Everyone repeats the same line: Sunday is the most segregated day of the week, and remains so. Why does some Christians fight so hard for racial justice, and others do not? This is a question that has been going through my mind a lot recently. God made all human beings in God’s image, the Imago Dei. Every person is of invaluable worth. This is an enduring truth of Christian tradition passed on for centuries. Racism is a denial of not only the Imago Dei in every human being, but also, a denial of Christ’s resurrection. In order for racism to be a persistent force in U.S. American politics, systems of death targeting specific populations (primarily People of Color) must take root as the norm. When they go unchallenged by the Church, that is a denial of the Gospel, the Good News of Christ’s victory of sin, Satan, and death, and God’s work of reconciling us to each other.
One of the many sins that Christians refuse to repent of is that of the genocide of First Nations persons. These wars and injustices are relegated to the past, as professor Andrea Smith points out, rather than instances of the present as well. Smith puts it this way, “One possible reason that the “exception” of Native genocide is not fully explored is that it is relegated to the past. That is, Omi and Winant argue that the United States has shifted from a racial dictatorship characterised by “the mass murder and expulsion of indigenous peoples” to a racial democracy in which “the balance of coercion began to change”.9 Essentially, the problem of Native genocide and settler colonialism today disappears.” for more see : Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy. The laws in which our First Nations sisters and brothers live under were made under the presumption that, #1, Native Americans were not Christian, and therefore not American, and #2, that First Nations people were not competent enough to rule themselves. Unfortunately, Christians in the past as well as today are far more invested in the nation-state than they were/are in the Gospel. What we as the Church need is a commitment to the Gospel of the Unsettling God who calls us to oppose the White Supremacist nation-state for the cause of justice, and to work towards a more just and loving community.
I said it once and I will say it again! Those who devise non bibilically prescribed customs and feasts to the Christian faith are the ones who are “doing the work of the devil” reducing Christianity into a “fairy tale” with Santa Claus, Eastern Bunny and, of course, egg hunts, and certainly a few other childish parties.
Oh, of course these are such innocent things that they will hardly affect anyone, or any child’s forming faith, right? Wrong! You talk to your children about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, along with teaching them about Jesus, then you expect that they will grow up and filter off the childish things and realize that none of these characters are real and for some miraculous reason, you hope that they will keep Jesus as a “truthful” character… What a hope!
Before you say it, as an avowed Calvinist I shouldn’t worry because after all God will preserve his own. It is right there in the “P” of T.U.L.I.P, or, “perseverance, (also preservation) of the saints, right? Wrong again! Yes, God will preserve His own but that doesn’t relieve you of your parent responsibility in raising your child in the most pure form of Christian faith!
Oh, I am all in favor of enjoying our liberty in Christ and I am all against legalism in any subtle or conspicuous form it rears its ugly head (and legalism’s head is in the rear), so, I am not talking about turning your child into an outcast, devoid of contact with society, and not participating in some “innocent” play, although such an “innocence” is debatable. What I am talking about is this militant stance in defending these types of activities not prescribed in the Bible as if they were somehow to be revered as something directly from heaven’s throne room! And how some do that? Answer: by calling anyone who opposes to such celebration a “anti-Christian” waging a “war on Christianity”, especially if one is not a Christian.
I said it before and I will say it again: God has used anyone to speak for Him, including a donkey, and God will also use those who are currently the enemies of His Gospel if that is what it takes to remove the attention from a stupid egg hunt that, in my view, a Church should not be promoting, and make the Church really turn their attention to what we are celebrating that day, that is, if we indeed celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. When a Muslim is outraged because of something that he was told is a Christian thing, read that outrage as perhaps God speaking through a donkey preventing us from turning the Gospel into a fairy tale sort of nursery rhyme, devoid of its meaningful and sacred and eternal meaning, and the ever changing power that it has been through the ages. Think about it!
I believe it is time for us to begin to think about these things! Period! Joel Watts last blog in this blog is excellent if one take seriously what he really believes about the Bible! I was going to publish this in there as a reply, but I decided to make my reply into a blog. It may be better for readers to understand what is my point on that, something that, before God I have been struggling since my pastoral days, and, after which, when I came to a firm position, not only I find peace and comfort in God, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of God, His Word and what His Word may represent to us. So, here it goes:
Admittedly, even as a proponent of Sola Scriptura, I cringe when I read tenets of faith that use the words you mentioned. I fail in accepting that the people who chose those words really have any sense of their meaning. In the other hand there are traditions that are in and of itself biblical traditions and should be respected and used authoritatively simply because they originated in Scripture; but there is also what I have called for many years “tr-addiction”; these are “traditions” that became “tr-additions” and later turned into “tr-addictions”, or, they are inventions that become additions to the faith, that later culminate with being so “ingrown” and ingrained that they are hard to dispel as an addiction to a drug. Maybe we (Joel and me) should start a “tr-addiction rehab!”.
