Fresh Website, Stale Theology

For years, I’ve had a common retort to those who oppose gay marriage on biblical grounds: Do you make women wear head coverings in church? That’s because prohibitions of homosexuality and head coverings have about the same amount of biblical attestation. When I ask that question, my interlocutors most often pivot to arguments from natural law. That’s because no one — NO ONE — is really a biblical literalist. We all live on the slippery, relativistic slope of biblical interpretation.

Well, now there’s a slick new website that claims there’s a “movement” to bring back head coverings in worship. Oh, I should mention, it’s head coverings for women only — they don’t seem to be interested in the Torah commandment that men cover their heads while at prayer.

As is often the case in such things, you can’t find out much about the “movement” on its website. You can find a link to the “movement’s” founder (and possibly its sole member), Jeremy Gardiner. He writes about himself,

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What Progressive Christianity Needs Is More Apocalypse

Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov. Painted in 1887.

I appreciate what Richard Beck did in his series of posts, calling on progressive Christians to recover the biblical language of spiritual warfare. But, as I noted yesterday, I think there are a couple of weaknesses with that line of reasoning. One is that, while spiritual warfare language is biblical, it does not emanate from Jesus.

So I’d like to offer an alternative, and highly related, corrective to Richard’s.

I think that progressive Christians need to reclaim the biblical language of the apocalyptic.

For one thing, apocalyptic language begins in the Hebrew Scripture. It’s rife in the prophets, especially the later prophets, and most notably in Daniel. (Spiritual warfare language is almost completely absent from the Hebrew Scripture; in fact, in Job, it seems that YHWH and Satan are card-playing buddies.)

Secondly, Jesus is an apocalyptic preacher. From the oldest and probably most reliable Gospel, Mark, comes the “Little Apocalypse.” Therein, Jesus says,

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On Retiring a Sermon

Unlike a lot of you, I don’t have to prepare a sermon each week. In fact, I only have to prepare two or three a year. And I’ve usually got one that’s my go-to sermon. When I’m asked to preach on a particular topic or text, I prepare something original. When I’m not, I go to the go-to.

I realize this is a luxury. I’ve gotten to deliver this sermon in many venues over many months. I know the jokes that work. I don’t need to use notes. I have the scripture text memorized. I have completely internalized the message, and I am confident in its delivery.

The sermon I’ve been living with the last couple years is based on Mark 9:2-10, in which Jesus is transfigured. I think I found a particularly interesting exegetical hook, in that Mark records Peter’s odd statement — “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us build three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — and there is no response from Jesus. In fact, Mark records a rare omniscient narrator comment: “He said this because they were so afraid that they didn’t know what to say.”

The hook is that Peter expresses the very human desire to hang on to the intense spiritual moment that he was having — he wanted to institutionalize it, even if only for a few more moments. Even more interesting is that Jesus doesn’t respond. In fact, it’s the only time in all four Gospels in which Jesus doesn’t respond when directly spoken to.

This Sunday, I will give this sermon for the last time.

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The Gospel in Two Broad Strokes: Reconciliation

The context of this post is the following: Last week, Dr. Christena Cleveland wrote a post reflecting on something I’d said at a conference last month. In short, I said that those of us in the room had a “better version of the gospel” than the regnant view in the West. Dr. Cleveland misheard me, thinking I said we have the “best version.” Nevertheless, she was critical of my statement, arguing that to assert that one’s version of the gospel is “better” or “best” necessarily excludes a diversity of voices.

Dr. Cleveland’s post hinted at an accusation of racism, which I vehemently denied, albeit in a manner that was overly defensive. Nevertheless, I continue to disagree with her assertion that preferring one version of the gospel over another — and proudly proclaiming that — is necessarily exclusionary. That’s an argument that is simply impossible to defend, unless one is prepared to embrace the completely syncretized relativism that has overwhelmed much of liberal Protestantism in America. I, for one, am not prepared to do that.

So, I am taking a couple posts to write about the two themes that I think are central to the gospel of Jesus Christ, insofar as I understand it, today, and from where I sit. Whether this version that I espouse is, indeed, “better,” and whether it is “exclusionary,” I will leave it for you to judge. Read the prologue here and the post on liberation here.

Part One: Context

Years ago, when Emergent Village was going strong, evangelicals were starting to have doubts about us, and critics of us were starting to go public, Doug Pagitt and I made a pact: We would meet with anyone, anywhere, no questions asked. If someone wanted to meet with us — to question us, berate us, or attempt to convert us — we would meet with them. Since that time, we’ve had innumerable breakfasts at Original Pancake House, some of them with readers of this blog.

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