Who Thinks that God Is Still Speaking?

This post is part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book and for responses from other bloggers and columnists. And be sure to join the live chat with the author, 2-3pm EDT TODAY.

Some of us giggled a bit when, a few years back, the notoriously liberal United Church of Christ denomination inaugurated a marketing campaign with the tagline, “God Is Still Speaking.” What they were getting at is that God’s interest in contemporary issues didn’t end when the final book of the canon was penned.

But what’s ironic about the slogan is that liberal Christians are quite reluctant to affirm that God speaks to them individually. That’s the territory of conservative evangelicals, especially those of charismatic and Pentecostal stripes. Like, for instance, believers who attend Vineyard churches.

That’s exactly the group that Tanya Luhrmann studied and writes about in her excellent book, When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. Seriously, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you like this blog, you should read this book.

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Exactly Which Church Are These Letters To?

This post is part of the Patheos Book Club. Check out the Book Club for more posts on this book, an interview with the editor, and for responses from other bloggers and columnists.

As I am wont to do, I’ll begin with my quibbles. These aren’t letters to a future church, as the book’s title promises. They are letters to the church today. Actually, I’d be very intrigued by a book of letters to the church 100 or 1,000 years from now. But that’s not this book.

This book is a group of letters by Christian leaders to the church today, telling the church what it’s doing wrong and how to fix it. As with many multi-author books, it’s hit and miss. For my part, the spoken word poetry doesn’t work in print. But other letters are great.

Among the latter is David Fitch’s “The Ideologizing of the Church”:

We get distracted from the fact that things haven’t really changed at all, that our lives are caught up in gamesmanship, not the work of God’s salvation in our own lives and his work (missio dei) to save the world.

But, I think the very best of this book is three letters that lie at its center:

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I’m Feeling Ambivalent about Blue Like Jazz: The Movie

If you travel in the same online circles as me, you are being inundated with urgings to support and see Blue Like Jazz, the movie based on Don Miller’s best-selling memoir. Friends on Facebook who once begged me to send money to the Kickstarter campaign for the film are now pleading with me to buy tickets in advance, an effort to show theater owners how great this film is.

But these efforts give me the willies. It reminds me of when Christianity Today literally wrapped itself in a promotion for Evan Almighty, a sophomoric and poorly made movie (23% on Rotten Tomatoes) — editor David Neff called it a “bold symbol of the new cooperative spirit” between Hollywood and the evangelical church.

Hollywood must have forgotten about that cooperative spirit, because Steve Taylor couldn’t find investors to make the BLJ movie. Supporters of the film decided to crowdsource it, raising over $345,000 on Kickstarter, the second-largest Kickstarter campaign of 2010. As you can imagine, I’m a fan of crowdsourcing and of making end-runs around traditional media (hence my ebook publishing), but I was a little put-off by the often panicky appeals during the fundraising campaign.

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Reading Gagnon: Morality and Sin [Scot]

This week, Scot Miller is blogging about Robert Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, which many readers of this blog are sure will convince Scot and me that we’re wrong about the gays. -TJ

I should probably quit while I’m ahead, but I would like to offer a final post on Gagon’s book before I shut up.

Again, thanks to Rev. Joseph Hedden, Jr., pastor of Emmanuel Reformed Church of the United Church of Christ in Export, PA, for letting me borrow his copy of Gagnon’s book. I’ll return your copy in the mail next week!

Am I absolutely certain that same-sex intercourse is not a sin when the Bible apparently says it’s a sin? Why shouldn’t I defer to the “clear” statements and commands in the Bible? Who am I to judge God’s word?

I’m not absolutely certain about moral matters in general, since moral reasoning is not like reasoning in mathematics or logic. (About the only absolute moral principles I can think of are very specific, like, “Rape is wrong.”) While I’m convinced that some moral principles and values are objective, the moral conclusions we reach are never certain, and require ongoing reflection and re-examination. So while I’m no moral skeptic, I think it’s important that we have good reasons for our moral judgments.

At a minimum, I think that good moral reasons are determined within the community of moral agents who have to live together. Moral people may disagree between themselves, but we can all provide reasons for why we act morally as we do.

Then we need to ask whether our reasons are really good or not, whether they can stand up or not. As Paul said in 1 Thess. 5:20-21, “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

So while I could be mistaken, I’m highly confident that the biological sex of the participants is irrelevant to the question of whether intercourse is morally good or bad. Heterosexual intercourse is neither inherently good nor bad, and the same is true for same-sex intercourse. Intercourse may be sinful when someone uses deception or coercion or violence, but it’s hard to see how the biology the participants is relevant.
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