Michael Spencer: The Face of the Gracious God

In my last post I noted that, in my opinion, evangelicals are deathly afraid of the possibility that God is actually better than we think.  Today I direct your attention to a Michael Spencer post in which he comes around that very idea.  The Gospel is the good news of a gracious God but there are far too many people out there who are invested in an angry God who is planning to justly punish us all but who might let you off if you believe all the right things etc.

The Gospel is the good news of a gracious God. It tells us again the story of the God who loves us, the God we have grieved and abandoned and the God who has taken our judgment and suffered it himself.

We have far too many people selling religion #1. Like the Pharisees, they are the authorized representatives of the grumpy, ticked off, hacked off, very, very angry God who MIGHT….maybe, MIGHT let you off the hook….MAYBE…..IF–and it’s a very big IF–you manage to believe enough, obey enough, get the theology questions right enough, find your way to the right church, follow the right script and get the details right, down to the last “amen.”

We have too many people who have heard that there is good news about God, and then discovered that the good news was covered in 25 pages of fine print explaining why God is actually quite miserable and its your fault. If you fulfill the conditions of the contract–See “Faith is obedience, perfect surrender and a good witness,” pages 203-298–then you have a reasonable hope of avoiding God’s end-of-the-word temper tantrum.

We have far too few Christians who are overwhelmed at the news that God has fired the bookkeepers, sent home the bean counters, dismissed the religion cops and bought party hats for the grumpy old people. The big announcement is this: In Jesus, we discover that God is just sloppy with his amazing grace and completely beyond common sense when it comes to his love. Just to enhance his reputation as the God who know how to throw a party, he’s inviting all of us back home, no tickets necessary, no dress code, for a party that will last, literally, forever. With open bar, and all on him. (Oh calm down Baptists. You can go to another room.)

Read:  The Face of the Gracious God by Michael Spencer

Jentezen Franklin Fires Back at Mark Galli

In my previous post I referenced Mark Galli’s editorial at Christianity Today calling for Donald Trump’s removal from office.  With 81 percent of American evangelicals having given their steadfast, wholehearted, and unwavering support to Donald Trump, one should expect that there would be blowback to such a thing.

Jentezen Franklin, a prominent charismatic megachurch pastor in the Atlanta area, has written a piece at the Christian Post in which he takes Galli and evangelicals who sympathise with Galli to task.  His arguments:  Under Obama (whom he does not even mention by name), America was in a state of moral decline.  Socialism was on the rise and religious liberty was in jeopardy.  Donald Trump has defied all the haters and kept his promises to the evangelical electorate.  He has overhauled a raging leftist, activist judiciary.  He is pro-life.  He is pro-Israel.  These are the values and policies that matter most to our Christian faith.

In other words, the values that are most central to our Christian faith are being pro-life (as evangelicals define it, which means that one’s pro-life ethic extends only to the unborn), supporting the state of Israel, opposing socialism, supporting religious liberty (again, as evangelicals define it, which means supporting the liberty of certain Christians and Christians to shit on gays and women and minorities and put Bible verses on it), supporting judicial restraint and a conservative judiciary, and being pro-Israel.  Don’t talk to us about Jesus Christ, except as the title sponsor who puts his name on all of this.  And don’t even begin to talk to us about love.

In the previous post I said that when I watched 81 percent of American evangelicals give their steadfast, wholehearted and unyielding support to Donald Trump, I watched my faith sell its very soul right out from under me.  This is exactly what I am talking about, right here.

Donald Trump’s life and message are the exact opposite of anything even remotely connected to Jesus Christ.  Under his administration, the worst specimens of humanity are now empowered and emboldened to spew out hatred for blacks, gays, immigrants–anyone who does not look like us privileged white males.  ICE is running rampant here in Georgia, and in other places too (I would imagine), and my nonwhite coworkers live in a low-grade state of fear that they could be targeted next.

According to Franklin, this is “the values and heart of Christianity today in these United States of America”.  God loves you and Jesus Christ died for you, but not if you are a woman, black, gay, immigrant, or otherwise not a privileged white male.

No.  Just no.  That’s all there is to it.

