Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Catechism #50-52

Question #50: Why the next words: "and is seated at the right hand of God"?

Answer: Christ ascended to heaven, there to show that he is head of his church, and that the Father rules all things through him (Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18;Matt. 28:18; Jhn 5:22-23).

Question #51: How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?

Answer: First, through his Holy Spirit he pours out his gifts from heaven upon us his members. Second, by his power he defends us and keeps us safe from all enemies (Acts 2:33; Eph. 4:7-12; Ps. 110:1-2; John 10:27-30; Rev. 19:11-16)

Question #52: How does Christ's return "to judge the living and the dead" comfort you?

Answer: In all my distress and persecution I turn my eyes to the heavens and confidently await as judge the very One who has already stood trial in my place before God and so has removed the whole curse from me. All his enemies and mine he will condemn to everlasting punishment: but me and all his chosen ones he will take along with him into the joy and the glory of heaven (Luke 21:28; Rom. 8:22-25; Phil. 3:20-21; Tit. 2:13-14; Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:6-10).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Song of the Week

I like Rich Mullin's original version better, but Third Day's tribute is really good too.

Third Day, 'Creed'

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why We Should Reject Pragmatic Arguments

I have a been reading a lot about a 19th century American theologian named John Williamson Nevin. He isn't well known. Not overly influential, not like Edwards, Whitefield, Wesley, Finney, Hodge, Machen, etc. He taught at a small German Reformed Seminary in Mercersburg, PA, where he also served as the President of Marshall College (later Franklin and Marshall College).

Probably his best known work is The Anxious Bench - a critique of the revivalistic practices known as the New Measures. It's a devastating critique in which he argues the New Measures, as represented by the Anxious Bench, represents a system of religion diametrically opposed to the churchly, sacramental, and historical system of Reformed Christianity. I'm sure I'll write more on Nevin and the 'Mercersburg Theology' in the near future, partly because I'm writing on it for class, but also because it addresses one of my growing concerns - the relationship between the evangelical church and what came before it - historic confessional Protestantism and Catholicism.

For now, however, one small piece of Nevin's argument has stirred my thinking. During Nevin's day, many argued for the use of the New Measures and the Anxious Bench on purely pragmatic grounds - they worked in producing revivals and converts. People were being brought into the Kingdom through these revivalistic techniques. Therefore, some argued, to be against them is to be against God and against true religion. Others went further, asserting that those who opposed the New Measures lacked compassion for lost souls. After all, they reasoned, "one soul is worth more than the world."

Nevin responded to this argument by saying even if souls were being brought into the kingdom via the New Measures, the cost was still to great, for true religion, (and true revivals) as well as truth and righteousness were being undermined. He goes on to show how pragmatic arguments have been used by the church throughout the ages to justify all kinds of 'quakery' - from the Pillar of the Stylites, to the monastic system of the Catholic church, to the eschatological fanaticism of the Millerites. In each of those cases, people were brought into the kingdom, had their consciences quickened, etc. Yet, each should be rejected as unbiblical, even though they were useful in producing results. Results do not mean the system of the New Measures should be accepted as good.

The pragmatism of Nevin's time didn't die. In fact, I think that was only a foretaste of the pragmatic principle to which the church in America would have to wrestle with on through the next century and into contemporary times. Seeker sensitive churches, a denigration of theology, gross youth ministries, theatrics of all types (confetti canons, etc.), have been argued for using the pragmatic principle - they work in getting people in church, into youth groups, saved...

But...does that make them good. Careful here. The pragmatic principle, as Nevin knew, can be used to justify all kinds of evils. 'The ends justify the means' is a slippery slope. For example, and Nevin couldn't see or use this because of the time he was writing, but the pragmatic principle was one justification Christians gave IN FAVOR OF SLAVERY. African slaves were exposed to the gospel, and many converted, in America. They wouldn't have been, so the argument went, in Africa. Their lives were improved, they lived in greater light, etc because of slavery. Therefore, it was argued, slavery is a good and compassionate institution.

