A Depth of Learning for a Depth of Fellowship

Is there a formula for successful Christian community? What I wanted as a young Christian, and could not find, was a fellowship of disciples which could learn and flourish together.  The inner fellowship of three, the group of twelve, the seventy, and the mentor who would impart a depth of learning and experience—we all want to experience an abiding depth of love in an intimate group. We want to do life together!  So, what prevents this from happening? Continue reading “A Depth of Learning for a Depth of Fellowship”

The President’s Two Bodies: “We the People” and Donald Trump

The infantile, imbecilic, morally degenerate, or simply very ordinary individual can be a monarch as the office itself has a life of its own which the mere mortal marks. Though he or she may suffer complete dementia, his or her body animates and localizes what was often presumed to be an eternal order of law and power. This power is precisely carnal – of the flesh – as opposed to the realm of the spirit.  It is a biopolitical power in that it depends upon and makes itself evident in the carnal dimension. Thus, the king cannot break the law as he embodies the law. He is not subject to the law but creates subjects in both a political and physical/personal sense.  The royal power to discipline, punish, penetrate, demarcate, and procreate, whether by judicial decree, military might, or sexual prowess, is, by definition, physical. It is pure biopolitics in that it is synonymous with an incarnate power. Royal power does not just depend on physical spectacle, it is this spectacle marked out in the realm of the flesh: the more spectacular the more powerful. The question is what happens to this pure power of the law, connected to the royal body, in a democratic society? Where the people are collectively sovereign can the rule of law be dispersed in the corporate body or does the sublime royal body tend to protrude through some individual – an “organ” of state?[1] Continue reading “The President’s Two Bodies: “We the People” and Donald Trump”

Can Christ Save Us from “Christianity?”

David B. Hart, in introducing his translation of the New Testament, describes a faith so strange that what we now call “Christianity” only vaguely resembles the original.[1] He claims that due to poor translation, theological misdirection, and a failure to grasp key terms, that we have missed that the first Christians were extremists. In pursuit of an alternative society and kingdom, they rejected society, “not only in its degenerate but its decent and reasonable form.” Hart uses the example of the contrast of modern Christian notions of personal wealth and what the New Testament actually says, to demonstrate how far removed we are from first century teaching.  Wealth per se is not evil, in the typical modern understanding, only its misuse or the wrong orientation to it.  We are so attuned to this misinterpretation, according to Hart, that we know exactly where to turn and what verses support it.  Yet, it is precisely from among these verses that he unfurls his irresistible case: The New Testament teaches that personal wealth is intrinsically evil. He concludes, after several pages of demonstrating the point, “the biblical texts are so unambiguous on this matter that it requires an almost heroic defiance of the obvious to fail to grasp their import.”[2]  Continue reading “Can Christ Save Us from “Christianity?””

Beyond Complementarianism, Slavery, and Bigotry, to Truth

The great reversal instituted by Christ is expressed in the New Testament as the move from law to grace, from shadow to substance, or from promise to fulfillment.  John describes it in cosmic terms as the displacement of one world for another and Paul describes it as the displacement of the principalities and powers and the dominion to which we were all once subject.  He works it out in detail in his description of how we are freed from the law in Christ.  The metaphors used to describe this are adoption into a new family, redemption from slavery, entering a new kingdom, or being made righteous.  The language of marriage, new birth, and transfer of citizenship gets at the impact of this reversal. I would argue that what is being described is not a series of reversals worked out in different realms but one great reversal which applies to every realm. To miss it at the universal level will mean a misunderstanding of the particulars. There might still be male/female, slave/free, and Jew/Gentile, from the perspective and logic of the world but in the Church these categories mean something different. The slave is now the position to be sought, Jew is no longer an exclusive but a universal category, and female or bride describes those joined to Christ. Gender, class, and ethnicity, are not dissolved but a different logic applies and an alternative grammar transforms their meaning.  If one has missed this deep grammatical shift (and it is missed and obscured both by the closed economy of this world and a theology grounded in this economy) it is to miss the transvaluation (in Nietzsche’s phrase) of Christianity. Continue reading “Beyond Complementarianism, Slavery, and Bigotry, to Truth”

Is Christian Complementarianism Helping Fuel The Abuse Reflected In #Me Too?

Harvey Weinstein, Hugh Hefner, Donald Trump –  the list of prominent men who abuse women could be added to from every walk of life: comedians, athletes, political figures, and of course prominent religious figures.  Harvey’s brother describes him as an abusive bully who regularly insulted and hurt those around him.  He said he is unrepentant for his actions and is incapable of remorse.  The figure that came to mind with Bob Weinstein’s description of his brother was the administrator at the college where Faith and I worked.  His open misogyny and abuse of power will continue, as with Harvey Weinstein, because grievance and complaint were squelched by the institution.  While his forte was not private sexual assault but open cruelty and abuse, the wall of silence is the same. Continue reading “Is Christian Complementarianism Helping Fuel The Abuse Reflected In #Me Too?”

Halting the Brain Drain by Creating Space to Think

The brain drain within conservative Protestantism is a trend with which those in a position to know are well aware.[1] There are many factors which may lead to this disaffection: reduction of worship to entertainment, irreverent humor and general lack of depth, an absence of certainty, unity, and authority, a stunted history and tradition, a counter-liturgical casualness. . .  Among intellectuals all these factors may play a part but ultimately many find themselves in something of a homeless condition – the shallow intellectual tradition of evangelicalism means they are without any sort of organized or institutional support. Especially among those who would devote themselves to theology, many soon discover they have educated themselves out of their own communion. Continue reading “Halting the Brain Drain by Creating Space to Think”

Curing Despair Through a Community of Love

I met G.R. hepped up on coffee and a late night of reading Hebrews.  Glen and I had been discussing the necessary finitude of time as a delimiting factor in evil.  The insight we arrived at – which we considered quite significant (too much coffee) – has been obscured by the more than 40-year interval. We assumed that there was a consumptive element – thanatology – connected with God which is itself an effect of God’s presence.  Alone that early morning, reading Hebrews 12:29 – “our God is a consuming fire” – I felt I had hit upon scriptural verification of this principle.  I entered Glen’s room after 1 a.m. with, “OUR GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE.”  G.R., Glen’s roommate, had only recently returned from refueling helicopters for the Army in Vietnam. . . Continue reading “Curing Despair Through a Community of Love”

The Story of Frank and Two Goats

Hans Urs von Balthazar has formulated what he calls the “theological law of proportionate polarization” in which “the more God intervenes, the more he elicits opposition to him.” Love and sin, intervention and opposition, work in reciprocal relation: sin escalates in the presence of love and ever-greater mercy arouses ever-greater anger.” What is most holy and pure, such as the Tabernacle and the Temple, will draw to itself—like a magnet—what is least holy and what is least pure. This is why the day of atonement requires two goats, this is why evil accumulated in direct opposition to Christ, and this is why the Church is peculiarly conducive to the growth of both wheat and tares.  Great evil and great good will grow up together and tend to accumulate in one time and place.  It is the story Scripture tells and it is a life principle which calls for a peculiar discernment. Continue reading “The Story of Frank and Two Goats”

A Friend Who Sticks Closer Than a Brother

The place where Faith and I found God’s people is, I suppose, where they are always to be found – at the very bottom of things – the low point – the pit.  There are people who put you in pits and there are those who rescue from the pit.   It is sometimes hard to know which are which until one group has thrown you in the pit and the other is pulling you out. Faith and I were choking on the dirt until this fine group of saints dug us out.  The resulting ministry is something of a pit rescue team.  A Christian community has come together (I cannot determine exactly how) which is seeking to do life together and to share love and learning locally and beyond. Continue reading “A Friend Who Sticks Closer Than a Brother”

Dueling Theologies: Choosing a Theology of Life or a Theology of Death

Stephen Long, in his commentary on Hebrews, describes the YouTube video entitled “Jesus Loves You,” which brings to the forefront the contradictions inherent in a theology focused on guilt.  The video begins with Grey Bloke (a sort of grey blob) telling us he received an anonymous e-mail saying, “Jesus loves you.” Grey Bloke then says, “Well I thought, that’s nice. But then I read the rest of it which says, ‘If you don’t worship him, you’re going to burn in hell forever.’”

He acknowledges this is a “conditional form of love,” and that most forms of love are like that, but he expected something more from Jesus since he “should be more noble” than the rest of us. He asks the anonymous e-mailer, “If Jesus loves me, why does he want to send me to hell?” The reply came back, “He doesn’t want to, but unless you accept him, he’s just going to have to.” Grey Bloke then was confused — “doesn’t Jesus make the rules? He is God after all.”

The response was, “Jesus loves you, but his dad thinks you’re a shit.” That doesn’t seem “fair,” he adds, but “at least it’s clear.” But then he was utterly confused by a response, which said, “P.S., Jesus is his own dad.” Continue reading “Dueling Theologies: Choosing a Theology of Life or a Theology of Death”