According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Acids of Modernity and Christian Theology, Part 2



Modernity has been an age of revolutions—political, scientific, industrial and the philosophical. Consequently, it has also been an age of revolutions in theology, as Christians attempt to make sense of their faith in light of the cultural upheavals around them, what Walter Lippman once called the "acids of modernity." Modern theology is the result of this struggle to think responsibly about God within the modern cultural ethos.

In this major revision and expansion of the classic 20th Century Theology(1992), co-authored with Stanley J. Grenz, Roger Olson widens the scope of the story to include a fuller account of modernity, more material on the nineteenth century, and an engagement with postmodernity. More importantly, the entire narrative is now recast in terms of how theologians have accommodated or rejected the Enlightenment and scientific revolutions.

With that question in mind, Olson guides us on the epic journey of modern theology, from the liberal "reconstruction" of theology that originated with Friedrich Schleiermacher, to the post-liberal and postmodern "deconstruction" of modern theology that continues today. The Journey of Modern Theology is vintage Olson: eminently readable, panoramic in scope, at once original and balanced, and marked throughout by a passionate concern for the church's faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This will no doubt become another standard text in historical theology.


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Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington D.C.

Modernity’s Challenges to Traditional Theology
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/08/29/modernitys-challenges-to-traditional-theology/

by Scot McKnight
August 29, 2014

Modern theology arises from the challenges, some of them successful of course, to traditional theology. In Roger Olson’s splendid volume, The Journey to Modern Theology, one can find a rapid, clear, and insightful sketch of the challenges to traditional theology (pp. 31-124). I can provide but a sketch of his sketch, but this is just the kind of book intelligent pastors not only put on the shelf but also read slowly in order to digest. Someone once said there is nothing new under the sun. Well this sketches these nothing-new-challenges. Except in their day they may well have been new.

He begins with the famous question Napoleon asked of the astronomer Laplace, asking where God fit in his scheme. Laplace is reported to have said, “Sir, I had no need of that hypothesis.” That is modernity’s challenge to traditional faith. Natural theology, the belief that God was needed to explain empirical and experiential realities, handed its goods over to the scientists who explained them without God.

Here are Olson’s major points, and if you read this slowly (with your own knowledge or memory kicking in), you will get a refresher on how we got from the Enlightenment to modernity.

1. Science revised the heavens when (1) Copernicus proposed a revolution and Galileo made it happen; (2) Newton depicted the world as a great machine; (3) and the scientific revolution set out its challenges to the Christian faith (e.g., William Jennings Bryan, whose ghost is still kicking in Dayton Tenn).

2. Philosophers lay new foundations for knowledge when (1) people begin to think more and more for themselves (a Kantian proposal); (2) Descartes established a Copernican revolution in philosophical method in creating indubitable foundations of knowledge; (3) John Locke argues for a “reasonable Christianity” rooted in the foundation of empiricism or sense-experience (e.g., Thomas Jefferson); (4) these Enlightenment thinkers reconstructed philosophy and religion but others pushed back.

3. Deists create a new natural natural religion. (1) Lord Herbert of Cherbury anticipated deism but it was (2) John Toland who effectively articulated it by making Christianity entirely rationalistic and nothing “revealed” was outside of reason, while (3) Matthew Tindal rejected special revelation. Yes, (4) traditionalists pushed back, including Joseph Butler and William Paley.

4. Critical philosophers limited religion to reason. The general belief in God of deism was invaded by a more severe and radical kind of empirical thinking. We are looking now at (1) David Hume, who used reason against both science and religion in a mode of skepticism, (2) Immanuel Kant, who rescued science from Hume’s skepticism but who reduced religion to practical reason (moral life, ethics) and (3) G.W.F. Hegel, who returned religion to reason with his idealism.

5. Realists, Romanticists, and Existentialists strike back against the critical philosophers. (1) Common sense realism, e.g., Thomas Reid, challenges Hume’s skepticism and called philosophy back to common sense; (2) Samuel Taylor Coleridge emphasized experience in religion, and (3) Kierkegaard [spell it according to Danish pronunciation if you can] challenged religious rationalism.





RNS: The Politics Of Every Major U.S. Religion, In One Chart


Credit: Tobin Grant, Religious News Service.Click here to enlarge with more information.

The Politics Of Every Major U.S. Religion, In One Chart
http://thinkprogress.org/election/2014/08/29/3476349/does-your-church-dictate-your-politics/

August 29, 2014

For many political analysts, it’s an established truism that religion — for better or worse — is a force to be reckoned with in American politics. The religious affiliation of candidates (or lack thereof) is at least a minor point of discussion in virtually every election, and pundits regularly pour over data about the “Evangelical vote,” the “Catholic vote,” and even the “nonreligious vote.” Implicit in all of this number-crunching is the idea that when it comes to a American voter’s political opinions, religion matters.

