Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Problem With Us Evangelicals Is We’re Just Too Liberal

Written by David Fitch 
on November 30, 2016
If there’s anything the election of Donald Trump has taught me it is this: We evangelicals have gone liberal and it’s taking us down a wrong path.
Let me explain.
The Word “Liberal”
Current American Politics
“Liberal” is a word that can mean many things. In everyday use, the word refers to the opposite of “conservative.” If Republicans are conservative, then Democrats must be liberal. To be conservative socially is to support traditional values and personal responsibility. To be liberal socially is to advocate for personal freedom, self-expression and personal flourishing on all social moral issues. Evangelicals tend to be conservatives in these ways.
Classical Liberalism
The more classical use of the word however, in the political tradition of John Locke, J.S. Mill, John Rawls, describes a brand of individualist politics. The goal of this kind of “liberal” is to order a society around the freedom of each to pursue his or her “life, liberty and happiness.” Achieving this goal, in essence, is what it means to “make America great again.”
In the crassest of terms, this version of political liberalism seeks a society that liberates each individual to do whatever he or she wants as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump and the 'War on Christmas'

Michael Sean Winters  |  Nov. 29, 2016

You know the celebration of the birth of our Savior is nigh when Fox News starts yapping about the "War on Christmas." Their website has usefully collected a series of stories that expose the liberal plot to rob Americans of our most cherished holiday. Once again, liberals have stolen a cultural inheritance that most Americans have always enjoyed.
This is all hooey best ignored, of course. Until it results in an Electoral College victory, at which point you can no longer ignore it.
First, the hooey. Those referred to as "early Americans" had a positive aversion to Christmas. Heirs to the most radical variety of Reformation ideology, the Puritans banned any celebration of Christmas which they viewed as a pagan observance that had crept into Christianity thanks to the anti-Christ (that would be the pope to us). Christmas became popular in America more on account of the popularity of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and the arrival of German immigrants in the nineteenth century than due to a more expansive reading of Luke's account of the birth of Jesus.

Slum priests needed for a new Oxford Movement

November 29, 2016

Ed Watson’s recent post here at Covenant asked, What is preventing a new Oxford Movement in the Episcopal Church today? Watson was responding to a 2012 post by Fr. Robert Hendrickson. Zachary Guiliano then followed up, mentioning a potential missing element: an emphasis on Scripture and personal holiness. However, in the wake of the November election, it seems a question worth revisiting for a fourth time. I am very conscious that I speak as a committed layperson within the Episcopal Church, and therefore not in a position to practice directly what I preach. I believe, however, that what I discuss below should be a necessary part of the conversation.

As a historian, reading both Watson’s and Hendrickson’s posts, I was struck by the extent that their framing, and therefore their definition, of the Oxford Movement was purely theological and liturgical. A revival of the Oxford Movement, by this definition, would consist in asserting the claims of the Church against individualistic trends within society and culture, a renewed adoration of the Eucharist and devotion to the Virgin Mary, and a more sacramental piety.
We have attended to the externals, the “décor” of the Oxford Movement, argues Fr. Hendrickson, without cultivating the inner life of a John Keble or an E.B. Pusey. Watson argues that the High Church insularity, cultivated from within and assumed from without, has further driven away potential support; focusing on the “right” way to do worship has become a bar to evangelism and renewal.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Has the Bonhoeffer Moment Finally Arrived?

