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Liberalism as Atmosphere

October 10, 2014

Liberalism brings a complicated mixture of good truths, deeply embedded assumptions, and attractive dangers. And since it does, in fact, offer some good truths, it can be difficult to see its assumptions and dangers. (N.B. As always, I use the term “liberalism” in its original sense, the sense in which Reagan, Bush, Limbaugh and Beck are all liberals along with Clinton, Obama, etc.)

The problem is that here in America, we are all brought up inside liberalism the same way a deep ocean fish lives its whole life in the sea. Such a fish has no concept of anything other than the watery world it knows. The water is its very atmosphere. In fact, as CS Lewis pointed out, fish don’t feel wet. Such a fish does not think, “I love being under water.” It only thinks, “This is the world.” Imagine the fish was intelligent and could understand human speech. If one were to try to explain life out here in the air and on land, the fish would find it very difficult to understand. And if it ever ends up out of the water, it will have no categories for understanding the experience–it’ll just freak out.

That’s what it’s like sometimes, trying to get liberals to imagine a good world beyond liberalism. Of course, they can imagine things outside of liberalism, but only evil, Mordor-like regimes. The only good world they can envision is one where “peace” comes through the protection of superior force, capitalism blesses the industrious with material prosperity, and so on. And since that is the height of their imagination of the good life in a good world, they reason that it must be what God wants. And so the Bible is made to read as a formula for a modern, western, liberal society.

But what if the good world the Bible pictures is not like any of those concocted by the men of this world? What if the kingdom of God really is something wholly different (John 18:36)? Perhaps Isaiah 2:2-5 might give us a better picture:

Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.
Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

‘Ahhhhh,’ says the liberal Christian, ‘But this is talking about the future (millennial?) reign of God over the earth, and does not address our present world. For now, it just makes for a nice inscription on a wall at the UN.’Isaiah 2 at UN
Fine. Let us say that this Isaiah passage describes the future kingdom to be realized when the Lord returns and sets the world aright. The question is: What is the church to do and to be NOW? Is she to settle for choosing the “best” option among those currently made available by the powers of this world? (This, it seems to me, is what liberal Christians do.) Or is she to be a foretaste of the kingdom to come?

I would suggest that the difference between this world and the world to come is not that the kingdom of God is only to be found in the latter. The difference is that, for now, the kingdom of God is to be found only with the people of God, but in the world to come it will be the whole world. This means that, in the present world, the church becomes an advance outpost of the kingdom that is coming. We are a “colony of heaven,” to use the phrase of Hauerwas and Willimon.

This may be difficult to understand or to envision in precise detail. But the first step is this: Christians in the West have got to stop breathing the atmosphere of liberalism and start letting the Spirit of God’s kingdom fill our lungs. Who knows what kind of pure oxygen might get to our brains, if we did?

Church and Bible: Hokey Religions and Ancient Weapons…?

September 7, 2014

Found this while looking for some pics to put in some notes I am writing for one of my History classes.
Solo Scriptura
Of course, Han says the line that is being parodied here on the Millennium Falcon en route to Alderan, not while in the cantina with Greedo. Still hilarioius, though! :-)

About Christian Enjoyment of Fantasy Literature (for Families at SMCA)

September 2, 2014

This fall, I am reading The Hobbit with my two English classes at Spring Mountain Christian Academy. For some of the families, there is some question as to whether fantasy is a legitimate genre of reading for Christians. So I have written a document to discuss the idea. It is written with this audience primarily in mind, but obviously, anyone who is interested is free to down load the doc below and check it out! Just click the link!
If you are someone from the school community, welcome to astheneia! Please let me know what you think of the document after you have read it!
Spasubo! :-)

About the Fantasy Genre for SMCA Parents, 8-25-14

Abusus non tollit usum: JRRT on Bad Reasons for Rejecting Fantasy

August 25, 2014

Here is a gem from J.R.R. Tolkein’s essay, On Fairy Stories:

“Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors’ own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image of a Maker.”

What Would Jesus Tune In?…

July 19, 2014

Sometimes I feel like my local Christian radio station basically tells me this:
“Focus on your family,
Take your vitamins,
Hate your local Democrat,
And love your money!”

And sometimes I think of passages like these and wonder what sort of Bible they’re reading:
Mark 3:31-35 (Just who IS my family, anyway?)
Matthew 6:25 (Is life really all about feeling super because of my expensive vitamins?)
I Thessalonians 2:12 (What are my political allegiances supposed to be?)
I Timothy 6:17-19 (What kind of investment portfolio should I have?)

Bible Trivia for Independence Day

July 3, 2014

Well, tomorrow is July 4th, and I’ll be spending the weekend with some family members who think I’ve gone “liberal” or am “left-leaning” because I’ve moved away from my right-wing, conservative, capitalistic, war-hawk roots. (The truth is that my political imagination is no longer restricted to the false dilemma of American left or right wing; rather, I’m committed to the Kingdom of God.) Should be lots of fun hanging around a campfire, walking the beaches, going out on my brother’s boat, and so forth.

