Anxious Bench: Welcome to Anabaptism

With two extremely unappealing candidates in the presidential race, suddenly the Anabaptist way of engaging political issues is looking awfully good to evangelicals.  David Swartz at Anxious Bench looks at the ways in which an increasingly repulsive political climate is pushing many evangelicals toward Anabaptism:  an idolatrous civil religion pushed by both sides of the political fence, the unbridled use of realpolitik by both sides to accomplish their goals, and an unbridled consumerism legitimized and normalized by both sides which is manifestly incompatible with Christian witness.

For many Anabaptists, political realities have pushed them toward a two-kingdom theology that distinguishes the purposes of the state with the purposes of God’s kingdom. It questions a too-close alignment of the church with electoral politics. As Greg Boyd notes, acquiring political power is the very temptation Jesus resisted when tempted by the devil. It would have been easy for Jesus to accept Satan’s offer to reign over all the governments of the world (Luke 4:5-7), but he declined the offer. This is not to reject citizenship entirely. Anabaptists, always searching for third ways, insist on more creative approaches. After all, there are other ways of being political besides voting: practicing citizenship on a local level, adopting a more global than national identity, allying with social movements like #blacklivesmatter.

To be sure, many white evangelicals do not agree with Anabaptist critiques of anti-life planks, consumerism, and nationalism. But they are now confronted with two candidates that offend their sensibilities in multiple and egregious ways—and who make the two-kingdom sensibility more compelling. Moreover, political impotence has become a fait accompli; whether or not white evangelicals should exercise electoral force, they increasingly aren’t an electoral force. They have lost the battle on abortion and same-sex marriage (these issues weren’t even mentioned in the debate last night). Despite overwhelming initial objections to Trump, Trump got the Republican nomination anyway. It’s easy to talk in the language of two kingdoms when there aren’t any candidates who pretend to represent your concerns.

Read:  Hey White Evangelicals, Welcome to Anabaptism by David Swartz

Mohler on Stanley: Biblical Authority Denied Again?

ICYMI (that’s “In Case You Missed It” for those of you who are not millennials or otherwise well-versed in the ways millennials express themselves via texting and social media):  Andy Stanley preached a provocative sermon and Albert Mohler was all over it like white on rice.

This isn’t the first time Stanley has gotten crosswise with Mohler.  A couple of years back, Stanley preached another provocative sermon which attracted the ire of Mohler because he failed to avail himself of an opportunity to denounce homosexuality as sin strongly enough to suit Mohler’s tastes.

As noted earlier, this exposes one of evangelicalism’s deepest flaws:  a view of the inspiration of Scripture which is much more at home in Islam or Mormonism than anything remotely resembling Christianity.  In contrast to the Koran, which was dictated word-for-word to the prophet Muhammad as he lay in a trance, or the Book of Mormon, which was brought to Joseph Smith by an angel on golden tablets, the Bible is a very human book written over several centuries by several authors from several different places and cultures which is held together by one unifying theme:  Jesus Christ is Lord.  He came to earth, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and he is coming again at the end of the age.

Yet evangelicalism insists to its dying breath that the Bible is much more than that.  It was not enough for God to simply point the biblical writers to the unifying theme of Christ’s lordship, death, resurrection and coming kingdom.  Instead God guided–even micromanaged–the delivery of the Bible via its human authors in a manner akin to placing Muhammad in a trance and dictating to him or bringing perfectly-formed golden tablets to Joseph Smith, to the point where it contains, buried deep within, a perfectly fine-tuned system of theology and it is our job to dig it out and defend it at all possible cost.

God gave us the Bible–all of it.  You are not God and you are not greater than God, so how dare you think that you can pick and choose which parts of the Bible are inspired and authoritative, and which are not.  Don’t like that way of looking at things?  Then it’s unmitigated theological liberalism with Schleiermacher and all the devils of hell.  Those are the only two options on the table here, or so Mohler would like us to believe.

In the wake of the Enlightenment, Schleiermacher understood that the intellectual elites in Germany were already turning a skeptical eye to Christianity, if not dismissing it altogether. The Enlightenment worldview was hostile to supernatural claims, suspicious of any claims to absolute truth beyond empirical science, and dismissive of any verbal form of divine revelation.

