I regularly receive e-mail comments, statements, and/or suggestions from my readers. I deeply appreciate them all. I sometimes receive a comment, statement, or suggestion that is seriously post worthy. This was the case with the following e-mail (posted in full, and with reader’s permission), sent to me from a wonderful teacher at a missionary training school.
(Just kidding. I am excited to see others who are familiar with the Christus Victor motif of the atonement. I take it you’ve read Gustaf Aulen’s book on the subject? The classic view needs to make a comeback in the church. It would pay huge dividends in our understanding of God. But I digress.)
I stumbled across your article on Emergent vs Emerging, and have enjoyed hearing your thoughts ever since. I appreciate reading ideas from other points of view, especially ones I’m not so familiar with, i.e., Brethren in Christ, etc.
I just read Stanley Hauerwas post, and I’d like to humbly toss out a few thoughts if I might. I hope you will forgive my convolution, as I am almost certainly mixing his ideas with some things you have said.
I teach at a missionary training school, and last year I had a student who hated theology because the word conjured up images of Calvinists and Arminians biting each other all day long. Or something. He just wanted to preach about Jesus, and he was tired of the “religious conversation babble.” It took him the whole year to come to terms with the fact that his studies were inherently theological, and that it wasn’t a bad thing. If theology is the study of God, and God has revealed Himself in scripture, then we shouldn’t shy away from seeking those answers, even if that means sometimes having to affirm or deny assertions made by overly-dramatic reformers.
Similarly, I understand the desire that you have to depoliticize the faith and give just the gospel. I understand what it feels like to be sick of the red-blue debates. Especially when a person demands that you take a side or be ex-communicated, as it were. It is nauseating. But to withdraw from the debate is to make the same error my student did.
I suggest that many Christians on both sides of the aisle have made one of two mistakes: They have either tried to depoliticize political views or make those views part of a litmus test for inclusion in evangelicalism (or into Christianity as a whole). Really, it’s the same mistake, since depoliticizing gives more power to the one claiming the idea is religious (this is Hauerwas’ point, unless I misunderstand.)
But isn’t there another way? Why can’t a man stand up and say, “I think that Christians ought to oppose violence for reasons A, B, and C. It seems to correspond to principles of the word of God, and here is why I say that. … Of course, many of my Christian brothers have differing opinions, and that is okay.”
Though I may not agree with the case he is making, I would have no trouble listening to him. He believes the issue to be linked with his faith, even if it is not the first message of the Gospel. As a Christian, I ought to take his concern seriously.
Ideas in the political arena may not be the core or Christendom. They may not be pre-requisite to salvation, but neither are they relative or inconsequential. After all, some might just be indispensable to a rightly-ordered society. Or they could destroy it.
I imagine the bloggers in the 1850’s were sick of the abolitionist debates of their day, too. It got ugly. Banner ads would ask “Are you for Lincoln or Douglas?” “I’m not for either. I’m for God!” the bloggers would insist in all caps.
Despite the rhetoric, there was a correct answer: Men are created in God’s image, and God is no respecter of persons. Thus, Christians ought to vehemently oppose slavery. Some will not, and their salvation will not hinge on any one political idea. Yet who can deny this one’s importance to society?
Slavery and segregation are political issues since they are societal relationships. So are issues of war, wealth distribution, abortion and the environment. Not all these issues are clear cut, but I believe that some are, and there are underlying scriptural principles that can give us much wisdom in dealing with the others. As Christians, we ought not shy away from discussing these on the basis of them not being Gospel enough. The Gospel is both personal and public. We ought to discuss the best way to be consistent with the Word of God.
Certainly, we should never settle down in the back pocket of a politician or movement. Nevertheless, sometimes one ideological belief represents the Kingdom of heaven more accurately than another. I don’t believe it is manipulative to make this argument. At least, it doesn’t have to be.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. I hope they make at least a little sense, and I apologize for being so long-winded.
God bless you, Shawn. I pray God’s blessing on your ministry, and I look forward to reading more of your ideas in the future.
I appreciate the message of this reader’s e-mail. I appreciate the reader too. I pray for God’s blessing upon him too! I agree, 1000 percent! Disengagement is never the solution, regardless of the issue at hand (theology and/or politics).
