Sunday, January 09, 2005
Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking on the link between Christianity and violence; the books I'm simultaneously reading are:
- Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo: Theological Reflections on Nihilism, Tragedy, and Apocalypse by David Toole
- Must Christianity Be Violent?: Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology ed. by Kenneth Chase and Alan Jacobs
- Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition by Hans Boersma
Now you know why there are no book reviews on this blog: it takes forever to finish reading a book when you're reading a dozen other ones at the same time!
Friday, January 07, 2005
Further to my post dated July 05, 2004 (God Bless America), there's a relevant post here; an excerpt to whet your appetite:
Civil religion occurs when a significant number of a nation's inhabitants identify the interests of their nation with the interests of their deity. This situation is mutually beneficial for both government and religion. The government, wrapped in religious garb, achieves divine legitimation of its activities, and so critics of governmental policies can be cast in the most extreme negative light: as anti-god.
Civil religion inevitably leads to idolatry, as the nation-state acquires quasi-divine status. Civil religion also fosters confusion and coercion, as an attempt is made to apply ethical and spiritual principles that should properly apply to Christians to the entire populace.
No, I am NOT anti-American (I have a number of wonderful American friends) and the danger of civil/nationalistic religion is obviously not confined to America (think of the Balkans for starters). I pray that my American brothers and sisters who are caught up in the idolatry of civil religion will remember that "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20).
See also the section "Nationalism, Patriotism, and Other Works of the Flesh" (pp.144-149) in Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World by Lee C. Camp (Brazos Press, 2003).
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Stumbled across an "interesting" article titled, Sexetera: a realistic approach to a taboo subject in Chimes, Calvin College's student newsletter. I applaud Mr. Tao for his honesty and frankness in discussing a subject that many Christians of my generation are uncomfortable with. As a father of two hormonally-charged teenage boys, I certainly can't bury my head in the sand! (See my earlier post on Josh Harris' book, "Not Even a Hint").
However, I find his proposed suggestions simplistic, unbiblical, and disturbing. It is disturbing because Mr. Tao's analysis and solution, while seemingly compassionate and "reasonable", reflects a mindset that has uncritically accommodated itself to prevailing cultural norms, rather than a mindset informed and transformed by the Gospel.
Thus, he asserts: "In my opinion, it is one’s right and freedom to choose when to have sex, before or after marriage" (emphasis mine). He goes on to say, "The best solution is, therefore, a system in which people can make reasonable choices." OK, reasonable by whose definition? Are we free to redefine God's commands that don't seem "reasonable" to us?!
Anticipating such a response, Mr. Tao writes:
Doubtlessly, there is the Bible, with clear passages against sex outside of marriage. But these passages were written in a different tradition at a different time for a different audience. They are among doctrines that have been reinterpreted and restated to fit what people want to hear. It is unproductive to get into a hermeneutical debate about how biblical passages should be interpreted because the understanding of the Bible varies from time to time, culture to culture, denomination to denomination. No one can say he or she has the final answer to these complex moral questions. It is ultimately a collective agreement that defines what a community believes is right and wrong.
Wow. First of all, he admits that there are "clear passages against sex outside of marriage" (emphasis mine), but then in the same breathe, he argues that they are culturally conditioned and therefore of only relative relevance to us to today. No absolute truth, only truth that is socially constructed ("a collective agreement that defines what a community believes is right and wrong"). Furthermore, he attempts to obfuscate with some handwaving: "It is unproductive to get into a hermeneutical debate about how biblical passages should be interpreted ...". So, are we therefore now free to interpret scripture as we see fit? The Bible obviously can't speak authoritatively to us today because who the heck can understand it, and we all have our own opinions anyhow, right? William Larkin, Jr., writes: "The final element in Paul's contextualizing the truth is calling for personal change ... Such change would affect one's world-view and ultimately one's culture. ... Christ's death, resurrection, and return are inherently relevant to human beings in every culture. By maintaining the gospel's integrity and by constructive engagement with the cultural context, Paul is able to appeal effectively for the most important cultural change any person can undergo: conversion to a new identity (Christian) and incorporation into a new people (the church)." (Culture and Biblical Hermeneutics, Baker 1988; p. 321, emphasis mine) Go and think about this, Mr. Tao.
He assumes that our perceived inability to control our urges is sufficient reason to justify giving in to them: "we have to be realistic about ourselves and our capacities ... many of us are incapable, the same way as being blind or deaf, of suppressing these desires without going insane." (Gee, he's apparently not very sensitive about blind or deaf people ...)
Not ready for a committed relationship yet? No problem, because "that in no way disqualifies their right to fulfill their innate, normal desires, as long as it is done on a safe and non-damaging way". Go ahead, sow your wild oats, have your jollies. Woo-hoo!!! No need to wait until marriage - that's so archaic and repressive! Get with the times mom and dad! God is love, so surely he wouldn't want to spoil my "right" to have some fun ...
I note that Mr. Tao does not mention "sin" or "holiness" once, nor does he elucidate the transforming power of the Gospel and the call to live an obedient, cruciform life.
Now keep in mind that Calvin College is a Christian liberal arts college. I'm wondering if they have condom dispensing machines in the dorms and johns.
It's no shock that many Christian young people are having sex outside of marriage these days, despite most churches' attempts to sweep "incidents" under the rug. There seems to be a lot of moral confusion amongst Christians these days.
James Smith, associate professor of philosophy at Calvin College, has an written an excellent response.
I just recently ordered Daniel R. Heimbach's new book, True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards For A Culture In Crisis, from the good folks at The Discerning Reader. Looks to be a "must read".
Sunday, January 02, 2005
The recent tsunami tragedy in Southeast Asia has evoked different theological reflections from Christians. Here are two representative examples:
In the first example, John Piper's views are found to be repulsive to the blog author, yet he fails to show just exactly where Piper's biblical understanding is faulty. Perhaps Piper could have stated things a little differently, but I fail to see any glaring heresies in what was written. In the article by renowned scholar, Tom Wright, there were some excellent reflections, but he (perhaps wisely ?) does not really engage the hard questions having to do with theodicy.
I find it interesting that people's theological views are so colored by their emotions. Also, that this tragedy, seems to have generated so much sympathy and financial aid (and rightly so), but, daily, unborn babies are dying by abortion, and little children are dying from hunger and poverty, and we hardly hear a whimper.
Update (Jan. 6, 2005)
Here are more entries for your consideration:
Tsunami and Repentance, John Piper
Being the Kingdom in a Groaning Creation, sermon by Greg Boyd (of Open Theology fame)
There You Go Again, blog entry for Jan 6