poor, which I’ve seen done even this week on FB, but those same folks have extra that they don’t need either and when you consider all us middle to upper-middle folks whom have “more than we need” then I wonder why there is no complaints or voluntary giving of THEIR over-and-above resources of which no one can really say what that amount should be). Anyhoo, most of what passes for “critical self-analysis” is negative in nature, as if there is nothing positive to ownership of wealth and resources. It is ASSUMED, as pointed out in question 40 in the book, that there is a connection between those who have wealth and those who don’t when in reality the problem isn’t Bezos’ billions but personal and social/governmental complexities.”

And then I go on to quote from the book mentioned above:

“38. What about the inequalities that capitalism creates? Economic inequality has always existed wherever there have been economies. In pre-capitalist days, having wealth often (but not always) entailed exploiting others who then remained poor. This is one reason we see so many admonitions against wealth in the Bible. It is also why many early church leaders and theologians decry wealth. It is only recently that being wealthy has not been associated with unjust acquisition of wealth but instead with the indication that mutually beneficial trade is occurring. Under free market capitalism, wealth must be obtained by effectively and efficiently providing value to others in exchange for their money. Whenever inequality indicates that the few are exploiting others and leaving them worse off, we should stand against it. But under conditions where everyone is better off and some are “more better off,” we can appreciate, if not applaud, the gains through exchange. Christians are often concerned about the well-being of others, yet it is all too common that concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but a suppressed envy that arises because of perceived reasons behind the injustice. We must be mindful that we are not suppressing our envy when we advocate for the wellbeing of others. All too often the concern over inequality is not about the wellbeing of those with less but the perceived reason behind the perceived injustice. For example, while the purchasing power of the average worker’s wages has improved dramatically for several decades, the top I% have seen even greater gains. Many have pointed out that this is the reason to institute redistributive schemes to rectify the perceived injustice of inequality, even though everyone has gained financially (see Question 40).”—Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers To Tough Questions

And of course, Jesus NEVER condemned those who were wealthy but those who were wealthy by ill-gotten means or by exploiting others.


Divisions, Divisions, Divisions!!!

Some years ago I picked up a couple of books, one put out by Randall L. Frame and Alan Tharpe entitled, “How Right is the Right?” and one by Ronald Nash, entitled, “Why the Left is Not Right”

Even in today’s political climate these books are still a relevant read as they both critically expound on the positions of their opponents views (as well as their own) which have not changed since the time they were written (though some political situations have changed). One may try to package things differently and or say it slightly afresh today (we see this with regard to Marxist class theory from the working class to “identity politics” ie., the working class based butt hurt has shifted towards the sexual arena or racism) and yes, in some cases, the intent to do this is to deceive those who are not aware that these ideas have been around for quite some time now (the younger folk). Why they would do so has to do with political power. That is, they would like to get their way enshrined not only in law but the minds of the aforementioned un-informed or the gullible (which can impact law).

For me, one of the most important ideas that I understood, prior to ever reading it in Nash’s book, was that it is not that both Left and Right wing Christians don’t love their neighbour but that they both have different solutions or answers to social and political problems that exist in society. It really is a sad state of affairs that uncivilized national discourse has crept into the Christian community as a whole where one or both sides is either claiming who is loving as Jesus did or claims God’s answer to a particular social ill is “the Christian response.” One use to see this from the right back in the day but now one sees it from the left. This is not to make a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of left/right policy positions but rather to mention the bad faith between Christian brothers and sisters.

So politics divides Christians.

(As an aside, I’m OK with that, for I’ve usually been comfortable with tribalism. Tribalism in the Church, in politics and in society. I’m not completely against openness to other people, groups, nations, churches, etc, as long as others are open to each other “naturally,” (James Kalb) where the feeling is mutual and it is not forced whether by government or one another and where the goal is not to change the other. End of aside)

But to the point above, let me be a little more precise about the civil discourse (not so much the uncivilized aspect as much as the argument itself).

Basically it goes something like this:

Progressive Christian: Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Me: This is a broad neutral statement. For me the important question is, “What does this look like in the concrete reality of life?” If, say, we wanted to improve the economic standing of the poor (which is a loving thing to do), how would we do that? Would we do that via a socialist scheme or a free market capitalist one? The answer doesn’t reside in the raw theology of the Bible for the Bible is not a comprehensive economic guide. Like science. It doesn’t tell us which way to go on these things. It only gives us the raw data, broad neutral statement of “loving our neighbour.” We need to go “beyond the Bible” if you will to economic theory.

