Category Archives: Discipleship

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.

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.

Capital Punishment and the Christian Faith

So Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is sentenced to death for the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing and for killing a police officer. After reading, “Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call For Reckoning” I’m convinced that there is no real tension between the Christian faith and the death penalty. Having a little discussion on facebook with one of my friends, Keith Pavilschek I made mention of what Gilbert Meilaender said:

“Evidently Christian sensibilities about forgiveness do not actually require forgiveness, since something called “punishment” is still permitted.”

Apparently some Christians (and yes, I’ve seen them in the media) believe that forgiveness requires no death penalty. But for some reason, it would require punishment. Hmmmm…thinking there is a contradiction there when forgiveness is your bottomline. Keith pointed out that,

“if the death penalty is ‘state sanctioned murder’ as some abolitionists insist, is imprisonment ‘state sanctioned kidnapping’?

and I pointed out

“And how about the ’emotional abuse’ one ‘suffers’ when one is stuck in a prison for the rest of their days”

Popular Religion, Victoria Osteen And Why It’s Not All That Bad

There has been a video of Victoria Osteen floating around on the internet this past week or so which has received quite a bit of flack from many evangelical Christians for it’s shoddy theology. You can see that video and a more favorable response here .

Years ago, I read Richard Mouw’s book, Consulting the Faithful: What Intellectuals Can Learn From Popular Religion .

It had a great impact on me, challenging me to be more charitable and less suspicious of popular religion by trying to see below the surface to understand “the hopes and fears” of the average lay person. I’ve been surprised via searching out and reading alternative views such as Brent White’s above at how much I/we as a community of Christians don’t see or deliberately ignore opposing views just so we can sulk and criticize and be bitter about the “state of the Church” in general.

But let’s face it folks. Folk religion, popular religion or whatever you want to call it is here to stay. Let’s face the fact this thing called “popular religion” could possibly be one way that God is using to bring folks into a deeper relationship with himself. Let’s face the fact that popular religion, because not everyone is an intellectual, is the way many folk relate to God (thinking of the mentality challenged here). Let’s face the fact that there may be some GOLD nugget(s) that we can glean from. It could be said that when Franky Schaeffer wrote, “Addicted to Mediocrity,” though this brought to the fore the critical “state of evangelicalism,” it did not help in terms of understanding the laity and many of the sentiments which drive their form of worship and by which they “live and move and have their being.”

Mind you, while I will probably not attend an Osteen service myself, as I’m past much of that sort of theology, (though I would never count out attending for other purposes ie., praise and worship where that, it seems, is most untouched by popular theology, at least one can praise God where the praise, though probably simple, can still be heart felt and not wrapped up in struggles of Billy Cosby sentiments), I really don’t blame others for doing so as this is where they meet God at. I’ll say it like this. Mouw uses the analogy of “puppy love.” That’s a good place to start for relationships but it can’t carry those relationships through the long haul and the topsy-turvy storms that relationships eventually bring. Our relationship with God begins some where on some level.

Now one might say, “Ahh…but those people have been going to that church for years and they are none the farther theologically.” The problem with such criticism is the way one is viewing personal piety and church attendance. How do you KNOW many of these folks are not theological giants? How do you know WHY they are attending such services? As I said, I could attend because I like the music aspect of the service though I’m barely able to sit through the preaching. I may attend because I have good friends whom I’ve developed deep relationships with. I may attend because I am accepted and that is all I needed at the time.

At the end of the day:

A. I don’t think any of us has “correct” theology (though this is not to say that we should neglect studying theology, after all, professors and teachers, are gifts to the body as well).
B. There are many different reasons for why people attend church and God meets us where we’re at. My church attendance isn’t all about having correct theology but an encounter with the Divine.

So. While **I** probably wouldn’t attend certain churches for shallow theology, (I definitely see that not all is negative–there is SOMETHING that can be redeemed), people attend for various reasons and I trust God, through the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.

All Fall Short

So. Then there’s this: WATCH: Family Has Horrifying, Violent Reaction To Son’s Coming Out As Gay (GRAPHIC CONTENT)

My buddy went so far as to say the parents were not Christian in large part because they were violent and verbally abusive to the young man. Now, there ARE these folks on the Right who declare the spiritual status of people over others when it comes to their hot button issues ie., that doctor performing abortions CERTAINLY CAN’T be a Christian. But Christians on the Left do the same ie., Fred Phelps CERTAINLY CAN’T be a Christian. Pick ANY left/right issue. One side will declare that the other side is on the outs. And really, it looks like some family feud. The stinging vitriolic towards each other at times makes you feel as if you are standing in the middle of a battle field sometimes.

