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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Is There a Crisis in Conservative Protestantism? (How To Engage the Moral Politics of the Day)




by Carl R. Tureman
December 9, 2015

[comments mine - re slater]

In October, I had the pleasure of attending both the lecture and subsequent seminar given for First Things by Ross Douthat on the crisis in conservative Catholicism. Not being a Roman Catholic, I was there very much as an outside observer of the discussion but it raised for me the obvious questions: Is there a parallel crisis in conservative Protestantism and, if so, in what does it consist?

Douthat’s argument—that conservative Catholics overestimated their success and influence both in the political and ecclesiastical sphere, has limited parallels in conservative Protestantism. Certainly, the cultural power of conservative Protestants has massively declined since the days when threats of a boycott by the Southern Baptist Convention could strike fear into the heart of a corporate CEO. As with their Roman Catholic counterparts, politically conservative Protestants are coming to realize that they placed too much faith in the political process. Yet, on the ecclesiastical front, Douthat’s crisis assumes the importance of a unified, institutional church. The fissiparous nature of Protestantism means that such a crisis cannot happen. We are, after all, by definition schismatics from a Roman Catholic perspective. In this sense, Roman Catholics would no doubt see Protestantism in itself as constituting a permanent crisis

Nevertheless, setting Roman Catholic objections aside, I would suggest three areas where conservative Protestantism in the USA—at least its broadly reformed strand with which I am familiar—could be said to be, if not in crisis, then certainly moving toward such.

First, far too much power is exerted by wealthy and influential parachurch organizations. A good example of this was provided this year by events surrounding the attempted exchange about Evangelicals and Catholics Together which was commissioned by Reformation21, the e-zine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Three of us were involved: Timothy George, Thomas Guarino, and myself. The exchange was respectful, honest, friendly, but frank. My own article was scarcely a paean of praise to the ECT process.

Within hours of the first article (that of Tim) being published, a tweet and a hostile blog post by a senior representative of another Reformed parachurch group based in Florida, followed by rumored behind-the-scenes shenanigans, were enough to get the series pulled (and then thankfully picked up by First Things—kudos to Rusty Reno). Sad to say, one parachurch group had effectively closed down perfectly legitimate discussion in an unconnected forum by sheer bully-boy tactics.

An aberration? Unfortunately not. This is symptomatic of the way things are in much of the conservative Protestant world. As long as the most influential parachurches are run like businesses, money and marketing will be the overriding concerns, even as concern for ‘the gospel’ is always the gloss. Reinforced by a carrot-and-stick system of feudal patronage connected to lucrative conference gigs, publishing deals, and access to publicity, such tactics as those described will continue to be deployed. Roman Catholics might look on Protestantism from the outside and see it as theology ruled by a mob [sic, mobocracy; ochlocracy]. Speaking as an insider, it often seems to me to be ruled more by the Mob.

The second problem for much of conservative Protestantism is a related one, highlighted by Roger Scruton. Scruton has rightfully stated that it is “surely impossible to flee from kitsch by taking refuge in religion, when religion itself is kitsch.” (The Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, p. 92). There is indeed an unbearable, kitschy lightness to so much that passes for conservative Protestant life and thought. The theology that sells is by and large a cheap, rootless imitation of the real thing. Year after year, the same brand names churn out bland, lightweight books on whatever is the topic of the moment, with no regard to authorial competence. It is the names that sell, after all. And thus the same speakers fill the same conference rosters time after time, with the supercharged aesthetics of the platforms distracting the audience from the insipid content of the performances. So much sound and fury. So much signifying nothing

I suspect this cannot be sustained, or at least cannot be sustained with the same audience, over an extended period of time. It is kitsch and therefore ephemeral. If we imitate the shallowness of pop culture, we can expect to replicate the life expectancy of the same. Boy bands come and boy bands go, after all. Popular fashion is indeed a cruel mistress, and a faith whose practices and idioms are really anchored in the tastes of the moment is inextricably tied to that moment.

Finally, conservative Protestantism lacks a strong tradition of social thought which might help it counter the kitsch and engage with the many challenges that are being cast its way by contemporary society. Now, I am a big believer in the church being the church. The Benedict Option offers little that is really new to me. I have always thought the church needs to be a spiritual community of sojourners in this world. But every member of my congregation has to live to some extent in the world. Every day they face questions that demand thoughtful and careful answers, whether it is as personal as the legitimacy of forms of fertility treatment or as public as how to navigate identity politics in the workplace. 

Compared to Roman Catholicism, Protestantism is playing catch-up in the areas of moral theology at a point in time where this is possibly too little too late. The old ‘God, guns, and America’ approach of the Religious Right is a spent force (thankfully so) but Protestantism does not currently have much with which to replace it. The work of men like David VanDrunen on natural law is proving very helpful but we need more of our finest minds engaging with the moral issues of the day, not so much to persuade the world to change its mind but at least to give clarity of thought to our own people as they go about their daily callings.

