At first I thought it must be a strange coincidence and that it couldn’t be by the Painter of Light™ since it depicts people in the picture. But then I was looking to see if he had ever painted a castle before and was surprised to find this:
[Note: Although I originally posted this on the First Thoughts blog, I thought I'd add it here too. We need something controversial to discuss that isn't about torture and this seems likely to stir up debate.]
Eight churches have been attacked over three days amid a dispute over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, sparking fresh political instability that is denting Malaysia’s image as a moderate and stable Muslim-majority nation.
Many Muslims are angry about a Dec. 31 High Court decision overturning a government ban on Roman Catholics’ using “Allah” to refer to their God in the Malay-language edition of their main newspaper, the Herald.
The ruling also applies to the ban’s broader applications such as Malay-language Bibles, 10,000 copies of which were recently seized by authorities because they translated God as Allah. The government has appealed the verdict.
Firebombing a church is an absurd overreaction and reflects poorly on the both the Muslims involved and those Malaysians who quietly condone the action. But what I find most perplexing about the story is that Christians would want to use the term Allah to refer to God.
One of the qualities of Islam I most admire is how its believers are not prone to fall for New Age clichés wrapped in the language of tolerance. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said for many Christians.
The idea that the children of Abraham use different names while speaking about the same “God” is one that is considered blasphemous to Muslims. Islam claims that there is only one name for God—Allah. Therefore, any other names—Yahweh, Christ—refer to a “false god” or idol. Their reasoning is sound.
While I’m hesitant to jump into the ongoing debate here (I’ve already got my hands full discussing the issue on the First Thoughts blog) I wanted to add a clarification and a question:
Clarification: John Mark defines torture as “intending to inflict permanent psychological or physical harm to a man in order to break his will and get information from him that he does not wish to give us.”
I have to take issue with his inclusion of the word permanent. Almost everyone I’ve talked to in this debate seems to think that permanency of effect is part of the word’s meaning. But none of the domestic or international documents that the U.S. subscribes to define the term in that way—and for good reason: it would preclude many acts that we would normally consider to be torture.
Take, for instance, the most common example used when talking about torture: putting bamboo under a person’s fingernails. This action causes no permanent damage; is it therefore not torture? And what about other forms of physical damage that are not permanent? Broken bones and cuts heal over time. Does that mean we can use clubs and knives during interrogations?
Also, proving that an act causes permanent psychological damage is nearly impossible. How do we know how a particular person will be affected? Many people who endure rape or sexual abuse are not permanently scarred. Are we therefore justified in using rape as an interrogation technique in extreme emergencies?
Question: I’m curious to hear why, if torture is allowed by the state, that it’s use can only be justified on foreigners and not on our own citizens. Capturing terrorist who have knowledge of actions that will cause future loss of life are rare. But the police capture criminals every day who have knowledge that could prevent the deaths of innocents. Why don’t we allow the police to torture them?
We often justify the use of torture in the hypothetical ticking bomb scenarios of terrorism. Yet these are actual situations in which the state could protect the innocent on a daily basis. How do we justify the use of torture against terrorists but not against criminals? Why is saving lives in one situation right and in the other wrong? (I’m speaking of the morality, not just the legality of such actions.)
Christianity Today recently added a regular feature called “Who’s Next” that highlights younger evangelicals who are pursuing interesting projects, and to introduce them and their goals to their readers. The first interview—now online—is by one of the sharpest young intellectuals in evangelicalism, our own Matthew Anderson.
He’s too humble to mention it here but at his excellent blog, Mere Orthodoxy, Matthew announced he’s signed with Bethany House to write a book on the meaning and role of the body in young evangelicalism. The working title is Body Matters: Overcoming the New Gnosticism of Young Evangelicals.
Can we just stop people in the church from using terms like “gospel-focused” or “gospel-centered” for the next couple of years? It seems this has been the terminology du jour much in the same way that there used to be “Christ-centered” or “Bible-based” as these good-sounding but ill-defined adjectives that various strains of evangelicals have applied to themselves, their churches, or whatever for no real reasons other than the terms sound good and give people good feelings.
What do you think? Has the phrase become less useful as it has become more ubiquitous?
Jordan Ballor has an intriguing post on “the relationship between the church’s approach to charity and the creation of the welfare state” as discussed in Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef 1980 book, The Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship:
DeKoster and Berghoef argue in “The Church and the Welfare State” that “The Church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” But they also contend that the diaconal office is the key to answering the challenge posed by the welfare state: “The Church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems. IF enough deacons caught the vision!”