No problem, Schleiermacher responded — we can still salvage spiritual and moral value out of Christianity while jettisoning its troublesome doctrinal claims, supernatural structure, and dependence upon the Bible. He was certain that his strategy would “save” Christianity from irrelevance.

His ambition, in other words, was apologetic at its core — to defend Christianity against claims of its eclipse. The formula offered by theological liberals is the same now. Save what you can of Christianity by surrendering truth claims. Acknowledge the inevitable hostility that these doctrines face in the modern age and adjust the faith accordingly. No theological liberal declares himself the enemy of Christianity. To the contrary, he offers liberalism as the only means of avoiding Christianity’s demise in a secular age.

Of course, the “Christianity” that remains after this doctrinal surgery bears little resemblance to biblical Christianity and, as Scripture makes abundantly clear, it cannot save.

Jesus is the center of our Christian faith, yet everything we know of Him comes to us from the accounts in the Bible.  Thus it is tempting to argue that the Bible is coequal with Jesus as the center of our faith because without it we have no reliable or trustworthy knowledge of Jesus; if the Bible is unreliable in any part then so is our knowledge of Jesus.  But that is like arguing that your best friend does not exist because you looked up his/her birth certificate online and found some discrepancies, or worse, did not find it at all–when said friend is standing right there in front of your very face.

Did the Bible come down from heaven?  Was the Bible conceived and born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit?  Was the Bible crucified for our sins on a Roman cross?  Did the Bible rise from the dead on the third day?  Did the Bible ascend into heaven and sit at the right hand of the Father?  Is the Bible coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead and to rule a kingdom that will have no end?

No, people.  No, no, no, no, no, and no.  The Bible exists to point us to Jesus Christ, who did all of the above and more.

So don’t be taken in by Mohler’s arguments that it is a perfectly inerrant Bible in all its parts or unmitigated theological liberalism with Schleiermacher and all the devils of hell.  Jesus Christ is the center of our faith, and the Bible exists to point us to Him.

Michael Spencer: Is a Passion for the Church the Same as a Passion for the Kingdom?

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Michael Spencer from a few years back entitled “Is a Passion for the Church the Same as a Passion for the Kingdom?”.

Spencer’s jumping-off point is a post from respected blogger Roy Ortlund which argues that if you care about the kingdom of God, you should express that by investing in your local church.  Spencer pushes back on several points, arguing that passion for the kingdom and passion for the local church are not mutually exclusive but that passion for the kingdom serves as a larger framework within which to evaluate the local church and to recognize when the local church is going wrong.  The local church does have a place in God’s economy, but it is subordinate to the ultimate claims of Christ and the call of his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God.

Read:  Is a Passion for the Church the Same as a Passion for the Kingdom? by Michael Spencer

Fr. Stephen Freeman on Greed

Today I direct your attention to a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman.  Freeman is one of the largest and most influential Eastern Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things.  This post is entitled “To Have More – Pleonexia“.

In this post Freeman offers a much richer term for greed:  the Greek word “pleonexia” which translates as “the desire to have more”.  This term suggests a problem which is far more pervasive than just a simple desire to accumulate material possessions, which is all that we associate with the word greed.  Instead it affects all areas of our lives, as it is a desire to have more of everything–possessions, money, sex, entertainment, food, leisure, etc.  It drives others away from us, reducing them to the position of grudging competitors for our time, our attention, our plans, our interests, our pleasure, etc.  It isolates us, making us less than fully human.

The way of self-renunciation, of dying to ourselves and taking up our cross, is not anti-life, it is in fact countercultural to the ethos of pleonexia which pervades our entire society.  We were created for community and communion with others, not for the incessant desire for more of all things which lies at the heart of our society and which only drives us deeper into isolation and alienation from others.  It is in prioritizing others over our incessant desire for more that we find life.