I do not believe that Protestants need to become Roman Catholics but we do need to understand the problems which beset us from within. The big money parachurch ministries depend upon constant recreation of a market for theological kitsch, and theological kitsch drives out the kind of deep thought which really does need to be the focus of the church’s efforts and resources at this point. Therein, I suspect, lies the coming crisis of conservative Protestantism.

*Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary.


The Hyposcrispy of Using Luke 22:36 As a Proof-Text for Packing Heat



"... No matter how wonderful we might think our exegesis is, if our interpretation does
not lead us towards love of God and neighbor, then our interpretation is wrong."
- Zach Hunt

Jesus Was A Hypocrite
http://zackhunt.net/2015/12/09/jesus-was-a-hypocrite/

December 9, 2015

A little while back I wrote a post asking “Are Bible Verses The Worst Thing Ever?

This past week or so as I’ve read Christian defenses of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s call to kill Muslims and heard Christian rallying cries for more guns in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, I’ve wanted to answer that question once again with a resounding “yes.”

Sure, there are obviously things worse than the Bible being divided into chapters and verses – like nuclear war or genocide or cancer – but few things have the power to engender, condone, and sanctify evil like a biblical proof-text.

Case in point: Luke 22:36,

He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise
a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.

Taken in stripped down isolation, as I’ve seen done countless times in the past few weeks, it seems like the ultimate trump card for arguing that Christians should pack heat.

Of course, sequestered like that, Psalm 14:1b – “there is no God” – could be the ultimate trump card for atheism.

But the simple truth of the matter is there is nothing divine about the arrangement of the Bible into chapters and verses. In fact, they didn’t really even exist until the 13th century. But in trying to help the faithful more easily access and reference scripture, the inventors of the biblical chapters and verses unwittingly unleashed one of the most destructive forces in human history: the biblical proof-text; a weapon that needed only the effort to cite it to be effective and could be wielded at a moment’s notice to destroy any enemy and justify any action, no matter how heinous or unholy that action might be.

Sometimes though, and to the eternal consternation of the holy warrior, some of those proof-texts, when seen in their original context actually mean something quite different than we are led to believe.

As clear cut as it seems, the currently en vogue invocation of Luke 22:36 is a textbook example of a verse being used as a proof-text for something it can’t possibly mean.

Now, to be clear, Christians have been debunking this proof-text for quite a while. I am simply adding my voice to that choir because it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening. Perhaps, the louder the chorus becomes, the more likely it is that someone will eventually hear the truth.

So, here’s the thing about Luke 22:36.

If it’s true that counter to everything he said and did in his public ministry, in this private moment Jesus has declared that those closest to him should own swords (or in our case today, guns) for their own defense, then there is only one conclusion we can draw.

Jesus was a hypocrite.

And the rest of the gospel makes no sense.

If Jesus is truly pro-violence – in any form – in Luke 22:36, then the Sermon on the Mount is hypocritical nonsense. For in it, Jesus blesses the peacemaker, commands his followers to turn the other cheek, love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute them. He even goes so far as to equate hate alone with murder.

If Jesus is really telling his disciples to pick up their swords to defend themselves against their enemies, then his command to Peter (just a handful of verses later) to put down his sword is inexplicable. Yes, he was concerned with fulfilling prophecy, but even that concern (as we will see in a moment) only reinforces his commitment to non-violence. Moreover, even if we dismiss the specific command to Peter as something only relevant to that particular moment in time (which, curiously, is not something we do with anything else in the gospels – except, of course, Jesus’ call to sell everything and given to the poor), then we’re still left with Jesus’ unequivocal denunciation of violence and a life lived armed and ready for combat: “Whoever lives by the sword, dies by the sword.”

Once again, if Jesus is actually telling his followers to prepare for a fight, then on top of being a hypocrite, Jesus also becomes a liar. For, when he stands trial before Pilate he grounds his defense in the fact that his follower do not fight.

But that is just the tip of the exegetical iceburg of problems with using Luke 22:36 as a proof-text for packing heat.

If Jesus was literally calling his follower to carry the sword (rather than making a prophetic point), then we’re left trying to explain why there is no mention anywhere in the New Testament of anyone in the early Church carrying a weapon with them into any of the dangerous situations they found themselves in. In fact, if anything, the book of Acts alone is a testament to the early Church’s dedication to non-violence for records the deaths of the first Christian martyrs, including Stephen who was stoned to death without putting up a fight and James, brother of John, who was, perhaps ironically, killed by someone else’s sword as he conspicuously did not have one of his own with which to defend himself.

