Discrimination in America: Who’s Next?

In the past, to be called “discriminating” was high praise. We rarely hear the adjective used that way (or used at all) anymore, but the noun and verb are everywhere. News stories about discrimination are an almost daily occurrence. It stands as one of the main points on the contemporary moral compass.

In the sixties and seventies, when the subject of discrimination came up, it was usually in the context of race or gender. In the eighties, it was often in conversation about physical disabilities. Today, it is typically in the context of sexual orientation or gender identity. Who’s next? What group will be the target of discrimination in the coming years?

There is at least some reason to believe it will be religious people, and especially religious conservatives. In the future, people who acknowledge an authority that transcends cultural norms, like Catholics and Evangelicals, may be the ones most likely to face discrimination.

Prejudice against people of faith is of course nothing new. When T. S. Eliot, arguably the most famous English poet of the twentieth century, converted to Christianity, he immediately became the object of derision and exclusion. The Times Literary Supplement labeled him a traitor. When Virginia Woolf, the de facto leader of the influential Bloomsbury Group, of which Eliot was a member, learned of his Christian faith, she was shocked and disgusted. She wrote to a fellow group member,

“I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with dear Tom Eliot, who may be called dead to us all from this day forward. He has become an Anglo-Catholic believer in God and immortality, and he goes to church. I was shocked. A corpse would seem more credible than he is. I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.”

If Woolf’s response seems over the top, consider the responses that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a self-identified progressive, received after complaining of academia’s bias against conservatives. One respondent defended the discrimination, claiming that “Much of the ‘conservative’ worldview consists of ideas that are known empirically to be false.” Another said matter-of-factly, “Truth has a liberal slant.” A third sarcastically added, “How about we make faculties more diverse by hiring idiots?”

This is how many liberals think of conservatives, and especially religious conservatives. Kristof quotes the sociologist George Yancey, who is a black Evangelical:

“Outside of academia, I faced more problems as a black. But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close.”

If Yancey’s story is at all representative, it raises a provocative question: had Martin Luther King, Jr. come onto the scene now instead of in the 1950s, would he have faced greater hostility and discrimination because of his faith or because of his race? The bus would stop for him, but would the university pass him by?

Bias against Evangelicals on the university campus is indisputable. Kristoff points out that 59 percent of anthropologists and 53 percent of English professors say they would be less likely to hire a person if they discovered he or she was an Evangelical. This in spite of the fact that many Evangelicals are every bit as qualified as their irreligious peers. With all their praise of tolerance, irreligious progressives don’t even try to hide their intolerance of religious peers, particularly religious conservatives.

Jesus repeatedly warned his first followers to expect hostility and discrimination. He didn’t pull any punches: “Everyone will hate you because of me.” But he also instructed them to respond to such treatment with love instead of lawsuits. That’s a huge shift away from society’s current response to discrimination, but it has worked in the past and there is reason to hope it will do so again.

Kudos to Nicholas Kristof – not for standing up for conservatives but for standing up for reason and clear thinking. And let conservatives take notice: Kristof is a liberal who actually listens to people with whom he disagrees, and believes that they have something to add to the conversation. It’s a good example for us all – conservative, liberal or whatever else we might be – to follow.

 

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 5/21/2016

 

Posted in Christianity, In the News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God Wants Our Nine-to-Five

According to a popular (and probably apocryphal) story, a man once came to Martin Luther and asked the great reformer what he could do to serve God. Luther asked him what he was currently doing for work, and he replied that he was a cobbler. Luther surprised him by saying, “Then make good shoes and sell them at a fair price.”

We might expect a minister of the gospel to urge such a man to become an evangelist or a pastor, but a person can serve God in any kind of employment, as long as he works for love of God and neighbor. If that story does go back to Luther, one can be sure his advice was based on the fact that making good shoes and selling them at a fair price is a way to love one’s neighbor.

Whether or not the story originated with Luther, its point is relevant to our situation: what a person does for employment is important to God, to neighbor and to one’s self. People partition life into segments. God does not. He intends human life to be much more holistic.

We live grapefruit lives. There’s a section for everything: work, leisure, education, spiritual development, social life and more. The people we think of as “religious” are the ones who devote more than one section – sometimes two or three – to church, personal piety and public service.

But this is to distort the way God made people. He is not satisfied with one or two or even three sections of a person’s life; he wants the person. He wants the person to love him and to love his or her neighbor in every part of life. He does not want people to be divided and conflicted, but whole and intact, whether they are in the nave of a church, the bow of a boat or the machine shop of a factory.