The church helped to bring about the welfare state in two ways. First, the Church embodied the idea of loving self-sacrifice in service of others. “The Word which the Church proclaims demands charity and justice for the poor. As this Word has permeated at least the Western world, an alerted public conscience has demanded public welfare,” write DeKoster and Berghoef. “The Church is the parent of the welfare community.”
But this “welfare community” became secularized when the Church “did not, and perhaps in some respects could not, measure up to her own ideals. Not all the starving were fed, not all of the homeless given shelter, not all of the oppressed and exploited relieved. The cries of the needy ascended to heaven. The Lord answered with the welfare state. The government undertakes to do what the Church demands and then fails to achieve by herself.”
In this sense, the welfare state is understood to be God’s preservational (thus imperfect) answer to the failed duty of the Church:
Thus the Church is, both by commission and by omission, author of the welfare state. Deacons start from here. Government has undertaken to do what conscience, tutored out of the Scriptures, demands but fails, through the Church, entirely to achieve.
For the past two weeks I’ve been pondering what to say in response to Shane Claiborne’s essay in Esquire magazine, “What If Jesus Meant All That Stuff?” I met Shane a few months ago and was very impressed by him, so I was excited then to see that Esquire chose him as the “Radical Christian” for their 2009 list of the “Best and Brightest.”
I don’t always agree with Shane’s solutions, but I do share his passion for social issues. We also agree—I think completely—on the need to share the good news of Christ with a lost world. When I read his essay, though, I was disappointed. There was no requirement for him to use the essay to share the gospel, but he did—and I think he flubbed it.
The realization that I likely would not have done any better, though, made me hesitant to say anything about it. Fortunately, blogging is one of the few areas in life where procrastination can be beneficial. Usually if I put off writing something long enough, someone else will come along and say it better than I ever could have. Such is the case with Kevin DeYoung’s latest post. Although he doesn’t mention Shane by name (I don’t even know if Kevin read his article) he addresses all of the concerns I had with this type of gospel presentation. (more…)
I have a confession to make: Often when I read Christian blogs (including this one) I have absolutely no idea what in the world the people are talking about. No clue. At all.
Maybe it’s that despite being an evangelical for over thirty years I still don’t quite comprehend evangelicalese (a distinct possibility). Maybe it’s that I’m not that bright (which is a certainty). Or maybe—just maybe—these well-intentioned bloggers are failing to actually communicate with their audience because they are using words and concepts in a way that casts more shadows than light.
I’ll give you one recurring, though nonspecific, example. I often read a lot of vague musing about Gospel and Law. Gospel, in these posts, is an ill-defined term that represents all that is good and holy. If you have the Gospel then you have everything and are doing it right since you’re not really doing anything at all (Jesus does all the work). Law, on the other hand, is an ill-defined term that represents all that is bad and wrong with Christianity. The law is a nasty thing that some Christians (mainly people the blogger doesn’t like) are shoving down people’s throats, leading to all manner of evils and causing them to miss out on the Gospel. From what I can tell, the Gospel is so effective at washing away sin that we can pretty much ignore it completely—both in our lives and in the world. Too much concern about sin means that we are focused on the Law. (Oddly the term “sanctification” rarely enters these discussions at all, though it would seem to have some bearing.)
I read these types of posts and then I read the Bible and then I get thoroughly confused. These are generally godly men and women who are well-versed in the Bible and theology. They have a richness and depth of understanding that I will likely never possess. But for some reason I can’t get quite connect the dots between what scripture says and what they are saying. Reading their posts is like watching a 3-D movie without the special glasses; I can make out vaguely familiar shapes but the whole isn’t recognizable.
I realize this is a maddeningly vague complaint and that my example is an inadequate representation for what I’m trying to describe. I also acknowledge that the misunderstanding may be completely due to my own deficiencies and failings. But if its not, then it means there are other people who are similarly confused. They are likely thinking that they are the only ones who are missing the point and that they are just too dumb to understand this heady theological stuff.
Are there such people or am I the only one? And if there are more of us, how can we communicate our confusion so that others will be able to better explain what they mean?