Moreover, if Jesus was indeed ordaining the use of violence in Luke 22:36, then we are left to explain why no one in the first three centuries of the Church’s history seemed to have received that memo. For the early Church was – in the name of the Lord – almost universally pacifist until its unholy union in the 4th century with Constantine and his violence dependent empire.

So, then, how are we to interpret Luke 22:36?

Well, first, we need to look at the entire pericope because, as I said before, we can’t just rip this passage out of its context and expect it understand what is really being said.

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals,
did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you
don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered
with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what
is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

Now, I know even with the immediate context, if we do no further digging, it still seems plausible to use this passage as a proof-text for God-ordained violence.

But let’s dig a little deeper.

Early Church Theologians Origen and Augustine

And let’s do that by turning our gaze towards two of the most important figures in the early Church: Origen and Augustine. Their rules for reading and interpreting scripture are tremendously helpful, particularly in light of those modern interpreters who rely on what they euphmastically refer to as a “hermeneutic of common sense” which, ironically, makes no sense given that 1) we live in an incredibly diverse world full of an almost unimaginable diversity of outloooks on life and 2) more importantly, Jesus’ sense of the world was anything but common.

Anyway, for Origen, there are stumbling blocks in scripture which the Holy Spirit allowed to be there in order to draw us deeper into the text, moving us beyond the literal sense of what was on the page and towards the spiritual sense where the true meaning can be found.

We see such a stumbling block at the end of Jesus’ exchange with his disciples when they hold up 2 swords and he says, “That’s enough!”

This alone should send up red flags about the literalness of Jesus’ call to arms. For, on simply a pragmatic level, 2 swords is neither “enough” to start a rebellion, nor even to fend off the authorities who were on their way to arrest Jesus.

Therefore, as many scholars argue, Jesus’ declaration of “That’s enough” is probably best understood not as him exclaiming “Sweet! You guys already have what we need!” but rather him crying out in exasperation as he had so many times before, “You guys still don’t get it.” Yes, Jesus was warning them about terrible times to come, but the battle to come is against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, not flesh and blood. Swords would be of no help. Therefore, they should be prepared for spiritual warfare, not physical violence.

Now, for Augustine (and really Jesus too if you think about it), our reading of scripture must be grounded in the Greatest Commandment. That is to say, no matter how wonderful we might think our exegesis is, if our interpretation does not lead us towards love of God and neighbor, then our interpretation is wrong.

We can’t be ready to love our enemies, when we’re already preparing ourselves to kill them.

Our reading of this passage from Luke, then, must keep us focused on the radical love and self-sacrifice Jesus lived out and called his followers to continue to embody in their own lives. To find that focus and, in fact, to find the key to understanding everything Jesus is saying here, we need to look at what he says in verse 37.

It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that
this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.

We hear Jesus say “it is written” a lot all throughout the gospels, usually without giving much thought to where it is written. In this case, the context of what Jesus is quoting is of critical importance (shocker, I know).

Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 53:12.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

It comes from a famous chapter of messianic prophecy which you probably don’t recognize from that passage, but I’m sure you’ll recognize based on some of the early verses.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

In between that famous prophecy and the passage Jesus quoted, we find a passage that really illuminates what it means for Jesus to be “numbered with the transgressors.”

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

The emphasis is mine, of course, but it’s a critical point that can’t be missed when understanding what Jesus is saying – and not saying – in Luke 22:33-38.

A radical commitment to non-violence was essential to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

If Jesus was indeed calling his follower to arms, to be prepared for violence, then as their leader, as the one issuing that command, he too was participating in that violence.

Which would violate the prophecy he was so concerned with fulfilling.

And if in private Jesus was indeed calling his followers to arms despite everything he said and did publicly before and after that moment, then the Sermon on the Mount, his words to Peter, and his testimony before Pilate were all examples of deceit issuing forth from his mouth.

Which, again, would violate the prophecy he was so concerned with fulfilling.

As followers of this Messiah, if we want to claim the name of Christ as the marker of our identity, then we must seek to live as he lived. That doesn’t mean we’ll do it perfectly, but it does mean we must walk the same path of peace he blazed for us and called us to follow him down no matter how afraid of doing so we might be.

Which is why, given this and given all the other evidence I have already cited, there is simply no way to read Luke 22:36 with any integrity and claim that it is a God ordained endorsement of violence.

It just doesn’t work.

The only way that can be done is to completely ignore the immediate context and utterly disregard everything both Jesus and the early Church said and did.

Now, that doesn’t mean I personally don’t think you should own a gun. Speaking personally, I have no issue with hunting or recreational target practice, though I know plenty of other Christians do.

But, if you’re in need of a divine proof-text for packing heat in self-defense, you’re gonna have to look somewhere other than Luke 22:36.