Friday, October 2, 2015


(a repost from an earlier school shooting)
                Many (including myself) have taken a run at the “gun thing” in recent days in the wake of the terrible shootings in Connecticut.  The questions have been largely pragmatic (will more or less guns keep us “safer”?), political (what can or will the Obama administration do about guns?), constitutional (what, in fact, is the significance of the 2nd Amendment?), or comparative  (what have other countries done and would what they have done work for us?).  All these are, of course, valid and valuable questions. 

                Fewer responses have been genuinely theological.  Perhaps the responses from the Religious Right have seemed so wrongheaded and headed in a wrong direction that others have chosen to stay out of that part of the discussion.  One, however, has not.  And he has offered as bold, abrasive, and even more extreme a response as James Dobson or anyone else.  He is Garry Wills, the eminent historian of American culture and religion, now Emeritus professor, at Northwestern University.  A Catholic Christian, Wills penned his prophetic indictment (for that is what it must be called) of the place of “the Gun” in American life for The New York Review of Books (

                Wills contends that “the Gun,” with its patron saint Charlton Heston, is the deity worshiped in our culture.  And in the slaughter of the children in Connecticut this deity has definitely revealed its identity – it is none other than Moloch, the detestable god who required child sacrifice and whose worship Israel proscribed with a vigor unmatched by any other false worship in the Old Teststament. Wills’ own words say it best:

“The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

“Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.

“Adoration of Moloch permeates the country, imposing a hushed silence as he works his will. One cannot question his rites, even as the blood is gushing through the idol’s teeth. The White House spokesman invokes the silence of traditional in religious ceremony. ‘It is not the time’ to question Moloch. No time is right for showing disrespect for Moloch.”

          Further, this idolatrous worship of Moloch, this “Gundamentalism,” bears all the marks we typically attribute to fundamentalisms.  According to Wills, worship of Moloch first destroys our ability to reason.  “It forbids making logical connections. We are required to deny that there is any connection between the fact that we have the greatest number of guns in private hands and the greatest number of deaths from them . . . Reason is helpless before such abject faith.”  Just like the arguments about evolution, global warming, etc.  Secondly, Moloch-worship renders our politicians “invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine.”  The power of this deity and its acolytes is such that it is, in Wills’ words, “Better that the children die or their lives be blasted than that a politician should risk an election against the dread sentence of NRA excommunication.”  Thirdly, Wills notes, this idolatry corrupts our reading of our sacred document, the Constitution.

“It says that the right to “bear arms,” a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any every madman can indulge his “religion” of slaughter. Moloch brooks no dissent, even from the highest court in the land.”

          To summarize, “Gundamentalism” destroys our ability to reason, renders our leaders helpless before its demands, and corrupts our reading of sacred documents. 

          Wills denounces our idolatry to Moloch and its deforming influence in and over us as a people.  Doubtless he will be dismissed as extreme, unpatriotic, and impractical; a troublemaker who best keeps his blasphemies to himself.  Just so have they always treated the prophets, to echo another prophet, Jesus the Nazarene.  I want to suggest that another, related way to understand the idolatrous and iconic place of “the Gun” in our culture is demonic possession.  And there is a story in the gospels that might just help us see this and bring Wills’ point home to us in a different way.

          In Mark 5:1-20 we read of Jesus’ encounter with a demon-possessed man who live among the tombs (what better place for a “Gundamentalist”?) in the region of the Gerasenes.  Extraordinarily strong, the people had never been able to contain or control him.  When he spies Jesus at a distance, however, he hustles over to the Lord and pleads with him not to torture him.  Jesus clearly has the authority and power to deal with “Gundamentalism” as a demonic possession.

          When Jesus asks his name, the demons within him answer, “Legion is my name, because we are many” (v.9).  This term is a Roman military term, and the Roman military was responsible for the famed “Pax Romana.”  Underwritten by the superior military might of the empire, “peace” was secured (imposed) on all the empire’s inhabitants.  It promised them “safety and peace,” on condition of (idolatrous) allegiance to the Emperor, payment of taxes, and no rabble-rousing. Surely this is but another name for “Gundamentalism”!

          Jews, in particular, would have seen that such first century Moloch-worship carried with it the effects Garry Wills outlined above.  To speak of “peace and safety” established on the fear of the empire’s crushing military reprisals for noncompliance distorts reason in the direction of the propagandistic imperial double-speak so well known to us in our own time.  Local and regional leaders had little choice but the support the empire’s policies and ideology.  It was not good then, as it is not now, to question the wisdom or legitimacy of “Gundamentalism” (at least out loud).  And Jews would have instinctively sensed the empire’s effect of covenant distortion, the way Israel read and lived out its sacred document, the Torah. 