The Manhattan Declaration is a 4,732-word statement signed by a movement of Orthodox, Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders who are collaborating around moral issues of great concern. Its signers affirm the sanctity of human life, marriage as defined by the union of one man and one woman, and religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The Manhattan Declaration endorses civil disobedience under certain circumstances.
The original 148 signatories include 14 Roman Catholic bishops, 2 Eastern Orthodox bishops, 20 presidents and 19 faculty members from seminaries and college—including our own Russell Moore—46 leaders of various ministries, 22 pastors, 10 magazine editors and publishers (including First Things editor Joseph Bottum), and various other luminaries.
First Things has posted the text here. You can sign the declaration here.
Over on the First Thoughts blog we’ve recently begun running weekly sermon reviews. We welcome contributions to this feature from writers everywhere, and are interested in reports from all demoninations and faiths.The pieces should run no more than 800-1000 words, include photos of the place of worship, and information to enable fact-checking (e.g., church website links, phone numbers). The objective is for these pieces to capture the moment we’re living in their sermons. We want reviews that capture not only the words, but also the setting and emotions of the experience.
At Front Porch Republic (one of my favorite blogs), Orthodox convert Jason Peters took some swipes at “a place called ‘Bible Harvest Chapel,’ which is a kind of movie theater retrofitted to a former big box electronics store.” Peters wasn’t too impressed by the “First Church of the Sprawl” but a commenter pointed out what he might be missing:
So I would suggest that you don’t let these “grocery store” Christians bother you. Some of them are from broken homes and broken hearts. Their children are oft raised by their mothers. Most of them are without benefit of a college education, many are hillwilliams, poor blacks, drug addicts and alcoholics and wouldn’t fit in the company of more affluent folks, at least some affluent folks. I know this because these people are friends of mine. They are people that every once in a while, I’ve been privileged to help and people who have taught me more about being a Christian than any priest, preacher, or theologian. They may roll in the aisle, they may (God forbid) raise their hand in praise of the Almighty, they may shout “Praise Jesus”, but please remember that every one of them truly believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Word, and the Savior of mankind. Not too bad for “grocery store” Christians!
I don’t believe I, or any other post-evangelical, is saving or perpetuating evangelicalism. I’d gladly go out any number of doors were those doors available to me.
Post evangelicals like Patrol and myself are endeavoring to help evangelicalism hear the voice of the de-churched, discouraged, unplugged and estranged in its midst. Hearing those voices is important. As irritating as it can be, there is something that needs to be heard. Post-evangelicals are not feigning some kind of authority to remake evangelicalism or to blame someone for the demise of evangelicalism. The other shoe has dropped. The collapse is happening. There are churches that will thrive and there are churches that will never know anything happened. But there will be a quiet departure of millions of former evangelicals to something- or nothing- else.
That’s all there is to say, and I don’t pretend it is anything earth-shaking. For me and many like me, we’re living in another reality than what is typically discussed among more hopeful evangelicals.
The idea that collapse of evangelicalism is currently underway is more wishful thinking on the part of “post-evangelicals” than anything that can be backed up with evidence. For some reason it has become a staple of online commentary to translate one’s feeling of “I don’t like X” to “X is dying.” It’s usually found in political discussions (e.g., conservatism is dying; the Democratic Party is dying) but has been making its way into the religious sphere.
During times of tragedy, it is often easier to talk about praying than to take time out to pray. But I hope that all of us truly will take the time to pray for those involved in the recent massacre at Fort Hood.
We should pray for the dead, pray for the wounded, pray for the victim’s families . . . and pray for Nidal Malik Hasan.
Although he swore an oath to protect his homeland against all enemies—foreign and domestic—Hasan became a traitor to his country and a murderous enemy to his fellow soldiers. His actions make him an enemy of the state and an enemy of his fellow citizens. He is our enemy now. As such the duty of those who call ourselves Christian is crystal clear: We must love and pray for Hasan.
As Christ’s commanded, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” We can be angry, we can grieve, and we can expect Hasan to pay for his crimes. But we must also love and pray for him, remembering that we were once enemies of a God who, though angered and grieved, paid for our crimes with the blood of his only begotten Son.
Think pastors have a stressful job? They’ve got nothing on the music ministry director. (Why are you laughing? Have you ever tried to choose a hymn.) From CNN:
You may not think of people who plan, direct and conduct performances for religious services as being under a particularly high amount of stress. But they also choose the appropriate psalm or hymn for every wedding and funeral — only some of the most important events in a family’s life. And those stressful situations can create some demanding clients.
