Fr. Stephen Freeman: History Was Not Changed

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.

It is a common sentiment that the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed history.  It did not, argues Freeman.  Instead, the resurrection revealed the true nature of history as the unfolding of God’s redemptive work to restore all things to Himself.

We moderns take a view of history which says the only things that matter are great men and events, economic and cultural forces.  Lost in all of this are the millions, perhaps billions, of human lives lived out on earth and the minute-by-minute details of their existence.  It should not be surprising, then, when some modern scholars attempt to argue that Jesus never existed because there are no written records of him.  It also should not be surprising that the life of Jesus would escape the notice of scholars trained to believe that only great men and events matter.

The resurrection of Jesus relativizes all of human history.  It is the only event that matters.  All other events, no matter how mundane, no matter how momentous, gain significance only from their relationship to this one event.

Read:  History Was Not Changed by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Two Posts to Read Side By Side

Today I wish to direct your attention to a pair of posts which ought to be read side by side, one after the other.

First is a post by John Piper in which he responds to a provocative sermon preached by Andy Stanley a few weeks back which lit up the evangelical blogosphere and made all the right people angry.  Piper’s response is one of qualified support in which he questions parts of Stanley’s message and approach, specifically the wisdom of seeking to assuage the doubts of the present generation by promoting a view of Scripture which potentially undermines the faith of subsequent generations.  He argues that the way forward is through richly passionate expository preaching across the entire length and breadth of inspired Scripture.

Along the way, Piper has this to say about the nature of faith itself:

Saving faith is not the persuasion that the resurrection of Jesus rose bodily from the grave. That persuasion is essential to saving faith, but not the essence of it. The devil knows that Jesus rose from the dead, and he is not saved (see also Luke 16:31). The essence of saving faith is seeing the supreme beauty of Christ in the meaning of the event, and embracing him as Savior, and Lord, and the greatest Treasure in the universe. Satan does not see the crucified and risen Christ as supremely beautiful, and he does not treasure him. But believers do. That is the essence of saving faith.

Meaning:  It is not enough to believe that the Resurrection happened.  One must recognize the supreme beauty of Christ in it, and embrace Him as Savior, Lord, and the most valuable treasure in all of existence.  Okay, so I probably didn’t have to repeat what Piper just said, but this formula is all over the place in evangelicalism:  It isn’t enough to believe X, one must also Y.  You believe X?  Well so does Satan, and look where it got him.  If you really believe, then show your faith is real by Y.

This brings to mind a quote that appeared on Tim Challies’ blog a while back:  “You may be singing ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ but if you aren’t thinking about God while singing it, you are not worshiping. —Donald Whitney”  My question for Piper is the same question I had then:  How much?  How much do we have to be thinking about God while singing “Holy, holy, holy” in order for it to count as true worship?  How much do I have to see the supreme beauty of Christ and recognize him as Savior and Lord and the greatest Treasure in all of existence in order for my faith to qualify as saving faith?  Is there a magic threshold, a magic percentage?  If so, how can I know I am there?

This is where we are in evangelicalism:  Faith and worship are all about what we do, making sure we are thinking the right thoughts or feeling the right feelings and expressing those feelings in the right way.

Now we move on to our next post:  Chris Kratzer shares a bit of his journey in an honest, bare-knuckle rant entitled “I’m Done: Why I’m Completely Walking Away From Church, Ministry, And Most Everything “Christian”“.

Kratzer is the epitome of what we are talking about here:  He is the one who has been there, done that, and got a whole closetful of summer camp T-shirts to show for it.  He has tried to play the game.  He has tried to reach the magic threshold of thinking the right thoughts, feeling the right feelings and expressing those feelings in the right way, and through his ministry, encouraging others to do the same.  And it is killing him.  He can’t do it anymore.  So he is walking away from it all.

I don’t need to say anything more about what Kratzer has to say.  You can read it for yourself.  Read it.  Sit with it.  Let it soak over you.  Know that there are people out there who just can’t play the game anymore.  Ask yourself:  Is it worth it?  Is it worth it to go on playing the game, trying to think the right thoughts, feel the right feelings and express them the right way?  And if you are successful at playing the game:  At what cost?  What kind of person is it turning you into?  Do you like being that kind of person?  Can you go on with it?  Do you even know?

