Sunday, May 31, 2015

American Atheistic Materialism: A Creed of Despair?

From American Atheistic Materialism…Good Lord Deliver Us.
And the plea is appropriate because prayers for deliverance are a kind of exorcism, and if any society needs exorcism it is the American Atheistic Materialistic society.
Pope St. John Paul II said there were two atheistic materialistic societies: Communist Russia and the Unrestrained Capitalism of America. The philosopher pope asserted this not because he hated America or was against capitalism per se, but because he was against the kind of unrestrained capitalism which is a form of atheistic materialism.
“Materialism” is a popular nickname for greedy consumerism. We say a woman is “materialistic” if
she does nothing but go to the mall and shop until she drops. We call a man “materialistic” if all he cares about is his financial success, his career and the prosperity, power and pleasure his success will buy him. These forms of materialism are symptoms not the disease. The disease is far deeper and more incurable for it is a disease of not only the mind but also the heart.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Live by the Screen, Die by the Screen: The Perils of Reality TV



It’s Time for Moneyball Church

May 29, 2015 by 0 Comments


Religion is notoriously behind on nearly every societal curve there’s ever been. some say that’s a good thing, as it’s supposed to be counter-cultural.

But there’s a difference between pandering to cultural trends and being tone-deaf or willfully ignorant. And as One of my old grade-school counselors once said: when you know better, do better.
If we look around us we know that there are better ways to employ the resources we have to affect positive social change, deepen discipleship and strengthen community of many kinds. But we adhere to mid-twentieth-century models and understandings of how the world works, then look around, asking ourselves why no one cares anymore.

It’s time for Moneyball church.

If you’re unfamiliar, “Moneyball” is the title of the bestselling book my Michael Lewis (one of my favorite authors) about how Billy Beane, a controversial (some said washed up) manager not only turned around the perennially mediocre Oakland A’s on a meager budget, but also revolutionized the entire sport of baseball in the process. He took a bunch of mid-level players (no stars among them), many of whom were out of shape and hardly the A-Rod material, and made playoff contenders out of them, year after year. And he did it with a faction of the salary of the teams he was beating.
Of course he lost players to those big dollar teams, but that’s the brilliance of the Moneyball model; he could do it over and over agin, with players almost no one else wanted.

How great would it be if we could learn from that within organized religion? And how might it look?


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Weak, Sick, Poor and Tired: A Story for Losers

Fr. Stephen Freeman 6 Comments

The American Dream is embodied in strength. Gen. George Patton famously said, “America loves to win and cannot abide a loser.” The spirituality of winning is probably the fastest growing and most attractive version of “Christianity” to be found on the American scene. Mega Churches, seating 10’s of thousands have sprung up as temples of success.

Nobody wants to be sick. The dependence it fosters, the way it changes and shapes a life are a form of powerlessness that holds no attraction. Poverty (however it is measured) is a massive struggle against forces that steal human dignity. Most homes in poverty include children and are headed by women. Their daily efforts to pay the rent, work a job (or two or three), tend to childhood needs and face another day are quiet works of heroism that fall beneath the radar of most. They are not only poor, but tired (working jobs and raising children alone is a formula for perpetual exhaustion).

So, who wants to be weak, sick, poor and tired?


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Pentecostalism in a Postmodern Culture

by Wes Granberg-Michaelson 05-26-2015 | 9:27am  

       It's a new form of Christianity,” explained Opoku Onyinah, “now also living in the West.” He’s the president of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, and also heads the Church of Pentecost, begun in Ghana and now in 84 nations. Onyinah was speaking at a workshop on “How Shall We Walk Between Cultures,” and explaining how African Christianity is interacting with postmodern culture. It was part of Empowered21, which gathered thousands of Pentecostals in Jerusalem over Pentecost.
Molodec /
Molodec /
I’ve found this idea intriguing. Pentecostalism, especially as it is emerging in the non-Western world, is a postmodern faith. Often I’ve said, “An evangelical wants to know what you believe, while a Pentecostal wants to hear your spiritual story.” Perhaps it’s an oversimplification. But Pentecostalism embodies a strong emphasis on narrative and finds reality in spiritual experiences that defy the logic and rationality of modern Western culture.


Political Giantism: The Threat to Democracy?