God wants our nine-to-five. He wants to be invited into the workplace, but not in a showy or pushy way, and certainly not in a way that compromises the worker’s productivity (like those people who try to evangelize when they ought to be working.) People of faith invite God into the workplace not as a topic of conversation (or at least not primarily as a topic of conversation) but as a boss. As the boss.

This is consonant with biblical teaching. The worker recognizes the employer’s authority and, if at all possible, does what he or she says. But the Christian worker remains cognizant of the fact that he or she is responsible to a higher authority. Even in the office or the factory, he or she knows “It is the Lord Christ [they] are serving.”

Going to work with the intention of serving Christ can change the atmosphere of an office or shop. After urging Christians to do their work “as to the Lord,” St. Paul adds: “because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do.” Sometimes people get the idea that God only rewards people for the religious exercises (prayer, charitable giving, Bible reading) they do, but the apostle clearly states that God rewards people for whatever good they do, and in the context he’s talking about their work on the job site.

Working for Christ can free a person from slavery to the heartless tyrant money. The people who do their job only for money are almost always miserable at work. Doing a job for Christ makes people happier, better employees, and more cheerful coworkers.

But it is not just workers who needs to invite Christ into the workplace; the boss needs to do so too. Christian teaching sees bosses as both in and under authority. Just as their employees must answer to them, they must answer to Christ. Philipps paraphrases this way: “Remember, then, you employers, that your responsibility is to be fair and just towards those whom you employ, never forgetting that you yourselves have a heavenly employer.”

 

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 5/14/2016

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Lifestyle, Spiritual life | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Risk Assessment and Management for Children

Risk assessment is the science of determining two things: the likelihood of a given occurrence and the degree of potential loss. Let’s say I want to do a risk assessment of the likelihood that my pregnant daughter-in-law will be bitten by a mosquito this summer. I would look at past incidents, rainfall amounts, temperature data, and conclude that the likelihood that she will be bitten is about one hundred percent.

So the likelihood of occurrence is extremely high. Then I look at the potential loss from such an event. It is not very significant: a few minutes of irritation, some itching—but that’s about it. However, if she were visiting a Caribbean nation, the potential loss from a mosquito bite would be much greater because of the possibility of contracting the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects.

From Risk Assessment one moves to Risk Management. Given the likelihood of occurrence and the potential for loss, one takes steps to lower the risk. These might include stocking up on insect repellant and staying indoors during the hours around dusk and dawn.

That’s Risk Assessment and Management 101. Could it be applied to raising children? Yes. It would first require an awareness of possible risks, something most parents have from the moment their child is born, and even before that. They know that things can go wrong in utero or during delivery. The risks start before children are born, and they never stop.

Parents have lots of fears. They worry about birth defects, SIDS, bicycle accidents and car crashes. And they try to manage the risks: mothers have periodic ultrasounds, parents lay their newborns on their backs, put their babies in car seats and make their grade-schoolers wear bicycle helmets.

As children get older new risks emerge. Will they be accepted? Will they get into college? And what about dating? There are no crash helmets for dating (though if you invent one, you’ll make a fortune). The risks now include rejection and heartbreak and social isolation.

Parents worry that their kids will break bones, crack their skulls, and suffer broken hearts. There is risk everywhere, and parents want to save their kids from it. They want to take it away.

It’s for that reason that some people turn to God. They see him as a cosmic risk remover, a kind of supernatural car seat or crash helmet. “Don’t leave home without him,” they say. And why? Because life is risky.

But here’s the reality: God is many things – savior and Lord, leader and even friend – but he is not a car seat or a crash helmet. He is God. We cannot beg or bargain him into removing risk from our children’s lives, though we can pray for him to use it in their development. Our broken world is a risky place to live. We must acknowledge that and manage risk as best we can.

But we can only manage risks wisely if we assess them correctly. Many parents wrongly assess what constitutes the greatest risk to their children. They protect their children from one danger, but leave them exposed to another, even greater danger.

The biggest risk a child faces, the one that carries the greatest potential for loss, is not physical or social, but spiritual. This is not to downplay the importance of physical health and social relations, but to recognize the primacy of the spiritual life. As Jesus asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

A successful career and a comfortable living will never compensate for the loss of a soul. Assessing a child’s risk in terms of social, academic and athletic success while ignoring spiritual concerns is like making sure a child takes a daily vitamin while subjecting him to second-hand smoke.

