Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump and the 'War on Christmas'

Michael Sean Winters  |  Nov. 29, 2016

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

Slum priests needed for a new Oxford Movement

November 29, 2016

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Has the Bonhoeffer Moment Finally Arrived?

 11/28/2016 01:19 pm ET

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

Second Sunday of Advent (12.4.16)

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2016


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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ross Douthat’s “The Crisis for Liberalism”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Confession - the Election of 2016.

The book of Revelation is much misunderstood. Duh! It's the nature of that misunderstanding we must get hold of. We westerners think linearly. So we expect Revelation to be telling us history (present or future). Let's call it calendarizing.

The genre of Revelation's vision is apocalyptic. That's why it has all the weird imagery and bizarre characters. As strange as this is to us it was familiar to its first readers. Though apocalyptic literature does sketch the broad path of history at times, its most vital function is not calendarizing but characterizing. More like a x-ray apocalyptic unveils was is at the heart of what is going on.

The Roman Empire is clearly the "bad" guy in Revelation, the beast who is persecuting and oppressing the church. Yet an ordinary citizen of the empire would not have seen it that way. Yes, the empire was authoritarian and could be brutal to those who stepped out line. But think of all the benefits: the wonderful system of roads that made travel in the empire ever so much easier, the pax Romana, its laws and order, its wealth, worldwide trade, beauty, durable political institutions, and the like. Was this not the pinnacle of human civilization to that point? Yes, no doubt.

John the Seer, however, paints the empire as a beast, dragon-spawn, a terror to God's people. It's lurid portrayal displays nothing good about this abominable creature. That's because John's x-ray like vision cuts beneath all the political and cultural "goods" of the empire to lay bare its heart. And at heart, this empire, any human empire, is beastly. Its pretentions of grandeur, its unsatisfiable grasp to bring all things under its sway, to impose its way of life on other nations and peoples, to promote its own goodness, to set itself up as a deity, are among empire's "beastly" marks. Like the apple that is red, shiny, and delicious-looking on the outside but rotten at the core, Revelation enables us to see the core of empire and respond appropriately, faithfully.

And that response is to have nothing to do with the empire at that level. However wonderful or beneficial some aspects of the empire might be, there can be nothing acceptable about it at the level of sharing its intentions, worldview, self-idolization, will to power, greed and the like. In short, the animating center of the empire, all empires, is to make itself pre-eminent in all things to all people for all time (remember the thousand-year Reich). All its actions are driven by this idolatrous ambition. And that idolatry is what Revelation finds characterizing the empire. And at this level the church can only respond in total and complete rejection and move to "reveal" the lusts and lies that attempt to justify and extend empire's reach.

Not everything an empire does is necessarily bad or evil. Paul asserted his Roman citizenship to get himself out of trouble. Free Christians used and enjoyed the various benefits the empire offered its citizens to live and spread the gospel. They learned valuable truths from it. Yet, at the end of the day, they completely rejected the ideology and intentions that drove the empire to do what it did. And sometimes they got persecuted for their failure to completely capitulate to Rome and cry out "Caesar is Lord" along with the rest of the populace.

Revelation's great value for us today is its relentless insistence that we today never forget this truth above all other truths - only God is king, his kingdom is the only true empire, it is marked by merciful love, welcome, provision, and protection for all its members, demands or total allegiance, and makes it members lords of all by becoming servants of all.

Usually elections in America are choices between candidates and policies that we believe will make a more or less difference in the quality of our lives and fortunes of our country. But in 2016 we had an election that unveiled the heart, the character of our empire, in bold relief. But not in a simple one-sided way. Two faces of empire were laid bare for us to see. Neoliberal globalistic imperialism, on the one hand, and a vulgar nativistic, racist, militaristic imperialism on the other. Both faces showed themselves in so nakedly in this election because the empire is in trouble. And when empire's are in trouble they always default to basics. Elite basics were Clinton's bottom line, Trump's the basics of those alienated and disempowered. Neither basics are acceptable to Christians. Choices in this kind of election are never fundamentally between the lesser of evils or gradations of good. I submit this election for Christians was about discerning the apocalyptic "signs of the times" and rejecting the twin idolatries on offer. Maybe that meant a third party vote, a write-in, or a refusal to vote. But John's revelatory word to us this year was to behold our empire reduced to its basic drives and intentions and to refuse to participate on those terms, to reaffirm our rejection of these terms, proclaim Jesus as Lord, and redouble our "lordly" servanthood to the poor and the needy, the last and the least.

