The Fall of Change

Many people have been outraged at Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments. On this blog, I have discussed Wright and recent lashing he has received. Senator Obama has sought to create a message that he is different than other politicians and that he will bring change. I have never gotten on the Obama train, but I did somewhat believe he would be somehow different. However, today any trace of that hope was erased. Senator Obama ridiculed and denounced his pastor's recent comments made over the past few ways. Rev. Wright had four very public interviews to defend himself, and Senator Obama further distanced himself from his pastor during this time. Senator Obama said the following regarding Rev. Wright: "What became clear to me is that he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright has shared many beliefs over the past few days that I find quite invigorating. He rightly sees parallels between the Roman Empire and the United States (in the book of Revelations, John describes this empire as Babylon, the great harlot). Rev. Wright rightly contrasts the difference between the way of Christ and the ways of the empire that crucified him. Rev. Wright rightly wonders what evils our government is capable of doing.

My pastor and I were reflecting on the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament this morning. What astounded us was the similarities between the message of Jeremiah Wright and the message of Jeremiah the prophet. The language, tone, and feeling were very similar.

Senator Obama declares that his worldview is something different than Rev. Jeremiah Wright. This I believe is true. They share very, very different worldviews-- Rev. Wright's is one schooled in scripture. Senator Obama's is one schooled in American imperialism. Thank-you Senator Obama for confirming my belief that you are just like every other politician.


Why Charity Isn't The Answer

Charity is popular in America. American Christians have been giving millions of dollars to noble causes both at home and around the globe for the past century. Increasingly, America's evangelical circles are beginning to pay attention to various world crises and giving a lot of money to help. As well, Hollywood and the media are ramping up their efforts. Shows like Oprah's Big Give and Extreme Makeover Home Edition touch our heart strings week after week.

Before I move on I do want to make something clear. These are very, very good efforts! It is good for us to give. I am glad that the troubles of the world are beginning to find voices in America's pulpits and tv screens.

Nevertheless, I must say that charity is not the answer. This morning I was reading on CNN that Sam's Club is limiting the amount of bulk rice that people can buy. Why? Because rice prices have increased by as much as 75% in many places in the world. 75%!!! For the 1 billion people on the planet who were already struggling to buy rice at yesterday's prices, 75% is beyond imagination.

Add to this that the dollars Americans are giving have drastically fallen in value since 2003. What we need to realize as Christians living in America is that our social spending habits, our economic and political decisions, and our ideas about how the world works has a huge impact on the world (obviously not only our policies and idea but other countries as well).

The church was intended to be its own oikos, its own polis, its own ekklesia-- a place for an alternative politic and economic! Disputes were to be handled in new ways. Money and property were to be handled in new ways. Relationships (including the common divisions between male/female, slave/free, and chosen race/other races) were to be different. There was supposed to be a common meal made uncommon (Yahweh's Table) where people would eat together. There are supposed to be deacons distributing bread to the city. There are supposed to be apostles who teach us this stuff. Charity changes when it is linked to an intangible symbol (a piece of paper we call a dollar that is increasingly a relative number on a computer screen). When charity is no longer a tangible, real item (such as bread or property), it ceases to function to its fullest abilities.


Selling Out-- A Confused Rambling!

Recently, I have been re-reading Dr. David Fitch's The Great Giveaway-- Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism and Other Modern Maladies. I met Fitch several years ago when I was serving as an Associate Pastor in Indiana. He is a very intellectual person with a keen sense of how the conservative church has been infected by modernism (of course the liberals are too, but they self-admittedly were servants of modernism, whereas, the conservatives continue to maintain their integrity in the midst of such a great compromise).

In my first reading of Fitch, I initially agreed with just about everything he said. Those who know me know that I often rant about how the church has been taken captive by democratic individualism, capitalistic choice, militant justice, and corporate domination. I very much agree with Christian Smith's conclusion that overall the American Christian is actually a believer in moralistic therapeutic deism-- that great American religion that is being exported to the world through the media and missionaries.

