Sunday, August 20, 2017

Seminary CM10: The Rise of the Nones

This is the tenth post on the Contexts of Ministry in my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom for the previous posts in this unit, "The Person and Contexts of a Minister." I have completed one other unit in this series, The Pastor as Leader.
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In this stretch of the Contexts of Ministry series, we are exploring the historical and cultural context of American Christianity. Today we are looking at the state of the American church in relation to the rising demographic of the "nones," those in America with no religious affiliation.

1. From 1990 to 2014, the number of individuals who do not identify with any religion whatsoever has almost tripled in America. In 1990 the number was 8.1%. In 2014 the number was 22.8%. Here is the Pew Research Data from 2014.

Here is a paragraph from the study: "The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those large religious traditions has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population also has dipped, but at a slower rate, falling by about one percentage point since 2007."

The drop is strongest among Millennials. "Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants."

Unlike earlier generations, these young people are not re-entering the church after sowing their wild oats in college.

2. Ed Stetzer has offered an interesting evaluation of this phenomenon. He points out that the percentage of people attending church has remained pretty steady over the last 70 years. Indeed, the percentage of the American population that self-identified as evangelical had grown to 35% in 2014.

His conclusion was thus that the rise of the "nones" (no religious affiliation) was coming from nominal Christians. "Convictional Christianity" was going strong. "The nominals are becoming the nones and the convictional are remaining committed," Stetzer wrote.

There is perhaps a theological perspective to take here as well. Jesus said, "Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (7:14). We can wonder whether the number of "true believers" is ever really much more than 30%. Are the hoards of Americans who go to church true followers of Jesus Christ? It seems doubtful.

Hebrews 11:13-16 suggests that, in this current age, Christians are always strangers and exiles on the earth. Even when Christianity is culturally dominant, real Christians probably will only make up a minority. Indeed, the situation is perhaps most dangerous and deceptive when Christians think they are in the majority. When the institutions of society are "Christian," they probably aren't.

3. What are some of the cultural dynamics that may keep many Millennials from the church?

The "civil religion" tendencies of American Christians are probably a major factor in the decline of Christianity among Millennials. Civil religion is the inability for a person to tell the difference between God and country. Patriotism and political party tribalism mix imperceptibly with one's religion. Flag goes on pulpit. "Only Republicans can be Christians." No doubt when we have the next set of data we will find that the recent election has caused an even more significant drop in Christianity among Millennials.

Four out of five self-identified evangelicals apparently voted for Donald Trump to be president. It seems clear that Millennials consider him morally reprehensible. Despite a tape that came out with him boasting of his ability to grope women, despite hateful comments he made during the campaign toward countless types of individuals, despite video clips that seem to show a tendency not just to lie about big things but to lie about almost anything, still evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for him. To Millennials, greed and narcissism seem to be the only fixed points in his decision making process, with everything else free to change according to what he thinks is most advantageous to him at the moment.

An event this past week is only likely to increase this perception. Neo-Nazis, KKK, and white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia a week ago Saturday, and they were met by large numbers of anti-protesters, including an anti-fascist group called Antifa. One of the white nationalists plowed his car into a group of peaceful individuals, killing a young 22 year old woman. The President was not only slow to condemn the neo-Nazis, but appeared to view both sides as morally equivalent. While numerous individuals withdrew from Trump advisory boards, leading to their disbandment, his evangelical advisory board largely remained intact.

Fighting abortion, which we will see in a later post was the issue in the 1980s that corraled evangelicals more than anything else into the Republican corner, is not the central moral issue for Millennials. How you treat people who are not like you is the central concern. Millennials are also concerned for the planet and climate change in a way that is incomprehensible to many older evangelicals. Given this mix of values, American evangelicalism seems morally reprehensible to many of them.

This is an important point. It is not that they are uninterested in God or morality. It is that they actually consider evangelicals to be morally reprehensible in numerous respects. Christianity in this form seems immoral, even evil to them.

4. Issues of race and gender thus feature large in the Millennial moral perspective. White evangelicals--and the evangelical demographic is overwhelmingly white--tend to be blind to issues of color. Because they do not face the same history and biases, they often do not see the struggles of people of color. Indeed, when the cork of these pressures pops off, all they see is the disruptive result, not the structures that caused them. What they see is that such individuals are sometimes hired and they are not. This inability to see one's own advantages as a white person is called "white privilege."

To most Millennials, gay individuals are real people, their friends, their family. To much of white evangelicalism, gay individuals are somewhere else. They are an idea, a stereotype, a theological discussion. Millennials largely do not see the distinction between "loving the sinner, hating the sin." Many of us try to make careful distinctions between homosexual acts and the person doing them, but this distinction seems largely rejected by Millennials.

Accordingly, it is not surprising that even this past week, several Christian groups were labeled as hate groups, primarily for their lobby against gay marriage.

This cultural dynamic puts churches in a difficult place, and there will be many Millennials who will reject the church for this reason. Even more, churches may face significant difficulties from the state going forward because of our stances on these issues. After the reactionary blip of Trump is gone, these forces will likely rush forward on the church with a vengeance.

5. A recent book wrestling with Christianity and evolution has suggested that conflicts between science and faith are the number one reason young people leave the faith. Whether we like it or not, Millennials tend to see evangelicals as forces of ignorance in American culture. The technological revolution and the seemingly never ending stream of scientific improvements even in their lifetime have led them to believe that scientists are smart and genuinely in pursuit of truth.

So when scientists say, "Climate change is real and very dangerous" or "Evolution is beyond reasonable doubt," they tend to believe them. When the Bible is offered as a counter-argument, they ask "which Bible" or "whose interpretation of the Bible"? They have not grown up in isolation from other churches and religions. The internet has made it all available to them.

We will have to see fully what the dynamics of the generation after the Millennials will be. Having been raised in the shadow of 9-11, it is possible that "Gen Z" will be more traditionally conservative in its values. The question is whether it will equate those values with Christianity. Conservatism without Christ is truly scary indeed. Ask the Germans.

6. What are we to do? We must be true to Christ. The way we share the good news may change. It always has. Perhaps we should not try to take over the world so much and let God deal with the world (1 Cor. 5:12-13). The Millennial concern for others is Christian to the core. Maybe if we focused on being "for" others and less "against" things, our witness might begin to heal.

Of course we also have to be true to what we believe Christ requires of us. We should be aware, however, that there is likely to be not a little American culture in what we think is the core. Dialog with Christians who are full of faith but not like us is the surest way to see where we have let cultural traditions creep into our kingdom core.

A large part of evangelicalism for the last hundred years has been characterized by protectionism against forces of the modern world that we did not know how to handle. There are Christians who have faith and yet have not abandoned dialog with science and scholarship. Twenty years ago Mark Noll wrote of the "scandal of the evangelical mind." He meant the tendency of many evangelicals to oppose education and hard hitting scholarly thinking.

Many of us are ready to go. The evangelical movement as we have known it may die. But the true church will go on. Revival will come. But we may not like it or recognize it. Indeed, many will no doubt think it is of the Devil.

Next Sunday: Culture 11: Webber and the "Younger Evangelicals"

The Calling of a Minister
The Person of a Pastor
Contexts of Ministry
American Church History Context

Friday, August 18, 2017

Adam and the Genome 10: Paul and Adam

Second to last chapter review of Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Scot McKnight and Dennis Venema.

Previous posts
Personal Preface
Forward and Introduction
1. Evolution as a Scientific Theory
2. Genomes as Language, Genomes as Books
3. Adam's Last Stand?
4. Intelligent Design?
5. Four Principles for Bible Reading
6. Twelve Theses about Genesis
7. Seven Jewish Texts on Adam

Finished the book. Chapter 8 is titled, "Adam, the Genome, and the Apostle Paul."

1. This was the chapter I have been waiting for. McKnight knows his Romans scholarship. But frankly, I was left unsatisfied. This is the chapter where I wrestle with evolution. I wrestle with evolution philosophically and theologically. This chapter is exegetical. It does not answer my big question.

My big question is this. Why are humans prone to sin? What is the cause? It would wreak havoc with my theology to think that God made us and the world this way. My sense of salvation says that Jesus came to free us from this condition. In my opinion, McKnight does not really try to answer this question. Yet this is the question.