“Every now and then you’ll get a strange request,” said Dan Fenn, Music Ministry Director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield, Minn. “A couple of years ago I got a request to play the Beer Barrel Polka at a funeral. You have to ask yourself, is this appropriate for a worship service?”
At my mother’s funeral my brother chose to play two songs by Creed. The songs were surprisingly moving and appropriate, but it ruined his chances of every being a music director.
I can’t believe we’ve gone the whole day without any of our Lutheran contributors mentioning Reformation Day. (Um, we do have some Lutherans around here, don’t we? Note to self: Get some Lutherans.)
Fortunately, one of my fellow Baptists, Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity, has it covered with his new article celebrating Luther’s posting of the Ninety-Five Theses. Perhaps that is fitting since, as George notes, “On this Reformation Day, it is good to remember that Martin Luther belongs to the entire Church, not only to Lutherans and Protestants, just as Thomas Aquinas is a treasury of Christian wisdom for faithful believers of all denominations, not simply for Dominicans and Catholics.”
Update: It turns out the reason the Lutherans didn’t post because they can read a calendar – Reformation Day isn’t until tomorrow. Oops. What can say, I’m a Baptist.
Every autumn Christians throughout North America engage in hand-wringing disputes over what to do about Halloween. The discussions tend to reflect in microcosm how we interact with overtly secular aspects on a larger scale. Should we separate and stand apart, becoming a witness by our disengagement or do we participate and attempt to redeem the event by acts of hospitality and neighborly love?
Such discussions invariably involve some well-meaning believer recommending handing out “gospel tracts” to trick-or-treaters. And almost always, the tracks they have in mind are ones produced by the most frightful man ever to be associated with Halloween: Jack Chick.
To me, though, Chick is not just another anti-Catholic bigot. When I was a kid Jack Chick was the man who was responsible for more nightmares than the Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Nightstalker combined. Chick not only scared the hell out of me, he made me afraid that hell was all around me.
While his comic books are less well known than his tracts, they were a primary source of literature around my fundamentalist church. In a typical display of twisted ’70s fundie logic, our congregation believed that comics about Satan and the occult were more wholesome than reading about Spiderman or Archie and Jughead.
Consider two facts: God does not make arbitrary decisions and Christianity is a religion whose truths are rooted in and revealed through history. Assuming those claims are both true—and I have no doubts about either—it follows that the Father had a particular reason for sending the Son to earth circa 5 b.c. But if so, what was the reason for choosing that particular historical period? Could Jesus have come any sooner?
Recently, while reading the introduction to God and Governing—written by our own Roger Overton—I stumbled upon what may be a clue:
All Christian hope is placed in [Christ], in what he accomplished through death by Roman execution and in what lies ahead when he finally returns with a two-edged sword. As powerful as this message is, there is a sense in which the spreading of this message depends on a certain amount of social order. Theologian Harry Blamires explains, “In a jungle, where cannibals dine on missionary stew, were men prey bestially upon another, certain preliminary steps toward minimal restraint, hygiene, and the guarantee of continuing survival have to be taken before a prayer meeting can be arranged and the gospel proclaimed.” There must be some level of common civility in order for the love of Christ to be demonstrated and good news of his work explained, and this common civility often come through political social order.
Assuming that Blamires and Overton are correct and that a certain level of social order is necessary for the spread of the Gospel, was the first century the earliest period in which the conditions were ripe for the message to spread globally? While my knowledge of Jewish history is woefully inadequate, I assume that the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of his earthly ministry could have been carried out at an earlier time in the history of the Jewish people. But could the message of the Gospel have been carried to the Gentiles any sooner? Could the work documented in the Acts of the Apostles have been fulfilled without the social order established by the Roman Empire?
Christians have always recognized that the second coming of Christ would follow certain preconditions (though we may disagree whether or not all such conditions have already been met). Could it be that the Father had determined that an initial set of social and political preconditions were historically necessary before he sent his Son?
Does anybody know where, in the Christian tradition, there’s speculation about what would have happened if Jesus not been crucified—if he had come in the flesh, and the world had known him and embraced him instead of killing him?
First Things’ editor, Jody Bottum, asked me for our help on this. He points to 1 Corinthians 2:8 (“had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”) and a passage in Dante as proof that the counterfactual was known, and he asks if anyone remembers passages in the theological tradition, from the patristical era on, developing the idea.