 

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 5/7/2016

Posted in Faith, Spiritual life, Theology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Importance of Staying Limber

In Christian circles there is a high degree of suspicion towards people whose beliefs are constantly changing. We applaud Luther for his “Here I stand; I can do no other” attitude but we deplore Bunyan’s Mr. Pliable. Luther stands strong in the face of opposition while Pliable is blown this way and that by “every wind of new teaching.”

It is right to be critical of Mr. or Ms. Pliable, or any other spiritual Gumby who bends over backwards to avoid conflict or debate. He or she takes the path of least resistance, not because it is true but because it is easy. He or she is not convinced by facts but guided by the moral and intellectual fashions du jour.

A spiritual Gumby keeps an eye on the latest trends, eager to stay on society’s good side. When things gets tough, the spiritually tough (like Luther) stand firm, but the Gumby folds.

No one wants to be a spiritual Gumby, but one mustn’t mistake being stubborn for being strong. Obstinacy is not a sign of spiritual muscle. At first glance, some people look firm, but it’s only because spiritual rigor mortis has set in.

It is necessary to remain unbending before injustice and immorality, but the virtue does not lie in being unbending but in acting justly and morally. Too often people see inflexibility itself as a virtue. It is nothing of the sort.

A person who thinks inflexibility is itself a virtue is already on the way to becoming rigid. That person, to his or her credit, may not yield to the pressure of unjust or immoral cultural demands, but when the time comes to yield to God, he or she may not be limber enough to do that either. A Christian’s life is characterized, as St. Paul tells us, by transformation into the likeness of Jesus. But to the unyielding, transformation can only be a painful ordeal.

The biblical term for a follower of Jesus is “disciple.” A moment’s thought makes clear that an unyielding disciple is a contradiction in terms. Since a disciple is first and foremost a learner, the person who thinks she knows everything already cannot be a disciple. An unwillingness to learn and change puts discipleship to Jesus at risk.

The Bible has a term for the unwillingness to learn or change: “stiff-necked.” It was a word early Bible readers understood well. When an ancient farmer plowed his field, he would use a long pole with a sharp iron tooth to prick an ox’s neck on the left of right to get it to turn. But a “stiff-necked” ox would not feel the jab and would continue on its way.

Likewise, a stiff-necked person is insensitive to the jab of divine persuasion. He or she continues down the same path, even though it leads to trouble. It is therefore necessary to remain soft enough to feel and pliable enough to change.

Why do people get spiritually stiff? There are a number of reasons. Lack of exercise – they’ve sat too long without testing their intellectual and spiritual muscles. Or they have suffered an injury, spiritually speaking, which has twisted their beliefs. Or they are afraid. Fear – of loss or injury – will cause a person to tense up, and unremitting fear can make him or her stiff.

How does one stay spiritually limber? Start with stretches, including hearing those with whom one disagrees and thinking through their arguments. But that’s just a warm-up. There is nothing that will stretch a person like actually doing what Jesus instructs his disciples to do. Thinking abstractly about Jesus’s words is good, but doing them will have the extraordinary effect of training a person to be pliable to God and inflexible to cultural pressure at the same time.

 

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 4/30/2016

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Spiritual life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mary Magdalene’s and John bar Zebedee’s Easter Stories

The following is a piece I wrote for Lockwood Community Church’s 2016 Easter Sunrise Service. The actors, Sarah Asher and Glenn Snapp, made the script better than it is, but I share it with you anyways in the hope you’ll find it encouraging. – Shayne

Mary Magdalene and John bar Zebedee’s Easter Stories

Mary Magdalene, Part I

Here’s how Mary Magdalene might have told her story.

When they killed him, it was like they killed me too – the me I was becoming; the hopeful, happy me. The me that people liked, that had friends. Before Jesus, life was a kind of blur. I just moved from thing to thing, from person to person, but nobody really cared about me and, to be honest, I don’t think I really cared about anybody. My life was a nightmare.

Then I met Jesus and everything changed. It’s like I woke up. For the first time since I was a little girl, somebody really cared about me. And it wasn’t just Jesus; his friends cared about me too. They became my friends. They took me in, made me one of them. They talked to me, listened to me, laughed with me, sometimes laughed at me—but I didn’t mind because they really liked me. I don’t know how to say it… For the first time I could remember, it wasn’t just me. It was us. I was saying things like, “We should go to the market. We should bake some bread. It felt so good to say “We.”

But we were us only because of him. We all knew it. He was the only thing that held us together. He was our heart. One day I said to Mary and Salome, “We would never have become friends if it wasn’t for him.” And they agreed. Salome said, “We’d never become anything, if it wasn’t for him.” But we were something with him! How exciting it was when we entered Jerusalem together with all the rest of the Galileans going to the festival. They shouted to him – to our Jesus – “Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

And then he was gone. They took him. They killed him. And they might as well have killed me too. Without him to hold us together, I was sure we would all fall apart. None of those people I called my friends would have said “Hello” to me on the street, if it wasn’t for Jesus. Now that we’d lost him, I was so afraid I would lose them too.

On the day it happened, we (Salome and Mary and me, and a few of our friends) followed the Council Member and his people to the tomb, and only left in time to get back before Sabbath started. But we made plans to meet when Sabbath was over to see to it that his body was properly prepared for burial. Our people have very strict customs, and we were all afraid they wouldn’t be observed.

Since we were almost all from Galilee and were staying in different places around the City, we made arrangements to meet at the tomb just at first light. Salome and Mary and I would come together, since we were all staying in Bethsaida. His mother, Joanna, Mariam (Clopas’s wife), and a few others were coming from the City.

 

Mary Magdalene, Part II

As the three of us approached the garden, I got worried. During the Sabbath, some of the men were saying that the stone had already been rolled over the entrance to the tomb. If what they said was true (and they were sure that it was), there was no way we could move it. I said that, and Salome said, “Well, who can we get to roll the stone away?” We were still talking about it when we came the garden. Because it was still pretty dark, we were almost at the tomb before we saw what had happened.

We just stood there. Nobody said anything. Nobody had to. I knew immediately what had happened. Those dogs who had murdered the best man who ever lived had taken his body out of the tomb so that we couldn’t give it a proper burial. They had taken it somewhere and were probably doing horrible things to it in order to disgrace him even more. They hated him so much that they weren’t satisfied with killing him, they had to shame him too.

The other girls just stood there, but I ran. They said, “Mary, stop! Where are you going?” But I didn’t stop. I just shouted, “I’m going to tell Peter.” If anybody would know what to do it would be Peter. Somebody had to tell him (and the others) that they had taken his body.

I ran all the way. My side burned like fire and I looked like a fool, running into the city like that, but I didn’t care. The men were still in that same upper room, and when I got there I had to stop and catch my breath. At the top of the stairs I pushed the door, but it was locked, so I knocked and called. I heard the bolt slide and John bar Zebedee stood there, blinking into the morning light.

John’s Story, Part I

This is how John might have told his story.

After what happened, we thought they’d come after us too. We talked about it all night long. We were staying – hiding, really – in the upper room of the house that belonged to John Mark’s father. I didn’t really believe they were coming after us, but that’s what everybody kept saying. Well, everybody but Peter. He wasn’t saying anything. I don’t think he said a single word.

And we kept talking about Judas. I could hardly believe he did it. I mean, I looked up to him, at least at first. How could he do it? Thomas kept saying that Judas knows where we are, and when the Sabbath’s over, they’ll come for the rest of us. We ought to get back to Galilee as soon as possible. We needed to disappear.

But like I said, I didn’t really believe it … until somebody started banging on the door like they were trying to knock it down! I almost jumped out of my skin. Everybody got real still. I can still remember how big their eyes were – except Peter’s. He never looked up from the floor.

Then we heard Mary’s voice. “Let me in!” I drew back the bolt and opened the door. She looked wild – her hair was blown back and her head covering was missing. She pushed right past me and asked, “Where’s Peter?”

As soon as she saw him she said, “The stone isn’t there. Mary and Salome – they stayed. I came back to tell you. I ran the whole way. They’ve taken his body, and we don’t know where they’ve put it.”

That got Peter’s attention. He seemed to think for a moment, and then it was like something boiled over in him. He got up and went outside without saying a word. I followed him. When he got to the bottom of the stairs, he began to run. So I ran too. I knew where he was going and, since I knew Jerusalem a lot better than he did, I knew how to get there faster. (Not to mention I’m fifteen years younger than him!)

I got to the tomb and it was just like Mary said. The stone was laying off on one side like it had been tossed there by some kind of giant. Everything was perfectly still. There was no one around. I bent down and looked into the tomb.

Then Peter got there, huffing and puffing. He sort of pushed me aside and went right in. Then I went in too. And it was just like Mary said. His body was gone. But it was the weirdest thing. The burial shroud and the sudarium – the head cover – were lying on the slab. The sudarium was folded up perfectly. Why would anyone take his body and leave the burial cloth? And who would take the time to fold up the sudarium? It didn’t make any sense, but what else could have happened? That was the real question – what else could have happened – but we didn’t know enough to ask it.

We walked back by the way I’d come. I had all kinds of questions, but Peter still wasn’t talking. When we got to the house, Peter just kept walking. I asked him where he was going. He didn’t answer. I asked him what I should tell the others. He said, “That’s up to you.”

Mary, Part III

I followed Peter and John out of the door, but they ran and it was all I could do to walk. As I walked down the street, I could feel the darkness descending on me, like it had in the old days. I was so afraid that I was going back into that.

By the time I got to the garden, Peter and John were already gone. None of my friends (Mary, Salome, Joanna – none of them) were there. It was just me, alone again, just like it used to be. I started to cry. After a few minutes I bent down and looked into the tomb and I saw two men in there. Before I could say anything, one of them asked me why I was crying. Or maybe both of them asked, I can’t remember. A kind of fog had descended on me. I said something, something stupid, like, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.”

I turned around and the rising sun all but blinded me. There was a man standing there, just a few feet away. He said the same thing the other men said: “Woman, why are you crying?” I thought – it doesn’t make any sense now, but I thought – that maybe he was the one who took the body, so I said to him, “Sir, if you’ve carried him away, tell me where you put him and I’ll go and get him.” I know it was a stupid, but it was all I could think of.

Then he said, “Mary.” Just that. Just “Mary.” And I knew it was him. I looked again and it was like the darkness lifted. I said to him, “Rabboni!” It didn’t even dawn on me to ask him what had happened. I just knew he was there. He was alive. I grabbed hold of him, but after a moment he said, “Don’t hold on to me. Go tell my brothers!”

I didn’t argue. I went – my third trip along that route and it wasn’t even 8:00. I didn’t really understand what was going on, but I knew everything would be alright. I wasn’t afraid anymore. My master was here! As long as he was here, I would be fine. Everything would be fine. I went back to the upper room – Peter wasn’t there yet – but I told the rest of them: “I’ve seen the Lord,” and told them what happened. They didn’t believe me. Then Mary and Salome and Joanna and the others came and told them the same thing. They still didn’t believe them either. Then Peter came back. He didn’t say much. He just said, “It’s true. I’ve seen him too.”

John’s Story, Part II

Everyone got really excited. We were all talking at once (except for Peter, who was still really quiet). But Thomas said, “This is crazy. You’re crazy. I’ve got to get out of here before I’m as crazy as all the rest of you.” He went out and slammed the door, and I pushed the bolt again and locked it.

For the next few hours, everybody was talking to everybody else, all at the same time. We tried to get Peter to tell us what had happened, but he only said, “It’s true. He’s alive.” Sometime later, while we were all talking, there was a … a sudden change. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s as if the candles flared brighter. It was as if music had just played. I think we all felt it; I know I did. And then there he was, standing right in the middle of us. It was him. At first we were so startled we couldn’t move. But he laughed; laughed and said, “Shalom.” Then he said, “What – you think I’m a ghost?” and he laughed again. He showed us his hands and his side. It was really him. The marks were there. He took some fish and ate it, and laughed again.

We gathered around him. I touched him. I guess I wanted to make sure he was real—that I wasn’t just dreaming it. But he was as real as ever – almost more real, if you know what I mean.

Epilog to John’s Story

(1 John 1:1-3) That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Spiritual life, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Power We So Blithely Invoke

Sometimes God scares me. Not like an angry parent scares a cowering child. It’s not like that at all. Still less like a bully scares a retiring classmate.

“Scares” is probably not even the right word. “Awes” would be better, though anyone who has truly been awed will understand my choice of words. It includes a sense of largeness that makes a person feel small and a sense of weight that makes a person feel insubstantial. In the presence of the overpowering God, one perceives one’s own powerlessness.

The biblical writers described this as “the fear of the Lord.” It was not some cringing sense of alarm they had in mind, but a commanding sense of the power, size and “otherness” of God. The person who has experienced “the fear of the Lord” understands that God is like a mountain: there’s no getting around him. He is the one “with whom we have to do.”

Some people may think of this as a negative thing. I can only assume they have never experienced it. To know it – not just abstractly, but with one’s whole being – is exhilarating. It breathes life into a person. It also brings insight and perspective, which is why the teacher says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

If the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom, ours must be a very foolish generation. And if the “fear of the Lord” is exhilarating, ours must be a very bored (and boring) generation. “We have,” Dorothy Sayers lamented, “efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

The Pulitzer Prize winning poet and author Annie Dillard asked: “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? … It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

When we lose the sense of God’s otherness (holiness) and magnificence (glory), religion becomes a strategy for coping with life or even just a hobby. As A. W. Tozer put it, “Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms.”  At our hands, the incomprehensible power that created galaxies; the power that is a person and yet more than a person; the one who says, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live,” is offered the position of personal assistant.

