Hey students, ever wonder about your professors' pet peeves? Now you know! You're welcome!
Let's be clear. There are good reasons to criticize Jerry Falwell Jr.'s recent remarks at Liberty University's chapel convocation, where he encouraged students to get concealed weapons permits so that they can have a gun handy in case they were faced with an active shooter situation.
One reason: his apparent offhand equation of Muslims with terrorists. Another: encouraging students to show "them" a lesson if "they" ever showed up at Liberty. As my students well know, careful pronoun use is important. Who exactly are the "they" and "them"? Muslims, terrorists, or just any active shooter? It's not clear, and that's a problem. Someone with Falwell's platform and prominence can't afford to just toss words around lightly.
But Sarah Pulliam Bailey's Washington Post article on this topic included the following remarks of clarification from Falwell: “Jesus said ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,’ and part of that was to go to war, protecting whatever nation was under control of the king,” Falwell said. “I wouldn’t agree with any interpretation of Scripture that was used to say that a man or a woman shouldn’t protect their families.”
This last sentence is crucial, I think. The vast majority of Christians tend to agree with Falwell here. Liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, old and young. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama certainly do. C. S. Lewis would. Many liberation theologians do. Complementarians and egalitarians do.
It's easy to attack Falwell's careless speech about Muslims. It's harder to attack what he said about the use of weapons to defend one's family and country (at least to do so consistently). Are all those who criticize Falwell willing to renounce the use of force to protect themselves and their families? Are they willing to condemn participation in war as not fitting for Christians? If not, it seems like there is some hypocrisy here. it's unclear if they merely have a problem with how Falwell made his point as opposed to the underlying substance of what was said.
There are a minority of Christians who would see the use of weapons, especially in war, as inconsistent with bearing witness to God's kingdom. God uses earthly rulers to keep things in check, but that's not the job of Christians. For those in this minority camp, the problem with Falwell's remarks is deeper. Self-preservation and the preservation of important things, even one's family, is not the end goal. Serving God's kingdom is. We can afford to lose our lives because we know that we can never truly lose our selves. God holds us no matter what may come. And the more we try to take our survival and self-preservation into our own hands, the more likely we'll really mess things up (see: Genesis 3).
So it's hardly surprising to hear someone at a University called "Liberty" (could there be a more stereotypical American name?) proclaim what most Americans take as the Gospel: that we live by the sword. Perhaps we should stop acting shocked, then, when so many of us die by the sword on a routine basis.
It's pretty common for people to say thing like, "Well, the biblical authors couldn't have imagined ___________________." Go ahead, fill in the blank. I hear this most often in discussions around same-sex marriage. "Biblical authors couldn't have imagined loving, monogamous same-sex relationships."
But I often want to respond: are you sure? Or is it just that you can't imagine that biblical authors could have imagined the scenario you mention?
After all, modern folks tend to look down their nose at people from most other times and places in history. We have, after all, made it through the Enlightenment and we continue to progress, do we not? Aren't we on the right side of history just by virtue of having the good luck of being born when we were?
Now, I'm all for recognizing how our place and time shapes what we can and can't imagine. That's true for the human authors of Scripture (although we need a good doctrine of inspiration here as well, affirming the Holy Spirit's work; but that's a post for another time). But we also need to recognize it's true for us.
If you can't imagine that biblical authors could have imagined a variety of sexual and relational possibilities and that they could have identified many of them as sinful, perhaps that says more about your imagination or about our collective imagination than about biblical authors of the ancient world.
So what if I told you that there are examples of monogamous, loving, non-abusive, same-sex relationships in ancient Greek and Roman culture? What if biblical authors didn't have to "imagine" these possibilities but knew of their reality and spoke against them (just as they did a host of other opposite-sex sexual possibilities in the ancient world)?
Can you imagine that? If not, we should at least be honest enough to revise our view of who is really lacking in imagination.
The rabbi Jesus of Nazareth continues drawing large crowds, but observers say this trend may not last long as he appears to have trouble negotiating the P.R. issues that have come along with his popularity.