We misunderstand John's message if we think it is about a partisan choice. This year it was about God's kingdom vs. the American empire. It was about recognizing and affirming, with Tony Campolo, that though America may be the best Babylon we've ever seen, it is still a Babylon. And that's what the election was about for the church - not a slightly less brutal and unjust Clinton administration or a grotesque parody of the "best" of America in a Trump administration. No, it was about recognizing and rejecting "Babylon" in both its faces and choosing God's kingdom over either.

This is my mea culpa in some respects. I voted for Clinton at the end of the day, forgetting John's word to me, misreading myself the "signs of the times." This is my confession. Forgive me.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Life in Christ (III)

I’ve been looking at our life in Christ under the three heads below.

-communication: hearing/obedience/Word/ear
-communion: feeling/affections/Worship/heart
-community: tasting/experiencing/World/body
The ear and heart , communication and communion, occupied us in first two posts in this series. Today it is the body, both our physical body and the body of Christ that call for comment.

Life in Christ and the Body

    We can almost say that life in Christ, the communication and communion we experience with God is kinesthetic. Our bodies are active in both listening to and being with God. This is why bodily postures in prayer are recommended in scripture and in the early church. And why in some traditions the congregation stands as the Bible is processed in for the reading of that day’s gospel passage. And why the practice of “Walking Prayer” is growing in popularity today.

If our bodies are the face of our souls, then our interactions with others in community constitute another kinesthetic aspect of our life in Christ. Bodily motion seem intrinsic to the life God created for us to share with him and all other creatures. It is here that the image of the solitary, sedentary individual at prayer, Bible reading, and study plays us false. It not that there’s something wrong with these things. They become wrong when they become normative models of biblical Spirit-uality. The biblical model is usually both communal and kinesthetic. There is, of course, a place for solitude in prayer and study but, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, only those who are in community can be truly alone. If solitary is our primary and normative mode we will grow but little shut from the means of growth, the body of Christ, God has provided for us.

Life in Christ and the Body of Christ

That leads us to the second part of this reflection. The body of Christ is a reality we simply must embrace and experience. Paul is clear that this is no metaphor. It is a “literal” reality, so to speak. We are members of one another (Rom.12:5), we the many are one (1 Cor.12:13), and we rejoice or suffer when others rejoice or suffer (I Cor.12:26). Counter-intuitive to the individualistic logic that drives our culture, God has made us into a community, indeed, a body of interrelated and differentiated parts, so inextricably bound to one another that we cannot know who are apart from them. So we cannot know and experience God apart from them either. The body forms the womb in which we grow and mature as Christians. The church father, Tertullian, said the church is the mother of all believers. And he was right. The fruit of the Spirit, the gifts, the prayers, the worship, the partnership (koinonia) we share, the outreach to others, the sufferings of Christ we share, all these things and more constitute our opportunity for growth that God has provided and expects us to avail ourselves of.

The church as Christ’s body is his face to the world, so to speak. Again, it is Bonhoeffer who points us in the right direction. Jesus is the Man for Others, he tells us, and the church is the Church for Others. Living fully in the world, immersed in daily life with those around us, loving those around us as beloved children of God -,

        -lingering with them
        -listening to them
        -learning from them

- this is the way Christ wills to be present in his world. As the community of his people, again, Bonhoeffer, life in Christ is irreducibly communal and worldly.

    Thus, ear, heart, and body together constitute in both metaphorical and literal terms the life we have in Christ. All are necessary for a full experience of Christ and sharing in Christ’s ministry in and to the world.

Friday, November 18, 2016

To all Christians interested in the Church’s witness at the onset of the Trump Administration:

It seems obvious that the Trump election resulted from many diverse factors. Some were less than noble impulses of the American psyche along with at least one legitimate concern that he made center stage. The only faithful role for the church toward any presidential administration is that of loyal opposition. Loyal, not to the opposing political party, but rather to Jesus Christ. We may find ways to encourage or support various things the new President does but it seems extremely unlikely that we will find ourselves supporting the attitudes and ideologies that ground the view of reality of these folks. They are not evil incarnate. But the “principalities and powers” seem to have a firm foothold among them. And it is the latter against whom we struggle according to the apostle Paul (Eph.6:10-12). Trump and his people are as much a victim of these powers as the people they diminish, dismiss, harm, or victimize in some way (as all administrations do). Social justice that

-does not attack these “powers” and see our human opponents as victims in the sense just described and therefore in need of the forgiveness, acceptance, and renewal of Jesus Christ is not biblical.

-is not steeped in prayer and faithful proclamation of the gospel is not biblical.

Uncritical support of any political candidate or office holder is not Christian. Not even if that person is a Christian. Christians who voted for Trump ought to have at least some qualms about who he is and what he will do and how he will do it. You too ought to be a part of the loyal opposition I am describing. You may be more supportive of what he is trying to do than others in this opposition. That is fine. Our unity in Christ is not one of political agreement any more than it is of doctrinal agreement. It is unity under the Lordship of Christ over all of history and creation. Surely we can join together under that Lordship to pray for and work together as much as possible for the well-being and spread of the kingdom of God in our country. 

