As I read the posts on social media and the cultural commentary from all sides, it seems to me there are four primary heresies-- Four Horsemen of the Post-truth Apocalypse, to borrow an image from Revelation-- that are destroying authentic Christianity "from the inside out" during these days:
Recently I did a teaching on three ways of relating the universal Love of God to the particular work of Christ in a pluralistic culture: Exclusivism, Pluralism, and Inclusivism.
For Christians, these three ways of relating Christ to world religions is based on our understanding of what the Incarnation of Christ accomplished, and how we read the Biblical texts that point to this Incarnation event. As we read the Bible, a Key Interpretive Question is this: Which set of texts are given primacy in interpretation? Will we allow texts of limitation to interpret and restrict texts of universal Love and Salvation, or will we allow the universal texts to expand and fulfill the horizon of the texts of exclusion and limitation?
This is the best thought piece on the Religious Right, by a member of the Religious Right, that I have read in years (or watched). Russell Moore represents what is best in that tradition, and I found myself nodding in agreement more often than I frowned in disapproval. The whole thing is worth the hour of time invested in it. Yet, despite large swaths of my sympathy, there are three areas where I think he gets it wrong:
I am working on a teaching about modes of prayer in the spiritual life. I'm trying to come up with a way to help people find the presence of God in all kinds of activities, not just the verbal prayers we might pray alone or together. So, here is a chart I worked up for teaching, along with six rhyming words which describe six modes of prayer.
The definitive guide to crushing opponents on social media
Are you tired of stupid people clogging up you newsfeed with their inane ideas, stupid memes, and useless tirades? Do you want to destroy their stupidity without getting locked into endless battles of point-counterpoint? Well, if you desire to quickly and decisively win arguments on Facebook, comments sections, and other social media, just follow these five tried-and-true steps:
This summer a friend asked me a great question about how Evolution and Original Sin can relate to each other. To get to my answer, I must first do a little theological back filling to set the stage for the question. First, I accept evolution as the means by which God "creates" life, although I would prefer to say that evolution is the self-expression of infinite Divine potential in space and time. If I were to bet, I would bet that the universe is actually a multiverse, in which every universe exists that can actualize at least one unique good as it evolves. This seems to be the kind of reality that would best actualize God's infinite possibility, although what I'm about to say would work in a singular universe as well.
Idea: Let's stop politicizing the Holiday Season and wish people whatever greetings convey hospitality the best in the given circumstance. And if we feel the need to be exceedingly theologically correct, let's wish people "Happy Hanukkah" (since that is what Jesus celebrated this time of year, cf. John 10:22), or "Blessed Advent" (since that is what Jesus' Church has celebrated this time of year for the last 17 centuries), and save "Merry Christmas" for December 25th and 12 days after, since those are the actual days of Christmastide. Or, alternately, just wish people whatever Holiday greeting best conveys "loving your neighbor as yourself" in any particular circumstance. Since, after all, that idea of loving your neighbor was the most important thing to Jesus, and if we want to honor Jesus, perhaps we should do what he asked us to (cf. Matthew 22.35-40). With that in mind, have a blessed and fruitful Advent y'all!
Nietzsche once wrote "Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster". It seems that in our culture all sides tend to make those we disagree with into enemies. Then we make our enemies into monsters. And then we become monsters while fighting them, filled with constant rage and indignation and anxiety and blame. And soon, if we do not stop it, we will all reap the consequences of the monsters we have created and become.
Today I was doing some reading on Indian philosophy, and in particular on the ideas of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna who argued powerfully that the ultimate source of the empirical world is "emptiness" which cannot be fully identified with, nor fully distinct from, the chain of causality (or dependent origination) which upholds the empirical world. For Nagarjuna this emptiness cannot be identified with either existence or non-existence, because both of these states of (non)being are contingent on a whole host of other causes. And emptiness as such is ontologically distinct from the entire contingent world of dependent origination, and hence the ultimate emptiness which grounds the world cannot be said to exist or not exist in any meaningful sense. Thus it is erroneous to think of ultimate reality as a "being" that (a) exists, or (b) doesn't exist, or (c) exists and doesn't exist, or as (d) neither existing or not existing. In short, no categories apply meaningfully to describe the ultimate reality that grounds the world, and thus this reality is purely "empty".
Just a quick thought: Calling people Nazis does not make them want to stop acting like Nazis. You know who else was called "Nazi" and yet kept acting like Nazis? Actual Nazis.
Calling someone a Nazi-- like calling someone a Libtard, or a Fascist, or any other derogatory name-- identifies that person or group of people as totally encapsulated in a certain negative identity. It no longer treats them as human. It no longer provides any room for them to repent and change. It demeans them and imprisons them in a shameful label, and tells them that "you are just THIS and can never be any other". And most people, when labeled thus, live into the label. At some level, consciously or unconsciously, they say "OK, if you are going to demean me with that label, I will turn it into a badge of honor, and I will be more [insert label] than you can possibly imagine".
Two kinds of Bible readers are invincibly ignorant, and have no idea how to understand what the Bible says, because they cannot see past their own ideology. The first kind are those religious fundamentalists who cherry pick the Bible's commands to justify their own ideology. The second kind are secular fundamentalists who cherry pick the Bible's absurdities to justify their own desire for the Bible to say nothing at all. Only those who sit with the Bible, listening as one might listen to a grandparent telling old family stories of joy and woe, are able to discern the deep currents of God at work in the messiness of history and culture. Religious fundamentalists present nice, clean, sanitary, pre-packaged answers to all of life's questions, while secular fundamentalists present self-satisfied, shallow, privileged satire of cultures and texts they will never comprehend. Beyond the mirror image fundamentalisms of left and right is a deeper way of discerning a trajectory in Scripture which leads to life, love, and justice. What Martin Luther King said about history is true of Scripture as well: The moral arc of history is long (and messy), but it trends toward justice.
It seems lately that a bunch of folks from all sides want other folks to accept certain ideas and events as "facts" without explanation or debate. Trump folks want everyone to shut up and accept the election without question or protest. Progressives want folks to accept diversity without question as a social fact, and delegitimize anyone who disagrees as either ignorant or prejudiced or both. Scientists want folks to accept evolution and global climate change as fact and ignore young earth creationists and climate change deniers. Inerrantists want folks to accept a certain read of the Bible as the way Reality works without being questioned by secularism or other religions.
For those who do not know me, I push myself hard in many areas of life. I generally like doing "hard things" that trigger the desire to perform within me. From preaching, to teaching, to writing long essays, to lifting heavy weights, I generally delight in doing things that many people find difficult or strenuous. And before I go on, let me make it clear that there are plenty of things I am bad at too. I hate administrative things, paying bills, balancing accounts, making beds in the morning, doing dishes, going to bed at a reasonable hour, waking up early, etc. So suffice it to say, I tend to perform in front of people, and get lazy behind the scenes. So, I've got a lot of growing to do.
But, one of my more effective hobbies is lifting weights. I'm good at it, for my age and build. I pick heavy things up. I put them down. Usually in the solitude of my garage with loud music playing. I don't injure myself often, but when I do, it is memorable. One of those occasions was last night.
Recently Bizarro reposted the 2013 cartoon shown above in response to the 2016 kerfuffle over the price hikes in the EpiPen (access to which can be an actual life or death issue for people with severe allergies). In response, a good friend of mine who is a staunch defender of free market libertarianism sent me this National Review article and asked for my response.
So, I wrote the following response which gave me a chance discuss the moral value of economics. This is something I've been meaning to do for a while. I don't write or teach systematically about the intersection of theology and economics, so this gave me the opportunity to organize some preparatory thoughts from my perspective as a professional pastor, and a very amateur economist.
First, a note on Bizarro comic I posted. What I find interesting-- and why I posted it-- is because these Big Pharma stories are so endemic and systemic. They regularly occur. And even the comic itself was written in 2013. So whatever is going on, we keep coming back to it like Groundhog's day.
A Plea to All Theological Nerds (like myself) for Trinity Sunday:
I think much of the reason why we don't talk about the Trinity more is due to insider backbiting. Clerics and Scholars who think they have a handle on the Trinity have a habit of being snide, backbiting, and, well, bitchy, toward anyone who does not talk about the Trinity using their preferred formulae, metaphor, analogy, or lack of analogy. If you speak in the language of Eastern Orthodoxy, the Westerns gripe. If you speak in Western Augustinian terminology the Easterns gripe. If you use economic language, you get accused of denying the immanent Trinity. If you use immanent or essentialist language, you get accused of hellenizing and philosophizing the Biblical narrative.
If you use a folksy analogy, people from both sides will find a heresy that they think best fits your analogy, even if that is intentionally not what you tried to imply. And God forbid you should try and reframe the Trinity using any philosophical categories birthed in the Enlightenment or after. And if you describe the Trinity in a way that is long enough and nuanced enough to placate (most) of the Theo-haters, then the 98% of people who are non-specialists will (rightly) complain that your explanation is unnecessarily complex and confusing. And yet, if you don't talk about the Trinity and choose something that most people can relate to, you get called a heretic, Arian, or even worse, Joel Olsteen.
So, perhaps in our efforts to describe and explain the Trinity we should exercise the very thing that God is, the very thing that Christ embodied, namely: Love. While I absolutely believe that some descriptions of the Trinity are closer to The Truth than others, all are necessarily limited, incomplete, and flawed. And when we meet God face to face we will all find out how wrong we are, despite our best attempts to be accurate. So perhaps in humility and Love we could cut each other some theological slack, and gently suggest fuller understandings to those who seem to lack important aspects of Trinitarian understanding.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.