          This poor demon-possessed man can, I suggest, be understood as the personification of Roman “Gundamentalism,” under which the whole region suffered.  The demons even confess their own illegitimacy by requesting Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs – unclean!  Jesus does so and the demons depart the man, inhabit the pigs and drive them into the lake to their own destruction (v.13).  This action surely echoes the Exodus, where Pharaoh’s troops were drowned in the water too.  Jesus presents himself here as the leader of God’s new Exodus, possessed of faithful confidence in God’s power at work in and through him, even as he knows that power is of an odd and peculiar sort not easily grasped or embraced by many, including his own closest followers.

          This extraordinary exorcism, a portent of Rome’s ultimate defeat by the nonviolent revolution Jesus inaugurated and embodied, and hence the defeat of every empire, every “Gundamentalism, obviously garnered wide attention.  Many came to see the erstwhile crazy man of the tombs in good and sound mind and marveled.  Those who had actually experienced the display of Jesus’ power were, on the other hand, rather unnerved.  With just a word he had disrupted the political, social, and economic systems forged with the “Gundamentalist” empire!  And this was more than they were ready to take.  They wanted their pigs back and the empire in charge.  They knew how to deal with it.  This Jesus, however, they were quite sure they wanted more of his meddling.

          Wills’ prophetic indictment is theological because it probes into the presence and action of the deity we actually worship and order our lives around (whatever else we may so or do on Sundays).  He cuts beneath the other considerations to show that they cannot be properly assessed until we recognize and repent of our idolatry!  I have tried to read Mark 5 theologically in a similar vein to the same end.  More guns or less guns, we are still responding to the “Gundamentalism” that possesses us.  How about we repent of our idolatry as God’s people (and here I mean the church, not the nation) and become again a people who live by the Exodus power of a Lord who rules, not by the usual expressions of military power, but by a world-creating, world-shaking Word!  Then, perhaps, if we are not afraid, we may see clearly for the first time the way we need to go as God’s people and even perhaps unexpectedly discover ways to contribute to the issue of guns in our nation.

          May it please God that such be true for us this day, tomorrow, and every tomorrow God grants till kingdom come!          

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Francis and Trump: Opposites Competing for the American Soul

John ThatamanilABC Religion and Ethics 28 Sep 2015

Donald Trump and Pope Francis are incarnations of the kind of power to which they appeal. To choose between them is to make a basic human decision about the shape of a worthy life. Credit: Aristide Economopoulos / Sean Rayford / Getty Images

The two most popular figures in American life in recent weeks are polar opposites: Pope Francis and Donald Trump.

Trump is a favourite candidate of white nationalists and xenophobes. The Pope, by contrast, speaks tirelessly on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, immigrants and the planet - "our common home."

The Pope points away from himself and to the needs of others. Trump constantly points to himself. Trump has no platform save Trump. His core message is, "I am great. I will make the nation over in my own image, and so it too will be great again."


History and Bible: Do They Align?


Posted By: Greg Boyd

To begin, it is significant that when Jesus and the authors of the NT referred to their sacred writings as “God-breathed,” they were referring to the writings that had been handed down to them. So too, the text that the Church has always confessed to be “God-breathed” has been the canon she received. Never has the “God-breathed” nature of the text been affixed to oral or written versions of the biblical material that preceded the written text. For this and other reasons, I find that the “God-breathed” status and divine authority of Scripture attaches to its final canonical form. This alone is the text we are called to wrestle with, with the ultimate goal of discerning how any given passage bears witness to the faithful and merciful covenantal God who was definitively revealed in Christ.
This means, among other things, that our estimation of a passage’s “God-breathed” nature and/or its divine authority should not hinge upon anything like historical-critical considerations.


Friday, September 25, 2015

If Only Ann Coulter Had a Reason to worry

Patrick J. Deneen
By | September 25, 2015

The steady drumbeat of criticisms aimed at Pope Francis from the conservative American commentariat continue to accumulate. Following George Will’s scurrilous column of last week, Rich Lowry of America’s main conservative journal, National Review, similarly weighed in to condemn the pope’s poor grasp of economics, echoing a set of now well-worn talking points that lead one to suspect that a memo has gone out to leading conservatives in order to launch a coordinated attack.

The pope has not departed from longstanding Catholic teaching on the immorality of an economic system grounded in greed and self-interest, a position established  in 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s first social encyclical, De Rerum Novarum.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Jesus Wants Us to be Served

Jesus Wants us to Be Served

Posted by Jared Byas on September 22, 2015 in Jared Byas Christian faith and life 2 Comments
Jail Cell

In a few days, a friend of mine gets out of jail. We and two other couples we are dear friends with, will be splitting up housing, meals, rides, and job hunting to support him over the next three months.
This seems pretty Jesus-y, yes?

“The Son of Man came to serve (διακονέω), not to be served.” –Matthew 20:28

Well, lately, I’m not so sure. Because there’s something that feeds my ego when I help. So I’ve been thinking about the context of this passage. Two of the disciples get their mama (at least we assume this by the reaction of the other ten) to ask Jesus if they can be in power when Jesus becomes King.
Jesus responds this way: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In a culture that longer has the social stigma of slavery, the difference between serving someone and being a servant can be lost on us. I’ll speak for myself when I say, I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want to serve the slaves but I don’t want to be one. I want to help the less fortunate but I don’t want to be less fortunate. Serving takes my time and energy but being a servant takes my identity and social status.