Fitch makes some very good points about how the church is captive in this book. For example, in chapter three, he discusses how the church's ideas of leadership have been taken captive by corporate America. And I can agree with this. The pastor has become CEO, evangelism is now marketing, church growth is about increasing shareholder value and market share. We look to business for our ideas and ideals about teams, organization, structures, and vision. We look for entrepreneurs for church planting. Churches seek to be effective rather than faithful, and Christian teachers find a way to show how scripture and theology make those two things synonymous with one another. We are definitely captive.

However, upon my second reading I feel a huge tug to pull back from this. He criticizes the idea at the beginning of chapter three that "leadership principles" are universal. Thus, Maxwell can write a book called The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Fitch writes, "The implicit bottom-line understanding here is that leadership principles are not determined in specific ways by the person and work of Jesus Christ that demand allegiance to him in order to make sense."

I find myself completely agreeing, and yet disagreeing completely at the same time (if that is truly possible!). Jesus Christ changes everything. Jesus Christ should be the mediator of everything. Jesus Christ should be the lens to look at everything. But... good leaders seem to be able to lead well with or without Jesus. Good leadership principles seem to work with or without Jesus. The Empire marches on successfully. And while noting this, perhaps not all things in the empire are truly of the empire.

Which bring me to what I think is the crux of the debate... what is the role of general revelation? Although we are fallen-- or bent as C.S. Lewis liked to say, we still are able to do good in the world even if we do not follow Jesus. God's fingerprint is on his creation. These things can miss the mark most of the time, but they are not totally off. Sometimes, they just need a little correction. Or do they need a total re-haul. Do they need to be re-formatted-- erase and start all over? Except that even in Jesus Christ making us new creatures, we are not re-formatted like a hard drive (or are we?). We are still us! Yet, somehow different.

At this point some one always says, "It's a mystery. We can't comprehend how Christ works in us and changes us. We are not able to grasp how things are "already but not yet." The problem with this is that we have a real world, with real problems, and real debates like the one of the role of corporate America and the church. I don't want our churches to have a CEO like GM in the 1950s, but what if our CEO is more like Steve Jobs. That would be cool! Steve has a lot to teach us in the church. And Jesus would have some things to say to Apple as well. But now, it seems as if we have just put Steve and Jesus on the same elevation. Isn't Jesus supposed to be at the top? And yet, I could see Jesus serving Steve Jobs, even submitting himself to Steve Jobs.
If we are going that far, Jesus submits himself to sin and death-- even a humiliating and cursed death of a cross. Jesus submits himself to desecration-- which means he desecrates himself. The death on the cross actually made him an unclean sacrifice, unacceptable to God according to the Torah. He wasn't valid. Thus, he would be rejected by God in a similar way that Cain's sacrifice was rejected by God. It would be like breaking a sheep's legs and then trying to offer it in sacrifice at the temple. Nope! Such a sacrifice is invalid.

I want the church to learn some lessons from Starbucks and Google. Starbucks get something about team work-- and work in general for that matter. When the college ministries director and I went to the local fraternities as a way of our congregation reaching out to them, we came back proclaiming that fraternity to have better community and friendship and hospitality than our own congregation. To which people reply, well yes, I'm sure they do have some sort of good community. But it certainly isn't the fulfilling type of community that Christ offers. True! It might not be... but hey, it seems better than what we see in most congregations.

We talk about these Christ-ideals as if we have them and that we can provide them to people by simply giving them the gospel or believe that if they join up with us they will experience such a Jesus. But they don't experience such a Jesus, or such a community, or such a great way of leadership because we ourselves who believe in Jesus don't experience such a thing. The culture at some cutting-edge businesses is way better than in most congregations.

And that fact-- and I will restate FACT-- makes me doubt most of my typical thinking and ideas about culture. I preach the same message found in Fitch's book. I have stated on paper and screen and said out loud much of what he says in his book. I can't really find many lines I disagree with. But, I FEEL a sense that the ideas presented by him and that I hold so tenaciously are off in some way.