 11/28/2016 01:19 pm ET

Stephen R. Haynes Professor, Rhodes College
Not too long ago, political events in our country led a sector of the American population to conclude that a cultural apocalypse was looming. The nation these men and women knew and loved was endangered by cultural shifts they neither approved of nor understood. As faithful Christians, they scrambled to discern the times. Naturally they summoned to memory Christian heroes who had courageously kept the faith when facing similar crises. I’m referring, of course, to the summer of 2015.
As it became likely that the U. S. Supreme Court would overturn legal barriers to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, these Christians were convinced the time had come for bold resistance. If the apocalyptic character of this historical moment tended not to register with moderates and liberals, it’s because this was not our apocalypse.
I took note, if only because a handful of Christian leaders, including the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, rallied their followers to action by declaring a “Bonhoeffer moment in America” — a reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the German theologian murdered by the Nazis for his role in the anti-Hitler resistance. As a Bonhoeffer scholar with an interest in the uses to which the theologian’s legacy are put, I was fascinated by the phrase “Bonhoeffer moment” — particularly since it emanated from a segment of American Christianity not known for its affinities with twentieth-century Continental theology.
Fast forward eighteen months. Many Christians disturbed by Donald Trump’s election after a campaign steeped in racism, misogyny and xenophobia are searching for guides to faithful action. As in 2015, those familiar with Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy are wondering how the German theologian might help us negotiate these perplexing times. No one is more attentive to this question than professional Bonhoeffer scholars.
At a meeting of the International Bonhoeffer Society that convened ten days after the election, many expressed concern mingled with caution. On one hand, those of us who study Bonhoeffer are acutely aware of how poorly the Christian churches responded to Hitler in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi revolution, when effective resistance might have been possible. On the other hand, we are suspicious of glib comparisons between Nazi Germany and whatever political uncertainty Americans happen to be facing (including the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples), particularly when Bonhoeffer’s name is invoked to make the parallels appear credible.
This caution notwithstanding, I am one Bonhoeffer scholar who thinks the German theologian has much to say to us .  . .

Second Sunday of Advent (12.4.16)

3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
This week we turn to the far left panel of the second view of Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. We begin with Karl Barth’s reflections on this scene:
“Its subject is the incarnation. There are three things to be seen in                             the picture, and it is difficult to say where the observer should begin.                                    In the background upon the heights of heaven, beyond earth’s highest                   mountains, surrounded by innumerable angels, there is God the Father                                      in His glory.
“In the foreground to the left there is the sanctuary of the old covenant.                            It also is filled with and surrounded by angels, but inexorably separated                          from the background by an immensely high, gloomy partition.
“But towards the right a curtain is drawn back, affording a view. And                            at this point, at the head of the whole world of Advent looking to see                                  the Messiah, stands Mary as the recipient of grace, the representative                               of all the rest, in adoration before what she sees happening on the right                          side. Over there, but quite lonely, the child Jesus lies in His mother’s arms, surrounded with unmistakable signs reminding us that He is a child of earth          like all the rest. Only the little child, not the mother, sees what is to be                           seen there, the Father. He alone, the Father, sees right into the eyes of this                     child. On the same side as the first Mary appears the Church, facing at a                 distance. It has open access on this side, it adores, it magnifies and praises,   therefore it sees what is indeed the glory of the only-begotten of His Father,                full of grace and truth. But it sees only indirectly,

What it sees directly is only the little child in His humanity; it sees the Father                      only    in the light that falls upon the Son, and the Son only in this light from                       the Father.
“This is the way, in fact, that the Church believes in and recognises God in         Christ. It cannot run over to the right side, where the glory of God can be                       seen directly. It can only look out of the darkness in the direction in which                            a human being is to be seen in a light, the source of which it cannot see itself. Because of this light streaming down from above, it worships before this                        human being as before God Himself, although to all visual appearance He is               literally nothing but a human being. John the Baptist too, in Grünewald’s                 Crucifixion, can only point—and here everything is bolder and more abrupt,               because here all indication of the revelation of the Godhead is lacking—point                  to a wretched, crucified, dead man. This is the place of Christology. It faces                    the mystery. It does not stand within the mystery. It can and must adore with                  Mary and point with the Baptist. It cannot and must not do more than this.                         But it can and must do this” (Barth, K., 2004. Church dogmatics: The doctrine               of the Word of God, Part 2, London; New York: T&T Clark. p.125).
The only thing the church has to offer our world, the only thing it cannot find   elsewhere or get on its on, is its witness that in a newborn two thousand years ago God himself came among us to save us. Barth identifies the postures appropriate to humanity as witnesses to such an imaginable, scandalous reality: face it, adore it, point to it.
-This mystery claims our attention. It decenters us from ourselves and our concerns.
-This mystery claims our affections. It disposes us to worship the true and living God and turn away from all other powers and idols that seduce us and lead us astray.
-This mystery claims our action. All we have and are point to this one, this low-born child who ends his life on a traitor’s cross.
THIS MYSTERY, THIS CHILD, THIS MAN – holds the place in our lives that only God should hold. This is our witness to the mystery who enters history riveting our attention, altaring our hearts, and shaping our lives into a coherent testimony to him.
About twenty years ago Joan Osborne had a hit song that asked “What if God was one of us?” Just an ordinary human being living his life amid the joys and sorrows, the hopes and hurts of human life. One of us? But one in whom, with no special evidence to buttress our witness, we testify is God come among us one of us!
Old Testament saints saw this one dimly through a veil. Mary beheld him as a babe in her lap. John saw him dying agonizingly on a Roman cross. But this man himself beheld God and reflected his will and character in such a compelling way that if one trusted him life was turned upside down, or better, inside out. Our attention, affections, and actions are enabled to take their proper shape and form our lives as God always meant them to be.