Does Anybody Really Kknow What Time It Is?

          I’m dating myself, I know, by using an old song from the rock group Chicago as a title. But it still works, I think. Knowing what time it is, knowing, that is, who we are, where we are, and how we’re supposed to live in that time is crucial to living with coherence and integrity. And I contend that by and large the North American church has not and does not now what time it is for us.

          This is not primarily a sociological or historical question (though both are involved in various ways). No, it is a theological question. In fact, it is an apocalyptic question.

C. S. Lewis sets the context (or time) in which the church lives. “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 45-46]. We, the church, living in the light of God’s great and final attack on the world and its godliness in Jesus Christ, are called to carry out the implementation and extension of his victory. Our time, as it were, analogous to the Allied Forces in Europe after the victory at Normandy determined the outcome of the war in that theater (D-Day) but before treaties were signed, weapons laid down, and hostilities ceased V-Day (almost a year later). We’re on the winning side but battles remain ahead before the peace is finally and fully established. Our time is that between the cross and resurrection of Jesus and his return in glory.

          This time consists of an overlap of two ages: the defeated, decaying, and disappearing old age of sin and evil and the age of new creation dawned and moving toward noonday sun. Though the outcome is decided this time remains contested, ambiguous, dangerous, and requires all the commitment and community with one another we can muster.

          Knowing what time it is enables us to discern the perspectives and practices that make for effectiveness and integrity in that time. And that time is liminal. Between what we and the world have been and what we shall be. A time of experimentation and imagining new opportunities. A time in which the powers of evil are like a mortally wounded beast lashing out every which way in its death throes.

          US Marine Colonel Thomas Kolditz did a unique, long-term study on the nature of leadership in just liminal and extreme conditions. He distilled six elements necessary for leaders and communities negotiating them. In such times:

-leaders are inherently motivated because of the danger of the situations in which they’re working; therefore, they seek to equip the community to survive and thrive under pressure rather than resorting to use conventional motivational methods or cheerleading.

-leaders practice continuous learning, they and their communities need to rapidly assess their environments for the level of threat and danger they’re facing.

-leaders place themselves on the front lines with the community. They share the risk and even take on greater risks in the time in which we live.

-leaders share a common lifestyle with their followers…all leaders should consider how much they really have in common with the rest of their organization.

-Dangerous situations demand a high level of mutual trust. Leaders trust their community and are themselves trustworthy. 

-High-risk environments demand mutual loyalty between leader and followers...     Leaders should do everything they can to foster a culture of mutual loyalty.

These skills and dynamics Col. Kolditz has identified are just what the church needs too as leaders and communities carry out that “great campaign of sabotage” God has tasked us with and gifted us for.

A discussion yesterday on FB posed the question of whether “Mission Dei” (Mission of God) and “kingdom of God” resonated in local churches or not. The response was largely that these phrases did not resonate with local church experience. I suspect it is because much of the church does not “know what time it is” (as sketched above) that accounts for this disconnect. And if we do not connect with these key and vital biblical perspectives, how can we expect the church to make its way through this liminal time with integrity and coherence.

Monday, September 21, 2015

We are justified by faith - or so the story goes

We are justified by faith—or so the story goes

People who take the trouble to think of themselves as “Protestant”—as heirs of the Reformation—are likely to be of the view that the doctrine of justification by faith sits right at the heart of their religious identity. But what sort of thing is “justification by faith”? What does it look like? What does it do? In an interview on the Gospel Coalition website Tom Schreiner provides a standard definition:
Justification by faith alone means that we stand in the right before God by faith instead of on the basis of our works. In the classical Protestant formulation of the doctrine, justification doesn’t mean make righteous, but rather declare righteous…. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us by faith so that our forgiveness of sins and righteousness are gifts of God.
The doctrine explains how a person is saved. It has no real application outside of this basic existential requirement. It doesn’t connect with anything else out there in the world. We may suppose, as Schreiner does, that the fruit of justification by faith is to be found in good works. But Reformed theologians generally take great care not to allow practical outcomes to intrude upon and disturb a formula which has the cosmic simplicity of e=mc2. You don’t meddle with the formula—it’s a matter of eternal life or death.

But let’s consider a very different way of using the language of “justification by faith”. We might say, for example, that the outcome of the recent Labour Party leadership election in the UK has justified the belief of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters that his nomination was not in vain. Or that the small number of Members of Parliament who expressed confidence in him at the start of the campaign can now claim to have been in the right. This means, among other things, that they are likely to be rewarded by Corbyn—for example, they may be given a post in the shadow cabinet. Their faith has put them in a good relationship with him . . .