His Pharisee followers were delighted when he agreed to eat at Simon the Pharisee's house. One enthusiastic follower commented, "This just confirms what we've known all along about Jesus. He is clearly committed to the biblical principles this nation was founded on." As a Sadducee blogger commented, however, "If we got worried about every would-be messiah in flyover country, we'd never get any real work done."
While at Simon's house, however, Jesus is reported to have met with a sinner whom he allowed to both touch him and wipe his feet with her hair. "Wildly inappropriate! It's like he's descended from prostitutes!" tweeted @holypeople, the official Twitter account of the Pharisees, while @SalonIsrael touted, "The Messiah we've been waiting for!" (@SalonIsrael later rescinded the tweet after overhearing Jesus tell someone to "go and sin no more"; "Sin?" said a spokesperson, "What is this? So medieval. The Jesus I know would never say something so judgmental.")
Further controversy followed the rabbi as he later interacted with a tax collector. Some saw this as a symbol of his attempt to ingratiate himself with the powers that be, reportedly even saying that Jesus said to "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." In response, @Zealous2theEnd tweeted, "What a traitor. Diplomacy? Caesar only speaks one language: force." There was even a tense moment when one of Jesus' followers, Simon the Zealot, made a universally-recognized hand gesture in the direction of the tax collector, nearly sparking a riot. "I really can't say what Jesus is thinking," Simon said, after cooling down, "I mean, I've been with him a while but he should know better than to associate with somebody like this. For someone who seemed to really connect with the people, this is a dumb move. I tried to tell him, but he won't listen. If he keeps saying and doing these outlandish things, he's not even going to make it through primary season."
One pundit added, "It's almost like he's got his own agenda, like he's calling others to fit into his agenda instead of fitting into theirs."
In my Intro to Philosophy class yesterday, we talked a bit about a common question asked by atheists: "Who made God?" or "What caused God?"
As a Christian and as a rational person who can observe reality, I hold that all things must have a cause. If you have nothing to begin with, you get nothing. So if there's something, there must a cause of what is. Most atheists would, I think, agree.
But here is where atheists often go off track. As Bertrand Russell puts it, "If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God."
Russell thinks he's trapped the theist. "Aha! God violates your premise that what exists must have a cause! If you're going to say that, why not just say the world is uncaused? Or that 'it's turtles all the way down!'"
I have sympathy for Russell. I really do. He's like the Detroit Lions--all the right pieces, just not putting it together in the right way. Because here's the point: of course God has a cause...himself! (The fancy term for this is 'aseity'--use it to impress your friends and family).
Now Russell or Richard Dawkins (the single A version of the major leaguer Russell) might retort, "Well, that's convenient. You're telling me that God is the cause of himself? I don't know anything else in existence that operates this way!"
To which the reply is: "Exactly. Who is like the Lord? There is no one." In other words, the theistic claim about God being the cause of himself is intrinsic to what theists mean when we talk about "God." But this is not irrational, but precisely what you would expect of God, if you understand how philosophers since Plato and Aristotle have talked about God. Because if you've got a 'god' who is not self-sufficient and not self-causing, well then, you've got a creature, not the Creator. Russell can deny that 'god' all day long, and it doesn't harm belief in the true God one bit.
Our church has been going through a sermon series in Acts and one thing stands out: there's real persecution to the church. Following Jesus is risky. People die for their faith.
I often hear Christians talk about the religious freedom that Americans have and give thanks that the church isn't persecuted in America.
But if we look at American history, there are clearly some Christians and churches who have been the victims of real persecution, even to the point of being killed within their place of worship. September 15 marked the anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama, where Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carole Denise McNair were killed. And this kind of persecution isn't new. If you look at regulations regarding black churches in the pre-Civil War South, the restrictions and limitations sound similar to the controls in place on churches in communist countries--gatherings are either outright prohibited or can happen only with a representative of the controlling majority present at the gathering. And as the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston recently reminded us, attacks on churches are not a thing of the past.
The supreme tragedy, of course, is that the black church in America has generally suffered not at the hands of communist dictators or Islamic ayatollahs but at the hands of white folks who would self-identify as Christians. Brothers and sisters, how can this be?
So when we white Christians say the church hasn't been persecuted in America, we are admitting that our definition of the church is not Jesus' definition. We are unwittingly committing an ecclesiological heresy, identifying the church with our church, defined and divided along lines of race and ethnicity.
