Who are the real culture warriors?

We are being told time and again in the church that the younger generation of Christian are not willing to take up the mantle of the culture warriors of the last several decades – the Falwells, the Dobsons, etc. They see this as:

1. Unnecessary politicization of the faith
2. A fatal alliance with only one political party that always will end in disappointment
3. A truncated view of what it means to extend the Kingdom of God
4. An unwillingness to live in a pluralistic society

John Mark Reynolds asks “who is the real culture warrior?” His answer is not the Christian conservatives of the past decades but the progressives who decided to make war on the national consensus. These are the ones who have declared war. This was not a war of choice for Evangelical Christians. So cut them some slack.

See his blog post here.

I would like to push back a bit on Reynolds. I think that his analysis in large measure is the right one. Secularists conveniently forget how many public goods have grown out of Evangelical Christianity and too readily see it as the enemy. It was the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s that gave Americans the strength to finally face the moral blight of slavery and sustain the country in its commitment to successfully wage war to liberate slaves, at a cost of over 620,000 plus lives, roughly equivalent to what today would be a proportional sacrifice of over 7.5 million American lives. Prison reform, literacy campaigns, orphan care and an overall concern for a social safety net were fired up by the revival heat rolling out of the Awakening.

But it is also true that our culture has had to wage war against an overconfident church which often failed to honor boundaries between church and society as well as to point out that many of our default positions needed to be revisited. What has been called the Righteous Empire of the American church in the mid to late 19th century needed to be in dialogue with its host culture. I think this needs to be regularly said.

In my mind is a “for instance” that I deal with in my ethics class. The church almost immediately responds to cultural debates by a reference to the effects of secularization on the home – the increase in the number of divorces, the effects upon children, etc. Mark Reynolds does so in his post. This is true in large measure. But our less stringent divorce laws with the consequence of homes more easily disassembled have also meant that women now have leverage formerly not available to them. Men now pay a larger price for ignoring the proper aspirations of wives and the respect that is due to them as equal partners on the domestic front. (Just take another look at Mad Men to refresh your memory). There is no doubt that a stricter set of legal guidelines would more negatively impact women than men. Men are now on notice that women are just as powerful in courts of law as the men and that their interests count in ways that were not true in years not too distant. So we are in the place where tighter divorce laws, a good in its own right, will diminish the standing of women in society. It is good to be against divorce. But don’t forget how tighter divorce laws negatively impact women, whose liberation and equality is also a great good.

Such instances as these are multiplied. We ought to be careful when painting the contrast between church and secular culture in too stark colors.

I think we might need a new paradigm for the culture wars metaphor. Culture gives the church feedback on whether its moral handrails prosper or in fact derail human flourishing. It is true that many militant secularists act out of a spirit of rebellion toward moral absolutes and are not interested in a non-partisan discussion. But they wouldn’t get anywhere if culture at large didn’t find something there that struck a note of truth to them. The church should continually be open to that process and not get sucked into the war mentality too readily.

Participate in Doctrine of the End Times online class with RC Sproul

There is hardly anything that makes me more edgy than when I talk with Christians about the end times. I seldom see people lock down on one interpretation so hard. I am just going along fellowshiping with them in Christ and then all of a sudden they turn into stone. They know what will happen at the end and if you disagree with them, you are virtually in league with the Antichrist. What’s up with that?

What’s up with that is simply not knowing. Careful students of the Bible should know better than locking down on any one eschatological position. You have a position. I have a position. We all have positions. But give me a break. There is no one position that preserves Christian orthodoxy beyond anything that the Apostles Creed offers. Christ will come again at the end of the age to usher in the fullness of his kingdom. If you will break fellowship with other believers over premillenialism, amillenialism or postmillenialism, you have taken a very dangerous turn.

RC Sproul has a definite position. But he offers it in an intelligent manner that allows for interpretive complexity. That is what I ask from a brother and sister. And if this is not offered to me by another, then game over.

Here’s the link.

By the way, I am amillenial. And for those of you who think I am a liberal, I guess this proves it.  🙂

How many lives were lost in the Civil War?

The usual answer is just under 620,000. Professor Hacker of Binghamton says the number was probably closer to 750,000. Here is the interview.

The population was about 31 million in 1860. Today it’s about 310 million. So, if you could imagine a war today that produced 7.5 million deaths, you get some indication of how devastating the war was on the population, on the economy, on the institutions of 19th century America.

It is hard to imagine America sustaining commitment to a war today that would cost these many lives. There must have been an extraordinary zeal to sustain such a cost.

Paying for the blight of slavery at the cost of the equivalent of 7.5 million lives demonstrated the level to which Americans were willing to go to rid this country of two centuries plus of bondage.

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God

Lilly Tomlin said that prayer is when you talk to God. Schizophrenia is when God talks back

Terri Gross interviews T. M. Luhrmann, author of When God Talks Back. The book is based on an anthropological study she did at The Vineyard, examining the personal relationships people developed with God and explores how those relationships were cemented through the practice of prayer.

It is always interesting when an anthropologist who is not a believer observes and comments upon the behaviors of those who say they are experiencing God. What is that supposed to look like anyway? This objectification of spiritual experience is always a strange thing to read about. The reality is that it looks like, well, human behavior that can have all kinds of natural explanations. What did the Apostle Paul look like when he was transported to the third heaven? What can the observer know?

An interesting interview, and for the Christian a worthwhile opportunity to reflect on our own experience.

The Joke That Got No Laugh

The Joke That Got No Laughs

by Hal Sirowitz

You should have enough courtesy
to laugh after I tell a joke, Father said,
even if you don’t find it funny.
You might find it funny later.
It’s like you’re giving me
your laughter in advance. You
shouldn’t be asking me to tell you
where the punch line was. It’s
always at the end & my joke
was no exception. I apologize if I
didn’t tell it as well as I had heard it.
Or maybe it was the audience
that was at fault. You just didn’t
get it. It might have been too low brow.
Maybe I should just find another family
to tell it to. I chose mine because
of the convenience. But I might have
done better if I had told it next door.

“The Joke That Got No Laughs” by Hal Sirowitz, from Father Said. © Soft Skull Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

Here is the simple form of Church History

Here is the basic outline according to Vladamir Moss.

Orthodox Christianity is the original, oldest and therefore truest form of Christianity. The Orthodox Church was founded at Pentecost at the descent of the Holy Spirit. It spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. By the end of the first millennium most of Europe was Orthodox Christian. In 1054, the Roman Pope broke away from the Orthodox Church and founded his own, new and heretical form of Christianity, Roman Catholicism. In 1066 he blessed William the Conqueror to impose this new type of Christianity on England, which he did through fire and sword in 1066-70. The English aristocracy fled to Constantinople and Kiev, the main centres of Orthodox Christianity in the East. The whole of western history has developed in the shadow of this falling away from Orthodoxy Christianity nearly one thousand years ago. The West has become rich and powerful, the dominant civilization in the world; but at the same time it has departed further and further from its Orthodox Christian roots.

Of course, the question is whether or not we have “fallen away” from Orthodox Christianity or instead “moved on.” Not moved on in the sense of rejecting the Orthodox Church but in the sense that it failed to capture the Christian imagination and need for intellectual exploration. The apophatic theological method of Orthodoxy is a wise warning but cannot substantially fill the vacuum felt by the Greek and Roman mind of the West. In the West there is not a flight into mystery, or at least it is moderated. The answer of Eastern Christianity is prayer and liturgy. This is insufficient to fill the Western soul.

I am a Westerner and believe that the issues posed by this version of civilization expresses a necessary development beyond the Eastern church. There are substantial numbers of Evangelicals who have grown tired of the endless intellectualization of Christianity and have converted to Orthodoxy. Some Evangelicals convert to another version of the Western intellectual tradition, the Roman Catholic Church. What the RCC adds to the mix is authority.

The Eastern Church’s view of authority is more nuanced and less militaristic than Rome’s.  It expresses its authority through its unchanging liturgy. Worship is its answer to theological wars. I find this ultimately unhelpful. And on the face of it, I cannot believe that a liturgy 1700+ years old is the answer to modern man’s yearnings. This is not a version of chronological snobbery. I recognize that worship itself is a place where the soul may find satisfaction in mysteries that do not yield to intellectualism. But that this worship must itself be ancient is not self-evident to me.

Reformational understandings are not “throwaways.” They count for something, and they count in such a way that new wineskins were necessary. And thus church history is not simply leaving and coming back to Orthodoxy. Church history is the story of development and growth.

Christine Lagarde criticizes Greek citizens

Christine Lagarde is a most impressive intellectual leader. Do some research. She does not tolerate fools easily.

Asked whether she worried about the economic and social impact of austerity in Greece, she responded:

 ‘No, I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens.

Greece is only 2% of the European economy. Connecticut has a larger economy. Philadelphia has a larger economy. As small as it, default on its loans means big problems for the banks. Once again, this has become about the banks, which use tax payer resources as their ultimate collateral.

See the documentary “Inside Job.”