Perhaps it’d be good to gather everyone around to play a bit of a Bible trivia game. I was thinking this might be a good question:

Which of the following is NOT found in the Bible?:

A) — Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

B) — Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.

C) — Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

D) — But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

And the answer is…………….. [scroll down]
American Flag

D!… (As in Declaration of Independence!)

Stop the (bad definition of) Insanity!

June 25, 2014

I have never really cared for the popular and cute definition of insanity that calls it “doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get a different result.” I don’t care who is supposed to have said it, whether Benjamin Franklin or Albert Einstein or someone else. Perhaps this is one of your favorite sayings, and you’re presently asking your computer monitor what’s so bad about it.

Well, many things, I think. First of all, even if the claim made by the saying could be fairly well established as true, it would not be a definition of insanity. That much, it seems, is quite clear. But if not, I would suggest looking here.
Brave Man in Tiaenanmen Square
More importantly, this saying mockingly precludes the virtue of persevering in one’s endeavors. What if it takes one-hundred Chinese university students to perish under the tracks of the tanks in Tiananmen Square before the government stops its injustice? Would we say that the thirty-first through the ninety-ninth were all insane for trying something that the first thirty could not accomplish?

Another problem with this saying is the fact that it always comes on the lips of a hypocrite. Every time I’ve heard it, the person who says it seems to think it only applies to the specific course of action they don’t like. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they do the same thing in other ways; that is, in some other area of life, they can be found doing the same thing again and again, as if it might possibly go differently or better this time. In fact, we all do this.

The saying really bothers me when it is used by those who have been working to block the success of the people they are calling “insane.” So Democrats and Republicans work to oppose each other’s efforts, then point to their opponents’ failures—which they themselves helped to ensure—and then call them “insane” when they want to try again. I feel for the person who cries foul and says, “Well, if you would just get out of the way and really let me try to do this, maybe it would work!”

But this brings up what is perhaps the worst thing about the saying. Its pithiness seems to keep people from noticing its assumption of a sort of hyper-pragmatism as a worldview. Doing something that “succeeds” is sane. Doing something that “fails” is insane. I suppose all worldviews look at others and see them as examples of faulty thinking. But the pragmatism implied by this saying sets up earthly, measurable success as the measure of a person’s very sanity. It turns out to be rather rude to anyone who does not embrace the pragmatist’s worldview.

Having given all of these objections to the saying, however, perhaps we could admit that there is some kernel of a good point trying to make its way through the rude utterance. Perhaps if we added some qualifying words to the saying, it would become something more worthwhile, if a lot less pithy. I suggest this modified version: One major kind of foolishness is that which does the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result without having good reasons to hope for such a difference.

“Redemptive Violence” and the Question of Pragmatic Sanity
Now let us take a moment to bring this idea to bear on the myth of redemptive violence.
In my many discussions with people who believe in redemptive violence, one theme that continues to surface is the pragmatic anxiety over whether Christian nonviolence could actually “work.” My conversation partners who bring this point forward usually misunderstand me to be claiming that, if we just hug those who hate us and mean to do us harm, their hearts will soften toward us, and we’ll join hands and sing “Kumbaya.” Rightly, then, they tell me that Christian nonviolence will not work. That is, it will not bring about this happy, hippie result.

The problem here actually lies with what we view as “success.” If the goal is to win my enemies over to my way of thinking, or even to prevent them from doing violence to me and others, then Christian nonviolence is not likely to “work.” If, however, the goal is to bear faithful testimony to the Lamb who has already conquered, by His death and resurrection, the wicked and violent powers of this world, then it cannot fail. And we cannot lose. This is the argument of Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

On the other hand, we might do well to consider the “success” record of the pragmatic approach to securing the good. The mentality that says that the “only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun” has ruled the world since the days of Cain. And how has it done? Has there actually been a “war to end all wars”? Just who is it that keeps doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result?

The truth is, if we believe that a good and necessary violence is actually a solution to problems, we will always, ALWAYS be involved in necessary violence. Even in our fleeting, momentary reprieves from live battle, we will necessarily be training for war.

The vision of the prophet Micah tells us that there is a day when

“… they will hammer their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they train for war” (4:3).

The world simply does not have the resources of the Messiah and His shalom. In their own powers and efforts, the people of this world will never be able to see this day come. Yet the Messiah Himself will one day bring His shalom to the world.

But what about now? In the meanwhile, do we not need to protect ourselves from the forces of evil in a fallen world? The answer is No. We do not. We have already been protected. In fact, the people of God, the church, is to be the firstfruits of that coming day of shalom. Here. Now. In this fallen world. We follow the way of the Lamb who conquered the powers by letting them kill Him. His resurrection proved that He won and they lost. It’s over. Now we follow Him. And we too have already won.

What could be more sane than that?


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