Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I Believe in the Church

I believe in the church; I believe in the church in America.

Yet, I also believe that Stanley Hauerwas is correct to claim that “God is killing the mainline church in America, and we g$%d*#n well deserve it. I believe he is right about non-mainline churches as well.

I believe in the church though we have little more than a few glimmers of it here. You have to look hard to find it.

Yet I believe in the church, even here in America, because I believe God raised Jesus from the dead. And some have already surrendered to the death of church as we have known it opening themselves to resurrection and new life.

For God will not leave himself without a witness.

And that witness shines most genuinely when a people of God live in simple solidarity with the desperate and downtrodden, those who hunger and thirst for the bread of life and the word of God, those who are fearful of and hopeless in this world.

When cathedrals become shelters and feeding centers for the poor, our liturgy after the liturgy of worship, there is the church.

When we relocate among the neighborhoods of poor and working class people, to befriend and be friended by them, share the joys and struggles of life with them, to pray together with them, holding them always in God's gracious presence, resisting the injustices and inhumanities the powers that be foist upon us because we seem powerless to resist, and our lives take on cruciform shape, there is the church.

When outcasts and those bearing (holy) stigmata that leave them beyond the pale of social respectability and acceptance find a home with and among us, there is the church.

“Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.” Thus David Brooks describes a hopeful future for social conservatives in the U.S. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/30/opinion/david-brooks-the-next-culture-war.html?_r=0). This too is a call the church-to-come in America embraces with all the diversity of its people and their gifts for ministry.

Yes, God is killing the church in North America. And we do well deserve it. But beyond death lies resurrrection and therein the hope for a (very different) future than it has heretofore known on this continent.

The Next Culture War

The Next Culture War

JUNE 30, 2015
Christianity is in decline in the United States. The share of Americans who describe themselves as Christians and attend church is dropping. Evangelical voters make up a smaller share of the electorate. Members of the millennial generation are detaching themselves from religious institutions in droves.

Christianity’s gravest setbacks are in the realm of values. American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social issues. More and more Christians feel estranged from mainstream culture. They fear they will soon be treated as social pariahs, the moral equivalent of segregationists because of their adherence to scriptural teaching on gay marriage. They fear their colleges will be decertified, their religious institutions will lose their tax-exempt status, their religious liberty will come under greater assault.

The Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision landed like some sort of culminating body blow onto this beleaguered climate. Rod Dreher, author of the truly outstanding book “How Dante Can Save Your Life,” wrote an essay in Time in which he argued that it was time for Christians to strategically retreat into their own communities, where they could keep “the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness.”


Monday, June 29, 2015

Hoping for Love


My friend Alan Jacobs, a traditional sort of Anglican Christian, wrote this the day after the Obergefell ruling:
Perhaps I am soft on sin, or otherwise deficient in serious Christian formation — actually, it’s certain that I am — but in any case I could not help being moved by many of the scenes yesterday of gay people getting married, even right here in Texas. I hope that many American gays and lesbians choose marriage over promiscuity, and I hope those who marry stay married, and flourish.
I know what he’s saying. I felt that too.
But I was thinking more today, What is that experience? For those of us like me who hold to a Christian view of marriage that contradicts the SCOTUS definition, what does it mean to be moved by scenes of gay marriage?
Well, for starters—and I’m speaking for myself here, not necessarily for Alan—I think that for many, many (not all) gay people in America today, the options have not been (1) belong to a healthy, vibrant Christian community in which celibacy is held in high esteem and deep spiritual friendships with members of the same sex and opportunities for loving service and hospitality abound or (2) be in a romantic relationship with a partner of the same sex. That has not been the choice facing many gay and lesbian people. Instead, for many (not all) today, the options have been (1) be ostracized (or worse) in church and effectively live without meaningful same-sex closeness of any kind or (2) be in a romantic relationship with a partner of the same sex. Listen, readers, this is the reality for many gay people who have had a brush with the Christian church in recent years:
So many people have been told (explicitly) that they aren’t welcome, treated as problems rather than persons. They’ve been disowned, had their trust betrayed and their confidences exposed, been kicked out of their homes and their churches, threatened with expulsion. They’ve listened as preachers proclaimed that people like them were destroying the church, that their desires were uniquely and Satanically destructive, that homosexuality by its nature cut them off from God; that their only hope for a faithful Christian life was to repent of their homosexuality, become straight, and get married. All by Christians who claimed that their actions were the result of their faith in Jesus.
And often this abuse—I know labels can obscure complexity but in this case I think naming the abuse is important—is inflicted on people who are trying to live out the full Christian sexual ethic. The treatment they receive would be unjustifiable even if (and even when) they reject Christian teaching on homosexuality, but what’s sort of amazing is that simply self-identifying as gay or even “struggling with same-sex attraction” will earn you condemnation and shame in many Christian communities. Your shame is treated as a sign of faith; any hints of self-acceptance are treated as rejection of God. It should come as little surprise that many of the people who receive this mistreatment eventually reject (what I believe to be) the Christian sexual ethic, and often reject Christianity entirely.
So, I think part of the reason I got a lump in my throat on Friday as I was scrolling through news feeds and seeing gay friends’ pictures pop up on Facebook and Twitter is because I know that for so many of these people, the alternative to their current jubilation has been a gulf of loneliness and marginalization. I persist in believing in the traditional Christian picture of marriage—what G. K. Chesterton once called a “triangle of truisms,” i.e., “father, mother and child”—but I know that when many people depart from it, they’re doing so after undergoing a significant amount of ill-treatment.
And that brings me to the other thing I want to say. The so-called Great Tradition of the Christian faith, the ecumenical mainstream, if you like, has always held, since the earliest days of the apostles (see the infamous Romans 1 passage of St. Paul), that sexual coupling between members of the same sex is immoral. But that traditional teaching has focused its condemnation on the sex acts themselves, not on the legitimate human desire for closeness that may or may not accompany those acts. In other words, traditional Christian teaching has said that gay sex misses the mark of the Creator’s design of human bodies and of marriage: it takes something intended for procreation and male-and-female spousal bonding and care and makes it about something else. (This was the point of Melinda Selmys’ recent post on concubinage.) But that same teaching certainly isn’t condemning all the things about “gay culture” that give us those weepy chills when we see them at their best. Historic Christianity certainly isn’t saying that gay people themselves or their partners are somehow irretrievably perverse and that all their longings and loves are any further removed from God’s design than their heterosexual neighbors’ are.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dylann Roof Was Wrong: The Race War Isn’t Coming, It’s Here