Charles Featherstone: This is How it Works

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Charles Featherstone.  His jumping-off point is a piece by Catholic blogger David Mills about the tendency of partisan politics to destroy even basic sympathy and empathy, all in the name of whatever cause you are supporting.  You fight for your man or your cause without any concern for those on the other side or those in the middle.  It is this tendency which causes the most ardent of Donald Trump’s supporters to double down even as the latest revelations of his misogyny make him increasingly toxic.  “It’s just locker-room talk”, they say.  “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  But would they say the same things if it was their own daughters who were subject to this treatment?

Ideology blinds us; it turns compassion and kindness and acknowledgement of our shared humanity into fatal weaknesses.  It sees nothing but evil in ideological opponents and nothing but virtue in allies, no matter how corrupt they may be.

From here Featherstone goes on to a harsh tweet by Dinesh D’Souza which suggests that Obama’s parents abandoned him as a child because they knew something we should have known before electing him president.  He goes off on those of the religious right who claim some sort of high ground by blaming the child Obama for his own abandonment and refusing to see any accomplishment or character in his ability to overcome that abandonment.  This is the unspoken assumption behind our nation’s foster care system:  If children have been abandoned for whatever reason then they are clearly not worth loving and we can do whatever we want to them.  If this is what civilization-saving Christian conservatism has come to, then let those godless liberal heathens come in and burn down our crops and steal our livestock.  That can’t happen soon enough.

Read:  This is How it Works by Charles Featherstone

N. T. Wright: Jesus’ Death Does More For Us Than Get Us Into Heaven

Mike Bird at Christianity Today has an interview with N. T. Wright on his latest book The Day the Revolution Began.  The big idea of this book is that Jesus’ death on the cross does much more than get us to heaven when we die and if that is all we believe we are missing a critical aspect of what He accomplished.  The New Testament speaks of Jesus’ death as the defeat of the evil powers that have held the world in captivity, with the strong implication that the world is going to change as a result.  As Christians we are a part of bringing that change to pass.  In this interview Wright talks about the book and about how Christians ought to view the cross.

Read:  N. T. Wright:  The Church Continues the Revolution Jesus Started

Evangelical Trump Supporters: You Will Have to Answer For This

Conservative columnist David French writes at National Review of the horrific abuse he and his family have experienced at the hands of alt-right internet trolls because of his unwillingness to support Donald Trump.  In French’s profession, one is always going to have to deal with a certain amount of trolling–haters gonna hate, it goes with the territory.  But what is coming from the alt-right trolls who support Donald Trump is unprecedented.  French is not alone; Erick Erickson, Bethany Mandel and many other writers and journalists have had similar experiences.

I’ve said it before and will say it again:  Donald Trump is toxic.  One does not support Donald Trump without becoming likewise contaminated.  His campaign has attracted the support of the worst elements of the lunatic Neo-Nazi fringe and has done nothing whatsoever to disavow it.  If anything Donald Trump seems to be egging them on.  If you support Donald Trump then you are, on some level at least, giving your tacit approval to the scary antics of his jacked-up alt-right supporters.

Look, people:  I know you have strong views about abortion and about Hillary’s policies concerning abortion.  But we are talking about real violence being perpetrated against real people here.  This is sin.  There is no other way to say it.

At what point do we stand up and tell Donald Trump and his Neo-Nazi goons that enough is enough?

As Christians we are called to have nothing whatsoever to do with the deeds of darkness but instead to expose them.  That includes cozying up to those who perpetrate the deeds of darkness–whether it is the violence of words posted on the internet or it is more sinister than that–because their candidate has promised to deliver you Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade.

You don’t need some crazy street preacher to tell you that God hates this.  You already know.

This isn’t rocket science, people.  Some things are just wrong and that’s all there is to it.  If you support Donald Trump then you will have to answer for this.

Worship Singers Needed – Fat People Need Not Apply

Unfortunately I am not making this up.

One of the downsides of contemporary worship in this day and age is this ever-increasingly prevalent expectation that you look the part if you intend to sing on stage.  A non-denominational church out in Oregon has published a set of guidelines for worship team members that takes this tendency and ratchets it up several notches.  It caused quite a stir last week when it appeared on the Stuff Christian Culture Likes Facebook page.

Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew has written a piece which is highly critical of the document as well as this unfortunate tendency in evangelical worship at large.  It is very rarely spelled out in excruciating detail as it is at this particular church, but the emphasis on looking the part is very much a part of contemporary evangelical worship, and it has caused tremendous harm to the enterprise of worship in evangelicalism.

Read: Worship Team Wanted: Fat People Need Not Apply by Jonathan Aigner

Morgan Guyton: The Religious Right Needs to Repent, Not Rebrand

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Morgan Guyton.  Guyton is a Methodist campus minister in New Orleans, Louisiana, and he blogs at Mercy Not Sacrifice.

