The new WesleyNexus newsletter is now available here. Thanks to the people at WesleyNexus for the link!
The new issue of Clergy Project Newsletter is now available on-line. I urge you all to check this out as it has information related to the teaching of science and academic freedom.
There is a section in this month’s newsletter for you to sign up for the 2017 Evolution Weekend. You can contribute to the 2017 Weekend by offering thoughts on what the theme should be (the themes for past years are listed).
No matter whether you are clergy or laity, I urge you to check it out and get involved in the project.
The full title of this book is “The End of Protestantism – Pursing Unity in a Fragmented Church.”
The first thing that has to be stated is that I received my copy of this book free with the promise that I would review it and post the review.
When I agreed to review this book I presumed that this book in some way would address the idea of Christianity in the 21st century. We live in a time of great moral uncertainty and, at a time when there needs to be a source of moral certainty, there is none. The one institution that should be the source of moral certainty, the Christian Church, is both part of the cause of the moral uncertainty and is dying.
There may be a number of reasons why one can say that the Christian Church is dying but it would seem that the lack of a clear and concise statement of purpose by the variety of churches and the varying degree of interpretations offered by the denominations of the church are part of the cause.
In this book, Dr. Leithart suggests that unifying the church again will solve the problems. And while unifying the church may solve its problems, I feel that the solution that Dr. Leithart offers fails to achieve that goal. I will address this in later paragraphs but, for me, Dr. Leithart’s solution is to turn the clock back, back to a moment prior to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.
Second, Dr. Leithart’s solution is theological in nature and thus can only be considered by those with a sufficient theological background. To be honest, as a lay person, I understand that there are differing opinions as to who may be baptized but I do not totally understand the theological basis for baptism and why that would cause splits in Christianity. For the average lay person, they would simply say that they understand how baptism works in their denomination but not why it works that way.
To resolve such issues must take place within the laity as well as in the clergy and I am not convinced this is addressed in the book.
Second, while Dr. Leithart does address a number of issues that have are the basis for the many theological issues that have divided Protestantism over the years and arose from the Protestant Reformation, I don’t think he addressed what I would consider the major one and the one that lead Martin Luther to seek a reformation of the church. And this singular issue was the corruption in the church and the effect that corruption had on the church.
For me, the central issue behind Luther’s efforts was the rationale for the issuance of indulgences as a means to bankroll the church in Rome while offering a false promise to the people who bought them. This issue is still prevalent in today’s society with the prominence of pastors preaching what is called the “prosperity gospel”.
The second issue that Dr. Leithart does not address directly is the dominance of a particular conservative brand of Christianity that seeks a return to a rigid, authoritarian style of faith that fails to recognize that each individual is just that, an individual capable of making their own decisions. And it is this point which is the primary cause for the failure of the church in today’s society.
The conservative church in today’s society seeks a church where the identity of the individual is second to the identity of the group and subject to the decisions of church authorities. I am not saying that liberal church is succeeding in this, for while it may offer the individual the freedom to be the individual, it does not offer a framework under which the freedom can be successful.
My impression throughout the entire book was that Dr. Leithart was advocating a return to a more Biblical and perhaps conservative approach. But in stressing the Bible, I feel two questions were not asked nor addressed.
First, which Bible would be the basis for any discussion? Shall we use a more modern translation? Or we will perhaps use the Bible as it was originally written, in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. If we were to use the original versions, then will it be a requirement that all members of the church have a working understanding of these languages?
I believe that Dr. Leithart acknowledges part of the difficulty representing in deciding which Bible would be used by the way he treats denominational differences on other topics. The rise of denominations within the Protestant Church arose from legitimate concerns about theological differences. Unless these differences can be completely and totally acknowledged and there be a complete and total acceptance of all viewpoints, then unity will be a goal and a dream never realized.