Dylann Roof was wrong. The race war isn’t coming. It’s already here. It began the moment the very first old world (proto-European) citizen stepped on the shores of Africa and the Americas and other soon-to-be-colonized places and said, “God has given this land and these people to me. This is mine.”

The belief in God-given possession flows like a vampire virus through the veins of this country. We eagerly draw lifeblood from as much of the world as possible, in land, natural resources, and cheap labor. What does it mean to be born in a place that measures your value, your worth, your very life by the calculus of possession? That calculus extends through time to us from those founding greed-filled moments invading our waking consciousness and driving us forward in a strange confession.

We believe in competition born of the desire to possess. We believe in striving against others for the sake of survival and growth. We believe that excellence emerges from struggle, from the isometric pressure of opposing forces pushing against each other with all their strength until weakness of mind, body, idea, institution, and company are rubbed away through the heat generated by life forces exposed in conflict.

We could associate many names, schools of thought, life philosophies, or corporate policies with this confession, but its origins are irrelevant at this point. What is crucial is its embodiment, because it is poison. Europeans coming to this country began drinking this poison as they joined their bodies to a civilizing machine operating on two sites. The machine worked on the land and at the bodies of indigenous peoples clearing and killing away all that it deemed counterproductive. It also worked on immigrant bodies killing and clearing away all that could not be turned completely into whiteness.

Whiteness—that form of life that is also a way of seeing life—emerged not as a fixed identity but as a striving, a goal to be accomplished, and for many an achievement to be celebrated.

But not everyone has achieved their whiteness. Some cannot achieve it. Others do not want to attain it, and some live in constant frustration in their failure to secure it. Whiteness depends on possession and the possibilities of increasing possession. Enter Dylann Roof. Many have tried to narrate his assassinations inside a story of psychosis and terrrorism sprinkled with racism, so that we will see his actions as extraordinary evil.

Read more at http://religiondispatches.org/dylann-roof-was-wrong-the-race-war-isnt-coming-its-here/

Friday, June 26, 2015

Gays win historic gay marriage battle - it's just a shame they picked the wrong fight.

Image Credit: G-Day

Published by: Robert Laurie on Friday June 26th, 2015

Another take.
I'll get this out of the way right up front.  A lot of you aren't going to like what I have to say. However, the boss doesn't pay me to tell you what you want to hear - or even what he wants to hear.  My job is to offer my opinion.  Dan gave you the social conservative reaction here, and my take is going to be substantially different. So here we go:

The Supreme Court got the gay marriage ruling right.

I know, social-cons hate it, but the SCOTUS made the right call under the equal protection clause.
I've written - for years - that the GOP's knee jerk desire to legislate morality has been both a mistake and massive failure. You're either for freedom and individual liberty, or you're not. I'll fight tooth and nail for your right to live your life and raise your families as you see fit, but your absolute right to do so ends when you use those morals to limit the secular rights of others.

It's the difference between acting upon your own personal freedom and forcing your beliefs on everyone else. This, of course, works both ways. So, when a gay couple tries to sue a Christian bakery for refusing to bake a cake, I'll support the bakery - just as I'll support the right of the couple to be a couple. When (not if) LGBT activists and left-wing politicians try to use today's ruling as a springboard for attacks on religious institutions, we'll be having a different conversation. In it, I'll be defending those institutions and their 1st Amendment rights.

Read more at http://www.caintv.com/gays-win-gay-marriage-battle-i

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

'Racism without racists'?