Interestingly enough, most of these “tr-addictions” originated not from more moderate biblical thinkers, but from the very same people who claim that the Bible is what the Pure Life says it is! Oh, need examples? Easy: Organizations who say what Pure Life says about the Bible add to the Salvation “condition” (there is no condition for Salvation by the way, other than being not saved), to believe what they say about the Bible! Yes! This simple, and… this ridiculous! It is no longer the Cross alone, but also, the 66 Canon, word by word, letter by letter! I propose that the belief that believing the 66 Canon word by word is a good thing, but it turns into a bad thing when it is made into a condition for Salvation! Then it is an addition that becomes a tr-addition, that later turns into a tr-addiction! This is where flawed logic leads us: the place at which we wanted to avoid being…
BTW, this is not the purely fundamentalist and Pentecostal or even the Primitive Baptists fault alone! I have been shunned by Presbyterians (who unlike the Vegetarians who eat vegetables, they eat Presbyters) because I have some Lutheran views about the Canon; some of them don’t think I can be saved if I hold to Lutheran views about the Canon… I have to subscribe fully with the Westminster Confession of Faith (which I do in 98% at least) which says that the Bible is a 66 books Canon! Then they accuse Roman Catholics for elevating traditions to the level or over the Bible! Isn’t that something?
Even Jesus on his way to Emmaus (Luke 24) said that “Moses (the Law) The Prophets and the Psalms speak of Him…” So, allow me a bit of fun here, but even Jesus may not have been a 66 books Canon believer, huh? Well, I know that the N.T. had not been written yet… but, I hope you get my drift… even Jesus was Christocentric in His view of Scripture!
The idea of a Tr-addiction Rehab Center is growing…
(Oh, brother, there goes my opportunity to blog here exclusively as a “conservative”… unless it is added “non-conformist” to that)
Every Sunday morning from various pulpits in America you will hear a minister saying: “Don’t believe the devil’s lies”. Then they begin to list all the things that the devil said that are indeed lies and some that the poor devil really never said. It is very easy to impress people stating that something is not true therefore don’t believe it expecting that everyone in the audience will be so mentally dormant that they will not notice exactly what is the real intention of the one behind the pulpit in delineating what people should reject as a lie.
Recently I have been saying a few things in small Christian gatherings (I am not one to exaggerate my audience to match my ego; my ego is big, but my audiences are not always big although they were in a remote past), that people ponder and wonder if I have changed at all from my previous positions. No, I really have not changed, I just believe that even Jesus found that certain things have a proper time to be said and expounded (John 16:12) and now is the time, I believe, for me to say such things. One of them is that one of the big lies that the devil never said but the same preachers who charge the devil for lying are guilty themselves of saying is: “ignore historical facts, ignore theology, shun textual criticism, because that is (again) “of the devil”. No it is not! Our faith cannot or should not be shaken by the fact that scientists, historians, theologians, archaeologists, and other who work in similar fields, have to say about facts of the Bible. Furthermore, we should not “run for cover” every time some theologian say that we should be careful with the interpretation of certain texts because they were written for a certain time, to deal with a certain problem and although the core message of the text may be a lesson for our daily living today, the methods may be not! Take for example Paul telling Timothy in 1 Tim 5:23 “no longer to drink water but also to drink wine” The King James Version says it clearly: No longer drink water μηκέτιv (mēketi), the Greek term used here means “no longer” or “from now on, hereafter”! Well, we can take from that message Paul’s care and interest on his “son in the faith” health and welfare, but please, don’t obey it the “no longer drink water” today! Ask any doctor the harms of dehydrating your body and, worse, in a state of dehydration, to drink wine… adding alcohol to a dehydrated body!
This is merely one example that not using an analytic mind, checking your brains at the door. Not using those who make a living out of being analytic may be dangerous to you. Lie the preacher who says you are not to listen to textual analyses or criticism, history, rules of hermeneutics, and things of this nature, and even attribute some sinfulness to any act that discusses any aspect of the text. Even if it is out of ignorance, it is not true; if it is not true it is a lie. No gray area!
