October 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
by Matthew Raley
The name “Jesus” has been a blank screen in America for a long time. If I embrace the name, I acknowledge that “Jesus” is the epitome of goodness. But, in a neat trick, I can project onto the name whatever righteous shape I hold dear.
Evangelicals, among whom I count myself, are some of the most skilled projectionists, and many people are now wary of our “Jesus.”
We evangelicals are quick to deplore the progressive “Jesus” who thought up socialism before there was even a proletariat, or the Buddhist “Jesus” who did a semester in India. We rejected the self-doubting “Jesus” of “Godspell,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” molded to match faddish ideals of personal authenticity. More recently, we’ve inveighed against the gnostic “Jesus” who had a child with Mary Magdalene — a savior for conspiracy theorists.
Our culture only accepts gods it has re-imagined in its own image. We’re right to dismiss all these Jesus-projections. But we can’t seem to reject the blank screen itself. We’ve profited too heavily from it. If we were to set the bar at intellectual honesty, we’d undermine our salesmanship.
For the last forty years at least the evangelical “Jesus” has looked as close to the American consumer as possible. Consider the Jesus-projection you are most likely to watch in an evangelical church.
In appearance, he is an Anglo-German woodsman with great hair. In attitude, he’s way non-threatening. In manner, he uses open gestures. He doesn’t lecture or argue. He uses sports analogies when talking to men and tear-jerking stories with women. He says, “Dude!”
This “Jesus” can be narrated like a sitcom in 18 minutes (minus commercials). Each week, the live studio audience laughs at the right times, but there comes a moment when they feel really bad for “Jesus,” maybe shed a tear. They realize how nice “Jesus” is to us, and how mean we are to him, and this hushed epiphany motivates them to try harder at being positive.
The Jesus of the New Testament is nothing like this.
The real Jesus is ancient. He cannot be understood, much less received, without a basic knowledge of his culture and history, and that is why pastors used to think of themselves as teachers. Many Christians see that Jesus is not the Now Guy evangelicals project, and the good news for them is that he can still be known. We know him through the ancient method by which our minds labor in the Bible’s words and in prayer, interacting with the real one who rose from the dead.
Furthermore, the real Jesus had a message about the outworking of history. He did not give inspirational chats about living positively, like some huckster from Houston. The classic distillation of his teaching is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” God is driving events toward his goals, and those events can sweep an individual away no matter how positively she thinks. That word repent is almost illegal in churches today, probably because it contains the one message contemporary people can’t abide: “God’s plan isn’t all about you.”
But there is more good news for the people who already know this. Though the projection of the hyper-compassionate woodsman who is on call for you 24/7 is bowlderized, there is still the real Jesus. He is our Sovereign, whose power has swept us into his plan. The injustice and violence of our world will dissolve in the heat of his stare, and the new city we hope for will be built.
Ultimately, the real Jesus defied those in his own time who wanted to use him as a blank screen. Many people followed Jesus, John reports, but had agendas for him to fulfill. Jesus “did not entrust himself to them.” (John 2.24) When many wanted him to overthrow the Romans, for example, “Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6.15)
So there is still more good news. In the swirl of efforts to re-imagine Jesus after our likeness, the real Savior has a mind of his own. And he’s still commanding, “Follow me.”
September 19, 2012 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
Interpreting art has always been a problem. Can a painting have a theme? When does a novelist cross the line between portraying wrong actions and endorsing them? Can you be morally or spiritually corrupted by listening to a song?
These questions are more emotional when they involve cinema, partly because of its sheer popularity over the last 80 years, partly because of the visceral power of the medium itself. Christians want to engage films spiritually, but they get tripped up by the moral quandaries they find.
These are important issues, but they make a poor starting-point for a spiritual discussion of film — or of any art. Before we dive into Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, I want to explain why I will address the moral and spiritual issues last.
It is a rare work that has both greatness and a “message.” Great artworks focus questions pointedly and show experiences palpably. They do not provide many answers. By contrast, works that convey a message are not usually art, but propaganda. Before we can approach the issues raised by films, then, we have to think in a more filmic way.