The new threat: 'Racism without racists'

By John Blake, CNN

Updated 9:32 AM ET, Thu November 27, 2014

Source: CNN

(CNN)In a classic study on race, psychologists staged an experiment with two photographs that produced a surprising result.

They showed people a photograph of two white men fighting, one unarmed and another holding a knife. Then they showed another photograph, this one of a white man with a knife fighting an unarmed African-American man.

When they asked people to identify the man who was armed in the first picture, most people picked the right one. Yet when they were asked the same question about the second photo, most people -- black and white -- incorrectly said the black man had the knife.

Even before it was announced that a grand jury had decided not to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, leaders were calling once again for a "national conversation on race."

But here's why such conversations rarely go anywhere: Whites and racial minorities speak a different language when they talk about racism, scholars and psychologists say.

read more at http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/us/ferguson-racism-or-racial-bias/index.html

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Way of Christ or the Way of the Zealot: Some Further Reflections on Charleston

Last Friday, the world witnessed the way of Jesus Christ in Charleston, South Carolina. The family members of the victims in the horrific shooting at an historic AME Church in Charleston, SC spoke to the racist young man that perpetrated the crime of killing nine people during a Bible study. Their words were nothing less than moving; and to a world that so often believes violence is the answer to violence, they were almost shocking. Those who spoke to Dylann Roof did not speak in anger telling them they hoped he would burn in hell for his crimes. Instead they spoke through tears of grief and pain, not only telling this young racist how he had devastated their lives, but they did something that their faith demanded they do-- they forgave him.

A daughter of one of the victims said, "I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul," she said. "It hurts me, it hurts a lot of people, but God forgive you and I forgive you."

A sister of one of the pastor's killed stated, "We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God that I won't be around when your judgment day comes with him."

The way of Christ was seen in those moments on Friday through his grieving disciples. Anyone remotely familiar with the Gospels could hear in their words the voice of Jesus on the cross-- "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing." Those moments on Friday were holy moments, when the way of the cross was demonstrated to be a real and viable way for the followers of Jesus to live. Many, including Christians, have expressed shock in the midst of their admiration, that forgiveness was the subject of their words to Roof, and not words of hatred. Most people wouldn't have blamed them if words of hatred were expressed. There is something sad about the fact that even Christians seem more accustomed to responding in hate than with love and forgiveness. I suppose that is because we have far more of the former and too little of the latter.

We Christians like to talk a good line about how important the Bible is to us.

Read more at http://www.allanbevere.com/2015/06/the-way-of-christ-or-way-of-zealot-some.html

What Do You Hear? (from Matt Gunter)

A monk needed to go for a day-trip to a big city, accompanied by an acquaintance. In the midst of urban’ uproar the monk claimed to have heard a cricket, though... his companion did not believe him. Crossing the road and looking carefully under a tree the monk found the cricket, to the astonishment of his relative.

You must have a superhuman hearing!

No. My ears aren’t different from yours, said the monk. But everything depends on what you’re used to listen with them.

No! I would not be able to hear a cricket in this noise!
 It all depends on what is important to you, reiterated the monk. Let’s make a demonstration. So the monk took out few coins from his packet and dropped them quietly on asphalt. And despite of the loud noise of the city, all the people around them turned their heads thinking that the scattered coins could’ve fallen from their packets.

Do you understand now? It all depends on what is important to people … If we watch or listen to the contentions daily news on television, our ears become accustomed only to what is ugly and evil. We become fearful and helpless! Then we’ll say: “Life is hard, people are evil, we live in an insecure and ugly world, you cannot trust anyone or anything …”

And meanwhile the crickets sing, the leaves rustle, the waters flow… and we do not hear them.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Though we live (or have lived) in the age of the Emerging/Emergent Church, I have a different proposal for a new vision of church. I call it the Submerging Church! Am I serious, you ask? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe both. Read on and see what you think.
The Submerging Church, as I see it, is radically subversive, relentlessly incarnational, and ruthlessly hospitable. It dives deeply into everyday life, sharing it with others, while at the same time questioning and critiquing the conditions of that life we share. Since this community lives from its center, the risen Jesus Christ, its boundaries are porous and permeable with arms outstretched to everyone who encounters it.
Here are some characteristics of the Submerging Church:
§  first, it is hard to find because it is small and spread throughout the community;
§  second, it is difficult to join because “membership” is relational and based on a shared journey towards the center;
§  thirdly, it is culturally atheistic, that is, not committed to a cultural Christ or his civil religion;
§  fourth, it is more like yeast (which though small permeates the whole) than a beast (a mega-church prominent in the community);
§  fifth, it finds its “niche” with those at the margins and their experiences, which generates the “lens” through which it views and responds to the world; and
§  finally, it focuses on “inner-tainment” (life with God) rather than entertainment.

The core content of the Submerging Church comes from:
§  first, being a Kingdom Outpost rather than a religious institution;
§  second, following a Cruciform Jesus rather a Cultural Christ;
§  third, living by a Holy Script (Bible) rather than a cultural script;
§  fourth, being centered on a bath and a meal rather than programs;
§  fifth, seeking justice for all (especially the poor) instead of good for “just us”; and
§  sixth, sharing “communitas” rather than just fellowship (Google it!).
Well, there’s the basic outline of my vision for the Submerging Church – what do you think?