But despite all the attention given to the voting patterns of the faithful, the question remains: does where you go to church (or temple, or mosque, or service, etc.) actually dictate your political views? A new chart, compiled by Tobin Grant of the Religion New Service and using data from Pew Research’s 2008 Religious Landscape Survey, takes a stab at answering this question by visually illustrating the general political beliefs of religious people on two policy questions. In it, an individual’s income bracket — and political opinions generally [are] reflective of one’s economic situation — looks to coincide with what “kind” of church he/she attends. Except for when it doesn’t.

As Grant explains: “This new graph maps the ideologies of 44 different religious groups using data comes from Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey. This survey included 32,000 respondents. It asked very specific questions on religion that allow us to find out the precise denomination, church, or religion of each person.”

In other words, the dimensions of each color-coded circle reflect the relative size of the religious group it represents, and a circle’s position on the graph illustrates how the faithful feel about the government’s involvement in both the economy (bigger government with more services vs. smaller government with less services) and morality (greater protection of morality vs. less protection of morality). While the chart is revealing on its own, the policy questions in play — the economy and morality — are perhaps best analyzed alongside data detailing the average income of religious people from different faith groups. Pew Research has information on just that, which was used by GOOD magazine and Column Five in 2010 to create this beautiful infographic:

Credit: Good and Column Five. Click here to enlarge.

At first glance, one of the most notable correlations between the two charts is how closely racial and economic trends track with the demographics of religious groups — particularly on the question of government services. Since churches often serve as community hubs, pastors and congregants — and, by extension, full denominations — are usually sensitive to issues faced by people in their pews. Historically black Protestant denominations, for instance, are shown as having a high percentage of congregants (roughly 47 percent) who make less than $30,000 a year. This income bracket disproportionally benefits from crucial social programs such as the Affordable Care Act and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a., food stamps), so it makes sense that denominations such as National and unaffiliated Baptists show up as overwhelmingly in favor of a government that offers more services. Similarly, White Mainline Protestants such as the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have some of the wealthiest congregants in the country (36 percent of White Mainliners make over $75,000 a year) who don’t usually come in contact with many social services. As such, it’s not entirely surprising that they skew towards the “smaller government, less services” section of Grant’s scale. Meanwhile, Catholics, whose numbers include a relatively even distribution of income brackets that closely matches the national average, are situated roughly in the center of the chart.

But while income seems to indicate the probable political positions of some faith groups on the graph, Grant’s compilation also highlights several notable — and politically perplexing — exceptions. Sixty-five percent of Hindus make over $75,000 a year, for instance, but Grant’s chart depicts this wealthy group as firmly endorsing big government. Conversely, 58 percent of evangelicals — who, in Pew’s designation, are overwhelmingly white — make less than $50,000 a year, and many benefit directly from social services: white non-Hispanics make up 42 percent of our nation’s poor and receive 69 percent of government benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yet most of the evangelical denominations, marked in dark blue, are huddled near the upper right side of Grant’s graph, indicating a solid preference for a smaller government with less services.

There are also odd outliers, such as white Pentecostals — who, on average, are poorer and less educated than the average American. They, like historically black churches, show up as decidedly left-of-center on the big government question, breaking the trend set by their fellow white conservative Christians.

Interestingly, the economic divide is also arguably even more consistent on the question of whether or not the federal government should do more to protect morality. One could contend, for example, that Grant’s graph adds weight to studies positing that wealthier people tend to gravitate towards looser moral standards. As mentioned, historically black churches and conservative evangelical denominations both have high percentages of churchgoers who earn less money than the national average, and both groups sit almost entirely on the half of the graph that calls for a greater protection of morality. But groups with high income rates — Buddhists, Unitarians, non-conservative Jews, the religiously unaffiliated (listed here as “nothing in particular”), and Mainline protestants — all lean towards a hypothetical administration that does less to reinforce moral codes. But this “the rich hate morals” argument gets muddled pretty quickly: Mainline protestant denominations are relatively wealthy, but they are also decidedly more liberal than evangelicals on social issues such as homosexuality. As such, it’s possible that these progressively-minded respondents conflate the idea of “protecting morality” with harmful policies that restrict the rights of LGBT people.

The notable outlier on the morality question is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, who live pretty comfortably as a people yet fervently support a more morally-minded administration. There are a number of possible explanations for this, but one could be that the top-down style of the LDS church and its teachings simply have an unusually deep impact the lives of Mormons. Three scholars actually explored this phenomenon a new book about the church, highlighting how Mormons are now one of the most “politically cohesive” groups in the country. This “theological impact” argument could also explain another odd division within the Jewish community that shows up in Grant’s chart: Adherents to Judaism fair relatively well economically across the board, but Conservative and Orthodox Jews seem to prefer a government that does more to protect morality. More liberal Jews, on the other hand, deeply support leadership that does less to protect moral standards.

