Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Harping Hypocrites? pt. 2


Recall from last week that the above image appeared on a Facebook friend’s page and it fostered a discussion which was both spirited and misguided.  Once again, the two basic recurring premises were these:
1) The church should stop harping on the sin of homosexuality, treating it as worse than all others. 
2) Because of rampant divorce in the church, the church has lost its moral authority to speak to the issue of gay marriage, and to continue to do so is the height of hypocrisy. 
Having already addressed the first premise, let’s proceed to the second. In my estimation the second notion is even more wrong-headed than the first. 
The church shouldn’t speak against gay marriage because divorced folks have the audacity to attend worship services? How does one answer such illogic? 
Is the subject of greed taboo with all the registered Republicans and overzealous ushers afoot? Perhaps we shouldn’t address drunkenness or sexual lusts because our churches sometimes contain closet-Episcopalians and public school-teenagers.   
In other words, the idea that we cannot speak of certain sins due to sinning saints is ill-begotten. The opposite is true. Because the church is filled with sinners we must never cease to talk of sin, repentance, and forgiveness. Sinners—especially Christian ones—need to be reminded of God’s law and Gospel. 
Aside from all this, I’ve often wondered: What do our detractors want us to do with people who’ve experienced the heartbreak of divorce? Dis-fellowship them? Maybe quarantine them from the more “righteous” parishioners—a Sunday separation akin to “children’s church”?   
What about divorce and moral authority? Are we to believe the church’s moral authority rises as its divorce rate falls? Imagine someone saying: “Well my church can talk about the sin of gay marriage all day long because we kick divorcees to the curb like it’s nobody’s business. We’re holy like that.” This is no standard of righteousness. 
Furthermore, and more fundamental, do we speak of the sin of homosexuality (or any other sin for that matter) based upon the moral authority of the church, in and of itself? I think not. 
The church is not its own moral authority. The moral authority of the church is derivative and it does not rise or fall. The church’s moral authority comes from sacred scripture. We appeal to the undiminished authority of God’s word in matters of faith and conduct—not to the lives of individual Christians. 
Nevertheless, should we be concerned with how the unbelieving world perceives the church? Indeed we should. Should we eschew even the appearance of hypocrisy? Of course! But should we abandon teaching biblical morality—as it pertains to marriage and other things—because Christians often falter and fail? No, absolutely not.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Harping Hypocrites?

The above image appeared on a Facebook friend’s page. The conversation that ensued (which I did not participate in) was predictably as spirited as it was misguided. 

The two basic recurring premises were these: 

1) The church should stop harping on the sin of homosexuality, treating it as worse than all others. 

2) Because of rampant divorce in the church, the church has lost its moral authority to speak to the issue of gay marriage, and to continue to do so is the height of hypocrisy. 

Let’s consider the assumptions in both positions. 

First, is the church “harping” on the sin of homosexuality? Maybe some churches are. I’m not aware of them, but it’s possible. Yet it seems that those churches or denominations which do from time-to-time focus on homosexuality (though not necessarily on Sunday mornings) aren't exactly  monolithic.  

That is, when the subject comes up in such churches or synods—say at a national convention or something—those who speak the most are often preaching for the acceptance of homosexuality not the sin of it. Thus, if the church is indeed “harping” on the issue, it’s harping out of both sides of its mouth. 

Even so, is the church driving and framing our national conversation about homosexuality? I don’t believe it is. The church is far from the only cultural shaping institution. And it’s nowhere near the most influential.  

At best the church is attempting to be responsive. But make no mistake, the driving and framing forces of our societal obsession with homosexuality are the institutions of media (news/entertainment), government (politics and the use of force [law]), and education 

The church isn’t controlling the conversation. It’s awash in it. It’s not “harping.” It’s swimming. Many would prefer the church’s drowning to its swimming. Others, not so angry, would rather see a “dead man’s float” than an actual dead man. But when it comes to a national conversation, this may be a distinction without a difference. 

We’ll consider the assumptions of premise number 2 next time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Maher, Muslims, & Myopia

Only under the rarest of circumstances will you hear me say this: I agree with Bill Maher 

However, an atheist acquaintance of mine disagrees with him (which just goes to show that atheist fundamentalists—like religious fundamentalists—don’t always see eye-to-eye.) 

She actually compares ISIS and Islam to “The Lord’s Resistance Army” and Christianity. And she isn’t trying to be funny. Still, I find the comparison laughable. Like Charlie Rose (see the video above), she is firmly committed to the notion that all religions are the same and that when it comes to violence there is no real difference between Christianity and Islam, or the Bible and the Qur’an.  

She offers: “If I were to highlight the violence in the Bible, I'd need a new highlighter.” While such a statement is red meat to likeminded atheist fundamentalists, it lacks serious thought and is utterly devoid of nuance.  

The Bible does indeed contain a lot of horrific violence. However, there is a universe of difference between that which is descriptive and that which is prescriptive. I am unaware of a single biblical passage which calls individual Christians to practice physical violence.  

Such cannot be said of the Qur’an and Islam. Many if not most Imams, past and present, understand Jihad to be prescriptive in the Qur’an. That is, the Qur’an—from start to finish—calls Muslims to strive for Allah. This striving, this Jihad, includes (though it is by no means limited to) physical violence. 

Even so, my atheist friend clings to her beliefs regarding Islam and the Qur’an despite a world of evidence—past and present—to the contrary. If such blind devotion to belief doesn’t evince fundamentalism, what does?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


These days I am more and more appreciative of leftovers—the ones in my Bible not my fridge (I’ve always enjoyed those). The idea of “leftovers” comes from Christian Smith. 

Leftover texts are outliers; they are incongruous and glitchy. For whatever reason, they are uncomfortable for the believers of the paradigms for which they are anomalous.  . . . those that are anomalous for one paradigm often turn out to be core texts in a different paradigm. What is leftover to one framework is fundamental to another (Christian Smith, “The Bible Made Impossible,” p. 44).  

In other words, whichever system one adheres to (Calvinism, Molinism, Arminianism—or any other “ism”) there are multitudes of verses and/or passages which do not seem to “fit” within the system—leftovers 

Unfortunately, folks who become intellectually and even emotionally committed to a specific theological framework, tend to ignore, downplay, explain away, or “shoehorn” leftovers in the name of systematic consistency (this is affectionately dubbed “sola systema”).  

I’m presently at a place where I don’t feel compelled to “synthesize” or “reconcile” every single text to other texts or to any particular theological paradigm. I’m increasingly comfortable with letting the texts of scripture speak for themselves.  

Said another way, I feel no compulsion to (as my friend, Charlie Harris, says) "flatten" scripture. I'm trying to purposefully let the sacred text speak in its own bumpy terms, with its own unresolved tensions. I'm not concerned to try to tame the text or to wrap everything in a nice, neat little bow. Life isn't like that. Neither is scripture. 

We have to deal with antinomy in the biblical revelation . . . An antinomy exists when a pair of principles stand side by side, seemingly irreconcilable, yet both undeniable. There are cogent reasons for believing each of them; each rests on clear and solid evidence; but it is a mystery to you how they can be squared with each other. You see that each must be true on its own, but you do not see how they can both be true together. . . . Such a necessity scandalizes our tidy mind, no doubt, but there is no help for it if we are to be loyal to the facts.  

 . . . An antinomy is neither dispensable nor comprehensible. . . . It is unavoidable, and it is insoluble. We do not invent it, and we cannot explain it. . . . What should one do, then, with an antinomy? Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. . . . This is how antinomies must be handled, whether in nature or in Scripture. (J. I. Packer, “Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God,” p.p. 18-19, 21). 

Thus, the Bible leaves us with tensions. It puts forward antinomies. It has been said, "A religion without mystery is a religion without God." I think this is true.  

So rather than solving mysteries I’m savoring antinomies—and the leftovers ain’t bad.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Atheist Fundamentalism

The question of the future role of religion in the West is far too important to leave to the fanatics or to atheist fundamentalists. (Alister and Joanna McGrath, “The Dawkins Delusion?” p.83) 

The dark and aggressive tone of the new atheism critique of religion suggests that fanaticism may not be limited to the ranks of those who defend religion. (Alister McGrath, “Mere Theology,” p. 124) 

It has been observed that a fanatic “is someone who feels more strongly about something than I do.” Thus we may hear or say something akin to, “Well, sure, I like sports but that guy’s a fanatic…I would never wear face-paint at a preseason game!” 

But most often, when we hear or read the terms fanatic and fundamentalist, we envision folks who are overly zealous but not overly thoughtful in regards to their beliefs—particularly if those beliefs are religious in nature.  

Even so, it is becoming increasingly clear that atheist fundamentalism is every bit as unthinking, intolerant, aggressive, and fanatical as the religious variety.  

We do not wish to reply in kind to the aggressive and sometimes vitriolic attacks on faith that are found in some of today’s “new atheism” which is often quite fundamentalist (to use a word they love to level at us) in its dogmatic unbelief and which is sometimes remarkably intolerant of those who are, as they would say, so silly and naïve as to “still” believe nowadays. (David J. Randall, “Why I Am Not An Atheist,” p. 9) 

Atheist fundamentalists are irrationally hostile towards the Christian faith. But what would happen if Richard Dawkins and his ilk were to successfully rid the world of Christianity?  

Would an irreligious world enjoy a golden age of atheist utopia? Hardly! Nevertheless, despite the evidence, this is certainly what atheist fundamentalists dream of or…Imagine. Atheist fundamentalists (you may say they are dreamers) habitually ignore the undeniable facts of history.  

In one of his more bizarre creedal statements as an atheist, Dawkins insists that there is “not the smallest evidence” that atheism systematically influences people to do bad things. This is an astonishing, naïve and somewhat sad statement. Dawkins is clearly . . . disconnected from the real and brutal world of the twentieth century. . . . He has a fervent, unquestioning faith in the universal goodness of atheism which he refuses to subject to critical examination. (Alister McGrath, “Mere Theology,” p. p. 130, 131) 

Fundamentalisms are often dangerous—atheist fundamentalism is no exception. When religious convictions are gotten rid of, other convictions become transcendent and take their place. And when one thinks about it—whether one loses one’s head to Allah or to liberty—one is just as dead.