The case of the atheist pastor

Mainline Protestants have been casting away traditional Christian teachings with great abandon.  Pastors can now be female, gay, rejecters of Christ’s deity, atonement, and resurrection, etc., etc.  One wonders if, in liberal Protestantism, there is any minimum religious belief that is necessary in a pastor.  Or in a Christian or a member of the church.  For example, does a pastor (or Christian, or church member),  have to believe in God?

The United Church of Canada is having to make a decision about this, as it reviews the case of one of its ministers, Greta Vosper, who is an atheist and who teaches atheism from her pulpit.

PREDICTION:  Pastors in the United Church will not be required to believe in God.  Nor will church members.  Christians may be atheists.  And atheists will be considered Christians.  To their great annoyance. [Read more…]

Is Ted Cruz a theocrat?

Ted Cruz is shaping up to be the main alternative to Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee.  No one doubts that he is a thorough, consistent conservative.  He is also a vocal Christian.  But some of what he says makes many Christians, not to mention virtually all secularists, leery.

Some say he is a “dominionist,” a Christian who desires to set up the United States as a theocracy, adopting the Bible, with its Levitical code, as the law of the land.  Or, if he doesn’t go that far, he sounds like a civil religion advocate, seeing America as a Christian country, while reducing Christianity to generic moralism and nation-worship.  Both positions raise severe theological problems.

Are you bothered by any of this?  Do you think Cruz holds either of these positions?  After the jump, a link to a helpful article on the subject.

UPDATE:  A great discussion has broken out over on the World Table tab.  The default, along with the number of comments shown, will be Disqus.  But we may want to go back and forth until the transition is complete.

[Read more…]

The separation of doctrine from practice

After much study and debate among the bishops, Pope Francis has issued a letter on the family entitled Amoris Laetitia (the joy of love).  In wrestling with how to minister to gays, the problems of modern families in a time of sexual revolution, and  whether or not to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, the Pope is characteristically unclear.

He upholds traditional morality, pro-life ethics, and historical Catholic teaching on the family, and yet he speaks much about “individual conscience” (which is usually problematic in Catholic theology) and pastoral discretion.  As usual, his pronouncement is controversial and is being taken differently by all sides.  (See this and this.)

The best thing I’ve read on the document is from Ross Douthat, who says that Catholics have been upholding doctrine (pleasing the conservatives) while allowing great flexibility in actual practice (pleasing the liberals).  He says that what is new in Amoris Laetitia is that the Pope is giving official sanction to that separation of doctrine and practice.

I would add that this is not just a Catholic phenomenon.  We certainly see this in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod when it comes to official insistence on, for example, closed communion, even as many congregations ignore that teaching in practice without any official consequences.  (Can you think of other examples in non-Catholic churches?)

Is this a necessary accommodation in a fallen, complicated world?  Or is it evidence that churches don’t really believe their own teachings? [Read more…]

“Is God Dead?” 50 years–and 439 years–later

This month 50 years ago, in 1966, Time Magazine featured its cover-story entitled “Is God Dead?” The article was about the “Christian atheists,” such as Thomas J. J. Altizer, of the theology faculty at Emory, who argued that the traditional deity is no longer relevant to the modern age and that we need to find new modes of spirituality for a new era.

Leigh Eric Schmidt has written a perceptive article on the impact of that cover story and of the theological fad that it discussed.  He says that it contributed to the rise of evangelicalism, as people sought a more robust understanding of God than was being taught in liberal seminaries.  Mainline Protestantism once exerted genuine cultural leadership and the public was attentive to its theological scholarship.  (Time also had cover stories on Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.)  But Schmidt observes that the “Is God Dead?” story was mainline Protestantism’s last hurrah.

So, fifty years later, God is not dead.  Altizer is not dead either, hanging on at 88.  Time is also hanging on, despite big drops in circulation and the competition of the internet.  Mainline liberal Protestantism has also been dwindling in numbers and relevance, though you wouldn’t know that from academic religion departments.

After the jump, though, I offer a passage from the Formula of Concord, Article VIII, on the person of Christ, which discusses the death of God in a completely different way.  It takes up the controversy at the time of whether we can say that “God died on the Cross.”  Zwingli and others said that only the human nature of Christ suffered and died, and that we cannot ascribe such limitations to God (scriptural language to the contrary being merely a figure of speech).  But Luther insisted that because of the incarnation and the communication of the attributes of Christ’s two natures, it is true that the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, did suffer and die.  Otherwise, another human death could not help us.  We can indeed say that God died on the Cross.  But then He rose again. [Read more…]

Today is Good Friday AND Annunciation

The reader and commenter known only as ngb informed me of today’s special conjunction:
In case you all haven’t realized it, this year is a special one with regards to Holy Week. Good Friday falls on the Feast of the Annunciation—March 25—which nicely ties Jesus’ conception and birth together with his death.
Good Friday last fell on March 25 in 2005, and it won’t fall on the 25th again until 2157, so this will be the last time these two feasts coincide in our lifetimes.
So today marks both the day that Jesus was conceived of the Virgin Mary–the beginning of the Incarnation of the Son of God–AND the day of His atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.  The two events are inextricably linked, of course, and today they come together.

[Read more…]

Trump’s pastor was Norman Vincent Peale

When Donald Trump was growing up, his parents would take him to the church pastored by Norman Vincent Peale.  The minister who developed “the power of positive thinking” conducted the weddings for Trump and his sisters.  And today the preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” which was largely launched by Peale, are the “evangelicals” who are supporting him.

Michael Horton makes these connections and goes on to apply them to the larger evangelical scene today. [Read more…]


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