Submerging Church Spirituality
If becoming a Christian is at heart becoming human, and surely it is, then living Christianly must be living humanly, in a human style and at a human pace. What we call “spirituality,” then, is nothing more or less than a human way of life. Living a Christian life, or even explaining it to others, as we must, does not require specifically Christian acts or words. Since it is living humanly, these everyday ways, can be explained in everyday non-religious language.
The lexicon of faith, the language of “Canaan,” is our “arcane discipline,” of worship and devotion (Bonhoeffer), the depth that undergirds our non-religious life and language.
The Jesus we worship and adore, the “man for others,” (Bonhoeffer) is the content and goal of human beings we are becoming.
What might such “non-religious” language and living look like? How might we describe it? Perhaps the following will help us make a start. Human, that is, Christian, living is shaped by actions such as the following:
Slow Down (Sabbath from Speed)
Three-miles-an-hour is the speed at which humans normally walk. It is the “human” speed. But, as Brooks, a character in The Shawshank Redemption said upon release from prison after fifty years, “The world’s gone and gotten itself in a big damn hurry.” By becoming human, Jesus brought “God” to us at a “speed” we could understand and relate to. If Jesus is the definitive revelation of God, and if I constantly move at faster and faster speeds, if I am perpetually “too busy,” I will discover myself more and more out of touch with a Three Mile-an-hour God (Kosuke Koyama)
Sign Out (Sabbath from Cyber-Space)
If cyber-space becomes our primary connection to life, it has become a surrogate reality. In spite of, or perhaps because of, its gifts, we need regular breaks from cyber-space, periods when I sign out in order to reach out and lay hold of the life-in-relationships that alone sustain me.
Stay Put (Sabbath from Mobility)
Submerging spirituality recognizes the importance of “location, location, location.” My ability to get up and go whenever I please often inhibits God’s call for me stay and grow where God pleases. (See The Wisdom of Stability by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove)
Shut Up (Sabbath from Words)
Just listen!
Stoop Down (Sabbath from Controlling)
Humility, the grace to confess that I am a creature (who is not in control) and not God (who is), is best made palpable to me by re-connecting with the humus, the dirt from which God made me. I daily eat a “sacramental” pinch of dirt to help this grace hit home for me. We are a part of God’s creation, and by grace his partner in reclaiming and restoring it. We best play our role by remembering who we are and the grace by which we live.
Stare (Sabbath from Distraction)
Distraction and diversion are in my experience the heart of the enemy’s strategy to disable our living humanly. It short circuits my capacity to be present to my life. I suffer from “Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.” Wholeness in living comes for me when I rediscover the truth Kierkegaard captures in the title of his book Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.
Sing (Sabbath from Memos)
Discursive, linear, pragmatic thought rules most of the time. I heard Walter Brueggemann call this kind of thought “memos.” He said that such memos will kill you, but poetry (he was talking about the Psalms) gives life. I encounter poetry mostly in song. So I need to sing (even though I can’t carry a tune). I think it was Augustine who said that the one who sings, prays twice.
Share (Sabbath from Me)
My life is my relationships, and relationships mean sharing. I must learn to share my necessities of life (food, communitas, faith) and joys and burdens with others while receiving their gifts and sharing their burdens as well. This, as I said, is my life.
Simplify (Sabbath from Clutter)
I need to pursue the path of downward nobility rather than upward mobility, divest, and de-clutter. I want what I have and know and do to serve life rather than me serving them. To know the difference between want and need is a great gift.

Sleep (Sabbath from Self)
Sleep, enough sleep is a basic form of selflessness and trust. To give ourselves unreservedly to God in the needs of our creatureliness is to affirm our Creator’s wisdom and the goodness of what he has made. Sufficient rest is a primal act of faith and powerful witness in beleaguered, fatigued, workaholic world.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The 'trickle down theory' is dead wrong


America: Land of shrinking opportunity

Wealth does not trickle down from the rich to the poor. Period.

That's not Senator Elizabeth Warren talking. That's the latest conclusion of new research from the International Monetary Fund.

In fact, researchers found that when the top earners in society make more money, it actually slows down economic growth. On the other hand, when poorer people earn more, society as a whole benefits.

The researchers calculated that when the richest 20% of society increase their income by one percentage point, the annual rate of growth shrinks by nearly 0.1% within five years.

This shows that "the benefits do not trickle down," the researchers wrote in their report, which analyzed over 150 countries.

By contrast, when the lowest 20% of earners see their income grow by one percentage point, the rate of growth increases by nearly 0.4% over the same period.

Related: Class war locks poor kids out of top U.K. jobs

The new report called widening inequality "the defining challenge of our time," echoing earlier comments from President Obama.

The authors explain that high levels of income inequality drag down growth because poor people struggle to pay for health care and education, which hurts society as a whole.