And, second, where does science fit into this mix? One of the great issues in today’s society is the view by many conservatives and fundamentalists that the view of Creation as expressed in the opening verses of Genesis is the only acceptable version of Creation (which tends to ignore the other versions expressed in the Bible and other societal versions as well as the acceptable scientific explanation). There are also other societal issues expressed in the Bible that would run counter to current societal views; views as how slavery is viewed in the Bible or the role of women in the Old Testament, for example.
Dr. Leithart also expressed that thought that communion should be at least a weekly occurrence in the new church. In the case of Methodism, this was also the expressed belief of John Wesley, who took communion on a daily basis. That not all current United Methodist Churches do so today is more a reflection of the historical nature of communion and the requirement that only ordained clergy can offer communion than a decision by the pastor and/or congregation to forgo a weekly schedule. In the early days of the church, when the ordained clergy where circuit riders visiting a church once every four to six weeks, weekly communion was not possible. This is the basis for the schedule of communion in many churches today, at least in the United Methodist church, not some obscure or profound theological difference.
In the end, I applaud Dr. Leithart’s effort to find a way to unify the church. But in a world that must move forward, I don’t think that moving backwards will work. And while acknowledging and recognizing the differences that have generated the broad and diverse nature of today’s church, I don’t think that one can ignore the causes that lead to that diversification.
A new and unified church will be one that looks to the future with unity defined in terms of the goal we all seek to reach rather than the methods by which we reach that goal.
If by chance, I had been born some one hundred years earlier than I had, in 1850 instead of 1950, I would probably have proclaimed that I was a citizen of Virginia (where I was born) first and a citizen of the United States second. But one outcome of the Civil War was that people no longer necessarily saw themselves as citizens of the state first but citizens of a United States first (though there are some even today who hold onto those old allegiances). So it is that I was born in Virginia, the son of an Air Force officer and the grandson of an Army officer.
And it should have been that I would have become an Air Force officer as well, choosing to follow in the family tradition. But when it came time to make that choose, we were involved in the Viet Nam war. Granted, growing up as I did, that should have had no effect on any decisions I might make about military service. But with the Viet Nam war came the draft.
And long before I opposed the war, I opposed the draft. When you are brought up in a system whose stated purpose is the defense of freedom and one of those freedoms is the freedom to choose, being told that you will serve in the United States Army and that you will being sent to Viet Nam, all without goes against the very notion of those freedoms and what this country stood for.
And as this country found its way falling deeper and deeper into the morass of Viet Nam, we were also engaged in a struggle for civil rights, another battle that came about because people saw the inconsistency and hypocrisy of saying that this was a nation founded on the notion of freedom and equality while denying both freedom and equality to many individuals, solely because of their race or creed (and even today, their sexuality).
And while this was going on, I was discovering that I was not only a citizen the United States but a citizen of God’s Kingdom. At first, I didn’t understand that I was such a citizen or how that all came to me. Quite honestly, I figured that access to God’s Kingdom came from what I did in the secular world and the more I did, the better my chances were that the door to this Kingdom would open for me. Opposing the war and standing for civil rights were things that I had to do if I wanted to enter God’s Kingdom.
But I was wrong. Doing what was and is right doesn’t necessarily open a door that had already been opened. It was, of course, my acceptance of Christ as my personal Savior that had opened to this Kingdom.
And once I understood that I was living in and a citizen of God’s Kingdom, doing good wasn’t a pre-requisite but a requirement, the responsibility of citizenship. And I also understood that there were times when the requirements for citizenship in God’s Kingdom conflicted with the requirements for citizenship in the secular world.
The challenge of any citizenship is to do what is right and when the requirements for citizenship in God’s Kingdom are in conflict with the requirements for citizenship in the secular world, then you have to follow the requirements for God’s Kingdom. But when you live in both kingdoms, you have to be careful that you know which is which. You had better make sure that what you feel are the requirements for God’s Kingdom are what you say they are and not what people say are the requirements.