Truth, Biblical truth, must trump pragmatism. What works must be brought under the scrutiny of the Word (and I'd argue the judgment of the communion of the saints through the ages - tradition, in other word - but that's a later post). Conversely, just because something doesn't work, doesn't man the church should reject it. Strong theological preaching, liturgy, preaching against sin, high views of the church, etc., don't play today to contemporary Americans. Well, will that be the determining factor? I hope not.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Song of the Week

This weekend, Luke's request for dessert having not eaten his dinner prompted my "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat!" The kids looked at me like I was nuts, then I had to sing a few lines which made Lynn look at me like I was nuts. Oh well. Pink Floyd is nutty.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Catechism #46-49

Question #46: What do you mean by saying, "He ascended to heaven"?

Answer: That Christ, while his disciples watched, was lifted up from the earth to heaven and will be there for our good until he comes again to judge the living and the dead (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 4:8-10; Heb. 7:23-25; 9:24;Acts 1:11)

Question #47: But isn't Christ with us until the end of the world as he promised us?

Answer: Christ is truly human and truly God. In his human nature Christ is not now on earth; but in his divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit he is not absent from us for a moment (Matt. 28:20; Acts 1:9-11; 3:19-21; Matt. 28:18-20; John 14:16-19).

Question #48: If his humanity is not present wherever his divinity is, then aren't the two natures of Christ separated from each other?

Answer: Certainly not. Since divinity is not limited and is present everywhere, it is evident that Christ's divinity is surely beyond the bounds of the humanity he has taken on, but at the same time his divinity is in and remains personally united to his humanity (Jer. 23:23-24; Acts 7:48-49 (Isa. 66:1); John 1:14; 3:13; Col. 2:9).

Question #49: How does Christ's ascension to heaven benefit us?

Answer: First, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father. Second, we have our own flesh in heaven—a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his members, to himself in heaven. Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee. By the Spirit's power we make the goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God's right hand (Rom. 8:34; 1 John 2:1; John 14:2; 17:24; Eph. 2:4-6; John 14:16; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; 5:5; Col. 3:1-4).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fallible Collection of Infallible Books

The past three or four weeks in the Poiema ACG have been dedicated to discussion on the canonization process. It's been incredibly challenging. I like certainty and neat, tidy doctrines. Thinking about the canon defies attempts for certainty (at least based on any proofs) and tidiness.

When you look at the criteria for canonicity (NT), you'll see what I'm talking about. First, there is the criterion of apostolicity. If a Gospel or Epistle was from an apostle, it would be included in the canon. But that's not neat either, even when we widen the it to the 'circle of apostles' and thus include Mark (as an associate of Peter) and Luke (as an associate of Paul). Still, what about Hebrews? It was included based on an assume Pauline authorship that is unlikely. Even Origen in the 3rd century believed it was not Pauline ("who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows"). Yet, it was still deemed canonical. Moreover, what about the Letter to the Laodicea that Paul says he wrote? We don't have it in our canon (we don't have it at all - it's gone). Why? Was it not inspired? What about the likely third letter to Corinth (1.5 Corinthians)? My point is that apostolicity doesn't completely answer the question why certain books and not others are in the canon.

The criterion of antiquity really collapses into that of apostolicity. A third criterion, public use in the church, likewise fails to answer all questions. Other letters, like the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, etc. were widely used in churches, and regarded by some early church fathers as canonical.

Consequently, many/most Reformed theologians assert that none of the criteria can be seen as absolute proofs of a the canonicity of a biblical book. Herman Ridderbos writes, "No matter how strong the evidence for apostolicity may be in many instances and no matter how forceful the arguments in favor of the apostolicity of certain other writings may be, historical judgments cannot be the final and sole ground for the church’s accepting the New Testament as canonical. To accept the New Testament on that grounds would mean that the church would ultimately be basing its faith on the results of historical investigation."

Ridderbos emphasizes the inability of establishing the canon by means of 'proofs' or 'criteria'. Gaffin emphasizes the inappropriateness of striving to do so. He argues that attempts to establish the validity of the canon by means of criteria elevates an authority, namely fallible human reasoning and historical research, over the canon. Rather, he suggests, we should see the canon as self-attesting, self-validating. He contends, "That which belongs to the New Testament is canonical, canonical is that which belongs to New Testament." If we want to look beyond the canon to something outside the canon to validate it, we can only look to what the canon points to, namely God. "God," in Gaffin's words, "is canon." The question then becomes, "how does God assert himself as canon?"