(As an aside, what I mean when I say the above concerns “full fledge” free-market capitalism as opposed to a simple base line one. That is, I believe the Bible does provide the “seeds” of a capitalist economic system, ie., ownership of property, free buying and selling of goods, etc, and not the seeds of a socialist one. For me, socialist interpretations of scripture are rather strained. End of aside)

That alone should be enough for us to bring up our level of discourse. The problem is not in theology. The problem is in reality. The “facts” if you will. What we have is basically two parties wedding economic theory to the Bible. Even if you wanted to say that the Bible supported a democratic socialism or socialism or communism (as we understand them today) one would still have to contend with the individual economic theories. Here is a quote by Ronald Nash on all of this:

Is There a Religious Left?

Why Should We Care

Years ago, I supposed conservative Christians would have been surprised—even shocked—that self-professed evangelicals were supporting and even actively promoting liberal causes But those were the days when evangelicals—better known as fundamentalists—separated themselves from societal affairs at large. On still encounters people like this. But most evangelicals themselves care deeply about what is happening in America’s schools, government, and abortion clinics. They also care about racial justice, the environment, the poor, the elderly, and the homeless. As indicated by the charities they support, they also care about poor, sick, and starving people in other nations. For most of my lifetime, liberals have been telling this nation that caring in these ways **must translate**into voting for liberal politicians and supporting liberal social policies. The evangelical liberals have been part of this liberal establishment. But I contend that liberalism is an exercise in fraud and deceit. The more than five trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money the federal government spent in the vain hope that it would put an end to poverty in America did not simply fall short of the goal. It actually made the situation worse. We now have more poor people in the United States than there were before the start of the War on Poverty pr-grams in the mid-sixties—and they are also worse off today. Some in the evangelical Left now tell us they no longer support the liberal welfare state. They admit that it has failed, and they propose to provide new leadership and direction in the next decade. The past record of these people needs to be known so we can better judge their claims about the present and their promises for the future. Why do they attack evangelical conservatives? What do they believe? Are they really centrists, and if not, why do they claim they are.

A WORD ABOUT RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES

The secular and religious Left find it convenient to demonize politically conservative Christians. It is true that many evangelicals were unconscionably inattentive thirty or forty years ago; of course, the world was a different place back then.

Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., observes:

It is strange that twentieth-century evangelical Christian, would have ever needed to be convinced that they should be concerned about social problems. Many of their spiritual forebears always were. Their compassion and fervor animated the campaigns against the slave trade and child labor in England and, one could argue, was the basis of most reform initiatives of the early nineteenth century. The claims that the faith of American Christians should always be an intensely private affair between the individual and Cod would have been news to such diverse persons as the Pilgrims, from John Winthrop to Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists of slavery.

Whatever their shortcomings may have been back then, Michael Cromartie observes, “Evangelicals of every perspective no longer need convincing that political and social concern is an important part of Christian discipleship. It is a settled issue that `the least of these’ among us should be treated with both charity and justice. The debates now revolve around prudential questions regarding which policies are in fact the most effective in meeting the normative standards of justice.” The members of the evangelical Left are wrong to claim that they hold the monopoly on concern for peace and justice. The more central issue for evangelicals today is what those terms mean. The evangelical Left has appeared to some to have simply assumed the standard liberal understanding of the words and then discredited anyone (including their politically conservative brethren) who understood the terms differently and who pursued the objectives of peace and justice in a different way. There is no evidence to support liberal insinuations that being a conservative entails opposition to racial and social justice means being unconcerned about unjust social structures. What the Left does is simply assume, for example, that concern for poverty **must manifest itself in unqualified support for misguided liberal social programs.** They simply take it for granted that concern for racial justice **must translate into support for so-called Affirmative Action programs** that turn out to be exercises in reverse discrimination. It is time to strip away the false front that the evangelical Left has hidden behind and see what they really stand for.”

This is a most important point that colours everything you read in these volumes and for me personally, it colours my view of politics as a whole. Even if one were to disagree, why the name calling or ad hominem, especially from Christians is beyond me. For all they are really doing, it seems to me, is arguing over political philosophy not theology. And it is the theology that holds them together as brothers and sisters.


Christianity is Not a White Western Religion

I read this article at “Red Letter Christians” with the title by the same name as this post. You can read that article here.  Is it me or does anyone else essentially read this:

A.  White Western religion = White Christianity bad.

B.  Black religion =good.

There really is no reason given as to why this assumption is there and I’m sure that is not the point of the article.  However, it is a main staple of Red Letter Christians throughout their writings.  Here are a few negatives about white religion that are sited in the article.