I’ll digress a bit, in an attempt to illustrate my point: I love Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam wrote/sang in Dissident “escape is never, the safest path …” I love that song. When I listen to it, I’m taken back to my little studio apartment behind Mann/Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA. At any rate, the song resonates with me on several different levels. I am not one who bends toward escape, I never have been such a person. In fact, my argument here at Lofitribe is one dedicated to intentional engagement. Intentional is the key word. Let’s say it together everyone, “INTENTIONAL”. Intentional is important, because the Gospel leads one toward very serious social intentionality.
The reader cautions me regarding what he interpreted to be my “depoliticization of the faith” and “give just the gospel” approach.
First of all, I am not actively disengaging. I am not escaping. I’m not even depoliticizing. It may appear that I am doing so, if the Gospel of Christ is limited - or strapped - to the contextual categories in question (in this case American Liberal Left and/or American Conservative Right). So, what am I doing? I am intentionally approaching the subject (i.e. being authentically Christian in America) and going well beyond these popular but hopelessly bent categories and their accompanying limitations, albeit from a seriously different angle, contextually speaking. What am I approaching? What am I going beyond? Again, I am approaching the left vs. right religious babble and expression in this USAmerican context in which I live, learn and adjust, and I am going beyond it all. I detest both sides, to be honest. I am a dissident. In other words, I’ll no longer participate in the religious system, organization, or belief as it is (i.e., rooted in popular left/right ideals which are only found in America, for the most part). The celebrated precedents of this system’s foundational ideals are corrupt, as far as their relationship to authentic Gospel is concerned; so it logically follows that the final product is rotten too! I’ll have nothing to do with either the religious right or the religious left because the Gospel of Christ stands on its own quite well. Does that mean I disengaged? No! It means I have found something much, much richer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, religiously, socially, and politically speaking. I’m trekking toward it because it’s all about foundation.
Secondly, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is seriously and inherently communal. So, my abandonment of the left’s contextual-less (no context) liberal social theology does not at all mean I have no strong opinions re: social compassion, reconciliation, justice and radical egalitarianism. No, not at all! In fact, my thoughts and convictions re: social compassion, reconciliation, justice and radical egalitarianism are even more potent thanks to a strong separation from a peripheral blind religious left! Too, these thoughts and convictions are founded upon a very strong theological and social context (Christian Scriptures). I am not floating a thin humanism masquerading as religion, thank you very much! Too, my abandonment of the right’s fundamentalism, sectarianism, and defensive strategy does not at all mean that I have discarded the idea of Jesus Christ as “The Way.” No, not at all! Jesus is the one and only way. The Kingdom of God toward which Jesus points is “The Way.” Jesus Christ is Truth. Truth needs neither our fundamentalism, nor or sad attempts at defense. Truth is true, at the end of the day. My call is to participate in this Truth and to love all people, in relationship, as Christ loved/loves and related/relates. What does any of this have to do with the rabid religious right today? Nothing! I’ll have no part of the religious right and their quest for petrification of all that is life. Does this mean I’ll not be presenting God’s Truth? No, not at all! I simply believe that legislation - no matter how grandiose - will never lead anyone toward the authentic and deep spiritual place Jesus pointed toward when he said “Go and sin no more.” Christianity is about love, compassion, grace, understanding, and reconciliation. Christianity is a relationship. It is not legislation and laws. So, to the legislation drunk religious right, “I say no thank you.” The religious right and left need one another … they don’t need me. They don’t even need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, am I “just giving the Gospel,” as this wonderful e-mail reader suggests? Yes. Yes! I’m just giving the Gospel! It is, however, a seriously potent and full Gospel that inherently covers the best (read: edifying) advances of the contextual-less (no context) liberal religious left and the fundamentalist, sectarian, and defensive religious right! The Gospel of Christ is not one with the popular American religious/political system. They are two different entities. The popular American religious/political system, organization, and/or belief simply stinks; it reeks. Christianity is not America’s left and right. It goes beyond both. I’m simply following it. Following this Gospel will lead to the most serious social and political engagement you will ever experience on this planet. I promise. Embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an act of engagement. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is all you will ever need … and then some.