Wednesday, September 28, 2005

An Open Letter to Dan Edelen

This was going to be a comment on Dan's latest post, His Winnowing Fork is in His Hand, but it just grew and grew as I thought it over, and I decided it would best take up large amounts of space here than at his blog.

As always, his posts make me think, even when I have to disagree with them in part.

I want to come at this from two angles - related to his "sensation" of coming judgment, and his assesssment of our readiness for it.

First, his assessment. I will be the last person in American Christianity to disagree with him about our general situation. The American Church is sated, lazy, caught up in itself, focused on (depending on your persuasion) uncharitable doctrinal purity, building mega-church complexes, winning elections, feeling better about ourselves, ad infinitum ad nauseam. I will also not disagree that God's primary motivation in ordering the world is not our comfort or our present well-being. God desires His people to depend solely on Him, to exhibit His holiness, to be ready for whatever He may bring. We ain't. And God almost always, eventually, does something about that. And that OUGHT to give us pause.

Where I pull back and have my doubts is about what significance to attach to his "sense" that there's "a bad moon arisin'". I hesitate for two reasons - one personal, one evidential.

First, the personal. I empathize with his sensation. I get things like that all the time. I constantly sense what God *could* do with us and with the world. I always feel like "somthing wicked this way comes". The problem is that I know, with me, it's psychological. I'm a chronic depressive. I've *always* felt this way. I've had such feelings for decades. And 99% of the time, the things I was sure were going to happen, did not. (And I ought to be much more grateful to God that they do not.) This was one reason I sought refuge in Reformed rationalism - I wanted a surety and a faith that was divorced from my emotions, that could remain uninfluenced by them and *objectively* true. It is true that I am no longer the rationalist I was - but I still distrust hunches.

Now, I will indeed grant that this is *my* problem, and that it does not invalidate what Dan experienced. His background is probably not like mine, and his experience cannot be explained away psychologically. I willingly grant that. And that brings me to my second point - that I've seen many others make such predictions in the past, and thus far they have not panned out. I remember vividly having a discussion with a woman in a bible study in which she expressed her conviction that American Christiand would be actively persecuted within a decade. She made that prediction in 1992. And I can't begin to count the number of failed end-times predictions I've seen come and go. Anybody who's been an evangelical more than 5 years can tell you any number of such stories. So, what do I make of this? Dan is a wise, godly, and articulate man. Yet I still have a hard time giving credence to "prophetic episodes" like this. Yet, by the inexhorable laws of History (or rather, the will of the One who molds history), every civilization has it's eclipse. The problem with predicting bad things is that, eventually, *somebody* is going to be right. The question is, how do we know?

I make no claims of prophetic insight, but in my mind, a slow anemic slide to spiritual irrelevance by the American Church is at least as probable as a "winnowing". God has *abandoned* churches, as well as chastised them. Frankly, I find neither option appealing.

But whatever God has in store for us, what should be our response in light of our situation? Not to blow my own horn, but I touched on this in an earlier post. I'll repeat it here.

Now that I've disagreed with Dan, it's my turn to agree with him. I think he's spot on about American Christians not being prepared to suffer. American evangelicalism is a theology of glory, not of the cross. Americans have largely forgot that the human condition is to suffer. Hence, when any little thing goes wrong, we throw a conniption fit and call our lawyer. Yes, we ought to prepare for evil times - not because of some coming "judgment", but because it is wise. Evil times are the mark of this age, and we have deluded ourselves into thinking otherwise.

That said, how to prepare? By stockpiling food and water in our basements? (Fat lot of good that would have done the folks in New Orleans.) Buy guns and train ourselves in their use? (That would provoke a good discussion about the proper use of defensive force for Christians, a topic for another day.) My point is, all the physical preparations a person can make may be of no use when the crunch comes. How should we then prepare? By learning to worship God, and learning to recognize our fellow Christians as our brothers and sisters, no matter their location, race, or denomination. What one person cannot do, God and the Church can do more and beyond what is required. So let us learn to worship God aright, give to our brethren in need, and rest in the Gospel. Then we will be prepared for whatever lies ahead.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Nigeria's Declaration of (Non)dependence (on the Church of England)

This verse *is* in your Bible, right?

