August and September were busy months for my blog. There was the Chik-Fil-A drama and other culture war nonsense. Both political parties held their conventions. Then the Benghazi attack happened. In September, our church did a sermon series called “Jesus is My Candidate” that I tried and spectacularly failed to turn into some kind of bigger “movement.” The idea was to transcend partisanship and avoid saying and doing things that would dishonor Jesus’ name. So here are 10 posts on culture wars, morality, marriage, American Pelagianism, holy war, the fear of God, and other matters.
1) Are we an interest group or a kingdom of disciples and evangelists?
I wrote this post at the height of the Chik-Fil-A drama. What I hate so much about the culture wars is the way they make Christianity look like any other special interest tribe of people who are loyal to their team but don’t act any different than hockey fans at a sports bar. We cannot forsake our call to discipleship and evangelism in how we conduct ourselves politically.
2) Sabbath healing as a paradigm for Christian morality
One of Jesus’ most revolutionary statements is: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” He was willing to break the rules that were set up to glorify God for the sake of loving His neighbor. We don’t think about the fact that any of those cripples who Jesus healed could have come to him six out of seven days of the week. None of them had life-threatening, urgent needs. Jesus healed them as part of his attack on the false piety by which the Pharisees pitted love of God against love of neighbor, an attitude that persists in abundance today.
3) Submission as leadership; marriage as mutual servanthood
We preached through the book of Ephesians this summer. When we got to Ephesians 5, my wife Cheryl and I both preached while washing each others’ feet. We believe that the example that Christ gives us and articulates in Mark 10:42-45 says that Christian leadership is submission. Servanthood is not just doing things for other people, but putting yourself beneath them. So there is no basis for establishing a hierarchy within a marriage whether you want to say that men and women have complementary roles essentially tied to their gender or not.
4) God built it; we didn’t
This post took a little bit of a risk by entering into the political sphere. Regardless of where you stand on how big or small the government should be, it’s blasphemy for Christians to claim that we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps by saying “We built it.” God has carried us every step of the way, providing us not only with mentors and teachers but with the character traits and faculties within ourselves that we use to build whatever we build.
5) The conflation of two fears
Over the summer, God led me on a journey through scripture of exploring the concept of the fear of the Lord. What I discovered is that scripture describes two fears which are the opposite of one another even though they use the same words in Hebrew and Greek. The fear of the Lord describes a healthy response to the overwhelming infinity of God’s presence. To be afraid of Godis something entirely different that causes us to behave like the third servant in the parable of the talents, grabbing for easy answers and safe theological solutions instead of trusting God and taking risks like He wants us to.
Jesus’ exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5 in which he casts a legion of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs has seemed like a prophetic parable about the state of the evangelical church. We are going through an exorcism of sorts in which the obvious ugliness of people like Fred Phelps (the “God hates fags” preacher) and Terry Jones (the Koran burner) is causing us to reexamine our theology to try to understand how these monsters have been created. The shriller and crazier the pigs squeal as they race with fury to the edge of a cliff, the more that Christ can awaken those of us who really belong to Him.
7) My impotent witness against holy war
When that stupid anti-Islam film came out and there were protests all over the Muslim world and the Benghazi attacks happened, I saw Libyan people marching in the streets holding signs saying, “We love America” and “We are sorry for the terrorists’ actions” and so forth. I decided I wanted to send a message of peace to the people of Benghazi so I got my friend who lives in Gaza to help me translate, “God’s peace be upon you, people of Benghazi” into Arabic and I made a sign. This post is about that and my refusal to hate a whole religion of people on principle in a time when many evangelical leaders are spreading anti-Muslim propaganda to their email lists.
8) Staying “on message” for Jesus
This was part of the “Jesus Is My Candidate” campaign, the hope being that in the heat of election season we would not forget who we represent. I had a list of several things we can do to stay “on message” for Jesus whatever the season.
9) Is American 53% Pelagian?Much of Western Christianity is shaped by an early 5th century debate between Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, and a monk named Pelagius. Pelagius believed that even though Christ died to procure forgiveness for our sins, we could become sinless on our own through discipline and training. Augustine believed that we depend upon Christ and the Holy Spirit every step of the way in being liberated from sin. Augustine won the debate, but you wouldn’t know it by the attitude of many Americans who consider self-reliance a virtue and dependency a vice. Every Christian lives under a “culture of dependency” created by Jesus Christ; the 53% or however many who deny this are Pelagians.
10) Rachel Corrie and the wrath of God
In 2002, an American peace activist named Rachel Corrie was killed in Rafah, Gaza while trying to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home. This past fall, the Israeli court system officially cleared the bulldozer driver of negligence or any other charges in her death. As I contemplated this injustice, it became part of my journey this fall considering how God’s wrath boils up in solidarity with martyrs who are killed unjustly. The privileged have a vested interest in defining God’s wrath abstractly, while the oppressed often identify it as God’s defense of their dignity.