Friday, March 30, 2007

Christian Carnival CLXVII (167) is Up

The introduction from Nerdmom at Nerd Family:

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's Christian Carnival. We have received many interesting and thought provoking entries so let us jump right in!

About Christian Carnival:
Contributing a Post to the Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

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Update: We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

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Read more!

Monday, March 26, 2007

γνῶσις or not γνῶσις

That is gnosis (knowledge) for you non-Greek writers (which, BTW, includes myself). I have had a few discussions with modern Gnostics - almost always not a productive affair. This post may continue that string.

There are things we cannot discuss well: Sacred texts and canonization are the main one. First, all ancient gnostic texts related to Christianity were pseudoepigraphic (signed in a name, Apostolic usually, not that of the writer) in order to give the work weight. Those I have talked to, as in this post, seem to believe that this was accepted practice in the canonical Biblical texts:

The small texts that mention the "antichrist" were written to attack the Gnostic understanding of who Christ was. A Gnostic relies on intuition and not on dogma and doctrine. Gnostic's were most certainly free spirits and most all of the writings we have about Gnostics, have been the attacks upon them. That all changed when the Nag Hamadi Library was translated and published, for what had been deemed heretical by those in power in the fourth century can now be read in most every language.

Biblical scholars today agree that many books of the Bible were written by others in the name of an apostle, for the quickest way to gain credibility is to trade on another's reputation. [my emphasis]
No, "liberal" (or "some" will work) Biblical scholars agree with this. Let me just say: a very specific test from the 1st century to the 4th century for canonization was actual apostolic authorship - known pseudoepigraphic works were rejected for that reason alone and should have been. As should, for that matter, the Gnostic works as well. Pseudoepigraphy was not an accepted practice in the early church - especially when it came to accepting scripture as inspired.

The second part of that statement I have problems with is the implication that the Gnostics were not declared heretical until the 4th century: one only has to read the second century Patristic fathers right after the appearance of the Gnostic works to know that is not true. There is no evidence that any large part of the Christian community ever accepted Gnostic writings as inspired or their philosophy as mainstream. You can find a few people, like Origen in Alexandria, where it was tolerated - and only when it was at distance from the center of the Church and those who had direct relationships with first Christ, and then the Apostles.

We will never agree on this because it is a critical part of the current Gnostics argument that Gnostic Christianity was an accepted view of Christianity crushed by the hierarchy two centuries later.
* * * * *
However, all that really isn't important. What is important is whether the theology of gnostic Christians has become more acceptable now than it was then. So we need to talk about what gnostics believe, and whether it does - or doesn't - conform to the Christian religion as practiced for the last 2000 years. Now, of course, the part of the quote above about "dogma and doctrine" comes into play: dogma and doctrine are only important if they conform to the reality of God and Christ - at least if you are going to be a Christian. Gnostics can believe what they will about Jesus Christ, as can Islam; but their attempts to co-opt Christ for their personal religious/philosophical structures are only Christian if they conform to what Christ taught and did. Do they?

