Tuesday, March 31, 2015

God's Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement (SCRM)


“Church” is a word that has suffered the death of a thousand indignities, many of them self-inflicted. The word does little more now than name an irrelevancy, a blasphemy, or danger for many in our culture. It badly needs rehabilitation of its identity and integrity. Essential is a fresh image that captures what church is about that has been lost or obscured and rendered in an idiom that recaptures the sharp edge of its calling. In America, I contend, that image is the church as God's “Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement” (SCRM).

After Genesis 3 the nature and shape of God's people has been a community sent by God to subvert the attitudes, actions, relationships, patterns, and social organizations set humanity in revolt against God. This subversive counter-revolutionary action is the kind of life God intends for all humanity. It takes it subversive counter-revolutionary shape in a fallen world because of the resistance God's people meet and has to act against. Thus being this kind of church is at one and the same time also the fulfillment of our humanity God promised in creation.

The work of God's SCRM is subversive because it

-takes place from the bottom up not the top down,

-is built on compassionate and credible relationships,

-starts and stays local, and

-counter-revolutionary because it demonstrates the reality it proclaims as sign, sacrament, and servant of God's purposes.


For God's SCRM the Bible is the sign, sacrament, and servant of God's self-revelation through Jesus Christ. An it is his self-revelation we are talking about – the presence of God himself as the One who has freely chosen to bind himself in relationship to this people so that they may be the people through whom God spreads his blessings to everyone else (Gen.12:1-3).

Entailed in the Bible's nature as sign, sacrament, and servant of God are functions such as:

-announcing the Vision of the Desirable Future that animates the SCRM

-narrating the Story of the Struggle with Visions of False Futures

-highlighting the decisive turning point in this struggle

-serving as a Field Manual of Operations for the SCRM

-nurturing the Spirit-uality1 of the SCRM

This, I take it, is a way saying what the Paul of the Pastoral Epistles says of the Bible in 2 Tim. 3:16-17:

“Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”

That the Bible, as we have it and as it is, that is “warts and all,” is such a book is what “inspired” (lit. “God-breathed”) means.

The authority of such a book lies in its use by God to “author” a SCRM. Inerrancy or errancy plays no role here. If one has met the God who shines in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6) and been grasped by that Vision of his Desirable Future and caught up into service in his SCRM the matter is beyond inerrancy or not. It's a matter of the faithfulness of this God encountered. Of the truth of his cause. Of the immeasurable greatness of his presence in and among his people. This, I take, is a paraphrase of Calvin's insistence on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit as the essential mark of the reality and truth of scripture's testimony. Then it becomes a matter of faith seeking understanding. We submit to the Bible, errant or not, as God's chosen vehicle to make himself known to and guide his people.

Life in God's SCRM

Jesus calls followers to join him in God's SCRM. Day in and day out this movement moves on engaging what challenges/opportunities confront them. In a world where church is thought to be a sought to be a place where my/our “needs” are met, Jesus calls people to join him in doing the Kingdom of God regardless of the cost. To live a subversive counter-revolutionary life inevitably means conflict with the prevailing norms or ethos of the communities we inhabit. It's “living left-handed in a right-handed world.”

In our world the heart, core, and too often, the sum total of following Jesus is the worship gathering. And the gathered part of Christian existence is crucially important. But not as the sole or predominant part. It's gathering and scattering that form the foci around which discipleship is woven. Yet the scattering part plays little or no role for many church members. An the church as gathered offers little support or encouragement for it beyond an occasional educational opportunity and urging individual faithfulness on its members out in the world.

I don't want to diminish worship gatherings in any way. In fact, I want to invest that time with even more significance than it currently has. But without a robust symbiosis with discipleship in our scattering the worship gathering becomes inwardly, intellectually, and individualistically focused, little more than cheer-leading for a life in the world that seldom happens.

When I envision the gathered and scattered aspects of discipleship as a differentiated unity that mutually reinforce each other, the worship gathering serves as a “debriefing” from the week of mission we have just undergone. If however little attention is paid to or expected of us in our scattering, the worship gathering becomes a free-standing event with little traction in “real” life!

We can illustrate this in a couple of ways. First, the similar structure of life gathered and scattered. The worship service (at least in the classical fourfold pattern) begins with God's call to gather, praise, confession of sin, absolution, the peace, the reading of scripture, sermon, various responses to God's word (sacraments, offering, praise) and the benediction, which serves as well as a call for us to go into the world (scattering). There we also praise God, confess our sins (daily failures) and hear the word of absolution, feed on God's word, respond to that word with acts of witness, mercy, and justice, and close each day with some form of examination and thanksgiving for God's presence and companionship through the day. These end of day moments through the week set the stage for the call to gather again with the community in worship.

Another angle on this symbiotic relationship of the gathered and scattered aspects of life with God is to note that the glory of God, which is the source and goal of all life, is best described by the second century theologian Irenaeus of Lyon, as “humanity fully alive, and life is beholding God.” Abundance of life and beholding God – this is life in both its gathered and scattered forms. Though we experience them as different experiences in this life, in the life to come there will be no temple because God and the Lamb are fully present in the new creation. All of life then is worship; all worship is life. What will be then must impact shape how we live now: life and worship must be organically related.

A third angle derives from worship as “debriefing” that I mentioned above. Our scattered life of serving God's mission in the world, our “living left-handed in a right-handed world,” brings us into inevitable conflict. The “world, the flesh, and the devil,” to use a traditional way of identifying the sources of our conflict, make our daily lives a contested one. We pick up bruises and scars, so to speak, in the battles engaged there. The unholy triad usually attacks our sense of identity in Christ: I am not forgiven, I am not strong, I am a failure and, therefore, not worthy to serve Christ, I doubt God's provision to live out what he has asked me to do, etc.