Grant’s graph also exposes some possible disconnects between the professed beliefs of religious institutions and the opinions of those in their pews. For example, according to the chart, virtually all Mainline protestant denominations are firmly situated in the “smaller government, less services” side of the ideological spectrum. Yet Mainline protestant denominational heads have repeatedly and passionately participated in efforts such as the “Circle of Protection,” an ecumenical effort to safeguard social services that help poorer Americans. The same is true for Catholics: Catholic leaders have lobbied fiercely for both social programs (such as food stamps) and against policies they see as morally abhorrent (such as contraception), yet Pew’s data and Grant’s chart shows the average Catholic as roughly at the center of the idealogical spectrum on these questions.

So does where you go to church dictate your politics? Well, sort of. Regarding the two issues discussed above, the data hints that a voter’s religious affiliation is a strong indicator of their political beliefs, but it’s not totally clear whether religious teachings are the main forceshaping those political beliefs. A longer analysis of history, theology, and actual voting patterns of parishioners would be required to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on here. However, it is clear that your wallet can say a lot about what kind of faith community you might attend. How you respond to the teachings of your church once you get there — and whether you’re self-selecting a religious community based off of your income bracket — is still mostly up to you.


Minister to Monsters: How an American pastor gave comfort to the Nazis


Amazon link

The definition of civility is whether a religion might reach beyond itself to do the right thing. Here is an instance of a Christian minister who reached beyond himself. Against all the revulsion within himself, to do what was right to a band of human-rights abusers and genocidal monsters of mankind.

Of the wickedness, evil, and oppression the Nazis on trial had committed upon small children, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles, grandparents, families, and friends, was uncontested. Even for Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran minister, who witnessed their sinful deeds and held them accountable before the Judge of all mankind, was a fact he too could not deny. But of the grace and mercy that is made known in Christ Jesus the Savior and Forgiver of men, this truth was a truth that Henry had also to acknowledge as a minister of the grace of God in the gospel of Christ.

It was also a truth that had to be faced by those who were to to be executed for their heinous crimes against humanity. Of the truth that what they did was evil. And that what Jesus had done in His atonement was for all evils - not just those select sins a humane society might deems more evil (and unforgiveable) than others. As difficult as it was for Henry Gerecke to minister to these cruel men even so he knew the truths of the gospel were explicitly written for "such a one as these."

It is a truth that the Christian faith acknowledges there is evil in this world. Even now, this past month's events have shown to the world the brutal evils of ISIS' inhumanity to unfortunates caught in their web of terror and horror. But cruelty exists on many levels - from the injustice done to children in the home by unloving moms and dads, to the sins that exists on so many levels of our human existence. However unfortunate the act of sin, the truth is that in Christ has God made propitiation for the sin of the world through the atonement of His Son Jesus.

This is a spiritual truth that goes beyond human understanding. That is wiser than we can many times allow. That is the harder to admit when seeing the crime of the criminal. The Christian faith has been tested and in its wings rests the terrible truths that all are sinners. That all are held accountable. That all stand guilty before the God of creation.

But it is also true that in Jesus - and by His atonement - men may find salvation through repentance from sin to the One who has borne all the sin of the world. It is what is described as salvation. That upon the cross of Calvary hung One who died at the hands of unjust men that for those unjust men might God's holy salvation be effected for all time.

Christianity admits to the evilness of mankind but it also admits to the redemption of God that can justly remove evil's sentence of spiritual death. Its faith is most appropriately fulfilled by humanity when observed in this life and lived to its fullness. But it is also a faith that can reach past the fallenness of mankind to disturb its evils and hold all accountable before the holy One of Israel.

Justice is defined in a God who not only judged mankind as fallen but has also saved mankind from its fallenness. Who not only commanded judgment upon sin but did something about the judgment to be rightfully executed. For it was in Himself - the God of creation - that sin might be bourne upon His holy Person in Christ, the Son of God, who was very God of very God, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Who was obedient even unto death that He might bear the sin of mankind and be raised as Redeemer to the penitents of this wicked world. Who, like ourselves, was deeply repulsed by evil's cruelty and wanton affects. But unlike our sinful hearts demanding cruelty in return, had given His very self for its necessary judgment and payment.

