Progressive Christians would have shamed Jesus

Partly a product of social media, the way we talk about those with whom we disagree has changed a lot.

In particular, at the risk of sounding partisan, here is the way I see those who view themselves as “progressive” (what a terrible name to give yourself) engaging religious conservatism: Instead of talking to people about why they disagree and why they think people of a conservative bent should change their minds or behaviour, they talk about them to the world, and they do so they are not critically engaging them (even if they will tell us that this is what they are doing), instead they are serving the social function of shaming them, not so that they will change their mind, but so that they will be afraid of speaking.

Many progressive Christians, if I have observed things correctly, think that they are the real followers of Jesus (who, we are told, was an inclusive, tolerant, liberal-minded progressive), while religious conservatives are more like the religious hypocrites from whom Jesus distanced himself. Sweeping generalisations are usually wrong if taken as hard and fast rules. This description is true of many religious conservatives, no doubt There are plenty of them, after all. But to a large extent it is self-flattering nonsense. While many progressives like to say that religious conservatives “pick and choose” which commands of Jesus they follow, sometimes it’s helpful to hold up a mirror to this outlook, if only because of its irrepressible self-confidence in being real, authentic, pure-as-the-driven-snow, Jesus-following Christianity, along with its current occupation of a position of social power, something Christians are justified in being suspicious of (let’s remember that it’s not just a worrying combination when it’s manifested in the religious right).

Progressive Christianity, had it existed in the first century, would have found opportunities to shame Jesus himself. Continue reading “Progressive Christians would have shamed Jesus”

Defending adulterers

NOTE: I am about to slowly make my return to regular blogging, and I have a number of partially-written pieces that I will finish and publish first. I wrote most of this article some time ago, shortly after the Ashley Madison website, which promotes extramarital affairs, was hacked and personal details of members were leaked to the public.

I defend child molesters and adulterers. You should too, depending on what you’re defending them from.

In the past, I’ve upset people by denying that you have the moral right to kill a child molester in retribution for what they’ve done.

Some of the same people who (I think) want to see themselves in Jesus’ sandals as he stood between the adulterer and the accusers, saying “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” have been having far too much fun in the stoner mob when this or that Christian has confessed to having an Ashley Madison account. I wonder what degree of satisfaction they will have gained from the suicide of John Gibson. Hey, you didn’t actually throw a stone, so you’re all good, right? Continue reading “Defending adulterers”

Re-humanising the religious victims of the Revolution: Admitting the truth is step one

Recently a group of Islamic State sympathisers entered a Catholic Church in Normandy, France, during Mass, took hostages and murdered a priest.

Naturally, the French authorities condemned this violent act. This line in particular caught my eye:

François Hollande, the French president, promised to win the war against terrorism. In a televised address to the nation he said: “To attack a church, kill a priest, is to profane the republic.”

The republic? The irony here was a little rich. The republic, established by the French Revolution? The revolution in which clergy were literally being killed by those advocating atheism and reason, because the clergy represented allegiance to a foreign power? The republic whose violent birth is still celebrated on Bastille Day, commemorating a day of shocking violence, killings and beheading? Surely there is a fundamental disconnect here. I mean sure, of course I get that Mr Hollande condemns the attack. I don’t doubt his sincerity. But there doesn’t seem to be much careful, consistent thought to this statement in a French context, that an attack on the Church is an attack on the Republic.

I took to Twitter thus: “A Muslim kills a priest and he’s bad. Atheists murder the religious and people celebrate Bastille Day because of it. You silly Frenchies.” Yes its short and snarky, but such is Twitter. Continue reading “Re-humanising the religious victims of the Revolution: Admitting the truth is step one”

The Primates Oust The Episcopal Church (for now)

At the recent meeting of the Anglican Primates, the issue of same-sex marriage rose to the surface. In a refreshingly conservative, faithful and courageous move, the Primates have issued a statement declaring that the Episcopal Church in America, because of its unilateral choice to part ways with the Anglican Communion by solemnising same-sex unions in contravention of both Scripture and the teaching of the Church (which welcomes all people and celebrates marriage as taught in Scripture), is no longer a representative of the Anglican Community. Things will remain that way for three years, giving the Episcopal Church a chance to get things in order. Continue reading “The Primates Oust The Episcopal Church (for now)”

Have Yourself a Very Pagan Christmas! (not)

It’s that time of year. Christmas is just days away, and I’m pleasantly surprised our media in New Zealand hasn’t trotted out the same “scholars” as last time to break the scandalous story that… I don’t know, Jesus never really existed (yawn), Nazareth didn’t exist (uh huh), Israel never existed, Jesus was a gay feminist or something equally likely.

One reliable Christmas theme is that really, Christmas isn’t Christian in origins. You’ll hear things like:

“Someone keeps putting up “Keep Christ in Christmas” and “Christ is the reason” signs all around my town. I’m guessing they don’t know about the celebration’s pagan roots.”

That’s the caption that was attached to this “pagan traditions” picture. If you do start hearing this sort of things from those heathen carollers of the internet, this year give the gift of knowledge.

Continue reading “Have Yourself a Very Pagan Christmas! (not)”

All Scripture is… just handy?

In a shocking and unexpected move, overtly progressive Christian bloggers have been making bad arguments against unpopular conservative forms of Christianity and their whacky view of the Bible.  If I were not so busy pummeling homeless people with my fists and stockpiling guns, I would be outraged.

It started like this: Someone shared a link to an article by Fred Clark, summarising an article on 2 Timothy 3:16, telling us that his “fundamentalist” friends (he elsewhere in the article refers to them as “fundies”) like to use this verse to address any question about “the infallibility or inerrancy or “literal” interpretation of the Bible.” Surely there’s a bit of rhetorical overstatement here – I’m yet to encounter people using this passage to show that a “literal” interpretation of the whole Bible is correct. But Clark’s point – or at least the one that caught my eye and prompted me to comment on Facebook when somebody shared the article, was about authority.

Fred says that Paul doesn’t claim that Scripture is authoritative or inerrant. He only claims that Scripture is “useful”:1

This verse doesn’t claim that scripture is authoritative, or infallible, or inerrant. It claims that scripture is “useful.” As McGrath puts it: “The focus is entirely on behavior. Scriptures are not said to impart right doctrine, but to be useful in training people in living a particular way.” [Emphasis added]

On the face of it, this is not true. Sure, Paul is, in this context, talking about behaviour. But this verse doesn’t only say that Scripture is useful, it says that Scripture is god-breathed and useful. The writer of the blog was simply omitting the first part of what Paul says, and as a result his claim was false. When “fundies” cite this verse to show that Paul thought Scripture had authority, they are not referring to the fact that he called Scripture “useful” (although of course they don’t deny that). They are talking about the fact that Paul considered the Scripture to be breathed by God. So to deny that Paul calls Scripture authoritative on the grounds that he actually called it useful is simply not a true thing to say. Continue reading “All Scripture is… just handy?”

  1. I understand that some people think Paul didn’t write the pastoral Epistles, including 1 and 2 Timothy. In recent years I’ve become impressed by the flimsiness of the arguments against Pauline authorship of these letters. I will not comment on that issue here, but I will refer here to the author as Paul. []

This is the way. Walk in it.

Oh, rebellious children, says the LORD, who carry out a plan, but not mine…
For they are a rebellious people, faithless children, children who will not hear the instruction of the LORD;
who say to the seers, “Do not see”; and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions,
leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”…
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”

(Isaiah 30)

For all the love I have of the Anglican tradition (which I describe as an ancient, evangelical and catholic tradition), it does have those pockets of soft, new-age intellectual goo that remind me there’s work to do. Continue reading “This is the way. Walk in it.”

An Ash Wednesday Reflection 2015

We just got back from taking our kids to their first Ash Wednesday service. Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a time where we examine ourselves with a repentant heart, confessing our sins and reminding ourselves of God’s mercy. Many people give something up for lent and the practice of fasting during Lent is common, so that people can take their focus off their needs and pleasures and focus on being made right with God.

During the Ash Wednesday service, participants are marked on the forehead with a cross. Tonight the prayer just before the marking with ash really stood out to me:

Loving God, you created us from the dust of the earth; may these ashes be for us a sign of our penitence and mortality, and a reminder that only by the cross do we receive eternal life.

What a simple reality. The prayer wasn’t burdened down with the language that we sometimes use to describe these truths, terminology like “physicalism,” “conditional immortality” or “annihilationism.” One of the frustrating things (but of course not the only frustrating thing) when Christians deny these biblical truths and talk about the immortality of the soul or about everybody living forever (it’s just a question of where they live) is that we have to come up with terminology to describe these positions.

This prayer, though, is a perfect example of how something like “annihilationism” or “conditional immortality” is ideally expressed, with the straightforward, unadorned claims of the Bible. We are mortal, made from the earth (or from stardust as some scientists like to say), we are dust and to dust we will return. We should have no default expectation of living forever, and it is only through Christ that we can have eternal life. Call that “conditional immortality” if you like, but it’s just the Christian Gospel.

Glenn Peoples