In evangelical entertainment today, sadly, there is almost no art. The expectation of both producers and consumers is that “Christian” books, music, and films will have a “good message,” and the message itself removes the works from consideration as serious art. Evangelicals rush to give answers almost as a matter of principle. If they thought more carefully about art, they might see the value of provoking the right questions.
There is a more specific problem for Christians who want to engage “secular” films.
For pastors, using a film as a sermon illustration has become a popular way to make a point, with certain films like The Matrix (1999) or The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003) attracting almost permanent enthusiasm. The retelling of films as spirituality tales is a branding device for some authors. Medieval allegorizing is even recommended by some academics as a hermeneutic for engaging film spiritually.
Such uses of film seem less like dialogue than monologue. Not every self-sacrificing character is a Jesus figure.
Vertigo has incited a great deal of moral discussion, but has been especially open to agenda-driven interpretation.
One of the most influential concepts of feminist film theory, Laura Mulvey’s idea of the “male gaze,” was formulated using Vertigo as an illustration. Mulvey famously psychoanalyzed the film in terms of Freudian scopophilia. It has also been read as an allegory of existential psychology, and an opportunity for theological study of human motivations. More whimsically, critics have used it as a point of comparison with Shakespearean characters, and even as a metaphor for Kim Novak’s entire film career.
Vertigo starts to look like an inkblot test.
There are ways to address the spiritual issues raised by this film that go beyond the brain candy of allegorizing, or reading the film in terms of a favorite construct. We can embrace the complexity of what Hitchcock created, and we can let the rich layers of meaning guide us to the issues.
But we have to do good work first.
John Eldredge, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005).
Robert K. Johnston, “Transformative Viewing: Penetrating the Story’s Surface,” in Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline, ed. Robert K. Johnston (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 304-321.
Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16, no. 3 (1975): 6-18.
Kirk Schneider, “Hitchcock’s Vertigo: An Existential View of Spirituality,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 33, no. 2 (1993): 91-100.
Neil P. Hurley, “Mutability of Motivation: Hitchcock’s Films,” Theology Today 35, no. 3 (O 1978): 326-328.
Wendy Lesser, “Hitchcock and Shakespeare,” The Threepenny Review, no. 11 (October 1, 1982): 17-19.
Vincent L. Barnett, “Dualling for Judy: The Concept of the Double in the Films of Kim Novak,” Film History 19, no. 1 (January 1, 2007): 86-101.
March 7, 2012 § 2 Comments
by Matthew Raley
The last couple of weeks have seen a change of tone among Democrats about President Obama’s requirement that religious institutions be forced to provide “contraception” in their health plans, and about his “compromise” that the institutions themselves don’t have to pay for it but that insurers still have to provide it.
Democrats think this is a brilliant move — and they may be right.
There are outright lies in the president’s formulation of this policy, in addition to the standard tactical truth-benders.
It is a lie that this policy only concerns contraception. The president’s rule covers the abortion pill. Abortion is not contraception. His first policy was that religious institutions must provide abortion coverage. Now his “compromise” is that everyone must pay for it in their insurance premiums.
The president’s tactical gambit is that, if people swallow the lie that the issue is contraception, then they will also believe that the only people in America who oppose his rule are Catholic bishops. The president is hoping that evangelicals like me will assume that the only problem here is Rome’s opposition to preventing conception.
This is not a Roman Catholic issue, as if “only a bishop” could possibly oppose this rule. When asked not about “contraception” but specifically about the abortion pill requirement, Americans oppose the rule, and it’s not close.
Well, let’s be blindly generous. Let’s pretend that the word “contraception” is not a cover-up, that the president is not pandering to anti-Catholic bigotry, and that Americans do support free abortion by prescription. There’s still this little issue of rights.
Here’s Nicholas Kristof on religious liberty in a recent column: “The basic principle of American life is that we try to respect religious beliefs, and accommodate them where we can. But we ban polygamy, for example, even for the pious. Your freedom to believe does not always give you a freedom to act.”
Again, let’s adopt the spirit of blind generosity.
We’re going to accept the equating of belief in polygamy with opposition to abortion as if it were completely natural. We’re going to ignore the fact that this controversy is not over a “freedom to act” but over a freedom not to act — that is, my right not to pay for abortion pills. We’re even going to ignore this interesting assertion: American life is founded on the principle that “we” will “try” to “respect” religious beliefs. This is a brief counter-factual exercise. We’re just going to focus on the words, “Your freedom to believe [a religious teaching] does not always give you a freedom to act.”
That formulation might be acceptable to those who do not value religious liberty. But let’s see if it still works when applied to other freedoms.
“Your freedom to believe does not always give you a freedom to speak.”
“Your freedom to believe does not always give you a freedom to vote.”
“Your freedom to buy property does not always give you a freedom to keep it.”
“Your freedom to invest does not always give you a freedom to keep the profits.”
“Your mere existence in utero does not always give you a freedom to be born.”
The president and Mr. Kristof are free to believe that rights owe their existence to governmental fiat. They have the right to reject the real “basic principle” of the United States, that liberties come from God. But in our country — and it still actually belongs to us — they do not have the right to subvert the Constitution by administrative law.
The president may get away with this. His tactic may be as brilliant as many Democrats claim. Life will go on and future battles over religious liberties will be fought on very different ground. But let’s not pretend this is politics as usual.
June 16, 2011 § 1 Comment
by Matthew Raley
I am surveying features of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins that evangelicals should watch over the coming years. A second feature is Bell’s description of the nature of God.
According to Bell, the evangelical God is impossible for people to trust. This God has put a time-limit on repentance: death is the end of people’s opportunity to have a relationship with him, and hell awaits people who do not believe. Bell says that this sort of God is “violent” and “destructive.” If this account of God were true, he says,
A loving heavenly father who will go to extraordinary lengths to have a relationship with [people] would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter who would ensure that they had no escape from an endless future of agony.
If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately. (pp 173-174)
He goes on, calling this God “devastating,” “psychologically crushing,” “terrifying and traumatizing and unbearable.”
Bell counters that God is love, and that God’s invitation into his love never ends. Hell is not God tormenting people, but people choosing to reject God’s love and creating their own torment. Even when they reject God, he always brings them back because redemption is part of his very nature.
Yet Bell’s story about how God redemptive nature displays the same divine volatility Bell finds in the doctrine of eternal hell.
For example, Bell uses the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to make the argument that hell is temporary. He calls them “the poster cities for deviant sinfulness run amok,” recounting how God rained sulfur on the cities, destroying everything. “But this isn’t the last we read of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Bell cites Ezekiel 16, where God says he will return the cities to what they were before, then asks rhetorically, “What appeared to be a final, forever, smoldering, smoking verdict regarding their destiny … wasn’t? What appeared to be over, isn’t. Ezekiel says that where there was destruction there will be restoration.” (p 83, emphasis original)
So God sometimes destroys people to make a point. Then he restores. Bell calls this a “movement from judgment to restoration, from punishment to new life.” (p 85)
Using Bell’s standard of a loving God, his account of what he calls God’s redeeming nature shows the same violence he condemns when discussing eternal torment in hell. The God who destroyed Sodom is the child abuser about whom Bell would call the authorities. The people of Sodom did not choose sulfurous rain; God inflicted it upon them.
The only difference Bell shows between the God who destroyed Sodom and the God who punishes souls eternally is the amount of time involved.
So let’s imagine Rob Bell preaching love and hope to Sodom: “This fire isn’t forever. Your father loves you! He’s inviting you to participate in his love! Just wait: you’ll have another opportunity to love God!”
Or we could ask this question: Would it matter to the people destroyed in the fire of Sodom that their punishment was only temporary? Would they trust God any more, or hate God any less because they have another opportunity later?
Or we could make up a scenario about pain. Suppose I promised you that the Soviet guard in the gulag would only beat you every day for 10 years. Would the temporary nature of the torment make it tolerable? What if he only beats you daily for a week? Okay, okay: your beating will only last 5 minutes.
Bell’s proposal that hell is temporary in no way makes his account of God’s nature coherent.
Celebrity status will not exempt Bell’s arguments from the precision of, say, Richard Dawkins. Evangelicals should watch what happens when Bell’s distinctions without differences fail to make God any more loveable.
Love Wins accepts generalized standards of love and justice — standards that are, to be sure, accepted by most people without examination. But the received wisdom of generalizations about “a loving God” or “a just God” fall apart once we delve into specific cases. “Loving” toward whom? “Just” in whose cause?
I think Bell will have to discard every biblical account of God’s punishing a sinner in order to preserve his view of redemption. That is where I think his “better story” about God will lead. Bell has failed to put human pain in the context of any serious look at the requirements of justice.
May 17, 2011 § 3 Comments
by Matthew Raley
In a New York Times op-ed piece, “Your So-Called Education,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa expose key failings in undergraduate institutions. The B.A. does not mean what it used to, they report, and there are structural reasons for its decline. Their sharp criticism raises questions about our cultural foundations for learning, not just in colleges but in another educational enterprise, the local church.
Arum and Roksa followed several thousand students in more than two dozen undergraduate institutions over four years. They found that in “a typical semester . . . 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester.” The average student spent 12-13 hours per week studying, half the time a student would have spent in the 1960s.
With such minimal work, tests show that a large proportion of students make no significant progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or writing.
And for this students and their families pay the equivalent of a home mortgage?
The causes Arum and Roksa identify are all institutional, but raise cultural questions that are beyond the scope of their study.
The investments of colleges and universities are one cause: fewer tenured faculty, more counselors who attend to social and personal issues. “At the same time, many schools are investing in deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers and expensive gyms. Simply put: academic investments are a lower priority.”
The empowerment of students is another cause. Federal Pell grants are dispersed to students, not institutions, which means a student takes dollars wherever he or she decides. The evaluation of faculty emphasizes student assessments, making it difficult for a professor to advance unless he or she is popular. All of this tends to make students think like consumers who insist on being satisfied with the school’s “service.”
Unfortunately, undergraduate schools could adopt all of Arum’s and Roksa’s sensible reform proposals and never revitalize learning.
Consider the significance of schools’ spending on counselors. Social dysfunctions are driving that expenditure: drinking, drugs, cutting, sexual crime, STDs and other public health dangers, and mental health issues like depression. Undergraduate culture is often a degraded underworld. Where does learning fit in such a context?
A key cultural foundation for learning has always been strong family life, and we’re seeing the consequences of family decay.
Consider also the spending on gyms and sports programs. This too expresses a larger cultural reality: we are obsessed with entertainment and activities. How could learning be anything but a sideline where leisure activities are so exalted.
And the empowerment of students as consumers of education? This is quite simply an abdication of authority, a capitulation to our culture’s relentless leveling of all points of view below the only one that ultimately matters: that of the divine Self.
Which brings me to the other educational enterprise I mentioned, the local church, which should be a prime mover in rebuilding a culture of learning — and in the past was exactly that.
Churches today are so enslaved by the same culture of dysfunction, leisure, and consumerism as colleges that one struggles to envision churches as centers of learning. In fact, the idea that a church might be an educational institution is only dimly remembered, when it is not violently rejected. American evangelicals are likely to see this priority as snooty.
But how exactly are Christians to restore a degraded culture if they can’t think critically, or reason about complex issues? And how are they supposed to gain those skills if they know little about the history that made us who we are? And how — really, how exactly is this supposed to happen? — how are they going to apply the gospel to their lives if they won’t read?
Evangelicals seem to think bumper stickers, petition drives, and fun music are enough to “take back the culture.” They have forgotten that our duty in Christ is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
May 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
by Matthew Raley
Jerry Olenyn did a service for Chico in his story for CN&R on how local churches view homosexuality. Writing such a piece is a thankless task, the only guarantee being that some on all sides will see Olenyn as biased. Conservative evangelicals should notice that Olenyn’s language is even-handed, that his use of quotations presents a well-rounded picture of what conservative pastors believe and feel, and that his objective in the piece is right: to deepen our civic culture on this issue.
The article is solid reporting, an essential tool for keeping leaders honest and their discourse civil.
Olenyn only made one characterization in the story: “There’s a definite evasiveness that seeps through this discussion. Conservative churches fear being labeled homophobic and intolerant, while gay-affirming churches worry that their pro-gay stance could cost them members.” The characterization is fair.
Olenyn identifies the roots of this evasiveness. He responds to one pastor’s assertion that “there are bigger issues” than homosexuality, “such as reaching out to the lost, feeding the hungry, and fulfilling Christ’s mission.” Olenyn asks, “But does part of fulfilling Christ’s mission include defining sin? And what exactly is sin?”
Perceptive. A pastor cannot speak clearly about whether homosexuality is a sin until he defines what sin is.
Throughout the article, as in the debate nationally, the word sin is used without definition. Today sin connotes a “really bad” thing, something that makes you feel guilty. With the term apparently used this way, we seem to be debating whether churches have a right to shame people.
To understand the Bible’s definition of sin, we should start with the more basic issue of what it means to be human.
According to the Bible, human beings can only understand themselves fully in relation to God (e.g. Psalm 139). We are creatures. We do not govern our own lives. Rather, we serve something larger than ourselves — either God or the things we put in place of God.
Sin, in this worldview, is primarily an identity of servitude to false gods, whatever form they take, and only secondarily a specific action or choice (Romans 1.18-32). Paul’s teaching in Romans 6.15-23 is that human beings are sin’s slaves. Jesus himself teaches (John 8.34), “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
The implication is clear: to be human is to be the property either of sin or of God. All specific acts of sin express the same identity of sin-slavery in different ways. The issue in reconciling with God is not the individual acts, but the identity that those acts express.
The contrast between the biblical view and that of Western modernity is stark. The modern individual assumes — more precisely, he believes as a matter of doctrine — that he owns himself. He is the property of no one, having the autonomy to construct his life as he chooses. His dignity as a human being consists in asserting himself.
Conservative evangelicals know that a genuinely biblical definition of sin calls people to reject their most basic beliefs about who they are. For many decades now, evangelicals have been trying to finesse this point. They have cast sin in terms of “choices,” “addictions,” “values,” or “lifestyles,” as if behavior were the primary issue. Jesus, in this cautious gospel, is less Savior than Coach. He helps you make better choices about your life.
But in addressing homosexuals — without a social consensus on sexual morality — evangelicals are trapped by their evasiveness about sin. They can’t confront homosexuality without asserting God’s right to determine human identity. At the same time, they can’t assert God’s right over our identity without offending many of their own converts. The evangelical pew holds many who believe that their lives remain their own property, and who’ve been assured that God would never be so Godlike as to require their very selves.
Several conservative pastors quoted in Olenyn’s article showed a wise mix of clarity about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality and humility as forgiven sinners. I’m grateful that Olenyn showed this.
But I am also grateful that he identified the core question, which humbles everyone equally: What exactly is sin?
October 27, 2010 § 2 Comments
by Matthew Raley
With election day less than a week hence, I confess that I think the campaign is a crashing bore.
If there were a prospect that the nation’s course might change, I suppose the elections might be interesting. But I am struck by the continuity of federal policy over the last three decades. It’s incoherent but stable: Low taxes (compared with 1933-1980), deficits, free trade, low interest rates, growing government, and willful blindness to the coming bankruptcy of entitlements have been hallmarks of the period since the last significant political U-turn, Ronald Reagan’s signature on Kemp-Roth in 1981.
President Obama, the biggest potential change agent since Reagan, has followed most of the policies of his predecessor — the standout exceptions being health care and Supreme Court appointees. His stimulus measures have been magnitudes larger than George W. Bush’s, but not different in principle.
A Republican Congress will not do anything beyond limiting President Obama’s options. It might pass Paul Ryan’s budgets as written, and they still won’t become law. No one is projecting veto-proof Republican majorities.
So voter fury in this campaign feels like the protests of impotence. Populist exploitation of their fury is straight out of old playbooks. Boring.
Only one thing interests me now: will American evangelicals take a long look at themselves and recover the Gospel?
Americans are deep in the cluelessness of hypocrisy. We can rage against Washington all we want. But there’s no federal law mandating that household debt should reach 129% of household income, as it did in 2007. The average guy raised his debt burden statistically higher than Greece’s all by himself, with money and assets over which he was entirely sovereign. Power to the people, anyone?
We can rage against Wall Street’s greed and dishonesty. But the ethics that allowed people to sign for adjustable rate mortgages and balloon payments, and that fudged the details of their credit-worthiness were Main Street ethics that took advantage of the distance of corporate banks from decision-making to fund larger and larger house purchases. Well before the peak of the real estate frenzy, I withdrew a mortgage application after discovering that my broker had lied point-blank to secure approval. Wall Street greed? Get real.
Evangelicals are ranting that if power were returned to the average guy his sterling character would renew the nation. It’s time to dig up the planted axiom.
None of this excuses Washington for its various lunacies. But it does raise the question of whether our nation is still great — great in the sense that its citizenry still has the moral strength to govern itself.
If, as I suspect, it does not have that strength, then national renewal would look something like this:
Americans who claim to believe the Bible would study the book of Proverbs, especially noting the principle that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (1.7). They would note in detail and without excuses their own folly, and accept the rebukes of wisdom. Then they would grieve how deeply they have offended God, not having cultivated the fear of him they owe. In the midst of this grief, they would recall that God forgives, and that his Son Jesus Christ has paid for their offenses.
And, ceasing their proud striving with others, they would seek reconciliation with God on that basis. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it this way in 1959: “You must realise that you are confronted by something that is too deep for your methods to get rid of . . . , and you need something that can go down beneath that evil power, and shatter it, and there is only one thing that can do that, and that is the power of God.” (Revival, Crossway Books, 1987, p 19)
If evangelicals led the nation from a Gospel-driven humility, a dependency on Christ’s grace and power, something would indeed change. Evangelicals would change. And that would be fascinating.
October 13, 2010 § Leave a Comment
by Matthew Raley
Congregational life among evangelicals is changing across the United States and Canada. For several decades, innovators have been challenging the way churches worship, preach, and structure themselves. The new book, Colors of God: Conversations About Being the Church, is another perspective that seeks to be innovative.
The list of problems in churches is familiar.
For starters, preaching has become ineffective. What pastors talk about either seems of little consequence, or seems rooted in small-minded bombast. And that’s when the preaching is comprehensible at all.
Also, community has deteriorated. Churches become busy without producing deep change in people’s lives. Believers complain about the shallowness of church relationships, or about constant bickering. Most worrisome, there is a sense of unreality about interactions at church, a sense that we can’t deal honestly with our failings and that church isn’t safe.
Deeper, Christians are paralyzed by guilt. The weight of secret sins, the anxiety of paying lip-service to “values” without really knowing what those values entail, the general sense that God is displeased and angry, have all conspired to produce the opposite of what the Gospel promises — joy and thankfulness.
Colors of God is written by three men who started a church called neXus in Abbotsford, BC. Randall Mark Peters, Dave Phillips, and Quentin Steen have been influenced by the Emerging church movement in the areas of how to preach, how build community, and how to deal with the moralism of today’s evangelicals.
The book’s strong point is honesty. The authors are transparent about their struggles, both emotionally and intellectually, and gracious in describing how they believe churches are broken. I found many points to admire in their prescriptions. Their emphasis on God’s grace, and their clear doctrinal understanding of it, are indeed the antidote for evangelicals’ guilty consciences.
But I found the book unreadable.
I think the authors’ decision to print, in effect, a transcript of a round-table discussion emptied the book of drive. Their representation of aspects of church life with four different colors, far from clarifying their points, required too much explanation. It seems to me that a book needs both analytical and narrative logic to propel the reader to the end. And this reader did not make it. The organization of the book seemed both fussy and murky.