This is a God-act that the redeemed heart of the Christian finds so hard to acknowledge or enact. It was an act of confession that Henry Gerecke undertook against the vileness to his own sense of injustice and condemnation. It was what marked his crucified faith against the sensitivities he rightfully held for the land of the living. He wished to condemn and execute upon the witness of the Nazi camps of the Holocaust, but his very hand was stayed by the all merciful hand of His Redeemer God who commanded justice in forgiveness. And forgiveness in judgment. Amen.

R.E. Slater
August 30, 2014


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God at Nuremberg: How an American pastor came to comfort Nazis
http://www.religionnews.com/2014/08/22/god-nazis-jews-holocaust-nuremberg/

August 22, 2014

(RNS) He was a minister to monsters.

That’s what Tim Townsend writes of Henry Gerecke, the unassuming Lutheran pastor from Missouri who shepherded six of the most notorious Nazis to the gallows in “Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis.”

The book is one of a string of new titles that dust off a remote corner of World War II history — the role religion played both in and beyond the conflict.

“That’s why I wanted to write this book,” Townsend said from Washington, D.C. where he is a senior writer and editor for The Pew Research Center.

“A large part was trying to figure out why did the Allies provide spiritual comfort for men who were on trial for what was ultimately called the Holocaust,” he said. “They clearly did not have anyone’s spiritual welfare in mind when they were murdering Jews, so why did we feel it was necessary and humane to provide them with chaplains to see to their spiritual comfort?”

Townsend combed the National Archives for some piece of paper, some order that explained more deeply why the Allies felt those charged with the most horrendous crimes of the century needed — even deserved — a chaplain of their own, beyond the fact that the Geneva Conventions required it.

Beyond the rules of international law, American culture has long accepted the idea chaplains ministering to criminals from the common thief to the death row murderer.

Townsend finds his answer in Gerecke, a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor charged with caring for men such as Hermann Goering, Albert Speer and Wilhelm Keitel — men responsible for the mass-extermination of six million European Jews. How, he asks, did he understand his role in leading the condemned Nazis to their deaths?

Tim Townsend’s 400-page “Mission at Nuremberg” details an American Army chaplain’s mission to save the souls of Nazis imprisoned following the end of World War II. RNS photo courtesy Heidi Richter, HarperCollins.

Gerecke volunteered in 1943, when the Army was desperate for chaplains. His unit was sent from England to Germany after the Germans surrendered in 1945.

There, he visited Dachau, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were gassed and cremated in ovens.

As the Nuremberg Trials began, higher-ups heard there was a German-speaking Army chaplain and asked Gerecke to take on the role of ministering to 21 high-ranking Nazis on trial for their lives.

In saying yes, Gerecke played one of the most puzzling and under-examined roles in what Townsend calls “the judicial improvisation we now call the Nuremberg trials.”

“Gerecke was the perfect choice,” Townsend said. “He was able to go in with his mind and his eyes wide open. He had seen Dachau, he knew what these people were responsible for but he was able to move past that in terms of his ability to relate to them.”

Townsend thinks Gerecke looked beyond the terrible men imprisoned in front of him to the children they had once been. One of the most lovely — and chilling — pieces in the book comes when Gerecke accompanies Keitel up the 13 steps of the gallows and prays aloud with him a German prayer both were taught by their mothers.

“He knew that he needed to save the souls of as many of these men as he could before they were executed,” Townsend said. “I think for him he thought it was a great gift he had been given.”

And not one he took lightly. Gerecke did not give communion to any of the Nazis unless he believed they were truly penitent and made a profession of faith in Jesus. Only four of the 11 sentenced to hang met Gerecke’s standard.

One who did not was Goering, who many historians credit with helping to create “the Final Solution,” the genocide of the Jews. When he and Gerecke discussed the divinity of Jesus, Goering disparaged the idea.

“This Jesus you always speak of,” he said to Gerecke, “to me he is just another smart Jew.”

Gerecke held that unless he accepted Jesus as his savior, Goering could not receive communion.

“You are not a Christian,” Gerecke told Goering, “and as a Christian pastor I cannot commune you.”

Within hours, Goering was dead, robbing the hangman by swallowing cyanide he had secreted in his cell.

In the end, Gerecke walked five men to the gallows. After the war, he was criticized by some of his fellow pastors for not granting Goering communion. And he was criticized for ministering to such monsters in the first place.

During the trials, a rumor spread among the Nazis that Gerecke would go home before the end. They wrote a letter to his wife, Alma, asking her to please let him stay. That letter, which Townsend first saw in a St. Louis exhibit, led him to the story.

“Our dear Chaplain Gerecke is necessary not only for us as a minister but also as the thoroughly good man that he is,” the letter reads above the signatures of Goering, Keitel, Speer and others. Then it includes a word Townsend writes is not often associated with Nazis: “We simply have come to love him.”


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