Saturday, September 04, 2010
Friday, September 03, 2010
Swords and Discernment
I can’t hear the phrase “sword of the Lord” without thinking back to an odd experience during my college years. For no apparent reason, I started to receive a newspaper in the mail. It was called The Sword of the Lord. It was jam-packed with articles representing very conservative Christianity. The founder of The Sword of the Lord was John R. Rice, a Baptist evangelist from Texas. An unabashed fundamentalist, Rice graciously shared his condemnation of the sinfulness and heresies of others. Not only did he judge the secular world, but also many prominent, theologically conservative Christian leaders. Rice and his fellow journalists were proud to wield the “sword of the Lord.”I find Mark's approach here fascinating. I am not entirely sure that theology, even really bad theology, is a sin or weakness requiring grace and/or judgment. While bad theology typically leads to bad action, I think it the action the requires grace/judgment, not the underlying thought. But let's grant the point for a minute.
Yet in their denouncements of the manifold sins of others, I failed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. It was as if they had grasped the “sword of the Lord” in Jeremiah, forgetting how that sword is described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. There we read, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (4:12-13). This passage would seem to invite a celebration of God’s judgment. Yet the next verses move in another direction: “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (4:14-16). The sword of the Lord pierces us so that the mercy and grace might touch our innermost being. The judgment of God drives us, not to despair, but to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You and I might never publish a newspaper filled with judgment and condemnation. But most of us do single out certain people for our wrath. They might be our political opponents. They may be those with whom we disagree theologically. But before we whip out the “sword of the Lord” in censure of others, may we remember that the “sword” prepares the way for the amazing grace and mercy of God.
One thing I know for sure is that we all suffer from bad theology at some point. The sword prepares the way for grace precisely because it cuts indiscriminately. If we dare to wield it, we must in fact fall on it. Who are we to pretend to know exactly the mind of the Lord?
I think there is a reason even those God chose to call as His prophets, those that proclaimed His wrath in the Old Testament lived such miserable lives that generally needed in such awful circumstances - they were themselves condemned by the words they declared.
That is when I will know I have encountered a true prophet - when his or her declarations result in personal humility. That I have yet to encounter - myself included.
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Reclaiming Culture Through Vocation
Both the Christian left and the Christian right are wrong, according to Hunter: Wrong in imagining that a Christian can engage in politics the way it is routinely practiced today: by demeaning opponents, caricaturing their views, instilling and fanning base fears, raising utopian hopes, and promising followers power and prominence. Christians in politics have become "functional Nietzscheans" he says. How can followers of a penniless and crucified master lust for power?To my way of thinking, both Gallagher and the man she is critiquing, James Davison Hunter, have a point, but both are missing the bigger picture. Hunter is right - politics, of itself cannot carry the day. Gallagher is right - politics is a vital part of the solution. Gallagher also paraphrases Hunter in this fashion:
Here's my problem with Hunter's conclusion: Politics does work. Abortion remains a live moral and cultural question in America in part because of politics.
Hunter's critique of politics cuts deeply with me. Three years ago I started a political organization, the National Organization for Marriage. On the whole, I am proud of how NOM has engaged in this fight. People fight over symbols because symbols are the stuff out of which reality is constructed.
Worse, the Christian right's theory of culture is simply false. One cannot "engage the culture" by converting individual hearts and minds or accumulating majority votes. Culture simply does not work like that. Culture is the power to "name reality," and that power is in itself inevitably intertwined with high cultural status. Culture is a product of elites, not of moral majorities.There in is the big picture - we don't just convert individual hearts and minds, we convert elite hearts and minds - or even better we help those we convert to become among the elite.
Christianity should define culture, but to do so we have to be among the elite of the institutions that define culture. And this is where Gallagher is really right - we have abandoned those institutions, political and otherwise.
As Christians we are called to a vocation, but for the sake of using evangelical language - let's call it a ministry. Some minister in church and some int he capital. Some minister in hospitals and some in movie houses. Some minister in universities.