Read:  To Have More – Pleonexia by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Charles Featherstone: Belonging … Or Not

Today I direct your attention to a post by Charles Featherstone which is timely in light of the increasing prevalence of football players at all levels protesting the national anthem.  Featherstone’s jumping-off point is an article by NY Times columnist David Brooks which argues that protesting the national anthem is counterproductive because the national anthem is one of the rituals of a civil religion which binds us together as a people and thereby forms the basis for anyone to even begin to push for social change.  Sit out the national anthem and you undercut our shared civil religion, you undercut the very thing which holds us together as a people, and you undercut any sense of obligation which your fellow American citizens might feel towards you.

Featherstone pushes back, arguing that the solidarity promoted by the rituals of American civil religion is one built upon deliberate exclusion, that the sacrifices demanded by American civil religion are not a two-way street.  You can participate in the rituals of American civil religion all you want, but if its leaders and your fellow participants see you as an outsider, there is nothing you can do about it.  Unlike religious ritual, the American civil religion provides no means of atonement for sin and restoration to community for those who are excluded for whatever reason.  You can sing the national anthem or recite the pledge of allegiance all day long, but no mere recitation of words will change your status if you are excluded from the community of American civil religion.

In light of this, though I do not agree with Colin Kaepernick or any who follow in his footsteps, I certainly understand them.  If I had experienced what they have experienced, I would probably be doing the same thing myself, or would certainly feel like it at least.

Read:  Belonging … Or Not by Charles Featherstone

Scot McKnight: Surprised by the Cross

Today I direct your attention to a post by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed.  How we talk about the Cross says a lot about the kind of God we believe in.  One of the most popular ways of talking about the Cross in present-day evangelicalism is to say that our sin is so bad that someone had to die, and that someone is Jesus.  But when one goes down that road, it is way too easy to arrive at a God who is an angry despot.  What if, instead, we were to look at the big picture of what God is doing in the world, working to put all things right and bring heaven and earth and all things together in Himself, and ask how the Cross fits in with that?  How might our view of the Cross change?

Read:  Surprised by the Cross:  What If? by Scot McKnight

Pete Enns: What Kind of a God Do You Believe In?

Today I direct your attention to another post by Pete Enns, in which he notes from his observations of how different Christians engage with hot-button issues such as the historicity of Adam, that the way they engage these issues betrays that they ultimately believe in different gods–or at the very least, believe completely different things about the character of God.  Which God do you believe in–a God who is not afraid to enter into human existence and experience and allow said experience to shape how the Bible behaves, or a God who stands aloof, guiding and even micromanaging the delivery of His inspired Word, an incredibly diverse collection of writings which nevertheless contains, buried deep within, a perfectly fine-tuned system of theology which we are charged to excavate and defend at all cost?

So when it comes to debates over the historical Adam and evolution, the question I have come to ask myself is, “What kind of God are you thinking of when you say X….?” Is it

an incarnating God—Immanuel, God with us, or

a Platonic god—where you have to peel off the obscuring “down here” hindrances to get to the untainted “up there” god, with the Bible as an encoded inerrant guidebook to get you there.

I don’t like the platonic god. I don’t think Jesus did either.

Read:  What kind of a god do you believe in? (a thought about Christianity and evolution) by Pete Enns

Pete Enns: Are Evangelical and Academic Oxymorons?

Today I direct your attention to a piece by Pete Enns in which he speaks to a double standard which exists in the world of evangelical academia.  This double standard arises from the fact that many evangelical institutions of higher learning were founded with an agenda to defend certain theological presuppositions from the assaults of Enlightenment-based modernity, and it says that honest academic discourse can happen anywhere except with regard to these presuppositions, which are off limits.  Can such an institution be considered academic?  Enns asks.

Yet in the world outside of evangelicalism, these presuppositions are engaged along radically different lines (not that everyone outside of evangelicalism is in agreement–they aren’t), and there is a much greater diversity of opinion.  But in response, evangelical academics claim that the “guild” is too blinded by its own presuppositions to handle the word of God properly, or that the better scholars reside in the evangelical camp.