The author of the above linked piece had one a couple of days earlier titled "Fundamentalism Is Holding Up Evolution" which presents a pretty good look at the Sermon on the Mount; and uses it to support the Gnostic notion of us being spiritual (good) beings wrapped in a material (bad) shell. It also presented two statements that I commented on:
Stage three souls have not just fearlessly awoken, they have evolved! This evolution has led them to the realization of what Christ was really talking about in the Sermon of the Mount AKA:The Beatitudes which sound like crazy promises, but is the litmus test of how we will be judged, if we claim to be a Christian.
Being true to one's self in more important than being loyal to one's family...those who think they know the most are the most ignorant...
Also, I take exception to the use of this part of Psalm 82 in the way it was used:
1 God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers. 2 How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Selah. 3 Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. 4 Rescue weak and needy; Deliver {them} out of the hand of the wicked. 5 They do not know nor do they understand; They walk about in darkness; All the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High. 7 "Nevertheless you will die like men And fall like {any} one of the princes." 8 Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations. [she quoted the bold text]
My disagreements were (first expressed in a comment there):
I think Jesus presented the "litmus test" a little simpler (and harder):
  1. Love God with your all. That is nearly an impossible task for human beings.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself. That is only a little less hard than the first
Also, I do not know where in all of Jesus's teaching you find the foundation for:
#9: "Being true to one's self in more important than being loyal to one's family...those who think they know the most are the most ignorant..."
Jesus placed God at the core of your loyalities, and folks around you - your neighbors, which includes your family - as equally important to your self (if not more important). Isn't that the implication of "poor in spirit"?
      For an answer, she went to the story in Matthew 12:31-32 (also Mark 3:28-29 and Luke 12:10)
      24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons." 25 And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 "If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 28 "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 "Or how can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. 30 "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 31 "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. 33 "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 "The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. 36 "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." [she quoted the bold text]
      Her explanation of "be true to yourself" was
      so what I am-and JC [big yuk! from me] is saying is necessary, is NOT what you think of God the Father or the Son-but that you WAKE UP and know God is already within everyone! . . . Now, being 'true to yourself' is simply meant to become who you were created to be, to serve Gods pupose in this world, . . . To wrestle, struggle with God to discern what you were created to do in this world-and that is being true to yourself and true to God.
      So, if I have her view right:
      we all - every human being - were created for God's purpose and has God within themselves in the form of the Holy Spirit - Wisdom in the Gnostic view. They should be true to that god that they are (at least in potential), and evolve to higher spiritual levels, based on listening to that voice within them (properly discerned) - and be true to themselves to the extent that their self aligns to who God made them to be:
      Discernment leads one to discover if one's desires are to help another or just to serve oneself. The Spirit speaks for others; the ego for itself.
      That voice, that spirit, is the one called Wisdom in much of Solomon's writing - and talked about by the Gnostics by the name Sophia: Wisdom/Sophia or Christ to some resides in all of us as the Divine Spark.
      She and I are actually pretty close together - and, I think, oh so far apart as well. I agree:
      • that every human being is created by God imago dei (in the image of God);
      • that we are all eternal spiritual beings in a temporary physical body destined to live on for eternity (we will worry about eventual bodily resurrection later on);
      • that we all were created for a purpose by God, and for God's purposes;
      • that we all have a core of morality that overflows from God's character. I would call that our deep conscience (synderesis) :
        According to theologians of the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century), the conscience is divided into two parts. Synderesis (probably a misreading of suneidesis) is the faculty in human beings that knows God's moral law; this faculty remained unaffected by the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
        I think this is a direct connection to God's character and not routed through a secondary created spiritual source - like Sophia.
      That is a pretty serious set of agreements. Why do I think we are "so far apart"? I do not think that our deep conscience is the Spirit of God; or at least not in the sense mentioned by Christ above in the Matthew passage; Jesus elsewhere in scripture [see "How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit" for source of this quote]
      Jesus told His disciples they would receive the Holy Spirit:
      John 14:16 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

      John 16:7 "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

      Jesus said the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives was essential for them to be able to live the life He intends for them
      Luke 24:49 "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

      Acts 1:8 "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

      or the one that descended on believers at the Pentacost. It is obvious to me that while our deep conscience forms a general revelation to the whole human race from its Creator in Whose image it was made; the Holy Spirit on the New Testament is a higher level of indwelling, and revelation, promised - as far as scripture says - only to believers in Christ so that His presence can remain with us forever. There is no way that any of the scripture in this post up to now can be made to support the indwelling of all people by that higher source of revelation - the Holy Spirit.