And to some extent, this toying with presentational niceties as a way of expressing values is emblematic of the evangelical malaise. Pastors are forever worrying about what’s wrong with “preaching.” The fact that most preachers couldn’t give a clear, compelling public address on any subject should figure into the analysis somewhere.
If evangelicals are going to strengthen their churches, at some point they will have to regain enduring competencies. Colors of God has some contributions to make on that score, contributions that would be brighter in a book not burdened with the pretense of being a transcript.
September 29, 2010 § 3 Comments
Dear Evangelical Black Robe Members,
You captured my attention through Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally, and you’ve attracted a devoted following. In an effort to understand what you’re doing and why, I’ve been looking at your website, and I have a number of questions.
Here is the first sentence on your home page:
The Black Robe Regiment is a resource and networking entity where church leaders and laypeople can network and educate themselves as to our biblical responsibility to stand up for our Lord and Savior and to protect the freedoms and liberties granted to a moral people in the divinely inspired US Constitution [my italics].
The last clause raised many issues for me.
1. Upon what do you base your claim that America was ever “a moral people?” By moral, I assume you mean ethically good. How do you propose to demonstrate that morals in 1776 were good by God’s standards for behavior, equity, and love? Quotations from the founders about the importance of morality will not suffice, since goodness is not in the professing but in the doing.
2. Do you believe that God gave us liberty because we were moral?
I ask because, since you are evangelicals and believe that no form of God’s grace is merited by us, then you must know how suspect that teaching would be.
3. Do you actually believe that the U. S. Constitution is “divinely inspired?” You must be aware that this is Mormon doctrine, and has never been part of the Protestant tradition, founded as it is upon sola scriptura. Why are you, as evangelicals, promoting Mormon mythology?
As a corollary, if you don’t believe the Constitution is divinely inspired, why did you permit the claim in the first sentence of your home page? Who wrote that sentence, and what is his/her theological tradition?
4. Elsewhere, you assert, “The Constitution (Part 1–the Declaration of Independence, and part 2), was and is a covenant between the people of America and their Heavenly Father.”
Let’s leave aside the enormity of asserting that the Declaration is part of the U. S. Constitution. Just answer this: on what possible basis in the Bible do you make the claim that God made a national covenant with Americans?
And again, why are you evangelicals signing on to Mormon myths?
5. In the same paragraph, you also claim,
A people who were honed by thousands of years before Christ walked the Earth by way of the Israelites who had been scattered and dispersed many times in their history. These folks who now inhabited this New Jerusalem (this New Eden that Christopher Columbus saw), were living out what they saw as a life and a country that was fashioned entirely by their Creator.
Are you agreeing with the Mormon tale that native Americans are Israelites?
6. On the same page, you say that “Liberty and Freedom has [sic] been graciously bestowed by our Heavenly Father to each of us. It [sic] has been freely offered, freely sacrificed for by Christ Jesus, and it is the duty of each of us to acknowledge that precious gift and to not give it away lightly.”
Do you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to give us political liberty? As evangelicals, surely you must believe that it is liberty from sin and death that Christ purchased. If you want to say that the liberty was also political, you will have to point to some biblical text that not only uses the words liberty and freedom but teaches that these words signify political rights.
7. Why is there no doctrinal statement on your website? How do you propose to advance spiritual revival without stating clearly what the spiritual principles of that revival are, and upon what scriptures those principles are founded?
8. Why is your “networking entity” by invitation only? You say that your site “is an invitation only closed social network for church leaders to freely communicate in a safe environment. We will vet all prospective members to ensure that they are in fact an active church leader.”
It may be that this site does not represent your views of the Gospel or of the Black Robe Regiment. If so, then I invite any evangelical member of the Regiment to disavow the site. State clearly that you do not believe that our Constitution is inspired by God, that it is a covenant with God, or that Americans are a “moral” people descended from the Israelites, but that all Americans are sinners, unable to govern themselves, deserving no favor from God, and who are only freed from their sins by the blood of Christ.
Without straight talk of this kind, I have to conclude that members of the Regiment are fighting to establish a civic deity for Americans — which is to say, an idol.