Those of you who are evangelical supporters of Donald Trump (and I recognize that the vast majority of you have probably long since left the room, but just in case there may still be a few of you hanging around):  You know what Jesus was all about when he was here on earth.  You know how he moved among people and you know the teachings that formed the heartbeat of his public ministry.  Can you square any of this with what Franklin says are “the values and heart of Christianity today in these United States of America”?  Do you see any connection between the life and message of Donald Trump and anything that Jesus Christ was about?

I have said it before and will say again:  Think about this through the grid of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to continue to give your steadfast, wholehearted, unwavering support to a president whose life and message are the exact opposite of anything even remotely connected to Jesus Christ…no.  There is no such case to be made.

Hillary McBride Responds to John Piper on Eating Disorders

There is a place for theology.  Theology gives form and structure to our knowledge and experience of God.  But when theology, or more precisely, a certain brand of theology, sets itself up as the end-all, be-all of our experience of God, such that there is nothing whatsoever that we can say about God with any degree of legitimacy unless it can fit somewhere in the grid of this particular system of thought…that’s a problem.

John Piper has been on my shit list ever since “Farewell Rob Bell” a few years back, and he remains thus to this day.  What I offer you today is a perfect illustration of why.

About a year ago Piper responded to a question from a female reader struggling with an eating disorder and related feelings of bodily shame and self-hatred.  In a staggering display of just-don’t-get-it-ness, Piper suggested that there are instances in which bodily shame and self-hatred are perfectly appropriate–specifically when the body tempts you to sin.  Basically, Piper just blew right by all the human dimensions of the situation at hand–completely ignoring the sight of this woman struggling with an eating disorder and the related feelings of shame and self-hatred and crying out for help to a trusted pastoral figure in her world–and went straight for what could fit nicely and tidily into his theological framework, along with chapter and verse to back it up.

But enough from me.  I am a blogger, and as such it is part and parcel of my unique calling and vocation in life to offer my unsolicited opinion on subjects about which I know nothing.  But even I have my limits.  I defer to Hillary McBride, who has had her own struggles with an eating disorder and now counsels others who are in that place.  In an open letter written in response to this, she goes straight to the human dimensions of the situation which Piper seems so eager to dismiss, and lays out why Piper’s comments are inappropriate and even dangerous.

Michael Spencer on Evangelicals and the Culture War

Today I direct your attention to a post written by Michael Spencer back in 2006 in which he diagnosed the reasons for evangelicals’ attraction to involvement in the culture war.  Contrary to what the rhetoric would have us believe, it is not about a reinvigorated evangelicalism remaking its world because its people care deeply about the things Jesus cared about.  The truth is less flattering:  evangelicalism is empty on the inside and success in the culture war offers us the illusion of life, substance, and vitality.

Read:  The Tactics of Failure by Michael Spencer

This was written back in 2006.  The links below are current and should give you an idea of how bad things have gotten since then:

‘He gets it’: Evangelicals aren’t turned off by Trump’s first term

In God’s country: Evangelicals view Trump as their protector. Will they stand by him in 2020?

Why Some Christians ‘Love the Meanest Parts’ of Trump

Wayne Grudem on Biblical Inspiration

Frequently around these parts I have opined that the standard evangelical view of inspiration/inerrancy is much more at home in Islam or Mormonism than in anything remotely resembling biblical Christianity.  Now I am a blogger and as such it is part and parcel of my unique calling to pull things out of thin air and make things up on the fly.  But I am not making this up.  I wish I was, but I am not.  Today I give you none other than American evangelicalism’s Dean of Systematic Theology (and lately turned political hack) himself:  Dr. Wayne Grudem.  Take a listen and judge for yourselves.

This is an expression of the standard evangelical view of biblical inspiration, par excellence.  Grudem’s take can best be described as a “binder theory“:  God gave us an open 3-ring binder.  As the writings which make up our Bible came down the pipe, we received them, accepted them unquestioningly, and dutifully placed them in the waiting binder.  When the last of these writings was received, the binder was closed, snapped shut, sealed, in perpetuity, for ever and ever, world without end, amen.

According to Grudem’s take, God gave Moses the binder up on Mount Sinai.  It contained the Decalogue (the 10 Commandments) and other writings that God directed Moses to produce.  Moses then later added other writings at God’s direction.  Joshua added some, then Samuel, then other Old Testament authors.  When the last of the historical writings (Esther) and the last of the prophetic writings (Haggai/Zechariah/Malachi) were received, the binder was temporarily closed.  Jesus reopened the binder and commissioned the apostles to add to it.  This they did, dutifully producing the Gospels, the Epistles, and other writings.  When the last of these was received, the binder was closed, snapped shut, sealed, in perpetuity, etc.  And such is the Bible we have today.

