The”Restoring Honor” rally in DC gets no mention in the blogs I visit

The large rally in DC that featured Glen Beck and Sarah Palin was like it never happened on the blogs I visit, and I visit quite a few. That may say something about the blogs I visit.

One  blog did mention the phenomenal anger and lies of Jim Wallis relative to the funding of Sojourners by George Soros. Wallis made it clear by his reaction that anger is reserved for liberals against rascist, fascist, capitalist, greedy suburbanites who haven’t yet figured out that true justice means giving to Sojourners. Wallis has proven that in a pinch he will lie to get out of it.

I usually am intellectually curious and open to sophisticated counter-arguments. I generally try to remind myself that what I think is simple and clear might have levels of complexity that need room to be explored. But I am beginning to think that the people I hang with in the blogosphere are either tired of the culture wars (growing tired of them does not mean they will go away!!!), actually liberals, or incapable of identifying with people movements.

The level of Tea Party backlash is THE story right now. I tend to think of it as a justice movement and not a reactionary racist response to diversity. The people I know in it are good people, fair people who hold up their end of the American system and support those who don’t but have found that certain others mean for them to do more than a fair share. They expect them to be unequal under the law and to support statism, the faith that through government the great society can be born. This means higher taxes, the marginalization of religious faith, the relativization of the American democratic system of government, and the right of government to decide which laws it will enforce and which it will not.

I have lived through Vietnam, Watergate, Jimmy Carter, and more. I have never seen so much anger and visceral energy on the part of the 40 some percent of Americans who actually pay taxes. They have been bullied, lectured to, looked down upon, and generally ignored. Meanwhile they hold down jobs, pay taxes, raise their families, educate their children, send them to college and generally keep busy about the business of keeping their lives together. They do not make it a practice of going to rallies on work days and weekends are reserved for the myriad chores, soccer games, home repairs and recovering from the sheer exhaustion of it all. They pay their mortgages and support those who don’t pay their mortgages. They are nice and manners matter. But they are getting the idea that it is they who, in Nietzsche’s words, have the slave morality.

I am not blind to the reality that theologians and academics are usually among the last to respond to people movements, either when they need to be opposed or when they need to be supported. They always see “both sides” and end up irrelevant to the great movements of the day.

Tea Party people have finally recognized that political power is a solution to change the trajectory of the country. This time they will do it without the church, which in the days of the Moral Majority was front and center in the great moral debates. This is perhaps the better way. A renewed church, not a politically active church, is so much a part of the answer that it should leave politics to the people.

I am reading John Piper’s “Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to be Saved?”

The scandal of particularity continues to be at the root of the Christian movement. Jesus alone is the savior of the world. Unpacking this takes some work and some sophistication. Still, the simple answer is yes.

Each generation must face this question, and I find that it is as much, if not even more, an issue today in evangelicalism than it was in the 60s when I was in college. InterVarsity Press regularly spun out books to answer that question. But the answer apparently has never been convincing enough to relieve each generation from having to answer it on its own.

We must work for cultural space for religions to demand exclusivity. Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter is a type of book that I hope sets in motion a new appreciation for the exclusive allegiance each religion must demand for it to be a belief system.

When we ask Muslims to dial it down a couple of notches, what are asking? Are we actually asking for it not to be Islam? I, for one, want the real claims of Islam to be put on the table. But as soon as Islam or any other religion changes its belief system to be more acceptable, it ipso facto recognizes that there is a higher claim at operation than its own belief system. It is hard to have a discussion about truth claims when each ideology bows to the god of moderation. No real dialogue gets done in that atmosphere and all religions become a pale shadow of each other. I am not sure how much different a moderate version of Islam is from a moderate version of Christianity.

Piper, Packer, Stott and company face up to the claim of Christ to be exclusive. I think this conversation will deepen in intensity as long as those like McLaren are welcomed into the evangelical community.

Cut theologians some slack

There is a perceptive post at Faith and Theology. It is based on Thomas Mann’s observation that a writer is simply someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Maybe that is true of theologians as well. They are people for whom believing is hard work, and they must make sense of the data if they are going to be believers.

This reminds me of John Bunyan’s comment that preachers are those who hear the rattling of their own chains even as they preach freedom to others. Maybe the case is that the theologian you read and the preacher you hear are not the ramblings of a person to whom belief comes easily but which comes at a great price and with great difficulty.

Was Hurricane Katrina a “natural” disaster?

I was listening to an interview with a significant and now retired engineer who was bristling under the President’s comments that Katrina was a natural disaster. The engineers point was that the catastrophe of New Orleans was man made. It was man made in that it was a failure of engineering rather than the fierceness of the storm that led to so much destruction. It is a tale of misspent money, sloppy accounting, carelessness and unfocused priorities. While some citizens might be correct in criticizing the money spent trying to protect a city under sea level, the fact is that we had the means to do so, spent the amount of money it would take to do so, but that money was not spent so that the job could get done.