To the size of states there is a limit as there is to other things, plants, animals, implements; for none of these retain their natural power when they are too large or too small, but they either wholly lose their nature or are spoilt. - Aristotle
The great Aristotle is always worthy of our deference and respect. When he speaks we should listen. We should, therefore, consider what he teaches about the proper scale of things, especially with regard to “the size of states.” Is there a politics of scale, much as there is an economics of scale, favouring the competitiveness of large states over small? More to the point, does this politics of scale contribute to the freedom of the citizens of such states or does it militate against political freedom? Is big-is-better where the size of nation-states is concerned or is the small both better and beautiful in politics as in business? In short, what are the political implications associated with scale?

Monday, May 25, 2015

We Did It, They Hid It: How Memorial Day Was Stripped Of It’s African American Roots

Written by: Ben Becker

What we now know as Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. It was a tradition initiated by former slaves to celebrate emancipationand commemorate those who died for that cause.

These days, Memorial Day is arranged as a day “without politics”—a general patriotic celebration of all soldiers and veterans, regardless of the nature of the wars in which they participated. This is the opposite of how the day emerged, with explicitly partisan motivations, to celebrate those who fought for justice and liberation.

The concept that the population must “remember the sacrifice” of U.S. service members, without a critical reflection on the wars themselves, did not emerge by accident. It came about in the Jim Crow period as the Northern and Southern ruling classes sought to reunite the country around apolitical mourning, which required erasing the “divisive” issues of slavery and Black citizenship. These issues had been at the heart of the struggles of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

To truly honor Memorial Day means putting the politics back in. It means reviving the visions of emancipation and liberation that animated the first Decoration Days. It means celebrating those who have fought for justice, while exposing the cruel manipulation of hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members who have been sent to fight and die in wars for conquest and empire.


Our Mania for Hope Is a Curse

Posted on May 24, 2015

By Chris Hedges

The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt. 

The yearning for positivism that pervades our corporate culture ignores human nature and human history. But to challenge it, to state the obvious fact that things are getting worse, and may soon get much worse, is to be tossed out of the circle of magical thinking that defines American and much of Western culture. The left is as infected with this mania for hope as the right. It is a mania that obscures reality even as global capitalism disintegrates and the ecosystem unravels, potentially dooming us all. 

Read more at url above

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Why Do We Experience Awe?

Why do humans experience awe? Years ago, one of us, Professor Keltner, argued (along with the psychologist Jonathan Haidt) that awe is the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.

The Red Pill of Pentecost

"You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."
Morpheus to Neo in "The Matrix"

Christian faith takes the red pill down the rabbit hole of the kingdom of God into reality.

Christian religion takes the blue pill of reality avoidance with a veneer of religiosity.

Pentecost is our annual celebration of God's offering this choice to each of us anew: “Red pill or blue pill?”

The red pill is the Holy Spirit.

The blue pill is the nominalism of moralistic conservative and cause-driven liberal “Christianities.”

The red pill is the bread and wine of communion that makes us the bread and wine broken and poured out for the life of the world.

The blue pill is the bread and wine of communion as unintelligible ritual exercised as an individual devotional exercise.

The red pill is a whole different life in Jesus through the Spirit.

The blue pill is the desire for Jesus to merely make a difference in your life.

The red pill is risky, restless, relentless immersion in the struggles of the world.

The blue pill entails only more-or-less participation in the life of the church.

The red pill leads to cross and resurrection.

The blue pill leads to a casket and “life after death” (not to be confused with “life-after-life-after-death” of Christian hope [N.T. Wright]).

So, what will it be for you and me this Pentecost? The red pill or the blue pill?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

  1. Seven Spirits of God: A Pentecost Exhortation

  2. by Peter J. Leithart
What do we have when we have the Spirit? We have everything.
All the treasures of God, hidden away in the depths of God from before the foundation of the world, become ours through the Spirit of Pentecost. He is the Gift from the Father and the Son, the Gift above all gifts, the Gift containing all gifts. At Pentecost, God gives God: What more could we ask?
He’s the sevenfold Spirit who works through the seven days of creation and throughout the week of history. The Spirit hovers over the waters to form the formless emptiness into the ordered beauty of the cosmos. When Israel is a dry and thirsty land with no water, Yahweh pours out his Spirit to make the wilderness a fruitful field and the fruitful field a forest. The Spirit hovers over the womb of Mary and recreates humanity, and the Father breathes the Spirit onto the corpse of Jesus to raise him to resurrected life.