When I began my journey with Christ I also began a journey that would lead me to become a scientist and a chemist. And as I looked at the secular world around me, I marveled at God’s creation and I searched for the evidence that would allow me to understand that creation as well as marvel in its beauty and complexity. But there are those today who say to me that one cannot be a citizen of the Kingdom if one does not blindly and totally accept the notion that this world and this universe were made in six days some ten thousand years ago.
Somehow, I have never accepted that idea of kingdom citizenship. If anything, seeing the development of the universe in all of its complexities only makes the wonder that much more and pushes me to learn more about the world and the God who created not only the universe but me as well.
I know this today. I seek answers to nature’s questions and in finding those answers I am able to better understand who I am and who God is. And the better that I understand who I am and who God is, the more I need to help others to do the same.
And my job, my responsibility as a citizen of God’s Kingdom is to help those who live in the secular world, people who are hurt, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I cannot enter God’s Kingdom and ignore the secular world. I cannot enter God’s Kingdom and then try to shut the door that I never opened in the first place behind me.
I have a responsibility to live in two worlds, the world of God’s Kingdom and the secular world in which it resides. It is not part of my responsibility to make others citizens of God Kingdom; it is my responsibility to help others find God’s Kingdom. I cannot, as a citizen of God’s Kingdom, ignore the hurt, the sick, the naked, the lonely, the abandoned because someone told me that they were not worthy of being a member. God has proclaimed that all are worthy and can come in if they want; I must help to remove that pain and anger that prevents that from happening.
Many years ago, I made decisions that allowed me to be the citizens of two kingdoms. Did you?
I originally posted this as “A Definition of Evangelism” back in February, 2016. Some comments elsewhere led me to re-posting it with some additional thoughts.
What is Evangelism?
In today’s world, the term evangelism has taken on a very negative meaning, especially when it comes to the interaction of faith and science.
While evangelism can be defined as declaring the good news about all that God is doing in the world, it is much more than simply challenging individuals to yield to Jesus, letting Jesus into their lives, and allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to transform them into new creations. It is also about proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring about justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed (From Tony Campolo’s forward to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts).
For me, an evangelical Christian is one who presents the Gospel message of hope, justice, and freedom from oppression to the world. If that means taking action to relieve poverty, heal the sick, feed the hungry, house the homeless, give aid to the needy, and free the oppressed, so be it. It isn’t what you say but what you do that tells the world you are a Christian.
There is also a reason why you take such actions but we will discuss that at another time. In a world of despair, anger, hatred, and violence, evangelism has to bring hope, not add to the problems.
The State of Biblical Literacy in Today’s Society
Let’s face it, despite all the claims to the contrary, this is not a Christian nation and we are not a Biblically-literate society. We may claim to be a Christian nation but it is a Christianity developed from non-Christian sources. It is a Christianity based in part on a lack of understanding of what is written in the Bible and in part on a reliance of the thoughts of others who are as woefully lacking in understanding but who cover up their lack of understanding by the pronouncement that they are experts.
It is a Christianity that makes God’s Kingdom a province of America’s Kingdom and in doing so justifies anger, hatred, violence and war in God’s name (which, by the way, didn’t work in the Crusades so why should we expect it to work today?).
It is a Christianity that does not allow free thought, that says the opinions of a select few matter more than the thoughts of all the people. It is a Christianity anchored in the past and without a modern view (in fact, I would suggest that those who support this form of Christianity would much rather turn the clock backwards in time). The precepts and ideas of Christianity are timeless but have to be viewed in the context of the world today, not the world of Israel two thousand years ago.
The Great Commission
When you hear an evangelist speak of the Great Commission, they are referring to Matthew 28: 19, which essentially says that we are to go and make disciples of all the nations. This idea, in my view, also tends to have a negative connotation.
It has a negative connotation to me because it suggests that those who have accepted this commission have the right and authority to force people to accept Christianity as their faith and that 1) they are giving no options and 2) there are no other options.
But history tells us that the belief in one God is not limited solely to the Christian faith and that brute force as a means of conversion probably doesn’t work and, in fact, has never worked. In fact, the use of brute force as a means of proselytizing has always failed and is one of the leading reasons why Christianity is having problems today.