Painting Elephants

Check out this video of an elephant painting a precise picture of other elephants! By the way, this is no joke. I've been doing a lot of reading about the intelligence of various animals-- chimps, apes, dolphins, elephants, etc. It is truly amazing what other animals can do.


Re-writing Scripture

Speaker & scholar Phyllis Tickle believes that our generation is seeing the end of "sola scriptura," the Protestant idea of Scriptural authority correcting and superseding Christian tradition and papal authority. She believes that this end has been brought about in three movements:

1) Christians Against Slavery-- the bible does not say that one can't have slaves or should not have slaves, and yet most Christians today believe that slavery is wrong, against the will of God, and was only permissible in the bible due to cultural constraints.

2) Christian Acceptance of Feminine Authority-- according to Tickle, Paul speaks clearly against women being in authoritative positions in the church and seems to indicate that women should have very little spoken participation in the congregational setting. Tickle and a growing majority in Christian circles believes that this was a localized teaching from Paul, that he meant something else, that such a mandate does not apply today, or that he was just plain wrong.

3) Christian Acceptance of Homosexuality-- the western church is increasingly more tolerant of homosexuality and other sexual/gender issues despite the clear teaching in scripture (Tickle believes that the Bible very clearly stands against this-- and she seems to indicate that she disagrees with the Scriptures on this point, as well as feminine authority and slavery.).

Readers of my blog will have a wide variety of views on each of these three points. The point is not to debate any of these issues, but to shine light on a shift taking place. Many Christians in America today would say they believe in the Bible as their final authority and yet most of us would say genocide is morally wrong and against the will of God-- even though it is commanded by God to the Israelites. We would add that it is wrong for us to enslave other people (and people groups) because we are all created in the image of God and deserve to be treated with dignity. Most of us would then create complicated and complex arguments for why the Bible does command genocide in a few instances and how that is wrong today, as well as complicated arguments for why slavery is wrong but not stated as such in Scripture.

Tickle believes that we come to such conclusions based out of reason and experience. We "know" that slavery is wrong. We feel it in our gut. Thus, this belief supersedes that of scripture and we will then shape the scriptures and our theology to create an accommodated argument for our belief.

I do believe she is correct in saying that we are seeing the end of sola scriptura. I think we are beginning to see a new era emerge-- a place where theology is shaped by scripture but not controlled by scripture. Although I would argue that this is exactly what has been happening over the past 2000 years, it will become more visible and blatant in our time. Rather than appealing to cut-and-paste scripture verses as evidence for our systematic theology, theology will occur by appealing to themes in scripture and then departing from them to create something new. Essentially, we will blatantly state that our new theological thought is inspired by Jesus but contradicts Scripture in "such and such" ways and that this is okay and on purpose.

A good example of this will be departing from the Genesis narrative of creation and forming a theology that has evolution as its framing story but have a Yahwist-inspired value weaving throughout as opposed to a social-Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest value weaving throughout. Theologians will then argue that the Yahwist writer strain in the Torah was doing this when writing his parts of Genesis-- taking the general framework of Enuma Elish (the Babylonian Creation myth) but asserting Yahweh as creator who speaks forth creation in a loving, caring way rather than humanity and creation emerging out of the blood and violence and chaos of the gods. Thus, the new era will create its owns "scriptures" in the vein of the Bible, in a similar strain as that of the Bible, but wholly new and different.

We will appeal to various authorities for such a web of belief-- The Old and New Testaments, reason, science, experience, art and beauty, other religions/faiths/myths, Christian tradition and theology, technology, etc. Some believe that the Emergent churches (and Tickle seems to indicate this as well) are bringing about such a way of life. I'm not totally on board with that because many in the Emergent circles would never engage in the ways that I have outlined above. However, I do think Emergent is paving a road for this too occur and will converge with many other movements in theology and practice that will allow for such a way to EMERGE.

Thoughts? Questions? Push-backs?