"For instance, it can lead to under-investment in education as poor children end up in lower-quality schools and are less able to go on to college," the report says. "As a result, labor productivity could be lower than it would have been in a more equitable world."

The report builds upon research from other international organizations and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate who has been campaigning against rising inequality.

Monday, June 15, 2015

a faith crisis in the Bible (and don’t let some 60s hippies tell you otherwise)



In 1965, the Byrds had a big hit with a song written by Pete Seeger and based on chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

Everything on earth has its time and place—its “season,” as the writer (Qohelet) puts it.
There is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time for war, and a time for peace, etc.

The Byrds’s tune features great harmonies and gives off a feel-good-be-at-peace-with-the-world-Zen vibe. You know. The ‘60s.

But these ancient words are anything but harmonious and peaceful. We are seeing a faith crisis happening right in front of us.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2015/06/a-faith-crisis-in-the-bible-and-dont-let-some-60s-hippies-tell-you-otherwise/

Powerful Warning about Judging Others

"Once on Mount Athos there was a monk who lived in Karyes. He drank and got drunk every day and was the cause of scandal to the pilgrims. Eventually he died and this relieved some of the faithful who went on to tell Elder Paisios that they were delighted that this huge problem was finally solved.

Father Paisios answered them that he knew about the death of the monk, after seeing the entire battalion of angels who came to collect his soul. The pilgrims were amazed and some pro...tested and tried to explain to the Elder of whom they were talking about, thinking that the Elder did not understand.

Elder Paisios explained to them: 'This particular monk was born in Asia Minor, shortly before the destruction by the Turks when they gathered all the boys. So as not to take him from their parents, they would take him with them to the reaping, and so he wouldn't cry, they just put raki [a Turkish drink close to vodka] into his milk in order for him to sleep. Therefore he grew up as an alcoholic. There he found an elder and said to him that he was an alcoholic. The elder told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and beg the Panagia to help him to reduce by one the glasses he drank.

After a year he managed with struggle and repentance to make the 20 glasses he drank into 19 glasses. The struggle continued over the years and he reached 2-3 glasses, with which he would still get drunk.'

The world for years saw an alcoholic monk who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a fighter who fought a long struggle to reduce his passion.

Without knowing what each one is trying to do what he wants to do, what right do we have to judge his effort?"

(from Matt Gunter)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Rachel Dolezal Syndrome

Posted on June 12, 2015 by Ali Michael

Rachel Dolezal is a fascinating case study in White racial identity development.* She is stuck in the immersion/emersion stage, in which White people, having learned extensively about the realities of racism, and the ugly history of White supremacy in the U.S., “immerse” themselves in trying to figure out how to be White in our society, and “emerge” with a new relationship to Whiteness. Only in the case of Dolezal, her way of dealing with the pain of the reality of racism, was to deny her own Whiteness and to become Black.

She is an extreme example of a common phenomenon. The “immersion” stage is typified by White people taking more responsibility for racism and privilege and often experiencing high levels of anger and embarrassment for racism and privilege, which they sometimes direct towards other Whites. They sometimes try to immerse themselves in communities of color, as Dolezal did. She’s not alone.

I definitely experienced this. There was a time in my 20s when everything I learned about the history of racism made me hate myself, my Whiteness, my ancestors… and my descendants. I remember deciding that I couldn’t have biological children because I didn’t want to propagate my privilege biologically. If I was going to pass on my privilege, I wanted to pass it on to someone who doesn’t have racial privilege; so I planned to adopt. I disliked my Whiteness, but I disliked the Whiteness of other White people more. I felt like the way to really end racism was to feel guilty for it, and to make other White people feel guilty for it too. And then, like Dolezal, I wanted to take on Africanness. Living in South Africa during my junior year abroad, I lived with a Black family, wore my hair in head wraps, shaved my head. I didn’t want to be White, but if I had to be, I wanted to be White in a way that was different from other White people I knew. I wanted to be a special, different White person. The one and only. How very White of me…

Read more at http://alimichael.org/blog/rachel-dolezal-syndrome/

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Atonement as Payment or Forgiveness?

June 13, 2015 by Michael F. Bird 4 Comments

Over at the Missio Alliance, Pastor William Walker has an article on Payment or Forgiveness: Putting the Gospel Back into the Atonement. In the article, Walker claims that folks like Wright and McKnight have brought a great corrective to evangelical theology by trying to integrate the big-picture story of the kingdom with the theology of Jesus’ death (and here I’d add the excellent work of Jeremy Treat too). However, Walker thinks that they have not gone far enough and they have not addressed the major problem which is the penal nature of substitutionary atonement.

Walker offers accolades for Tony Jones’ new book on this topic entitled, Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution. I’m currently reading Jones’ book, he writes well, he asks some good questions,he  makes some salient observations, but on the whole his book does for atonement theology what Rush Limbaugh does for the cause of reggae music. A fuller review will follow in the future. In any case, Walker suggests there are two models for understanding the atonement:

(a) Penal Substitution. “The most popular way of understanding substitution goes something like this: using a courtroom analogy, we owe God a debt or payment for our sin as punishment for it that we ourselves cannot possibly repay. Therefore, God sends Jesus to take our place and pay it for us – namely, by suffering the punishment for our sins.  And it is because of this that God is able to forgive us.