Why We Should Stop Talking About the Founding Fathers


The following guest post is by David Sehat, associate professor of history at Georgia State University and author most recently of The Jefferson Rule: How the Founding Fathers Became Infallible and Our Politics Inflexible.

On the night of his 2012 presidential victory, Barack Obama stood in front of a large crowd at McCormick Place to rejoice in the prospect of four more years. The speech was in many ways unremarkable. He thanked his wife, his daughters, his campaign, the American people. He pledged to finish what he started four years before. And in looking forward to four more years, he simultaneously looked backward. Way back. “I believe we can keep the promise of our founders,” he told his audience, “the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, or what you look like.”

That Obama referenced the Founders was not unexpected. It’s what politicians do. I only remember this instance because I happened to be writing a book on the way the Founders get used in political debate. And yet, even though I was prepared for a general reference to the Founders, I was astounded by the specifics of the comment.


The Cruciform Human


In my March lecture in San Francisco, I made an assertion that is worth isolating for an article. That assertion is that we are created in the image of the Crucified Christ, and that this is essential in understanding what it means to be human. I have been asked where I got such an idea. The most simple answer is: the Scriptures.
Arguably, the first reference to the Crucified Christ occurs in Rev. 13:5.
All who dwell on the earth will worship [the Beast], whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:8)
The Lamb, slain from the foundation of the cosmos (τοῦ ἐσφαγμένου ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου), is St. John’s reference to the pre-existent Christ. This is easily familiar from his description in the gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (Joh 1:2-3)
However, in Revelation, the Word who exists before all of creation (through whom all things were made) is depicted as the slain Lamb. It is startling in what it suggests. Christ is not simply the One who will be incarnate in history and be slain for the salvation of the world, but is already the One who is slain even before the world is created.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It is a Puzzle … Ḥērem Never Practiced?

May 21, 2015 @ 5:56 by 5 Comments

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Chapter 2 of Walter Moberly’s book Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture concludes with a section asking the question “What kind of law is the law of ḥērem?” The question arises for a variety of reasons. Many people read the passages in Deuteronomy and Joshua and wonder about the kind of God who would condemn children to death without mercy. It just doesn’t seem right. Scholars see another problem as well. Quite simply, there is no evidence that ḥērem was ever practiced in any significant manner.  As Moberly puts it:
The puzzle relates to the scholarly consensus that, despite the specific way in which Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and 20:16-18 promote the practice of ḥērem, they in fact promote something that was not actually realized within Israel’s history. (p. 64)
The Canaanites were neither expelled nor exterminated. Ḥērem warfare was never carried out except possibly in limited military battles. Outsiders play important roles in Israel’s history, becoming insiders in the process.  Uriah the Hittite is one such example – especially pertinent as the Hittites are one of the proscribed people in Deuteronomy 7. Rahab the Canaanite prostitute is another example (in the genealogy of Jesus according to Matthew 1).  Ruth the Moabite is brought in and exalted, becoming the great grandmother of David (and thus also an ancestor of Jesus).
Some scholars have suggested that the concept of ḥērembelongs more to theory than to practice” and that the law “was purely theoretical and never in effect“.  There are many potential reasons suggested – that it was a way of explaining the disappearance of certain peoples, that it was imposed backwards at the time Deuteronomy was written because of “a fear of cultural and religious swamping in the time of exile.”  The law was written in such a way that it could not be practiced, being confined to “mists of the past.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why is Jesus Human?

May 19, 2015 J. R. Daniel Kirk

For the past six and a half years I have been working on a book whose end is now in sight. I’m calling it A Man Attested by God: the Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels.

The question that has pushed me to endure through all of the trials and tribulations of the writing has been this:

What does it matter that Jesus was fully human?

Through no fault of the churches I grew up in, I think that I had a fairly flat understanding of the identity of Jesus and what it meant:

  1. Jesus is God. Therefore, all of the awesome stuff Jesus does he does (a) because he is God and (b) for the express purpose of demonstrating his deity.
  2. Jesus is human. This is because (a) we suck, so (b) Jesus has to be able to die for us.

The only value to be found in his humanity was his death. Or, if we wanted to expand it a little bit, as in Hebrews, we might say that he occupied the same sucky existence we have (temptations to sin and the like) but managed to get to the cross unscathed.

So he could die for us.

Because we suck.

But the tide began to shift in my own thinking when I realized that proposition (1) above really only approximates the narrative strategy of John’s Gospel. When I tried to read the Mark with that same lens, the story didn’t hold together.


The Difficult Task of True Theology


Nothing is as difficult as true theology. Simply saying something correct is beside the point. Correctness does not rise to the level of theology. Theology, rightly done, is a path towards union with God. It is absolutely more than an academic exercise. Theology is not the recitation of correct facts, it is the apprehension and statement of Beauty.
It is this aspect of liturgical life that makes it truly theological. It is also the failure of most contemporary Christian worship efforts. Gimmicks, emotional manipulation and a musical culture that barely rises above kitsch reveal nothing of God – and embarrassingly much about us.
This is equally a failure of theological argumentation in most quarters. Authoritative sources, managed like so-many hands of trump cards, are deftly played in order to dominate and destroy. But words have a divine origin, having preceded all of creation. They have a right relationship with every created thing. Just as in the beginning, every word brought something into existence, so every word, in right relationship, reveals creation to be what it truly is, and in so doing, makes God known, even present.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Claims on Bonhoeffer

The misuse of a theologian

In a 2002 speech in Berlin thanking Germany for its support of the war on terrorism, President George W. Bush invoked none other than the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He compared the fight against terrorism to Bonhoeffer’s “stand against Nazi rule,” thereby aligning his stance with that of one of Christianity’s most beloved modern martyrs.

Bush was hardly the first and certainly not the last to claim Bonhoeffer for his cause. In July 1993, pro-life advocate and abortion clinic bomber Paul Hill cited Bonhoeffer’s involvement in “plotting the death of Hitler” to justify Hill’s actions. For Hill, murdering abortion providers was the only way to stop what he regarded as America’s own holocaust of innocent life.

In 2005, Christian televangelist Pat Robertson invoked Bonhoeffer, “who lived under the hellish conditions of Nazi Germany,” in calling for the United States to assassinate Venezuela president Hugo Chávez and Iraq leader Saddam Hussein.

Even more bizarrely, a journalist at an online magazine recently referred to “the dissident anti-Nazi” Bonhoeffer in arguing that had Syrian rebels perpetrated the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, Syria, in August 2013, their act would have been justified as an effort to elicit international intervention.

If the evidence were limited to the George W. Bushes, Pat Robertsons, and Paul Hills of the world, the religious left could dismiss these appeals as misguided or condemn them as the product of twisted logic. But in her 2003 book Just War against Terror, Jean Bethke Elshtain, a respected scholar at the University of Chicago, also invokes Bonhoeffer, “the anti-Nazi martyr,” to make a case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although Elshtain’s brief references to Bonhoeffer certainly reveal a more sophisticated understanding of Bonhoeffer’s ethical thought, she too trades on his moral authority to bolster her cause.

Appealing to Bonhoeffer to justify such a range of moral choices is deeply ironic, for it is at odds with Bonhoeffer’s own ethical reasoning. Clifford Green has rightly argued that such approaches reduce Bonhoeffer’s rich reflection on Christian discipleship, the christological foundation of community, and the church’s vocation in the world “to a sound bite or a principle either supporting or opposing the use of violence.”


A Christian Gives Thanks That America Is Not A Christian Nation

Posted: Updated:     

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
--The Declaration of Independence

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
--First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

These foundation stones of American democracy were laid a century too late to save Mary Dyer's life. Dyer, a middle-aged mother of six, was hanged in 1660 for defying a Puritan law that banned Quakers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Christians who cruelly deprived this woman of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness were dead certain (so to speak) that they were on a mission from God, protecting their "divinely ordained" civic order against Mary Dyer's seditious belief in the Inner Light.

As a spiritual descendant of Mary Dyer, I'm profoundly grateful that America is not a Christian nation. If it were, my Quaker convictions might get me into very deep oatmeal. And as a Christian who does his best to take reason as seriously as I take faith, I find it impossible to understand America as a "Christian nation" -- and I believe that there are vibrant possibilities in the fact that it is not.

Whatever America's founders believed about Christianity -- and they believed a wide range of things -- they clearly rejected the idea of an established church. That's strike one against the curious conceit that we're a Christian nation. If being a Christian nation means asking ourselves every day, "What would Jesus do?" about a political issue, then doing it, that's strike two. To take but one example (without forgetting things like slavery, justice for those who can afford it and peace through war):
"If [America] is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it." --Stephen Colbert
If a Christian nation is one whose popular culture is dominated by Christian convictions about what's good and true and beautiful, I'm afraid that's strike three. Just look at the fact that our nation-wide Christmas festivities begin on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a day that celebrates consumerism, our true civil religion. And if anyone wants a fourth swing of the bat in hopes of getting on base, let me pitch this brief theological reflection. If, as Christians believe, God is the Creator and Redeemer of All, then there's no way God favors Americans above people of other nationalities. Strike four.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max’s apocalyptic world tells us where we think we’ll find salvation

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May 15 at 10:01 AM
Theatergoers will flock this weekend to an imagined story set in a steampunky dystopian hellscape.
Or will they just be looking in a mirror?

We’re all about the apocalypse and its aftermath these days, from “The Walking Dead” to “The Last Man on Earth.” So it’s not surprising that the 1980s dystopian “Mad Max” franchise has been revived, this time with actor Tom Hardy swapped in for Mel Gibson as the wandering eponymous hero. “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which releases this weekend, is the rare blockbuster that will likely please critics and action-loving audiences alike.

It is a little surprising that we spend so much time and money on watching stories about all the horrible ways our civilization will end. But the preoccupation is not new. Since humans started telling stories, we’ve been imagining the end: how it will come, who will survive and what will happen afterward.

The genre of apocalyptic literature has always been both religious and political, meant to pull back the curtain and show us what’s really going on behind our everyday reality. Ancient readers of the Book of Revelation, for instance, would have understood it as both a prophecy about the end of time and as a specific critique of the Roman Empire.

One great way to see what a culture thinks about ultimate reality is to take a peek at its apocalypse stories. “Mad Max” is plenty entertaining, but it also tells us something about what we believe about the warring forces that drive human behavior — and where we think our salvation lies.


Jesus, Drawing Muhammad, and the Idolatry of Free Speech

by Adam Ericksen 05-12-2015 | 9:50am  

Geller is apparently not a Christian, but many Christians have come to her defense of the conference.

Let me be clear: There is no Christian defense of a conference that mocks Islam, Muhammad, or Muslims.

Please, tell me, when did Jesus ever endorse ridiculing others? Let me answer that for you: never.
In fact, Jesus says the exact opposite. When he was asked which commandment was the greatest, he responded,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
As if there were any doubt, Jesus extended the whole “love your neighbor as yourself” law to include even those we call our enemies:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not event he Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
If Christians are going to take seriously Jesus’ command to follow him, then we need to stop this absurd defense of drawing pictures of Muhammad. And if we defend the practice of ridiculing our fellow human beings by hiding behind the freedom of speech, then we have made freedom of speech into an idol.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

What does the resurrection say about the body…?

The body matters. That God raised Jesus bodily from the dead says something powerful about the body. Jesus did not consist simply of spirit. What was important about Jesus was not simply spirit. Jesus was body, mind, and spirit. It all mattered, but without the body perhaps there was nothing worth keeping? Why else would God raise Jesus bodily from the dead?

The brothers in 2 Maccabees 7 who courageously faced execution at the cruel hands of Antiochus confidently asserted that the God whom they trusted would restore physicality to them post-post-mortem.

2Mac. 7:10   After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, 11 and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.”

The physical body, our bodies, my body; these are integral to resurrection. Without the physicality of our bodies resurrection is nothing of the sort. Without the body resurrection becomes purely spiritual, ethereal, ghostly, transcendent, and unrelated to the corporeal physicality of the life as we know it.

I am my body and my body is me

I am my body. My body is me. And yet at this precise moment I find myself wanting to say, ‘no it isn’t!’ And yet, without my body there is no me. My body seems to be integral to who I am. Yes of course, if my heart was in danger of giving out, or my arteries became seriously blocked and it was deemed by medical professionals that my life was in danger they might suggest or advise, or insist that I have a heart transplant. Someone, somewhere might donate their heart in order that I continue living. I don’t think for a moment that having someone else’s donated heart inside my body, pumping my blood around my body, makes me any less me. Nor if I was have receive donations of any other part of a body. There’s no doubt that medicine and transplant techniques are rapidly advancing and evidence of this is that soon there will be an attempted body transplant. Yes! A surgeon in Turin, Italy is convinced that within a couple of years he will be able to graft a living person’s head on to a donor body! Wow! I have absolutely no doubt that ethicists will have a field day! But, if successful there remains the question as to whether the recipient, who apparently will only have contributed his head to the new person/body will still be the same person. Personally, I have absolutely no doubt that whichever lucky individual is deemed suitable for this extraordinary operation will still be the same person when she/he wakes up. But, and this is surely crucial, without a body that person will cease to be. The head requires a body, just as the heart requires a head.