As Christians we have chosen to isolate ourselves. Either we isolate our faith to Sunday or we isolate ourselves in Christian branded business and universities. We may not be of the world, but we are IN it - and we need to start acting like it.
We are the best and the brightest if we would just start acting like it.
Related Tags: Illuminated Scripture
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Who's In Control
You see, faith is the opposite of control. Faith says, “I do not know what tomorrow will hold. I cannot even control today. Instead, I will live by the Spirit. I will live with the uncertainty of the world and instead exercise the muscle of faith that I have let atrophy for too long. Christ is in me; therefore, I have hope.”This I agree with utterly and completely. I must however take some exception to Dan's depiction of what offers success in our nation. It has been my privilege to know many extremely successful people - from a President of the United States to Nobel prize winners to athletes of many championships to some of the wealthiest people the nation has ever produced. Most of the truly successful I have met fully understand they have met with good fortune - not all will name the Lord, but all have a humility about circumstances that led to their success.
An important thing to remember here, I am not talking about people that have made a big splash and then gone broke, or suffered a failed marriage, or some other tragedy - I am talking about people who have succeeded and not seen those types of disappointments.
There is, I believe a justice in God's world. I'm not sure if God rains tragedy on those who develop success without humility, but I do know that deep abiding success comes only with that humility.
Which brings me back to Dan - see I do not think faith means to choose less than success, nor does it mean to not work hard - these things are not mutually exclusive. Faith means simply to know we are not in control and to rest in the arms of the Almighty. If we do so, I believe He will supply us with the success most suitable for us. It may not be wealth, power or fame - but it will be success.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The Problem With Law...
Come to think of it, the Pharisees were bureaucrats. Are you one?
Monday, August 30, 2010
The comic book film has become a gravy train to nowhere. The genre cranks up directors’ box office averages and keeps offbeat actors fully employed for years at a stretch by dutifully replicating (with precious few exceptions) the least interesting, least exciting elements of its source material; spicing up otherwise rote superhero vs. supervillain storylines with “complications” and “revisions” (scare quotes intentional) that the filmmakers, for reasons of fiduciary duty, cannot properly investigate; and delivering amusing characterizations, dense stories or stunning visuals while typically failing to combine those aspects into a satisfying whole.I guess some people will never get it, but good guy vs bad guy is the whole point! We live in a gray world - and we invent great epic material to keep clear right and wrong, good and evil. Societies throughout the centuries have had their epic tales. The Oddessy, The Illiad, Gilgamesh, the tales of Norse mythology - the list goes on.
Such tales survive and thrive not because they are archetypal - they are meant to be simple - but they are meant to uphold what is good and right and decent in our society.
In this age, the superhero tale has come to be our epic. There is pretty much universal agreement that the last Superman movie bit the big one. There is a reason. Superman, the archetype of archetypes was just too normal, too conflicted, and not heroic enough.
In the movies, Iron Man is amongst the most fun, but he is one of my least favorites from a character standpoint. He is too human, he is not a standard that I want to obtain. (Wait until the next movie - an alcoholic superhero is just not something you want to see.)
Which is the real point. The "Demon in the bottle" story line for IM is about a hero battling not the bad guy, but himself. Now I know many of us relate to that problem - but true heroism is not about beating your inner demons, its about beating the bad guy in spite of yourself. Yeah, a real hero might be alcoholic, but he would not be all introspective about it. When the fecal matter hit the fan, he would simply stop drinking and meet the challenge. It is the self-sacrificial nature, not the introspective one that makes a hero a hero.
And if you think about it, isn't that the Christian ideal - to simply "stop" whatever it is that possesses you and get about the business of saving the world - in Christ's case literally.
So, movie critics - complain and moan about the simple nature of the superhero genre all you want. You're wrong. Good guys vs. bad guys is precisely what we need in this world.