Paul uses the figure of Adam to express the human condition. I agree with McKnight's exegesis. But I am left lacking an answer to the more significant theological and philosophical question.

I found the Afterword unhelpful. It will not help anyone struggling with this issue, in my opinion, except perhaps to know that Origen and other early Christians did not take the Genesis text completely literally.

2. McKnight lays out five theses in this chapter:
  • The Adam of Paul is the literary, genealogical, image-of-God Adam found in Genesis.
  • The Adam of Paul is the Adam of the Bible filtered through--both in agreement and in disagreement with--the Jewish interpretive tradition about Adam.
  • The Adam of Paul is the archetypal, moral Adam who is the archetype for both Israel and all humanity.
  • Adam and all his descendants are connected but original sin as original guilt and damnation for all humans by birth is not found in Paul. Paul doesn't tell us how this continuity works.
  • The Adam of Paul was not the historical Adam.
What is McKnight getting at with these claims?

First, he is highlighting the fact that Paul is building a case out of the text of Genesis. This is the "literary" Adam. McKnight makes it clear, "I am not assuming this is fiction or that Paul somehow got it wrong" (176). He is simply pointing out that Paul is making an argument from Genesis as a text.

For me, there is a lot of hermeneutics hiding here. Most readers of the Bible are not equipped to distinguish the story world of the biblical text from the biblical text as an event in history. From a historical perspective, the writing of Genesis was an event in history and the stories in Genesis are story worlds in that text. From a pre-modern perspective, we are part of the continuous story world of the text, which we are unable to distinguish from history.

So I am not sure how many will like McKnight's distinction. In my words, I would say that God meets us where we are, and God met Paul within his reading of the Genesis text. If we exegete Genesis, we can see that Paul's reading of the Genesis text differed from the Genesis text itself in some regards. We believe both Paul and Genesis spoke inspired truths, but they were truths that were independent of each other. Again, the pre-modern reader has difficulty distinguishing the two and then cannot distinguish either from history itself.

3. McKnight has been trying to make a case that Paul interpreted Genesis as other Jews did--as a text with meanings that served his context, not as a text that served meanings in its original Ancient Near Eastern context (the original meaning of Genesis). He doesn't necessarily address the inspiration question, but this is the way God inspires. This is the incarnational principle--God meets us where we are so we can understand him.

McKnight has highlighted how various Jewish writers read Adam to serve their context. Paul does the same, and we believe in an inspired way. But this is not the original meaning of Genesis. This is an inspired meaning for Paul writing to the Romans in the first century AD. Many will be surprised at compelling evidence that Romans 1 draws heavily from the Book of Wisdom 13.

McKnight goes further, echoing evangelical scholars like Doug Moo, in noting that the absence of Eve from Paul's discussion in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 is a hint that he is thinking of Adam more in typological than historical terms. Adam is an antitype of Christ. He serves as a foil to highlight what Christ has done. The point is not Adam. The point is Christ. Otherwise, he would pay attention to Eve in this context.

4. Of course I completely agree--and the vast majority of experts on Romans do--that Paul has no theology of inherited guilt. We should only speak of original sin in terms of Adam's sin. Paul does not teach that we genetically inherit sin from Adam or that we are guilty before God because of Adam.

The key passage here is Romans 5:12 and the prepositional phrase eph ho. Augustine could not do Greek and so misinterpreted this expression to mean that we all sinned in Adam and thus are guilty of Adam's sin. But everyone agrees and McKnight gives the evidence that what Paul is saying is that death passed to all people because all sin.

There is no genetically passed on sin here. There is no sin nature here. There is only the fact that we all sin like Adam and therefore die like Adam. Let us put to rest the idea of original sin in the sense of inherited guilt. As McKnight says, "humans have been impacted by Adam's sin, but individuals are not accountable until they sin themselves" (186).

I might note McKnight's claim that the "all" in Romans 5:12 is referring to both Jew and Gentile, not to every individual. I think McKnight would say that all individuals sin too, but he may be right that Paul here is thinking "not just Gentiles have sinned and die, but Jews sin and die too because of Adam." This fits with Romans 3:23 where Paul is not thinking "all [individuals] have sinned" (although he believes that too), but all [namely both Jew and Gentile] have sinned.

5. I feel like a chapter is missing. Perhaps they needed a theologian to come in and address the big question I started out with. Even if Paul does not explain how there is a continuity of sinning from Adam to today, how would we Christians explain it in the light of evolution? Was there evil before Adam and if so, where did it come from? Surely God didn't make the world this way!

This is a question of the problem of evil. Did God create the world sinful so that Christ could eventually save us? If Adam represents a moment in the early history of humanity, what was that moment? What changed? What becomes of Christian theology if nothing ever changed at some point??? The Fall of Satan?

My understanding of Paul's theology is that Sin as a power entered the world as a result of Adam's sin. Walton and Holland understand this as a certain federalism, which makes sense to me, but McKnight seems to reject this idea at least exegetically. But the answer to our theological question--a question for our context and our situation--must surely move beyond exegesis to theology.

Adam, as the head of the human race (McKnight and Wright might rightly push us to see Adam biblically more focally as the head of Israel's race) was representative of all humanity that would come afterwards. This is good theology whether it is precisely exegetical or not. For Paul, the power of Sin over the world is surely a consequence of Adam's sin.

It is not a genetic power. The idea of a sinful nature is not Pauline. It is Augustinian. The NIV2011 has rightly expunged this anachronism and returned to the original word, flesh. My flesh is not intrinsically evil. It is just weak without the Spirit. When the power of Sin entered the world, my flesh could not withstand it. We all became destined to sin like Adam. This is my basic understanding of Paul's thinking in Romans 6-8.

I won't try to write the missing chapter. It is still a theological sticky wicket, in my opinion. Perhaps McKnight intentionally left the book open ended so that the discussion might continue.

Assuming there was a representative Adam and Eve, might we see the Fall as what was withheld from humanity rather than something added? The tree of life withheld? The Holy Spirit withheld?

The discussion continues...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Paul Novel 5.2: A Second Journey

from last week
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So the churches of Antioch awkwardly resumed eating together--that is, of the ones that had eaten together before. There was at least that one house church that refused any association with the Gentiles at all. They disagreed with James' decision and grumbled when they were together. At least they knew that James preferred Gentiles to be circumcised.

Paul thought more and more about another missionary journey. He was a planter, a starter, an innovator. The churches of Antioch were on course.

Although the incident had been painful, it had made Menander and the Gentile believers stronger in their faith. Paul had shown them that the Jerusalem leaders were not always right. They also had the Holy Spirit. They could also search the Scriptures.

Barnabas could sense Paul's restlessness and finally asked him. "Shall we go back to Cyprus? We can see how the synagogues that believed there are doing in the faith."

Cyprus would not have been Paul's first pick. They had been mostly Jewish converts, and that was Barnabas' comfort zone. He believed that the churches of Galatia were in much greater need of follow-up, since those assemblies were mostly Gentile.

But he agreed. Barnabas agreed that, as they did the previous time, they would travel north to Galatia after Cyprus. Paul did not need much time to prepare. He was ready. All they really needed was an assistant to help them with their things.

"John Mark is on his way north even as we speak," Barnabas finally said, knowing that Paul would not be tickled with the idea. Barnabas had sent word to him when Peter had returned to Jerusalem.

"Not a chance," Paul said. "That boy is a quitter and a backstabber. I will not find myself having to lug our supplies myself across the mountains of Pisidia again."

Quite an argument ensued. It wasn't just about Mark being a quitter. Paul knew that Mark had just as many issues with him as he had with Mark. Mark had not liked the way he tended to dominate the mission. And Paul could see his smug face, especially now that Paul had lost the argument at Antioch over purity. Paul could see Mark being a hindrance in his mission to the Gentiles, which he now saw clearly was his primary calling.

Meanwhile Barnabas insisted that Paul needed to give Mark a second chance. How would he ever grow if he did not get a chance to try again? Did not Jesus himself teach that we needed to forgive those who wronged us seventy times seven?

"Oh I'll forgive him," Paul said. "But I still need someone to carry my things in Pisidia. And the Gentiles do not need any ambiguity on the nature of the gospel."

After two or three days of this back and forth, it was clear that neither of them was going to budge. Barnabas was unusually insistent, and Paul was his usual self. It was Barnabas who finally said, "Perhaps we should go our separate ways in peace. And who knows," he said, "we might just cover twice as much territory."

It was true. Later when Paul looked back, he would agree that their split was the best thing that could have happened.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Seminary CM9: My American Church Context

This is the ninth post on the Contexts of Ministry in my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom for the previous posts in this unit, "The Person and Contexts of a Minister." I have completed one other unit in this series,The Pastor as Leader.
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1. There were a number of creative features to the initial design of the Cultural Contexts of Ministry class when Wesley Seminary was founded at Indiana Wesleyan University. One of them was to cover American history in the contexts of ministry course. In the design of the curriculum, Norm Wilson was concerned that the Global Christian History course not assume a North American focus, as if white American Christianity was the culmination or center point of Christianity.

Out of this discussion came the idea of covering American Church History in the Cultural Contexts of Ministry class. American church history would then be seen, as it should be, as one of the contexts of American ministers in the US, but not necessarily that of ministers in other parts of the world. The idea was that, when the curriculum left North America, this component would switch out the American piece for the local and regional church history of the cohort elsewhere.

So it is not a little unusual to cover American church history in a cultural contexts class. Another unique feature, the brain child of Keith Drury, was to cover this context in reverse and selectively, depending on who was in the class. So each student in the class would start with whatever church they were currently a part of and work backward. The end result was often a board that looked like an upside down tree, with each student starting as a branch at the bottom and working back up to the trunk of earlier Catholicism.

2. So for me, The Wesleyan Church came from the merger of two smaller denominations, The Pilgrim Holiness Church and (1922) the Wesleyan Methodist Church (1843). The PHC often looks back to an event in 1895 and my grandparents' branch went back to 1882, but it was largely a collection of little groups in the Midwest that came out of revivals in the late 1880s/early 1900s. These individuals were Methodists, Quakers, and so forth. The Wesleyan Methodist Church was started by a group of abolitionists who were unhappy with the way the Methodist Episcopal Church was not taking a stand against slavery.

So my parent denominations roughly come out of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was founded in 1784 by John Wesley after the American Revolutionary War. Because of the separation between the Church of England and America, it seemed necessary to ordain ministers who were part of his Methodist movement, which grew out of the Anglican Church or the Church of England.

At this point, the church ancestry leaves the US and goes back to England. The Anglican Church came out of Roman Catholicism in 1534 during the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church came out of the split between East and West in 1054. Before that you had common Catholic Christianity.

Part of the goal of this exercise was to help students see where they came from theologically. A non-denominational church might say, "We just follow the Bible," but of course they're wrong. All it takes is a few questions to figure out where your ideas and traditions really came from. You may be a mixture of traditions, but unless you grew up reading the Bible in a bomb shelter, there is little doubt but that much of what you think the Bible says is teaching you heard from someone else in a particular Christian tradition.

3. So most American Christians will have a strong Baptistic element to their sense of the Bible. The Baptist tradition has had the strongest influence on American Christianity of any tradition. The Baptistic influence 1) clearly emphasizes believer's baptism by immersion, soon after "conversion," 2) tends to be local church centric rather than a larger hierarchical structure, 3) tends toward the fundamentalist side, reacting against the forces of modernism and thus with a tinge of anti-intellectualism and anti-education/anti-science, 4) has a strong sense of eternal security and the inevitability of sin.

These forces are strong on a wide-variety of denominations, including my own, which supposedly comes out of the Methodist tradition. Your typical independent or non-denominational church is probably Baptistic in orientation. Although no doubt claiming to get its beliefs from the Bible alone, these American churches will strangely look a lot like the previous paragraph. Perhaps only 25.3% of Americans (in 2007) are officially Baptist, but the influence on evangelicalism (25.4% in 2014) is much more pervasive.

In the South they say there are no Lutherans, Methodists, or Presbyterians. There are only Lutheran Baptists, Methodist Baptists, and Presbyterian Baptists.

Often coupled with Baptistic elements is the Pentecostal tradition (8.9% in 2007). So you take a Baptist church and add an openness to speaking in tongues, and you have an Assemblies of God church. These groups are often put into the category of evangelicalism, which is a largely white American tradition (black churches usually do not self-identify as evangelicals, 6.5% in 2014).

Evangelicalism, following the myth of simply being Bible-believing, is often typified as being 1) Scripture-centered, 2) conversion-centered, 3) cross-centered, and 4) socially active. [1] But what this really means is 1) tending toward the fundamentalist in reaction to forces that emerged in the late 1800s/early 1900s, 2) in the train of the revivals in England and the US in the 1700s, 3) strongly influenced by John Calvin, and 4) willing to fight against modernism.

In other words, what we believe as Christians is usually connected to the Bible but extremely filtered through the history of our American context. A lack of awareness of these forces is a fundamental blindspot of the American church. It is also why there are over 30,000 American denominations. Most of them are convinced they are just reading the Bible and doing what it says... and that so many other groups are wrong.

4. So if you wanted to start a denomination, what are the ingredients? What are my choices from which to choose?

a. Church Structure: First, only a Protestant would want to start a new denomination. We protesters originated in the late Middle Ages over abuses in the Roman Catholic Church. Most of the early split-offs (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist) retained some of the episcopal structure of the RCC. So this is one of your choices. Do I want a more episcopal structure with bishops and a hierarchy (doubtful, if you're starting a new denomination)? Or do I want to go Baptistic (more likely, especially if I live in a democratic society) and let the local congregation pick their pastor? Well, at least after my prophetic rule is over.

Think you're getting back to the Bible by doing away with hierarchy? Maybe you're part of the house church movement. Nah, you're just riding the waves of American culture without knowing it. In America, I get to decide stuff, and we're currently in a "state's rights" phase of our country's history, an example of Baptistic influence affecting our politics. "Push the rule down locally."

b. Fundamentalist or ?: If you are trying to start a new denomination, there's a good chance you have been influenced by the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 1900s. This means you are very sensitive to scholarship on the Bible, on modern science, and probably have your reservations about education in general. These things were not always the case.

In the early 1800s, American Christians would not have seen a conflict between science and religion. And it was Christianity more than anything else that was behind the rise of American colleges and universities. The turning point was with the rise of German biblical scholarship in the late 1800s and the rise of evolution in science in the late 1800s/early 1900s. That is, the rise of modernism.

American Christianity has never quite been able to recover. Instead, a certain understanding of the Bible became a matter of war. No discussion is allowed on these matters. Rather they must simply be believed and all reason marshaled to support the "right" position only. The rise of the nones may in part be the result. Certainly a lot of people have lost their faith in the meantime, being told that it was either the fundamentalist dogma or leave. The strong support of Trump by evangelicals is a manifestation of this American dynamic.

I wonder if there will be an unexpected revival among the nones in the decade to come, with an unexpected new wave. If so, much of the American church would consider it perverse because it would not conform to fundamentalist expectations (cf. the emergent church). Perhaps not. Right now there is a re-surge of fundamentalism. But I wonder.

c. Conversion vs Sacrament: The revivals of Wesley's England and then across America were a natural result of the rise of individualism and democracy. In a world where the individual decides and votes, it becomes essential for the individual to choose Christ. It is no longer a decision that was decided for you by your group. You must make it your own. "God has no grandchildren, only children."

Thus we see a shift from infant baptism to believer's baptism, one of the choices you will want to make a decision on as your start your new church. But if you are starting a new church, I feel quite convinced you will go with believer's baptism.

Others seem enamored right now with sacraments. But they tend to move in the Episcopal direction, with some then making the jump to Catholicism or the Orthodox tradition. They rarely start churches. :-)

d. Experiential Orientation: So how are you going to treat spiritual gifts, especially tongues? Are you going to allow emotional expression in worship? How demonstrative will your services be? What will the worship style be? Hymns? A worship band? No instruments? Does the Spirit still give people spiritual gifts? What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit?

e. Theological Gap-Filler: So what are the main options with regard to theological ideas? Again, I'm assuming you're Protestant in some flavor if you are starting your own denomination.

Here are some options:
  • God: Are you going to focus more on God's nature as love or as just? Are you going to see him determining everything or giving extensive freedom to his creation? Does he know everything or does his knowledge unfold with our choices?
  • Christ and salvation: In what way does Jesus reconcile us to God (assuming you believe he did)? How does the cross and atonement work? How is someone saved (assuming we need to be saved in some way)? Or is Christ more a model to follow? Do you have to know him in your head to be saved or is it about knowing him in your heart? Once you are "saved" are you always saved or can you lose this state? 
  • Spirit and the Church: See some of the options above.
  • Eschatology: Can things get better? Can the church have an impact on the world? Or are things inevitably going to decline until Christ returns? Is Christ returning? Do we die and go directly to heaven/hell or is there going to be a resurrection to a new earth? Is there going to be a Tribulation with an Antichrist? Is everyone going to be saved? Are most going to hell? Or does God just annihilate those who aren't "saved"? 
  • Ethics: How does God expect us to live in this world? Can we defeat temptation and sin? How free are we? Is the Christian life primarily about following rules or is it more about being in relationship with God? Is your emphasis more law-focused or grace-focused? Should we force the society we are in to have our Christian ethic? Or are we in exile in a world without God?
  • Creation: In our times Christians often take a position on the creation. Is it something we need to steward and protect as God's representatives on earth or is it largely something we need not worry about?
5. The main take-away is that no one reading this post is a Christian in a vacuum. Your Christian identity has inevitably been shaped by your historical and theological context. In other words, it has been shaped by culture every bit as much as by ideas. If we do not know these influences on us, we do not know ourselves and we are slaves to the whims of history.

Next Sunday: Culture 10: The Growth of the Nones

[1] David Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism

The Calling of a Minister
The Person of a Pastor
Contexts of Ministry

Friday, August 11, 2017

Adam and the Genome 9: Seven Jewish Texts on Adam

Second to last chapter review of Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science, by Scot McKnight and Dennis Venema.

Previous posts
Personal Preface
Forward and Introduction
1. Evolution as a Scientific Theory
2. Genomes as Language, Genomes as Books
3. Adam's Last Stand?
4. Intelligent Design?
5. Four Principles for Bible Reading
6. Twelve Theses about Genesis

Chapter 7 is titled, "The Variety of Adam and Eves in the Ancient World. Let me dive into the seven Jewish texts on Adam that he explores.

Sirach
This book, which is in the Catholic, Orthodox, and other Bibles, dates in its Greek form to the late 100s, but much of it was probably written in Hebrew around 200BC. McKnight spends more time with Sirach than he does with any of the other texts. His conclusions seem to be:
  • Sirach is processing the "literary" Adam more than the historical Adam. That is to say, Sirach is making use of Adam as a figure in the Genesis text rather than as a real person in history.
  • Adam becomes archetypal of all humans and especially Israel. We are not constrained by his choices but as humans we behave like him. This is especially true when it comes to Adam as a moral agent. Adam is a "volitional" Adam--he makes choices like we make choices.
  • Eve is treated harshly, which is typical of Sirach. She is considered the source of sin and death.
I've never been sad that Sirach is not in most Protestant canons.

Wisdom of Solomon
The book of Wisdom is also in the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. Paul may draw on it in Romans 1, and Hebrews actually alludes to it in 1:3.
  • Sin entered the world through the Devil's envy, an allusion to the Genesis 2-3 story.
  • Wisdom though protects Adam, delivers him from his transgressions, gives him strength to rule.
  • Wisdom is interpreting the literary text of Genesis, but Adam is also assumed to have been historical.
Philo
Philo was a Greek speaking Jew from Egypt who was about 15-25 years older than Jesus and who lived to about the time Paul was beginning his missionary journeys. He was very philosophical--a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism.
  • Philo "is the paradigmatic example of our thesis that each Jewish author saw in Adam what one believed and used Adam to prop up a theology or philosophy" (158).
  • Philo's primary interpretation of Adam is allegorical. There is the Platonic, archetypical human being and there is the shadowy, embodied Adam.
  • But Philo does seem to think of Adam as the geneological father of the human race.
Jubilees
Jubilees dates to around 150BC and was likely a proto-Essene document. It retells the Genesis story. The main function of Adam in this text is as a prototype of the Law-observant Israelite.

Josephus
Josephus was a Jewish general to quickly surrendered to the Romans in the Jewish War (AD66-72) and thereafter became a Jewish historian writing in part for the Roman world. For him Adam was indeed the first man genealogically, but even more importantly he was an example of virtue.

4 Ezra
4 Ezra is an apocalypse that dates to about AD100 and it comes closest to Paul's use of Adam. 4 Ezra especially struggles with the problem of evil--why did God allow the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and its temple? Adam is the first human, a genealogical Adam. He is responsible for bringing the power of Sin in the world. We have a choice, but there is more of a sense of a Fall here than elsewhere.

2 Baruch
Another apocalypse that probably dates from around the same time as 4 Ezra, another book struggling with the destruction of Jerusalem. Each of us faces the same choice as Adam. Adam is everyone and we are all Adam.

Conclusion
McKnight's main point in this chapter seems to be that none of these Jewish texts focus on Adam as a historical figure. Yes, there is a sense that Adam is the genealogical father of the human race, but this is hardly the focus of any of these texts. Rather, 1) each author is focused on interpreting the text of Genesis (the literary Adam) and 2) they do so in accordance with their own theological agendas and purposes.

A common theme is that Adam is archetypal in some way, a model human either for good or bad. In particular, he presents the archetypal moral choice that faces every human. "The historical Adam that Christians now believe in has yet to make his appearance on the pages of history... The construct Christians use when they speak of the historical Adam is not to be found in the Old Testament or in other Jewish sources" (169).

Paul is now queued up for next week.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rovelli 6: It's all about information.

This is my sixth and final post on Carlo Rovelli's new book, Reality Is Not What It SeemsThe first three posts were:
1. Finished the book a few days ago. Chapters 12-13 look somewhat vaguely to the future. I frankly didn't get much out of them. In chapter 12 he tries to give a general sense of what he means by a "relational" interpretation of quantum mechanics (QM). He references this Stanford article. "The notion of the 'state' of a system refers, explicitly or implicitly, to another system" (253).

So he boils QM to two postulates: 1) The relevant information in any physical system is finite and 2) You can always obtain new information on a physical system. John Wheeler, the father of quantum gravity once said, "everything is information."

2. The main thing of interest is the question of time. He gives a "thermal" interpretation of time. All the processes of the universe are reversible (and thus time irrelevant) except for those that involve heat and entropy. "There is no preferred direction of time without heat" (251). "The origin of time may be similar to that of heat: it comes from averages of many microscopic variables" (250).

I did gain from this book, but it did leave me hanging. So I move on to more books...

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Gen Eds, Language and Cultures: Pause

I have a half baked post on Spanish Language and Cultures. Where I'm stuck are the fundamental stories, practices, and rituals of other cultures. I'm sure there's a book out there to fill in that gap. The idea was to provide:
  • some basic language phrases in these languages
  • some basic cultural characteristics, using Erin Meyer's The Culture Map
  • and some basic cultural identity markers like I mentioned above
Since I do not have a ready made source for those stories, since the fall semester is approaching rapidly, and since it will take quite some energy to proceed. I'm going to pause the series here for now. Perhaps I will return to it.

On a personal note, Joanne Solis-Walker told me about Duolingo a week ago Tuesday and I have been eating it up with Spanish. Why didn't I know this resource existed 7 years ago when I needed it??! I'm blazing a trail on it. I'm sure I'm more than 37%, but that's what it is telling me right now. Onward!

So I will continue this series privately, moving forward to learn the languages I was going to cover. Here is the probable order: 1) Spanish (now), 2) French (next), 3) German (gap-filler), 4) Russian, 5) Chinese, 6) Arabic, 7) then maybe Hindi.

In the meantime, I may do philosophy classics on Wednesdays. We'll see.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

22 Getting His Nazis in Line

"Hitler Versus National Socialism" is the title of chapter 25 of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer.  See the bottom for previous posts.

1. "Up till then the National Socialists had 'behaved like fools, overthrowing everything' -- and stolen and blackmailed in the process... This must stop; and such methods were no longer needed because the party had already won uncontested power: 'The party has now become the state'" (651).

After the power of Hitler was secured, some of his strongest and most forceful allies, because of their extremism, became liabilities. Rudolf Hess had predicted this phase: "to attain the goal the Leader would 'trample his closest friends'" (631).

"At the height of his victory, the victor retreated in many places, seemingly of his own free will, changed his plans, disappointed his own followers, adapted himself to necessity. And the secret of political victory is contained in this Hegelian necessity: to know what one wants, and to want what the people want, but do not yet know" (653).

2. What were these reversals of course? One was a kind of temporary reconciliation with religion. To many of Hitler's followers, "only faith in their fatherland had retained any meaning, their own nation had become God" (631). Some insisted that German religion must free itself from Jewish Biblical tradition. In 1922, Hitler had called the Old Testament, "Satan's Bible." Hitler had once been convinced that Jesus himself was not a Jew but the son of a Greek soldier in the Roman army.

Yet some Nazi's thought that Hitler still had some sentiment for the Catholic church. For the Catholic Church's part, it increasingly withdrew from politics, hoping to keep its spiritual power intact. "Step by step, the Catholic Church abandoned political resistance to National Socialism" (633).

The Catholic Church and Hitler reach an agreement. German clergy would be forbidden to engage in political activity, and the Church would be taken under the "Protection" of National Socialism. "Many German Catholics felt more humiliated than protected by this treaty," the Concordat. But at least the Church would keep cloisters, schools, hospitals, and clergy.

There was some initial resistance in mid-1933. At first the Catholic Church refused to agree that non-Aryans were not German. At first the Protestant church elected someone abhorrent to the Nazis--a man who ran a home for the mentally ill. Hitler thought these should be exterminated for the purity of the race.

But by July a Nazi was in charge and swastika flags were raised over the Protestant churches of Germany.

Yet when Hindenberg protested the way Goring was treating the Protestant Church in Prussia, Hitler had him back off. "To the pious Christians it seemed a victory that the Holy Scriptures and writings of the reformers would remain the foundation of the Protestant faith" (648).

Hitler seemed to know just when to retreat. "As a born politician, he had recognized the decisive instant between stubborn persistance and inevitable retreat more clearly than had his co-workers" (648). Of course he would eventually have his way.

As this flood of victory was taking place, "it still seemed uncertain how far National Socialism would go in the breaking of resistance... Hitler himself was not clear how far he could go and how far he wanted to go" (638). He zig-zagged and felt his way around, back and forth, here a little, there a little.

3. Hitler had a sense that at some point revolution would have to stop and they would have to rule. Goebbels was already speaking of a "third Reich," after the Holy Roman Empire and the Bismarck Empire.

So after having had so much "socialist" rhetoric, Hitler would keep capitalism intact for the moment. So many had wanted a "second revolution," one that would be economic in nature.

Competency now seemed more important than loyalty to those who put him in control. "A businessman must not be deposed if he is a good businessman but not yet a National Socialist; and especially if the National Socialist who is put in his place understands nothing of economic affairs" (650). So much for the socialist revolution.

Hitler believed in private property for the true German. He changed the meaning of the words. Socialism for him meant that one man's property would be equal in importance and dignity to another's. What was held in common was the common good, and having some businesses was for the common good.

Most of all, he was lost if he did not make the workers workers again. Hitler rebuffed the armed bohemians in the name of competency and then he betrayed the middle class to keep the loyalty of the workers. "With all the strength of his changeable nature, Hitler led the campaign for the economic age he had so despised" (649).

"The important thing is not programs and ideas," Hitler now said, "but daily bread for seventy million people" (650).

4. Hitler was far more interested in shaping the Weltanschauung or "worldview" of the people. He wanted to shape a common mental attitude among the people, a commitment to the German ideal, the German race, and the German nation. Others could handle the details.

And of course there were the Hitler youth. He aimed to uproot the youth and tear them away from their families. "And so we shall take the children away from you and educate them to be what is necessary for the German people" (644). His opponents would eventually pass away, "and after you will come the youth which knows nothing else."

Previously on Hitler:

Monday, August 07, 2017

Paul Novel 5.1: Letter from Jerusalem

Finished chapter 4 last week. I usually take previous chapters down after a few days.
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The next weeks were tense among the Christians at Antioch. The Christian Jews met and ate together with the Christian Jews, and the Gentile believers met and ate with other Gentile believers. Peter and the messengers from James did not stay long. Peter felt especially awkward. Had he done the right thing? It didn't feel right.

Paul of course met with the Gentile believers. He tried to convince Barnabas and Menaen to stop what he considered not only nonsense but a trick of Satan to divide God's people. Barnabas agreed that the situation could not continue as it was but insisted they needed to wait on word from Jerusalem. He had talked to Peter and made some suggestions. He was convinced James would agree with them.

Paul finally stopped meeting with them because he lost his temper every time. Barnabas finally told him that he was only polarizing the community against himself more and more.

Barnabas did meet with the Gentile believers outside of the evening meal. He tried to make it clear that he was only submitting to authority. Menander and the others understood, but it still hurt.

The church at Antioch would never return to the kind of innocent unity it had before the blow-up. There would be forgiveness to be sure. There would be fellowship again. But tracks of separation were set down that never completely merged together again.

And Paul pretty much determined that he would not stay in a place where the powers that be did not see what was so obvious to him about the gospel. He felt like God was using the situation to push him to his true calling. God was calling him to be an apostle to the Gentiles, just as Peter was to the Jews. He did not say anything to anyone at first. He wanted to see what word would come back from Jerusalem.

And God had used the conflict to clarify to him that these sorts of works of the Jewish Law were irrelevant to the justification both of Jew and Gentile. God had already provided the atonement for sins through the faithful death of Jesus Christ. It was trust in the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead that secured believers a right standing with God. It was allegiance to Jesus as Lord that made you a part of his kingdom. This fact put Jew and Gentile on an equal footing before God.

Word arrived back two weeks later with two men named Barsabbas and Silas. They brought a letter from James with the solution that Barnabas had proposed. Certainly the Gentile believers would need to refrain from sexual immorality. That one was obvious. Shouldn't even have been brought up--although Paul was quick to point out that Jesus had eaten with prostitutes, something that had steamed James at the time when he did not yet believe.

The other instructions had to do with how meat was prepared. The blood had to be drained--the animal could not have been strangled. And they needed to make sure that any meat that was consumed had not previously been offered to a god at one of the nearby temples.

"Wonderful!" Barnabas said. They planned a great love feast in Menaen's house for all the believers in the city, Jew and Gentile. Menaen was rather wealthy and so had a very large house. But they planned for eating outside the house if necessary. There was much rejoicing and great fellowship. The food was prepared appropriately and no meat was used to spare expense. Some Jews in the city already abstained from meat as a matter of conscience, so that they would not accidentally consume meat that had been sacrificed.

"It didn't have to be this way," Paul said to Barnabas. "Damage has been done." But at least fellowship had now been restored and the church was again at peace.

Rovelli 5: Fundamental Constants of the Universe

This is my fifth post on Carlo Rovelli's new book, Reality Is Not What It SeemsThe first three posts were:
1. Chapters 8-11 are fairly short. Some of it covers basic material from cosmology but there are some helpful synthetic thoughts too.

Chapter 8 fills in some gaps with regard to the Big Bang. He gives high praise to Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest, for supporting the idea of a "primordial atom" even though Einstein strongly disagreed. Einstein's equations seemed to suggest that the universe was expanding, but he didn't want to believe it. In fact he added a "cosmological constant" to his equations to fix it (Λ). Lemaître turned out to be right about expansion.

Then Einstein lamented adding the cosmological constant and wanted to remove it. Again, Lemaître suggested he should leave it. Lemaître proved to be right again over Einstein. So in both cases Rovelli writes, "It doesn't fall to everyone to disprove Einstein" (204).

Then Lemaître stopped the Pope, apparently, from making the Big Bang official church belief. Again Rovelli says, "It is not given to everyone to disprove the pope" (205). This falls under the principle of not inserting God too dogmatically into your scientific theories, because theories change.

2. Rovelli favors something he calls "the Big Bounce." The idea here is that "our universe could be the collapse of a previous contracting universe passing across a quantum phase, where space and time are dissolved into probabilities" (208). This seems to me to be a form of the oscillating Big Bang theory.

I thought that the current sense of things was that there was not enough matter in the universe to pull everything back together and thus that the universe was headed for a "Big Rip" at the end of things. This is also different from the multiverse idea that other books I've read have suggested, namely, that our universe is just one of an infinite number of universe bubbles.

Meanwhile, Rovelli nicely, I think, counters Lee Smolin's sense that the universe is all there is by definition. Rovelli, much more soundly says, "The word 'universe' has assumed another meaning in cosmology: it refers to the spacetime continuum that we see directly around us, filled with galaxies and history of which we observe. There is no reason to be certain that, in this sense, this universe is the only one in existence" (208).

Take that Smolin, who says in the first chapter of Quantum Gravity, "By definition the universe is all there is" (17). Let's just say Rovelli is a much better philosopher, although I don't always agree with him.

The dissolution of spacetime into a cloud of possibilities when you have that much mass at a quantum size is an intriguing idea.

3. Chapter 9 asks if we have any experimental evidence for loop quantum gravity. A number of times he pushes back both against those who say you cannot talk about anything that you cannot now experimentally show and those who wildly speculate detached from current trajectories. To me this positioning makes perfect sense.

On the one hand, a theory should proceed to experimentation. "A theory lacking empirical confirmation is a theory that has not yet passed its exams" (212). On the other hand, he disagrees with wild hypotheses. "Many theoretical physicists are today looking for new theories by picking arbitrary hypotheses... I don't think that this way of doing science has ever produced good results" (215-16).

Rather, all the experimental evidence has been confirming the three cornerstones of modern physics: general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Standard Model within quantum mechanics. The new findings have brought a complete absence of surprise. Hawking was disappointed.

The three big findings of this decade are 1) the confirmation of the Higgs boson, 2) the cosmic measurements of the Planck satellite, and 3) the detection of gravitational waves.

Also, the fact that CERN has not discovered supersymmetry is a blow to string theorists, which is why Sheldon on Big Bang Theory went looking for something else to study. :-)

4. Mapping of the cosmos has given us a sense of the lay of the background radiation left not too long after the so called Big Bang. The idea here is that it took some time for the universe to cool down enough for the light (photons) of creation to be released.

The remnants of this release are called "cosmic background radiation" (CBR), alleged to have happened some 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

Apparently, if LQG is correct (loop quantum gravity), then there should also be a gravitational background radiation. An experiment called LISA involving three satellites around the sun, might be able to test for these.

5. Chapter 10 looks at quantum black holes. There are black holes at the centers of most galaxies and, in at least one theory, they may account for what it otherwise called dark matter.

The horizon of a black hole is the point where you might stay out. Past that, nothing can get out. Time stops at the horizon. Stephen Hawking's claim to fame was his discovery that black holes slowly evaporate. Eugenio Bianchi showed that loop quantum gravity can also demonstrate Hawking's formula for the heat of a black hole.

What LQG would show is that, since spacetime is not infinitely divisible--since it never can reach a singularity--at some point a black hole should explode in a miniature version of the Big Bang. From our perspective outside a black hole, this would take billions years, even if it is only moments inside the black hole. Since the universe is allegedly 14 billion years old, we might find some of these. Rovelli suggests that some "fast radio bursts" detected by radio telescopes could be such.

6. Chapter 11 is called the end of infinity. The common sense of the suggestion here is so obvious I've thought of it for some time now and I'm not even a scientist. Why didn't Dirac and Feynman? Quantum mechanics and relativity are plagued with infinities. Feynman the pragmatist simply substituted the experimental values for certain infinities to get his equations to work.

But LQG, because it sees space as quantized, eliminates the infinities. This seems so obvious to me that it is surprising it is not a fundamental working assumption of modern physics.

"Putting a limit to infinity is a recurrent theme in modern physics. Special relativity may be summarized as the discovery that there exists a maximum velocity for all physical systems. Quantum mechanics can be summarized as the discovery that there exists a maximum of information for each physical system. The minimum length is the Planck length LP, the maximum velocity is the speed of light c, and the total information is determined by the Planck constant h" (232).

Now we are getting somewhere. This is what I've been thinking and looking for someone to put succinctly like this. "The existence of these minimum and maximum values for length, velocity, and action fixes a natural system of units. Instead of measuring speed in kilometers per hour... we can measure it in fractions of the speed of light.. In the same way, we can posit L= 1 by definition and measure length in multiples of Planck's length. And we can posit h = 1 and measure actions in multiples of Planck's constant. In this way, we have a natural system of fundamental unities from which the others follow" (233).

One more seems to complete Rovelli's set, namely, the cosmological constant (Λ) used in relativity. I have a book called Just Six Numbers that is also on my reading list. I'm hoping it will help me understand the importance of the ratio between the cosmological constant and the Planck length.

My next post should finish the book.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sermon Starters: Hitting the Mark

Preached at the SAGE service tonight at College Wesleyan.

Text: Romans 14:19-23

I. Introduction
  • Common to hear that sin is "missing the mark." Not really mentioned this way in the Bible.
  • In older Greek literature, a spear might "wander" from its target.
  • In the NT, there are four verses that give us pictures of sin--the one we just read in Romans 14 (whatever is not of faith), 1 John has two (sin is wrongdoing, sin is lawlessness), and James 4 has one (if you know good to do and don't do it).
  • The last one is similar to Wesley's definition: "willful transgression against known law of God."
  • Gave outline
II. Sermon Body
Point 1: It's more about us as archers than it is about the target.
A. Romans 14
  • Background - an issue where different Christians had different convictions (so Paul's not talking about murder or adultery here)
  • Two people can do the same thing and it be sin for the one but not sin for the other.
  • Because sin is primarily a matter of intention ("faith")
  • Be sure of your convictions (without being hyper-sensitive).
  • You can deceive yourself.
  • The impact on others is a key consideration.
B. Matthew 5
  • It is a mistake to see this chapter as Jesus upping the standard. It is Jesus getting to the heart of the person.
  • What Jesus says about killing and adultery is not about hitting a narrower target. It's about what kind of archer you are.
  • So it is not about keeping oaths; it about being truthful. And the eye for an eye thing is completely out the window.
C. "Standards"
  • This skewed sense of sin as missing the target even distorts our sense of what holiness is. Holiness becomes a matter of hitting a higher standard, either doing more things or not doing more things.
  • We talk about the things we don't do rather than the fact that we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Well, we might talk about the self-control part.
  • Mark 7 suggests cleanness is a heart thing, not a "what you don't do" thing.
D. Good news!
  • Sin is not about the performance of the rules.
  • Bad news, of course, if you have the mindset of a biblical Pharisee. They started out well, right? How can I be sure to keep the Sabbath? Reminds me of some holiness thinking in the past. Can I eat out on Sunday? Can I watch TV on Sunday? Can I work if my boss tells me to?
Point 2: God's target is not a bulls-eye.
A. Mistakes are not sins.
  • That is, God's standard is not faultlessness or absolute perfection.
  • We should probably retire the word perfect as a translation of the NT, except maybe James 3:2, which is not talking about sins but about the fact that nobody's perfect.
  • But this is not the normal way the NT talks about sins. There is only one place in the NT that talks about sins of ignorance (Hebrews 9:7), and it is probably alluding to sins they had done before coming to Christ.
B. Common misinterpretations
  • Romans 3:23 is not about falling short of God's glorious standard. It is about "lacking the glory of God," as in Hebrews 2:6-10. Humanity was created for glory, but lacks it because of Adam's sin.
  • Matthew 5:48 is not about perfection but about being complete in our love of others the way God is. It is the climax of the chapter. "You have heard, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' I say, love your enemy too... be complete like your heavenly father is complete."
  • Apart from James 3:2, the Greek word often translated "perfect" either means to be mature or to be complete/whole in some way.
C. Good News!
  • It's about the quality of our relationship with God, not the quantity of our performance.
  • Like in marriage. It's (hopefully) not so much about how much you spend or whether you've checked the box. It's about the quality of the relationship.
  • Bad news, of course, if you're a lawyer of the bad sort. This is the lawyer Jesus of Mark 7:11 who gets out of supporting his parents by invoking "corban." 
  • Reminds me of a scene from the movie, "Liar, Liar." The lawyer has to tell the truth. He beats himself up hoping to get out of the trial, goes to great extremes to make it look like he cannot proceed. But the judge asks him a simple question, "Are you able to proceed?" And he has to answer yes. 
  • When it's about my intent, all my rationalizations and machinations fall away. Am I doing this with a heart for glorifying God? That's the question of sin.
Point 3: Some misses are worse than others.
A. All sin is not the same.
  • This has never been true of the consequences of sin. The sins of Hitler had way worse consequences than any sin I've ever done.
  • There is a sense in which it is true of our sins before we come to Christ. All sins show our need for Christ's atonement, so there is truth there.
  • But the idea that "all sin is sin" is not biblical of our sins after forgiveness. For one, not all sins fully break our relationship with Christ. Hebrews 6, 10, and 12 make this clear. 1 John 5 speaks of sins to death and sins not to death.
  • Certainly Paul does not treat the discipline of sin the same. The Corinthians are arrogant, divisive, and unloving, but he only kicks one man out--the one sleeping with his father's wife.
B. James 2:8-11 is often misinterpreted.
  • The point is that you cannot pick and choose between core commandments like murdering, committing adultery, and stealing. If you are really good and not murdering but commit adultery all the time, you are still a law-breaker. The point is not that if you commit one kind of sin you've done them all. That's not what James is saying.
C. Good news!
  • The divine love of our life is very forgiving. He won't let us accidentally fall out of relationship with him. He is eager to forgive if we forget our "anniversary" with him.
  • But it's bad news if we are looking to get by on excuses or technicalities.
Point 4: Love is the target.
  • Love God and love neighbor--that sums up what sin is. Sin is not loving God or not loving our neighbor as ourselves.
  • These don't contradict. As Steve Deneff said this morning, "You only love God to the degree than you love people. The rest is deception."
  • Some people try to justify not loving others in the name of loving God. Some people try to redefine love in order to justify themselves.
  • It's all pretty straightforward though. Is there anything you do that contradicts your desire to glorify God in all you do? That would be sin. Do you ever act toward others in a way that is uncaring and that you would not want someone to act toward you? That would be sin.
III. Conclusion
Sin is ultimately about the relationship we have with God. Our spouse would not divorce us for one wrong, nor will God. But there is a point where you can break the relationship. But God is not looking for performance. He is looking at what we are aiming at.

Seminary CM8: Global Christianity

This is the eighth post on the Contexts of Ministry in my Seminary in a Nutshell series. See the bottom for the previous posts in this unit, "The Person and Contexts of a Minister." I have completed one other unit in this series,The Pastor as Leader.
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1. When we founded Wesley Seminary in 2009, one of the books students read in the second class at that time, Cultural Contexts of Ministry, was Philip Jenkins' The Next Christendom. The purpose of this reading was to give students a sense of the shifting demographics of Christianity in the world. In particular, it was to give these ministers a strong sense of the shift of Christianity from what used to be called the "first world," the so called "Western" world, to what we might now call the "two-thirds" world.

Perhaps we should not assume that the background of our current situation is known to any degree among ministers in training. Beginning in the late 1400s, Europe began colonizing the rest of the world, looking for gold and other items of value that they might then sell back in Europe. The "New World" was discovered by Europe as Christopher Columbus sought to find a shorter route to the East Indies.

Some of the precious goods that were imported from Africa were slaves. The slave trade begins and black as a race is born. Before that point, you had distinct African people groups. Now, Europeans come to dub all Africans as black and, thus by contrast, dominant Europeans become "white," another new category.

2. Spain will conquer what becomes known as Latin America, from present day Mexico down to the tip of South America. The Portuguese will take what is now Brazil. The French, Spanish, British, and Dutch will fight over North America until first the British prevail. Then the French will eventually sell out. Finally the new States will push Mexico to its current boundaries.

In Sub-Saharan Africa the French, the Dutch, and the British will parcel up the land. After World War I, the British will watch over the Middle East, as they had already what is now India and Pakistan. The French, Spanish, and British will dabble in Asia, with the British taking the continent of Australia, the French being in Vietnam, and the Spanish in the Philippines.

3. In the twentieth century, these European powers, these "colonial powers" will slowly withdraw from these lands. They have left their traces in the languages that remain. All of Latin America speaks primarily Spanish or Portuguese. English is a predominant language in India and its surrounding countries. Various countries in Africa speak either French or English.

The relationship these European colonizers took to the peoples of these lands was that of master to subservient, superior to inferior. This colonization brought missionaries to these lands as well. Many of them will become Christian lands at least in name. These missionaries had little or no training. No doubt they came largely unable to distinguish the cultural aspects of their faith from its kingdom core. No doubt many if not most of them came with the same sense of superiority than the political colonizers brought with them.

So these missionaries also served to colonize these lands with Western culture, this term itself a sort of construct for the culture of Europe. They came with "benevolent" intent but probably did not, for the most part, view the indigenous peoples as equals in the sight of God. For most of them, these peoples were "poor," "unfortunate" types. Even in the United States in the days before and after the Civil War, few of those in the North actually viewed the slaves as equal individuals created in the image of God. They might "help" those poor folk but most were not looking to make them equal.

4. The language of these days found itself in a time when the industrialized world was called the "first world." Then these largely unindustrialized, colonized lands, including pretty much all of the southern hemisphere, were called the "third" world (cf. Bandung conference of 1955, p.69). The shift to refer to these lands as the "two-thirds world" shows the dawning awareness that the vast majority of the world is not Europe, North America, or Russia.

In the 1970s, my own church, The Wesleyan Church, made a move that I thought at the time was the right move to make morally. Rather than have the rest of the Wesleyan church world be subservient to North America in our general conference, why not empower them to have their own general conferences? Then all of these general conferences would come as equals to the table in a Wesleyan World Fellowship.

The first such conference to break away from North America was the Caribbean, then the Philippines. Canada began the process of breaking away this past year (2016) and Australia has been at least partially separate for five years, I believe. These last two seem to indicate that the principle is sound and in good faith. I will not try to parse the moral complexities of the sense that other general conferences should be financially self-supporting and that this should be the goal of all domains outside North America.

If the motives of The Wesleyan Church (TWC) were mostly pure in making this distinction, the situation is now much more complex in relation to a church like the United Methodists. The UM church never made the kind of separation that TWC made in the 70s. When TWC made the distinction, there seemed to be a genuine sense of empowerment and enabling.

But the situation has changed, as Jenkins' book indicates. Christianity is rising in the two-thirds world much more quickly than in North America. The "global south," as it is sometimes referred to, will eventually have more voting power in the UM church than the North American church. Already in the Episcopal fellowship, Anglicans from Africa are increasingly marginalizing American Episcopal congregations that support the ordination and appointment of practicing gay ministers.

The UM church has been facing the same struggle this decade. If I read the situation correctly, the bishops of the UM church in general seem to support the ordination of practicing gay ministers. The majority of US congregations probably favor unity over schism over this issue. A sizable minority of US ministers view this issue as a "make or break" one. That is to say, if the church in the end ordains and appoints practicing gay ministers, then they will break away from the church.

Until this most recent general conference (2016), I had assumed that a split would involve the conservatives leaving. But the rise of the two-thirds world within the UM church suggests that, if a split delays long enough, the conservatives will eventually have the majority and it would be those in favor of practicing gay ministers who would more likely be forced to leave.

An attempt to separate global Methodism administratively from the North American church, much as the Wesleyans did in the 70s, failed this past UM general conference.

5. So what insights might we gain from Jenkins' book? Let me give quotes and comments from the book that have stood out to me:

Demographics
  • "In 2050, 72 percent of Christians will live in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and a sizable share of the remainder will have roots in one or more of those continents" (xi).
  • "Over the last century, the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably away from Europe, southward, to Africa and Latin America, and eastward, toward Asia" (1).
  • "By 2050 only about one-fifth of the world's 3.2 billion Christians will be non-Hispanic whites" (3).
  • "Far from Islam being the world's largest religion by 2020... Christianity should still have a substantial lead and will maintain its position for the foreseeable future" (6).
  • "Members of a Southern-dominated church are likely to be among the poorer people on the planet" (7).
  • "There is no single Southern Christianity" (8).
  • "Liberal Protestantism has never represented a mainstream of Christianity, or even a majority, and as time goes on, the relative significance of that tradition will decline even further" (11).
  • "Conservative theological or moral stances often accompany quite progressive or radical economic views" (19)
  • Christianity in the global south often has a strongly charismatic flavor and sometimes focuses on the potential economic prosperity of believers.
  • "Almost one Christian in five worldwide is neither Protestant, nor Catholic, nor Anglican, nor Orthodox" (76). Note--he is not including Pentecostal under Protestant.
  • The number of Chinese Christians is currently 65-70 million, about 5% of the population (88).
  • India has more Christians than most European nations (91).
  • "By 2050, six of the world's twenty most populous nations will be on the African continent" (107)
  • By 2050, eight nations could each have a hundred million Christians or more... only the United States is from what is presently considered the advanced industrial world. 
  • These countries are USA (estimated to have 350 million Christians in 2050), Brazil (234 million), Philippines (162), Ethiopia (160), Congo (150), Mexico (130), Nigeria (127), Uganda (106), China (85), Russia (70), Germany (52). See p.113.
  • "The number of African Christians in 2050 will be almost twice as large as the total figure for all the Christians who were alive anywhere on the planet back in 1900" (113).
  • "Most of the global population growth in the coming decades will be urban" (116).
  • Most of the growth in Christianity that will take place in the United States and Europe in the coming decades will be a function of global Christianity. That is to say, it will not be among "white" American Christians. 
  • "Perhaps three-quarters of Arab Americans are in fact Christian" (133).
At this point I might mention that Jenkins is not asking whether or not these are truly Christians. That is to say, he is counting what we might call nominal Christians. For example, he would count a Mormon as a Christian in his statistics. Who is truly a Christian is of course a matter for God to decide (also see next post).

It may be uncomfortable for American Christians to come to grips with the approaching loss of power within the trajectory of Christendom. The election of Trump was arguably just one sign, at least in part, of one section of white America having difficulty coming to grips with a dominance slowly and inevitably slipping away (think Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin). This struggle will likely continue for the next few decades in the US until we reach some kind of racial equilibrium.

Another observation is that these shifts are not necessarily about truth. The seemingly inevitable cycle of "liberal" Christianity's demise says nothing of whether it is right or wrong on this or that point. In the same way, the coming dominance of two-thirds world Christianity only speaks of numbers and power, not of correctness. One of the observations Jenkins makes repeatedly is that many of the theologies emerging from Africa and South America are not entirely "orthodox" in the historic sense (e.g., "African Independent Churches" or AICs--66-68).

So North American Christian conservatives are happy to have the southern hemisphere support them on a number of theological struggles, but they may be uncomfortable with the progressive social stances that may also come in force. For example, "liberation theology" has had a significant foothold in Latin America, which advocates at the very least economic liberation and at times political revolution. These socialist and at times communist flavored values will be as distasteful to American conservatives as the southern position is appealing on the ordination of practicing gay ministers.

One take-away I have is that the current shift in dominance is likely to make all of us from the former hegemony uncomfortable.

6. The Situation Past and Present
  • "The whole idea of 'Western Christianity' distorts the true pattern of the religion's development over time" (22).
  • The church of Ethiopia today claims some 25 million members, after lengthy conflicts with Muslims and Marxists, roughly the number of all the Methodist related denominations in North America (26).
  • Had the Mongul invaders, with a Christian queen, have defeated the Turks in Palestine in the 1260s, much of the Middle East might be Christian today (34).
  • Christians have until recently had a significant presence in the Middle East despite Muslim dominance. Ironically, a large percentage of Palestinians have historically been Christian (as opposed to Jews). There has been a significant minority of Syrian Christians in Syria and Chaldean Christians in Iraq. Coptic Christians have been a significant presence in Egypt. 
  • British and American actions in the Middle East over the last century have inadvertently resulted in forces that have brought persecution and diaspora to these groups. In Palestine, for example, American Christians have strongly supported the Israeli dominance over the Palestinians, even though far more Palestinians have been Christian.
  • During the colonial era, Westerners tried to impose their own ideas of Christianity as it should be to the world. Gradually, indigenous peoples moved beyond the colonial matrix. Finally they adapt and incorporate native ways and form wholly new churches (70). This of course is what happened when Christianity came to northern Europe as well.
A central take-away from these insights is the way evangelical Christians have often blindly participated in political forces that have, unintentionally, had harmful repercussions to Christians in the Middle East. America's blind support of Israel has hurt Christianity among Palestinian, Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqis. The blind assumption that all Arabs or Middle Easterners are Muslim has only made things more difficult for Arab and Middle Eastern Christians, whose Christianity is far more ancient than American Christianity.

Another potentially sobering possibility is that what we consider orthodoxy may have elements of European (as opposed to the pre-Constantinian Christian) culture. A theological construct of which I am very fond--consensus Christianity--is vulnerable to the charge that the consensus of which we speak significantly involves the culture of the European Middle Ages. Are there elements that are similar to when holiness missionaries to Native Americans had them wear buns and skirts, while stopping all forms of dancing?

7. Looking to the Future
Some final quotes:
  • "As Christianity becomes increasingly Southern, it cannot fail to absorb the habits and thought-worlds of the regions in which it is strongest" (140). It has always done this, and that is okay. "London's St. Paul's Cathedral almost certainly stands on the site of an ancient pagan structure" (138).
  • "Hispanic theology is acutely concerned with issues of liberation, suffering, and social justice, while matters of race are also paramount" (144).
  • "A black or brown Mary would be a powerfully appropriate symbol for the emerging Southern Christendom" (147).
  • "The practice of healing is one of the strongest themes unifying the newer Southern churches, both mainstream and independent, and perhaps their strongest selling point for their congregations" (157).
  • Many Southern churches appropriate the OT more directly and literally than the West has come to do (this was also true of frontier churches in the US in the 1800s, as we see in traditions about the Sabbath, circumcision, tithing, and verses relating to appearance).
  • Churches are fundamentalist and charismatic by nature (169).
  • "The greatest change from present assumptions is likely to involve the Enlightenment-derived assumption that religion should be segregated into a separate sphere of life, distinct from everyday reality" (171).
  • Politics and religion tend to align in the two-thirds world. Of course this happens in the US as well.
  • "Religious loyalties are at the root of many of the world's ongoing civil wars" (201).
  • Catholicism is not so much waning in the southern hemisphere as changing. For example, charismatic and Pentecostal elements are on the rise.
  • Immigrant churches are on the rise in the US and Europe, and two-thirds world countries are increasingly sending missionaries to Western lands. 
  • By 2050, it seems likely that "whites" will make up less than half of Americans. Over half may be Hispanic, a quarter black. Asians not quite a quarter.
Jenkins is a sociologist of religion. He is not saying what should happen, only what he thinks has and is going to happen. What this means is that we who are in the church need to engage a dialog with "the other" as equal participants. This must not be a dialog of a supposedly "superior" Western Christian "schooling" the "inferior" global Christian. It should be a dialectic. Each side raises concerns and makes points. A synthesis will emerge over time. I believe this is also the most profitable way to move forward whenever any two or or more groups are in tension or conflict.
The alignment of political party with religion is something that European Christianity and indeed world Christianity has born the scars. History has emphatically shown the need to align Christianity with principles rather than political party. When Christians persecute Christians, something is wrong. Similarly, we can debate whether the strong alignment of American evangelical Christianity with the Republican party is in the end a healthy situation for American Christianity in general.

8. For the moment, he notes that Christianity is alive and well among the poor and persecuted (275), and the truly persecuted do not live in the white portions of North America.

No doubt the future will throw some wrenches in these prognostications. As G. K. Chesterton once said, future humanity listens respectfully to prophets and prognosticators, then goes on to do something different after they are nicely buried. Jenkins is convinced that the shift of Christianity to the southern hemisphere is taking place. He is less willing to commit to what that will end up looking like.

The currents of history are always alterable, especially through violence. For all we know, God could let the world destroy itself before the next election.
Next Sunday: Culture 9: The Rise of the Nones

The Calling of a Minister
The Person of a Pastor
Contexts of Ministry