Note: At Jeremy’s suggestion, I’m reposting a piece I once wrote on how to use an RSS reader as a blogging tool. Steps #1-4 are all you need if you just want to use an RSS reader for reading blogs, but I included the rest in case anyone is interested in implementing a useful system for creating blog posts.
Most of us have heard the old quip, made famous in Annie Hall, about a meal in which the food is terrible—and the portions are too small. Recently I heard the inverse complaint made many times about this fledgling blog: The content is great—and there’s too much of it!
Initially, I was sympathetic since I was beginning to have the same concern. But then it dawned on me that this is a bizarre objection that reflects our fast-food mentality toward information. Not only do we think that all worthwhile content has to be delivered to us right now but we feel as if it has to be consumed in one sitting. Otherwise, why bother with it at all?
But many—if not most—of the posts on this blog are meant to be timely while not being constrained by the calendar. All of the discussions so far will be as relevant next week, next month, or next year, as they are today (or would have been yesterday).
Indeed one of the goals of this blog is to fight the pernicious effects of the type of information consumption that discourages the placement of issues and events into a larger or deeper context. As historian C. John Sommerville once noted, the very survival of the news business depends on our seeing life as jumpy and scattered rather than as falling into a historical pattern or embodying some philosophical outlook. The constant need to find new events to talk about tends to displace any serious attempt to discuss the historical and philosophical implications of such events.
Its certainly true that we want to create a blog that is entertaining, relevant, and interesting on a daily basis. But as evangelicals we also want to take an eternal perspective, recognizing that we are part of a narrative that doesn’t always fit into the contraints of Internet time. We don’t want to be long-winded and dull, of course. But most discussions of lasting significance can’t be distilled into a soundbite-sized blog post.
So if you’re having trouble keeping up with the content, try this: Read this blog on your own schedule. Don’t worry about finishing every post every day. Save some of the threads for when you have more time to read—and digest—them. If we can use our DVRs to “timeshift” our favorite TV shows and catch up on entire series on DVD, why can’t we do the same for blogs? Why do we have a need to “finish” a blog’s daily content in the same day it was produced?
Many blogs can be successful by tapping into the microzeitgeist, focusing on what is going on . . . right . . . now. Evangel is not one of those blogs. If you don’t think our content will be worth reading two or three days from now, then we have failed—for that means it probably isn’t worth reading at all.
I’m intrigued by the discussion about the Christian’s role in politics being carried on by Frank, Jared, Matthew, Doug Wilson, and Dr. Beckwith. My own sympathies shift back and forth depending on whose post I’m reading; they are all very convincing. While I don’t want to jump in with my own solution, I think we will find it in a synthesis—a both/and compromise rather than an either/or dichotomy.
I think this is a fruitful and necessary topic for debate and I’m pleased with the way it is being carried on: civilly, rationally, and with an emphasis on Scripture.
But I also get the feeling that we are making much ado about . . .well, not nothing, of course, but not much. I think the truth is that our concern about evangelicals’ involvement in politics is a lot like our concerns about the emergent church movement. We evangelicals have spent countless hours debating that movement, written at least a hundred books about it, and fret about it constantly. Yet how many people actually attend such a church? I literally know thousands of Christians and I can count on one hand the number that are emergent. True, more evangelicals are seriously involved in politics than are seriously involved in the emergent movement. But its not that much more.
Contrary to what many secularists claim–and many Christians believe–we evangelicals are not all that politically involved. Sure, like most Americans we talk a lot about politics, just like we talk a lot about sports and religion. But the claim that we are involved in actual political activities—lobbying, organizing, campaigning, etc.—would be well nigh impossible to support with actual evidence.
I say this not only as a self-professed (and self-critical) member of the “religious right” but as one who has often had a direct observation post on the political battlefield. I have almost no interest in politics. I know that may surprise some people who think I’m some sort of political junkie (ahem, Jared W.), but on my list of things that actually interest me, politics is down there with urban gardening and complexity theory—interesting topics that I don’t really want to think about too much. But because of one of my primary interest—defending the dignity of human beings—God has seen fit to stick me in situations and places where politics dominates. So be it. If nothing else, it’s certainly been illuminating. From my vantage point it is easy to see that the commitment—much less the influence—of evangelical in politics is wildly overstated.