This theory completely and totally omits the human element in the story of how we got our Bible.  In real life, there was a bewildering variety of gospels, epistles, etc. floating around out there.  Some were recognized as more authoritative than others, and there was a sifting process by which the cream rose to the top.  But this took centuries and it wasn’t until the fourth century AD that a definitive scriptural canon was settled upon.

When Paul wrote letters to the churches to which he wrote, he was not sitting down to write books of the New Testament.  He was writing letters to real people in real churches who were dealing with real issues.  From his perspective, he had no reason whatsoever to believe that any of these would make it out of first century Rome, let alone make it into anything that could be called the New Testament.

As to the Old Testament…well, you can believe what you want to believe about the Mosaic authorship of the first five Old Testament books.  I see no reason to doubt it, but I find it well nigh impossible to believe that Moses’ finished work product was anything even remotely close to what we have in our Bibles today.

But there is a larger issue in play here, and it is this:  We in evangelicalism basically conceive of the Christian faith as something akin to a house of cards.  We hold this view of the Bible as basically having been brought down to us from heaven on golden tablets like the Book of Mormon (it is a very short–and very direct–line from what Grudem advocates to that), and we desperately–desperately–need for that view to be true.  Start tugging just a little too hard on one of the assumptions that hold it up and the whole thing comes crashing down, taking all of Christianity with it, and suddenly Jesus is no longer raised from the dead and we are all still in our sins.

I’m so over that, people.

Think back to the earliest Christians.  Think back to Paul and the apostles, to the believers who made up the early churches in which they ministered.  These people either saw Jesus rise from the dead themselves, or they knew people who had.  They went on to start a movement that would reshape history.  Because that’s what you do when you see your leader violently executed in the most horrific way imaginable, and then have breakfast with him a few days later.

You can rest assured that these people were not thinking about the (potentially) eternally catastrophic consequences of believing something as divinely inspired and part of Scripture that wasn’t supposed to be there, or of missing out on something that was.  They were not worried about some perfect and inerrant book given to us by God as if brought down from heaven on golden tablets by angels and if any part of that isn’t true then Jesus Christ is suddenly not raised from the dead and we are all still in our sins.  They had seen too much and knew too much to be taken in by the issues and concerns of us moderns.  Would that we could take a similar view of things.

Scot McKnight on Reading Romans Backwards

Paul’s letter to the Romans can be a daunting challenge for many readers.  Reading the first twelve chapters especially, one gets the feeling that one is prepping for a masters-level systematic theology exam.  No doubt many of you have wondered:  For a beleaguered Christian community in the heart of the Roman empire, in the height of Nero’s persecutions, where in the world did they find the time and energy to sit around studying and debating the latest theories of atonement, salvation history, soteriology, etc.?  If that is you, then Scot McKnight’s new book Reading Romans Backwards may be for you.

Some money quotes:

Reading Romans forwards, beginning at 1:1 and closing the letter at 16:27, is both the best way to read Romans and its biggest problem. Reading Romans forwards often enough leads to fatigue by the time one gets to 9:1, and even more so by the time one arrives at 12:1. The impact of the fatigue is that the specific elements of the faith community in Rome as detailed in chapters 12 through 16 are ignored for how one reads chapters 1 through 8 or chapters 1 through 11. I am not proposing, then, that the right way to read Romans begins with chapter 12, but I do propose that a correction is in order and that fresh light can be thrown on chapters 1 through 11 by first taking a deep look at chapters 12-16, then 9-11, then 1-8 (since they work together in a special way).

…For decades I have read and listened to scholars and heard preachers on Romans 1-8, and one would think, after listening or reading, that those meaty chapters were written for a theological lectureship rather than to a local church or set of house churches in Rome in the first century when Nero was emperor and Paul was planning his future mission to Spain. One would think the listeners were theological savants geared up for the latest theory of atonement or soteriology or salvation-history.

…Romans is about theology, but it isn’t mere theology — it isn’t abstract theology. Romans advocates for a via vitae, both for the individual and for the community of faith in Rome.

…I have chosen to read Romans backwards in order to demonstrate that this letter is a pastoral theology…