      Even if I was going to grant that every human being has that higher revelation within them, the author's explanation - while satisfying many of my objections - still doesn't get me to "being true to one self". My objection stands: the core test of Christianity is not the Kingdom character outlined by Christ in the beatitudes; but the Great Commandment:
      Mark 12:30 “ ‘and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ “ [Deuteronomy 6:5] 31 The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself ' [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these."
      All really means all, and while the author's sketch of spiritual development may be correct - it comes from focusing on God and bringing His power to transform us into our lives. We will never become so transformed that we can place our selfs, and being true to ourselves, at the center of our focus. It must be 100% God 100% of the time (an impossible feat. by the way, in my opinion); and, as a Trinitarian Christian, on the Person of Christ, in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit:
      “There is no such thing as a once-for-all fullness [we leak]. It is a continuous appropriation of a continuous supply from the Lord Christ Himself. It is a moment-by-moment faith in a moment-by-moment Savior, for a moment-by-moment cleansing and a moment-by-moment filling. As I trust Him, He fills me; the moment I begin to believe, that moment I begin to receive; and as long as I keep believing, praise the Lord, so long I keep receiving.” Charles Inwood

      Read more!

      Weekly Tour: 3/26/07

      As I cruised some favorite places on my first day off - what did I find interesting:

      • At Evangelical Outpost is "Thirty-three Things (v.4)" with these individual items that caught my eye:

        • "Why and How to Debate Charitably"
          … when things really break down, it’s when the respondent sees possible implications and assigns them too-high probabilities and then fails to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt when they disclaim those assertions. Often, it’s because the respondent is unaware that the implied assertion is not actually explicit in the speaker’s words. The respondent is so ideologically separated from the speaker, and often unfamiliar with (or, worse, dismissive of) of the subtleties and variations of different positions similar to the speaker’s that they’re not familiar with, that they’ll obstinately group the speaker’s explicit positions with a wide array of other positions perceived to be similar, but that the speaker never explicitly stated (or even implied with a probability higher than 60%). And when this happens, communication becomes much more difficult.
          A very big - and personality experienced - "Yep". His rules:

          1. The Golden rule. He says this is the central rule that sums up the rest:
            Treat the person’s position as if it were your own. First, make sure you understand the argument. Then go about trying to see how you would disprove it to yourself. Then, walk step by step with the person through your rebuttal, and see where the arguments you use against their position fail to have the same effect on them (and why). Charity is about empathy
            That is a great process.

          2. You cannot read minds.
          3. People are not evil.
          4. Debates are not for winning.
          5. You make mistakes.
          6. Not everyone cares as much as you.
          7. Engaging is hard work.
          8. Differences can be subtle.
          9. Give up quietly.

        • A must read for parents: "How to Raise a Pharisee"

        • Tired of the partisanship of the early 21st century? Family-friendly? Look into the family-friendly agenda of the radical middle, with folks from the Left (Matthew Miller, Michael Lind, Phillip Longman) and the Right (Ross Douthat, Ramesh Ponnuru, David Brooks) finding common ground.
        • A nice interview with N.T. Wright: "Mere Mission":
          CT: One of Lewis's classic maneuvers is this: Jesus said he was God, and you either believe that or that he was a madman on the level of someone who thinks he is a poached egg. It's a powerful argument that has had a strong effect on a lot of people, but modern source criticism of the Bible has undermined the idea that Jesus claimed to be God.

          Wright: My major work has been designed to refute the wilder claims made by some so-called historical critical scholarship. Because now we see only too clearly that the whole historical critical movement was not, as it tried to claim, a neutral, objective, scientific account of the Gospels. It had its own agendas that were heavily driven by the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The movement really started out with the assumption that if there is a God, this God does not intervene in human affairs. In other words, the Enlightenment has already settled Lewis's question one way. It has decided that any Jesus who said John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," would be completely out of his skull. Therefore, Jesus couldn't have said it, because we know he was a good man and we want to follow him for other reasons. It becomes a circular argument. Lewis breaks into the circle by simply ignoring the critical possibility.
        • Please read "Conscience, Calling, and the Christian Conservative Agenda". Incidentally, while I agree with almost all of the article - and especially it's core message about calling - this I do not agree with (re: gay marriage)
          Additionally, if we fail in our efforts to preserve marriage, society will unravel.
          Now, I am assuming that the author believes that opposing gay marriage is necessary to preserve non-gay marriage. If so, I think that this is wrong. What will preserve marriage (and keep society from unraveling) is for men and women to submit to God in their marriages: let's worry about adultery and pornography (which is adultery), selfishness, and rejection of biblical teaching on how husbands and wives should treat each other as a starting point. Whether one part of 10% (max) of the population marries another part of that 10% is not nearly as important as the 50% of married Christian men who struggle with pornography - an issue that not nearly enough of our churches are providing support for and healing from.