This brings to mind how many of the world’s “natural” disasters are not natural at all. They occur in a direct relationship to humankind’s moral decision making. The devastation in Haiti was a direct function of a failed government and policies in place that made the country susceptible to an earthquake in an extreme manner. With the right building codes, the destruction would have been minimal. The dust bowl days of the Plains states was a direct result of mismanagement of the land that focused on maximum productivity with minimum stewardship. And many would see the phenomenon of global warming and its supposed negative effects as another example of “natural” disasters.

One scientist I listened to recently commented that it was his opinion that roughly 70 to 80 percent of what we call natural disasters are direct results of moral decision making by our race.

Is this not in line with the curse we find in Genesis 3 that correlates the state of the physical world to the state of humankind’s moral world. And it is in line with Paul’s comments in Romans 8:20,21.

Even in today’s economic crisis, which clearly is tied to moral decision making, the suffering of so many is due to a life of consumption with little or no savings. The reality is that a great number of people would have been spared this suffering if they had not already been living on the edge. 40% of Americans retire with less than $25,000 put aside for retirement. For these people government has to be the answer to making it in the retirement years. And when anyone has to rely on the government for basic goods and services, we are indeed in trouble. And when government plays that role, then the possibilities for corruption and fraud increase exponentially.

The point is that there are far fewer natural disasters than we think. We are living in a time of moral disasters. And the price we are paying is severe.

My feelings exactly!!

Here is Howie Carr’s response to President Carter’s recent humanitarian mission to North Korea. I still remember the “wonderful” days of Carter. It was horrible. A truly failed leader.  When today’s hip evangelicals talk about Christianity and social justice, changing the structures of society, etc., I can’t help but think of Carter. If I have to choose I will choose Southern Baptist Clinton over Southern Baptist Carter anytime. Those who try to make the government a church (and I am not talking about conservatives here) are in for a rude awakening.

American Greed New Era style

This is a TV series that explores the famous and the infamous who “go for the gold” in extreme ways. One of the episodes is devoted to the ponzi scheme that was New Era back in the 1980 and early 90s.

John Bennett was the scammer and NGOs were his target. The promise made to churches, mission agencies, Christian colleges, etc., was that if they invested their money (which had to meet a minimum amount) in six months they would double their money. Bennett said that there were anonymous philanthropists behind this who refused to be named. Of course, Bennett would take the new money invested and pay off previous investors, all the while taking huge sums for himself.

I had many friends immersed in this scam. Without knowing it. But with a motive not to know it. The motive was “something for nothing.” And for that they were liable. Maybe not in a court of law. But it was a moral flaw nonetheless.

I saw the rich, who already had the means to bless charitable organizations with great wealth, seek  to give even more. This might be seen as a worthy motive. After all, they were only seeking to be charitable. I do not see it in such rosy colors. The ability to give money is power. You are invited by these very same institutions to whom you give an opportunity to influence them – sit on their boards, hang with their Presidents, make decisions about their futures, to be perceived as important and necessary.

I was invited to participate and roundly criticized because I would not support “investing” our church funds in a fail safe, double your money in six months opportunity. I insisted that the church should base its income on the tithes and offerings of its own people. In other words, sacrificial giving is worship. Merely channeling anonymous donors money is not worship in any meaningful sense.

But I regularly saw rich people go after this scheme in a frenzy. Many of these people were power brokers. They dispensed money on a regular basis with their names on buildings and their pictures taken with significant others. They were front and center in their giving. No anonymous donations here. They were going to double their money in giving, and you, the recipient, would know it.

Quick money and narcissism are a toxic mix. It is hard for me to feel sorry about the doom that followed. It was a necessary justice. So much money passing hands in the name of Jesus even back then was a nauseating thing to me. I had to break some friendships to get away from it. The lesson is still with me today.

I continue to refuse any knowledge of who gives at churches I serve. If I had my way, I would limit the amount of money that any one person can give to the church to an amount that even the less well off could give. This would force the church to base its budget not on the largesse of a few who effectively have the power of the purse but on its outreach to the larger community. If a person wanted to give more, then they could give it to missions. But the one thing they could not do is make the local church dependent on them. It’s just too big of a risk.

Does Beth Moore have the Apostle Paul right?

Click here for an analysis of Moore’s psychological analysis of the Apostle.

It is always a tenuous project to get inside the Apostle Paul’s head, even as it is concerning Jesus. There is no Confessions like book in the Augustine tradition that lays out the psychology of their spiritual lives. In some ways I think we know more about the inner world of Jesus than we do of Paul.

When Paul says he was the chief of sinners, I naturally want details. In what way, Paul? Did you have a besetting sin? Etc. But Paul never elaborates. We can only speculate. Like Moore does.

But I am not sure the speculation is worth it. We psychologize Paul at the risk of some very big downsides. A lot of effort has gone into trying to get inside the head of Martin Luther, or in Luther’s case, his bowels, since his rather fierce constipation is often used to explain his irascibility and constant dis-ease.  Where we end up in such biographies is theology as  psychology. I am not sure that this is helpful in any meaningful way in the long run, except that theology becomes perceived as just another language to reveal personal states and therefore subjective and without any real truth claims.

Does this statement by Dinesh D’Souza make sense to you?

I have a great regard for Dinesh D’Souza. I regularly play his debate with Christopher Hitchens for my ethics class.

Recently selected as the new President of King’s College in NY, most of us evangelicals were surprised because our impression was that Dinesh was a faithful and practicing Roman Catholic. Here is a portion of his response to the inquiry about how a RC can lead an evangelical institution.

“I do not describe myself as Catholic today. But I don’t want to renounce it either because it’s an important part of my background. I’m an American citizen, but I wouldn’t reject the Indian label because it’s part of my heritage,” D’Souza said. “I say I have a Catholic origin or background. I say I’m a nondenominational Christian, and I’m comfortable with born-again.”

Say that again! There is so much confusing about this statement that one would think it is being made by a new convert, not a sophisticated thinker and academic. “Comfortable with born-again”? I don’t even know what that means. Of course, I don’t want someone to lead an evangelical group who is comfortable with being born again. I would want someone who glories in it, loves it, finds sweetness in it, cherishes it and himself gives testimony to being born again.

And, of course, no one is really a nondenominational Christian. It feels good to say the word, but it doesn’t protect the one who says it from having to interpret the bible and decide on issues like infant baptism vs. believers baptism, synergism vs monergism, congregationalism vs. episcopalianism, sacramentalism vs. memorialism, etc. All churches decide these issues whether or not they use the word nondenominational. D’Souza is ducking for cover and it does not bode well for his leadership of King’s College.

But at the same time, it is not easy finding an evangelical leader to lead an evangelical institution who is himself or herself throughly evangelical. Maybe that is why it is easier to find someone who has RC roots. Generally they will be more consistently conservative and find no problem with taking positions on the many things that scandalize evangelicals – abortion, same sex marriage, stem cell research, the supernatural nature of the bible, the rootedness of free market capitalism in the Bible and the limited role of the state, etc.

I miss D James Kennedy

Opinions about D James Kennedy are never mild. But some things are clear. One, he was clear. Unlike Brian MacLaren and company, Kennedy did not find comfort in holding contradictory positions at the same time. For him this was not the mark of intelligence.

Two, his patriotism was a sophisticated patriotism. Not a fundamentalist, he yet took positions that could make a conservative feel warm all over. When Kennedy was speaking there was the wise use of words, the sense of drama and a clear call to the new birth through Christ. He was never far from the crucified Christ.

Three, his insights into significant Christian figures in the founding of this country continue to stand against the secularist attempt to make men like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln their own. His two sermons on Lincoln and Washington I continue to view for my own inspiration, particularly the one on Washington.

Four, he was a capable Bible teacher. Though he was increasingly known as a significant figure in the culture wars, at root he was a Bible teacher and apologist. His TV productions on the bible and on Jesus continue to stand as first class representations of the true evangelical faith.

Fifth, he was an evangelist. Evangelism Explosion has been one of the premier evangelistic training programs in the US. I have been trained in EE and became a trainer in EE. Such a style of evangelism is not popular today, but it will come back when evangelicals finally figure out that the transformation of society is not rooted in congress, parliament, social structures or any number of faddish justice issues. Kennedy’s essential theme was “transforming America one heart at a time.” Regeneration of the sinner is the root of the new world Jesus is bringing to pass.

I am not pleased by the way the new pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church continues to hype in the midst of all the the criticism being leveled at him how he is rescuing that church from its latter day decline under Kennedy’s pastorate. It might be so, but such things should be whispered. The man’s influence was otherwise so great and so good.

I feel about it as King David did when he was told of Saul’s and Jonathan’s death on the field of battle. “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon, lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.” (2 Sam 1:20)

Intelligent evangelical voices for a conservative worldview are fading. Men like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels cannot be depended upon in the clutch. You get the impression that taking moral positions is not something they are comfortable with. The trumpet they blow has an uncertain sound. They inspire and edify but I have the sense that risk taking in committing to moral positions is not their bag. Strange for pastors. But it’s a different day.

A cool way to learn Latin

Here it is. Visual Latin.  Go to a free video lesson here.

You would have thought along the way I would have taken Latin. It is the language of the church for its first 1500 years. And many of its books remain untranslated in Latin.

Perhaps one of the reasons behind the precision of theological argumentation from those days is that the church was communicating with itself in only one language. The complexities introduced by multiple languages didn’t slow down the theological project. A word in latin in the 4th century AD meant the same thing as a word in latin in the 8th century AD.

Of course, knowing Latin will enable me to really read Hodge’s Systematic Theology as he spins off into long passages of Latin, assuming that I as a theological student will be able to read it. Not!!!!

So I am thinking of getting this curriculum. It appears to be for the younger student, but as I get older they tell me my childhood will return. So maybe it will be just right.