To that end I propose that churches in every city or town create a prayer fellowship for Inauguration Day. I suggest a day long season of prayer that day with continuous prayer offered for the new administration and the country. Each city will develop a list of pray-ers who will pray in thirty-minute increments from 7am to 7pm. Each site will be staffed in conjunction with the hosting church. Materials and prayers to be used, if desired, will be available for use. Each city will need a coordinator(s) to get the site, develop a list of pray-ers, staff the site on Inauguration Day, and develop and provide materials for reflection and prayer.

I will serve as a co-ordinator for the Longview, TX area.

This is a dream at this point. I have no infrastructure to make it happen. Individuals who read this will have to be moved to share this vision of a church at prayer across lines of division joining heads, hands, and hearts as Christians to pray (1 Tim.2:1-2) for the well-being of our country. I can’t imagine anything more important to do that day!

I will be sending this to church and civic leaders in my area to ask they share it with their congregations and contacts for the purpose of developing contacts. Those in others area likely need to do the same. And develop other avenues of communication and recruitment appropriate to your settings. This is a new dream for me. I’m spinning it out on the fly here because time is short. My hope is that we will have groups across the nation praying the whole day of the Inauguration. Whatever other differences we may have, wouldn’t this be the most appropriate thing for the church to do at the onset of the new administration.

So, I hope you who read this will both pray and participate in this venture. If you want to let me know you are doing that, that would be great. You can message me here on facebook or at or 214-679-2960. At any rate, I’m going to get started here in Longview right now.


Lee A. Wyatt

The End of Identity Liberalism

By MARK LILLA NOV. 18, 2016

It is a truism that America has become a more diverse country. It is also a beautiful thing to watch. Visitors from other countries, particularly those having trouble incorporating different ethnic groups and faiths, are amazed that we manage to pull it off. Not perfectly, of course, but certainly better than any European or Asian nation today. It’s an extraordinary success story.

But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate” our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.

One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end. Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy. But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

First Sunday of Advent 2016


36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. 36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

         Matthias Grünewald’ famous Isenheim Altarpiece, the second view, will focus my Advent reflections this year. We will use the gospel readings from Matthew from the Revised Common Lectionary. Grünewald’s painting will provide oblique rather than direct entrees into the messages of Matthew’s text. We begin with the picture of the left-hand panel of the second view printed above. It is a bright, almost garishly colored rendering of Christ’s resurrection.

         The reading from Matthew, though, is about the End. Christ’s return. The great finale of history. Or so we have been taught. But what if a scholar like N. T. Wright is correct that this text, indeed none of the texts like this from the Synoptic Gospels, are about that ultimate end but rather passionate warnings about the coming end of the Jewish people in the war with Rome (66-70 a d)? The striking and arresting imagery used earlier in Mt.24 is stock prophetic and apocalyptic language for great upheavals, collapse of empires, historical change of such magnitude that it is no stretch to say are the “end” of the victims of such tumultuous ill fortune.

         And there is nothing a first-century Jew would have used such language to describe except the end of Israel as a historical entity, and more, its end as a vehicle for the kingdom of God as promised to the patriarch Abraham in Gen.12:1-3!

         Such an end loomed in the offing for Israel. It was coming. It didn’t take a physic to read the tea leaves to see it. Many observers did. Jesus was involved in a struggle throughout his earthly ministry for the proper way for Israel to be Israel, God’s Israel, Abrahamic Israel, the agent of the spreading of God’s blessings to everyone else. Jesus’ message of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom a lá the Sermon on the Mount was his call to all who had ears in Israel to join his movement as that proper way to be God’s Israel and to escape the coming national destruction.

         The warnings in our passage reflect the onset of that terrible crisis. One will be taken, one left. Not in a rapture of some sort but by the Roman military laying siege to the city. The tie to prepare is now. Or like Noah’s contemporaries caught up in the normal rhythms of life the Roman flood will catch them unready and overwhelm them. No one knows exactly when this calamitous misfortune will begin but the percipient will hear the truth in Jesus’ proclamation and enlist in his kingdom movement. Their beef is not with Rome per se but with the malignant sinister power who incites the empire to its brutal, oppressive, and authoritarian rule over the world. His followers will flee to the mountains when they see or hear of the onset of these hostilities and wait it out in the mountains (Mt.24:16ff.).