      • Mohammed at Iraq the Model makes a case for Iraq being "The Real Front in the War on Terror"
        I wanted to talk about this because recently we've been watching the debate in America about redeployment of troops and identifying the real front we must focus on. I see that al-Qaeda and terrorists in general didn't hide their position in this respect—despite the fact that they still operate in many parts of the world, they are clearly redirecting most effort and resources to the war in Iraq. The war here has a lot that to do with drawing the future prospects of spreading religious extremism and this in turn is connected to the agendas of countries that have mutual goals with al-Qaeda in spite of the difference in ideology. This collaboration is complex but it clearly shows the priorities of the terrorists and rogue regimes and in turn suggests what our strategic priorities should be … Al-Qaeda and its supporters are using most of the capabilities of their propaganda machine to cover their effort in Iraq, and so is the case with financial resources. All evidences indicate that most of the money is used to support the terror activity in Iraq … But why Iraq became the main front?
        Go and read on

      • Jeremy Pierce is discussing the (philosophical) issues of "Freedom and Determinism: Possible Views" - the 40th post in his "Theories of Knowledge and Reality Series"

      • WorldMagBlog:

        • points out the discussion of John Edwards staying in the Presidential race despite the return of his wife's incurable cancer. I am not so much interested from a politics standpoint: read this interview, and tell me what you think. Myself: if Elizabeth Edwards believes that this is an important way for her to spend what may be the last of her life and believes her husband should run - I have no problem. My regret is that this decision is going to become political fodder on both sides of the campaign.

        • I have a brother in Christ in this position; but luckily he isn't "Struggling Alone":
          Is there any student more alienated or marginalized on campus than one who experiences same-sex attractions but who doesn’t embrace them? Silence is forced upon him, and his entire life experience is discounted: He suffers same-sex attractions, he doesn’t want to, and he seeks to be made whole again. This doesn’t seem so extreme a narrative, and yet there are very few, if any, campus groups devoted to supporting these students.

          While listening to Chris, I grew angrier and angrier about our troubled culture, the sexual chaos our parents’ generation bequeathed us, the lack of support the Church provides, and the hostile environment the university maintains. Gradually, however, my anger gave way to sadness. A sadness that Chris struggles almost alone. A sadness that others like him have no one to turn to. A sadness that universities deliberately reject chaste students with same-sex attractions. In the end, though, I found myself feeling grateful. Grateful for knowing Chris. Grateful for the chance to see him carry a cross he did not choose. Offering up his daily struggles, he strives for holiness, refuses surrender, and resists temptations. He labors to remedy the unwanted causes and side effects of attractions he never desired, aware all the while that a cure isn’t certain, that in this fallen world some disorders may always be with us.