Now here’s the thing. Both sides have a hold on the truth on their respective issues while the other side may not be in complete error on the issue itself. Let me give an example of what I mean. Using one of the examples above, lets look at the gay debate to see more clearly what I’m saying.

As it stands, there are a WHOLE swath of Christians whom feel/think that:

A. Homosexuality is not God’s ideal for human sexuality. That THAT along with other inclinations are not ideal for human sexuality ie., premarital inclinations and behavior, lustful obsessions, etc. They may fall more along the lines of what Stanley Grenz pointed out some years ago in which they are “welcoming but not affirming” (to speak in rather general terms). They believe there should be some things that are inappropriate in terms of our sexuality and so they don’t affirm those particular thoughts and behaviors. Though they may not except those whom do them.

B. On the other side is the more welcoming AND affirming crowd. As a matter of fact some would in all probability say that the other side is not welcoming if they are not affirming. Thus, they see gay orientation as immutable as the skin pigmentation or the shape of an say an Asian person for an example. For them, the gay person, in this sense, is the “Samaritan” or the “marginalized.”

For myself, I don’t think those in category “A” are mistaken (at least theologically). After all, they have a LONG history of Christian sexual ethics that they are standing on. But the Fred Phelps types and the folk in the video link above would fall into THAT category. Where they ARE mistaken is in their dysfunction in HOW they relate with those who are gay in their midst ie., they could learn from their gay brothers and sisters and see their own struggles, even seeing them AS fellow strugglers on a journey to a final destination where they struggle no more.

The other side, where I think they are mistaken, is not even seeing sexual orientation, identity, etc, as something to be struggled with. However, where they are NOT mistaken is seeing those as different as marginalized and to some extent relating properly to gay folk, ie., meeting them where they are at.

Now, if such is the case, how can anyone on either side declare those on the opposite side AS NOT Christian? Aren’t both sides lacking in love to some extent or another? Lacking in love in different capacities? Let’s face it. If love is supposed to be what we are shooting for ie., being “perfected in love” (towards God and our fellow humans) then to the extent that we lack loving in the way we should we are also not perfected. What I’m saying is this. When it comes to love? ALL of us SUCK at it. Let me give an example from Alexander Pruss’ book, “One Body.”

“One way love is humble is that the actions of love are not focused on agapé itself (we shall discuss a different aspect of love‘s humility in section 5 below). There would be something odd about a parent explaining why he stayed up the night with a sick child by saying: “I love my son.“ Surely the better justification would be the simpler: “He is my son.“ The latter justification puts the parent in a less grammatically prominent spot (“my” instead of “l”), and shows that the focus is on the son. Most importantly, however, the use of “I love my son“ as a justification would suggest that if one did not love him, the main reason to stay up the night would be missing. But the main reason to stay up the night is that he is one‘s son. That he is one’s son is also a reason to love him as one’s son, and that one loves him may provide one with a further reason to stay up with him. However, the main reason for staying up is not that one loves him; rather, the love, expressed in the staying up, is a response to a reason that one would have independently of the love. Thus, in an important sense, the parent acts lovingly—acts in a way that is at least partly constitutive of love—without acting on account of love. Love’s actions are not focused on love but on the beloved as seen in the context of a particular relationship. However, to explain why we made some sacrifice for someone to whom we had no blood ties, we might well say, “I love him.” Nonetheless, I suggest, this may be an imperfection—it may be a case of seeking one’s own. Why not instead act on account of the value of the other person in the context of the relationship? It is true that love maybe a central part of that relationship, but I want to suggest that love is not the part of the relationship that actually does the work of justifying the sacrifice. For suppose that I stopped loving my friend. Would that in itself take away my obligation to stand by him in his time of need? Certainly not. The commitment I had implicitly or explicitly undertaken while loving him, a commitment that made it appropriate for him to expect help from me, is sufficient for the justification. If I need to advert to my own love, then something has gone wrong.”

If Pruss is right here, then the case may be made that there are a lot of Christians, both of whom fall in categories “A” & “B” that are loving for “one’s own” (benefit). They are loving out of dysfunction. And if such is the case that all of us suck at love (loving) because we love out of dysfunction then how can we REALLY declare who’s on the inside and who’s on the outside? And that’s my point. Even when we THINK we are loving as we ought (“I’m loving but you guys over there aren’t”). We very well may not be as Pruss shows.

So for me, those in both categories “A” and “B” are loving in their respective ways. They ALSO LACK in love in their respective ways. Thus, no one should declare the other side on the outs.