         Let’s jump for a moment to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. Grünewald’s rendering of Jesus’ victory is highlighted by the spectacular coloring of the figure of Jesus and the prostrate bodies of the tomb’s guards below. Roman and Jewish power were unable to hold Jesus in death. He broke its bonds, and the bonds of death’s dark Master, when he emerged from the tomb that first Easter morning. Matthew paints it with the tearing of the Temple curtain, a great earthquake, and a resurrection of Jewish saints after his death and prior to his resurrection to symbolize the victory Jesus won. His subsequent announcement that “all authority in heaven and on earth” was now his puts the exclamation point on it!

         Now back to today’s reading. When Jesus announces the attack of a thief on the Master’s home he likely combines two images. That of the coming Roman military forces and the coming of the Son of Man. For the judgment enacted by Rome on the hard-hearted and disobedient nation is in truth God’s. It is a definitive declaration that Jesus (the Son of Man) was right, validated and vindicated by his resurrection, and now vested will all power and authority, has returned in victory “at an unexpected hour.”

         North American Christians and churches live in a similar time, I suggest. Long predominately disobedient in the service of God, domesticating and diluting the gospel and its Lord Christ, recent decades have been a warning to us that looming just ahead is a great fall unless we get our house in order. Our recent election may be a final warning blast, a tipping point, into the nightmare of judgment that awaits us. How so many Christians could get the gospel so wrong and be so insensitive to it is a terrifying and breathtaking thing for us to consider.

         But Jesus, the resurrected and victorious Jesus, remains open to in mercy and hope. Staggeringly, he will reclaim and restore us to be his people, refurbish us to our proper service as that Abrahamic people whose mandate after the resurrection to implement and extend Jesus’ victory everywhere they go around this globe. Out of the crucible of neo-pagan North American culture, this Lord can and will raise us up again to be and do what God’s people should be and do.

         Read in this oblique fashion, then, I believe this is the Advent message of this first Sunday’s gospel reading for us in this year of 2016. The call is not to look toward a final end in preparation and anticipation but rather to a much closer end, one terrible to behold, but whose reality is already upon us. And we know it in our hearts. We have tried as a church to be the soul of a nation. But we’ve ended up simply a religious reflection of a national soul. We need to remade, from top to bottom, stem to stern. It will be time consuming, painful, and arduous work. But it will also be attended by the gracious and merciful presence of him who sill today has all heavenly and earthly power and is more ready to do for us what only he can do than we are to ask.

         But asking for such divine presence and power is just what Advent is about. Such asking positions us to begin anew the journey with Christ through the course of his life in the first part of coming church year and then the journey in Christ of the church into and through the world in second part. No telling what Advent 2017 will call for from God’s people. But I submit Advent 2016 calls for something very like what I have just described. May Advent blessings be yours in full measure. Jesus is Victor!    


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Penal Substitution is Unavoidable

Nov 14, 2016 @ 12:37 by Scot McKnight 37 Comments

There are plenty of attempts to find atonement theories that avoid the barbarisms of some penal substitution (PSA) proponents, but avoiding PSA altogether is unavoidable. Here’s what it claims:

1. Humans sin.
2. Sin has serious, ultimate consequences before God.
3. The consequence of sin, its punishment, is death.
4. Jesus died to bear (and bear away) the consequences of sin (and sin).
5. Christians proclaim the forgiveness of sins through the death of Jesus.

There is only one way to avoid the necessity of penal substitution, and it involves these claims:


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Whither now, Church?

The right are giddy and the left in despair because the former now has the upper hand in running the US. Christians of all strips share either the giddiness or the despair. The church, however, while seeking and supporting what public goods it can, has no brief for running the US or any other country either directly or as partisans of a particular political vision. We are those who model a wholly different way, the way of the cross. That is the only "throne" from which we "ru...le." Just like our master Jesus Christ. We are not called to make a difference in this world (though we will if we follow our proper mandate) but rather demonstrate a different world that has broken in to our fallen reality, follow a new king announcing a new creation that is humanity's destiny. Kingdoms and empires come and go. So will America. It, as Tony Campolo cleverly observed, may be the best Babylon the world has ever seen, but it's still a Babylon. America's pretentions include being the biggest, strongest bad-ass in its world or humanity's best, the "light of the world." Now we have turned toward the former pretention and away from the latter. But nothing has changed for the church, at least a church not invested in our nation's pretentions. The shape of our witness ought to be the same as it always should have been described well by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christians should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong."
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Sermon on II Cor. 12)

You can't run a country, much less an empire, like this either from the right or the left. But from a cross the church can its place and shape in whatever world it inhabits, with however much or few its opportunities to achieve public good are, by being and doing what it is by grace and the Spirit empowered to do. And thus the church should do now in America. Leave the left and right to wrestle for the power to run America. And learn what Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, claims as the heart of biblical faith: "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to not the righteous but sinners." (Mt.9:13).