          I am witnessing my friend’s unique path to holiness: a remarkable instance of grace working through a broken earthly vessel, making all things new, and leading to fullness of life. I think how blessed I am that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness it and find inspiration for my life in his struggles. How sad, though, that the rest of the world will never know.
          I am not going to get into the "nuture vs nature" debate here; but there are folks who have same-sex attractions who honestly and deeply do not want them (think Ted Haggard as well). It seems that they are often caught between a condemning church (for having the attraction) and a large chunk of society condemning them for not just going with the attractions

        • "Free speech" (or not!) on campuses:
          Much campus censorship rests on philosophical underpinnings that go back to social theorist Herbert Marcuse, a hero to sixties radicals. Marcuse argued that traditional tolerance is repressive—it wards off reform by making the status quo...well, tolerable. Marcuse favored intolerance of established and conservative views, with tolerance offered only to the opinions of the oppressed, radicals, subversives, and other outsiders. Indoctrination of students and “deeply pervasive” censorship of others would be necessary, starting on the campuses and fanning out from there.
          Whether this view is that philosophically organized, or can be traced to Marcuse, I cannot affirm or deny - but that there is intolerance among those that consider themselves "progressive" to "established and conservative views" is undoubted by me.

      Read more!

      Friday, March 23, 2007

      Christian Carnival CLXVI (166) is up

      The introduction from Dory at The Wittenburg Gate :

      Welcome to this week's Christian Carnival, a showcase of Christian thought in the blogosphere. Christian writers are invited to submit their best posts from the last week. If you would like to participate in or host future Christian Carnivals, please refer to our guidelines.
      What did I like this week
      • "Behold … Can, Worms, and the Lid Ajar" where Mark Olson
        attempt[s] to engage others in a modern discussion on race and gender, seen through the lens of Patristic Theological thought.
      • Martin: "What I believe about origins" from a retired university science teacher.
      • Jeremy takes on the myth that "inerrancy" is a relatively new doctrine with "Historical Inerrantists"
      • This was not in the carnival; but I got to it from somebody's blog: Dan Edelen is a little miffed (as I am) about the ignoring of the third person of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit - and talks about it in "The Holy Who?"
        Ask yourselves how the Church grew from a couple hundred disciples at Pentecost to around 20-25 million adherents by the time of the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Most people couldn’t read, no NT canon existed, the Gentiles had passing references to the Scriptures, persecution of Christians flourished, Christians didn’t meet in megachurches, and yet Christianity flourished. How?

        Not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit!

        How is that we’ve forgotten this? Worse, how is it that we’ve forgotten the Third Person of the Trinity altogether?
        That is a good question

      Read more!

      Thursday, March 22, 2007

      Are Evangelicals "Owned" Politically?

      As implied in my "Ok, Back to Blogging Here" post I have been getting my political "ya-ya's" out mainly as the loyal opposition at Street Prophets - a decidedly "progressive" blog; and now my political blogging will come here. I put the scare quotes around progressive because I am not willing to give liberals that word. If being progressive is what moves progress forward, then flying in the face of a sovereign God is not progressive. In fact, as C.S. Lewis said, if we are going down the wrong road the most progressive thing is to turn around and go back to where we got it wrong and start another direction - not to continue forward hoping things improve.

      Now, Street Prophets is still a place I cruise through; and I value, if not always agree with, the prime moderator/founder's (Pastordan) opinions. Anyone with half a political brain realizes that the Republican Party is in disarray: its major wings are not unified; and politically and theologically conservative Christians - who have been one of its major bases - are no longer in love with the party. Frankly, I think liberal Democrats have always misjudged our allegiance to the Republican Party - or I hope so.

      I hope so because Christians should not identify with any secular political ideology or group - we are the Body of Christ. Our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and not the Republicans or the Democratics; and we are loyal to the Gospel and not secular conservatism or secular liberalism. Whether Christians see themselves as liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat - they need to understand what J. Budziszewski points out in "The Problem With Conservatism":

      From time to time Christians may find themselves in tactical alliance with conservatives, just as with liberals, over particular policies, precepts, and laws. But they cannot be in strategic alliance, because their reasons for these stands are different; they are living in a different vision. For our allies’ sake as well as our own, it behooves us to remember the difference. We do not need another Social Gospel - just the Gospel.
      Politically-involved Christians (which I believe we are all required to be) need to read that essay as well as its companion - "The Problem With Liberalism" - because we need to examine our political views in the light of the Gospel. We need to understand the Kingdom reasons we would enter into temporary tactical alliances with secular political forces.