Sectarian Diversity

This is a musing I put up on an Open Theism page that I’m a part of. When I refer to “Greg” I’m speaking of Greg Boyd who is quite influential in open theistic circles.

I want to ask a question but it will be put more in the form of a statement. This is also actually related to other issues as well, for example the “Health and Wealth Gospel” and is something I’ve had rolling around in my head for some time now. But I guess I’m wondering what the “goal” of open theistic theology is. Think of it like this. Say, back in the 1950’s, the “Health and Wealth Gospel” was virtually unheard of. America did start to see the major celebrity preachers come into the spot light at this time, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that we begin to see the “Health and Wealth Gospel” come to full fruition. Since that time, there have been numerous articles and books (not to mention negative press from the secular media) talking about scams and the dangers of the “Health and Wealth Gospel” and yet here we are in 2014, and has the Health and Wealth Gospel gone the way of the do-do bird? Nope. Still here. Fundamentalism. Has DEEP roots in America. LOT’S of criticism of that. Still here. Let’s forward to Open theism. Institutions like the Catholic Church (or at least some leaders) consider it to be a heresay. So my question is, what is the goal of adherents of different religious movements and in this case, open theism? See, I’ve heard people complain when they were a prof at a Christian institution that there was a lack of openness to differing points of view ie., some won’t consider evolution and will even fire someone for teaching such “heretical views.” So what is the solution to all of this? What do open theistic proponents hope to achieve? Will they be not be satisfied until he whole world converts? Or at least the evangelical world? Well, I have news for you. Not gonna happen. Greg said years ago that he wasn’t concerned about the results but rather about being faithful. OK. I get that. But does that not mean NOT TRYING TO CONVERT people to your point of view? I mean, there has to be more to all the energy expended than simply being faithful. There has to be the hope of converts. To see, if not great swaths of folk “jumping the broom” and coming over to your side of seeing things then at least SOME. Is there not also the goal of correction? But is the traditional classical view of God like going to go the way of the do-do bird any time soon? Probably not. So would not a better solution be to accept things the way they are? Preach IN YOUR circles an open theistic view but leave everyone else be? In saying this, I’m not suggesting that one not have conversations with willing participants outside your circle, but should the goal be to convert say, Catholics whom predominantly believe in the classical view? Sometimes we see changes on political and theological issues. There is more acceptance of blacks and interracial marriage than years previous. More acceptance of same-sex marriage. More openness on certain Christian campuses to different points of views. But this isn’t across the board. Institutions will have their “defining lines.” Beliefs and policies that separate them markedly different from others. Call this a sectarianism. But it’s there. All around. For everyone. Is this such a bad thing? I just saw a t-shirt that said, “Be the change.” I’m sure it means personal change that will ultimately affect the world. But again, what is the goal? It’s so vague! Change to see what? Sometimes I think evangelicalism (and the church in general) is rife with an over-realized eschatology. “If I get enough folk to see it my way things will be better!” (as far as that goes).

Salvation of the Whole and Justice for All

From Chapter Twelve of Greg Boyd’s book, “Benefit of the Doubt.”

“The Cross-Centered Kingdom
An Invitation without Clutter
In an earlier chapter I noted that the way to know what a person or people group really believes is not to ask them but to watch. Christians frequently say, “It’s all about Jesus,” but our actions betray us. Judging by the amount of time, energy, and emotion that many put into fighting a multitude of battles, ranging from the defense of the literalness and inerrancy of the Bible to the war against gay marriage or universal health care, one easily gets the impression that Christianity is about a lot of different, equally important, things.”

This is probably the one thing that irritates me the most in Greg’s writings but also in some discussions between online friends, myself and Greg on the Open Theism Discussion Boards that we participated in years ago. His ethics–especially as it gets closer to the street level. Isn’t it interesting that this is a dig at the “Christian Right” or their issues? But if we were to bring up things like how best to help the poor or issues like war, I may definitely not get the same “dig.”

Now, Greg might say something like this would apply to both the right and the left and that would be fair enough in terms of the point about it all being about Jesus. However, when Greg speaks in this manner (mentioning these specific examples) he essentially betrays His political leanings. But more than this, he shows his anabaptist hand when it comes to politics in general. As if THIS is how evangelicals SHOULD do politics. In other words, it is not so much his political leanings but rather when he says: “Judging by the amount of time, energy, and emotion that many put into fighting a multitude of battles…” For Greg, it is all about God’s love. That we are made for that love. We are to reflect that love back to God, thereby participating in the triune Godhead but we are also to reflect it towards each other. Thus, these battles will be on the back burner.

