The church in the age of MLK: the culture and us

mlk_giving-speechThanks to the memory section on Facebook, an article written by Dr. Anthony Bradley popped up from two years that I shared titled The KKK, Selma, and Southern Christianity. It was a raw reflection from seeing the movie Selma but also being from the South, he knew all too well the realities that existed for black citizens especially having parents that lived through Jim Crow.

But he makes a specific point regarding the church;

As a theologian, this is where the movie became really interesting. Those who joined King were mainly Jewish, Protestant mainliners from the North, Roman Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. Conspicuously absent were conservative Protestant evangelicals, especially those from the South. In fact, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was the highest ranking non-black religious figure in America to join King in the Selma march. This raised several questions for me: What was different about Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions that allowed them to freely join the fight for voting rights while evangelicals chose to do nothing or join the cause to support Jim Crow? Where were the Calvinists who believed in total depravity? Where were the evangelicals? Where was Billy Graham? Where were the Jonathan Edwards fans? Where were the Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, Methodists, and so on? I am asking because I do not understand.

What is it about southern evangelicalism that prevented those churches historically from seeing the plight of blacks as connected to the Gospel and the command to love God and neighbor? Maybe there is a real deep theological flaw in what is known as “evangelical theology?” Maybe the evangelicalism of the 1940s, 50s and 60s did not really understand the Gospel as clearly as many are lead to believe. I honestly do not have the answers to these questions but if evangelicals were so blinded by these issues during the Civil Rights Movement it makes me wonder what evangelicals might be missing today.

These are great questions, especially considering the fiercest defenders of segregation were evangelical Christians. A common retort that I’ve heard is that people weren’t really Christians. I think that’s a cop out. But perhaps the answers are probably more obvious and sobering than we might think. I believe the cultural forces that saw black citizens as inherently undeserving of equal rights and treatment were so permanently entrenched in the church, that Bible reading and believing folks accepted this premise without batting an eye. How else do you explain the cognitive dissonance? Continue reading

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How dare those Christians use their gifts on worldly platforms

scared-crowdAfter all, we need to be salt and light. Reminds me of this submission I made to the Babylon Bee.

Church expresses growing concerns of woman entering secular accounting profession

Members of Greater Cornerstone Independent Bible Fellowship Church commit to keeping careful watch of one of the beloved members as she accepts a job in a secular firm specializing in accounting. Having long prided themselves on not watering down their Christian witness in the secular work world, some members are noticing a growing trend of Christians abandoning their beloved Christian environments to participate in works of work that doesn’t preach the gospel specifically.

“It isn’t safe,” said Bill Pederman, head deacon. “Interacting with all those numbers are bound to muddle up the faith and lure Christians into a secular mindset. What if a column of entries adds up to 16.3 instead of 3.16?” gasped Pederman weary that when specific Bible references are not made, people are likely to forget they are representing the King of Kings. Long time member, Barbara Menke added that this has a bearing on the Christian witness. “By engaging with spreadsheets that secular people make, the Christian witness can be compromised because you end up turning out a product that looks like the world.” She gasped at the prospect of losing salt with pollution of the world.   “God didn’t call us to be pepper,” she firmly insisted.

GCIBFC is assembling a committee to investigate these matters further so that the Christian witness is preserved.

I think you know what I getting at. By the way, this article Are You the Manure of the Earth from Dr. Anthony Bradley on being salt and light is a wonderful read.

Posted in Christian living, culture | 1 Comment

The presupposition dance: our tango with Scripture and systems

reading-the-BibleI got into a couple of interesting threads the other day on Facebook that got me thinking about this post I did a few years ago, The Myth of Non-theology and Neutrality. One of the discussions involved limited atonement. I recounted how I too once struggled with the concept until I started asking different questions. Now these questions went beyond the typical identification of cherry picked proof texts, but were derived from a more systematized approach to Scripture that naturally arises from it. In other words, it wasn’t enough for me to rest on the passages I believed communicated a universal atonement but to ask what the whole counsel of Scripture has communicated about the nature and application of the atonement. I posted this article here as a succinct summary.

