A Review of “The End of Protestantism” by Peter J. Leithart

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.

I Am a Citizen of Two Kingdoms, Are You?

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?

Blame the Methodists

Here are some thoughts regarding communion.

A Grace-Filled Life

Here is a bit of trivia for you–Methodist minister Thomas Bramwell Welch developed non-alcoholic grape juice in 1869. You can read all about it in this article from Christianity Today.

As a Lutheran, I do not understand providing grape juice for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. That’s not what our Lord used when He instituted the meal on the Thursday before His death. But Welch was trying to address a problem of his day and inadvertently created other issues at the same time.

In my congregations, those who have had issues with wine have usually found ways to deal with it without the wine not being used for communion. Most times, they were able to receive the wine because they understood that the wine had been brought together with the blood of Christ and the bread joined with the body of Christ to give us a powerful meal for the…

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2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 6

These are the responses of the 2016 Presidential candidates to the fourth of the twenty questions posed to them earlier.

I posted the responses to the first question (concerning innovation) at “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 1”.

The responses to the second question (concerning research) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 2″.

The responses to the third question (concerning climate change) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 3″.

The responses to the fourth question (concerning biodiversity) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 4″.

The responses to the fifth question (concerning the Internet) are at  “2016’s Top Presidential Science, Engineering, Tech, Health & Environmental Questions – Question 5″.

I hope that you will take the time to look at these responses and offer your own thoughts.  My own thoughts and analysis are at the end of the post.

  • Mental Health

Mental illness is among the most painful and stigmatized diseases, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates it costs America more than $300 billion per year. What will you do to reduce the human and economic costs of mental illness?

Hillary Clinton (D)

Nearly a fifth of all adults in the United States, more than 40 million people, are coping with a mental health issue. Close to 14 million people live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Moreover, many of these individuals have additional complicating life circumstances, such as drug or alcohol addiction, homelessness, or involvement with the criminal justice system. Veterans are in acute need of mental health care, with close to 20 percent of those returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars experiencing post-traumatic stress or depression. And the problem is not limited to adults: an estimated 17 million children in the United States experience mental health issues, as do one in four college students. Too many Americans are being left to face mental health issues on their own, and too many individuals are dying prematurely from associated health conditions. We must do better.

That’s why I recently released a comprehensive and detailed plan to address this important issue that impacts so many American families. Under my plan, we’ll promote early diagnosis and intervention, including launching a national initiative for suicide prevention. We’ll integrate our nation’s mental and physical health care systems so that health care delivery focuses on the “whole person,” and significantly enhance community-based treatment opportunities. We’ll improve criminal justice outcomes by training law enforcement officers in crisis intervention, and prioritizing treatment over jail for low-level, non-violent offenders. We’ll enforce mental health parity to the full extent of the law. We’ll improve access to housing and job opportunities. And we’ll invest in brain and behavioral research and developing safe and effective treatments.

I’m proud of my record of advocating for greater protections and expanded access to treatment for people with mental health conditions, including co-sponsoring the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. My goal is that within my time in office as president, Americans will no longer separate mental health from physical health when it comes to access to care or quality of treatment. The next generation must grow up knowing that mental health is a key component of overall health and there is no shame, stigma, or barriers to seeking out care.

Donald Trump (R)

This is one of the great unfolding tragedies in America today. States are reducing their commitments to mental health treatment and our jails are filled with those who need mental health care. Any mental health reforms must be included in our efforts to reform healthcare in general in the country. We must make the investment in treating our fellow citizens who suffer from severe mental illness. This includes making sure that we allow family members to be more involved in the total care of those who are severely mentally ill. We must ensure that the national government provides the support to state and local governments to bring mental health care to the people at the local level. This entire field of interest must be examined and a comprehensive solution set must be developed so that we can keep people safe and productive.

Jill Stein (G)

As part of a Medicare for All universal health care system we need a mental health care system that safeguards human dignity, respects individual autonomy, and protects informed consent. In addition to full funding for mental health care, this means making it easier for the chronically mentally ill to apply for and receive Supplemental Security Income, and funding programs to increase public awareness of and sensitivity to the needs of the mentally ill and differently abled.

We must ensure that the government takes all steps necessary to fully diagnose and treat the mental health conditions resulting from service in combat zones, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

We will also release prisoners with diagnosed mental disorders to secure mental health treatment centers, and ensure psychological and medical care and rehabilitation services for mentally ill prisoners.

My Thoughts

Again, Clinton’s answer is a little more in depth than either that of Stein or Trump.  Interestingly enough, I think Trump’s answer is surprisingly lucid and coherent (somewhat sarcastically, I don’t think he wrote this as much as I think he might have written his earlier answers).