Here, I think John Frame's approach is helpful. To summarize, it is clear from Scripture that God wanted the Old Covenant attested to in writing, so he told Moses to write it down and put it in the ark for safekeeping. Additional elements of this covenant were also committed to writing. Based on this, we should conclude that God also wanted the New Covenant in Christ attested to in writing. Moreover, we shouldn't doubt that God was successful in delivering such attestation to the covenant to his people (the church).

So how does this confidence in the canon square with my assertion (following R.C. Sproul who follows his mentor John Gerstner who summarizes the Reformers) that the Bible is "a fallible collection of infallible books"? (Please note: saying the Bible is a fallible collection doesn't mean it's an errant collection. Fallible means it's possibly in error, errant means it is in error. For reasons explained below, I believe the canon is fallible, but don't believe that it's errant). That has been a tension I've felt intensely for the first time these past two weeks (don't know how it escaped me before). A friend asked last week how we can assert that a book of the bible is inerrant when were not certain it should be in the canon to begin with (paraphrase)?

The Roman Catholic path out of this quandary is to assert an infallible canon based on a belief in the church's infallible authority. The Reformers, recognizing how many times the church has erred and contradicted itself (even officially, not to mention unofficially) rejected the idea of an infallible church. This is what led them, recognizing the churches role in recognizing the canon, to reject the idea of an the Bible as an infallible collection of infallible books. Here again, we should be clear on what we are saying. God infallibly communicated his word. No questions here. The question is, did the church correctly recognize God's word. The difference is in the existence of the thing (canon) vs. recognition of the thing - the giving of it and the receiving of it.

I was asked on Sunday why I don't just adopt the Roman Catholic position on this and accept the infallibility of the canon. My answer is in two parts. First, I don't see historically that the church is infallible (and I don't see how to assert the infallibility of the church in the canonization process and limit it to that exercise of authority). Second, it doesn't help me escape from fallibility entirely anyway. Let me illustrate that:
  • Protestant view: fallible church's belief in infallible Scripture.
  • The Roman Catholic view seems to be more secure: infallible church's belief in infallible Scripture.
  • But in reality, the Roman Catholic view still amounts to: fallible individuals belief in an infallible church's belief in Scripture.
In other words, fallible human judgment comes into question inevitably at some point. It is possible for all of us to be wrong, and that is inescapable. It is, therefore, an epistemological problem.

Why then such confidence in Scripture and the canon? Well, just to believe it's possible something is in error isn't the same as saying it's likely or probable that it's in error. Without asserting a infallible church, I'm stuck with a fallible collection of infallible books. However, I believe the process of canonization, a fallible process, has been vindicated through the centuries (not at all comfortable with this 'evidential approach', but I'm mustering all the arguments). There are no strong contenders for canonization, nor have serious challenges to books (i.e. James, 2 Peter, etc.) been successful. While it's possible the church erred in recognizing the canon, I don't believe it did. I believe we have God's Word as he intended us to have it.

In the end, I believe it does become a matter of faith. Robert Reymond writes, "…the Christian must accept by faith that the church, under the providential guidance of God’s Spirit, got the number and the ‘list’ right since God did not provide the church with a specific list of New Testament books. All that we know for certain about the history of the first four centuries of the church would suggest the God’s Spirit providentially led His church – imperceptively yet inexorably – when it asked its questions, whatever they were, to adopt the twenty-seven documents that the Godhead had determined would serve as the foundation of the church’s doctrinal teaching and thus bear infallible witness throughout the Christian era to the great objective central events of redemptive history, and that this ‘apostolic tradition’ authenticated and established itself over time in the mind of the church as just this infallible foundation and witness."

In all reality, I think the net effect is a confidence in the Bible that is nearly the same as saying the Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books; however, the means of arriving at that point is different. This approach roots our confidence not in an infallible church, but in a sovereign God who providential oversees history. I'll follow Gaffin in his conclusion: when asked, 'Why these 27' – the only real answer is because these 27 books are what God has chosen to preserve for us, and he has not told us why.

