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Tom Holland Was Wrong about Christianity

Not the British actor, by the way, but the British historian. I have no idea what Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man thinks about ethics and/or religion. But writer Tom Holland describes his epiphany in a recent article in The New Statesman:

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable….

Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.


Something You Can Do for Liberia’s Ebola Crisis

Care for One Hundred is a response to the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, especially Liberia. On August 13, 2014, the World Health Organization identified Liberia as the new epicenter of the crisis. That means that Liberia is the nation where the most new cases of Ebola are showing up.

Given the depressed Liberian economy, most Liberians subsist on one meal a day. We have calculated that for less than $0.35 a day we can provide one good meal of rice and beans. Provisions also will include oil and seasoning. For $1,000 USD we can Care for One Hundred for one month.

Bonhoeffer: Not a Conspirator After All?

Scot McKnight provides a brief summary of what sound like an intriguing book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking (BakerAcademic, 2013), by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel. The books thesis, as McKnight describes it, is that Bonhoeffer abandoned his former pacifist stance and became involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler, is not as ironclad as many think (and certainly as it was taught to me).

McKnight lays out the theory of Nation et al. and seems to find it compelling. He summarizes the book as follows:

I consider this book a successful challenge to the ruling paradigm that sees a major shift in Bonhoeffer from his idealism of Discipleship to a realist posture in Ethics. In other words, if you remember my first post on this (28 Oct), I’m glad I removed that section. I no longer think Bonhoeffer made a tragic mistake in entering into the conspiracy and so shifted from his pacifism because I’m not convinced he entered into the conspiracy. Bonhoeffer may well have sustained his pacifism.

I’d love to hear what anyone who has read the book has to say about it.

It Looks Like a Serpent, Obviously

… because a moral gerrymander isn’t all that different from a political one.

Basic Christian Decency 101

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. (Acts 10:34-35)

Just sayin’.

Prepare to Be Discouraged

If you don’t want anything to upset your Christmas spirit (or your faith in humanity), please click away.

A church’s decision to ban a couple from its congregation, simply because their skin color is different, has cut through the heart of a Pike County community.

Suzie Harville, who is engaged to a black man originally from Zimbabwe, is no longer welcome at the church. Neither is her fiancée, Tichna Chikuni.

Some members of Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church voted Sunday to prohibit interracial couples from joining their church. They’re welcomed to attend, just not so welcomed to stick around for too long.

I cannot express how infuriating this story is. It is a blatant and premeditated repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I lived in Pike County, Kentucky, I would be willing to sue this whites-only organization to remove the word “church” from their name, because they are clearly anything but.

But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! (Col 3:8-11)

Kyrie eleison.



Is the Sermon on the Mount Gospel?

I think I already knew this, but I’m glad Scot McKnight expressed it so well:

Here Jesus rises to the mountain — surely an echo of Moses giving the Torah from Mt Sinai — to reveal God’s will for God’s people of the new creation. The first thing that strikes the reader of this Sermon is its profound christology: the Sermon is Christology on Steroids. The reader (or listener) comes away thinking, “Do I want to give myself to this Jesus?”

In this Sermon, Jesus who reverses all expectations of who is “in” and who is “out,” because Jesus points to people groups who are marginalized and says “The King’s kingdom includes these people.” Jesus says, “No, your way of classifying people is wrong. There’s a new way in my kingdom.” It’s very gospel like for Jesus to assume the posture of the New Moses and to begin classifying people all over again. Then Jesus, in essence, issues his mission: my followers, he says, are to be light and salt, one to the Gentiles and one to the Jews (?) (5:13-16).

Then Jesus utters what has to be one of the most gospel-ish statements in the whole Bible. I quote the words.

Matt. 5:17       “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.a 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Now if the gospel is what Paul says it is in 1 Cor 15:3-5, then the gospel is a message about Jesus, a message that claims Jesus fulfills Israel’s hopes (and the divine plans for the cosmos) …. and that is exactly what Jesus does here: Jesus claims in public that he is is the fulfillment of Israel’s Torah and Prophets. That’s gospeling. We have too many diminishing Christ in order to make this stuff Law, or too many who diminish Christ to make this a global vision for global justice. First comes christology, everything else follows. If we get christology right, we get everything else right. Get it wrong, and the whole thing falls apart.

The entirety of Matthew 5:21-48 illustrates that very claim by Jesus: those snippets on vows and lust and divorce and loving your enemies are not morals but Messianic claims on messianic people. Jesus is King and this is how the King’s people live in the King’s kingdom. We dare not delete the king and grab his morals; this only works when we attach ourselves to the King and let the King shape how we live.

I could go on, but will leave that to you. The Sermon on the Mount, folks, is pure gospel because it proclaims Jesus (not just morals and Torah). This is why the Sermon ends with an invitation: take up my yoke, it is saying, and follow me. Jesus sketches his vision for his people and invites us to turn from our current way of life and give ourselves to him and to his kingship.

Every Church Has Its Thing

Why isn’t the thing love?

If I study my Bible every day and have private devotions, but have not love, I am nothing. If I tithe to the church, and support good charities, but have not love, I gain nothing. If I pray day and night, and join the choir, and worship every time the church opens her doors, but have not love, it is nothing. If I teach Sunday school, and serve as a church officer, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Thanks, Weekend Fisher, for asking such good questions

Random Thought

Jesus’ enemies denounced him as a friend of sinners. He never denied the charge. In fact he augmented it: “I’ve come for people who are sick, not those who are healthy.”

It seems to me we do a disservice to Jesus and diminish the amazingness of grace when we take sin out of this equation. Yes, Jesus was a friend of folks who couldn’t keep up with all the religious rules, people who were mistreated and scorned by the hyper-scrupulous majority, people who were deemed “sick” because of factors beyond their control.

But Jesus was also a friend of adulterers, prostitutes, tax cheats, insurrectionists, and pagan idolators (like the centurion). At least once, after pouring out his unmerited, compassionate grace upon one such person, he said, “Go, and sin no more.”

It’s relatively easy to befriend misunderstood minorities or oppressed people, especially if you’ve been a victim of oppression, too. But to acknowledge that someone is destroying his or her soul through immoral behavior, to see the brokenness of their lives (whether we prefer to call it addiction, compulsive behavior, or simple depravity) and then turn around and love them unconditionally anyway? I’m not sure we have the courage or the creativity to do that. At least, I’m not entirely sure that I do.

Kyrie eleison.

Columbus Day Reading: The People and the Black Book

Whatever else you do this Columbus Day, please read this column by Mark Buchanan. Please.

“It must be hard for you,” I said to the First Nations people, “to believe that salvation has come to my house when I refuse to repent of behavior that’s harmed you deeply. It must be hard to believe the Bible and its Good News when white people have had it for so long but don’t seem any better for it.”