Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for December, 2015

Everybody knows that a few weeks ago, Jerry Falwell, Jr. made some rather controversial statements about gun ownership and self-defense to the students of Liberty University. A few people know that yesterday, John Piper responded with a lengthy nine-point rejoinder that comes within a hair’s breadth of absolute pacifism — although Dr. Piper did stop short of such a position by noting that the State at least bears the power of the sword, and by conceding the existence of (unspecified) “situational ambiguities.”

I have been thinking a lot about the phrase “they’ll know we are Christians by our means” lately. Are American Christians formed foremost by Americanism, or by the Way of Christ?

There is a caricature afoot of the history of how Islam spread: i.e. by the sword and nothing but the sword. That is a woefully incomplete picture. Islam spread by a combination of eloquent proclamation of the gospel according to Muhammad, shrewd diplomacy, and the sword — the three means used variously, as expedient.

You could say that the gospel of Liberty, United States Version (USV), has spread by a similarly expedient combination of means: proseletyzing (America as the “city on a hill,” anyone?); shrewdness (e.g. the purchases of Louisiana and Florida); and the sword (the armed displacement of First Nations at the beginning, numerous overseas interventions lately, in between and more controversially, the Civil War).

So even though Piper exceeds reason in a few places (especially the section about defense of family), I find it totally refreshing to see an American evangelical Christian carefully untangling American means of gospel-spreading from the Scriptural ones.

The early Church seems really to have been marked uniquely by its particular reliance on testimony — the testimony of words, mercies, and lives laid down literally and figuratively — occasionally on shrewd diplomacy; never the sword. The apostles spent much of the book of Acts in want and danger, and as targets of persecution, and they didn’t once get out the sword.

What clear, startling testimony that is. That is a kingdom not from the world.

Read Full Post »

A collaborative work

When American religious freedom — supported by the First Amendment pillars of free exercise and non-establishment — comes crashing down, it will not be the work of Muslims, LGBTs, New Atheists, or Marxists. It will be an unintentional collaborative work of those paranoid Christian conservatives who cannot distinguish religious non-establishment from persecution, and apostate Christian liberals whoring after the applause of the world.

Read Full Post »

One final word on the Wheaton controversy: Increasingly, the controversy generated around this looks to me like an attack on the right of an evangelical college to define and maintain its doctrinal boundaries. Hence the consistent accusation that Wheaton College acted from a bad (and legally suspect) motive — “enmity toward Muslims” — rather than a consistent, honorable, and legally protected one — i.e. concern for doctrinal orthodoxy.

I have not yet seen actual evidence proffered that the Wheaton administrators acted from the legally suspect motive rather than the legally protected one. No matter. If you re-publish the narrative often enough, people will believe it. Evidence not necessary.

PPS. I am grateful that at least one major newspaper, The Chicago Tribune, gets it.

PPPS. I haven’t mentioned this, but it absolutely should be acknowledged and applauded: I have not seen or heard even a whiff of accusation** against Wheaton College from Dr. Larycia Hawkins herself. On the proposition “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” I would argue the negative, Dr. Hawkins the affirmative — but she has shown kindness, consideration, and affection toward those with whom she disagrees:

A holy kiss to you who disavow the idea that Muslims & Christians worship the same God: I love you. Peace & respect.

Thank you, Dr. Hawkins. And the peace of Christ to you.

** UPDATE: That was true when I posted this in December 2015. By January 2016 it had become less true. Dr. Hawkins’s accusations against Wheaton were certainly not the most pointed or inflammatory accusations I saw, but they were accusations, and they were public. The extent of their truth I am not in a position to judge.

As to the peace following the Hawkins-Wheaton settlement of differences, it was an awkward, uneasy peace.

Read Full Post »

In my last post I took exception to Miroslav Volf’s unsupported accusation that Wheaton College’s action in placing Larycia Hawkins on administrative leave was “not about theology and orthodoxy,” but “enmity toward Muslims.”

Comes now Mr. Brian McLaren, who takes that accusation and gives it another run through the spin cycle:

The hostile rhetoric of presidential candidates – much of it spewed out to impress the “Evangelical base” of the Republican Party – seems to have swayed college administrators from their professed theology, which at Christmas should remind us all that God is in solidarity with all humanity, all creation …

Dr. Volf had set forth — with no evidence — an alleged motive for Wheaton’s action: enmity toward Muslims. Now Mr. McLaren sets forth the source of that enmity: the college administrators were “swayed . . . from their professed theology” by “the hostile rhetoric of presidential candidates.” I’m not holding my breath to see Mr. McLaren present actual evidence for that claim.

Is it so impossible to suppose that the Wheaton College administrators placed Dr. Hawkins on leave for saying “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” not because they were “swayed from . . . their professed theology,” but because — I dunno — they believed it? 

If Wheaton affirms the Incarnation — a mystery that Muslims flatly deny, and Christians adore — and then also affirms that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God,” Wheaton is equivocating about whether it believes in God’s supreme act of “solidarity with all humanity, all creation.”

Read Full Post »

Recently Larycia Hawkins, a professor of political science at Wheaton College, claimed that “Muslims and Christians worship the same God” — a statement which, in the estimation of Wheaton’s administration, contradicted the college’s statement of faith. Dr. Hawkins, in defending the orthodoxy of her claim, cited Yale theology professor Miroslav Volf as authority. The Wheaton administration was unconvinced: it placed Dr. Hawkins on administrative leave.

This morning, Miroslav Volf himself waded into this controversy by publishing the following indictment of the Wheaton administrators:

There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’s forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims. More precisely, her suspension reflects enmity toward Muslims, taking on a theological guise of concern for Christian orthodoxy.

And what, exactly, is the evidence for the charge? Volf’s essay gives none. For example, Volf provides no evidence that other Wheaton professors had claimed that “Mormons and Christians worship the same God” or “Jews and Christians worship the same God” without consequence. Nor does Volf provide direct evidence of actual enmity — e.g. inflammatory statements about Islam made by Wheaton administrators. Volf’s general statement that “[m]any Christians today see themselves at war . . . with Islam,” and his allusion to Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s recent asinine comments about “ending” certain Muslims, do not count as evidence against Wheaton.

Which means that Volf is mind-reading the Wheaton administrators — and interpreting their minds by a hermeneutic of suspicion — unless the claim that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God is plainly flimsy and pretextual.

But is it? Let’s play a game of identify-that-character: Say Jack is married to a dark-eyed brunette named Jane, whose nature is reserved, and whose conversation is plain, precise and rationalist. Then say that one day, Jack bumps into his old friend Jim, and Jim congratulates Jack on marrying someone as lovely as Jane — commenting on Jane’s strawberry blond hair, bright blue eyes, gregarious nature, and expansive, vivid conversation, full of jests, half-meanings and double entendres. Would Jack be inclined to accept the man’s congratulations? Would he think, “how interesting that two perspectives on the same woman can be so different”? I doubt it. More likely, Jack would tell Jim, simply, “there must be some mistake.”

Now let’s play another round: Say there’s a another man named John, for whom the testimony “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth” is the thing that moves him to wonder and worship. Say the story of Christ being slain and raised and made alive evermore, and having the keys of Death and Hades, is the story that keeps John afloat amidst all the troubles of the world. And then say John’s friend Amaar comes along and said, “we worship the same God! But all that stuff about the Trinity and Incarnation is incoherent, polytheistic and vulgar.” Why would John’s response to Amaar be any different than Jack’s response to Jim?

If the homeliness, grittiness and fleshliness of the Incarnation, Nativity, Passion and Resurrection are essential parts of the Christian story of God and the world, and if Christians adore these mysteries and hold that they reveal the essential character of God, then Christians cannot “worship the same God” as people who flatly deny that God ever did any such things.

It isn’t hateful to say so. No daggers need be drawn over it — and the Christian story supplies plenty of reasons why the Christian should leave his dagger sheathed, or at home. Dr. Volf himself states the chief reasons at the conclusion of his article: that God “justifies the ungodly” and commands us to love our enemies.

“Enmity demands exclusivity.” But does it follow — especially in a world where God commands love to enemies — that exclusivity demands enmity?

Read Full Post »