He calls us to bear witness to himself, this one. And we must respond. His call is not a theology test to which we can give the right answers. Nor is it a moralism we can satisfy by doing the right things. It’s a call to find the clue to all things human and divine in following this one in all things to offer a living witness to him in whom we have found God! 

Saturday, November 26, 2016


The Baptist theologian James William McClendon once reported a story about Clarence Jordan, the founder of an interracial community called Koinonia Farm. Jordan, who described his community as a “demonstration plot” for the Kingdom of God, asked his brother, Robert, to assist him in the struggle against the racial injustices of the Jim Crow South. Robert was keenly aware of the community’s hardships: Local citizens boycotted the farm, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the produce stands, and ominous letters flooded the mailbox. The cost weighed heavily on him.
“Clarence, I can’t do that,” Robert said, declining his brother’s request. “I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point.”
“Could that point by any chance be—the cross?” Clarence replied.
“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”
Today we find ourselves in the cleft between Clarence’s invitation and Robert’s refusal. White Christianity in America is mounting a breach that’s too wide to straddle. A house that sits on a fault line will crumble, forcing those who have lived in it to leap the gap to one side or the other.
This predicament is common to the entire cosmos, a certain theological reading would have it—this is the stage on which God’s apocalyptic incursion births a new Adam. And this cosmic dualism—old age/new age, old Adam/new Adam—gives rise to an ethical dualism. Either we participate in the suffering service of Jesus Christ, our tradition tells us, or we don’t. Either we’ll follow him on the cross, or we won’t. At this juncture of the ages, resurrection life is hidden and revealed in our cruciform service to the least of these, and everything else is in league with Sin and Death. There is no third way. There is no straddling the chasm.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ross Douthat’s “The Crisis for Liberalism”

Ross Douthat’s “The Crisis for Liberalism” ( ably makes the case that the “naked public square” (echoing Richard John Neuhaus from thirty-two years ago) lacks sufficient resources to resolve the crisis generated by the identity politics of the left and made evident by the results of the recent election.

Lacking a national vision of a common good, a compelling sense of our place in the world, a unifying civil religion, the US is wedged between a rock and hard place. With a new administration that seems hell bent on governing as though the tattered remains of the late, great Judeo-Christian ethic is still in place, makes for a combustible situation indeed. Whether its fumes can reunite us around its largely abandoned vision of life in America is doubtful indeed.

But, insists Douthat, that vision or something very like it is what has to be recovered if we are to find our to unity and purpose again. The human needs unmet by identity politics or, I would add, Republican obstructionism,

“a deeper vision than mere liberalism is still required — something like ‘for God and home and country,’ as reactionary as that phrase may sound. It is reactionary, but then it is precisely older, foundational things that today’s liberalism has lost. Until it finds them again, it will face tribalism within its coalition and Trumpism from without, and it will struggle to tame either.”

I believe he is spot on here in his analysis. What I question, though, in fact what I don’t believe is desirable even if it is possible, is “something like ‘for God and home and country’” as the remedy.

Truth is, we’ve been there, done that, and if you were not white and male, it wasn’t all that great. And it did no good for the church’s witness to be a sponsor of the civil religion of an empire.

The question Douthat’s analysis does open up is the place and function of the church when it is no longer chaplain on the Good Ship America but cast out beyond the pale of the naked public square. God tells his people exiled in Babylon:

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.                       Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and                             give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters;                  multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where                           I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its                           welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer.29:5-7)

If such holds for God’s people, exiles in America, as well, what might it mean in light of Douthat’s analysis? I find Dietrich Bonhoeffer the best guide into this moment. But more important than what I think, is what other readers approach this situation we are in. So chime in, friends!