Here's a few of the books I mentioned:
- Robert Reymond,A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith 2nd Edition
- R.C. Sproul, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine
- John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God
- Also, just out (I have a copied orderd) is C.E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels?: Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy

I just read this on a blog I frequent and thought it was useful:
"[Some argue] that there can be no church authority without without church infallibility. Rome agrees with this fully. But against Rome, classic Protestants have a higher view of authority [of the church] than the Roman Catholics do. Suppose a woman embraces her duty to be respectful and submissive to her husband. But suppose further that in order to make this painful duty a little easier, she adopted the view that her husband could never make a mistake when requiring her to submit. This 'implicit faith' might seem to some to be a high view of authority, but a higher view would be shown by a woman who graciously submitted herself to her husband, knowing him to be mistaken" ("Sola Scriptura, Creeds, and Ecclesiastical Authority" in When Shall These Things Be? pp. 279-280).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Song of the Week

Great song by Van Halen (makes me think of one of my favorite corney movies - Better Off Dead)

Van Halen, "Everybody Wants Some"

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Silmarillion

"Then Iluvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gather power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. Then again Iluvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others. For it seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity. And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Iluvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.

In the midst of this strife, whereat the halls of Iluvatar shook and a tremor ran out into the silences yet unmoved, Iluvatar arose a third time, and his face was terrible to behold. Then he raised up both his hands, and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Iluvatar, the Music ceased.

Then Iluvatar spoke, and he said: 'Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Iluvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor dcan any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined."

- "Ainulindale", in The Silmarillion, J.R.R Tolkien

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Catechism #45

Question #45: How does Christ's resurrection benefit us?

Answer: First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he might make us share in the righteousness he won for us by his death. Second, by his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life. Third, Christ's resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection. (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:16-20; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; Rom. 6:5-11; Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 3:1-4; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:12-23; Phil. 3:20-21).

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The best news I've heard (since I heard coffee helps fight gout)

This came to me via Jesus Creed from CNN:
"Twinkies. Nutty bars. Powdered donuts.

For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most -- not the nutritional value of the food.

The premise held up: On his "convenience store diet," he shed 27 pounds in two months.

For a class project, Haub limited himself to less than 1,800 calories a day. A man of Haub's pre-dieting size usually consumes about 2,600 calories daily. So he followed a basic principle of weight loss: He consumed significantly fewer calories than he burned.

His body mass index went from 28.8, considered overweight, to 24.9, which is normal. He now weighs 174 pounds.

But you might expect other indicators of health would have suffered. Not so.

Haub's "bad" cholesterol, or LDL, dropped 20 percent and his "good" cholesterol, or HDL, increased by 20 percent. He reduced the level of triglycerides, which are a form of fat, by 39 percent.

"That's where the head scratching comes," Haub said. "What does that mean? Does that mean I'm healthier? Or does it mean how we define health from a biology standpoint, that we're missing something?"

"I'm not geared to say this is a good thing to do," he said. "I'm stuck in the middle. I guess that's the frustrating part. I can't give a concrete answer. There's not enough information to do that."

Two-thirds of his total intake came from junk food. He also took a multivitamin pill and drank a protein shake daily. And he ate vegetables, typically a can of green beans or three to four celery stalks.

Blatner, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said she's not surprised to hear Haub's health markers improved even when he loaded up on processed snack cakes.

Being overweight is the central problem that leads to complications like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, she said.

"When you lose weight, regardless of how you're doing it -- even if it's with packaged foods, generally you will see these markers improve when weight loss has improved," she said.

Before his Twinkie diet, he tried to eat a healthy diet that included whole grains, dietary fiber, berries and bananas, vegetables and occasional treats like pizza.

"There seems to be a disconnect between eating healthy and being healthy," Haub said. "It may not be the same. I was eating healthier, but I wasn't healthy. I was eating too much."

He maintained the same level of moderate physical activity as before going on the diet. (Haub does not have any ties to the snack cake companies.)

To avoid setting a bad example for his kids, Haub ate vegetables in front of his family. Away from the dinner table, he usually unwrapped his meals.

