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”

Are Christians and Christianity Shameless?

I suppose there are easier ways to make progress in theology, but it took me some twenty years in Japan to recognize the inadequacy of a theology focused on guilt (a concept all but lacking in Japan).  There is no equivalent for the concept of “sin” in Japanese, where sin has to do with a guilt plagued conscience.  There is crime (tsumi – used to translate “sin”) and shame but these both have to do with a serious corporate transgression. Sin and guilt, as we have conceived them in the west, do not get at the root of Japanese self-identity – which is group oriented and corporate.  Where the group serves as the ground of identity, shame and not guilt, best describes the experience of a failed identity.  The question is if there are actually two such very different modes of doing identity; one which takes account of relational reality and one in which there is a non-relational essence at the center of personhood?  Or is one of these simply a mistaken understanding of the root human condition? Continue reading “Are Christians and Christianity Shameless?”

Is There No Shame: Or Is Christianity Inherently Evil?

The implication of evangelicals in support (implicit or explicit) of notions of white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and the KKK raises the question/accusation that it is Christianity itself that is complicit in evil.  In terms of the broad sweep of history and the core teaching of the New Testament this is, I believe, a false claim and a misunderstanding.[1]  Nonetheless, I understand the accusation and see the necessity of disclaiming any association with a faith that, in certain forms, has become evil.  A passing familiarity with the New Testament seems to make it clear that oppressing, enslaving, denigrating, murdering, or doing violence to others is not Christian.  At the same time, it is also clear that in various periods, such as the present time, Christians and certain forms of Christianity have been implicated in and have even been the basis for promoting these very same evils.   Continue reading “Is There No Shame: Or Is Christianity Inherently Evil?”

Beyond the Postmodern to Christ

I have no label to describe my present understanding of Christian Truth and its function.  Twenty years in Japan taught me that my own static (“modern” ?) apprehension of Christ could not be made to address the Japanese heart and mind.  When it occurred to me how the Gospel does address Japanese, it did not leave me with a new static truth but with an understanding of how Christian truth is necessarily dynamic, as it unfolds only in its engagement of the world. Continue reading “Beyond the Postmodern to Christ”

The Heart of Darkness: The Appeal of Donald Trump

Organized acts of evil, such as those witnessed over the weekend in Charlottesville, demonstrate the unleashing of ethics turned on its head. Organized evil driven by an ideology endorsed (with a wink and a nod) by the Commander in Chief means evil serves in place of the good. This is not the lawless evil of a random act; rather it is “radical evil” in which a perverse moral law is officially endorsed.  The drive toward a pure race, the perfect socialist revolution, or making America great again, may not overtly promote genocide, mass murder, and white supremacy, but the latter is implicit in the former.  The walls must be built, the foreigners expelled, and the “inferior races” subdued in a world in which the ultimate good is a moral law constituted in the reigning ideology.  The neo-Nazis and the white supremacists are at the service of an ethic that has now been voted into place and which indeed hearkens back to an earlier era.  The American electorate has created the space, through the election of this administration, for these groups to do the dirty work of maintaining the very atmosphere which we breathe[1] – the implicit presumption of white supremacy which is at the foundation of the American idea. Continue reading “The Heart of Darkness: The Appeal of Donald Trump”

Can Theology Save Science?

Rupert Sheldrake’s banned Ted Talk describing how science has fallen into a dogmatism from which it cannot, at present, extract itself, points to the necessity of a more primary form of thought. I would argue that theology, rightly done, is a mode of inquiry that precedes and grounds our understanding of all else, including science. As Sheldrake describes it, many scientists, generally those with an atheistic, materialistic bent, presume that they “know the truth” while other people – especially the religious – deal in belief.  This naïve presumptuousness is not only a failure to take into account the historical dependence of science on theology it is a failure to understand how science might free itself from itself. According to Sheldrake, scientific dogmatism has halted modes of inquiry which would allow science to progress beyond its reductionist tendencies.  The notion that theology might be a resource to science might seem outrageous to one unaware of the early symbiotic relationship between science and theology.  At the same time, this relationship also points to the sort of theology that has proven fruitful in spawning a scientific mode of inquiry.  Theologies and sciences are not all equal and one way of ascertaining a degraded or superior form of each is to judge the fruitfulness of their interaction. Continue reading “Can Theology Save Science?”

Breaking Free of Failed “Religion” Through a Practical Salvation

Religion as a projection of man (philosophy, psychology), as a sui generis essence (religious studies), or as a sacred canopy (sociology) all partake of a singular mistake.  It is the same mistake found in the various Christian approaches to non-Christian religion (pluralism, inclusivism, and exclusivism).  The problem with “religion” is with the category itself.  There is the mistaken assumption that religion can be separated out from culture and practice and studied or theologized about as an entity or essence unto itself.  The Bible does not make this mistake in that it does not address religion per se (more on this later).  This raises the question as to whether Christianity is religion? Or should Christianity distinguish itself from religion? Continue reading “Breaking Free of Failed “Religion” Through a Practical Salvation”

The Blindness of “Masculine” Biblical Interpretation and the Cure of a “Feminine” Orientation

My theological journey is not very flattering in that I am not a quick study.  I have come to insights such as nonviolence through a long process which, from my present perspective, look obvious and essential.  I have to wonder why it took so long. If I were naturally a sweet-natured, kind, gentle, soul, learning of the biblical mandate for peace would, perhaps, not have been such a theoretical hurdle and a prolonged personal struggle.  The same is true of my understanding of the role of women.  If I were naturally chivalrous and loving, I suppose I would have paid more attention to a reading of Scripture that promotes these qualities. Continue reading “The Blindness of “Masculine” Biblical Interpretation and the Cure of a “Feminine” Orientation”

Recapturing Bonhoeffer’s Vision: Seminary as Radical Discipleship

With the rising cost in education, classical notions of education (liberal education aimed at character formation) are being squeezed out.  Seminary education (by which I mean any collegiate biblical education) has been especially hard hit.  Paul House, a seminary professor, describes the reigning questions tempting today’s seminaries: “How do we give our constituents whatever they want? Or, How do we sell degrees like any other commodity? Or, What brand of education pays well in a hurry? Or, How do we fit into the newest trend of educational technology? Or, How do we survive at all costs?”[1] He concludes that the age in which the seminary is able to produce a viable academic setting through a “good credentialed faculty” is passing as these questions come to dominate the course of seminary education.[2] Continue reading “Recapturing Bonhoeffer’s Vision: Seminary as Radical Discipleship”