"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." - I Corinthians 13:2 (emphasis added)

Tom Ascol, director of Founders Ministries, issues a sharp wake-up call to Calvinists who value truth over charity.

(T)he wake-up call comes when Paul goes on to write that it is possible to have such knowledge and understanding and still be "nothing." The greatest theologian in the world is NOTHING without love. That truth is one that we who are so openly committed to loving the truth must not gloss over. Instead, we need to meditate on it and let its truth sink deep into our minds and affections. A loving Arminian is of greater spiritual value than an unloving Calvinist. Being loving is far more valuable than being right.

Love for whom? Both God and people. I say this because of what Paul writes in Galatians 5:14, "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" We might have expected him to say that loving God fulfills the law, but he says that loving neighbor as yourself does it. How can that be? Because loving people in this way is impossible without loving God. You cannot love people sincerely if you do not love God supremely. And if you love God supremely, you will love people sincerely. So Paul can say that loving your neighbor fulfills the whole law.

An unloving Calvinist should honestly face heaven's evaluation of him. The devastation of such a critique should humble all of us and make us plead with the Lord to work in us deeply by His Spirit so that we might become more and more filled with that love that is so evident in our Lord Jesus.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Katrina, the Theology of Glory, and the Theology of the Cross

[EDIT - the part below referring to a word search is specifically aimed at the Katrina article.]

The "Katrina and the Will of God" meme is evidently not quite finished. With a HT to the new theology blog at World Magazine, I came across this little gem of an article by someone calling himself The Calvinist Gadfly. I am not so much interested in the comments by Rick Warren that prompted the article, as I am the Gadfly's response, and what it signifies.

(M)most evangelical Christians and their leaders agree with evolutionists and naturalists that a divine being did not ordain Katrina. Rather than siding with the Biblical worldview of God’s decrees in his creation, many Christians and their leaders have adopted the naturalistic thinking of the world around them for explanations for hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, etc. Make no bones about it my friends, there are sadly many Christians who are embarrassed about what the Bible says about God’s control over nature.

Well, for the record, let me state that I (and most of my online friends) do NOT fall into this category. We do not dispute that God ultimately controls the weather. So this actually isn't the root of the dispute in my mind.

They detest the idea that God actually has a purpose in this world that he fulfills through his all-wise, all-just, and all-good decrees.

Detest it? Our hope for life is founded on that very promise - that all that God does (or permits, if you prefer) will come together for the good He has purposed. What that does NOT mean is that the means God uses are ultimately as good as the End He has purposed.

In reading the many theological responses on blogs and sermons on Katrina, I noticed one important attribute of God that was ignored: his Holiness. If we view Katrina in light of God’s holiness and man’s sin, the correct question that should be asked is not “Why did God ordain this to happen?” but “Why did God not ordain Katrina sooner?” Those who are offended by such an assertion, I ask you bluntly, in light of God’s holiness what reason can you give to me that you deserve your next breath? What reason is there that God would be unjust to send a Katrina to your city? We are all sustained by God’s mercy, not by an obligation on his part.

Refer to the discussions below on the topic of "grace grinding" to get my viewpoint on all this. Yes, God is holy, yes we deserve death and hell - but when is it wise to tell someone that? It would depend on the person, and their circumstances. A person may need to hear that, and may even be prepared to listen - after we have demonstrated that we do so out of love, and not in propping up our system of theology.

Some sadly draw the conclusion that because there were evangelical churches in New Orleans, then this could not have been God’s judgment. These folks assume the typical “American evangelical church is worthy of God’s blessing, not God’s judgment.” The burden of proof is on the person to prove that this was not God’s judgment. Someone may object by saying that there could have been a few God-honoring Christians that died in Katrina or many more being displaced. Certainly there were. If that were the case, then does God not have the freedom to take their lives at his sovereign timing and for his all-wise purposes? Can God not preserve godly Christians through their faith which does not require that he must sustain their physical life? The fact that there could have been some God-honoring Christians that died in Katrina is absolutely no reason to deny that God’s overall purpose was judgment.

Somebody needs to get this guy a copy of the dialogue between God and Abraham over Sodom. Lot was no better off than many evangelicals today, in his theology or practice. Yet God spared that city, much worse than Nawlins, until Lot left.

I have not been slack in decrying the state of evangelicalism myself, FWIW. But again I must ask, where is the compassion in all this? Where is the wisdom? (And no, just knowing and believing the tenets of Calvinism is NOT "wisdom." Wisdom comes in the *application*, not the knowledge.)

OK, so what's my point in all this? Well, there is a little tool in most browsers called "Find on this page..." (at least, that's what it's called in Firefox). Do a search on the word "Christ" on Gadfly's Katrina article linked above. You'll see lots of references to 'Christ'ians, but none on Christ, or Jesus. Why is this important?

Where I have gotten off the boat with many of my fellow Calvinists, and on the boat with many classical Lutherans, is in the idea that we best - nay, we ONLY - really know who God is and what He has for us, in Christ Himself. We are not to focus on "eternal, holy decrees", but on the God-Man nailed to the Cross. The fullest and clearest revelation of God's will and character is in Christ. To seek God (and to seek to understand Him) in His holiness and glory apart from Christ, Luther called "The Theology of Glory", and decried it loudly and violently. In opposition to this, Luther called for "the Theology of the Cross" - to see that God has hidden Himself from us in many ways, and we can only clearly see Him in Jesus, and that most clearly at the Cross.

I ask you, if anyone is reading this - from His character and ways presented to us in the Gospels, and if you'll pardon the trite evangelical expression - what would Jesus do at the devastation scene? Preach sermons about submitting to the just judgments of God? Perhaps - but Jesus rarely did so, even to the notorious "sinners" He met. Is it not easier to imagine Jesus with His arms caked in mud, pulling survivors from the wreckage? Talking to them about God and His Kingdom, in ways so winsome that logic-choppers like me could never emulate Him if we lived to be 200?

Did Jesus acknowledge God's decrees of judgment? He certainly did. He saw the coming destruction of Jerusalem - and He wept over it. He knew the purpose that the Father sent Him to us for had to be fulfilled - and He yet asked that the cup pass from Him, if possible. Jesus *was* a "Calvinist" in that He knew God's sovereignty - but He was also human, and seemed to understand the veil of mystery and doubt that hides the glory and purposes of God from us much better than do many of these "Calvinists". He was, after all, "like us in all ways excepting sin".

I've come to believe that the manner in which we present and defend our theology is a vital component of that theology. And I must sadly report that there is much Calvinism out there that could do with a humanity transplant. Away with the theology of glory - remember the Cross.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Confession for Theologians

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

How Did I Get Here? (Part III)

Why can't we be friends?
Why can't we be friends?
Why can't we be friends?
Why can't we be friends?

Sometimes I don't speak too bright
but yet I know what I'm talking about

Why can't we be friends?
Why can't we be friends?
Why can't we be friends?
Why can't we be friends?

Part 3 of my little mea culpa deals with the differences in BEHAVIOR and DEMEANOR between me and my old gang.

The stereotype is that Calvinists are mean, uncompromising, logic-chopping louts. On their good days. And sad to say, there is some truth to the stereotype. I've seen Calvinists in action too many times to deny that we can sometimes really unload on our opponents, in ways that deny in practice what we say we believe in theory. In theory, God sovereginly enlightens some and not others; whatever we have is not our own, but God's gracious gift; and we ought therefore to treat with humility and compassion whoever does not yet have the insights we have been given. Unfortuantely, many self-appointed defenders of Calvinism on the Web are functional Pelagians theologically - they seem to assume that everyone *can* and *ought* to understand and accept Calvinism, and whoever doesn't is either stupid or willfully disobedient.

I first started dropping out of the incessant debates because I found them *boring*. At least on the discussion list I was on, the same Calvinists and the same Arminians would get into it at regular intervals, repeat the same arguments and quote the same verses, talk right past each other, and accomplish NOTHING. And the level of politeness sunk lower with each exchange. I got sick of it after awhile, and slowly dropped out.

But I didn't see the real nastiness until I started hanging out with the crowd at Internet Monk and Boar's Head Tavern. The sheer viciousness and vindictiveness of the insults and slurs hurled at these people! Sure, they aren't all Calvinists, and tend to ask embarassing questions about theology and practice (good questions usually are) - but does that excuse the sort of behavior I saw? Prominent men whom I had once held in great regard were acting like schoolyard bullies, and they not only didn't see the problem with this, they sanctify their actions by saying they are "Standing for Truth".

I'm sorry, but I can do longer accept the implicit wall of separation some Reformed types have raised between "speaking the truth"/"in love" (Eph 4:15). Yes, I still agree with them on the basics. But even the most sublime truths told without love are a mere noise (I Cor 13:1-2). I think I finally understand that now. If we're going to beleive and teach what we believe the Master taught, then it behooves us to also do it as He did it. And He saved viciousness and sarcasm only for those who thought they had all the answers, and were willing to sit in judgment over Him and His lost sheep for it.

Well, that's how I got here. So, where do I go from here? I don't know, or pretend to know. I only hope to move on and do better than I have in the past. And I hope that some of those old friends may yet show up on the path, heading in the same direction I am now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

How Did I Get Here? (Part II)

(to be sung with a thick faux-Australian accent…)

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
Who was very rarely stable,
Heidegger, Heidegger, was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table,
David Hume could out-consume
Schopenhauer and Hegel,
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
Who was just as sloshed as Schlegel…

Part II of my little self-examination deals with my differences in PHILOSOPHY from my old Internet theology friends.

I’ve found that in many respects, the greatest strength of a person or group is also their greatest weakness. I think this is especially true in the (r)eformed camp. Our greatest strength is insisting on an intellectually trained clergy and encouraging a theologically astute laity. It is also a weakness, in that human intellect is not a neutral commodity.

In the course of my sojourn in Reformed circles, I learned that there were several philosophical assumptions made about how to “do theology”. These assumptions included some form of “common-sense realism” (assuming a direct correspondence of reality to our sense perceptions of it), the systemizability of Scripture (inside the Scriptures are a solid systematic theology waiting to get out), and the competence of logic and deduction to get us from the Scriptures to that system.

One thing about Calvinists that most people are aware of is that we believe in something called “total depravity” – the “T” in the infamous TULIP. “Total depravity” simply means that there is no facet of the human person that is unaffected by our fallen-ness. What I’ve come to realize is that, however much we Calvinists say we believe this in the abstract, we always seem to give our theological/intellectual exercizes a pass on this. Those durn Arminians/Semi-Pelagians/Anabaptists/Catholics/Whatevers may have allowed their fallen intellects to affect their theology – but NOT us Calvinists! WE’VE got it right!

I’d be much more inclined to accept this little piece of hubris if it weren’t for the fact that Calvinists tend to disagree with *each other* on other matters that would seem to derive from the same principles of logic and interpretation as do the matters that separate Calvinists from non-Calvinists. If we Calvinists have a pass on the intellectual effects of depravity, why can’t we agree on things like baptism, lapsarianism, church government, or any number of other matters? Why would God give us “the truth” in soteriology just to let us flounder in ecclesiology?

The simple fact is, human logic and rationality are just *not* what they’re cracked up to be. Our use of logic is, sadly, subordinated to our egos. Logic is fine and dandy, as long as it proves *my* point. Once it starts to turn on us, the logical fallacies start to bloom like dandelions. And I think Calvinists are *not* immune to this. A recent re-reading of Pascal’s Pensees has reaffirmed my realization that all humanity suffers from this fault, and Calvinists do not get a “Get out of intellectual depravity free” card. Therefore we ought to show a little more grace and humility in our dialogues – but more on that in the next post.

A corollary of this is how we approach Scripture. Is Scripture primarily a sourcebook for constructing a systematic theology, as per Charles Hodge? Is it the axiomatic foundation for *all* human knowledge, as per Gordon Clark? Or is it the story of redemptive-history, starting from creation and culminating in Christ, meant to tell us how we are to relate to Him? This does not mean that there is no propositional revelation in Scripture, but that it is NOT ONLY propositional revelation. The Bible was not only meant for us to pull prooftexts out of it to beat our intellectual opposition with. We’re very apt to pull out what *we* want to see, and downplay what the other person wants us to see.

So, how do I differ from my old friends? I’m no longer as optimistic that we can pull together a perfect systematic theology from Scripture. I’m no longer willing to pretend that Calvinists have an intellectual edge over other Christian traditions. I’m no longer willing to remain in captivity in the philosophical modernist Babylon. I’m not quite willing to go to full postmodernism yet either, but I’m willing to listen to some of the criticisms, critically. I’m currently reading some of Brian McLaren (on hearing whose name some of my old acquaintances will rotate three times and ritually spit on the ground). I DON’T agree with everything he says, especially in regards to historical theology, and on hell. I DO agree with many of his critiques of modern evangelicalism and evangelical theology. And instead of pillorying him for his mistakes, we ought to at least listen to what he’s getting right.

If we can get to the point where we can honestly listen to someone and learn from them, even as we charitably disagree with them, we will have come very far indeed.

Monday, September 12, 2005

How Did I Get Here? (Part I)

(Cue up the Talking Heads)

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack -
And you may find yourself in another part of the world -
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile -
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful
And you may ask yourself - Well...How did I get here?

Well, leaving out the automobile, house, and beautiful wife part, that’s where I’m at lately. I’m looking around me at this point and asking myself, “How on earth did I get here?”

Several incidents in the past two weeks have been the final nails in the coffin of my association with some old acquaintances in the world of Internet theology. And the question I’m asking myself is, “What happened? I used to be pretty much where they were. Now we’re staring at each other over a chasm. Where did that chasm come from, and how did I end up on the other side of it?”

As I’ve thought about this question, I’ve come up with several general categories to lump my thoughts together. I’ll start with where I’m closest to them, and move out to the lunatic fringes from there.

THEOLOGY – I am still a Christian (I believe in the Triune God of the ecumenical creeds, and the mediatory work of the God-Man Jesus Christ). I am still an evangelical (I place the Gospel – the proclamation of the work of Christ – at the center of the church’s mission and life, and my own). Heck, I am still a Calvinist for the most part - I'd even defend the "L" if you backed me into a corner. So, as far as putting down on paper what I believe, I’m not all that far apart from my erstwhile friends in these respects. So where do I differ from them?

One difference is that I am no longer willing to define everything as sharply, and argue with everyone who does not agree with me on all of them, as I once was (and as they evidently still are). I have read widely from a great span of Christian traditions – Anabaptist, Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc. There are great differences in them in some respects, but godly theologians in each camp have passionately argued for their positions, from Scripture. Each has attained wisdom and insights that the others could learn from. And I am no longer convinced that there is only “one true church” that has it’s theology down pat, and to whom everyone else must come and learn. In fact, I think that some of our differences (especially re: recipients of Baptism, and who can commune at the Table) should be charitably “tabled” (pardon the pun) for the sake of greater fellowship among believers from different evangelical denominations.