Will Willimon tells of being invited to preach in a black church where a friend was pastor. Worship lasted over two hours. Willimon asked his friend afterward why black worship lasted so long.

“'Unemployment runs nearly 50 percent here. For our youth, the unemployment rate is much higher. That means, that when our people go about during the week, everything they see, everything they hear tells them, 'You are a failure. You are nobody. You got nothing because you do not have a good job, you do not have a fine car, you have no money.'

“'So I must gather them here, once a week, and get their heads straight. I get them together, here, in the church, and through the hymns, the prayers, the preaching say, 'That is a lie. You are somebody. You are royalty! God has bought you with a price and loves you as his Chosen People.'

“It takes me so long to get them straight because the world perverts them so terribly.'” (Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens, 154-55)

Even if we are not poor and the world's perversion of us as described above take a different tone and texture, it happens to all of us. You can check the perversion of the affluent out in the risen Christ' message to the church at Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-20.

The way the liturgy of worship shapes our life in the world (the “liturgy after the liturgy” as the Orthodox call it), the organic unity of worship and life, and the worship gathering as “debriefing” our service to the world and the wounds we may have accumulated through refocusing our heads and hearts on God and his Son Jesus Christ, the one “full of grace and truth (John 1:14), all argue for integral unity of the gathered and scattered life of God's SCRM.

Our deepest and truest need is to be equipped and encouraged in our gathering for the life we scatter to live till we gather again. Sermons should be primarily oriented to re-presenting in every way possible the biblical story of which our lives are a part. Education in the church should be centered on the ministry of the people in world. Their successes and defeats, questions and dilemmas, hopes and fears, in other words, the real “Christian” lives of the people in the world ought to form the curriculum. It should resemble vocational training more than academic training. Its premise is well put by Richard Rohr: we don't think ourselves into a new way of living. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking. The educational task is to help our people parse their life in the world and move toward new and more faithful ways of thinking.

Just to put this in writing is to feel the vast difference between what church should be and what it ought to be as God's SCRM. There will be much variation in the many forms such a church takes but each will be driven by the kind of perspectives presented here. 

This brief sketch does not allow the detail and nuance required. But to get anywhere we have to start. This is just a start.

1 “Spirit-uality” is my way of indicating that growth in the biblical material is always a function of the Holy Spirit working in us and not a human enterprise of self-help or an exercise in self-realization.

Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think

The great divide between our beliefs, our ideals, and reality

wealthy people drinking cocktails

According to Pew Research, most Americans believe the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, but 60% believe that most people can make it if they’re willing to work hard. 
Credit: Allan Danahar via Thinkstock

Behavioral Finance: Using Psychology in the Market

In a candid conversation with Frank Rich last fall, Chris Rock said, "Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets." The findings of three studies, published over the last several years in Perspectives on Psychological Science, suggest that Rock is right. We have no idea how unequal our society has become.

In their 2011 paper, Michael Norton and Dan Ariely analyzed beliefs about wealth inequality. They asked more than 5,000 Americans to guess the percentage of wealth (i.e., savings, property, stocks, etc., minus debts) owned by each fifth of the population. Next, they asked people to construct their ideal distributions. Imagine a pizza of all the wealth in the United States. What percentage of that pizza belongs to the top 20% of Americans? How big of a slice does the bottom 40% have? In an ideal world, how much should they have?

The average American believes that the richest fifth own 59% of the wealth and that the bottom 40% own 9%. The reality is strikingly different. The top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%. The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined.

We don’t want to live like this. In our ideal distribution, the top quintile owns 32% and the bottom two quintiles own 25%. As the journalist Chrystia Freeland put it,  “Americans actually live in Russia, although they think they live in Sweden. And they would like to live on a kibbutz.” Norton and Ariely found a surprising level of consensus: everyone — even Republicans and the wealthy—wants a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.

This all might ring a bell. An infographic video of the study went viral and has been watched more than 16 million times.

In a study published last year, Norton and Sorapop Kiatpongsan used a similar approach to assess perceptions of income inequality. They asked about 55,000 people from 40 countries to estimate how much corporate CEOs and unskilled workers earned. Then they asked people how much CEOs and workers should earn. The median American estimated that the CEO-to-worker pay-ratio was 30-to-1, and that ideally, it’d be 7-to-1. The reality? 354-to-1. Fifty years ago, it was 20-to-1. Again, the patterns were the same for all subgroups, regardless of age, education, political affiliation, or opinion on inequality and pay. “In sum,” the researchers concluded, “respondents underestimate actual pay gaps, and their ideal pay gaps are even further from reality than those underestimates.”

Read more at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/economic-inequality-it-s-far-worse-than-you-think/

The Iconography of Sorrow: How Easter Transforms Our Response to Suffering


Luke Bretherton ABC Religion and Ethics 31 Mar 2015
It should not be the fickle attention of Western media that determines who appears as the subject of care. Uncoupled from contemplation of Christ crucified, we misperceive what suffering looks like.
It should not be the fickle attention of Western media that determines who appears as the subject of care. Uncoupled from contemplation of Christ crucified, we misperceive what suffering looks like. Credit: vincent desjardins / Wikimedia Commons
Those who live some form of what is often deemed the ideal "Western" lifestyle look down from Olympus with sympathy on the sons and daughters of the soil and their visceral imprisonment to nature and necessity.

"We" who benefit from consumer lifestyles, technological advancement and decent sewers contemplate the photographs of stricken faces and think: "If only they can be more like us."