“But through my activity in church, I felt that people were trying to mold me into this Western white culture – even in the Black church.”

 “But there was still this tension between Western culture, biblical culture, and my culture as a person of African descent.”  “Western culture” should be interpreted as white culture.

“This made me see my reality in the Gospel much more so than the average evangelical. I listened to Focus on the Family and Charles Stanley, but I struggled to integrate their form of Christianity into my everyday life.  These guys are considered, conservative white male Christian religion.  Nothing is ever stated as to how much of what we see in black churches is really not authentically African either.  And what were some of the aspects that you could integrate?  Seems like absolutely nothing of value can come from such Christians?

“If you’re trying to understand Christianity in a Western context, you’ll be lost.”

“It’s so important for Christians to connect to the Hebrew roots of their faith, because otherwise out faith becomes disconnected, becomes Westernized and makes whiteness an idol.”

“But as more Greeks and Romans converted, and Christianity became the religion of the empire, it got watered down and separated from its Hebrew roots. Greeks and Romans were white.  Definitely not black.

“Either we will have a Christianity that is Western or we will have a Christianity based on the truth of the Bible”

“When you separate it from its roots, the whitewashed Western, and often American, version hurts everyone, including white people.”

Now for the positive statements of black religion.

“I also always loved to read and learn about Black history. I read Malcolm X and Dr. King…”

“At Penn State, I took an African American religious studies class where we read God of the Oppressed by James Cone. I reread it again that summer. I began to see the Bible in my reality.”  Apparently, black literature by certain black authors is cool.  In fact, so cool, that it was read over again.

“I’m the founder of Prophetic Whirlwind, an organization that provides Bible study materials and educates via social media, lectures, and workshops on the African roots of the Christian and Jewish faiths. This is a huge passion of mine.”  I guess that’s a positive thing?  That Christianity and Jewish faiths are rooted in African roots?  Well, when you compare it or contrast it next to white religion.

“Until 1869, Israel was connected to Egypt – connected to all of Africa. It was only when the Suez Canal was completed that Israel became separated from Africa. Even until the early 1900s, Israel was referred to as NE Africa.”

“The whole world opened up to me and revealed items that are important to Black Christians, and Christians in general. We have really separated Christianity from the Hebrew faith. But early believers continued to practice Passover and Sabbath. In Hebrew culture, salvation is about everyone – the entire community – not just the individual. This is the norm in African culture.”  This is important and it’s positive because, well, you don’t see this in white Christianity or White Western culture with it’s high individualism right?  Listen, there can be blind-spots in any culture. Why not talk about Asian societies with their culture of shame for example.  Simon Chan talks about this in his book, “Spiritual Theology.”

“It’s even more powerful to understand the cultural roots of our Biblical mothers and fathers. Mark was the Father of the Gospel in Africa. The Last Supper and Pentecost took place at his mother’s house, and she was an African Jewish woman from Cyrene. They were refugees. Do immigrants know this today? Do Black sisters and brothers know this today? This is incredibly empowering if we know these stories.”  Here we see an almost complete contrast to western religion.  This is one HELLUVA positive statement.  This is not all that bad, as making the Bible relevant to someone is a good thing.

“Then there was a large reverse exodus from Israel back to Egypt in Biblical times. The two landmasses were connected, they looked the same, and had similar climates. When Mark and his mother needed to leave Israel, they went to North Africa. It was a place a lot of Jews went. Thomas Oden is a researcher from Eastern University, and his research opened my eyes. Mark was born in Africa, and died in Africa. St. Augustine was African, his mother Monica was African, and when she died, she told St. Augustine to carry her bones back to Africa.”  So Africa is the jam man.  Interestingly, when you get down to it, the continent of Africa is not uniform either and so one might want to ask what group is she is referring to as being so closely biblical?  That is, which group represents Christianity the closest?

“This is significant as Biblical prophecy states that when these tribes begin to come back to the Torah, the Messiah will return. Many researchers, especially from the Jewish faith, travel around the world, like Indiana Jones traveling for the lost ark, looking for these tribes. And research shows that many of these tribes are in Africa.”  Hmmm…it may be significant for Onleilove to talk about what the researchers are saying about those tribes but she also used the word, “many” (“many of those tribes”) which is to say that some of those tribes weren’t of African descent?

Interestingly, there was a statement that is most revealing in this article.  Onleilove says:

The whole world opened up to me and revealed items that are important to Black Christians, and Christians in general. We have really separated Christianity from the Hebrew faith. But early believers continued to practice Passover and Sabbath. In Hebrew culture, salvation is about everyone – the entire community – not just the individual. This is the norm in African culture.

It’s important to understand that the Bible is a multi-cultural book. My work is about reconciling Jesus to his culture – his Hebrew culture. If you’re trying to understand Christianity in a Western context, you’ll be lost.

It’s so important for Christians to connect to the Hebrew roots of their faith, because otherwise out faith becomes disconnected, becomes Westernized and makes whiteness an idol.

If it is the case that black Christians and Christians in general need to return back to their Hebrew faith then why talk about all the positives of black religion as if it is not in need of redemption.  Here.  I’ll say it like this.  Richard Mouw one time spoke about the arts being in need of redemption.  He was referring to the pop cultural art (low brow), yes, but he was also referring to what is sometimes referred to as “high brow” art.  One gets the feeling, when reading Onleilove’s article contrasting white western Christianity and black religion that it is white religion that is in the real need of redemption.  Referring back to Simon Chan’s book, even black religion would be in need of redemption because as with all societies, there is a separation between “doctrine” from “the living God”–orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

 


Inclusiveness On Steroids

The whole inclusiveness ideology that many Christians tout today is based on a particular understanding of God’s love and Jesus’ mission in the world (Christ came to save everybody)–the whole, “he came to seek out the marginalized and we’re supposed to love everybody” thingy.

In saying this, many Christians don’t really have a problem with how their faith (and this particular theo/politico outlook) would play out with regard to public justice or individual justice. Essentially, for them, government was and is doing a good and just thing to end discrimination, ie., school integration and civil rights legislation, acceptance of LGBT folk, etc.

Interestingly, the whole top down approach to rid society of discrimination has not only been a failure historically but it really doesn’t make philosophical sense because it ignores that the attempt to eradicate “racism” (ie., attitudes) is much like the attempt to eradicate stupidity as well as it ends up creating a homogenized and uniformed society. That is, it “flattens” society. (James Kalb, “Against Inclusiveness”).

But there’s something else as well. Inclusiveness ignores human nature and how relationships work. What I mean is that you can’t like or “love” (in that sentimental sense) EVERYBODY. Does love (in this sentimental way) mean, for example, that a pastor will get along with everyone in his flock who is under his care? How exactly would a pastor “love” everyone in his congragation? Would he get along with EVERYBODY?Would he not have differences with parishoners? Would he not find some relationships like sandpaper–gritty that go against the grain? Does this not ignore how relationships work in real life situations? For example, most of these same inclusive Christians would have no problem with a couple who divorce for they realize the situation–that that couple are ultimately not reflecting the Triune love of the Godhead in their relationship. In other words, there is a less than perfect love there. As a matter of fact the best that a couple might be able to do is to reflect that love by not talk to each other and in this way seek out as much peace as POSSIBLE. In other words “as possible” means there is less than perfect love there. But maybe it has nothing to do with “less than perfect love.” Let’s say, said couple have different interests and are not compatible on other levels? Does it have to be a question that there is LESS THAN perfect love? Or does this not reflect the normality of the way that relationships work and are INTENDED to work?

So, if this happens on a personal level, why MUST we push the idea of inclusiveness on such a grand public scale? If the idea of a divorced Christian couple as not “inclusive” (of each other) is OK, why do we not allow for this on a societal/sociological scale? Let’s face it. People choose to hang with and befriend certain other people for various reasons. People clash with personalities. People don’t always feel comfortable in other groups. So what would be problematic with a pastor who chooses not to associate with certain people in his congregation ie., trust, personality issues, cultural differences, etc? Granted, some of this “lack of reconciliation” is due to sinful tendencies and impulses but some if not most of it isn’t. And it would certainly be hard to differentiate between the various reasons, as if there are hard and fast boundaries.

One may say, “Well we should TRY to be loving (which means inclusive) because ultimately in the new age to come we will be love each other.” This is inclusiveness from the other end of the spectrum–the eschatological end. But why must “loving” in this instance mean getting along, making-friends-with, everybody? Why can’t loving mean simply serving–without the sentimentalism? Why couldn’t a pastor serve those in his congregation by helping them connect with others whom are like minded (you know, birds of a feather flock together idea?) or connect them with those who can be loving in the way that these folk need to be loved? Would that not be loving even though the pastor doesn’t have the interior resources to love in that way? It seems to me that inclusiveness in the Christian community is an inclusiveness on steroids that does damage to the way relationships work and are intended to work.


Distinctions, Distinctives, Differences, Differentiation And Inclusion

I want to expand on my last post a bit.

It may be argued by some that we should be accepting and inclusive of the marginalized as this is what Jesus would do. Here’s my issue with that but let me first tell you what I’m NOT saying.

First, I’m NOT saying that folk should go out of their way to abuse, oppress or hate on others. If the child on the playground is being picked on, then one should personally come to their defense if it is prudent to do so. In some situations it might be better to wait for the teacher or the “authority”– the person in charge to come to the rescue. This may be an instance of the “greater good” argument that is spoken of in open theistic circles. So some circumstances call for wise action before actually doing ANYTHING which is to say that great harm could come to those while they/you are waiting for assistance. In some instances, it may call for getting rid of all protocol or what you should do in order to be of assistance to those who are helpless or oppressed or marginalized. However, in situations which are political (governmental), shedding the rules is for the most part not the wisest thing to do and so, one must work from within the political system to achieve certain objectives and goals. It’s simply the nature of the game.

Having said that, let me tell you what I AM saying. I am saying that not everyone is called to the same thing. Many progressives flip between “Church” and “church” effortlessly and without much thought which ends up, in my mind, confusing matters. What I mean is this. Should the “CHURCH” (capital C ie., universal Church, Bride of Christ) help the poor, relieve the oppressed and seek out the marginalized? Yes. Should the “church” (small c) help the poor, relieve the oppressed and seek out the oppressed? Not necessarily. What I mean by this has everything to do with what I said yesterday about relationships coming together naturally and what I’m going to say now: GIFTING.

Let me give an example of this. When I was growing up, my church started a food bank and clothing center across the street from where our church building was located. What happened was some people felt God laying it upon their heart to start such a ministry. In so doing, they wanted to have the blessing and assistance of the church leaders and the church as a whole. Well, my pastor (who has since passed away) was one of the coolest guys around. He was open to all kinds of things and “sending forth” the “labourers.” And for many years that “ministry” thrived.

But here’s the thing. Not everyone “felt called” to this particular ministry. As a matter of fact, not one pastor on the team was involved in that particular food and clothing ministry other than blessing it and giving any needed assistance to it through church funding, etc. And why were they and many others in the church NOT involved? Because it WASN’T THEIR THING. They didn’t feel called to it. They felt called to other areas of ministry such as worship leading, youth, cleaning, visitation (of the elderly and the sick in retirement homes), preaching, etc. You know why you do something that others don’t do and why others do something you don’t? Because of gifting. Everyone has different personality traits which are conducive to one thing and not another.

Now, can we HONESTLY say that though the pastors weren’t PERSONALLY involved in that food bank and clothing ministry that they REALLY weren’t involved? Can we honestly say that because only a few folk from the church were involved that the church (as a whole/other parishoners) WEREN’T involved? No. There was indirect support.

Well, let’s bring this up a level. So often today, there is this flipping between usages of Church (capital C) and church (small c). So when we speak of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage there are some churches that are not as accepting as other more progressive type churches (speaking mostly of evangelical churches here). They have rules and policies and faith statements for how they deal with this issue. So what is the problem with churches not accepting or being as inclusive in the way you (a progressive) would want? There are plenty of Christians who are “cut out” for that. Like those in that food and clothing ministry. There are plenty of CHURCHES cut out for that. Not all churches NEED to be inclusive. Why? Because all churches, like all Christians are different. What sets this church apart from that church are particular emphases of belief and rules, etc. Some churches are more accepting and inclusive than others and they have their reasons for being so.

Now, you may ask how this gels with the picture in Revelation where all peoples and all nations are before the throne. You may ask, “How would can you shoot for that sort of inclusiveness when you speak of so much distinctions, distinctives, differentiation, differences and people who are supposed to “naturally” get along or naturally “find themselves.” Well, that is the problem. Because the question assumes “inclusiveness on steroids.” Most everyone sees that eschatological picture and assumes that we are all going to love each other in the great by and by. Well, as a evangelical universalist, ultimately we will. Some will get to the other side and are not totally purged of ill feelings towards others. God will make them heaven ready. But aside from that, won’t those distinctions and distinctives and differences remain? Why assume that the Church universal is going to be some huge melting pot in THAT sense? Why not assume that this is simply stating that all will be there and that we will worship God in our OWN UNIQUE WAYS? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we will not ultimately love each other “naturally” because we will eventually get to that point. But that should not entail that we will not prefer to worship and celebrate Christ in our own unique ways we feel most comfortable with.

So to make this clear this relates to the issue of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage how? Well, there are distinct churches that are more inclusive than others. Gay folk can find inclusion there. They more than likely won’t find inclusion in a more conservative congregation. God has inclusive churches and non-inclusive churches just as God has non-inclusive Christians and inclusive Christians who are more than willing to accept and affirm gay folk in ways that non-inclusive churches won’t. I say, let each serve God in the way they see fit as well as according to their strengths and giftings.


In Love Again, NATURALLY

Really not getting this. Why does Vines insist that everyone be inclusive? For example, why do I have to have gay friends? Listen, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against having ANYONE as a friend but I do happen to choose who they are for various reasons ie., everything from whether they are involved in crime to whether there are personality conflicts. There are going to be sub-categories of reasons within these as well. For example, the personality conflicts might be based on biases and/or prejudices. They might be based on cultural relevance, political views, etc.

What if my church doesn’t go along with Vine’s interpretation of the Bible? Why can’t Vines find acceptance in a community that accepts him and other gay folk as they are? The idea of pressuring folk through a constant barrage of questions like these is like the “corporate pressure” that churches put on their parishioners to give tithes. They don’t come right out and say it, but you can certainly feel it.

Listen, don’t try to convince me to befriend folks I don’t want to befriend (for the various above reasons). I’m not saying that, say, gay folk should not be “accepted.” I’m not saying that gay folk should be abused or oppressed. As a matter of fact, I think gay folk should find people, and communities and churches that will accept them and be a safe place for them. There are PLENTY of people and places around that will be open to and accepting of them. But please, don’t try to convince the rest of us to be AS accepting. Relationships have to come naturally and can’t be forced. But also, why not just let people and churches be? Forcing them to accept you and all your beliefs is akin to the attempt to eradicate natural ways of people falling in love.


Does Remarriage Equal Continuous Adultery? The Connection With Same-Sex Marriage

Unless you have been living under a rock this past week, some interesting developments have occurred in the US–the one I speak of here is namely the issue of same sex marriage. All states in the Union had bans against same sex marriage lifted.

While I was at the gym yesterday my buddy Dwayne Polk got ahold of me on facebook messenger and wanted to know my thoughts on this Piper article that he posted which you can see here.

Essentially, the argument is that Piper believes that once you divorce and remarry then you are committing adultery. But then he believes that God sanctifies those relationships. So this is the first argument to prove another argument for same sex marriage.

That is, the second argument is that if once you remarry you are in adultery you are in CONTINUAL adultery and God allows for that, then what is problematic with allowing for gay marriage.

At this point, Dwayne says that if that is the case (which he believes it is) then those who don’t allow for same sex marriage but allow for heterosexual remarriage are hypocrites.

Here’s the point I made to my Dwayne.

First off, my interests lie with religion and politics/culture and how they mix. I’m also interested in Christian ethics. Yes, I’m interested in theology and I’ve come to hold to much of the same theology that Dwayne holds to but I’m more interested in the religion/politics question. I’m also a universalist, and I hold to open theism. So you really can’t put me in a “conservative camp” on some score sheet saying, “He’s a conservative.” When it comes to politics I don’t hold to conservative values on some issues and may seem more to the left with others to my conservative friends. This has to do with my believing in the Reform teaching of sphere sovereignty. For me, Abraham Kuyper’s overall schema makes the most sense and is part of the reason why I think there is a lot of confusion in the evangelical community over religion and politics ie., same-sex marriage, etc (yes, that comes straight from Jim Skillen’s book, “A Scattered Voice.”)

I said that to say this. As you may very well know there is a diversity of voices in the evangelical community. My interest lies in how we can get along or co-exist with each other (though getting along is nice it’s not priority in my book. Two can co-exist and not go out of their way to be nice). Being as that is the case, there have been differences of opinion on divorce and remarriage. And if THAT is the case, then there are some who don’t hold to Piper’s view (which incidentally was raised by Greg Boyd on the Open theism boards years ago and by William Heth in the “Four Views” book on divorce and remarriage (which by the way, I’m told by one biblical scholar, Heth has had a change of mind and no longer holds to that view).

Thus, if one holds to the view that scripture allows for divorce AND remarriage, then Piper’s, Boyds and Heth’s view fail. But for the same sex marriage view that uses the argument that one is in continuous adultery it specifically fails (Boyd and Polk). And thus, those who say you CAN remarry are NOT acting hypocritically. They only way you could say that someone is being hypocritical is because from WITHIN the remarriage=adultery view the logic holds.

So, does remarriage=divorce and along with it the argument that we should allow for same-sex marriage? My response is no. And why is that? Because, as I said, in the evangelical community there is more than one view on divorce and remarriage and Piper’s and Boyd’s and Heth’s are only ONE out of the four mentioned in the book (and let’s remember, that if we were to take into consideration the Catholic and Orthodox positions which are in some respects radically different than evangelical views, then we would still have disagreement with Piper’s, Boyd’s and Heth’s).

But why do I disagree with the Piper/Boyd view and disagree with the charge of hypocrisy? Because, I follow Craig Keener on this who is no fly by nighter scholar and would disagree with the remarriage as adultery view which you can read and listen to here and here. For Keener, when Jesus said that when you divorce and marry another you commit adultery he was using hyperbole and thus remarriage doesn’t mean continual adultery. Let me know what you think.


Some Thoughts On Absolute Moral Principles

Ever since I can remember, probably as far back as when I was 10 years old I was interested in moral quandaries. When I made a commitment to Christ at the age of 13 years of age, even I though I had thought about graded absolutism, I didn’t really know what it was called nor did I have enough resources at my disposal to work through it ie., how to deal with objections to it. Even at that point, people were more into a Christian pious religion as opposed to thinking intellectually about faith.

Essentially, when I think of graded absolutes I think of a moral law that can be trumpeted over a higher moral law. So for example, in Matt 12:1-8 Jesus and his disciples are doing something unlawful on the sabbath and he appeals to a higher law such that that higher law overrides the lesser law. If such is the case then the question of moral absolutes is called into question. BTW, by absolute, I mean a law that transcends all times and cultures. Though many theologians take issue with the “objective” and “absolute” in the “objective moral absolutes” equation the fact that Jesus appeals to a “higher principle” or law is to say that there is something else to appeal to that IS absolute which is to say that the law that Jesus was over-riding was NOT absolute–“Loving God And man”–and that the caring for his fellow human beings was/is.

Still, there are other objections to moral absolutes. This was brought into perspective when Kevin Vanhoozer brought up objections to Walter Kaiser’s essay in, “Beyond the Bible” by talking about “principlizing.” In doing so, he spoke of David Clark’s book, “To Know and Love God: Method For Theology (Foundations of Evangelical Theology).”

Clark brings up other problems to the issue. For example, let’s say we have an absolute principle, that is, a principle which cannot be broken or should not be broken. It transcends all times and place. It is universal. The problem with looking for principles are:

1. Determining what the principle is in the first place.
2. The principles to be discovered are heavily influenced by the, “tacit plausibility structures of the interpreter’s culture.”
3. How do decide what dimension of a particular Scripture pas-sage counts as the transcultural principle and what does not?
4 Can every cultural element be extracted from scripture such that we have a transcultural eternal word that is left? If so, would this say that those principles are better than the Bible? Unless your head is buried in the sand and you’ve not known what has been going on in academic circles for the last seven to ten years then you wouldn’t be aware that if anything, postmodernism has taught us that this really can’t be done.
5. What are we left with when we attempt to remove all cultural elements? Can we “do” all theology through a model of principlizing?
6. Are the principles more important than the culturally mediated expressions of the Bible?

In the end, Clark isn’t so much against the idea of principlizing but against the idea of naive principlizing for he says, “Clearly, drawing out principles from the total teachings of Scripture is one of the important tasks of theology. But using this model only—seeing all theology as principlizing the Bible—is inadequate.” In doing so, one really doesn’t recognize that other communities ie., countries, races don’t have the see our principles in the same way as we do.

In the next post, what I want to do is discuss this last paragraph in the next post and try to clear up what I think could lead to some confusion which ultimately leads to saying there are no absolutes.


Red Letter Christians And The Rest Of Scripture

I have, for the most, part when doing theology (on the laymen’s level that I do it) have relied on two major sources, reading and talking to others. But there is also what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In other words, I use other authoritative sources to reach as much of a sound moral/ethical decision as I can. I am not a Red Letter Christian–giving Jesus’ words priority over the rest of scripture. That just sounds weird to me. Stan Guthrie wrote a critique about Red Letter Christians at Christianity Today here. Tony Campolo responded in the same online article–though I think Campolo can be easily refuted here. With just one word: Justice.

Let’s think about this for a second. Red Letter Christians ACTUALLY do give priority to Jesus and his words that you find in those older renditions of the Bible. The justification for this is rather simple. Let’s go through this.