Now, if we read Matthew 28: 19 from Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel version of Matthew, we read that we are to make students of all the people and teach them to live in the manner that Jesus taught the Twelve. I think that because Dr. Jordan was working with the original Greek version of Matthew when he made his translation, it is a more reasonable interpretation of the original work and speaks to what we are to do as evangelists in today’s world, teach the people.
We are not to lecture people, not brow-beat them, not shame them into becoming followers of Christ but to show them an alternative way to a better life. In a world where it is quite easy to become cynical, one’s actions and deeds carry far more weight than do one’s words. An ancient Chinese proverb points out that when you give someone a fish, you have feed them for the day but if you teach them how to fish, you have feed them for a lifetime.
Jesus was first a teacher, teaching those he chose and teaching those who followed. He did his teaching in a variety of settings and using a number of approaches. Using a modern analogy, he accomplished his goals by wandering around, going to the people rather than expecting that they would come to Him (though many did do just that).
The question has to thus be, “How do I teach the people about Jesus in today’s society?” And the answer is very simple. I teach the people where they are and in a way that helps them learn and understand. And it begins with teaching those who wish to be disciples.
When Jesus began His ministry, He proclaimed that he had come to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, heal the sick, and free the prisoners. We have to understand that no one is going to listen to a message of hope and promise if they are hungry, naked, sick, or imprisoned (physically and mentally). So our acceptance of the Great Commission means that we have to find ways of changing the world so that people can hear the words of Christ.
That has to be our goal.
As I wrote one time I probably associate myself more with the tax collector in Luke 18: 9 – 14 than I do with the Pharisee in the same passage (“The Changing of Seasons”).
I am also not even a “practicing Christian”. I work at being a Christian and sometimes I get it right and sometimes I fail.
Right now, there are a group of people in this country who have proclaimed themselves to be Christians and who have implied in the words, their deeds, and their actions that they are the Pharisees of the 21st century. These are the so-called “evangelical Christians” who have announced to the world that Donald Trump has been sent by God to save America.
Despite that fact there are some who think that one can separate one religious life from their public and private life, there will come a time when they will collide and things will not go easy after that. To support Donald Trump when you say that you are a Christian and an evangelical one at that is so contradictory, it is hard to even imagine how that will work out.
Of course, and this is my view of the situation, one of the problems with the religious political establishment two thousand years ago was they had cut a deal with the Roman authorities that would enable them to keep their own political and social power. Maybe that is why so many quasi-Christians embrace Donald Trump. Their one hope is that with his election, they will be able to retain and expand their own power.
Someone is going to have to explain to me how this is all going to work out. It is bad enough that these “evangelical Christians” seek a return to the Old Testament way of living with its inherent dependence on laws and rules; that they think this will make the world a better place is even worse. Did these self-righteous individuals ever bother to think that the reason for the New Testament was the fact that the ways of the Old Testament were working?
In a world where you say that you are a Christian, you are telling the world that you follow Christ. You have accepted the idea that it is not going to be easy. You have accepted the idea that instead of building walls and creating division and hatred, you will work to tear down the walls others have built (or will try to build) and you will bring people together and your work will be to bring people together.
You understand that you cannot make people follow you; all you can ever do is show people what life is like as a Christian (that, by the way, is, I believe, the definition of evangelism).
Despite all the politicians who close virtually every speech with the proclamation that “God bless America”, I really don’t think God cares that much about this country. What He does care about are all the people on this planet and how we treat each other, even those who we may disagree with.
So, in the end, if you say that you are a Christian, then remember who it is that you have decided to follow. I am not a saint and I don’t that I will ever be considered for sainthood. I am not a practicing Christian but I keep working at being a better one. I hope that in all that I think, say, or do I can help make this a better world, not just for a limited number of people but for all the people.
Plato: For the greater good.
Karl Marx: It was a historical inevitability.