Well, sure enough, one of the rebuttals was that it seemed that the position was being derived because of doctrine or rather, a doctrinal system was being imposed on the text. Because the article itself didn’t deal with any particular passages. On the surface, I think this kind of conclusion might sound like a good corrective. I mean, we do want Scripture to speak for itself. However, my retort was in line with what I wrote a few years ago regarding the myth of neutrality. There is a dance between our exegesis, i.e., letting Scripture speak for itself and our presuppositions that are formed from making decisions on how the whole of the 66 books form a complete picture. This also presumes that we all bring presuppositions into the text, hence the myth of neutrality. The issue is not whether we do or not, but what is informing the presuppositions. I wrote;

But his main point must be duly noted. It’s naive to think that we can have no method of interpretation and just approach the text with neutrality. We all have some kind of influence that we bring to the text and especially those we learn from who help us shape our ideas about Christianity. There is no such thing as just being biblical because it is necessary to have some type of methodology to interpret Scripture. The idea that we just pick up the Bible and read often ends up in what I call Scattegory Hermeneutics, a hodge-podge of interpretative methods that either over-emphasize some areas than others and/or produce inconsistencies with the complete witness of Scripture and faithfulness to historic Christianity.  When coupled with pragmatism and experience that is so prevalent in mainstream evangelicalism, interpretation becomes its hostage bending to the will of expediency.

Now this may raise an obvious question and concern. Does this mean we impose theology unto the text? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that there is a set of presuppositions that are the sina que non of Christianity. Meaning, there certain things we must believe to be true about the tenets of the Christian faith, without which Christianity does not exist. That’s why its important to have teachers, who themselves have taken the time to study the depth and breadth of Scripture, church history and the discipline of theology. This helps in knowing have or have not been faithful to the historic witness of Christianity.

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The hidden deception of spiritual idolatry

rock concert_man on stageWhen think of idolatry, it’s not uncommon to think of those things that take us away from the Lord. And certainly, that is what idolatry does. Usually, when it’s addressed items assigned to idolatry include career, hobby, politics, sports, etc.

As a side note, I think we should be clear of what idolatry is and what it is not. I typically hear this explanation: it’s anything we worship more than God. But what does that mean exactly and how does that square with Scripture’s treatment of idolatry? If we look at both Old and New testaments, I don’t know that this vague description really covers it. Idols took the form of gods in which people placed their hope and trust for existence in life. And while we can become self-absorbed in careers or sports, loving a thing is not necessarily idolatrous in and of itself.

I appreciated this description in my Bible encyclopedia, which succinctly captures the heart of idolatry;

Idolatry was the embodiment of human desire and thought. Idols, though made of many shapes and sizes, really represented the image of man, for they expressed his thoughts, desires, and purposes.

Those wooden statues in ancient times meant something more than just the object but provided the allusion of safety and security for one’s life. It gave people a sense of satisfaction. Of course, we don’t have little wooden statues that we bow down to. But keeping in mind what idols were in the ancient world, the “thoughts, desires, and purposes” translate into what we place our confidence in. Therefore, the warning against idolatry needs to go beyond just something we love more than God. Continue reading

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The lost art of enjoying God

happy-woman in fieldI came across this wonderful article on Desiring God, The Lost Art of Feasting that I want to leverage to talk about a broader topic. David Mathis explains that even though fasting, the deprivation of food, is a good discipline, the Bible also points to the fact that feasts embody a celebration of God’s people enjoying him and each other that enforces our unity as covenant people. He writes,

Feasting is not first about the food. It is foremost about the Godward celebration of some specific occasion together. Good food and drink, in abundance, come in alongside our corporate focus to accentuate the appreciation and enjoyment of God and his kindness. The heart of feasting is not the food itself, but the heart of the feasters. A true feast is bigger than the food — infinitely bigger. The center is God and his greatness and grace toward us in Christ.

For Christians, feasting is not the same as mere indulgence. There is nothing particularly Christian about eating and drinking more than usual. What makes feasting a means of God’s grace for nourishing our souls is explicitly celebrating Christ together in faith. Whether it’s Thanksgiving or Easter, a birthday or anniversary, when we feast as Christians, we celebrate the bounty and kindness of our Creator and Redeemer. Feasting in Christ is no mere physical event, but deeply spiritual.

I occasionally come across arguments from Christians that relegate fellowship to Bible study and deny any social type activity as the fabric of fellowship. So I greatly appreciated this article because I believe Mathis makes a pretty good case for why shared meals should be considered a vital aspect of fellowship. My congregation enjoys a monthly fellowship meal, which I believe embodies what Mathis is referring to. Not only that, I’ve lost count on the many times I’ve experienced encouragement in the Lord simply through eating with other Christians. Continue reading

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