Images of poverty, war and disaster - what Susan Sontag calls the "iconography of suffering" - provoke a response. What these images invoke is sympathy, indignation and alarm (often accompanied by an unacknowledged yet ever present voyeuristic curiosity about the gruesome, the excruciating and the calamitous). As Sontag notes, the modern representation of the suffering other, whether of the dead soldier or famished child, is of an other who is "regarded only as someone to be seen, not someone (like us) who also sees."

The help these images stimulate is tinged with elegy for the inescapability of these suffering others "naturalness" (read barbarity and savagery). We offer them the gifts of Olympus, but heaven forbid that the chthonoi should invade our heavenly palisades through migration and thereby soil and threaten "our" perfect, cosy life.

The modern iconography of human suffering either invites the onlooker to envisage him or herself as the one who should stop the pain, or shocks them into greater awareness of what is going on. But what is not questioned is the onlooker's way of life or basic priorities. Sight of the poor does not catalyze different ways of living together. These images do not provoke mourning and humility, but activism and altruism.

Yet the modern representation of poverty owes a great deal to earlier representations of Christ's suffering body, and in particular traditions of contemplating the wounds of Christ.

Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grunewald, 1512-1516 (Credit: vincent desjardins / Wikimedia Commons)

We see here a depiction of Christ's wounded and crucified flesh from the Isenheim Altarpiece. Mary, in the garb of a widow, faints in the arms of John the Evangelist, to whose care the Lord has commended her, and in the smaller figure of Mary Magdelene with her vessel of ointments, wringing her hands in sorrow.

Read more at http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2015/03/31/4208044.htm

Monday, March 30, 2015

10 Situations Where Christian Bakers Should Refuse To Bake Wedding Cakes


no cake
This past week has been a major victory folks. With Indiana passing a law that gives us the right to refuse to sell our cakes to gay people, there are now close to 20 states where we can look our gay citizens in the eyes and say, “no cake for you!”
While I was celebrating this great victory of ours, the Lord laid it on my heart that gay people aren’t the only people we should deny cake to. This got me pretty excited, because I really enjoy saying “no cake for you!” and this will give us ten more areas where we can arbitrarily apply principles from the bible to our businesses, instead of playing by the basic societal rules that make commerce fair for everyone.
Here are the other ten areas where I hope we can all band together and start standing up for our right to be biblically consistent in who we discriminate against– let us be bold! Effective immediately, we need to smile and say “no cake for you!” to the following ten people:

10. Career minded brides-to-be.
 Let’s make sure we start asking brides what they intend to do after the wedding. The bible is clear- women should be “keepers of the home.” If the bride is career minded or dislikes housework, just tell her “no cake for you!” because you wouldn’t want to endorse a lifestyle that goes against God’s created order.
9. When they’re gluttons or over-eating will take place at the wedding.
Over-eating is a very serious sin, my dear brothers and sisters. Since it is by definition greed, and the Bible calls greed idol worship, we need to make sure that we are not endorsing idol worship. If you have any second thought about this couple over-eating (worshiping idols) you need to refrain from participating in their sin- just say, “no cake for you!”

8. Weddings where there will be drunkenness. 
As the brave Christian patriots have argued in the gay wedding cake situations, you need to remember that selling a person a cake is a direct endorsement of their wedding. You’ll want to make sure no one invited to the wedding will be getting drunk (over .08 BAC in most states), because drunk people go to hell, and you don’t want to endorse a behavior that automatically gets people sent to hell.

7. Individuals getting remarried who do not have biblical justification for a prior divorce.
This one is easy but serious- one can only get divorced for two reasons: (a) the other spouse committed adultery, or (b) one was married to an unbeliever who abandoned the believing spouse. Those are the only biblical justifications for divorce, and anything other than those two scenarios means that remarriage will be adultery and fornication. You don’t want to endorse that do you?
6. Weddings where there will be unwholesome music and provocative dancing.
The Bible is clear that no unwholesome talk should come out of our mouths, but that’s pretty much what dance music is these days. To make matters worse, folks will often “bump and grind” or “twerk” on the dance floor to this unwholesome music. Remember, if you sell them a cake, you are directly endorsing all of the unwholesome music and sexually provocative behavior that will happen in that ballroom. Don’t take the chance folks– just say, “no cake for you!”

5.  Young military couples.
know it’s fun to use those military cake toppers, but that’s a n0-no folks. The Bible clearly states in Deuteronomy 24 that a man cannot serve in the military during his first year of marriage. If you sell a cake to that young military couple, you will be endorsing a lifestyle that is directly rebelling against God’s inerrant word. Don’t do it! No more military wedding cakes.

John Kasich's Passion for the Poor Is Rankling Conservative Christians

Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
John Kasich's Passion for the Poor Is Rankling Conservative Christians
2016 Election


By Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Ohio’s governor John Kasich certainly won't be president, nor even receive the Republican party’s nomination in 2016. But if Kasich does throw his hat into the increasingly packed Republican primary ring (as some sources suggest he intends to do), the long-term outcome for American politics could be even better than a hypothetical win. This is because, unlike his Republican competitors, Kasich takes Christian politics very seriously.

Within the lore of conservative Christian politics, there is a line of questionable thinking regarding state-funded welfare that is far more recent than its proliferators make it seem. The story goes like this. While Jesus Christ undoubtedly promoted (if not commanded) charity and generosity toward the less-fortunate, He never said that the state should be the vehicle of these virtues. Further, the tale continues, because taxes are involuntary and welfare is funded with tax revenue, welfare doesn’t count as morally meaningful charity, which is what Jesus intended to inspire with His preaching on the poor. Thus, we are led to conclude, support for poor and vulnerable people should be transmitted voluntarily through the community, thanks to the good graces of generous individuals. Echoes of this reasoning resound in the anti-welfare rhetoric of Republican frontrunners from Rand Paul to Rick Perry.