Enns asks poignantly:

…At what point, if ever, would it show more integrity for a school to say the following:

“Our center of gravity is not academic integrity or engagement but the defense of our theology by either mining the academic discourse of biblical scholarship where useful or condemning it where harmful. We do not see ourselves as primarily an academic body but an ecclesial one.”

Should such institutions publicly acknowledge that they are centers of theological apologetics and therefore not places of academic training? Should they even be allowed to grant academic degrees?

Read:  Are “Evangelical” and “Academic” Oxymorons? by Pete Enns

Fr. Stephen Freeman: Psychology as the New Sacrament

Today I direct your attention to a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman.  Freeman is one of the largest and most influential Eastern Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things.  This post is entitled “Psychology as the New Sacrament“.

Ever since the Reformation, Western society at large, including the Church, has developed what might be called a “two-storey” view of reality.  (This view ultimately traces back to classical Greco-Roman philosophy, in which the spiritual world is good and the material world is evil.)  The lower story is the real world which we see and touch and experience with our senses on a day-in, day-out basis.  This world is completely neutral and devoid of spiritual presence or significance.  The upper story is the spiritual world, which is inhabited by God and all other spiritual realities and cordoned off from our day-to-day existence in the real world which is the lower story.

What was lost as a result of this development was a sacramental view of the universe which saw physical reality and spiritual reality as inextricably linked (though this view still exists–officially, at least–in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy).  Yet even in those places, the sacramental view of reality is limited to the church, the worship space itself.  Once you leave that space, you are back out in the real world which is completely and totally devoid of spiritual presence or significance.

Yet the presence of God in our world has not been completely rejected–such a rejection would be too hard for Christians to bear, and nature abhors a vacuum.  We know in our heart of hearts that God is truly present in our world, despite what the prevailing modernistic, materialistic culture may say.  And so we have come up with substitutes.  Such substitutes are all over the place in evangelicalism, including the view of preached-word-as-sacrament which has emerged in the past two centuries and the view of worship-music-as-sacrament which has emerged in the past two decades.

There has been a deeper shift as well:  a corollary to living in a real world devoid of spiritual significance is that we are all just individual centers of consciousness existing within a web of relationships and affiliations, some formal, others not so much, and God has simply been added to the mix.  Out of this milieu has arisen the notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus”.  I have said earlier that the “personal relationship with Jesus” is a representation of an important truth:  that God is concerned with us as individuals and desires us to be in close and meaningful connection with Him.  Yet it is a monumentally flawed and incomplete truth, one which has only arisen within the previous century.  It is a consequence of the view that we are all just individual centers of consciousness living in a web of relationships, and our relationship with God is just one more to add to the mix.  It fails to take into account that we are part of something much bigger than just ourselves and our web of relationships, part of something much bigger than just the physical world we experience with our senses–that we are in fact part of a world filled with the presence of God and part of a story of all that God is doing to make the universe right and bring all things together under Himself.

Let us open our eyes to the reality that, despite what the prevailing materialistic, modernistic culture of our world may say, we are living in a world where the presence of God is never far from us no matter where we may go, and where God is actively working to draw all things together under Himself.

Read:  “Psychology as the New Sacrament” by Fr. Stephen Freeman

N. T. Wright: Heaven Is Not the Christian Hope

Today I direct your attention to a brief video by N. T. Wright in which he unpacks his somewhat revolutionary view that going to heaven when you die is not the ultimate Christian hope.

Christianity has taken on board an awful lot of bad Western philosophy down through the centuries, specifically the idea which comes from the first-century Gnostics and from Plato, Aristotle, and other Greco-Roman philosophies that the spirit and the spirit world are good while the flesh and the material world are evil.  This has worked its way into our view of the afterlife:  When we die we will be taken by Jesus to a place called heaven somewhere up in the sky, somewhere far far away from here, perhaps even outside the known universe altogether, while the world and universe we know is burned up in a cataclysmic fire of judgment.

This is not what the Bible teaches.  What the Bible actually teaches is that at the end of time the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven if you will, will come down to earth.  Everything that is wrong in our world will be made right, and heaven and earth will be joined together into one glorious new reality.

For your viewing pleasure I have linked the video below: