Thinking Outloud: Atonement

I am only just beginning Greg Boyd’s massive 2 volume work, “Crucifixion of the Warrior God,” so I cannot speak exhaustibly to his argument, but I think the core issue raised by my fellow progressives is whether or not the OT sacrificial legal system of propitiation in itself is a human misunderstanding of the God-human relationship. When one examines the tribal God concept presented in the OT, then contrast that with the explicit universalism of the Gospel message, there is a definite disconnect.
To question the validity of the propitiatory nature of the OT view of atonement is difficult for most evangelicals due to certain presuppositions about the very nature of scripture itself. But the question we need to ask is, how much, if any, of the Jewish (OT) understanding of propitiation is carried over into the work of Christ on the Cross? That God is presented as wrathful in the OT, sometimes his anger is directed at the Israelites themselves, sometimes at Israel’s enemies, is clear. Does Jesus command for enemy love reflect a change in God’s attitude towards mankind, or does it reflect Jesus’ recognition that the Jews had got some things wrong?
Bearing in mind that much of the cultus surrounding the Hebrew sacrificial system was corporate, i.e., concerned with maintaining election as God’s chosen people, as opposed to the surrounding heathen nations, the prophet’s complaint that God desires “mercy not sacrifice,” is particularly telling. Is this not, a precursor to a growing understanding that God’s primary attitude towards mankind is not wrath at our sins, but love and mercy in spite of them? That God’s love extends to all mankind, not just Israel?
If God’s desire is inclined towards mercy rather than a legal transaction (justice and mercy are opposites), then the cross becomes, not a legal transaction where justice is served (killing an innocent is hardly justice), but becomes an indictment of the entire sacrificial system. The murder of the Son of God, by the very people who believe they are honoring God by doing so, becomes the ultimate religious absurdity, and underscores the failure of the entire system.
If this understanding is correct, then Jesus’ death is not a culmination of the Law, but a repudiation of the Law. The nails in Jesus’ hands and feet become the nails in the coffin lid of the Law. This, I believe, fits more easily into the drastic contrast that Paul makes between Law and Grace in his writings and explains Jesus’ sometimes cavalier attitude towards it. It is God’s no to sacrifice and scapegoating, and yes to mercy. It is why we live, not under the Law, but under Grace. Why, because the Law fails to bring about a change of heart. As we saw with the scribes and Pharisees, it only “washes the outside of the cup.”
Salvation is a love affair, not a legal transaction. PSA takes the romance out of the equation and makes God captive to his own holiness. His hands are tied. Someone has to die.

Sh**hole Countries and Nationalism

As of late, the President, as well as the Republican Party as a whole, has made it very clear, through their policies on immigration, expensive border walls, refugees and breaks for the wealthiest Americans, that they are “tribalists.” Tribalism is America’s “original sin,” brought over to the Colonies from Europe and perpetuated by our Founding Fathers and clearly seen in the American ideal of Manifest Destiny and America’s attempts toward global domination, both economically and militarily. You will often hear that racism is America’s original sin, but that is really a manifestation of tribalism.

In America, as in many other nations, tribalism is wrapped in the guise of patriotism, flag waving and anthem singing. Nationalism is tribalism on a grand scale. Nationalism, as President Trump’s recent comments on refusing immigration from “sh**hole” countries, reflects the elitism that accompanies nationalism, i.e., you can’t believe America is the “greatest nation on earth” and not look down on “lesser” nations.

While keeping our nation safe, securing borders and protecting our interests abroad is one of the primary functions of government, it is not the function of the church. In fact, most of the functions of government are DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED to the Kingdom of God. This is why it is so dangerous for the church to identify itself unreservedly with nationalism and patriotism.

No one is more “patriotic” than a Franklin Graham or a Jerry Falwell. Theirs and many other evangelical leaders like Wayne Grudem’s unabashed support of Trump and republican politics puts evangelicals in the awkward position of standing behind and supporting Nationalism, racism and in opposition to basic human rights. I am not saying that Christians should be non-political but clear distinctions should be made as to what we as Christians wish to represent. Do we clamor for war or work for peace, for example. In the case of Trump’s attitude towards non-white immigration and refugee admittance, do we stand on the side of the oppressed and poor…even if our nation does not benefit directly, or are we to be known as siding with a self serving government.

Of course, not all evangelicals, nor, indeed all Republicans indorse or are happy with President Trump. Nor does wishing to secure America’s borders or have immigration reform immediately label one as as a Nationalist or a right-wing supremest. But when evangelical leadership repeatedly makes excuses, is silent or outrightly agrees with Trump’s posturing the message the world receives is that evangelicals are racist and xenophobic.

If evangelicals wish to counter this perception, there is work to be done. The same outrage and relentless condemnation evangelicals showed the last president, a respectable black man, needs to be shown the current president, a wealthy, sexist and racist white man. Currently only a minority of evangelicals seem to be grasping this fact, even while republican politicians are having second thoughts about Trump. Whether this is indeed possible remains to be seen. If evangelicals can hold their leadership more accountable, calling them out when they are clearly in conflict of the teachings of Christ, the evangelical community may repair their image problems.

In conclusion, progressive Christians are often accused of pandering to current social movements, thereby losing the ability to confront the evils within society. While there may be some truth to that, evangelicals need to realize that complete identity with white conservative politics also removes objectivity and the ability to have a prophetic impact on society.

Sunday Meditations: Hope of an Afterlife

Letters to the Next Creation

I’ve been a little blog silent for a while.  The series on how ethics are pursued in the Bible (and beyond) was an intensive effort for me, and I was all meditated out.

When I was in college, I asked a guy in my Intro. to Philosophy class if he would still be a Christian even if he would still end up in Hell.  After class, he caught me on my way out and said, “Probably not.”  That kind of honesty is what spurs good spiritual growth.

The ideas around what happens to us after we die are a big part of the messaging in the evangelical world, today.  The entire story of God and His people is told in a way that orients it around what is perceived to be the key problem: sinners who die go to Hell.  This begs a solution: Jesus paid the penalty for your…

View original post 1,083 more words

“The Bible Tells Me So,” So What’s With Pete Enns and Progressive Christians Anyway?

On the religious blogging site, Patheos, questions arise about progressivism quite often. A fellow poster there asked if it might not be a good idea to bring some questions he had about the epistemology (underlying truth claims or rationale for belief) of postconservative and progressive Christian thought. We have both read a number of progressive authors and I have agreed to start a discussion here on an excellent intro to progressive thought, Peter Enns’ book, “The Bible Tells Me So.”

For Christians brought up thinking a certain way about the Bible, postconservative and progressive attitudes toward Holy Writ may seem disturbing or a weakening of the basis for Christian belief. Typical of progressive thought, Enns begins chapter one by questioning those presuppositions typical of evangelicalism:

“Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instruction manual—follow the directions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force.

If anyone challenges this view, the faithful are taught to ‘defend the Bible’ against these anti-God attacks. Problem solved.

That is until you actually read the Bible. Then you see that this rulebook view of the Bible is like a knockoff Chanel handbag—fine as long as its kept at a distance, away from curious and probing eyes.

What I discovered, and what I want to pass a long to you, in this book, is that this view of the Bible does not come from the Bible but from an anxiety over protecting the Bible and so regulating the faith of those who read it.” (Chapter 1, pp. 3-4)

So without further ado, I open the discussion up to anyone who has read Enns and wishes to join the discussion of his views. Hopefully we can have a fruitful discussion. Thank you.

 

 

Christians and the 2nd Amendment: An Unholy Obsession

April, 2008, Barack Obama, angered many conservative midwesterners by saying

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

At the time I was still processing what would later become a rejection of conservative Christianity, but at that particular moment I was still “clinging” to a fair amount of my conservative heritage. Like many conservative Christians, I was outraged by the comment. Since then, and many mass shootings since, I have become acutely aware of the truth in President Obama’s observation. American Christians have an unholy obsession with the second amendment. Owning a gun for the majority of Christians and conservatives in general, has shifted from a hunting hobby to a perceived need for “protection.” (1)

The merger of conservative Christianity and conservative American political ideology is so complete, it has become increasingly difficult to tell them apart. While my conservative friends and my nemeses on the blogs will be quick to point out that my Christian support of liberal causes is no different than their support of conservative ones, there is a difference, however. Conservatism and conservative Christianity preserves the status quo, it stifles change and resists reform. In short, conservative Christianity has joined the powers of Babylon. As Brian Zahnd has observed,

“America is many things. It’s a country, a culture, an empire, and a religion. As a country and culture America can often be respected, admired, and celebrated. But as an empire and religion, America is a rival to Christ. One of the reasons that Christian discipleship is so difficult in America is that we are trying to make disciples of people who are already thoroughly discipled into a rival religion. You can either operate under a governing philosophy of America first or you can seek first the kingdom of God, but you can’t do both. To claim otherwise is to either tacitly or explicitly claim that Christ is a servant of the American cause. But as Karl Barth (who knew a thing or two about the dangers of Christian nationalism) taught us, Christ cannot serve some other cause, Christ can only rule.” (2)

On the other hand, liberalism is never satisfied with status quo, nor is it ever “at home” with the current political regime. Progressive Christianity is counter-cultural, regardless of the naysayers who accuse it of bowing to current cultural ideology. It is subversive to those movements which seek to bolster abusive power structures.

One such power structure is the NRA and the American gun lobby. The NRA has identified itself so successfully with the dogma that owning a gun is patriotic, that conservatives opine that any talk of restricting that ownership is tantamount to treason. Since patriotism has become so completely entangled with Christianity among conservatives, they follow blindly along with the narrative. This toxic blend of blind patriotism and gun ownership among Christians has created a dangerous climate in America, the ugly results of which we see on an almost daily basis.

Instead of seeking a reduction of the vast arsenal of guns in the hands of civilians, conservative Christians claim more guns will make us safer, despite the evidence to the contrary. For example the recent statement by Jerry Falwell, Jr. that students should be allowed to carry guns on the Liberty campus:

“…if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in, …I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course, Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” (3)

Not only is this rhetoric contrary to the calling to be peacemakers in the Bible, but it is based on faulty evidence. The research relied on by the NRA is too small a sample and too old to be reliable:

“The rhetoric that credits guns with reducing violence draws largely on a 1995 analysis titled ‘Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun’ by Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University. Kleck estimated at 2.2 to 2.5 million the occasions when a gun might have been used in self-defence. That 2.5 million is the figure most often quoted by the National Rifle Association. It’s the data that forms the scientific bedrock for VCDL, and organizations like it, to claim that guns save lives. But are its data and conclusions reliable?” (4) the estimate was based on a telephone survey of less than 5000 people, 213 of which claimed they’d used a gun in self defense. Based on that small sample, Kleck estimated there were up to 2.5 million self defense cases a year involving firearms.

On the contrary, gun proliferation has been shown to INCREASE rather than decrease gun violence in most studies. The 2010 Violence Policy Center study showed that in 2010 for every defensive gun use there were 36 criminal uses. According to the long range study by the Boston University School of Public Health conducted between 1981 and 2010, the states with higher levels of gun ownership showed significantly higher numbers of gun related deaths. Researchers in an article for the American Journal of Public Health predicted that if Mississippi’s gun ownership rate went down from 76.8% to 57.7%, it’s gun related deaths would decline by 17%. (4)

What conservative Christians fail to to understand is the corruption behind the gun lobby and the NRA. There is a dark side to all the talk of patriotism and constitutional rights:

“That wholesome public relations veneer masks something deeply sinister and profoundly destructive. There is no other way to say this: The N.R.A. funds domestic terrorism.
A shadow government exists in the world of gun sales, and the people who write gun regulations are the very people who profit from gun sales. The N.R.A. would like to keep it that way.
Just this week, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on a measure that would loosen restrictions on gun silencers and armor-piercing bullets (the vote was indefinitely postponed after the Las Vegas massacre). It’s not hard to learn about how millions of N.R.A. dollars have spread throughout Congress to influence that vote.“ (5)

The church needs to stand up to those that facilitate violence, to speak with one voice against the organizations and businesses that seek profit over public safety. The church needs to separate itself from Babylon, as Brian Zahnd reminds us:

“From birth every American has been formed by the dominant script that Walter Brueggemann identifies as “technological therapeutic military consumerism.” But Christians are those who have embraced the subversive counter-script of the cross. It’s not the task of the church to “make America great again.” The contemporary task of the church is to make Christianity countercultural again. Once we untether Jesus from the interests of empire, we begin to see just how countercultural and radical Jesus’ ideas actually are:

Enemies? Love them.
Violence? Renounce it.
Money? Share it.
Foreigners? Welcome them.
Sinners? Forgive them.

These are the kind of radical ideas that will always be opposed by the principalities and powers, but which the followers of Jesus are called to embrace, announce, and enact. The degree to which the church is faithful to Jesus and his radical ideas is the degree to which the church embodies a faith that is truly countercultural.” (6)

 

1 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/24/5-facts-about-the-nra-and-guns-in-america/

2 https://brianzahnd.com/2017/10/postcards-from-babylon/

3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/12/05/liberty-university-president-if-more-good-people-had-concealed-guns-we-could-end-those-muslims/?utm_term=.582485e01081

4 https://aeon.co/essays/the-us-gun-lobby-says-that-guns-save-lives-do-they

5 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/opinion/rosanne-cash-country-musicians-nra.html

6 https://brianzahnd.com/2017/10/postcards-from-babylon/

Is Evangelicalism a White Nationalist Movement?

I am appropriating a post by Fred Clark that he posted on Patheos’s Slacktivist blog just after last year’s election of Donald Trump, who’s only qualifications for POTUS were that he was White and wealthy.

Original post here:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2016/11/09/white-evangelicalism-is-white-nationalism/#disqus_thread

While I know a good many wonderful conservative evangelicals who would not dream of calling themselves “racist,” having grown up in the evangelical environment I have seen my fair share of racism, usually disguised as a concern for “law and order” or the belief that non-whites are somehow lazier than Whites. Due to a certain degree of cognitive dissonance, White evangelicals are very resistant to any suggestion that racism, both implicit and explicit, has played a part in the development of conservative evangelicalism. This is due in large part to both ignorance of the history of evangelicalism/fundamentalism in America, and the acceptance of the evangelical revisionism of American history as a true account.

The degree to which individuals share in the racism behind the evangelical movement, of course varies with individuals and their awareness of said racism. I, for example, as an evangelical, fell into many of the standard reductionist views of Blacks and poor people that my conservative evangelical friends and fellow parishioners held. I, like other evangelicals, was almost totally ignorant of anything other than a White world view.

America is rapidly changing, and it is not a White America that we are seeing arising out of it’s racist past. For many Whites this is deeply troubling, for a chapter of American history where Whites controlled everything is coming to a close. In the future there will not be a White America, period. It is this realization that has fed the xenophobic election of Mr. Trump, a last ditch effort to shore up a crumbling edifice of isolationism, nativism and White privilege.

As Fred Clark has stated: “White evangelicalism yesterday performed the purpose for which it was designed: It elected a white nationalist as president. This was not a failure, but a success. This was not a side effect or an accident or a collateral consequence. This was not the end of white evangelicalism, but the culmination of its purpose, its origin, its intent. White evangelicalism is white nationalism. This is what it is, and always has been, for.”

Mr. Clark then goes on to argue convincingly, that when overt racism within the fundamentalist and evangelical camp became too obvious prior to Jerry Fallwell’s Moral Majority (and Bob Jones University I might add) in the 1970’s, a change of focus became necessary for evangelicals to claim the moral higher ground, as building on a history of resistance to civil rights became increasingly difficult to sell to America. Hence, anti-abortion became the new crusade and litmus test for true evangelicalism:

“But then came calamity — the Civil Rights Movement turned America upside-down and exposed the disgraceful evil of segregationist white evangelicalism for all to see…White evangelicalism was laid bare as white nationalism in all its ugly glory. It’s claims of moral authority and moral superiority were proved to be a sham. White evangelicalism lost all credible claim to the moral high ground, and that dealt a heavy blow to its political agenda of white nationalism.”

I would add, the election of a Catholic President, JFK, in the 1960’s had cut off access to the Oval Office by evangelicals, a privilege they had enjoyed for decades. Something had to be done. Evangelical influence in Politics was slipping.

As Mr. Clark puts it, “The only thing to do, then, was to change the subject. And so, with stunning abruptness, white evangelicals adopted a second, and suddenly non-negotiable defining doctrine: anti-abortionism.

“This was new and alien. White evangelicals had mostly applauded Roe v. Wade, regarding anti-abortion views as a peculiarly Catholic mistake. The prevailing attitude among white evangelicals, on the rare occasions they thought about it at all, was similar to the prevailing attitude in Judaism — that a developing fetus has great value and moral significance as a potential person, but that this value and significance did not equal the full personhood of infants or adults”

“That belief — the majority opinion among white evangelicals as recently as the mid-1970s — was soon to become anathema. After Nixon’s failed presidency failed to reverse the losses for white nationalism, white evangelicals pulled a 180 and embraced anti-abortionism as their path to regaining moral legitimacy. This would be their ticket to reclaiming the pretense of the moral high ground while still continuing to promote a political agenda of white nationalism.
It’s simple, really: Redefine abortion as baby-killing and you redefine everyone who supports it as a baby-killer. And you’re always guaranteed to hold the moral high-ground compared to a bunch of baby-killers, even if you’re a white nationalist. Who’s worse? Segregationists? Or baby-killers? The baby-killers, obviously. They kill babies. It’s murder.”

“No white evangelical born before 1970 grew up believing this. No white evangelical born after 1980 grew up not believing this.”

“So now white evangelicals were no longer in the morally indefensible position of explicitly defending segregation and white nationalist politics. Now they were able to regard and portray themselves as moral champions battling against Satanic baby-killers, just as earlier generations of segregationist, pro-slavery, white-nationalist white evangelicals regarded and portrayed themselves as moral champions battling against those who disrespected “the Bible.”

Clark continues: “…white evangelicals again voted for white nationalism. They supported a candidate who explicitly and unambiguously made white nationalism the centerpiece and driving passion of his campaign. The fig-leaf for this support was abortion. And once again we are asked to believe — after centuries defending slavery, segregation and Jim Crow — that it was only about abortion, and that the 100-percent correlation between this anti-abortion politics and white nationalist politics is just an unfortunate and unforeseen coincidence.”

Unfortunately, many good, loving people were duped by the shell game performed by the Republican Party. In the remote chance that Trump would appoint a SCOTUS that would turn Roe v Wade around, a Faustian bargain was made that ignored the poor, refugees, women, minorities, the LGBTQ community and rights for the disabled and other disenfranchised individuals. America will remember this deal with the devil for decades to come. It does not bode well for evangelicals.

 

Saturday Meditations: The Jerusalem Council Statement

Enjoyed the paraody of the Nashville Statement. Shared a link to this on Patheos’s Evangelical forum about the Nashville Statement, you may get some traffic 😉

Letters to the Next Creation

Preamble

“Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves…” Psalm 100:3

Faithful Jews at the dawn of the first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Judean culture has become increasingly pagan and Greco-Roman and God’s Spirit is now being poured out upon Gentiles as well as Jews who have faith in Christ, they have embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being in covenant with God. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for His followers. Many deny that God created Saturday to be a day of rest or instituted circumcision or created animals clean and unclean for His glory, and that His good purposes for us include our personal and physical commitment to abstain…

View original post 1,554 more words