When we lose “the fear of the Lord,” worship is inevitably degraded. Worshipers see the weekly gathering as obligatory, and attend out of a sense of duty rather than anticipation. Because church leaders know this (and perhaps even feel it) they try to find ways to ease the burden of Sunday morning for the weary worshiper.

There are two principal approaches for doing so: make the worship time entertaining or make it productive. The church building becomes a concert hall, a comedy club or a lecture hall. Church leaders become rock stars, comedians or would-be Dr. Phil’s. Church services become amateur entertainment events, minor-league therapy sessions or bogus wealth management seminars.

The problem with all this is that church meetings end up being about pleasing the worshiper (or “attendee,” which is probably more accurate) rather than pleasing the awesome and astonishing God. Ironically, pleasing that God is a real possibility but pleasing the worshiper is vaporous fancy.

 

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 4/23/2016

 

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Christianity, Faith, Spiritual life, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Books I Wish Someone Would Write

I recently saw an article about books that someone should write. Christian leaders had been interviewed about the kind of books they would like to read and, while I admit I found most of their suggestions uninteresting, I found the idea inspiring. So here are a few books I wish someone would write.

The first would be, Rugged Hermeneutics: The Impact of Individualism on Biblical Interpretation. Hermeneutics is the science (some would say the art) of understanding the meaning of a text according to universal principles: interpret literally, when appropriate; interpret contextually; interpret historically, etc.

But behind the principles of hermeneutics lies a worldview that shapes their use. In America that worldview is intensely individualistic. This has led American Christians to see Jesus as personal savior while remaining blind to the Bible’s strong emphasis on the corporate people of God. Religion in America is largely a “private matter.” Even when we pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven,” we are too often thinking, “My Father in heaven … give me my daily bread, forgive my trespasses and lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”

I’d call the second book I wish someone would write, The Death of the King and the Birth of the Kingdom: Where the Atonement and the Kingdom Intersect. The king and the kingdom have too often been divorced in biblical theology. It’s common for preachers and Bible teachers to talk about why Christ had to die in order for individuals (see book one) to go to heaven, but why did Christ have to die in order for the kingdom of God to be established?

In general, liberal Christians find it easier to talk about the kingdom of God than about the atonement of Christ, while conservative Christians wax eloquently about the atonement but stutter when it comes to talking about the kingdom. Yet the Bible teaches both, and they are profoundly interrelated. Without Christ’s death there is no kingdom. Without the kingdom, Christ’s death is trivialized as the entrance fee through the pearly gates.

Because we lack a kingdom perspective, we fail to understand the relation of Christ’s cross to God’s larger purpose for creation. It is also why St. Paul’s language about the need for God to be reconciled to humans has proved so difficult for some scholars to grasp. They claim that he really meant that humans need to be reconciled to God. Something similar has happened with the biblical word “propitiation,” and for the same reason. Why would a loving God need to be propitiated?

One reason these scholars turn from the common meaning of the biblical words is that they are trying to fit them into a context where salvation has everything to do with getting into heaven and nothing to do with God’s kingdom coming on earth. Seen from the former perspective, everything depends on whether humans accept God. Seen from the latter, the decisive thing is whether God accepts humans – is reconciled to them – because they come to his kingdom as those who are joined to Christ (or are “in Christ,” as St. Paul likes to put it).

Another book I wish someone would write is, The Great Omission: A Manual for Teaching Them to Obey. Before any reader writes to inform me that Dallas Willard has already written that book, I hasten to say I know that, I’ve read it, and my copy has underlining on almost every page.

I love Willard’s insights and heartily recommend his book, but the one I have in mind is a little different. It would be a manual for church leaders who are searching for practical ways to teach people to obey Jesus’s commands. How can churches create a culture in which obedience to Jesus is considered realistic and doable? What would that church’s structure look like? How can the various generations in the church be inspired and instructed to live Jesus-shaped lives?

Those are three books I’m dying to read. I’d also like to read How the Cleveland Cavaliers Won the NBA Championship, but I’ll stick to non-fiction this time around. Perhaps some reader would like to set her or his hand to the task? Do so, by all means; and I wish you Godspeed.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 4/16/2016

Posted in Books, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment