How did we get “wedge issues?”

In American politics, we call them “wedge issues.” These days, it can be just about anything. But, generally, it’s throwing something out there for “discussion” that won’t get discussion because the person throwing it out knows everyone has a pre-fabricated response.

Gay Marriage
Racism
Poverty
Immigration
Abortion

Wedge issues.

When did we get “wedge issues?” 1970s, when Roe v. Wade was decided?

I would really invite all believers to read N.T. Wright’s challenging book Surprised by Scripture. (He takes on Christian wedge issues there, like women in ministry and more.) His last few chapters are challenging in regards to how we see the founding of the United States and how western Europe in general has been since the Enlightenment.

Wedge issues, in his view, didn’t start in the last few decades for Americans. They started from the founding. The “Enlightenment settlement”, as Wright calls it, allows for “Christian witness” in some arenas, but shuts it off in other arenas. The contract we signed? The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. His argument is the church is told to step back from public life and do its own thing in private.

Again, it comes from the Epicurean philosophy our founding Fathers, especially ones like Jefferson, followed: God exists, but he’s a long way off. The world will now get along under its own steam.

The church can “purchase its independence by colluding with the implied pagan philosophy.” So, people get their “private religion” and can practice as they choose, but leave the spirituality behind when the “big people” issues on how the system runs are discussed.

Then delivers this bomb:

I suspect that one of the reasons why the creation/evolution debate generates to much heat in America — far more than anywhere else — is that people can hear all the overtones, social, cultural, and political, that it throws off. The idea of God having anything to do with the ongoing process of the world flies in the face of all that Western culture has stood for — including Western Christian culture.

And this:

Have we fostered a culture in which the lordship and teachings of Jesus, for instance about poverty or human dignity or war, have been honored, studied, taught and practiced? Or have we been content — as so many Christians on both sides of the Atlantic have been content — to drift with this or that prevailing political wind, to trim our sails so that only one or two real distinctives are left, related perhaps to sexual and family life, only then to complain when the principalities and powers, having quietly gained our cooperation in other spheres, such as rampant individualism and the neoliberal vision of the good life that goes with it, now come to attack those last remaining strongholds?

Is it possible America didn’t “fall” with the Supreme Court decision about gay marriage, or Roe v. Wade, but the church abdicated some responsibility leading into the very founding of a nation we thought we could call “Christian?”

Honestly, read Wright’s book. It’s a LOT more to dive into than just this simple post!

The immense value of the Church

I am enjoying a bit more time for reading, so this summer I am revisiting some recent gems I’ve read on ecclesiology. I walked through Simon Chan’s Liturgical Worship last week. This week it is Exploring Ecclesiology by Harper and Metzger. Chan is a Pentecostal while Harper and Metzger are evangelical. Their journey helps me frame my own journey.

In my own “tribe” we are poor on ecclesiology. The church has become something that caters to my needs. As I pastor, I am supposed to go find out what people outside the walls need in the way of a service (and services) to come darken the doors of my church building. If I, as a believer, don’t find a church that “meets my needs,” I am free to wonder on to the next one.

The church as a unit, a body, a family, just simply has escaped us as evangelicals. Maybe we like our church, meaning the one we try to get to on a Sunday, but often we have no idea what it means to love the Church, the Body of Christ. As a matter of fact, if we can somehow detach ourselves from it, and then make fun of it, all the better. The more angst driven we are about the Church, the better it plays on social media.

But we need the Body. Just as we need the Head, the Head needs the Body. You don’t get to worship a “head” sitting on a table.

So, as I work my way through Harper and Metzger’s book, I will probably put up some interesting quotes from them.

For today:

The church becomes the new family unit because it is God’s family unit, God’s household, and God dwells in its midst… Jesus shares his name with us and makes the church a dwelling place in which God dwells through his Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16).

Idolatry 2.0

I am working my way through part of NT Wright’s work, Surprised by Scripture, and his chapter on Western gods called “Idolatry 2.0″ is a fascinating read.

His contention is the Enlightenment re-introduced Epicurean thought through men like Jefferson. Tired of the antics of the Church in the medieval period, the thought of God being “there” but far off was appealing all over again. They were tired of the angry god theory, so they shoved him off on a shelf.

With the rise of science, Wright’s contention is that science isn’t evil. What Epicurean thought introduced, though, was scientism. The world has autonomy, so God doesn’t have much to say much about science.

Or politics, for that matter. Get rid of the divine right of kings and let democracy develop its own way. Of course, that belief has the assumption that when countries elsewhere in the world throw off their old dictators they would naturally want to be Western-styled democracies. When that doesn’t happen, and it really hasn’t happened (think “Arab Spring”), then western civilization is left scratching its head.

In Wright’s view, scientism and political autonomy have given birth to secularism, the dominant motif of the West, especially the United States. Because of the underlying roots of Epicurean thought, secularism still has that “bad taste” in its mouth about an “angry god” so secularism works to shove religiosity from American culture. Get “god talk” out of the public square. Conduct all of life (politics, science, even marriage) as though all that exists is simply visible. No big scary thing out there to worry about.

But what happens when you create a vacuum? The saying goes “nature abhors a vacuum.” You can push God, or gods, upstairs and out of sight, but history shows again and again when you try that, other gods quietly sneak in to take their place.

The “big three” for Wright are these: Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite. We have the god of war (or power), along with money and sex.

We’ve come to think of sex as simply a “life force” one can’t resist. Christopher Hitchens, preeminent atheistic priest, once said one should never pass up an opportunity to appear on television or to have sex. Even unnamed, Aphrodite is served by millions.

We think money fixes everything. Even those who don’t like evil capitalists and think the government can solve all our problems still need one thing as their catalyst: MORE MONEY. The problem with schools? Lack of funding. The problem with poverty? Lack of funding. The problem with (just insert anything here)? Lack of funding. It’s MONEY.

If a nation is trouble (like Greece today), it’s a matter of shoring up their financial system and moving on.

We bow to Mars as well. Got a terror problem? Send in the drones. Got a church shooting problem? Let the congregation start packin’!

Try and solve something by forgiveness and reconciliation? Get a life! Just shoot someone!

Aphrodite, Mammon, and Mars are present and powerful. They are even more powerful because they go largely unrecognized. That’s what makes a stronghold a stronghold. You don’t recognize it. If we did see it, the ugliness would be so horrifying we would actually work to get it out.

So, while society has tried hard to rid itself of the Christian God, they have instead welcomed in other gods. And those are the big ones. Wright names others as well.

And this, my friends, is called being “progressive.”

But it’s simply idolatry dressed up in a new skin.

Principles for “loving the neighbor”

The second part of basic discipleship I will be dealing with at my church today is loving the neighbor. I am preaching a series through Luke 10-11 on four basic principles of discipleship. This week is about the parable of the Good Samaritan.

There are three basic principles (and I think they are adapted in some way from something I heard Tim Keller say awhile back) help guide my life as to what it means to “love.”

1. Loving you means I bring you no harm. I am not out to “get” you, trick you, manipulate you. I don’t want anything but God’s best in your life and that means I don’t bring you harm, no matter how deep the disagreement may seem in the beginning.

2. Loving you means as much as in my power I don’t allow other to bring you harm. If I need to stand to physically protect you in some way, I will. If I need to stand up to make sure someone doesn’t bring verbal harm, I will. If I can keep others from bringing harm, I will be there.

3. Loving you means I desire to bring God’s best into your life. My life in Christ is so radically different than before, and I follow such a powerful King who is abundant, I want to bring the abundance of the Kingdom with me. I will speak the truth in love, only desiring what is Kingdom best for you. It is not up to me to manipulate you or fear your rejection. In fact, you can reject the offerings of blessing I may bring. But it doesn’t change my sincere love for you. I will still be there. You’re not a project to me. You’re a person. I’ll keep on living as well out of Kingdom goodness as I can, and it will be up to you to tell me to take a hike. Until then, I’m there.

We are called to a radical love in this world. Our King has given us abundant power to live in this freedom. It is without fear. It is without manipulation. This is one of the lessons of loving the neighbor out of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

The so-called wall of separation between church and state

Dallas Willard crushes the “wall of separation” argument when it comes to the First Amendment.

The First Amendment is about something Congress (and, as interpreted by the the Supreme Court and state governments) cannot do. It is not about what Christian should not do. We now live under the influence of a gigantic myth about a “wall of separation” between “church and state,” a phrase that appears nowhere in the Constitution. It is a metaphor that describes one theory of the First Amendment… The phrase may have some value in its suggestion of an institutional separation of church and state, but (my emphasis follows) it is positively demonic when it is interpreted to require separation between religious morality and the state

Think of a world without the incredible work of William Wilberforce, who ended slavery in Great Britain without a war, or the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Think of the United States, even in our mixed up views of racism now, without the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. What if these people had been forced to separate their Christian morality from their demands on the state?

…the crucial importance of Christlike leadership is found in the blessed lives of those citizens who provide knowledge, insight, and guidance, by God’s grace and for his purposes and ends in our world.

Quotes are taken from The Divine Conspiracy Continued, p. 194

What is Freedom?

I am working my way through The Diving Conspiracy Continued by Dallas Willard and Gary Black, Jr. It is a continuation of Willard’s work, but moving into the realm of society.

He has a chapter called “Economics and Politics” and describes the difficulty of even defining the word “freedom.”

1. I am “free” only if no one is telling me what to do or preventing me from doing what I want. 

2. I am “free” only if I am actually able to achieve what I want to achieve.

3. I am “free” only if I am able to achieve what is good,  and that which is most conducive to the fullness of my life or the realization of my potential toward the highest and best result.

Personally, I think Americans are infatuated with #1.

The power of forgiveness in Charleston mystifies our culture

On and on the pundits go, on the left and on the right, as to how something about that act of forgiveness the family members of the shooting in Charleston extended to the killer isn’t right!

It’s not a matter of some “order” to forgive. It’s not a matter of the killer accepting it. It is about the power to forgive. And no conservative or liberal outside the grace of Jesus Christ really seems to get it. (At least not anyone with a computer and blog to post.)

This article gives a great explanation for the power of forgiveness and is worth the time to read.

A couple of key thoughts from the author:

I do not think I could forgive Roof. Forgiveness is not a burden I would place on anyone in the situation of those families. We should reject all calls from those who wish to sweep under the rug the culture and systems of racism that infect people like Roof. We should reject all calls to make excuses for the evil Roof actively embraced and acted upon. He was no passive actor. He was more than simply a result of cultural, economic, or social circumstances. He had agency. And his actions were evil.

But we should also reject all calls to strip the agency and dignity from the mourning families as well. I am not mature enough in the faith to so quickly pass the burden of judgment to God. But I am inspired by those family members to grow in that direction. I am a Christian because of the black church and black faith. When I was far from God, it was the unashamedly Christian black culture, movies, and music of people like Lauryn Hill and Fred Hammond that introduced me to Jesus. It is the black church that so consistently embodies the confounding, radical love of Jesus. What other American community today displays less shame, less reservation, less self-awareness about proclaiming the Christian faith? I will not turn the Bride of the living Christ into a cultural artifact.

We have so much to learn, and these precious families can teach us. But they are doing it without shouting, without the normal trappings of “protest,” without a lot of things we are used to these days. Are we listening?