      This post got started, and the title came from, reading two posts by Pastordan at Street Prophets called "The Evangelical Vote"
      It’s no accident that some of the biggest proponents of beyondism these days are folks who believe that at least some socially conservative evangelicals can be induced to switch party affiliations, from Republican to Democrat.

      The thinking goes that if progressive politicians would only mute their stances on abortion and homosexuality, evangelicals would line up with their proper economic interests in the Democratic fold. Butta-boom, butta-bing, third way politics!

      I honestly don’t know what drives this thinking beyond tantalizing personal experience. I’ve met a few conservative evangelicals who seem to be on the same page as myself economically or on the war in Iraq. Some of them even seem to be quite a bit more socially progressive than their church affiliation would indicate. It’s great to talk to them, and it’s great to think that they could be progressives some day – but then they go into the voting booth and pull the lever for Republicans just like they’ve always done.
      and (should have linked this first probably) "Beyondism":
      I think it was David Brooks who coined, years ago, the term "beyondist." A beyondist is someone who urges us to get beyond left/right distinctions, beyond partisan politics, beyond the stymied options of the day . . .
      But as Bottum says, the condition for this transcendent bliss beyond politics always seems to be that one’s opponents finally stops being an idiot and comes around to agree with everything you’ve been saying all along . . .
      I kinda agree here, but then this
      Most religious commentors on politics seem to agree with Wallis that there’s the liberal way, the conservative way, and God’s way. I’d scratch the third. If God has a chosen political stance or method, he so far has not seen fit to share it with us.
      This I do not agree with. While God would neither join the Democrats or Republicans - nor call Himself a secular liberal or conservative - I believe He very much speaks to us about all issues including our political stances. Of course, we are required to listen, comprehend, and obey - the big feats for a Christian indeed. I often wonder, since God wants us to be salt and light to a fallen world, whether God actually leads us to positions in both the liberal and conservative camps just so the work of His Kingdom can move forward everywhere (hey, look at the name of the blog)

      Even Pastordan isn't really being completely honest here - his faith, and God, inform his politics everyday. He believes God indeed speaks to him on political matters. He no more separates his secular politics from his religious beliefs than I do. It is one reason I love him even though we disagree most of the time politically. We may all have to involve ourselves in the politics of the fallen world; but the "third way" is to seek God in that and not allow our political identities to overwealm our identity in Christ.

      However, back to his point: Are theologically conservative Evangelicals owned by the Republican Party? Are the only issues we are concerned about abortion (Joe Carter says "yes" to this issue - well actually bioethics in general) and homosexuality? Not to say our solutions to other issues would align with those of liberals; but are we unconcerned about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless? Are the environment, the war in Iraq, and use of torture by our government unimportant issues - or do we simply disagree on the solutions? Have we taken the time to examine these issues Biblically and theologically? My answer is "yes" - evangelicals as a group have thought about these issues and these issues are important.

      Are we "owned" by the Republican Party? This is not the evangelical church I am part of - but what do you think?

      Read more!

      Tuesday, March 20, 2007

      Back to Touring

      What did I find fascinating at my "usual haunts" this week:

      • While I did not support the invasion of Iraq four years ago (and really still do not believe it was just), much of the argument about the war ignores the real history. Joe Carter brings us back to the beginning on this anniversary with "Ten Things We've Forgotten About the Iraq War". Point one of the ten are the official reasons for the war, according to H.J.Res.114:
        Continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability (false); actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability (true); supporting and harboring terrorist organizations (true); continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population (true); refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq (true); failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait (true); demonstrated its capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations and its own people (true); attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush (true); firing on many thousands of occasions on United States and Coalition Armed Forces (true); harbored members of al-Qaeda (true); continues to aid and harbor other international terrorist organizations (true).
        The rest of Joe's post is important for those who really want to work through an understanding of the war; and while some of the comments to the post show that desire, most do not.

      • However, I do not think we can leave until there is a stable government, and a capable army - or it is obvious there will not be one. The first part is still more likely, in my opinion, than the last:

      • A few places are talking about the al-Qaeda chlorine gas suicide bombing in Anbar province against the Sunni tribal chiefs, and the war that just broke out. One of those is Iraq the Model with

      • The "surge" seems to be going well: "Why it's Working ..."
        What tactics are working? "We got down at the people level and are staying," he said flatly. "Once the people know we are going to be around, then all kinds of things start to happen."

        More intelligence, for example. Where once tactical units were "scraping" for intelligence information, they now have "information overload," the general said. "After our guys are in the neighborhood for four or five days, the people realize they're not going to just leave them like we did in the past. Then they begin to come in with so much information on the enemy that we can't process it fast enough."
      Actually, I will leave it at Iraq. If someone wants to go read three weeks of Christian Carnival links, and some of my stuff from Street Prophets, that should keep folks busy.

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      What Do We Fear?

      I cruised by The Jesus Creed today and found a post from the 15th that I came late for. The title of the essay is "Letters to Emerging Christians" by Scot McKnight. He responds to a question by Holly:

      What a fascinating question. You are taking a sociology class, your professor says what people fear the most tells you most about them, and you and your friend begin to discuss what fear drives the “Liberal churches, the Evangelical churches, and the Emerging churches.” And you want me to weigh in the greatest fear of each. Great one . . .
      These are, BTW, theological categories and not political ones. Scot's answers:

      • One of the cardinal virtues of Liberals is tolerance and that means intolerance is intolerable . . . Which all means that Liberals are most fearful of Traditionalists and Evangelicals with upper-case “T” and “E.” Why? Because they fix firm boundaries on how far tolerance can be extended, and at the same time they say “some things are just wrong.” Now it is also clear that we can’t be simplistic here: Liberals think some things are wrong and when conservatives say they are moral relativists I’m willing to bet that conservatives can’t really find a pure relativist. At least not among Liberals — for a Liberal doesn’t relativize freedom. But, they do fear the inflexibility of Tradition.

      • Evangelicals, on the other hand, are most fearful of change to the core of what is perceived as central to their faith. By nature, Evangelicals are Conservatives — some with an upper-case “C” and some not (that’s a big difference but I’ll not go there now) — and they are Traditionalists . . . When it comes down to it, change is a major, major fear for Evangelicals.

      • The emerging movement, no matter how many times I say this it doesn’t seem to convince many, is not a movement rooted in a set of doctrines. It is theological, but not the way either Liberalism or Evangelicalism are. It’s biggest fear is centralization of power and authority.
      I cannot argue with these answers from what I know. However, I think there is a more central fear that we all are motivated from; and different theological responses react to differently. My comment (#96) was (in the quotes - the main text expands on my comment):
      If C.S. Lewis is right and evil comes in pairs of errors (and Satan does not care which one we flee to) - then to me the two errors (the ditches on the side of the narrow road) are license and legalism: theologically liberal Christians err to the former; fundamentalists, and to a lessor degree, evangelicals err to the latter (I am, for full disclosure, very much an evangelical).

      To me, what is in the middle they are both running from is obedience to a real living God. Take for the proposition that we are indwelt by a God that has a plan for us - what Americans fear most is losing their freedom and giving up control to someone else: being a puppet - even to God.