In this post Guyton speaks of the religious right.  Over the past three to four decades the religious right has conflated religious faith and political action in ways that all those godless liberal mainlines can only dream of.  It has now come to the point where any sort of dialogue or negotiations with our political opponents is tantamount to apostasy.

But when that Donald Trump video surfaced a couple of weeks back, the religious right became toxic because it was inextricably linked to Donald Trump.  Now evangelical leaders (many of them at least, there are still a few diehards holding out in spite of all good sense) are falling all over themselves to distance themselves from Donald Trump and declare the demise of the religious right, as if they never were a part of it.  But is this for real?  More change is needed, says Guyton, change that demonstrates a true spirit of repentance for all the religious right has done to poison our civil/political discourse and set back the cause of Christ, and not just a slick, strategic pivoting and rebranding.

So when I see religious right leaders pretending like they never were part of the religious right, it makes me very suspicious and cynical. I’ll believe the religious right is dead when I see the Gospel Coalition allow space in its platform for open dialogue with Christians who believe differently. I’ll believe the religious right is dead when Russell Moore sits down with the queer black Christian women who started Black Lives Matter with the expectation that they have something to teach him. I’ll believe the religious right is dead when Al Mohler starts denouncing every lie he encounters about Hillary Clinton simply because he believes in absolute truth. I hope that I’m surprised to find genuine repentance instead of strategic pivoting and rebranding. But I’m not holding my breath.

Read:  The Religious Right Needs to Repent, Not Rebrand by Morgan Guyton

Just Kidding, Says Grudem, I’m Still With Trump

Last week, after shocking video footage surfaced of Donald Trump treating the Access Hollywood tour bus as his own personal locker room, Wayne Grudem pulled his support from Donald Trump and called on him to step aside.  Grudem had been a staunch supporter of Donald Trump; he even wrote a 5,000-word article arguing that you, as a follower of Jesus Christ, have a moral imperative to excuse the inexcusable and defend the indefensible in support of Donald Trump.  It seemed as though Grudem was at last coming to his senses.  But now Grudem has reversed field and is back with Donald Trump.

After I saw the shocking 2005 video with Trump talking about his sexual aggression against women, I wrote, “There is no morally good presidential candidate in this election.” I condemned Trump’s immoral conduct and said I did not know how I would vote. I asked to remove my earlier article, “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.” I urged Trump to withdraw, hoping we could get a better candidate.

The liberal media loved this. “Evangelical theologian calls on Trump to withdraw.” I suddenly had more requests for interviews from mainstream news organizations than ever in my lifetime. I turned them all down.

And Trump did not withdraw.

Now, how should I vote?

Voting for Clinton and her ultraliberal policies is not an option for me as an evangelical Christian. Therefore I am left with two options: (1) vote for Trump, or (2) vote for a third-party candidate whose hopes of winning belong to fantasy, not reality.

And if these are my only two options, then voting for a third-party candidate has the clear effect of helping to elect Clinton, because it is taking my vote away from Trump. That is why the liberal media loved it when I said I was finding it hard to decide.

It also means that my two options are actually this: (1) vote for Trump, or (2) help Hillary Clinton get elected.

Once I put the choice in those stark terms, there is a good way to make a decision. Since I find both candidates morally objectionable, I am back to the old-fashioned basis on which I have usually decided how to vote for my entire life: Whose policies are better? Do I agree more with Trump’s policies or with Clinton’s?

It isn’t even close. I overwhelmingly support Trump’s policies and believe that Clinton’s policies will seriously damage the nation, perhaps forever. On the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, sexual orientation regulations, taxes, economic growth, the minimum wage, school choice, Obamacare, protection from terrorists, immigration, the military, energy, and safety in our cities, I think Trump is far better than Clinton (see below for details). Again and again, Trump supports the policies I advocated in my 2010 book Politics According to the Bible.

Translation:  (1) I am a Republican.  (2) Hillary is a Democrat.  Therefore, (3) Hillary is the Antichrist, so (4) I’m with Donald Trump.

Look people, I’ve said this before and will say it again:  Donald Trump is an idiot.  He says and does the most spectacularly inane things anytime the cameras are on him.  He has run multiple businesses into the ground.  He has his own ideas about what constitutes good work and whether people should be paid for it, not to mention his own ideas about how much taxes he should have to pay.  He knows less about foreign affairs than your middle-school-aged child, and doesn’t give a shit.  He routinely traffics in the most absurd, bizarre, outlandish conspiracy theories, including that long-debunked yet stubbornly persistent urban myth that vaccines cause autism.  His message is nothing more than anger and hatred for Mexicans, Muslims and other minorities, the dehumanization and objectification of women, and a good hard dose of Donald Trump to solve all the world’s problems.

This man toxic waste dump should never in a million years be allowed within a million miles of the nuclear codes.

Donald Trump is the spoonful of sewage that turns an entire barrelful of wine into sewage.  This candidate is so toxic that one cannot possibly support him without becoming likewise tainted.

And yet, for most of this election cycle at least, evangelicalism has been all over Donald Trump like white on rice.  Why?  Because (1) We’re Republican, (2) Hillary is a Democrat, therefore (3) Hillary is the Antichrist, so (4) We’re with Trump.

It’s all about that Supreme Court majority, baby.  Because only a Supreme court appointed by Donald Trump can protect our cherished Christian values.  Never mind that Donald Trump is the exact opposite of our cherished Christian values.  Never mind that all the horrible things we say about Hillary are a mixture of truth, half-truths and outright lies.  Never mind that we’ve had a Supreme Court majority (or close to it) for the past three to four decades at least and still Roe v. Wade is perfectly intact.  We’re all about that Supreme Court majority so we can make abortion illegal and keep our religious freedom to not do business with queers.

Donald Trump is toxic.  One does not support Donald Trump without becoming likewise contaminated.  The religious right, and a goodly portion of American evangelicalism to boot, are now irreparably tainted as a result.

One does not support Donald Trump without screaming “FUCK YOU” to women, minorities, and others with whom God is manifestly concerned and commands us to show His love.

Mr Grudem:  Go ahead and pull that lever for Donald Trump on November 8.  And then just try and look your female and non-white students in the eye the next day.  Good luck with that.

Every person you will ever come eyeball-to-eyeball with is a person for whom Christ died.  Yet Donald Trump wants us to believe that some of those people count for nothing because they are women or immigrants or minorities.  Grudem wants us to believe that this counts for nothing.  It doesn’t, people.

Ask yourself the question:  What does love require of me?  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to vote for a candidate whose message is nothing more than anger, hatred, dehumanization and objectification of women, and a sheer, unbridled lust for power, then hey, go do it.  And then look your wife in the eye.  Look your daughter in the eye.  Just try it.

Good luck with that.

Ron Rolheiser: The Struggle to Not Make God Our Own Tribal Deity

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post which I believe is especially timely given the current state of affairs in evangelicalism, especially with respect to the current election cycle.

Rolheiser speaks to a tendency which is common not only in evangelicalism but in virtually all parts of Christianity:  the tendency to insulate ourselves in like-minded communities where we all understand morality the same way, share the same hopes and fears with respect to the outside world, and worship God with the same confidence.  The downside of this is that it takes some painful stretching of the soul before one can accept that God also loves those who do not come from within this bubble and share this way of looking at things.

Those of you who are familiar with liberation theology will recognize the phrase “preferential option for the poor”, the belief (which is native to almost all of liberal Christianity in some form or fashion) that God is present in a special way with minorities, the poor, and anyone else who is on the fringes of or excluded from society at large.  Though a case can be made for this from some sayings of Jesus and from the fact that he prioritized those who were on the outer fringes of the Jewish religious life of his day, the fact remains that there is no special, automatic sanctity for the poor or the marginalized.

Even so, God is immensely concerned with how we treat other people, and especially with how we treat those who are less fortunate than ourselves.  There is a boatload of Scripture to support this.  Every person you will ever come eyeball-to-eyeball with is a person for whom Christ died, including those who do not look like you or think the way you do on the issues that matter to you.  We would all do well to remember this.

Read:  The Struggle to Not Make God Our Own Tribal Deity by Ron Rolheiser

Charisma Magazine: Tim Tebow’s Prayers Stop a Massive Seizure

ICYMI (that’s “In Case You Missed It” for those of you who are not millennials or otherwise familiar with the ways millennials express themselves via texting and social media):  Tim Tebow has signed with the New York Mets and is now attempting to work his way up through their farm system.

After a recent game, Tebow was signing autographs when a fan collapsed from a major epileptic seizure.  Tebow stayed with him and prayed with him until help arrived.

Not content to simply report the story and let an opportunity to promote their theological outlook go by, Charisma jumped all over it:

Tebow sprang into action and laid hands on the man, praying for his healing and comforting him until paramedics arrived.

The violent seizure reportedly stopped moments after Tebow prayed with him. The miraculous healing had many people take to social media expressing their amazement at the power of prayer.

You can read the full story here.