And Nothing but the Whole Elephant

 

Jesus said to them, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you were from this world, the world would be fond of its own. But the world hates you for this reason: that you’re not from the world. No: I chose you out of the world.” John’s gospel account 15: 18-19

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From the many conversations I have had on Twitter, the word on the street is that “God is love and is all about love. We love, so we are doing what God accepts.” So, where does the world’s hate come in?

The hate spoken of in John’s gospel is generated by a protection of one’s place in the world against “outsiders”. Over and over again I have had that hatred and vitriol directed at me on Twitter. I cannot show you the Tweet replies. They are vulgar and pernicious. The replies come from a place beneath this world.

The hate-filled replies occur when I say something other than what is considered loving by those protecting their place in the world. Replies are derived from a worldview. And, one’s worldview depends on whether you accept being called out of this world knowing that that those in the world will hate you or if you are in this world for its approbation:

Called-Out Ones worldview: “For God so loved the world, that He gave…”

Social Justice Warrior (SJW) worldview: “For the world so loved me, when I…”

In order to make the world-accepted SJW worldview sustainable, mainstream churches create a Jesus who is palatable, marketable, consumable and renewable. The ministers do this by parsing Scripture into love notes. Their resultant Scripture messages, whether in a sermon or in a blog or on Twitter, remind me of a bag Valentine Sweethearts – candy hearts.

These churches promote “inclusion” because in a consumer-driven society, choice of how you live, choice of what you accept and who you accept, choice of right and wrong-choice becomes the ultimate approbation in this world.

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Coming to a church near you: a populist theology which promotes the acceptance of the gay lifestyle, universal health care and illegal immigration all as works of Christian charity from the pulpits of body-of-Christ-divisive politics (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.). This populist theology uses the high-sounding term “social justice” so as to neutralize detractor’s objections and to force a consensus, a groupthink around the premise of political correctness redefined as God’s love.

I encounter this populist theology every day now. If you are on Twitter “fighting the good fight”, you may receive the same replies from Catholics that I did. They go something like this:

1.       “God is love. I know many committed gay couples who love each other.”

2.      “Jesus never talked about sexuality or homosexuality, therefore it is a non-issue. If Jesus was concerned about homosexuality he would have said something.”

3.      “Jesus is about loving your neighbor. Jesus is not judgmental. Jesus is fully accepting, inclusive. He’s about loving the homosexual. Who are we to judge?” (from Pope Francis’, “Who am I to judge?”).

4.      “Loving your neighbor means universal healthcare. You are not charitable if you are against universal healthcare. You must be a Conservative who hates people.”

5.      “Jesus and Paul are not the same. Jesus is love and Paul is rules. Jesus is universal love. Paul, on the other hand, is a picayune fundamentalist and fundamentalists are authoritarians. Jesus would say “Live, love, eat, pray and let live.”

6.      “Jesus is social justice. He talked about helping the poor. Dorothy Day is a hero. Many of our heroes are beatified saints, saints who did good deeds while alive. Jesus demands good works from us. “Faith without works is dead”.”

7.      “Women are talking in church. Women are being ordained. Scripture is being updated and should be inclusive of homosexuality, as well.”

 

My first thought when I encountered these replies: “The Catholic church has done great harm to its charges by not teaching the whole of Scripture, the whole council of God.” Scripture has been defined down to a constructed abstraction of Jesus’ words.

One of the main reasons the populist theology has taken root in the Catholic and all (yes, all) of the mainline churches, I believe, is the lack of Scripture knowledge coupled with a deficit of personal faith-history. Deism is pervasive in the church: “God and His Word are far away from reality and not relevant to what I am experiencing”; “You don’t understand same-sex attraction. You can’t change me so, accept me for what I am.”

Post-modernist pop-theologians rightly question history and what has been passed down through millennia but without a sufficient regard for and knowledge of the discipline of the study of history – factual non-repeatable events. Their pick-and-choose history approach leads to utter confusion about who Jesus is, what happened the first century and to whether or not Jesus even existed. I have witnessed such dissociative history making on Twitter. Such groping at history and at Scripture reminds me of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant: each of the blind men encounter a different part of the elephant (trunk, tail, etc.) and then return home and proceed to project their ‘understanding’ of the elephant as the elephant while claiming the other five blind men must be mistaken. Blind_men_and_elephant2

Populist theology also has historical Leftist ties (“Unconstrained vision” is the term used by Economist Thomas Sowell to define the philosophy of the Left). Political philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau wrote, “man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.” Another philosopher, Marquis de Condorcet, believed that men in their natural state with a “natural inclination” would seek out the social good. For them, man’s nature was not the problem. Rather, institutions needed to be reformed so that man’s better nature would come out. Hence, pop-theology presses for reforms: the church must be reformed to help men to realize their better nature. “We are so much smarter now,” is the inference.

Enter the church’s “social justice” moment. And the “social justice” proffered is done under the guise of the common good but it is in reality a narrowing of focus down to subjective individual rights and individual happiness, in parallel with what is happening politically in Europe and the U.S. currently. The “common” part of their “common good” are those who share the same self-directed interests. Others must conform to their self-interests for the common good.