"I wish I could say the outcomes are unhealthy. I wish I could say it's healthy. I'm not confident enough in doing that. That frustrates a lot of people. One side says it's irresponsible. It is unhealthy, but the data doesn't say that."

Monday, November 08, 2010

Catechism #43 & 44

I really like question #44 and the answer (see an old post on Jesus' descent into hell here)!

Question #43: What further advantage do we receive from Christ's sacrifice and death on the cross?

Answer: Through Christ's death our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may dedicate ourselves as an offering of gratitude to him (Rom. 6:5-11; Col. 2:11-12; Rom. 6:12-14; Rom. 12:1; Eph. 5:1-2).

Question #44: Why does the creed add, "He descended to hell"?

Answer: To assure me in times of personal crisis and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, especially on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell (Isa. 53; Matt. 26:36-46; 27:45-46; Luke 22:44; Heb. 5:7-10).

Song of the Week

"Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace"

Friday, November 05, 2010

Tron: Legacy


Catechism #37-42

I haven't kept up with posting from the Catechism - partly because I dropped the ball, and partly because the q&a's in this section are really short, so bunching several together seems like a good idea.

Question #37: What do you understand by the word "suffered"?

Answer: That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.

This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God's grace, righteousness, and eternal life ( Isa. 53; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; Rom. 3:25; Heb. 10:14; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 3:13; John 3:16; Rom. 3:24-26).

Question #38. Why did he suffer "under Pontius Pilate" as judge?

Answer: So that he, though innocent, might be condemned by a civil judge, and so free us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us (Luke 23:13-24; John 19:4, 12-16;Isa. 53:4-5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13).

Question #39: Is it significant that he was "crucified" instead of dying some other way?

Answer: Yes. This death convinces me that he shouldered the curse which lay on me, since death by crucifixion was accursed by God (Gal. 3:10-13; Deut. 21:23).

Question #40. Why did Christ have to go all the way to death?

A. Because God's justice and truth demand it: only the death of God's Son could pay for our sin (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 8:3-4; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:9).

Question #41. Why was he "buried"?

A. His burial testifies that he really died (Isa. 53:9; John 19:38-42; Acts 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Question #42: Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?

A. Our death does not pay the debt of our sins. Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life (Ps. 49:7; John 5:24; Phil. 1:21-23; 1 Thess. 5:9-10).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Racialization and the Church

Well, I haven't posted anything substantive for a while now. Selling and buying my truck took up way too much of my time, and we've been fighting illness in our house too - so in addition to not having time I haven't had much energy. But, I am finally reading a book that a friend recommended a year or so ago called Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. It's an exploration of race and religion in America and, to put it bluntly, the utter failure of the evangelical church to overcome the race divide. I'm only 30 pgs or so into it, but already it has stirred my thinking on two issues.

First, I believe the way we do church in America is bound to continue the strong racial divide in our churches and offers little hope of overcoming it. With few exceptions, the divide is profound and troubling. The authors cite a study by Lincold and Mamiya:
"Seven major black denominations account for more than 80 percent of black religious affiliation in the United States...Moreover, the remaining 15-20 percent of black Christians are scattered among numerous small black sects, the Roman Catholic Church and the mainline white Protestant denominations. The overwhelming majority of the latter are in predominately black congregations, despite denominational affiliation with white communions." (16).

Why are we still so racially segregated on Sunday mornings? Certainly the tensions of the past has something to do with that (and that will come up in my second point). However, I think it probably has more to do with the approach to church and ministry that has been adopted in evangelical community. Going back at least to the 19th century and the revivals referred to as the Second Great Awakening, and even more so in the ministries of men like DL Moody, there were attempts to make church less 'churchy' and more appealing to the non-religious. Sermons were more entertaining (so Billy Sunday might jump up on a pulpit to keep peoples attention), songs were more common (Ira Sankey's tunes), etc. That trend continued, and intensified, in the 'seeker sensitive' movements of the 80-90s (and today). Now, drama's video clips, and contemporary secular music became regular part of Sunday morning worship. Rick Warren describes how he went door to door asking people what they wanted in a church service before planting Saddleback.