So don't tell me that you want me to stand with Kim Davis or use the term 'persecution' to describe a few days in jail. At least not until you and all God's children are willing to stand together with the church that has already endured persecution for most of its existence in America.
Yesterday, Kevin DeYoung had a post asking 40 great questions of Christians who support gay marriage. Regardless of your position on that issue, I would hope we can all agree that asking and answering tough questions like DeYoung's is a good exercise all around. To that end, here are 40 questions that I think Christians who affirm the biblical view of marriage (of which I am one) as one man and one woman need to answer some questions themselves. Here's a start:
1. What is marriage for? What's the end goal?
2. What Bible verses, passages, or themes shape your understanding of marriage?
3. A lot of people, including many Jews, Muslims, and non-theists would affirm that marriage is between one man and woman--so what, if anything, makes the Christian view of marriage different from those?
4. What difference does Jesus make for your view of marriage?
5. What does it mean for Christian husbands and wives to live "as if they do not" have spouses, for the sake of the kingdom (1 Cor. 7:29)?
6. If Christ is a picture of the Christian husband, then why has Christian thought and practice often tended toward abusive patriarchy instead of loving and self-giving service?
7. What about our thinking and practice needs to be corrected, or better killed, and then transformed so that Christian husbands can better take up their cross?
8. Since you think that gay Christians are called to a life of celibacy, are you committed to making sure that the church is a genuine family?
9. Since Jesus tells his followers to place their biological families second to his kingdom, do you married Christians give the single Christians in your church a place of priority above your extended biological family?
10. If you have kids, do they know the single Christians in church as well as their aunts and uncles and grandparents?
11. Are single and married Christians alike willing to take Ruth and Naomi kind of vows to show that, in a mobile and changing world, they are committed to long-term, even life-long friendships?
12. If we're not willing to make that commitment to each other, shouldn't we admit that we're refusing Christ's commands for his disciples just as much as those involved in same-sex activity?
13. Since Scripture affirms that singleness is a calling (and a preferable one) that allows one to seek first God's kingdom, how are we actively encouraging young people--gay and straight alike--to pursue that calling?
14. How do our Christian churches, colleges, families, and subcultures hold up singleness as a viable and worthy option?
15. How are single Christians being affirmed in their singleness rather than being seen as a "problem" to be solved by "fixing" them up with someone?
16.How can we actively rid ourselves of the idolization of marriage and the family?
17. If marriage won't persist in the resurrection, how can we affirm its good but relative status in the church today?
18. As you think about the history of the church and the near universal rejection of contraception and sterilization, what do you think that you (assuming you affirm the use of contraception) understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin did not?
19. Since thinkers like these saw a link between same-sex sexual activity and sexual activity that divorced itself from procreation, why do you think so many straight Christians who affirm the latter reject the former? Is this consistent?
20. Is procreation an essential part of the marriage relationship?
21. If so, in what sense?
22. If not, how is the end result of sexual activity between a man and woman that is closed down to procreation different from the end result of same-sex sexual activity?
23. If we're against same-sex relationships because they are 'against nature,' that is, because it expresses an misalignment of our wills with the way God has created us (to be procreative, see above), then how do we address reproductive technologies, especially those that go beyond simply enabling husband and wife to conceive? For example, what does combining one spouse's sperm/egg with the sperm/egg of someone who is outside the marriage say about our view of the integrity of the marriage bond?
24. If you are for using medical technology to assist reproduction, why are you also against using medical technology to assist those individuals who identify as transgender or transsexual? How are these different?
25. While affirming the male-female distinction, are you able to identify the way that our expectations for "gender-appropriate behavior" is often conditioned by sinful cultural constructs?
26. Are you actively working to distinguish between what the Bible does and doesn't say about men and women, husbands and wives, and the way that our sin-affected culture (even sin-affected Christian culture) puts forth ideas about 'manhood' and 'womanhood' that may be more a product of tradition and less a product of sound biblical and theological thinking?
27. Why do you think the Bible supports monogamy, especially when there are plenty examples of polygamy, especially in the Old Testament?
28. Leviticus prohibits same-sex sexual activity. It also prohibits eating shellfish and wearing clothes made of two different kinds of cloth. So why do you still hold to some commands in Leviticus but not others?
29. The New Testament uses specific Greek (not English!) words to talk about same-sex sexual activity. Are you familiar with those words and how they functioned in the Greco-Roman culture of the first century? What were the New Testament authors condemning?
30. Are you willing to consistently speak against all forms of sexual immorality and not make it seem like same-sex sexual activity is somehow a sin above all others?
31. Is having a sexual orientation toward the same sex sinful in and of itself?
32. If so, how is this different from being attracted to (or lusting after) people of the opposite sex?
33. Why do people perceive many Christians to be anti-gay? Are you willing to confess the sins of the church in how it has handled Christians who are attracted to people of the same sex?
34. Do you think it is wise, for the sake of the Gospel, to fight so hard in the political sphere for your views to prevail?
35. If the first Christians lived in the Roman Empire, where their sexual ethic was a distinct minority, why do you think Christians in America fight so hard to have their ethic as the law of the land?
36. Should there be a way for gay couples to ensure their legal connections to one another, including having access to medical insurance, property rights, shared adoptions, and a host of other rights and privileges that recognize the long-term, even life-long, commitments they have made to one another?
37. Why do so many kids grow up in the church simply hearing the "no" of sex rather than learning the richness of why God created humanity as male and female?
38. How do you and your church constantly work against letting proper Christian discipline turn into legalism?
39. Do you make sexual sinners feel as welcome and forgiven as Jesus did, while also preaching the word of life and exhortation to 'go and sin no more'?
40. Can we see in LGBT persons a sign and pointer inherent in all human sexuality--that despite the sinful distortions we all have, our desire is a sign and pointer to the ultimate Beloved, the One alone who can fulfill our deepest longings and desire?
The marriage confusion that persists in Christian circles today is not because we've said or explained too much about marriage and singleness but said far, far too little, as though simply saying "one man and one woman" was a biblical defense of marriage. Much more could be added to these 40 questions, but answering these would be a good start.
In response to the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage, I've seen a number of folks on social media make a comment along the lines of Jonathan Merritt:
I can appreciate the satirical point that Merritt and others are trying to make, but I think comments like these are a great demonstration of how our culture thinks about marriage: as an island of two individuals who independently choose to do what they do (including marriage). It shows great naivete about how our culture and society shapes our thinking. The notion that the law of the land and my neighbors' practices do not shape or affect me is extremely odd, but extremely common to most Americans.
When the law of the land and my neighbors' practice of marriage reinforces that promises and vows don't matter, it's more likely that I'm willing to think and act the same way, buying into a no-fault divorce culture.
When the law of the land and my neighbors' practice of marriage trains me to view children as a mere afterthought to marriage (and certainly not part of the essence of marriage), it's more likely that I'll see having and raising children as one option among the smorgasbord of life choices with which I'm faced. I might even tend to see my childrens' existence (or lack thereof) as something that is ultimately geared toward making me happy and fulfilled.
When the law of the land and my neighbors' practice of marriage encourages me to see marriage as an avenue of individual self-expression and self-growth, to be abandoned if my spouse fails to play a role in that process, it's more likely that I'm willing to think and act the same way.
The atheist W. K. Clifford summarizes well the point that none of us is an independent thinker or actor:
"And no one man's belief is in any case a private matter which concerns himself alone. Our lives are guided by that general conception of the course of things which has been created by society for social purposes. Our words, our phrases, our forms and processes and modes of thought, are common property, fashioned and perfected from age to age; an heirloom which every succeeding generation inherits as a precious deposit and a sacred trust to be handed on to the next one, not unchanged but enlarged and purified, with some clear marks of its proper handiwork. Into this, for good or ill, is woven every belief of every man who has speech of his fellows. An awful privilege, and an awful responsibility, that we should help to create the world in which posterity will live....
[N]o belief held by one man, however seemingly trivial the belief, and however obscure the believer, is ever actually insignificant or without its effect on the fate of mankind."
In the end, the kind of radical individualism expressed in the sentiment "my straight marriage can't be affected by anyone else's view or practice of marriage" is, ironically, one of the key indicators of an individualism that can't help but corrode the institution of marriage. Please note: I am not saying gay marriage is going to cause the erosion of Christian marriages. I am saying that the widespread cultural acceptance of gay marriage is a symptom of how our culture already thinks about and practices marriage. Thus, rather than congratulating ourselves for not affirming gay marriage, Christians who affirm Scripture's authority need to subject their own views and practices of marriage to sharper scrutiny. In a world that sees each individual as sole captain in a world of their own making, Christians ought to be humble enough to recognize that there is nothing we have not received--including our views and practices of marriage--from somewhere. The question is: where?
I'm starting a new series of blog posts at Off the Page today. Here's a brief summary of the series:
Arguments can only take you so far, and the mere fact of confrontation can be off-putting. But what if there’s another way? What if we approached the question of God’s existence not as an “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument, but through the recognition that people interpret signs around them in different ways. So you can interpret the world around you as though there is no God, but here are a few signs that make me connect the dots in the way I do.
To read the first blog in this series, which tackles how we interpret justice, click here.
1. Their straight orientation will most often be a source of life-long temptation and struggle.
2. Straight people have been told that their sinful lust is just a normal part of human sexuality.
It's not. Humans have been created by God as sexual beings. But proper sexual desire is not the same as sinful lust that uses another person as a means to the end of pleasing oneself. Lust is a problem across the board. Straight lust does not somehow have a privileged standing with God because it's straight.
If the statistics are correct, around 2% of the American population identifies as gay or lesbian. Quantitatively, then, we should expect far more problems with straight people lusting than gay people lusting. It would be good if Christians kept that 98%/2% balance when they're highlighting sexual sin. I realize that questions about same-sex relationships are going to dominate the landscape right now, but we dare not give the perception that people sinning with the same sex is qualitatively different than people sinning with the opposite sex.
3. Straight people have been told that they have to have romantic and sexual relationships to be fulfilled as people.
Not true, at least according to 1 Corinthians 7. Although it's all over our culture, nowhere does Scripture say that one must be married or have a significant other to find fulfillment. Scripture does assume, I think, that many people will be married and it speaks highly of the value of marriage as an icon of Christ and the church. But it nowhere assumes that it is necessary as an essential part of the good life.
So we cannot affirm the common belief among straight people that romance and marriage are better than the single, celibate life. We must affirm, however, that community is necessary for the good life. And the church itself is called to be that community for everyone, married or single.
4. Straight people are constantly bombarded with images and stories of unbiblical practices of straight sexuality.
Take, for example, Modern Family. I'm not talking about Cam and Mitchell; I'm thinking Jay and Gloria. From a biblical perspective, Jay's divorce (prior to the timeline of the show) is, as far as I can tell, unbiblical. There were differences, I suppose, and he and his wife split. Unfortunately, no-fault divorce is to be expected among pagans but should not be practiced by Christians. Too many straight Christians, however, wring their hands over the gay marriage portrayed on the show without raising questions about the just-as-problematic straight marriage.
This is just one example. From magazine covers emphasizing lust, promiscuity, and sex as nothing more than technique to TV to movies, straight people are constantly and consistently being sold images and stories that are contrary to biblical teaching. The default view and practice of straight people in our culture--including straight Christians--is likely going to be profoundly unbiblical because we are so saturated with images and stories that form and shape us. So we dare not simply affirm the assumptions that straight people bring with them to the church.
5. Straight people have been told by the church that their sexuality is mostly good but just needs tweaking.
That's not true. I think our churches need to be clear: we will welcome straight people into our congregations, but not without recognizing that their sexual orientation makes them susceptible to a whole host of sins. Although Christian marriage is a possibility for straight people, we need to be clear that there's nothing 'natural' about it. It is possible only by the supernatural grace and strength of the Holy Spirit who conforms us to the image of Christ, so that we may love and serve one another as we ought. We therefore cannot simply affirm straightness as inherently good. Instead, we must call straight Christians to let their sexuality die and be resurrected in light of Christ.
About the blog
My thoughts on how following Jesus calls us to go with the grain of the universe and against the grain of the world. I love the Bible, theology, and philosophy and how they intersect with just about anything else.