Thank You Senator Flake

ICYMI:  Yesterday Arizona senator Jeff Flake announced that he would not be seeking another term.  That announcement was embedded in a remarkable speech which speaks truth with moral authority to the buffoonery currently in power.  Though some are critical of Flake for leaving the battlefield, as it were, this article takes a different view of things.

When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do — because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseam — when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations. Those things are far more important than politics.

Would that we could all have the courage to speak the truth in this moment in our nation’s history.

Here is Senator Flake’s speech in its entirety, along with a video.

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Fr. Stephen Freeman: What To Do With What You Know

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.

In this post Freeman addresses the subject of knowledge.  His big idea is that it is not enough to know things; one must also know what to do with the knowledge.  Knowledge is useless unless it is an answer to a question that you or other people are asking.  You can gather information all day long, but unless it answers a question you are asking, you don’t really know it–why would you bother with it?

Orthodox Christianity is not a topic to be mastered. If it is rightly understood, the Orthodox faith is an account of “everything.” It is not a subset of religious knowledge or a compendium of doctrines. It is the whole of existence, created and uncreated. Most of the faith cannot be spoken. The less of the unspoken that surrounds any given statement, the more likely that statement is to be wrong or distorted.

St. Ignatius of Antioch observed: “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.” He also noted: “The more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him.”

All this, of course, comes as a stern rebuke to someone who has written over 2,000 articles. I will say, however, that my greatest accomplishment is in what I have not written. It is perhaps only there that I shall find salvation.

Read:  What To Do With What You Know by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Is the Vegas Shooting a Sign of the End Times?

Seriously people, why are we even talking about this?

Jack Wellman at Christian Crier, in a very complex convoluted piece of exegesis and yet another piece of evidence that the bar at Patheos is low enough that I could have a blog there, opines that it is.

We’ve been through this before and you know where I stand on end times stuff.  We don’t know the day or the hour.  In any historical era, including ours, there is enough stuff going on that the people living in that era could reasonably believe that they are in the last days.

Most churches outside of evangelicalism have very little to say about the end times other than what is in the historic Christian creeds:  “He [Jesus] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end” (from the Nicene Creed).  We would do very well to adopt a similar tack.

Can I Have My Patheos Blog?

Mark Driscoll is now on Patheos.

Yep, that Mark Driscoll.

The one who built the Mars Hill empire out in Seattle and then ended it all in a horrific grease fire in late 2014, only to skip town, head to Phoenix and reboot.  Though there were serious charges of plagiarism, serious concerns about his leadership style, serious concerns about his handling of church finances, serious concerns about his message and tone, he nevertheless moved on to a new city, pronounced himself fit for ministry, and got right back into the saddle.  And now he’s on Patheos.

So when do I get my Patheos blog?  Because if Mark Driscoll gets one then the bar is clearly low enough that I ought to qualify.  If any of you, dear readers, knows somebody over at Patheos, could you hook me up?  Please?  Pretty please?

Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew gives his thoughts on Driscoll’s move to Patheos.  Heads up:  He’s not too impressed.

Is the Bible the Only Tool in the Toolbox?

Today we are going to look at a controversy that has been playing out at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary over the past couple of weeks.  A Christianity Today article entitled “Has Christian Psychology Lost Its Place at Southern Seminary?” reports on the firing (very thinly disguised as an early retirement) of Dr. Eric Johnson, a longtime professor of counseling at SBTS.  The Wartburg Watch has a summary which you can read here and here.  Dustin Messner at Kuyperian Commentary gives his commentary here.

Here is the TL:DR version:  Johnson was fired essentially because his vision of what Christian psychology ought to be is substantially different from that of Al Mohler and SBTS.  Some observers blame the firing on Heath Lambert, another professor of counseling at SBTS and the executive director of an organization called the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.  There is belief that Lambert leveraged his organization, the ACBC, against SBTS, threatening to steer students away from SBTS if Johnson remained.  (SBTS is one of five Reformed seminaries among the ACBC’s certified training centers.)  There is a video clip on Youtube in which Lambert reads from Johnson’s work and calls his approach to counseling “dangerous”, “slander”, “corrupt”, and “a mockery of God’s word”.  Mohler denies all of this, and Lambert has since apologized to Johnson.  Mohler and SBTS are not offering anything at this time in the way of clarification or explanation for Johnson’s departure.

Now I am a blogger, and as such it is part and parcel of my life’s vocation and calling to offer my unsolicited opinion on subjects about which I know nothing and am unqualified to speak.  But it is not my intention today to opine on internal politics and hiring/firing decisions at SBTS.  Instead I will comment on a couple of larger themes that I believe are in play here with this story.

The first is what I believe to be one of conservative evangelicalism’s worst tendencies:  to take the approach that we are the faithful side, the Christian side and the other side is the faithless, godless side and every issue is a fight to the death between the forces of light (us) and the forces of darkness.  There is a lengthy essay by John Frame entitled “Machen’s Warrior Children” in which Frame argues that conservative Reformed evangelicals have continued the fighting spirit shown by J. Gresham Machen in resisting the incursions of liberal theology in his day, taking it into every political/cultural/theological dispute thereafter, no matter how trivial.  The most recent presidential election cycle is an example of this par excellence.

The second is a view of biblical inspiration which is pervasive in evangelicalism and, I believe, far more at home in Islam or Mormonism than in anything even remotely resembling biblical Christianity.  This is at the heart of the issue as to why Johnson was forced out at SBTS.  Johnson believes that the wisdom of Scripture combined with insights from the science of psychology ought to form the basis of one’s approach to counseling.  Mohler, Lambert, and the rest of SBTS believe that the science of psychology has nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of counseling, that the Bible is the only tool in the toolbox and to believe otherwise is to denigrate the sufficiency of Scripture.

As Christians we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture.  But sufficient for what?  To lead us into a growing and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ?  Okay.  Much of evangelicalism is unwilling to stop there and, instead, insists on making the Bible into the final authoritative word on subjects about which the ancient writers knew absolutely nothing.  Such a view turns the Bible into a “magic book” and is squarely in line with the idea of the Koran dictated to Mohammed by an angel while he was in a trance, or the Book of Mormon inscribed on golden tablets brought to Joseph Smith by an angel.

Such a view, when applied to the discipline of counseling, leads to the idea that there is no behavioral/psychological problem so severe that it cannot be solved by just throwing some Bible verses at it.  You and I both know that is simply not the case.  Insisting on the Bible as the only tool in the toolbox and closing one’s ears to anything whatsoever that secular science might have to say does people a grave disservice.

Pat Robertson: Then and Now

If I were to set up a Google feed on Pat Robertson, this blog would write itself.

Not surprisingly, Robertson has weighed in on the presidentially-manufactured controversy surrounding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.  He ties it together with the Las Vegas shootings, general criticism of Donald Trump, and just a general air of disrespect all around:

Violence in the streets, ladies and gentlemen. Why is it happening? The fact that we have disrespect for authority; there is profound disrespect for our president, all across this nation they say terrible things about him. It’s in the news, it’s in other places. There is disrespect now for our national anthem, disrespect for our veterans, disrespect for the institutions of our government, disrespect for the court system. All the way up and down the line, disrespect.

Contrast this with his remarks just a year ago at about this time, brought to you by the good people over at Right Wing Watch:

This is representative of how Robertson spent much of the Obama administration.  Apparently, radical socialism and control over every aspect of every American’s life, imposed by a small group of political elites who supposedly know more about governing than all the rest of America is perfectly OK in his alternate universe, as long as it is our guys who are on top of the heap.

Let that sink in, people.  That is worthy of pondering.

A Tale of Two Christians

Today we are going to look at a tale of two Christians.  The contrast between the two is, I think, very illuminating and instructive as to where we are and what is valued in American Christianity nowadays.

Both are public figures, very public and very outspoken in their Christian commitments.  Both are professional athletes who excelled in their sport, though neither is actively playing now.  Both are active in philanthropy and in giving back to their respective communities.  Both have drawn massive amounts of public and media attention, though for different reasons.  Both were known for kneeling publicly at key moments in their games, though for different reasons (more on this later).  That is where the similarities end.

One is revered in American Christianity; the other is reviled.  One knelt publicly as an act of private prayer; the other as an act of public protest.

I think you can see where this is going.  One is Tim Tebow; the other is Colin Kaepernick.

Tim Tebow is the darling of American Christianity and especially American evangelicalism.  Evangelical young women want him; evangelical young men want to be him.  Tebow was a standout at Florida where he played on two national championship teams in three years; he went on to a not-quite-so-distinguished NFL career and is now playing minor league baseball.  Tebow is best known for his Bible verse eye black, his longstanding involvement with his father’s missions organization, and his outspoken commitments to pro-life and sexual purity until marriage.  His signature move, kneeling down in private prayer after a big score, is called “Tebowing”.  These things resonate in many parts of American evangelicalism.

Colin Kaepernick is the villain of American Christianity and especially American evangelicalism.  His name attracts a volume of disdain equal only to that of Satan himself.  It is impossible to speak sufficiently evil of him; the more evil you speak of him, the closer you are to God.  Kaepernick had been a standout at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.  But in 2016 he began to kneel during the performance of the national anthem, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and in protest of police violence against black people.  This attracted a boatload of vitriol; fans posted videos of burning his jersey, he was voted the most disliked player in the NFL, and he even received death threats.  He was blamed for a drop in NFL TV ratings due to fans boycotting because of his protests (NFL ratings were declining long before he started protesting but that’s beside the point).  And when he was cut by the 49ers, denunciation and ridicule among evangelicals was fast and furious.  God opposes the proud, they said.  Look how the mighty have fallen.

If you’re looking for proof that civil religion is back, here it is.  Think about it.  Civil religion has a creed:  the Pledge of Allegiance.  It has a Bible:  the Constitution.  It has a Cross:  the American flag.  It has a Savior:  The American military.  It has a hymn:  the national anthem.  All these things are idols before which all must bow.  Refuse to do so–no matter what your reasons–and you are eternally accursed; your condemnation was written about from the dawn of time.  Colin Kaepernick ran afoul of this dictum and has brought the denunciation of all of American evangelicalism upon himself.

Yet even more than this, the contrast between Tebow and Kaepernick reveals a bifurcation in American Christianity.  There are two distinct variations; each looks with distrust and disdain upon the other.  One is committed to personal salvation and private devotion; the other is committed to public activism and social/political transformation.  One is vehemently opposed to private sins like abortion and gay marriage; the other is equally vehement in its denunciation of public sins like racial discrimination.

The truth is, we need both.  Public activism is fruitless unless it is motivated by a spiritual root and a vital connection with the living God; private devotion is equally useless unless it results in a life of care and concern for others.  As Walter Brueggemann puts it, we should be “awed to heaven, rooted in earth”, able to “join the angels in praise, and keep our feet in time and place”.  We need the reality of a vital connection to God while recognizing that people are the heart of God’s care and concern and how one treats other people matters immensely to God.

Compare this with the American civil religion which is all over the place in American evangelicalism and which doesn’t give a shit how you treat other people as long as you stand when the national anthem is being played.