“Our Practices Keep Our Commitments Alive”

Today I direct your attention to a piece by Stephanie Paulsell at Christian Century entitled “Our Practices Keep Our Commitments Alive“.

The rise of the #metoo movement over the past year has brought to light numerous examples of men who professed to be pro-woman yet whose actions toward individual women revealed them to be anything but.  The moral is clear:  It is not enough to say that you are something, you also have to back it up with your actions.  Which means that in the present political climate, it is not enough to think our way out of it or profess our way out of it, we also have to practice our way out of it, deliberately and with intentionality.

There are many ways to do this in the public sphere.  But there is much to do in our private, day-to-day existence.  Paulsell gives several practical examples:  Make eye contact, say hi, and make small talk with people who are different from yourself.  Acknowledge these people and show them respect.  When you do that, they feel safe and experience belonging and connection.  When you do the opposite, when you avert your eyes or cross over to the other side of the street to avoid them, then they feel isolated and fearful, and with very good reason in the present political climate.

Other things you can do:  Don’t rely on the internet and social media so much; get out there in the real world and meet people face-to-face.  Go to places you haven’t been and meet new people.  Resist the urge to express yourself via the same old slogans and catchphrases everyone else is using, even those with whom you agree, but instead find new and fresh ways of expressing yourself.  Surround yourself with books and read vociferously:  read fiction, read the Bible, read history, and think deeply about how these things relate to the world in which we currently live.

These practices will help to transform not just our political culture but our faith communities as well.  Listening to sermons is all well and good but when we gather to be the Church by feeding the hungry and otherwise caring for the vulnerable among us, then we have the opportunity to practice being the people and communities that we are called to be.  Then our faith communities and our society will be transformed.

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Rachel Denhollander: There’s More to the Gospel than Forgiveness

Today I wish to direct your attention to a feature at Christianity Today on Rachel Denhollander, the first of disgraced doctor Larry Nassar’s victims to come forward and the last to give her impact statement at his trial.  The piece includes a lengthy interview with Denhollander in which she discusses her ordeal and how it affected her faith.

Denhollander’s statement drew significant attention in evangelical circles because it included an offer of forgiveness to Nassar.  Yet this was couched within the larger context of a plea for justice and repentance, which went largely unnoticed in the evangelical world.  This is one of the failings of evangelicalism with respect to sexual abuse:  Forgiveness is all that is discussed, as if the only thing that matters is the victim’s ability/willingness to forgive.  Little if any attention is given to justice or repentance on the part of the perpetrator.  The Sovereign Grace scandal was an example of this par excellence as many Neo-Reformed heavyweights rallied to the defense of C. J. Mahaney with no calls whatsoever for justice or repentance on his part.

Read:  My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness

RHE: I Would Fail Abraham’s Test

Today I wish to direct your attention to a post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog from a couple of years back.  She begins with a well-known story from Genesis in which Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Abraham goes through with it, but God intervenes at the last moment to spare Isaac.  A ram caught in a nearby thicket was sacrificed instead.

Abraham passed this test, proving himself faithful by not holding back even his firstborn son.  But how many of us would have failed this test?

This story is deeply troubling to anyone with even an ounce of conscience.  Yet there it is.  Those who set themselves up as defenders of the Almighty argue that whatever God orders, we have no business questioning it because He is God.  “It is right for God to slaughter women and children anytime He pleases…God is God!”  “Take your emotions out of it.  Don’t let your sense of justice be clouded by the man-centered humanism of our modernistic, relativistic culture.”  “It is not for you to elevate yourself to the place of God and pass judgment on His ways.  God is God.  You worship God because He is God!”

God is love, yet those who argue thusly would say in essence that in reality God is power, because God gets to define love however He pleases and it is not for us to question.  Even if such love looks nothing like what we would consider love.  Even if it looks like rape or abuse or genocide or child sacrifice.

If that is so, then everything is relativized.  Our moral compass is rendered completely unreliable.

RHE goes on to give several examples of people of strong religious conviction who nevertheless defied the rules–or found creative ways to work around them–for the sake of love.  She comes around at the end to the idea that the real test is not whether you would drive the knife through your child’s heart, as Abraham was poised to do with Isaac, but whether you would refuse.