Do you see the problem here? Black and White America have very different tastes when it comes to entertainment. It becomes virtually impossible to appeal to both segments of American society through entertainment. Musical expressions are quite different. TV watching trends are also stunningly different. The authors point out that during the 95-96 viewing season, only two of the top twenty shows watched by black viewers cracked the top twenty shows watched by white viewers - Monday Night Football and ER (which as 20 on the list for black viewers and number one among white viewers). The top three shows among black viewers weren't on the radar of white viewers, coming in at 122nd and tied for 124th. What does that mean for the church? Unless someone is willing to set aside their tastes, preferences, etc., an integrated worship experience isn't going to happen. And, unfortunately, nobody seems very willing to do so - witness the worship wars in which one generation of white church goer was/is unwilling to set aside their preference for hymns or praise and worship for the other.

What's the solution? I don't know. Reading the book, however, I am embarrassed by the churches unwillingness to think deeply about it. Maybe the solution is a return to more historic, liturgical, otherworldly forms of worship that would make blacks and white equally uncomfortable. The feel in many churches today is that of a night club or concert arena. In other words, it feels very much a part of 'this world'. Maybe the solution is to embrace the other worldliness of worship, the heavenliness of it. Certainly that would feel foreign to us, to everyone. But is that a bad thing?

The second issue concerns good intentions gone awry. The second chapter is a brief overview of 'Evangelical Racial Thought and Practice'. During the early colonial period, not much thought was given to evangelization of the African slaves. Eventually and gradually that began to change and clergy began to advocate and work towards the 'Christianization' of the slave population. These efforts were, at times, met with stiff opposition from slave owners who believed that if a slave was baptized, they would necessarily be freed from servitude. Clergy were quick to step in and calm these fears, reassuring that embracing the gospel didn't change one's social standing. In fact, several clergy were influential in having legislation passed that expressly stated slaves were not freed simply by virtue of being baptized. In addition to that concern, some slave owners believed that preaching the gospel to slaves would lead to revolts and uprisings. Again, the clergy were quick to point out that embracing the gospel would only serve to make slaves more humble, more willing to serve obediently, etc.

Do you see the horn of the dilemma? I'm not sure many of the clergy who preached to slaves in the early colonial period or even up through the revivals of the 18th century were egalitarians. However, even if they were, the dilemma was a hard one. To advocate for emancipation would have immediately closed all doors of ministry to slaves. To argue, as I believe Paul does in Philemon, that slavery is inconsistent with the grace of the gospel, would have kept the slave owners from allowing the preachers, missionaries and revivalists from preaching the gospel to the slaves at all. It is easy to stand in judgment of those clergy who marshaled Bible verses in defense of slavery; yet, I can feel the internal struggle they must have had. Which was more important - to preach for their eternal good or to lobby for their temporal freedom. Obviously both are important, and the church should have recognized that from the beginning (how quickly would slavery have ended if slave owners were brought under church discipline and excommunicated!). But, being forced to choose between the two would be very difficult. I think the apostle Paul must have had similar internal conflicts - should he command Philemon to emancipate Onesimus? He says he could - he had the authority as an apostle to do so. Yet, he appeals instead of commands. Why? The gospel certainly contains a radical, revolutionary seed - a social leveling where all are treated as sinners equally in need of grace and all who believe are treated as coheirs in eternal glories. That does have implications for the here and the now, yet Paul seems to take a long view - preach the gospel and let the implications of it grow slowly rather than push the agenda and risk having the door of ministry slammed shut.

Again, I'm not trying to justify those clergy who defended slave owners, but the dilemma was real. There are similar dilemmas for clergy today - should we preach against the moral evils of, say abortion, and risk having the door to ministry slammed shut. Abortion, like slavery, is seen by many to be social or political issue, not a religious one. Should clergy remain quite on the issue and stick to preaching the gospel and only the gospel (as opposed to the broader implications of the gospel)? It's an issue I wrestle with regularly.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Song of the Week

You have to be in the right mood for the 'art rock' of Yes, but I was. I don't know when I started listening to Yes, but on occasion, I appreciate the uniqueness of it.

"Changes", Yes

Oh, and I can't post Yes music without the song from the movie Legend, "Loved by the Sun" (though not technically Yes, but sung by the lead singer John Anderson)