It’s a good story if you want to avoid supporting social insurance programs without overtly sacrificing your Christian street cred. Unfortunately, it’s also theologically incoherent. First, it isn’t clear why politicians, whose job entails the just governance of citizens or subjects, should consider support for the poor an individual task. If Christian wedding cake bakers should be permitted to exercise the fullness of their Christian conscience in their work, why wouldn't politicians? Moreover, when politicians do seek to support the poor, it need not be solely under the banner of charity: Justice and order are fine enough reasons to make sure all people are stable and secure. Lastly, the right-wing, anti-welfare narrative is alien to historical Christianity, contemporary global Christianity, and the teachings of Jesus Himself. Candida Moss, an author and professor of Early Christian studies at Notre Dame, explained to me in an interview, “Jesus hasn't always been viewed as an anti-taxation figure. His famous statement about ‘rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, rendering to God what is God's’ can easily be read as indicating that Christians should pay taxes. This idea that Christians shouldn't pay taxes is remarkably novel.”

Read more at http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121395/john-kasichs-passion-poor-rankling-conservative-christians

Saturday, March 28, 2015

5 Reasons Your Church Should Be Smaller


  • Tim SuttleTimSuttle.com
  • 201513 Mar
For years it has bothered me that, although the majority of churches in America have fewer than 300 people, most church leadership advice comes from pastors of huge churches. The assumption that bigger is better pervades the church leadership culture. What if that’s the wrong tack? Here are five reasons your church might be better off focusing on faithfulness instead of success… even if it that means it will Shrink.

1. Faithfulness, not success, is the goal of the church
The church’s job is not to grow, multiply, or expand. The church’s job is not to take back the culture for Jesus. The church’s job is not even to survive. The church’s job is to be the church—to be the faithful people of God who organize their common life together in such a way that they image God to all creation. Sadly, most American churches do not image God so much as they image American story of bigger, better, stronger, higher, and faster. The story of God is quite different. This story says the last will be first and the first will be last. Authentically Christian leadership does not embrace success as a worthy objective. Instead the Christian leader must embrace the way of descent, and the cruciform life of dying to self and others. The American way is up. The Jesus way is down.

2. A fixation on success creates anxiety and burnout
When a church chases ministry greatness, and makes growing attendance their primary metric for success, the most consistent outcome is not growth. The most consistent outcome is anxiety. CEO style church leadership may or may not produce growth, but it always produces a consuming anxiety in the lives of the members and leaders who constantly feel bad for not being bigger. All of that anxiety adds up over time. It usually falls to the pastor to try and keep the system healthy. The megachurch pastor is like the liver of an alcoholic body. The anxiety, pressure, and stress generated by the megachurch are not shared equally but are focused primarily on the pastor. Just one person cannot cleanse those types of systemic toxins, and eventually the pastors will burnout.
3. We are not in control of ministry outcomes
Who holds the future of the church? Is it God, or is it the visionary leader with a 5-year plan? Much of what passes for church leadership is akin to the professional athlete who takes performance-enhancing drugs. The megachurch is like a body on steroids, pumped full of leadership models, strategies, and techniques gleaned
not from the gospel but from the world of business and the narrative
of consumer capitalism.

4. Growth is not always a good sign
Perhaps the most powerful reason the North American church is in decline today is that the church’s way of being in the world does not embody a genuine alternative to the way of the dominant culture. When the church becomes an agent of the culture, indistinguishable in most ways from society at large, one of two things will tend to happen. On one hand, some people will cease to see the value in belonging and they will opt out. Why not sip some coffee and watch Oprah on a Sunday morning, if we’re going to get the same thing at church? On the other hand, the church could simply stop chasing success. However, this typically involves a reorientation away from creating the ultimate worship experience, and toward investing our lives in those Jesus seemed to care about most—those he called “the least of these.” When that happens, those who are only there for the big show will opt out.

5. The pursuit of greatness drowns out goodness and virtue
When Jim Collins wrote his renowned leadership manual Good to Great, church leaders ate it
 up. His central thesis, “Good is the enemy of
 Great,” contends that leaders who become satisfied with a good organization will cease to press
toward greatness. My thesis is a complete reversal of Collins’s. I say that Great is the enemy of Good in Christian leadership. The drive to be great is crowding out goodness and virtue as the central focus. Christian leadership has become too pragmatic, while faithfulness has taken a backseat. Pastors have morphed into CEOs, and the worth of the leader has become intrinsically tied to the size of their congregation.

ISIS Is a Disgrace to True Fundamentalism


It has become a commonplace in recent months to observe that the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is the latest chapter in the long story of the anticolonial awakening — the arbitrary borders drawn after World War I by the great powers being redrawn — and simultaneously a chapter in the struggle against the way global capital undermines the power of nation states. But what causes such fear and consternation is another feature of the ISIS regime: The public statements of the ISIS authorities make it clear that the principal task of state power is not the regulation of the welfare of the state’s population (health, the fight against hunger) — what really matters is religious life and the concern that all public life obey religious laws. This is why ISIS remains more or less indifferent toward humanitarian catastrophes within its domain — its motto is roughly “take care of religion and welfare will take care of itself.” Therein resides the gap that separates the notion of power practiced by ISIS from the modern Western notion of what Michel Foucault called “biopower,” which regulates life in order to guarantee general welfare: the ISIS caliphate totally rejects the notion of biopower.
While the official ISIS ideology rails against Western permissiveness, the daily practice of the ISIS gangs includes full-scale grotesque orgies.
Does this make ISIS premodern? Instead of seeing in ISIS a case of extreme resistance to modernization, one should rather conceive of it as a case of perverted modernization and locate it into the series of conservative modernizations which began with the Meiji restoration in 19th-century Japan (rapid industrial modernization assumed the ideological form of “restoration,” or the return to the full authority of the emperor).