Another big difference is how I now view the Church. The Church, as I stated above, is not primarily a “one right denomination”, with poor benighted “lost sheep” in all the other denominations – this seems to be the default view, in practice, of my erstwhile friends. God is working through *many* denominations and groups, and we are ALL part of the Body of Christ. *Every* believer, of whatever creed, country, or color, is our brother. And some of these denominations and groups are very distasteful to the Reformed camp. One of the biggest body-blows to my “tight” view of theology and the church was Philip Jenkins’ book The Next Christendom. The thesis of this book is that the Western manifestation of the global church is going to be sidelined by the Southern manifestations – and those manifestations are going to be decidedly Pentecostal/Charismatic in flavor. This stunned me. How could God possibly want the Church to grow apart from the most perfect system of theology ever attained by the Church (the Reformed system, of course)!?! I briefly entertained the notion of overseas theology teaching – but I also quickly came to realize that in many ways, the Churches of the South were in no need of my help – in fact, in many ways they were manifesting the fruits of the Spirit (especially in faithfulness under persecution) that many Reformed types could only dream of. I’ll have more to say on this in a later post.

In the circles I have come out of, correctness in theology is evidently the penultimate Christian virtue – considering how much time is spent on it. However - from my readings, from my observation of the church scene in my town, my country, and the world - it has become clear to me that absolute purity in doctrine may NOT the penultimate virtue in God’s eyes after all. And the whole question of whether we can attain such purity is a good question in itself – one I will take up in the next post.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Keep on Grindin'...

The "Grace Grinder" meme just keeps spreading. TallSkinnyKiwi has picked up on it, as has Adrian Warnock's stand-in. Steve McKnight has posted another follow-up.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Sausagemakers of Grace

An interesting web of comments has arisen about a post on Jesus Creed called "Grace Grinding". It's a short post, so here it is in toto...

There is a kind of writing, preaching, and talking about grace that instead of offering grace and extolling the goodness of God, seems to use grace as the backhand of God that is used to grind humans into the ground as it talks about grace. I’m having a hard time being gracious about this.

It is the sort of communication that does extol grace, God’s good grace, but it makes that grace an angry thing God has to do because he is gracious. God, being so loving but downright ticked off with humans for their sins and stiff-neckedness and hard-heartedness, is still gracious to us. That sort of idea.

This is a massive distortion of what God actually does to us. James tells us, don’t forget, that if we ask God in faith that God gives to us simply or unbegrudgingly — and the grace grinders tend to make God a begruding God of grace rather than a delightful and pro-active God of grace.

These people can’t talk about grace without emphasizing that we are wretches;
they can’t read Yancey’s What’s So Amazing…? without saying it isn’t the whole story;
they can’t preach obedience without saying this isn’t works;
they can’t talk about grace without talking about all those who are on their way to hell;
they can’t preach love without showing holiness is behind it all;
they can’t talk about grace without reminding us that it is all for God’s glory and that God didn’t have to do this and that we ought to consider ourselves lucky;

in other words, they can’t accept that God’s grace is God’s benevolence toward us because of who God really is (a gracious loving God) and because of who we are: his chosen people in whom he delights and for whom he has crafted a gospel that restores us to be Eikons who are in union with God and communion with others.

Forgive me if I’m being ungracious to the grace grinders, but it wounds the gospel to use grace as a grinding instrument.

Grace, so it seems to me, should make us aware that we are special to God not the reluctant objects of mercy.

JollyBlogger and Missional Baptist picked up on it, and Scott posted a follow-up today.

What's most interesting is the comments sections in each of these posts. As Scott points out in his follow-up, there are not lacking those who will proudly wear the badge of "Grace-Grinder". The question I want to ask is, "Why?"

I think I have some explanations for this, and I will list them below. (Note that this brush is a bit broad, and is not intended to explain specific individuals - just the general spirit.)

1) The Reformed and/or 'culture warrior' emphasis on "sin". The Reformed community is probably one of the few left that, in general, makes much of sin. And as they see fewer and fewer people "beyond the pale" doing so, they make even more of it in compensation.

2) The Reformed/Puritan archetype of preaching the Gospel is not just preaching the Gospel - it's Law, THEN Gospel. The Puritans, facing a turbulent and spiritually dry enviroment (much as we do), sought to ensure the sincerity of their converts by first terrifying them with the full measure of God's Law(s), and only then presenting them with the Gospel. (Lutheranism has a similar paradigm, but they don't take it to the extremes the Puritans did). In Reformed circles today (especially those who consciously emulate the Puritans), this is the only way to preach the Gospel. If you don't preach the Law first, you're failing in your task.

3) An emphasis on the holiness and transcendence of God. This I've seen too many times to ignore. Again, in reaction to the overmphasis on God's immanence in "liberal" theology, Reformed types tend to emphasize the transcendence. (And given the focus on predestination in much of Calvinist theology - again an aspect of transcendence - there is an inherent pull in that direction anyways.)

Operating from these perspectives, any talk of "grace-grinding" not only does not make sense, it sounds like incipient easy-believism or liberalism. Hence, they emphasize the judgmental aspects of God's dealings with man.

The real danger (for Grace-grinders and grace-peddlars) is that if you over-emphasize one aspect of the Gospel, that tends to color your perception of all the other attributes. Brian McLaren's views on hell are one example, IMHO. It's a question of perspective. In some circles, the grace peddled is false, and needs grinding up. In other circles, however, a fresh breeze of the scandal and free grace of the Gospel is just what is needed to shake things up. What is most needed is the wisdom to tell at which point you are in.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Re-Organizing the Blog Roll

Coffee Conversations is back, evidently with a lot more cream and sugar than in its previous incarnation. I'm re-adding the link to my blog-roll, in place of another blog that shall from now on remain nameless. A few other new bloglinks have been added as well, as my explorations of the blogosphere continue.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The LORD Was Not In The Wind

Provocative enough title for you? (See I Kings 19:11)

I have been watching New Orleans' slow death by torture unfold this week. Like many, I have withheld comment in my own blog, for lack of anything meaningful to say. But now that others whom I respect have spoken up, I wish to reflect on their take on this disaster.

Michael Spencer - "What Are We Seeing in New Orleans?"

I'll take his major points (see the article for how he develops them) and respond individually.

I think we are seeing a turning point in the perception of America in the world. - I think it's way too soon to tell.

I believe we are witnessing a turning point in the perception of the urban poor in America. - if what I've read thus far is any indication, this only goes to reinforce peoples' existing political prejudices - liberals will scream about how the government failed the poor there (true), whilst conservatives will scream about the failure of government to keep the peace (true). The human mind is an amazing thing - we will read into just about anything what we want to see. More on that later.

I believe we are witnessing a revelation of the impotence of government. Who's to argue?

I fear we are watching the first of many future episodes of social chaos in America. As I stated in the Boar's Head, this is nothing new. Remember the LA riots? The race riots of the 60's? The Depression? The Civil War? We've had social chaos here before - we'll have it again. It's the human condition. Human depravity is what it is - not even a "Christianized" society is immune from it, as the records of Medieval Christendom all too easily attest. In America, we've just put a good "face forward" on it in most respects. "The fault, dear Monk, lies not in our secularists, but in ourselves, that we are monsters..."


Eternal Perspectives - "What Are We Seeing in New Orleans?"

EP's reply to Michael's post above. The core of his reply, which I concur with, is here...

What is happening in New Orleans is the natural consequence of a deterioration of moral standards in the city. Many of the inner-city residents - and especially those who prospered from the immorality of Bourbon Street and its appeal to base desires - are both victimizing and being victimized by the absence of morality among some of those who remained during the hurricane. They are unrestrained, lacking an internal basis for morality. They are not living like animals, as some have suggested, but are living like humans lacking God-established controls.

They have sown the wind, as Hosea said, and they are reaping the whirlwind. Not the whirlwind of Katrina, but a whirlwind far worse and far more dangerous: the whirlwind of wickedness residing in the human heart. A minority - an immoral minority - is exploiting the absence of law and creating disorder. They are preying upon the weak and demonstrating that what God has said about the unaided, unrestrained human heart is tragically true. There are none righteous. We are desperately wicked.

To be sure, there are many good people in New Orleans who have sought to reform and redeem the city for years. It has been my experience that where sin is strong, so are the churches and Christians that live nearby. I am confident such is the case in New Orleans, too.

But it is an uphill battle for them and one they will not likely win. The United States is a democracy, not a theocracy, and individuals are free to reject the morality of truth and live outside the law - not outside the law of the land, but outside the law of God. Some people will live as close to the edge of lawlessness as those in power will allow. And when the threat of consequences and punishment is removed, the evil in their hearts runs wild in the streets.


Cerulean Sanctum - "What the Church is Not Learning"

Dan Edelen raises the spectre here of the possibility that Katrina is a manifestation of the wrath of God. I will reiterate my arguments from Boar's Head tavern on this topic here.

1) Who was the target? The Mardi Gras revelers? They're all gone for the most part, as well as the promoters and organizers. The urban poor were most of the vicitms. America in general (as Dan seems to intimate?) Granted, America has done and is doing things that are sinful. But so does every other person, nation, and society. From that standpoint, we could say that *all bad things that happen to us are manifestations of God's wrath*. But the Bible says that for Christians, these events are not punishments but trials and discipling, strengthening our faith and preparing us for the New Creation. For the unbeliever, they are foretastes of the eternal punishment to come.

Which leads to another point. When someone says that a disaster is "God judging us", they too can point to the Bible. The OT clearly states that disasters were God's judgment on Israel for her sins. And here I want to return to an earlier point, about our seeing in things what we want to see. We make the leap between how God used disasters against Israel to how God uses disasters today, without thinking about whether or not America is in a similar position with God as Israel was. Of course, most American Christians *do* make that assumption, some consciously, many unconsciously. So, when we see something like this happen, we start to think of all the bad things we as a country have done and how God is trying to "wake us up". This may be true, but it is not the way the NT teaches us to look at these things. And, to get back to my title, it is dangerous to start speculating as to why God has brought tragedy onto any one person or place at any one time. We are NOT God, we have not His wisdom, and at times like this it is best to do as Job's friends intially did, and sit and weep with those who have been afflicted (Job 2:13).

Now that I've disagreed with Dan, it's my turn to agree with him. I think he's spot on about American Christians not being prepared to suffer. American evangelicalism is a theology of glory, not of the cross. Americans have largely forgot that the human condition is to suffer. Hence, when any little thing goes wrong, we throw a conniption fit and call our lawyer. Yes, we ought to prepare for evil times - not because of some coming "judgment", but because it is wise. Evil times are the mark of this age, and we have deluded ourselves into thinking otherwise.

That said, how to prepare? By stockpiling food and water in our basements? (Fat lot of good that would have done the folks in New Orleans.) Buy guns and train ourselves in their use? (That would provoke a good discussion about the proper use of defensive force for Christians, a topic for another day.) My point is, all the physical preparations a person can make may be of no use when the crunch comes. How should we then prepare? By learning to worship God, and learning to recognize our fellow Christians as our brothers and sisters, no matter their location, race, or denomination. What one person cannot do, God and the Church can do more and beyond what is required. So let us learn to worship God aright, give to our brethren in need, and rest in the Gospel. Then we will be prepared for whatever lies ahead.