My second thought after reading the above replies: “It is time for another reformation – putting the Bible (again) into people’s hands and teaching them how to read it for themselves.”

It would seem that many of the above respondents view Scripture through the lens of a post-modern Epicurean Catholic world view, a worldview which replaces historical narrative (in this case, derived from the “faith once delivered”) with a relevant “social gospel” or populist theology promulgated as authentic Christianity. And with little knowledge of Scripture many Catholics are ‘falling’ for what they have been taught by the top-down government and media of the Catholic church and its social justice-primed priesthood.

When they do (see replies above) they end up with a Jesus who is fantasy blend of Dorothy Day, Ghandi, Mr. Rogers and a Democrat with a Jesus bleeding heart – an ends-justifies-the-means person. In other words, they end up not with a literal historical Jesus, but rather a figurative Jesus and one disposed to making you and your world feel good about doting on yourself. And, if you can get other people to dish out love and charity and “understanding” and, most importantly, cash, then you have done right by pseudo-Jesus.

Every self-designated Catholic I have encountered on Twitter appears to know little or nothing of Scripture. For them, it seems, raw Scripture, ‘unrefined’ by the Catholic priesthood, seems to be tied to evangelicals who are considered fundamentalists and therefore, presumptively, not connected with their Jesus’ all-assuming love. What they know and repeat is what a priest or Jesuit tells them, and their reply is usually about social justice, a catch-all for not being judged but for being loved.

Without making this post too long, here are some of my quick replies to the above points. Feel welcome to add yours in the comment section below.

1.      The plea bargaining “God is Love” defense is foiled when you define love, not in terms of codependence and sexuality, but as desiring the ultimate good for another. This of course leads to a definition of what is good. I reply with Jesus’s request of the Father, “Set them apart for yourself in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

2.   When someone says that Jesus never talked about homosexuality I remind them that Jesus’s mission was to the lost sheep of Israel, the ones who were supposed to be “a light to the Gentiles”. The Israelites knew the law, the Torah. The law forbids homosexuality. This was common knowledge in the first century. Jesus did not need to repeat it. Paul, on the other hand, an apostle to the Gentiles did need to speak about the matter (e.g., Rome, Ephesus, etc. had temples to pagan gods which involved all manner of sexual immorality.)

3.   Here we have justification by plea bargain. Jesus prays for his own that they will be sanctified, separate – taken “out of the world” worldview.

4.      If you know Scripture then you know that Jesus did not heal everyone in the world during his earthly time. He told us that we can do the same and greater things than he has done when filled with the spirit. Beyond the fact of outright healing, there is the matter of personal healthcare. Universal healthcare replaces a person’s personal responsibility for their health with a non-caring impersonal government bureaucracy. This costly tax-payer bureaucracy will need to control your behavior, your paycheck and the doctor’s practice to control costs. As such, it is loving to not desire socialized coverage.

5.      When I hear someone say that Jesus is Gospel and Paul is not relevant I remind them that Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus. In the fullness of time Jesus encountered Paul. I remind them that Paul right then and there became an eyewitness of Jesus and therefore an apostle. I remind them that Jesus sent Paul to be Jesus to the Gentiles – the heathen, the pagans, the unclean. I tell them that Paul wrote the theology of the newly established Kingdom of God on earth in his letters to the infant churches.

6.      I remind them that the gospel is “Jesus is Lord”. All else falls in line and in order under this proviso:  salvation, sanctification (called out of the world) and then social gospel (to affect the world under the direction of the Kingdom’s Lord.)

When Jesus tells the rich man “Sell all you have and give it to the poor” we understand the means to the rich man’s salvation: renunciation of his coveting relationship of wealth- a relationship which came between Jesus and the rich man, sanctification (separation from the love of his money and the hold it had on him) and then faith with works – a complete detachment from self-preservation- giving his wealth to the poor, a product of the new Kingdom focus.

7. Women vs. gay acceptance and Scripture: I remind them that there is a difference between culturally defined and morally defined. There is a difference between cultural practice and culturally-imposed taboos and doctrinal principles and God-directed temperantia-God’s ordered structure for the being of man. Paul wrote about the former in his letters to the church at Corinth. Anything perceived as ambiguous was directed back to a person’s Holy-Spirit directed conscious.

 

It is no secret that the Evil One’s mission from the very beginning is to ask, “Did God really say you couldn’t…?”

Pop-theology proposes to modernize and conform the church to be a welcoming inclusive place for whatever the prevailing winds of PC doctrine bring to the church’s door step. Be it known:  the called-out ones – the ecclesia – will remain faithful under the Lordship of Jesus.  The churches that wallow in the world will have their candlestick taken away. In the dark their mutual admiration society will be left grappling with elephant parts.

 

 

Added 10-4-17:

Onward Christian Fortresses?