The well-known photo of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, with an exquisite Swiss watch on his arm, is here emblematic: ISIS is well organized in web propaganda as well as financial dealings, although these ultra-modern practices are used to propagate and enforce an ideologico-political vision that is not so much conservative as a desperate move to fix clear hierarchic delimitations. However, we should not forget that even this image of a strictly disciplined and regulated fundamentalist organization is not without its ambiguities: is religious oppression not (more than) supplemented by the way local ISIS military units seem to function? While the official ISIS ideology rails against Western permissiveness, the daily practice of the ISIS gangs includes full-scale grotesque orgies, including robberies, gang rapes, torture and murder of infidels.

Upon a closer look, the apparent heroic readiness of ISIS to risk everything also appears more ambiguous. Long ago Friedrich Nietzsche perceived how Western civilization was moving in the direction of the Last Man, an apathetic creature with no great passion or commitment. Unable to dream, tired of life, he takes no risks, seeking only comfort and security: “A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end, for a pleasant death. They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health. ‘We have discovered happiness,’ say the Last Men, and they blink.”

Read more at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/09/03/isis-is-a-disgrace-to-true-fundamentalism/?_r=0

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Atlantic: Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial


A common perspective among political conservatives, especially of the libertarian and Tea Party varieties, is that welfare is a drag on economic growth and it is a disincentive to initiative. Paul Ryan wants a safety net and not safety hammock. Some libertarians don’t even want the net. It would be better to let people assume their own risks. Money taxed away by the government is money that people could have used to buy goods and services and boost the economy.

I do not dispute that government programs could be a drag on the economy but this conservative narrative is grossly incomplete! Entrepreneurship and economic innovation are, at the heart, calculations about risk. By taking a bold step, what are the chances I will be better off (however I measure that) and what are the chances I could lose everything? Do the chances of “better off” outweigh the status quo, especially if I could lose even what I have now? So here is the key point: By reducing the risk of losing everything we tip the risk calculation toward taking making more risk, and therefore economic growth.
... Take food stamps. Conservatives have long argued that they breed dependence on government. In a 2014 paper, Olds examined the link between entrepreneurship and food stamps, and found that the expansion of the program in some states in the early 2000s increased the chance that newly eligible households would own an incorporated business by 16 percent. (Incorporated firms are a better proxy for job-creating startups than unincorporated ones.)
Interestingly, most of these new entrepreneurs didn’t actually enroll in the food stamp program. It seems that expanding the availability of food stamps increased business formation by making it less risky for entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. Simply knowing that they could fall back on food stamps if their venture failed was enough to make them more likely to take risks. ...
... The rate of incorporated business ownership for those [CHIP] eligible households just below the cutoff was 31 percent greater than for similarly situated families that could not rely on CHIP to care for their children if they needed it.
The same is true of recent immigrants to the United States. Contrary to claims by the right that welfare keeps immigrants from living up to their historic role as entrepreneurs, CHIP eligibility increased those households’ chances of owning an incorporated business by 28 percent.
The mechanism in each case is the same: publicly funded insurance lowers the risk of starting a business, since entrepreneurs needn’t fear financial ruin. (This same logic explains why more forgiving bankruptcy laws are associated with more entrepreneurship.) ...
... American men were more likely to start a business just after turning 65 and qualifying for Medicare than just before. Here again, government can make entrepreneurship more appealing by making it less risky. ...
... Sometimes, though, a robust safety net may serve to discourage entrepreneurship. The best path in such cases, however, may not be to cut the program, but rather, to reform it. When France lowered the barriers to receiving unemployment insurance, it actually increased the rate of entrepreneurship.. Until 2001, citizens on unemployment insurance had little incentive to start businesses, since doing so would terminate their benefits. Instead of gutting the program, the state simply decided to let anyone who founded a business keep drawing benefits for a limited period, and guaranteed that they would be eligible again if that business failed. The result: a 25 percent increase in the rate of new-firm creation. ...

Other examples are reported. You get the picture. Here is the conclusion.
... The evidence simply does not support the idea of a consistent tradeoff between bigger government and a more entrepreneurial economy. At least in some cases, the reverse is actually true. When governments provide citizens with economic security, they embolden them to take more risks. Properly deployed, a robust social safety net encourages more Americans to attempt the high-wire act of entrepreneurship.

The challenge is not the particular size of government. The issue is the precise programmatic design of any given program. Markets generate a real-time feedback loop that allows independent individuals to prioritize their choices. Government has less effective ways of being adaptive and responsive. I lean toward market solutions where practical. Yet, there are some deliverables that markets alone are not capable of generating. How this mix should all come together is a topic on which reasonable people can disagree. But the idea that government cuts necessarily lead to more economic vitality is no more valid than the idea that wildly throwing money at welfare programs helps people. The real world is far messier than ideologues are willing to grant.

There is such a thing as "a Christian way to vote" - by John Dickson


Introduction: Mixing Religion and Politics
 "He who says politics and religion do not mix understands neither one." (Mahatma Gandhi)

I am the true ‘swinging voter’. In the numerous elections of my life (beginning with the Federal election of July 1987), my personal votes have been fairly evenly split between Labor and The Liberal, or Coalition, parties.

In what follows, then, I have no agenda. The last thing on my mind is to influence which party you vote for.