Trump’s answer also runs counter to current Republican thoughts about health care.

Both Clinton and Stein recognize the need for increased mental health support for veterans, which is probably woefully underfunded at the moment.  They both also understand that mental health is just as important as physical health.

Of the six questions asked so far, this is the only one in which all three candidates show agreement.

Astronomy, Ecology, and Social Ethics: Looking at Climate Trends for 2016

This comes from The Vatican Observatory – as I noted in my post (God’s Wrath or Man’s Ignorance) yesterday, we have been given stewardship of this planet.

2016 has been a record setting year in regard to climate change. NASA has confirmed that the temperatures from January to June have set new, all-time highs. An article on NASA’s website from July 19, 2016 states that temperatures are 1.3 degrees Celsius warmer than recent historical averages. Sea ice levels in the first five months receded to new lows since we began to measure it with satellites in 1979. Though some may question the reality of global warming, science is confirming that our world’s climate is changing and rapidly. For the full article on recent NASA findings about our climate, click here. Thankfully, the record ice melt in the first five months of this year has slowed through the month of June. This slowing will keep the arctic ice from setting even more record lows. Nevertheless, NASA has stated that these findings are pointing to a “new normal” for our climate and are seeking to answer the question, “What does this mean going … Continue reading →

Source: Astronomy, Ecology, and Social Ethics: Looking at Climate Trends for 2016

God’s Wrath or Man’s Ignorance

A Meditation for 21 August 2016, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year C). The meditation is based on Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, Hebrews 12: 18 – 29, and Luke 13: 10 – 17.

There are quite a few comments floating around over the Internet rejoicing the fate of a right-wing religious person whose home was destroyed by the recent Louisiana floods.  Those who are rejoicing feel that this is either God’s retribution or something similarly appropriate for this individual’s previous rather hateful statements.

Now, maybe it is right that anyone who has spoken words of hatred and exclusion should feel the same pain that they themselves have brought unto others but I don’t believe that is, if you will, the Christian way.  And I would say that if this individual or his supporters feel that their proclamation of self-based Christianity make them somehow more worthy of support than others, then I would suggest that they go to the end of the line until the truly needed have been helped.

I have heard those kinds of statements of how natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes are signs of God’s Wrath.  But as I once pointed out, how do we interpret the fact that the one of the most likely targets for a lightning strike is a church steeple.  In an Internet search I did a few years ago, I find over 100,000 instances of lightning hitting a church steeple.  Are the people who make up the church doing things that have incurred God’s Wrath or is it more likely that the steeple is the highest point in the area and, thus, more likely to be struck by lightning (from “And What Will You Say?”)?

But the God that seeks to invoke wrath on a person is not the God of my faith tradition.  This may have been the God of the Old Testament but my own faith tradition includes the New Testament and the God of the New Testament cared enough for all the people on this planet to send His Son to save us from sin and death.  And this is my own thought but I think God is smart enough to realize that retribution and anger don’t work.

Besides, if God was really that angry at mankind, he could have wiped us off the map years ago (and we know that He did this once before; he also told Noah that the rainbow would be a sign that never again would He destroy the world).

I also think that those who want an angry God do so because that’s the God of their lives.  They have transformed the Bible into what they want it to be and what it actually is.

The theme throughout the Old and New Testament is not one of anger and hatred, of war and violence, but of openness and acceptance.  A second theme, and the one that may, in part, account for our problems with floods and fires and such, is that we are stewards of this planet.

From the very beginning, we have been tasked with being good stewards, of taking care of this planet, our home.  And when we don’t take care of the planet, we can expect to be in deep, deep trouble.

There are those who have been saying that the severe weather that we have been dealing with for the past few years are only the beginning and the result of failure to heed the warnings that we were doing unalterable damage to the environment.

God sent His Son because the people ignored the prophets.  If we are to ignore His Son, if we are to ignore the teachings given to us for so many years, then we can expect what is to come.  It will not be God’s Wrath that destroys us; it will be our own ignorance.

Week in the World: A Moral call to the Nation

This comes from a blogging friend in North Carolina.  What I find interesting is that Reverend Barber asked to speak at both political conventions because the nature of his talk went beyond political boundaries.  And yet the Republican party, despite all their talk about being pro-Christian, refused to let him do so.

You cannot say that you are a Christian when you refuse to hear the Word of God, especially when it calls you to task.  What was it that John the Baptizer and Jesus Himself called us to do?  It was to repent and change our ways!

During the dueling Republican and Democratic National Conventions, Rev. Dr. William Barber’s Moral Movement asked both parties to allow him to address with them the Scripture’s call to …

Source: Week in the World: A Moral call to the Nation