(b) Forgiveness without Payment. “The other way to understand substitution, as “non-penal,” might go something like this: God is indeed grieved over our estrangement from right-relationship with him. God is angry when we hurt each other and when we idolize impermanent things. God’s love has been wounded, and for this God is rightfully “wrathful” toward our sin. But in God’s love through Christ, that sin is “paid for” by God simply eating the cost of it, so to speak — not by having someone else pay for it. This is not cheap grace. It still comes at a huge price to God. It is “paid” by God stepping in to take the blow that we are leveling against ourselves and against God. God does not kill Jesus. We do. Our sin and violence does. And the performative demonstration of this is the cross, which is the ultimate expression of injustice, alienation and betrayal of God and others. It is both the symbolic and the real history of what God has always already been willing to do, which is not to demand payment, but to incur the debt of sin into his own being. In this way the “debt” is vanquished.”

Walker’s view might be called “debt forgiveness.” Crucial to his view is a quote from Brian Zahnd: “The cross is not what God inflicts upon Christ in order to forgive. The cross is what God endures in Christ as he forgives.” On the cross, God is like a pacifist who won’t fight back when he’s being abused, he takes the hits, and then in turn forgives those who do not deserve it. While our sin incurs a debt, it is paid by God’s loving refusal to seek retaliation.

It might sound nice, but the problems here are obvious and palpable.

Friday, June 12, 2015

How our cars, our neighborhoods, and our schools are pulling us apart

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Americans are pulling apart. We're pulling apart from each other in general. And, in particular, we're pulling apart from people who differ from us.
The evidence on this idea is varied, broad and often weird.
We are, as Robert Putnam famously put it, less likely to join community bowling leagues.
We're more likely, as I mentioned yesterday after a police confrontation with a group of black teens at a private swimming pool, to swim in seclusion, in gated community clubs and backyard pools that have taken the place of public pools.
We're more likely to spend time isolated in our cars, making what was historically a communal experience — the commute to work — a private one. In 1960, 63 percent of American commuters got to work in a private car.
Now, 85 percent of us do. And three-quarters of us are riding in that car alone.

Read more at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/09/how-our-cars-our-neighborhoods-and-our-schools-are-pulling-us-apart/

The Secular Challenge

Fr. Stephen Freeman 6 Comments

Fr. Alexander Schmemann held that secularism was the single greatest challenge of the modern era. I took up this understanding and made it the heart of my book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. It is at the heart of every serious challenge the Church faces in our time. The news is not so good.

A recent article by Damian Thompson in the British publication, The Spectator, estimates that at the present rate of decline, British Christianity will cease to exist by 2067. The numbers are simply staggering. The most precipitous decline is within the Church of England (Anglican). The culprit, well-noted in the article, is secularization.

Secularism, in the sense that I use it, is a view of the world in which God is optional. God, if He is seen to exist at all, is in no way an inherent part of life. The world is a neutral zone, not good, not bad, not religious in any way. Religion, God, etc., is nothing more than a belief system that some may choose to bring into their lives. As I have written, many Christians quietly, even unconsciously, hold to this view. Awash in the cultural waters, they feel the world to be devoid of God. The world has been “disenchanted.”

Read more at http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2015/06/12/the-secular-challenge/

A Modest Proposal on Our Sexual Disagreements

The church, as we all know, is hopelessly divided an deadlocked on all manner of issues surrounding sexuality. Quite likely, there will be more and more separation and division among churches and Christians on account of it. I don't have any magic bullet or new answers to this issues. All I have is a modest proposal that will likely not satisfy anyone in the present volatile atmosphere. Yet, I, a hetero-sexual male, keeping pondering an praying over the all this, my feelings and reactions, and the seeming hopelessness of the church enduring no more division.

Some are certain they know what they believe – on each end of the spectrum. They will have the most difficulty I'm afraid with my proposal. I know what I think, but I'm not a zealot for it. I'm more interested in discovering what the “in love” part of “speaking the truth in love” is all about. And it seems to me ironic that the vast majority of churches have found ways to live with deep divisions over war and violence, yet we can't find a way to to that around these issues (which affect far fewer of our members than war and violence do). I know we haven't always dealt with war and violence in good faith in our churches, anymore than we have sexuality. But we have managed to do it and the peace message has seasoned the gospel for many members.

Some of us think that forms of sexual expression other than married heterosexual are not what God intends for us. Others are sure this spectrum of sexual difference is created and blessed by God, if not many members of the church. Yet this spectrum exists and real people's lives are on the line. These relationships can exhibit the love and self-giving that we all hope for in our closest relationships. What if those who do not affirm the spectrum outside of married sexuality accept that others' preferred sexual expressions are perhaps the best and only way they can find love (for all the multitudinous reasons we scarcely understand)1 and as such ought to be cared for and nurtured. If the spectrum is indeed a result of sin, and I mean here the power of sin unleashed through Adam and Eve's “fall” not individual sin, it may be viewed as a tragic necessity some of us experience. All our sexuality is broken, hetero- as well as others. Thus care and nurture is not offered from a position of superiority or “rightness” but rather from a humble recognition that all of us are (hopefully) moving toward greater sexual wholeness in this life (as far as possible) and need each other in this journey even as we hope for a full experience of that wholeness in the next life.

The folks who experience and practice yearnings for sexual expressions outside the married heterosexual form are, from this perspective, no more or less broken than the rest of us. In so far as they are seeking to live for Christ and by God's grace they should serve in all forms of leadership in the church. There is no case it seems to me for denying them the right to share their gifts with the Body of Christ.

Others of us want to affirm the spectrum of sexual expression as a good gift of the God the Creator. He made us this way, after all. Our right to live out the form of sexual expression we choose ought to be guaranteed and codified in civil law. What if these folks could accept that the care and nurture as described above are the best those folks can offer at present. If we can serve God in leadership in the church and experience such welcome and care, can we find common ground in our mutual search for sexual wholeness with our married hetero-only brothers and sisters. If the point is to recognize that we do not and likely will not agree on our moral evaluations of all these forms of sexual expression yet try to remain together even in deep disagreement, if we can come together around our mutual struggle for sexual maturity we just might be able to do it. And in doing this we might just gain some new insights neither of us would have come to on their own.

Can traditional marriage folk give up they strongly believe to be “right” and welcome and embrace those supporting and engaging in the spectrum of sexual expressions in a common search for sexual wholeness? Can they share leadership in the church with such folks? In short, can they be open to real relationships with those very different from themselves?

Can the full spectrum folk live in community with those who cannot and do not affirm their sexual expression even as they accept them as full partners in faith and ministry? Can both groups live together in midst of deep disagreement and accept that the witness of this community-amid-deep-disagreement may be the most powerful witness we can offer a fractured and divided world? In short, can they be open to real relationships with those very different from themselves?

As I said, I know this proposal will not likely satisfy anyone, much less everyone. Indeed, satisfying everyone does not seem possible at present. But it does seem to me to offer at the beginnings of a way forward that allows everyone to be who they are and believe what they believe about sexuality. Each side will have to compromise something important to them but will do so out of regard for the “others” who are not where they are. Vigorous but hopefully increasingly healthy conversation will continue. New insight we cannot presently envision may emerge. And in our hanging together rather than succumbing to the usual practice of division and name-calling we just may offer a witness to world not possible but for our deep differences on these matters.

In 1 Cor.6 Paul admonishes the Corinthian Christians: “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” when it sinned against the unity of the Body of Christ by taking matters publically to court rather than resolving them between themselves. What am I willing to be wronged about for sake of the unity of the Body? What are you willing to be wronged about for the sake of the unity of the Body? Is this even something we can consider? I hope so. Because I don't see any other way for unity to prevail within the truth of who we are and are called to be in Christ. I may be wrong. I probably said badly what I'm trying to say. I hope I haven't unwittingly offended anyone. But if I have I apologize in advance. I realize I have skated over matters about which so much more conversation and prayer are needed. But this is what it is. If you find it helpful, great. If not, delete it and move on to better analyses and alternatives! Godspeed.

1 See David Fitch's fine reflection on this at http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/blog/cxm0oc0ecwx91k4zluolnifaf55pui.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Radical Perspective on Paul – Part 1: A Guide for the Perplexed

June 11, 2015 by Michael F. Bird 1 Comment

At the moment the state of Pauline scholarship could be divided into four basic camps:

(1) Traditional Protestant. Paul was preacher of grace that stands in contrasts to the legalism/nomism of second temple Judaism. In some versions, this is accompanied with an implied or even explicit supersessionist view of the church as replacing Israel.

(2) The New Perspective on Paul. The problem with Judaism was not legalism, but ethnocentrism. Paul was arguing that Jews need to accept that God has acted in Christ to bring Jews and Gentiles into the new saving event ahead of an eschatological consummation.

(3) The Apocalyptic/Barthian Paul. Paul proclaimed God’s invasive and cosmic act of salvation to rectify and renew the whole creation rendering the old order with its religion as obsolete.

(4) The Radical Perspective on Paul. Paul was Jewish and Torah-observant. He tried to bring Gentile communities into closer fellowship with Jewish communities while protecting them from proselytism. Paul believes that Jesus saves Gentiles, but Jews are saved under the auspices of the Mosaic covenant.

In this post I’m going to describe the origins of the Radical Perspective (RP), give a brief description of its reading of Paul, and note its relative strengths. In a subsequent blog post, I will offer a critique of contestable elements.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2015/06/the-radical-perspective-on-paul-part-1-a-guide-for-the-perplexed/

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

But Should We Really Respond Like It's a War?