Read:  I would fail Abraham’s test (and I bet you would too) by Rachel Held Evans

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.

Benjamin L. Corey on Christian “Ghosting”

Those of you who are not millennials or otherwise well-versed in the ways in which millennials express themselves via texting/social media have probably never heard the term “ghosting” with respect to interpersonal relationships.  But you can get an idea what it means:  To vanish like a ghost, suddenly and inexplicably, from another person’s life.

As noted in the previous post, today’s political/religious climate demands 100% agreement with every item of your respective party’s ideological platform because there are numerous special interests out there to enforce this and ensure that you feel the consequences if you dare to deviate.  In many parts of conservative evangelicalism, one of the consequences is “ghosting”.  This has been perfected to an art, long before ghosting ever became a thing in the broader culture or took on that name.  If you dare to deviate from your faith community’s party line on whatever issues are deemed to be of paramount importance (like gay marriage, abortion, or women in church leadership), it is not unheard of for close friends to cut off contact with you and vanish like ghosts from your life.  Some of you probably have stories to tell about this.

Today we are going to look at Benjamin L. Corey’s story.  Corey blogs at Formerly Fundie.  Corey was “ghosted” by his best friend and the Christian community of which they were a part.  It was a conservative, fundamentalist church community and Corey had begun to shift toward some positions which were at variance with the community’s ideology.  They couldn’t handle it, so they left him, and of course he was left having to deal with it himself and explain it all to his children.

For those of us who have tried to live out the Christian life while being open to allowing new information to shape and stretch what we believe, the reality is that at one time or another, we have friends who will ghost us.

Somehow, someway, too many Christian circles have failed to realize that we don’t have to be in complete agreement to be in a complete relationship.

And so, when theological agreement is not in harmony, there’s always at least one family who feels like some evil magician made their life disappear without notice or even a preemptive “abracadabra” to give us a bit of warning that life is about to change.

While we can’t control the actions of others, I do think we can do two things:

We can refuse to be the ones who do the ghosting.

And when it happens, we can practice praying, “Forgive them Father, for they don’t have the slightest effing’ clue as to the damage they’ve done.”

Read:  Christian Ghosting: The Destructive Christian Practice We Don’t Talk About by Benjamin L. Corey

Charles Featherstone: Church, Flagellate Thyself

Today I direct your attention to a piece by Charles Featherstone entitled “Church, Flagellate Thyself“.

One of the recurring themes in Featherstone’s writing is community and belonging.  In this piece he focuses on progressive Christianity (because that is the universe in which he lives) and the implicit assumption of many liberal churches, specifically Episcopal and Lutheran, that anyone with an ounce of sense would want to be part of their churches and if people don’t it is only because they have excluded them or failed to welcome them.  He cites the example of an Episcopal church where a conversation about adding a wheelchair ramp morphed into an outpouring of self-reproach for all the sins of white Christendom down through the ages.

Reality check:  Not everyone is called to be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran.  These churches can be as welcoming as they possibly can, and it still won’t alter the fact that not everyone has it in them to be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran.

Reality check, on a more fundamental level:  Not everyone has it in them to live the respectable bourgeois dream.  Believe it or not, some people live out on the margins of society because they actually want to be there.  It is where they feel safe.  It is where they feel like they actually belong.

The truth is, there are many reasons people do not want to be ELCA Lutherans that have absolutely nothing to do Lutherans failing to be welcoming or inclusive. It’s not necessarily about us. Even if we say we get the gospel right, in the end, people make choices for reasons that honestly have nothing to do with us.

Maybe some folks live on a margin because that’s where they feel comfortable, safe, and welcome. Because that’s where they know they belong. Margins should be safe, and not abolished.

Liberalism and progressivism, however, in its many forms, cannot abide marginality. And it cannot abide separateness either. All must belong to the one true community. Eventually, the progressive reaches for the cudgel. To force others if it can.

And if it can’t, to scourge itself.

Read:  Church, Flagellate Thyself by Charles Featherstone