Reasoning out a text, questioning and criticizing it in light of everyday knowledge or common sense is neither inappropriate or sinful. As a matter of fact God Himself calls us to reason together with Him (Isaiah 1:8).God is not afraid of dissidents neither is He afraid of questioning, and we should not be either.
When listening to a minister keep thinking! Some preachers will lie to you because they can’t deal with the issues that will arise from a good session of questioning certain things!
So, don’t check your brains at your church’s foyer!
If we are utterly dependent upon the power and presence of God for our life in the Church, what should we be training our ministers to do in seminaries? It follows that the primary task of a seminary should be to teach ministers about the various means handed on to us by the Church of knowing God…Theology courses should be intellectual and prayerful engagement with God’s self-revelation as disclosed in Christ, Scripture, and tradition.
This post is more about theological education. I don’t disagree with Watson but I am going to use this post as a jumping off point for something that has been in the back of my mind for a bit.
Often times I read of the West’s descent into a secular society. I don’t see that. Perhaps I am more optimistic than most, but I see rather a pluralistic society where we will begin to see people opening yearning for something more divine in their lives. In the end of Christendom, I see the beginning of Christianity. To that end, I would like to see seminaries teach ministers, and sometimes reteach ministers, to speak to the theology latent in the ongoing tradition — our culture.
As a Christian, I believe the Holy Spirit charts our course. As a Wesleyan, I believe the Spirit is latent in society, leading us all towards God and to a greater truth in God (John 16). This is why atheism doesn’t worry me — not nearly as much as fundamentalism. Because this, I think, is our course correction, especially in the West. To this, I add that our culture is not as secular, because of the guiding of the Spirit, we’d like to believe (especially when bad things happen).1 I believe our society is seeking their own conversation with God and about God.2
This is why we see the rise of “pop culture and theology” books (Dr. Who and Theology, etc…). Because theology and philosophy is in the culture. Cultural theology is the language our society uses to seek God. The same was true in Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus’s day when they began to reach out to the society they were a part of to draft again the narrative of Christ. They used the language, and places of worship, of the pagans and others to teach Rome about Jesus. This is, speaking as a Christian, why we have John 1.1– 18. The Logos, as Justin Martyr puts it, was present long before the Incarnation and is what draws all truth seekers to God. Knowing our society and culture, our times and seasons, is a way Christians since the very beginning have come to know God and invited others along the way to experience the divine they partially knew in the fulness of Christ. God is not just found in Scripture and Tradition, but so too the natural world.
I have found more theology in pop songs than most contemporary Christian songs. For instance, the group fun. displays a wonderful concept of God:
I’ve tried to nail down the exact lyrics of Some Nights but cannot. Some read it as “But I still wake up, I still see your ghost/Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for” while others read it as “But I still wake up, I still see your gospel/Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for.”
But, then there is this one:
I happen to stumble upon a chapel last night.
And I can’t help but back up when I think of what happens inside.
I got friends locked in boxes (That’s no way to live).
What you’re callin’ a sin isn’t up to them.
After all (after all), I thought we were all your children.
You and I both know what that particular “sin” is and we also know what the boxes refer to. Those boxes are for both of us, by the way. There are more songs. In The Script’s Hall of Fame being a “preacher” is recommended. We seem to stumble over such a recommendation in the Church.
Science Fiction, of all places, is riddled with the hope of something beyond us. Perhaps this is just our social myths and the way they are used to attract viewers. In that attraction, however, I believe there is a message of hope, that religion is not dead, that faith is not absurd, that God is very much a force wrestling still yet with our society and our times wrestling with God.
I agree with Watson when he writes, “Theology courses should be intellectual and prayerful engagement with God’s self-revelation as disclosed in Christ, Scripture, and tradition.” However, I think theological education should make practical use of philosophy as well. The Logos, after all, is a heady philosophical concept. When we understand not just what we the Church has said in the past, but learn to hear the longing in our society today, through their language — and we learn to hear that language without condemnation — then we may see the Church once more serve society. This does not require us to change our foundation, only to rediscover again how our ancient forebearers theologized. They didn’t simply do it with the voices of the past, but so too the voices they heard around them.
Finally, from my friend St. Augustine,
For as he is better off who knows how to possess a tree, and return thanks to Thee for the use thereof, although he know not how many cubits high it is, or how wide it spreads, than he that can measure it, and count all its boughs, and neither owns it, nor knows or loves its Creator. 3
With better theological education, and a better understanding of the theology in our society and culture, we can help others grow their trees.