Floating on clouds…?

Within Christianity there are all sorts of weird ideas floating around about life after death. Ethereal, disembodied persons floating around on clouds, strumming and stroking gilded harps; spirit beings gathered in an infinite choir forever singing solemn chants. Most prevalent is perhaps the idea that the believer rises instantaneously upon death to heaven – whatever heaven is pictured to be.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Who Has the True “Limited” Atonement?

Talk about “limited” atonement (LA) seems to have resurfaced in certain reformed circles these days. Did Christ die for everyone? Or just for the elect (those God chose from eternity to be saved)? Let's call this LA1. That's an important issue to be sure (and I'm on the Christ died for everyone side) but there's another form of LA that is less apparent and less talked about yet at least as important as the version I mentioned above. Let's call this LA2. Actually, I think it is more important because it answers LA1 for us.

What is this other version of LA, LA2? A question will help us get at it. Would Christ have come incarnate among us if humanity had never sinned? In other words, was there another purpose to his incarnation than dying for our sins (let's call this reclamation)? A purpose God had in mind apart from reclaiming us sinners (or at some of us depending on how we answer LA1) from perdition and hell? In yet other words, is Jesus' incarnation dependent on human sin? Was that but an emergency measure to salvage something of God's plan now that everything has gone awry due to our sin and rebellion?

Most in North America, in both popular and scholarly writing, have seemed to answer this question in the negative. Christ came to die for our sins and assure us of our eternal future with God. Thus there is no such thing as LA2. The death of Christ is nothing more or less than a rescue operation. And thank God that it is that!

But I contend that to so “limit” Christ's atoning work (LA1) is to miss the true glory of his life among us as one of us and what Paul calls “the eternal purpose” of God (Eph.3:11). To see Christ's work for us as solely and wholly LA1 is, I would say, the true “limited atonement” (LA2) with which we have to contend today.

Fortunately, there is a retrieval in our day by some scholars of the vision of the scriptures and the Church Fathers of a much broader vision of the purpose for Christ's incarnation and atoning work, an unlimited version, we might see. This unlimited atonement (UA) finds in Bible, particularly in the four chapters of the Bible untouched by sin (Gen.1-2 and Rev.21-22), God's “eternal purpose,” that is, his dream of what he desired by bringing everything into existence.

The most succinct way to put that dream is that God wanted a place and people with whom to share his love and life. A place to dwell. And what do we call a place where God dwells? A temple. Thus we are not surprised to discover that Gen.1-2 narrate the creation of the world as the building of a temple palace in the Garden of Eden from which God intends to oversee this temple's spread over all the earth. The creation as one great Temple in which God and his creatures dwell together in communion an fellowship. At the other end of the canon, the last scene in vision presented there is of the New Jerusalem coming to God's new creation, becoming co-extensive with it, bearing a cubic shape matched in the Bible only by the Holy of Holies in the temple. Here we see God's “eternal purpose” displayed. All creation as the habitation for the most intimate sharing of life between God and his human creatures.

Jesus' incarnation is the ultimate expression of the depth of God's passion for communion with his creatures. What more could God do to draw near to us in fellowship than become one of us? When sin mucked things up Jesus' coming as the incarnate One took a more complicated shape since he had now to deal with this sin but the larger intent of establishing God's presence with us as one of us for life together now and forever was always the primary goal. Reclamation had to happen in the aftermath of sin but the purpose of Jesus' incarnation and work would not be fulfilled until our restoration to our place an vocation in God's creation dream was restored. And that means reconciliation is the largest and deepest realization of God's dream!

I am suggesting, therefore, UA includes both our reclamation from sin and restoration to our place and vocation in God's larger purpose. LA2, which limits Jesus' atonement to forgiveness of sins an assurance of life forever with God is indeed the version of limited atonement from which we need to be freed. LA1, whether Christ died for all or only some of us, is answered once we abandon LA2. If God's creation dream is to share life will all his human creatures, then for Christ's death to serve that creation dream it must encompass all.

I suggest that UA as I have described it the place from which we ought to begin if we want our lives and service to God aligned with what he is doing the world. In closing this brief note, I invite you to consider why Jesus is presented as the new temple of God (Jn.2:22) and his people as a temple, individually and corporate (1 Cor.6:19; Eph.2:19ff.; 1 Peter 2:1-10). Might this not reflect the Father's larger and ultimate purpose in creation fulfilled by Jesus and the church, both here and now and then and there?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.

     The people we elect aren’t the ones calling the shots, says Tufts University’s Michael Glennon
istock/photo illustration by lesley becker/globe staff

The voters who put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.
But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.
Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.
Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.
Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.

Authority and Alasdair MacIntyre: What Learning to Fly Airplanes without Engines Reminds Me about the Moral Life

May 12, 2015
by Lee C. Camp, host of Tokens

I am learning to fly sail-planes. It is a fine hobby for someone who enjoys an adrenaline rush. I feel like a little kid, a 48 year old kid, when I am coming in on final approach, and know that there is no throttle which can be advanced, no engine upon which I might rely.  There is just gravity, and a glide path, and the energy stored up in height and velocity, the graceful lines of the sail-plane gliding toward the almost mile long grass strip at Puckett Field, Eagleville, Tennessee.

Sitting in the cockpit before our second or third tow one day, my instructor asked me to run through the check-list. He is a very fine instructor, and I come away every time having learned something. I was particularly pleased in the immediate flight prior to have learned how to do wing-overs, a marvelously graceful move in a sailplane, that makes a novice like myself feel all the sudden like I’m flying a fighter jet.

So I dutifully and quickly ran through the check-list. “Ready,” I said.

He simply replied, “There is one thing you’ve left untended that will kill us.”

I ran through the check-list again, and realized I had failed to lock the spoilers, devices which extend vertically from the top side of a wing for the purpose of “spoiling” the lift generated by a wing, typically used during a landing to assist the pilot in landing at the desired spot.  But try to take off with those things unlocked and they will pop out when you get a little ways down the runway—to ill and possibly deadly effect.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Does the Doctrine of the Trinity Matter?

     11 May 2015 Posted By: Greg Boyd

Jesus reveals the greatest, most beautiful, and mysterious aspect of God when he, despite being himself God Incarnate, relates to God as his “Father” and refers to God as “the Holy Spirit.” There is, of course, only one God (1 Cor 8:6). Yet Jesus reveals that God somehow exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We find God’s threefold personality revealed throughout the New Testament (e.g. 2 Cor 13:14, Matt 28:19, 1 Cor 12:4-6). It’s not just that God plays three “roles,” as some have taught. Rather, the New Testament reveals that God eternally exists as three distinct divine Persons. God is, in some sense, a loving divine community.

Throughout church history the threefold nature of God has been referred to as “the Trinity.” The word “Trinity” isn’t used in Scripture, but it’s a convenient way to summarize that New Testament’s teaching that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As with the Incarnation, it’s impossible for us to understand fully how this can be. The best we can do is come up with analogies.

See more at:

Christ’s Death and the Fate of Western Lowland Gorillas

AFP PHOTO/Shaun Curry
Essay / Art

by Adam Johnson on   

Paul Fryer’s striking art installation is a beautiful and realistic work… of a crucified gorilla. At first one might think his “Privilege of Dominion” is little more than a parody of the Christian faith, a repetition of ancient graffiti portraying Christ crucified with the head of a donkey. And in fact there has been some debate over whether Christians should take offense at this, with varying levels of insight into how non-Christians can and should interact with Christian beliefs and symbolism.

I, for one, am not at all inclined to take offense. Rather, I am enthralled with this image, having taken the artist at his word. As far as I understand, Paul Fryer sought to “highlight the plight of the Western Lowland Gorillas, and to challenge the Christian notion that animals do not have souls.” And of course those are great things to highlight and challenge. At the moment, however, I would like to point out a further dimension of Fryer’s piece: the question of whether Christ in any sense became a creature for the sake of creatures (Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1, p. 381)—a broader and more inclusive understanding of the incarnation. In other words, did Christ die for animals?


7 fallacies about hell

Mon, 11/05/2015 - 15:45


Like a lot of people who promote the doctrine of hell as a place of eternal suffering, J.D. Greear insists, in a recent post on the Gospel Coalition site, that he would happily erase the belief from Christian teaching if he could, but he can’t because it’s in the Bible, so we have to live with it. Moreover, in his view, we can’t fully understand God and his world unless we come to terms with the doctrine. To that end he sets out “seven truths” that he thinks should frame our discussion of the topic.

The problem is that the fact of hell is merely taken for granted—we are asked to take C.S. Lewis’ word for it. You would have thought that a set of seven framing truths would have a demonstrable biblical or theological relationship to the doctrine that supposedly sits in the middle of them. But they don’t. They are arbitrary and incoherent; they don’t appear to frame anything in particular; and where scripture does come into the picture, it is speaking about something other than hell as popularly understood.

1. Hell is what hell is because God is who God is

We need a doctrine of hell, Greear argues, in order to appreciate the holiness of God. “Hell should make our mouths stand agape at the righteous and just holiness of God. It should make us tremble before his majesty and grandeur.” The obvious response to that claim is “Does it?” Does it really make us marvel at the righteousness and holiness of God? Honestly? Wouldn’t most people gape in horror? Wouldn’t most people draw quite the opposite conclusion—that a God who subjects people to endless torment must be a callous and contemptible cosmopath? How can we possibly expect people to be impressed by a doctrine of cruel and disproportionate metaphysical punishment?

Greear offers no biblical support for the argument. He cites God’s words to Moses that “man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20), but ironically he infers that even “the slightest sin in his presence leads to immediate annihilation”. So a truth that is meant to frame a belief in hell appears actually turns out to be a strong argument for annihilationism.

It is one thing to say that a person who has suffered rape or child abuse “needs to know that there is a God of such holiness and beauty that his reign can tolerate no evil”. It is quite another to suppose that the victim needs to know that her abuser will suffer eternally in a hell that is “not one degree hotter than our sin demands that it be”. The justice of God in the end is satisfied by death, not by endless torment.


Homosexuality and Romans 1

May 11, 2015May 11, 2015 J. R. Daniel Kirk

Over the past few weeks I have been taking occasional soundings into questions surrounding homosexuality in the ancient world.

Just to clarify what has not been clear to some: it is obvious to me that Paul did not approve of (some sort of) same-sex coupling. The question I have been probing is what did he not approve of, and why?

I regularly hear that the things Paul stood against were pederasty and temple prostitution. In a couple of previous posts (here and here) I questioned whether these forms of same-sex relations existed, and/or might have otherwise been the object of Paul’s scorn.

Last week I took up a third possible target for Paul’s same-sex polemic: slave sex. This was a ubiquitous reality in Rome. And, it was built on a system of social hierarchy that was deeply embedded in not only “pagan” Greco-Roman culture, but also early Judaism and nascent Christianity.

Jewish and Hellenistic

A couple of people have pushed back against the idea that we look to Greco-Roman context to understand what Paul might have been communicating. I get it. There is a theological bent to all of Paul’s thinking that has to be given some level of primacy. Paul as a Jewish theologian, engaging and working from the story of Scripture, needs to be a primary reference point.

To this I say yes. And no.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Oprah Winfrey: one of the world's best neoliberal capitalist thinkers

Oprah is appealing because her stories hide the role of political, economic and social structures in our lives. They make the American dream seem attainable

Nicole Aschoff

Saturday 9 May 2015 08.30 EDT Last modified on Saturday 9 May 2015 16.50 EDT

In Oprah Winfrey lore, one particular story is repeated over and over. When Oprah was 17, she won the Miss Fire Prevention Contest in Nashville, Tennessee. Until that year every winner had had a mane of red hair, but Oprah would prove to be a game changer.

The contest was the first of many successes for Oprah. She has won numerous Emmys, has been nominated for an Oscar, and appears on lists like Time’s 100 Most Influential People. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She founded the Oprah Book Club, which is often credited with reviving Americans’ interest in reading. Her generosity and philanthropic spirit are legendary.

Oprah has legions of obsessive, devoted fans who write her letters and follow her into public restrooms. Oprah basks in their love: “I know people really, really, really love me, love me.” And she loves them right back. It’s part of her “higher calling”. She believes that she was put on this earth to lift people up, to help them “live their best life”. She encourages people to love themselves, believe in themselves, and follow their dreams.

Oprah is one of a new group of elite storytellers who present practical solutions to society’s problems that can be found within the logic of existing profit-driven structures of production and consumption. They promote market-based solutions to the problems of corporate power, technology, gender divides, environmental degradation, alienation and inequality.

Oprah’s popularity stems in part from her message of empathy, support, and love in an increasingly stressful, alienating society. Three decades of companies restructuring their operations by eliminating jobs (through attrition, technology, and outsourcing) and dismantling both organized labor and the welfare state have left workers in an extremely precarious situation.