Getting Political

Image from here: The Theological Wanderings of a Street Pastor: Charity vs Justice.

I loved this statement and wanted to repost because it seems that Christians are quite comfortable with charity, but seem to get a little uneasy when some ask the deeper questions. I have asked lots of questions, the answers to which are matters of justice. In the process of asking these difficult questions, I have become more politically minded, and more sure about my political position. (I’m still a baby thinker though and have so much more to learn – if only I could read all day…sigh)

It’s seems to me that it is inevitable that if you ask questions about poverty, access to education and medical care, about disparity in health status and life expectancy that you are going to encounter issues of justice. It goes beyond charity (which is good and right) and starts to become political.

The fundamental evangelical movement in America, and by and large the churches I have been involved in, (mainly influenced by evangelical fundamentalism) have a strong right wing position. Could it be that a theology of a rewards based relationship with God, and an emphasis on human effort (prayer and programs, pressing in and going hard after God) to advance His Kingdom, results in a political view of rewarding the successful and favouring the strong? What political position would result from a theology of a God who speaks on behalf of the widow and orphan, the poor and down trodden, the oppressed and broken? (And worth thinking about: What kind of theologies spawned Nazism, apartheid and the absolute destruction of indigenous peoples that we have seen over and over again throughout history? Extreme Calvansim perhaps? I don’t know, I’d like to find out. I think most can agree that it was a faulty theology that justified slavery, where many Christians were vocally in support of it at the time)

The thing I have found difficult to swallow in the preaching of the church background I’m from, is the emphasis on success, prosperity, and positivity. I just can’t close my eyes to the fact that 925 million people in the world don’t have enough to eat. I’m not sure the prosperity message would go down too well in the developing world, and yet we know throughout scripture that God’s heart is towards the poor, the broken, and the oppressed.

Our western culture by and large IS an oppressor. Our greed for cheap luxury goods keeps people poor, and robs countries of their natural resources. Our demand for trinkets and latte keeps people producing electronics, coffee and chocolate instead of food for their own people.  Yes, we rich nations give a lot of aid. But stop and think about why Africa or Asia needs aid in the first place? Yes there is corruption and poor governance there, but don’t you think some of Africa’s troubles has to do with the hundreds of years of exploitation of it’s people and natural resources to make the west rich? The breaking of indigenous cultures under the oppression of racist policies? The breaking of families: fathers away for months or years at a time working for a pittance in diamond and gold mines to make a few white people rich? Hell Yes. So, granted, we rich people give aid and our wealth allows us to do a lot of good in the world, but let’s stop and think about how we got rich in the first place. I’m not talking about the last 5 -10 years. I’m talking about looking for a moment at the history of the worlds richest countries, and their track records of justice or lack of it.

I know that our understanding has evolved over the years. I know that many wrongs were done by people who had the best of intentions and who thought they were doing good. It’s my hope that our theology, our knowledge of God and his goodness, will inform us and transform the way we live…and I hope for justice. I hope that of all people, that Christians will be known as those who stand up against injustice. God forbid that we would find ourselves in bed with the oppressor (again).

Some related stuff I’ve been reading:

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A quote from Fredrick Beuchner

“There is no event so common place but that God is present within it, always hidden, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not to recognize Him.”                               ~ Fredrick Beuchner

No, my mind is not evil. And I like living here.

Facebook posts seem to provide plenty of fodder for discussion on belief. It’s quite often in fact that a status or quote elicits a response in me, but more often than not I don’t comment. I can never think of a reply succinct or witty enough to make my point without causing offense or taking up the whole page.

However,  in the past week or so two things have irritated me so much that I have to write something! I’ll write it here instead to get it off my chest I suppose, but also perhaps to prompt some thought in anyone reading. The first is a quote, and the second is a comment made by someone in response to a discussion about optimism vs pessimism.

Before the quote, I must mention that I haven’t read the quote in context, and I don’t know if it is true to it’s original intent when read in isolation. However, it sums up a widely held position in the church today, so regardless of what J G Lake intended it to mean, it’s literal meaning is one commonly held and is what I’d like to comment on.

“When a Christian tries to live by reason he is moving out of God’s country into the enemy’s land. We belong in the miraculous and the supernatural realm.”~ J G Lake

It goes without saying that there followed a number of ‘likes’ and  hearty comments of agreement. My favourite was a tongue in cheek dig from my friend: “sounds reasonable”.

I would like to know by what means the writer, the quoter and the ‘likers’ came to the conslusion that reason is the enemy’s land? Surely it was by reason that they reasoned it?? Surely it was reason itself which enabled them to become literate and educated (terms used loosely)? Is there not some inconsistency here? If reason is of the enemy, and reason was the means of them discovering this, then it follows that their conclusion is not to be trusted. A conundrum yes?

The problem I have with all of this is that this view of things undermines God given intellect. This kind of belief excuses all sorts of ridiculous behaviour, phenomena and outright stupidity, by which people can defer to ‘the Spiritual realm’ and not have to hold themselves to any sensible thought about it’s validity. God has revealed Himself to us through Jesus Christ..has made Himself knowable. He has shown Himself through creation which mankind has studied and continues to discover. The fact that God has made Himself knowable, means that He can be revealed to our minds.