 

Viewed from the six lane highway, the structure appears to be a brick fortress surrounded by acres of treeless grass and a vast moonscape of parking lot. The function without form building inspires no awe, no upward glance and no transcendent thought. The surrounding barren landscape contains no greenhouse, no food or flower gardens, no observatory and no animal shelter. There is nothing of nature’s bounty in my view, only the requisite shrubs to offset the stark landscape. Behold, another mega-church built to feed the souls of six thousand; another unadorned mega-church in a far western suburb of architecturally savvy Chicago.

Every other Saturday I visit someone several towns away. As I do I pass this mega-church going and coming, typically between 10 and 11:30 am. This Saturday, like all the other times before, I saw, again to my astonishment, that there were no cars in the parking lot. There was no activity whatsoever. I wondered at a stewardship that builds a Scripture fort surrounded by acres of asphalt parking that is to be filled only periodically by the six thousand. The transmutation of creation into an austere block complex hurt my soul to see. And, what about the transmutation of the six thousand?

As a child, I first attended a Baptist church and later, Bible/Free churches. Beauty was a no show at these churches. There were, of course, colorful Sunday school materials – what is considered Christian education resources – for the kids. And with a constant pamphlet diet – a three point sermon with alliteration – there was no hunger for intellectual activity. I observed, as did Mark Noll in his book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind“: The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” I saw extreme resistance to obtaining knowledge. The pews were there to be used, but scholarly books, not so much. It would not be too far off to say that understanding was gained by and strictly limited to what the Bible ‘teachers’, self-help pablum and popular seminars say the Bible says.

Over some fifty years I have heard the same bad theology passed down from generation to generation. Not once in the Bible church did I ever hear a sermon or a class talk about the Kingdom of God being here and now – a major thrust of the four Gospels. The sermons, to an Amen, were, “You need to get saved so you can get to heaven. If you are saved then you need to come forward to rededicate your life. Then you must think seriously about becoming a missionary. Everyone must get to heaven because this world will be judged harshly.” Imagine how our world would change if we prayed for and practiced “on earth as it is in heaven”, and prepared for the return of our King? He will be bringing heaven down to earth to join them together.

There was and is also the highly profitable Rapture fantasy series based on a mis-reading of the Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. And, of course, there is the teaching of a literal six-day creationism. Science must be eschewed as being antagonistic toward God and His Word. I learned otherwise on my own.

And, there is the constant reiteration of the mis-understanding of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Sadly, Romans, since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, has been reduced to a quirky systematic theology – all about us. Paul’s circular letter to the Christians in and around Rome speaks of God’s plan to redeem his creation. The letter is a well thought out dissertation reminding Jewish and gentile Christians in Rome of God’s covenantal faithfulness, his righteousness. It was meant to reinforce an Old Testament understanding of God’s plan for redeeming his creation that was in place all along.

I never heard this at church. Instead, I heard the four spiritual laws imposed onto Romans. And with this I was taught that God imputes – gives – his righteousness to me, sinner that I am. But, this thinking has no basis in Romans given its Scriptural context of Genesis 15 and the Abrahamic covenant. Regarding my righteousness: I am made righteous in the law court of God by God’s exercise of His covenant faithfulness and his desire to put the world to right.

I don’t recall anyone over those years, except for a few visiting professors, who seriously studied theology, N.T. Greek or Hebrew to understand the context of what was written. Often, the visiting seminary professors would reassert the same bad theology using highfalutin terms and out-of-context proof texts.

I have heard countless sermons based on poached verses to create a ‘relevant” topic to preach on Sunday mornings. Relevance and accommodation are apparently key to mega-ness. The mega-church I’ve mentioned offers two services: traditional and contemporary worship. As such, this church divides the Body of Christ into sects for mega-accommodation.

Am I jaded about the Evangelical church? After many years of being involved with these Bible churches, in some sense I am. That is perhaps why I can see the six thousand continuing to come back to the mega-church because it looks… bigly: “There has to be something for me inside this Yuge Assembly of Bricks Church.”

If the election of Donald Trump, supported by the many Evangelicals who voted for him tells you anything, and if the existence of the mega-church tells you anything it is that the Evangelical assembly line approach to Christianity must go onward. And, Bible fortresses must be built.

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A coincidence? I found this audio link on Twitter this morning:

Reflections on horrible preaching

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“The day-to-day services of the Christian churches are embarrassing reminders of the fact that religion is losing its sublime godwardness, and turning instead towards the world of mass production.”

― Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture

“Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as though it did not matter.” ―Roger Scruton, Beauty

What is revealed to me in the experience of beauty is a fundamental truth about being – the truth that being is a gift, and receiving it is a task. This is a truth of theology that demands exposition as such.” ― Roger Scruton, Face of God: the Gifford Lectures

“The point of Christian scholarship is not recognition by standards established in the wider culture. The point is to praise God with the mind. Such efforts will lead to the kind of intellectual integrity that sometimes receives recognition. But for the Christian that recognition is only a fairly inconsequential by-product. The real point is valuing what God has made, believing that the creation is as “good” as he said it was, and exploring the fullest dimensions of what it meant for the Son of God to “become flesh and dwell among us.” Ultimately, intellectual work of this sort is its own reward, because it is focused on the only One whose recognition is important, the One before whom all hearts are open.” ― Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind