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. When they do so they are not critically engaging with them (even if they 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).
Christians shouldn’t oppose X, because Jesus never said anything about X! Right?
With same-sex marriage being the topic of the day for a lot of “progressive Christians,” this is an argument I’ve seen lately. Since Jesus never said anything about same-sex marriage, Christians shouldn’t oppose it either. When I last saw it, I queried whether it was even true, but the same line was repeated back to me each time: Jesus said NOTHING about same-sex marriage (the capitals were used in the reply). Continue reading “Jesus never said ANYTHING about X!”→
With Christmas nearly upon us, here’s another foray into the birth of Jesus. How was he the “Son of David” if Joseph, the descendant of David, wasn’t really his father?
Biblical prophecy foretold that a descendant of David would rule on his father’s (David’s) throne and rebuild the fallen tabernacle of David. From the beginning, the Christian movement has claimed that this descendant is Jesus, who was miraculously born to Mary, a young virgin, and her betrothed husband Joseph.
Any concerns raised about the possibility that this statement in Acts should be translated as “with the blood of his own” or “with the blood of his son” can at least in part be met with the response that so many of those who would feel it improper to speak of the death of God on the cross are also those who take the translation here to be the appropriate one and who are suspicious of the alternatives as concessions to liberalism. [↩]
Is it really clear that the first Christians believed in the empty tomb of Jesus and in the resurrection of our bodies, leaving all the graves empty?
Check out the rest of the article, in which I explain that the earliest Christian community maintained that in the resurrection of Jesus, his body came back to life, setting the precedent for the resurrection of all the dead.
If the doctrine of divine timelessness is true, then it turns out – perhaps surprisingly to some people – that materialist Christology – and in particular what it has to say about the death of Jesus – is given a helping hand.
Is believing in the resurrection of Jesus as foolish as falling for somebody’s tall-tale about teleportation? Recently James East brought to my attention his short article where he calls into question the “minimal facts” approach to arguing for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. How well does his objection fare? Not especially well, as it turns out. Continue reading “The minimal facts argument and teleportation”→
Long story short: “Turning the other cheek” does not mean becoming a pacifist. But some of you may require more persuasion than that, so keep reading.
On the 27th of October 2012 I enjoyed taking part in a panel discussion for Elephant TV on Christian views on war. Dr Chris Marshall (a former lecturer of mine) and Adrian Leason spoke on behalf of the Christian pacifist view, and Rev. Captain Paul Stanaway and I represented a just war perspective. Elephant TV is a fairly unique forum in New Zealand, bringing together Christians from different perspectives on contentious issues in front of an audience and cameras, getting a summary of their side of the story and putting questions to them to discuss. I think the event – and the series as a whole – is a fantastic idea to give exposure within the Christian community to the “elephant in the room” (where the show gets its title), those issues that we know are there and are important, but aren’t necessarily being discussed in churches in a way where all sides get a fair hearing.
The hope of all of this of course is not just that people will hear somebody say something they like and make up their mind on the spot, but that they will gain a new perspective to help them think more about these things for themselves. We were only able to scratch the surface of some of the issues mentioned, and as I said to people after the recording – there’s so much that we’d all no doubt like to have added, responded to, explained further, but that’s what blogs are for! Being stimulated to focus again on the issues of pacifism, the use of force and the role of Scripture in the discussion has meant that my thoughts have been occupied by some of the biblical material that frequently becomes part of the arsenal (pun intended) of Christian pacifists. Over the next little while I’ll be discussing some of that biblical material.
In this instalment of the Nuts and Bolts series I thought I’d offer an outline of an issue that I was reminded of by some articles suggested to me recently. That issue is the Trinitarian notion of the subordination of the Son to the Father.
In one of these articles (by Ben Witherington), the writer denied that Christians ever believed in the eternal submission of Jesus the Son to his Father until 1977, when this “novel” suggestion was first made. I had to look twice to make sure I was reading it right! But there it was, this claim that simply flies in the face of historical fact. In context it was patently obvious that the goal of the article was not actually to explore or explain historical theology, but to make a claim for a position on a hot-button issue about gender and church (the claim was made that this doctrine was invented in 1977 to justify the oppression of women). The horse was before the cart, and theology in general was being re-read for the sake of a modern conflict. It’s the kind of thing that troubles me greatly, when people appear to approach an issue in theology with one eye looking back over their shoulder at a cultural issue where they feel obliged to come out on the “safe” side of an issue in the modern world, and the cultural pressure they are facing ends up controlling the theological outcome they reach. In light of the fact that such things go on all the time, I thought it would be a good idea to say a word or two to explain the historically orthodox view of the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Whether you believe it or not is another matter, as is the question of what implications you think it has, but all I really want to do here is to explain that it really is a historically orthodox perspective, and has very plausible biblical support.
In the “Nuts and Bolts” series, I lay out some of the fundamental ideas and terms used in philosophy and theology for the lay person.
This time I’m looking at kenosis (also referred to less elegantly as kenoticism). Unfortunately, this is one of those terms which in some contexts generates more heat than light. If you search the internet for the term it’s likely that some of the first results you’ll find are extreme statements about the “heresy of kenosis.” Today I found one gem, for example, which claims that “The doctrinal heresy known as Kenoticism originated in the nineteenth century by the German theologians.”
Kenosis, however, is neither heretical nor German, and certainly did not arise in the nineteenth century, even though some nineteenth century German theologians may have formulated the idea in ways that others had not. Far from being an invention of modern Europe, kenosis has a long history in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, a significant branch of the church that many moderns are frankly ignorant of (moderns often including myself). Continue reading “Nuts and Bolts 012: Kenosis”→