I’m not saying there is no supernatural realm, no place for faith or mystery. What I have a problem with is the idea that the supernatural is right, the mind is wrong. I am a whole person. All of me is wonderfully made, and there is no part of me that God hasn’t included into Himself in Christ. His work is complete and perfect and wonderful. I love that He has given me a mind. I love discovering Him with it! I love learning and reasoning and understanding.

And the second:

“An optimist operates from the spirit realm, he sees in faith; a pessimist operates from the soul realm, he lives in the natural and is not a partner with the Spirit!”

Yes. I proudly live in natural realm. I was born here. It is the home God has created for me. It’s a beautiful creation, nature delights me and I don’t want to live anywhere else to be quite honest. I also quite like the soul God gave me. Our bodies are incredible and it’s ability to adapt and heal fascinates me. I love the raw messy humanity of it…I love the great leveller of the fact that every person on earth uses their bowels and has to clean their ears out once in a while.  I’m so tired of hearing that the spiritual is better, and the natural is embarrassing and a necessary but temporary evil. The natural realm is perfectly natural! It’s our habitat! He created it for us! What the heck is wrong with it???

Why this constant separation, this cutting me down the middle? Why this constant defining of good and bad?

 

 

The Paper Pope

“Barth accepts and welcomes scholarly criticism of the Bible, even when it shows the Scriptures to be full of errors and inconsistencies. He does not consider the Bible infallible, and he deplores orthodox Protestants who make it into “a paper Pope.” Nevertheless, the Bible testifies to God’s Word, which is revealed to man through human speech. The words that the Biblical writers use may not always be the appropriate ones, but they must be accepted as words elected by God. “

~ Witness to an Ancient Truth, TIME magazine (20 April 1962)

 

This is a quote about theologian Karl Barth I found browsing the internet. If it is true that this is what Barth thought about the Bible, then I find it very interesting. I have been thinking along these lines. I have sometimes wondered how we can call the Bible the infallible word of God when it has been translated and interpreted by men. Men who have their own opinions colouring every page. I have also seen the problem when it is elevated above all else and become a yard stick, rule book, ultimate authority. It’s dangerous.

In my developing ideas on this I’ve thought that the Bible is divinely inspired (as are great inventions, medicine, prophecy, creativity etc) as well as historical documents which point to the revelation of God throughout time. It’s a God-inspired and special record of His interactions with the human race (in Israel mostly…surely He revealed Himself to other people groups throughout history only we have no records of this?). I believe in it’s truth. However I don’t believe every jot and letter of it has come to us in absolute perfection. I believe the ultimate authority is the Word of God (Jesus Himself) which is why the Bible interpreted dogmatically without relationship with Jesus creates horrendous misrepresentations of God, is used to lord it over people, and all the other dastardly things we’ve seen in history done in the name of God, (slavery, racism, colonialism, religious wars, religion).

Your thoughts?

We Will Never Overestimate God’s Grace

Steve McVey: We Will Never Overestimate God’s Grace.

This is a great little video worth the 30 minute listen. Especially the second half. Completely undoes the erroneous view that the crucifixion was a legal act of penal substitution.

Abundant Life

Something I have noticed about Christians (at least the ones I have contact with) is that there is a heavy emphasis on dreams, grandiose futures and success. I’m not against people doing great things with their lives. Nor am I against success. I’m just uncertain that the emphasis is a healthy one. It seems there is a sense that people have to do great things for God. Or that living a simple happy quiet life is to waste it. Or that the salvation of the world depends on believers achieving these great and wonderful dreams.

I’m a dreamer. I have dreams, ones that have been with me for years, but I am rethinking what they are for. What they mean, how important they are and if they were motivated by a wrong understanding of God. You see I’d noticed that in my hope for my dreams to come about, I was missing the life I already have. I was wasting my life actually…the life I already have because I was hankering after things that haven’t happened yet. In fact, they might not ever happen. They are still only dreams after all…theoretical, ideas, hopes. Nothing concrete. But what IS real is an abundant life right here, right now.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s still stuff I hope for. There are still things I want to do before I die. And I believe they are God-inspired. But I’m tired of pushing hard, constantly trying to ‘position’ myself for them to happen. Tired of ‘contending’ for them. Tired of panicking that I’m not doing enough to make them happen. And tired of missing the joy of the life I have right now.

I think some of this emphasis on pursuing greatness comes from a faulty understanding of the Gospel. Some people seem to have an overinflated opinion of their own importance. They seem to think God needs them. I’ve been in a place where I’ve felt the burden of responsibility for the salvation of the world. That if I don’t share the gospel with someone and they die, then it’s all my fault. How small do we think God’s love is? That he would trust the eternal condition of one of his children to me? He loves them more than that! We are invited to participate with Christ, this is true. But He’s not in a blind panic about getting the job done or revealing Himself or His love to people. I want to say Relax people! Participate with Christ, enjoy the richness of life that He has given us! To be quite honest, this reveals the love and light of Christ much more than the red-faced, bulging neck veins, head down, bum up approach. The gospel is good news!

I am hearing people preach the grace of God. They preach that “It is Finished!” but keep working so hard at making things happen. The hype surrounding their passions make it seem a little like they are tying to convince others or themselves that it is true. They talk about the rest of God, but at the same time there is a sense of constant hard work about them. They have no sense of enjoying life, or relishing the abundance they have been blessed with in this life. I can see a perpetual straining, contending and pushing foward. There is a constant seeking for elusive, poorly defined religious carrots. Out of their mouths comes grace, but their lives exemplify fanatical religious effort. They don’t have LIFE!