Nothing We Do Today Is In The Bible

Steve Green, the multi-millionaire businessman and Bible artifacts collector of Hobby Lobby fame, is beginning construction on a new $800 million Museum of the Bible close to the Capitol and Mall in Washington, D.C. I’m happy to see a complex that will display and contextualize Green’s extraordinary treasury of biblical items and provide education about the background, history, and cultural impact of the Bible. As someone who has a passion for biblical literature and has spent a big chunk of his life working thinking, teaching, and writing about the Bible’s history and its effects on human societies, I think that a museum dedicated to exploring these things is a great thing (or at least has potential to be so). Nevertheless, Green’s motives for constructing his museum in the chosen location reveal some assumptions about the connections between the Bible and contemporary American culture and political governance that are not only deeply mistaken, but also quite dangerous in their implications. As he is cited by Michelle Boorstein in the Washington Post,

“I think seeing the biblical foundations of our nation — for our legislators to see that, that a lot of that was biblically based, that we have religious freedoms today, which are a biblical concept, it can’t hurt being there [close to the Capitol].”

I’m happy to grant that the Bible has had an enormous cultural influence throughout the history of this country; that’s an obvious truth for anyone with even a passing familiarity with American and Western history. Green seems to assume that our idea of religious freedom is essentially identical to that found in the Bible, and furthermore that our current governing philosophy regarding religious freedom is valid because it has biblical origins. Now, that’s a problematic thing to assert for two big reasons. First, it’s essentially saying that we have religious freedoms in this country because of . . . religion. The idea that the separation of church and state in our civic institutions is somehow mandated on the basis of a particular faith’s scriptural documents is an obvious fallacy; you can’t say that you have religious freedom because the Bible says you should. It might be a convenient way of doing an end-run around the theo-curious implications of basing America’s governing structure on biblical precepts, but it’s also a pretty clear assertion of the Bible’s (and, implicitly, of Christianity’s) epistemological superiority to other modes of political theory. Read More…

And How Exactly is the Gospel “Good News”…?

One of Luther’s key insights is that the Good News of Christianity should actually be good news.

That seems obvious, but it’s a sobering exercise to pause and look around at our communities and ask “how is any of this actually good news for people?”

Luther wasn’t naïve. He didn’t think that Christianity was simply an exercise in endless positivity. Quite the opposite. He thought that understanding the “bad news” of our sin and evil was an essential pre-condition for receiving the “good news.” He was quite aware that we’re all messed up and the world is messed up: we’re surrounded by futility, pain, suffering, and evil, and we both experience these things and propagate them. Further, on our own, we have no way out of any of this horror. We’re quite trapped.

No, the Christian message addresses reality, and reality is not pretty.

But the Gospel is still supposed to be “good news” in light of this reality. The message of Christ is still supposed to be an experience of real comfort, joy, and hope.

Is it in many of our communities?

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Jesus Is A Failure

We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Nice phrase, right?

We, Christians, usually assume that it means something like this. If you, Jews and Gentiles, think that Christ is a failure and a fraud, you’re wrong. He really is powerful, wise, and successful, only he’s chosen to hide it for the time being. Those “in the know” (i.e., us) understand this. And, at some point, you’ll discover that we’re right – only it might be too little, too late.

Except that the ancient Jews and Gentiles – and the modern non-Christians and atheists – have got it right. Think about it. As a man or as a god, this Christ of ours is a failure and a fraud.

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Christianity and Political Action

Many of the things that I’ll be addressing on my page will relate to current issues, and hence be driven by the vagaries of news and opinion, but there are principles that guide my thinking on Christianity and politics that I’d like to be clear about up front. One thing that I think about – a lot – is the problem of power, and Christianity’s fraught relationship with it. Christianity is a faith that rests on paradox, particularly its central thesis that true power can only be gained not by strength, but through weakness. (If anyone doubts this, see the central line of the Easter hymn of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which asserts that Christ is “trampling down death by death.”) If there is one way that we are expected to imitate Christ, it is in rejecting violence and coercion as a true solution to our human plight. As Christ declined to exercise the ultimate power that he possessed when he went willingly to his death on the cross, so Christians are supposed to avoid controlling others through duress. Christians demonstrate the paradoxical truth of their creed by abstaining from direct coercion of others, even to prevent violence to themselves.

Of course, in the real world, avoiding any exercise of coercion, or even occasional outright violence, is completely insane. Some modicum of justice and fairness is only realistically maintained when people fight for it, whether through political and social pressure or with physical force. If we want to live in a world that is forever dominated by the most ruthless and cruel among us, there’s no better way to ensure that result than by abjuring any responsibility to seek and exercise power. The very purpose of states is to provide a regular means of collective rule that ensures justice and a legal framework that people can rely on as they go about living productive lives.

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Talking Otherwise

As my author’s blurb will tell you, I’m a Ph.D. student in theology. This means that I spend an inordinate amount of time with books and my laptop. Still, I do talk to people once in a while.

Although I try to keep the topics of these conversations limited to cats and literature, theology inevitably comes up. And then all bets are off. A perfectly friendly discussion can degenerate into an acerbic, and even abusive, argument. A room full of lively banter and laughter can suddenly become permeated by near-catatonic boredom or dire seriousness. My perfectly intelligent, capable, and balanced friends can momentarily forget that I am not an oracle or a walking summa and demand a comprehensive, true, and binding answer to, say, the problem of evil. And then someone will embarrassedly change the subject.

I’ve learned a few things from these conversations.

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Welcome to David’s Blog!

[Editor’s Note: This is my original intro to my section of the blog, when the blog was divided into three blogs – June 2017, DW]

What is the purpose of my blog?

The Short Version

  • Part theological exploration, part personal journey, this blog is about renewal and reform.
  • Its starting point is concern about the status quo of the Christian church(es), and a need to open up dialogue on some of historic Christianity’s most widely held assumptions and convictions.
  • Its primary task is to re-visit and re-appropriate the central ideas of the earliest Reformation tradition, especially those of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560).
  • It will proceed (mostly) as an exploration into Luther and Melanchthon’s thought, and of later theologians in this tradition.
  • It will leave just about no aspect of traditional Christian institutions, doctrine, and life unexamined – so be warned! This is not a blog for the faint of heart.

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