Machiavelli: So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken’s dominion maintained.
Hippocrates: Because of an excess of light pink gooey stuff in its pancreas.
Jacques Derrida: Any number of contending discourses may be discovered within the act of the chicken crossing the road, and each interpretation is equally valid as the authorial intent can never be discerned, because structuralism is DEAD, DAMMIT, DEAD!
Thomas de Torquemada: Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I’ll find out.
Timothy Leary: Because that’s the only kind of trip the Establishment would let it take.
Douglas Adams: Forty-two.
Nietzsche: Because if you gaze too long across the Road, the Road gazes also across you.
Oliver North: National Security was at stake.
B.F. Skinner: Because the external influences which had pervaded its sensorium from birth had caused it to develop in such a fashion that it would tend to cross roads, even while believing these actions to be of its own free will.
Carl Jung: The confluence of events in the cultural gestalt necessitated that individual chickens cross roads at this historical juncture, and therefore synchronicitously brought such occurrences into being.
Jean-Paul Sartre: In order to act in good faith and be true to itself, the chicken found it necessary to cross the road.
Ludwig Wittgenstein: The possibility of “crossing” was encoded into the objects “chicken” and “road”, and circumstances came into being which caused the actualization of this potential occurrence.
Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.
Aristotle: To actualize its potential.
Buddha: If you ask this question, you deny your own chicken-nature.
Howard Cosell: It may very well have been one of the most astonishing events to grace the annals of history. An historic, unprecedented avian biped with the temerity to attempt such a herculean achievement formerly relegated to homo sapien pedestrians is truly a remarkable occurrence.
Salvador Dali: The Fish.
Darwin: It was the logical next step after coming down from the trees.
Emily Dickinson: Because it could not stop for death.
Epicurus: For fun.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: It didn’t cross the road; it transcended it.
Johann von Goethe: The eternal hen-principle made it do it.
Ernest Hemingway: To die. In the rain.
Werner Heisenberg: We are not sure which side of the road the chicken was on, but it was moving very fast.
David Hume: Out of custom and habit.
Jack Nicholson: ‘Cause it (censored) wanted to. That’s the (censored) reason.
Pyrrho the Skeptic: What road?
Ronald Reagan: I forget.
John Sununu: The Air Force was only too happy to provide the transportation, so quite understandably the chicken availed himself of the opportunity.
The Sphinx: You tell me.
Mr. T: If you saw me coming you’d cross the road too!
Henry David Thoreau: To live deliberately … and suck all the marrow out of life.
Mark Twain: The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated.
Molly Yard: It was a hen!
Zeno of Elea: To prove it could never reach the other side.
Chaucer: So priketh hem nature in hir corages.
Wordsworth: To wander lonely as a cloud.
The Godfather: I didn’t want its mother to see it like that.
Keats: Philosophy will clip a chicken’s wings.
Blake: To see heaven in a wild fowl.
Dr Johnson: Sir, had you known the Chicken for as long as I have, you would not so readily enquire, but feel rather the need to resist such a public Display of your own lamentable and incorrigible Ignorance.
Mrs. Thatcher: This chicken’s not for turning.
Supreme Soviet: There has never been a chicken in this photograph.
Oscar Wilde: Why, indeed? One’s social engagements whilst in town ought never expose one to such barbarous inconvenience – although, perhaps, if one must cross a road, one may do far worse than to cross it as the chicken in question.
Kafka: Hardly the most urgent enquiry to make of a low-grade insurance clerk who woke up that morning as a hen.
Swift: It is, of course, inevitable that such a loathsome, filth-ridden and degraded creature as Man should assume to question the actions of one in all respects his superior.
Macbeth: To have turned back were as tedious as to go o’er.
Whitehead: Clearly, having fallen victim to the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
Freud: An die andere Seite zu kommen. (Much laughter)
Hamlet: That is not the question.
Donne: It crosseth for thee.
Pope: It was mimicking my Lord Hervey.
Constable: To get a better view.