Stephan Jarnick says this:

“Another thing some Christians say that needs to be challenged is “I read the WHOLE Bible” as if giving the Old Testament and the New Testament equal weighting somehow makes them better Christians. Jesus made it clear that the Old Testament is important when he said in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” but he also said several times “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” whenever he’s about to teach something that’s different from what’s found in the Old Testament. The law said “An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth” but Jesus said “Do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” I don’t want to accuse anyone of intentionally ignoring Jesus but it’s sometimes tempting to do an end run around him to find a sound bite in the Old Testament that will support our agenda. I often encounter this kind of thinking when talking to people about Jesus’ peace teachings. Reading the Old Testament to learn about how God interacted with people prior to Jesus coming on the scene is a good thing. Using it as an optional guide for how to live when we don’t like what Jesus has to say to us is…not Christian.”

Essentially, what Jarnick does is say that Jesus “peace teachings” is above the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (even though, pretty much, justice is not fully accomplished in this fashion: Do you think justice can be served by punching someone’s tooth out the same way that they punched yours out? For it to be a tooth for a tooth it would have to be done in the exact same manner and force and making sure you only knock one out and not others, etc. Not to mention, do you REALLY feel justice has been accomplished? Don’t you feel a just a little jaded? Really, the “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was a VERY JUST law as it had to do with the concept of proportionality. Which meant that you didn’t go overboard with a DESERVING punishment. If this interpretation is correct, then the “eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth” is not really all that contradictory to Jesus words.

So when Campolo responds to Guthrie in the above CT article saying:

“While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture.”

He begs the question. How would not going overboard with punishment (thus being a just punishment) be contrary to Jesus’ peace teachings? If we WERE to ask, “WWJD?” could we not say that Jesus would say, “Hey, don’t go overboard with punishment!” So why would we give priority of Jesus’ words over this Old Testament law?

If I were to add the Ten Commandments into the equation, we might ask, how is say, “Not making idols” (graven images) NOT relevant to Jesus’ commands to love God with all our hearts first and foremost? It should be obvious that not only is there no contradiction but the Old Testament could give us a “filler” so-to-speak (explanatory power) to the words of Jesus.

But let’s go further. Campolo says:

“You got us RLCs right again when you suggested we were anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty primarily because we believe Jesus is anti-war, pro-environment, and deeply committed to ending poverty. The only mistake you made was to imply that thinking this way—or trying to influence our government according to these values—makes us the Religious Left:”

OK…this is where I have serious reservations with what Campolo is saying. The anti-war, pro-enviroment, deeply ending poverty are USUALLY the staple of the Left NOT the Right. I mean, after all, the right is more concerned with abortion and same sex marriage. So it really is not a far cry to say that Red Letter Christians fall to the left side of the spectrum. But, is not most in the evangelical community REALLY against war PER SE even though some on the Right may be more quicker to go to war than others on the Left?

However, let’s go back to that word I mentioned above–justice and it’s opposite, injustice. Is injustice not injustice no matter what? Let’s say, through some political educational policy, that we take taxes from citizens to pay for education because we as a society have seen fit to educate our children up to a certain age. However, let’s just say that someone wants to educate their kids according to their particular history or political science (as these last two are not neutral unbiased territory, who’s to say that the public educational system’s teaching on these subjects is the “correct” one?) or values or tradition. However, in order for them to do so, they must pay for it OVER AND ABOVE their taxes and in effect penalizing them financially for doing so as well as treating them like second class citizens. Is this not an injustice? And if it is an injustice, why would Jesus be any LESS concerned with this? Sure, we might prioritize “life issues” as more important than education but we would never say that it is not important and we especially would not say that treating others in society as second class citizens is not important.

So, what am I saying in bringing this up? I’m saying that all of these diverse issues are important as far as justice is concerned. Jesus would be concerned about war and whether we should participate in it. Jesus would be concerned about abortion. Jesus would be concerned about the enviroment. Jesus would be concerned about marriage. Jesus would be concerned about poverty and and homeless. And lastly, Jesus would be concerned about the ways in which we treat others as citizens. You do realize there is more than one way to treat people as second class citizens right? The human imagination for dehumanizing others seems to know no bounds!

So if it is the case (that Jesus is concerned about JUSTICE as a whole) then why the incessant need to differentiate between what Christ says in red and the rest of scripture? Should we not be concerned about reflecting idolatry (an Old Testament declaration of freedom) in our laws and policies? I don’t see how we should not be and thus I don’t see why we should prioritize one scripture over another.

In closing, I think this whole idea of being a Red Letter Christian is condescending. **I** follow the words of Jesus. While everyone else….what?