"The Church is In Post-Christian Exile – But Should We Really Respond Like It's a War?” is the title of Karina Kreminski's article on Missio Alliance today. She's responding to another piece on the church entering Phase Two of our exile and how we should respond. And her responses are wise and to the point. It's not her responses, though, that I want to say a few words about. It's the imagery in her title, “But Should We Really Respond Like It's a War?”

I want to say a vigorous and unrepentant “Yes” to that image!
First, though, a clarification or two. I do NOT have in mind actual military conflict or the use of weapons in any fashion. I'm a pacifist and I believe the church should be too. Nor do I mean the strident, angry, mean-spirited culture war type of warfare. Both of these types of conflict are antithetical to participation in God's mission in the world.
Yet . . . we are in a war! A war whose decisive and climactic battle has already been won. Our D-Day happened on Calvary around 30 A.D. We live now in aftermath of Christ's cross and resurrection awaiting V-Day when Christ returns to finally and fully establish God's kingdom. Our job is to witness to his victory and authenticate it by our life together as a sign, sacrament, and servant of that coming kingdom.
The powers Christ dealt with are “disarmed” (Col.2:15) and his enemies “defeated” (1 Cor.15:54-57). These enemies are not yet “destroyed” however (1 Cor.15:26), nor the powers fully pacified. That's why, like the Allied forces between D-Day and V-Day, our calling as the church is engage the remaining resistance of our defeated and disarmed foes with declarations an demonstrations of the truth of the gospel which unveils the defeat of “sin, death, and the (d)evil” and shows the powers their reign of distorting the conditions for human life and flourishing is at an end (Eph.3:10).
Our goal is to free humanity from their bondage to the lies and illusions these enemies and powers keep assaulting them with. That's really all they can do – keep luring us to embrace their lies and illusions and continue to live as if Jesus has not won the victory. Karl Barth sets us straight on this.
“The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse and death, are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them any more. If you have heard the Easter message, you can no longer run around with a tragic face and lead the humorless existence of a man who has no hope. One thing still holds, and only this one thing is really serious, that Jesus is the Victor.” (Dogmatics in Outline, 123)
In fact, in living free of the lies and illusions God's enemies and the powers use enable us to show others in word and deed that all of us apart from Christ have common suprahuman enemies that keep us locked into the tragic and deadly antagonisms and arrangements that plague our world. Our human oppressor or enemy is not the enemy we must confront. Instead, the church is called find potential friends in strangers and enemies. We treat them thus even if they do us hurt or betrayal. This is how we declare and demonstrate that the power of sin, death, and the (d)evil are in truth defeated and the powers of distortion and disruption of God's good order put on notice that their days are numbered.
In fact, in living free of the enemies and powers that have opposed God in every age and epoch is “the” chief task of God's people. Whether as families, wandering nomads, a nation united, a nation divided, a people in exile, a people living under foreign overlords in their own land, a church spread throughout the earth, in all these forms God's people are supposed to be what I think can best be called God's Subversive, Counter-Revolutionary Movement.
Subversive because we infiltrate and seek change person by person, situation by situation, person to person. We have no grand scheme by which to organize the world for God from the top own. The most highly-exalted One did his redeeming work this way, and so must his people.
Counter-Revolutionary, even though this is usually a negative terms for us Enlightenment liberals, because we set ourselves against the attitudes, actions, patterns, and structures written into the fabric of “the way things are” by the history of sinful humanity (sin being the original revolution away from God). The twist to this way of being counter-revolutionary is that we live from the way the world will be not the way it is or has been.
Israel never quite lived out this calling. But Jesus Christ did. As the one faithful Israelite he gathered and still gathers around him all who follow him empowering them with the Spirit and the gifts necessary for our continuing warfare.
The letter to the Ephesians give us scriptural warrant to think of our service to Christ in military terms. Tim Gombis has shown how Paul uses the Divine Warfare pattern to structure the letter as a call to service in God's ongoing struggle in and with the world. Andrew Lincoln has demonstrated that the rhetoric of the letter points us to the familiar “full armor of God” passage in ch.6 as Paul's climax and “point” in writing. And Thomas Yoder Neufeld has helpfully recovered the insight that the armor we are to take up is not just that of the Roman soldier of Paul's time but rather God's own armor he wore to do battle with his enemies and recalcitrant people in the Old Testament. Together, all these insights make it inescapable that Ephesians gives us a hermeneutically responsible reflection on the use of military imagery for a non-violent church.
The virtues of such a model are the direction, urgency, intentionality, and bodily-ness it gives to our following Christ. It takes these matters and more to be effective soldiers. It takes no less for the church to be God's Subversive Counter-Revolutionary people. A people trained, equipped, and focused on seeking God's shalom as they “Lift High the Cross” and bear it daily into the nitty-gritty of daily life – that would be a church that others may still reject. But they would be rejecting it for the right reasons not the many matters we speculate today cause people to become “Nones” and “Dones” with regard to the church!
That's why we are indeed in a war. And why it matters that we know and participate in God's Subversive Counter-Revolutionary movement. God wants it. In living it out we discover our true humanity. And the world beholds its own destiny.