      For evangelicalism, this meant for a number of years rejecting the ministry of the Holy Spirit to a degree and denying that there is continuing revelation. If there is continuing revelation, then you might have to get quiet in front of God; listen to what He says; and then actually do it. Why, He might make you sell everything and go to Africa as a missionary. Instead, we turn the Bible into a rulebook; and rather than follow the Holy Spirit in our lives - we try to do the right thing. We deny the power of Grace, and His leadership, in our lives and try to live by rules - rules defined in scripture; and not the voice of a real living God
      For more of a discussion of the above, see "How to Hear God Speak"

      For the theologically liberal (or at least a chunk of liberal theologians), they reject the action of God in this world at all: God does not reach into, and act, in His creation. They talk about continuing revelation; but that is revelation from the community of believers - not from a living God. That community, in consensus, determines what God really is. Love for each other is everything. Grace abounds, and rules do not. The true theologians will tell you God is not going to tell you anything except through that community of other believers. Again, you do not have to worry that God is going to tell you to sell everything and move to Africa. [This ends my comment at Scot's place]
      From German "higher criticism" to the Jesus Seminar we are seeing a movement to a deist God - one where miracles and the metaphysical are dropped in the face of the "rationality" of modern culture. God does not "take a hand" in this world; and only the community of believers determines his desires [in a sense, the Body of Christ - free of its Head - becomes Christ]; and, if you do not like what the community says about your personal view of God - you can go find one that does. Even the resurrection is turned into mythology whose importance is in its lessons, and not in its actual occurance.

      However, liberal theologians who object to the resurrection as a real event in real history fly in the face of a truly rational view of the historical record; which, as N.T. Wright points out:

      . . . brings us to the point where we must say that the tomb previously housing a thoroughly dead Jesus was empty, and that his followers saw and met someone they were convinced was this same Jesus, bodily alive though in a new, transformed fashion. The empty tomb on the one hand and the convincing appearances of Jesus on the other are the two conclusions the historian must draw.
      I propose that, at heart, they fear a God that they are required to obey when He speaks; and that is because they do not wish to give up control to that real living, and Risen, God. By reducing the Bible to interesting stories and myths (and not a revelation from God), and Christ to an great, but unrisen, moral teacher - you remove their authority to direct and lead you.

      If Scot is right, and the emerging church also fears authority - I do not think that falls outside this analysis. This fear of authority also laces the theological differences: from the plethora of denominations, congregations, and theological stances; to the stripping of the authority of scripture and Christ. Humans want control and they fear submission to community, church authority, Christ and the Holy Spirit - and, ultimately, God. So, I think the central fear of Christians that drives our theological divisions (leading to both personal, and corporate, license and legalism) is:
      We all fear giving up control to a real, living God
      Or, maybe deeper than that, that there is no God to obey. We then substitute the Bible, or our own conception of God and Christ, for the real thing.

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      Monday, March 19, 2007

      OK, Back to Blogging Here

      I have spent a lot of time at Street Prophets being the fringe evangelical in the community; and that has affected by writing here:

      • First, since almost everything I posted here was cross-posted to there (or vice-versa) - there were topics I avoided entirely since they were not appropriate there. There were also things that were posted there that never made it here.

      • Second, I spent a lot of time in comments sections chatting over there. That is not a bad thing, but it was time-intensive.
      I do not have the time to post and chat here and there, help plant my church, and participate in my FMO group and my church community group - while working and being a husband/father. While I enjoyed the online community at Street Prophets I have to narrow my focus somewhat.

      The good, or bad, news is that I am going to focus here. I want to post more often, and complete some series that I started and have never finished. I also intend to start some new ones. Right now, I am going to do some catch-up:
      I plan to now focus here. Some upcoming stuff:
      • I am going to keep posting the questions from The Life You Always Wanted and maybe get them journaled online
      • I may actually finish the last post in the "The Natural Law Series"
      • I recieved my first free book as a blogger - The Listening Heart, by A.J. Conyers - and I am going to do a review/series on this book. I can tell you now that I recommend reading it:
        In a stunning insight, Conyers shows that the quintessential institution of modernity is slavery, for the slave is the ultimate autonomous individual. Stripped of every human tie, he belongs to no community but to a stranger. It is no accident, then, that the rise of modern slavery coincided with the Enlightenment itself.
        It has been a fascinating, and difficult, book for me - and I may have to read it twice before I can speak rationally about it.
      Anyway, I am going to focus here now.

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