I do, however, want to insist that people who identify themselves as Christian should vote in a way that is informed by their faith, whatever decision they finally make. While Christianity is not party political, it is political in the broader sense. At a fundamental level, faith concerns life in society—the word ‘politics’ comes from the Greek politeuō, meaning to live as a citizen. Everyone who is concerned with the life of our wider community  (as every Christian must be) is ‘political’ in the larger sense of the word.

In essence, what I want to do in this short article is outline how some basic Christian beliefs should – and should not – influence a Christian’s vote. I write with a dual audience in mind. I want to encourage Christians to be more thoughtful about their political opinions and I hope to demonstrate for the religious ‘spectator’ that, despite some rather potent counter-examples in North America, the ‘Christian vote’ is a vote for the good of the nation not an attempt to impose religious law on a secular society.

I begin with how a Christian ought not to vote.

A) How Not to Vote
1. Precedent: ‘how we always vote’

Voting patterns are sometimes based on little more than family heritage (‘We have always voted for x’) or geographical location (‘Most people vote for y where I live’). I want to suggest that voting by personal or demographic precedent is not a thoughtful vote, and whatever else a Christian vote must be it must be thoughtful. Something as important as the way, and by whom, we are governed must be approached with seriousness and due reflection. Otherwise, believers are hardly loving God “with all the mind.” Christians must also resist the temptation, born of cynicism, to disengage from their responsibilities as voters and citizens.
That would be to retreat from “loving one’s neighbour.”

2. Christian favouritism

Secondly, and perhaps a little controversially, voting for a candidate simply because s/he is a Christian, or our brand of Christian, is morally suspect; it is a religious form of favouritism. Having Christians in parliament is no guarantee—or even indicator—that our nation will be marked by peace, justice, compassion, truth and so on. Sadly, history is littered with counter-examples.

voting for a candidate simply because s/he is a Christian is morally suspect

By all means, a Christian may vote for Christian candidates who also have a track record for diligence, leadership and justice, but it would be irresponsible to favour men and women simply because they are known as ‘Christians’, attend churches or frequent prayer breakfasts and the like. Theologically speaking, good government is not the special preserve of believers. Chapter 13 of Paul’s epistle to the Romans makes clear that even the pagan governments of Rome were to be thought of as ‘established by God.’ Indeed, secular, non-Christian rulers are described by the apostle as ‘God’s servants.’ The point deserves deep reflection.

3. Economic prosperity

Thirdly, the main parties and most of the major media tend to make ‘economic prosperity’ a central election issue. This is a window into the soul of a country. However, Christians must seriously question a fixation with the ‘bottom line’. In a society such as ours, one without deep faith, economic prosperity may be the only measurable form of success, but the follower of Christ ought to think otherwise.

Naturally, if one sincerely believes that national prosperity happens also to be the best way to achieve other, more important, goals for society, then the Christian will appropriately vote with this in mind. However, the believer should always remember the way the pursuit of wealth is given very short shrift in the Bible:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:10).
If precedent, favouritism and prosperity are faulty grounds upon which to base the Christian vote, what factors should inform such political choices?

B) How a Christian ought to vote


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why the church should be welcoming but not affirming of straight Christians

Branson Parler   

1. Their straight orientation will most often be a source of life-long temptation and struggle. 

Although straight Christians should grow in holiness over the course of their life, they will most likely never reach a point where their orientation ceases to be a source of temptation in one way or another. So we must demand life-long vigilance against the temptation to simply do what feels natural based on their orientation. 

2. Straight people have been told that their sinful lust is just a normal part of human sexuality. 

It's not. Humans have been created by God as sexual beings. But proper sexual desire is not the same as sinful lust that uses another person as a means to the end of pleasing oneself. Lust is a problem across the board. Straight lust does not somehow have a privileged standing with God because it's straight.
If the statistics are correct, around 2% of the American population identifies as gay or lesbian. Quantitatively, then, we should expect far more problems with straight people lusting than gay people lusting. It would be good if Christians kept that 98%/2% balance when they're highlighting sexual sin. I realize that questions about same-sex relationships are going to dominate the landscape right now, but we dare not give the perception that people sinning with the same sex is qualitatively different than people sinning with the opposite sex.

Read more at http://www.bransonparler.com/blog/why-the-church-should-be-welcoming-but-not-affirming-of-straight-christians

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

An Open Letter to Ted Cruz from God

Ted, Ted, Ted, my beloved but confused son! I heard your speech the other night. Actually stayed awake through it. I don't usually make it through political speeches these days. But, as I say, I listened to yours.

I listened because you never seem to have gotten the distinction between being an American Christian and a Christian American. And because of that you get most everything else wrong or out of balance. I love you, boy, but you need to get clear on this!

It matters whether the “Christian” is the adjective or the noun. Nouns are the primary thing which adjectives modify in one way or another. An American Christians is what I intend you to be, but you keep insisting on being a Christian American. And as I already said, that makes you get everything else out of whack.

To wit, Ted, if you were an American Christian rather than the Christian American I heard you proclaim yourself to be the other night.

-you would not confuse America with the church the way you so evidently did in your speech.

The church and not America is the only “exceptional” people I know. And they aren't a nation since Jesus came (weren't really even before he came – but I digress). Instead, they live in every country, every nook and cranny of this globe and serve me and my purposes there. Transnational, multi-ethnic (you ought to know about that, Ted!), spread across my creation, my people these days know no national boundaries, have no national boundaries to defend, no national interests to secure, you get my drift, don't you?

-you would not identify the destiny of America with the destiny of the church or the world.

America is a geopolitical empire. Nothing more, nothing less. The day will come when America no longer rules the worlds, or perhaps, even exists. And no, I'm not telling you which. Another of my beloved boys said it best, “America is the best Babylon the world has yet seen, but it is still a Babylon” (my apologies, Tony Campolo). America has boundaries, interests, and agendas to protect, secure, and enforce. And it has done so, often with brutality, injustice, and oppression, as is the wont of empires. That doesn't mean I never use America as a part of my governance of the world. No indeed! I used Egypt and Babylon and Persia and Rome, and I have used America. Not perhaps in ways you would expect or easily identify, but take my word for it. But I have not and do not underwrite American arrogance and pretensions. It is NOT the savior, model or “city set on a hill” by God that all other nations must follow and obey. America will go to judgment just as all those other empires and be a memory for the history books. Nothing exceptional about that!

The church, my people, on the other hand, are truly exceptional. You'd know that, Ted, if you read your Bible more carefully. Don't you remember how I told Abraham and Sarah, promised them actually that I would raise up a great people from them, bless and protect them, and through them bless everyone else (Gen.12:1-3)? That's where my people, Israel and the church, began. And since I always keep my word, my people bear the blessing and destiny of the world. And that's what makes them exceptional; and their mission critical to the well-being of the world. That's why your confusion here, Ted, is so unfortunate! Mark well, no nation can carry out the mission of the church, but the mission of the church can be carried out in any nation!

-you would not seek to be President of America, at least not as Christian.

You just can't do it, my son. Don't you see? How can you pledge to support and protect America's interests and boundaries over and often against other nations where your sisters and brothers in Christ live and seek to do his work? How can you go to war against them? Really? You must be so willing if you take that pledge, you know! You will even have to jail and prosecute some of those brothers and sisters here who protest the imperial injustices America does, in truth, impose on others. You can't have Christ and Caesar at the same time – sorry about that.

Understand this, Ted: if you seek and secure this office it will not be me who put you there! Ponder that. I have a much more significant and truly important job for you to do. Your desire to be President is not only inappropriate, it is to aim too low! You're one of my kids, Ted. That makes you royal. And you're also a priest in the temple that I'm making out of the whole creation. That makes you a royal priest. With the rest of my people you are to stand for me and my interests before the world and to stand for the world before me bearing its needs and concerns.

Did you hear that, my boy? The whole world and its well-being is your concern! And when you remember that the baseline for health and well-being in my world is the compassionate, inclusive, and just (in my sense of justice) treatment of the last, the least, and the lost, well, then you have a mandate worthy of royal priests, brothers and sisters of my own beloved son, Jesus!

-you would learn to see the world very differently than any political party does.

One of your brothers who learned this, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put this remarkably well:

“There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. The important thing is neither that bitterness nor envy should have gnawed at the heart during this time, that we should have come to look with new eyes at matters great and small, sorrow and joy, strength and weakness, that our perception of generosity, humanity, justice and mercy should have become clearer, freer, less corruptible. We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key, a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune. This perspective from below must not become the partisan possession of those who are eternally dissatisfied; rather, we must do justice to life in all its dimensions from a higher satisfaction, whose foundation is beyond any talk of ‘from below’ or ‘from above’. This is the way in which we may affirm it.” 

Oh, how I wish you'd said something like that in your speech. That's the way I want my people to see the world. Dietrich was an upper crust guy like you, Ted. I know you weren't always of that status, Ted. But you are now. Yet Dietrich learned to see things my way. I have every expectation that you can too. I know it's hard, son. It goes against everything the world is about in its rebellion against me. But being like me in a world like yours is to see things from the bottom up, through the practice of suffering servanthood. Sooner or later you need to learn that.

-you would discover that the kind of action that genuinely changes people and situations doesn't come from the top down.

My daughter Dorothy Day learned this. She says,

“What we would like to do is change the world--make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute--the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words--we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world. We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever widening circle will reach around the world. We repeat, there is nothing we can do but love, and, dear God, please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as our friend.”

Yeah, this, this is what I want, Ted. And I want you to be a part of it. That's what being an American Christian looks like. And that's what I want you to look like. Like Jesus. So be done with this “Christian American” thing, Ted. For my sake. For you sake. For the world's sake.

I love you, man!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Violence in the Old Testament: Theological and Pastoral Concerns

Allan R. Bevere
I keep coming back to this issue of violence in the Old Testament on this blog because I have two concerns--one as a theologian, and the other as a pastor (I'll get to that a little later). Of late there has been a resurgence of a kind of quasi, neo-Marcionite reading of some of the Old Testament texts that simply dismiss difficult themes, in this case, God's participation in violence, particularly in the conquest narratives in the Old Testament book of Joshua. These texts are viewed as incompatible with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ in the New Testament, so they are simply to be dismissed as primitive projections of a primitive tribal people. I have suggested in a previous post that a Christological understanding that leads to such a view of these Old Testament texts is itself based on a deficient Christology.

In the video posted below, Walter Brueggemann says that such a dismissive approach to the violence of the Old Testament is too easy, and I agree. What we have in such passages cannot be viewed simplistically as primitive projections from a primitive people, but such texts are, says Brueggemann, indeed revelations of God. Brueggemann's claim, thus forces us to take these text seriously as Scripture precisely because they are Scripture and are indeed difficult to understand in light of the decisive revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Brueggemann's approach is to be preferred over the dismissive approach that has once again reared its quasi, neo-Marcionite head. And that leads to my two concerns.

My concern as a pastor is that once we start dismissing certain biblical passages because they offend our twenty-first century, modern, Enlightenment, individualistic, self-determined, and rationalistic sensibilities, we give Christians permission to dismiss any texts they don't like. I can tell you that in my thirty plus years as a pastor, I have heard it all in reference to Christians dismissing all sorts of Old Testament passages of Scripture because persons found them to be offensive. As a pastor, I want believers to take all the Scripture seriously, even the most difficult passages and, like Brueggemann, wrestle with how to understand them, instead of just cutting them out of the Bible like Thomas Jefferson and casting them aside.
Read more at http://www.allanbevere.com/2015/03/violence-in-old-testament-theological.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+allanbevere%2FROss+%28Allan+R.+Bevere%29&utm_content=FaceBook

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Stars Will Fall from Heaven


Today we are pleased to share the latest post in our new weekly series, Beyond the Book. This month J. Richard Middleton will be discussing interesting things he learned about eschatology while working on A New Heaven and a New Earth.
Also, as part of this series we are giving away three copies of A New Heaven and a New Earth. The winners will be announced at the end of the month, and you can enter here.
Despite vivid apocalyptic imagery of stars falling from heaven, the Bible never imagines the literal destruction of the cosmos in the eschaton.” – J. Richard Middleton
Among the issues I addressed in A New Heaven and a New Earth were “problem texts” in the New Testament that seemed to suggest the destruction of the cosmos when Christ returns.
I was already convinced that that the main thrust of New Testament eschatology is the redemption of creation—God wants to restore this earthly world to the flourishing he had intended from the beginning. Thus even 2 Peter 3, which speaks of the destruction of the heavens and the elements by fire (verses 10 and 12), says that after judgment the earth and the works in it will be “found” (not “burned up” as the KJV has it).
But why distinguish the heavens from the earth in this way?

Read more at http://blog.bakeracademic.com/the-stars-will-fall-from-heaven/

Christian Stoicism (Clement of Alexandria)

by Fred Sanders on   

Orpheus lyre classical harmony People who worry about the hellenization, or greekifying, of Christianity tend to worry about Platonism. But the interaction with Stoicism has been equally complex and interesting.
Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-215)’s fascinating book Paedagogus is a great early example. The title is variously translated as Tutor, Educator, Instructor, or Teacher of Little Children. etc. It’s a work of Christian ethics, but it incorporates so much from Stoic thought that about a century ago, when form critics were enjoying the apex of their credibility, they hypothesized that it was nothing more than a lightly revised Christian version of a lost work by the Stoic lecturer Musonius (see Charles Pomeroy Parker, “Musonius in Clement.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 11 (1901): 191-200). The fact that such a hypothesis could be entertained at all does at least indicate just how pervasively Clement’s Paedagogus uses Stoic terms and ideas.
In many ways, Stoicism makes a sympathetic dialogue partner for Christianity. It derives its ethical ideas from its metaphysic, and its metaphysic is profoundly religious. It emphasizes Providence, the sovereign control God has over all situations. Stoics like Seneca learned from Plato that the highest good was “approximating God as nearly as possible.” Further, Stoicism is free from the seamier elements of Greek religion, the welter of sacrifices and mythologies. There is even in Stoicism a fine tradition of mocking the superstition of popular Greco-Roman religion. Finally, Stoicism developed an idea of a universal community of humanity, connecting individual morality with social ethics. Early Christian thinkers naturally rejoiced to find ideas like these at work in the world, and laid hold of them.
But there were three distinctive principles . . .

Read more at http://scriptoriumdaily.com/christian-stoicism-clement-of-alexandria/

The Gospel


God, the triune God of Christian faith, is love.
God intends to live in love with humanity on this earth forever.
Our sin, yelling at God like a two year-old “You're not the boss of me!”, imperiled God's plan.
But God never gives up on his plan, calling the family of Abraham and Sarah to be his people and promising them to make them a great people, to bless and protect them, and bless everyone else through them.
In other words, this family was to serve as God's Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement (SCRM) to reclaim and restore both humanity and the world for his purpose. They were to subvert humanity's revolt against God by loving, serving, suffering, and even dying for them; they were to demonstrate in their life together what God intends for human life and counter the way sinful humanity organized itself at every level of life.
Abraham and Sarah's family failed in this mission. They ended in exile and defeat.
Well, all but one failed. There was one faithful Israelite, Jesus of Nazareth, who did keep faith and loyalty with God and offered his life of loving service to God for his purposes.
The mystery of this Jesus turned out to be that in, with, through, and as this human being God himself became one of us and lived life under the conditions of every one of us. And as one of us, did for us what we proved unable to do! The New Adam did what the first Adam (and all humanity in him) failed to do.
Through his life, death, resurrection, ascension Jesus Messiah wrought the reclamation of all humanity through the forgiveness of sins and restored them to their proper identity as God's children and vocation as agents of his victorious Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement. 
Jesus' resurrection from the dead vindicates and validates his way of suffering servanthood (“take up your cross daily”) as the way of God in a rebellious and fallen world. That makes it the way of his SCRM as well as we live as he did in the power of the Spirit.
In the time between Jesus' resurrection and his return, his people continue to wrestle with the powers of sin, death, and (d)evil. These powers are defeated but not yet eliminated. It is our job, like the Allied forces of World War II after the battles at Normandy decided the outcome of the war in the European theater, to carry on the battle in the awareness of the victory achieved and the courage and hope to extend the victory throughout the rest of the world.
At the end of the day, at Christ's victorious return, God's purpose will have been achieved despite humanity's inexplicable and unfathomable revolt against him. The final scene of the biblical narrative shows God and the Lamb living with and among the diverse and many-tongued throng the Lamb has gathered there. All the nations bring the glory of their people and culture to praise the triune God. God's people reign in the endless light and glory of God.
This is what the church announces when it proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.