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However, I’m not sure I would characterize the stories as the author did.
How Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him;
How Joseph was a narcissistic boy and God loved him and pursued him;
How David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him;
How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.
Abraham was an idol worshiper, but God still used him. Abraham was a feckless idgit too, who had no problem selling his women to keep his life, among other things, even after God “pursued him.” For some reason, I like the Abraham character as seen in Year One.
God didn’t just pursue David. God punished David greatly. Is this really grace?
To sum up Esther as simply a story about sex outside of marriage is to still remain within the realm of children’s curriculum. Esther was part of the King’s haraam. She did more than have sex outside of marriage. She used her body to save her people when there was no God to be found. That’s right. God is not mentioned in the (Hebrew) Esther. When God is not found, people do what they have to do to survive. (Like Jesus on the Cross in Mark’s Gospel.)
To sum up the stories as the author did is still doing an injustice to them.
I’m not really for telling school children David possibly married his sister among other women, cheated on his wives, had a soldier killed to keep it quiet, and then was punished relentlessly by God first with the death of the child and then with the census of the people. Nor would I want to tell them when David was too old to have sex any more, he could no longer be king.
Nor would I really want to tell school children about Esther or Ruth.
So, do we bleach these stories of any supposed moral stain? Do we use them?
What do we do to teach children the proper way to read Scripture, think and yet still believe?
on another note, if we take the entirety of these stories, which is the story of Israel, then we find Grace. Not so much in these individual stories, but only in the story of Israel as a whole.
Because of reading several polls on why people are leaving the Church, I’ve maintained for a while part of the issue is the lack of grounded intellectual discourse. While congregational members may have questions, often times, they are discouraged from asking them. At seminary, I met one pastoral student who loudly railed against questions and easily stated he would deny congregational questions their validity. This is measured out accordingly into our curriculums and often times in the sermons. Please, for the love of God, don’t ask questions. And this is admittedly my current bent.
Because the people who teach me and who ask me hard questions and who I want to live like and learn from are outside of my church.
Because I am not expected to contribute to the intellectual climate of the church community, and I am not expected to work hard at the practical things, although being young and available I am the most able to work hard and being hungry intellectually I also have the most need to contribute.
Let us not deceive ourselves — since the Sunday School industry started in the 1940’s, along with changing views of the role of the Church and the life of the Christian, we have seen a remarkable decrease in the intellectual Christian and church attendance. Frankly, instead of Spurgeon, Hodge, and Lewis, we have Todd Bentley, Joel Osteen, and anyone who picks up a bible calling himself a preacher. I don’t have to agree with Charles Hodge to appreciate his intellectual prowess.
I understand and sort of appreciate that Sunday sermons with an intellectual content, small groups, and other educational venues at Church are not everyone’s cup of tea, yet we seem to strive for the lowest common denominator. Are we really afraid to teach? Why can’t we teach a bit more about King David? Or Jesus? Or Judges? Why can’t we teach people, starting small, to grapple with their faith and to question it?
How much better would we be if we had taught questioning our faith instead of absolute intellectual surrender when the New Atheists and Ken Ham arrived?
I am not saying that the current trend is the same as the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalism, although passively, it is rather similar. We have a strong intellectual tradition in the Mainlines. Let’s return to it.
as a side note, anything said here about my current church would seem like a platitude.
I’d be happy if they got one year of formal education.. it would be a start. Hell, we have to go to school for at least 12 years in NZ before we’re considered educated enough to live in the secular world.. we give Christians a 20 min sermon on a sunday that most of them never listen to and then they wonder why people think they are a joke. For most of them its like a preschooler having a discussion with stephen hawking on theoretical physics.
Wesley goes on, after quoting Mr. Law, to speak to the natural state of the person. We are prideful atheists who love injustice and pleasing the world. So, how do we fix such things in our children? Education of course. Education to the doctrines of the Christian church.
As I noted on Facebook, it is very interesting to note John Wesley’s insistence that our natural state is one of atheism and his decision to believe certain doctrines (he forced himself to believe). Thus, his reliance on sound theological education of children. It would seem Wesley was ahead of his time, answering the results of the polls conducted by Barna and Pew regarding why people leave the Church.
Do you want to keep people from leaving the Church?
(i say this with the intention that you teach them equally to think as much as what we believe).