I want to parse this out a bit though and say that as important as that is (which nothing can be more important than loving God), it is not robust ENOUGH. Let’s look at three political positions and then work from there.

A. Christians going with a merging of the Church and state. In other words, you can go from the extreme Dominion Theology, Kingdom Now, Reconstruction type theology to the more conservative Religious Right (as well as the Left, though generally it is the Right) in which Christians will attempt to bring the Bible to bear on society. This will be every thing from trying to implement actual biblical laws into modern day society to weaker or blander versions such basing particular laws on “biblical principles” ie., the Religious Right/Left, ie., Pat Robertson, James Dobson to Jim Wallis types.
B. Christians will not become involved with politics in the same sense mentioned above. They will generally be removed from it for two main reasons–eschatology or pietistic reasons. For the first it’s kinda like saying, “What use is there in rearranging the furniture on the Titanic when it’s going down? Let’s concentrate on saving souls.” The latter is more what Greg would hold to. He would say that one should not be involved in politics because it is “power over” and not “power under” as “quintessentially expressed on the cross.” In other words, we don’t force or coerce people to obey our Christian ethics. It’s not to say that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics and try to influence from without. It is only to say that we should not be forcing others to follow Christian ethics via making laws that would do so. Without getting into full fledged post on this point, I will say not only do I think this is confused but IT IS basically a position that is held to and practiced on the basis of scripture. That is, even though it is not like option A above it is still a position informed by scripture.
C. Lastly, there is the position that I hold to which doesn’t go with either A or B though it is still informed by scripture and has a long history within the Church. Catholics call it “subsidarity” and Reformers call it, “sphere sovereignty.” Though there are major differences between the two sides, the idea is that God has called the state or authorities (it’s not necessary to say which form of authority is derived from God) just as he has called other aspects of civil life into being, ie., schools, hospitals, families, churches, libraries, banks, etc, and given them authority.

Now, given that God has called these different spheres into being, this means that God has called them to be responsible. He has given them a responsibility to carry out their authority, doing that for which they are called for.

[As an aside, I realize that there are some objections to this of which I won’t respond to in this post ie., how is civil society called into being when it is that which humans make? Is a particular form of authority legitmate? If not, how is it called into being by God? What makes this particular form of authority legitimate over another form? Suffice to say, I’m simply noting that civil society is something that God ultimately brings about and, regardless, each sphere is still to be responsible for it’s own authority as opposed to another ie., a police authority is not a family. A family is not a police authority, etc.]

So, one may ask, “What does this have to do with what Greg is saying?” Let’s look at these in this order:

A. First, Greg looks at salvation in a pietistic fashion. He basically follows the ‘ol, “Let’s save souls and that is how we’ll change a nation” argument. Isn’t that basically what he is saying when social issues are secondary to the “pure gospel” which is loving God first? Gay marriage is second to loving God? Universal health care is less important than loving God? I submit that that there is a false dichotomy here. Salvation is definitely about loving God yes. But loving God is not intangible. It has to be worked out in the concrete. Frankly, there is no such thing as loving God outside the concrete. Salvation will also include this world. It will include saving this souls but also being concerned about someone’s health for example.
B. Second, (and of course this is related to the first), if salvation is about the “whole of human life” then it will be concerned about institutions such as marriage. If God has called these different spheres into existence, then God is concerned for justice done to them. And if that is the case, then justice will insure they have the room to carry out their responsibilities before God whom gives them these responsibilities in the first place. And in order to do that, each one of these spheres needs to be differentiated. A family is not a government. A government is not a library. A library is not a hospital. A hospital is not a church. A church is not a military and so forth.

So what we end up with here is where Greg will say, that we should do justice in the world (which he doesn’t connect to salvation, for the most part, though he gives hints to it in early writings ie., God at War) but is apparently oblivious of the connections to the bigger salvific picture.

Big point here: If I’m going to be concerned about justice not only will I see it in connection with salvation of the whole but I will see all spheres equally. In other words, I won’t simply be concerned about same sex marriage MORE THAN education. I will be concerned about justice for both. I won’t be concerned about abortion more than say, the poor or ensuring that we have regulations in place for which we can sustain life as a whole. I will be concerned about both. Don’t get me wrong. Yes, we may prioritize, say, life issues over same sex marriage, but we will still be concerned about justice for all based on the idea of a “principled pluralism” outlined above which is based on a theology that God creates, gives some authority over to his creatures and expects them to be responsible with that talent he has given them.