Another question: on being woke and Christian

I’ve been pecking away little by little on a follow up to my last post, Some Questions I’m Asking While Off to My White Evangelical Church. It occurred to me that there are some more questions I’ve been chewing on but didn’t get out in that post. But I also wanted to parse out the concerns I raise from real interest and needs with respect to Christian engagement with issues of social justice, for what it’s worth. My goal with all these questions is not to criticize for the sake of criticism and it’s certainly not to dismiss legitimate concerns. I wish to honestly evaluate if how we are going about the task of racial reconciliation is counterproductive to the cause of Christ’s kingdom.

In the meantime, Darrell Harrison over at Just Me Thinking wrote this fairly piercing piece, How Woke Theology is Hurting the Black Church. The heart of his concern is that present day social justice movement efforts are subordinating, if not undermining, the root of a Christian response to the ills of this world–that is, the need for redemption and forgiveness of sins through Christ. Highlighting the work and influence of James Cone, a noted Liberation theologian who Harrison believes is captivating the mood of the current discourse, Harrison writes;

The problem with “woke theology” is it emphasizes a teleology of Christianity that is one-dimensional. It does this by reducing Christianity to what Cone described as “worldly theology”. In other words, a theology whose primary raison d’etre has less to do with the spiritual redemption of a sinful people, that is, the world entire, and more with the corporeal redemption of a particular ethnic people, to whom salvation is viewed in terms of, as Cone stated, “the affirmation of black community that emancipates black people from white racism.”

A recurring thought in the black theology of James Cone is Jesus as the divine “liberator” of black people from the scourge of white oppression. It is a view which, in my mind, begs the question: why does Cone see the God of Christianity – Jesus Christ – as this great liberator and not Allah? Or the Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva? Or the Buddha? Or any other religious deity? The answer is simple, really. It is because only the gospel of Christ deals with that which gives rise to oppression to begin with – our sin.

I’ve observed that a common retort to present day social justice efforts is describing it’s adherents as embracing a social gospel and liberation theology, not holding to biblical theology or maybe not even real Christians. In other words, it’s easy to reject efforts as simply being a social gospel. To some extent, this can be true. But this low hanging fruit can become a much too easy way of dismissing sincere Christians who are looking to live out the gospel in their lives. Here is where I would caution haste assessments of what’s actually going on with the present day movement and those who espouse it, less we unjustly accuse brothers and sisters of Christ of being heretics. Continue reading

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About that time Peter demanded his religious freedom

jesus-and-disciplesIn what has been one of the most bizarre, sleaziest election season, it goes without saying that the choice for Bible adhering, gospel-centered Christians has been quite challenging. Typically motivated by issues of life and religious freedom, it makes perfect sense to me that there is a natural compatibility of Christians towards conservatism and are either fully entrenched in the GOP or as independents, like myself, lean right and want to uphold these values. We who naturally gravitate towards the GOP naturally want to ensure that one who supports our values will occupy the highest seat of the nation. Not that the executive branch acts alone (why we have a checks and balance system), but there is a certain orientation towards issues that we typically expect.

These concerns are quite legitimate. We care about the rights of the unborn. And we care about the liberties granted us under the founding principles of this nation, that are to ensure freedom of worship. And so the typical response at elections is who will align with these values.

But there’s just one problem. The candidate of choice in 2016 has created an ethical dilemma.

Nonetheless, someone has to occupy the Oval Office. And so many evangelicals have convinced themselves that the issues of religious freedom, right to life and same-sex marriage are far too important to concede to the likes of Hillary Clinton. After all, she would only continue the legacy of Obama with it’s same-sex agenda, government coercion whose ideology goes directly against the grain of the principles upon which America was founded.

And so as conservative evangelicals clamor to justify a vote for Trump, despite the fact that his character maligns every ounce of morality that Christianity represents, the argument goes – but our religious freedom, the Supreme Court, traditional values. We need to live as Christians, after all. And living as Christians in this great nation means we should not have to bow to the heathen regime of Alinky-esque rulers who strive to squash our position.

It’s like this is the most important thing. Continue reading

Race, grace, and the work of the church

helping handsIn the midst of this Labor Day weekend, I was reminded of a piece I wrote for my church’s newsletter last year after a trip to St. Louis and thought I’d share it here.

Normally my Labor Day weekends are pretty non-eventful and I use the extra day to catch up on rest, reading or household projects. But this past Labor Day weekend busted that mold. I travelled to St. Louis, MO to attend the Leadership Development and Resource Weekend. LDR, as it’s commonly known, was started by a group of African-American students in conjunction with mentors at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN, a church of the PCA. The gathering has grown over the years into a multi-cultural representation of PCA members and friends to consider ways in which the church can address areas of disparities.

This year’s theme of the conference was Orthodox Activism: the Church in Pursuit of Social Justice. Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, crafter of the resolution on civil rights that was presented at the 43rd General Assembly,  gave the first plenary address and what rousing presentation. Dr. Lucas examined the doctrine of the spirituality of the church as cited in our WCF 31.5 calling for the church, “not to meddle with civil affairs . . .  unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary.” Throughout the history of American Presbyterianism, the doctrine of spirituality had been used selectively as the basis for uninvolvment in matters of social affairs, most notably civil rights. However, Dr. Lucas pointed out that the doctrine had been inconsistently applied and exhorted the hearers to consider ways in which the church should rightfully engage in matters of social justice for the cause of the gospel.

The weekend drew to a close with an apropos visit to one of St. Louis’ oldest Presbyterian churches that had great significance for the work of the church. Memorial Presbyterian Church, as it is now named, was established in 1868 as a gospel experiment that began a few years prior, in 1864. While the Civil War was headed to a close, some Confederate and Union soldiers wanted to test the biblical call for unification of the body of Christ comprised of radically diverse people without any preference to race or political sympathies. Imagine that! At a time when a war was fought in large part over the outcome of it’s black citizens, most of whom did not even share equal citizenship, racial and political lines were set aside for the sake of the gospel. Continue reading

Pope Fiction: The clash of the Protestant Titans

pulp fiction_travolta and jacksonAs I’ve watched the events unfold these past few days with Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., I’ve watched another set of events unfold – Protestants. Angry Protestants. Protesting Protestants. Protestants that pepper the interwebs with angry rants about the evils of Catholicism and the falsehood of the pope celebrated as the head of the church (which actually he would say Christ is the head of the church as would any knowledgeable Catholic). Nonetheless, I’ve been somewhat amused at the “hit job” that has emerged from a simple visit as if the Pope is seeking to take over the United States and must be silenced.

Now, I am staunchly Protestant so please don’t confuse me with a overly mushy ecumenical sympathizer who just wants to blindly sing Kumbaya with my Catholic friends (some of whom really are Christian by Protestant standards BTW) while I bask in the presence of his majesty the pontiff. I’m no expert but I believe I have a somewhat firm grasp on the distinctions between Catholics and Protestants. While I am sympathetic to the premise of Catholic belief especially the intrinsic relationship of Christ to his church, I don’t agree with some tenants of Catholicism primarily the way the indistinguishable nature of the invisible church with the visible church leads to a faulty view of justification as a Christian. Of course, as a Protestant I believe that justification is a one time forensic act through the work of the Spirit not an infusion as one walks out their Christian faith in the context of the church. I am also vehemently opposed to the veneration of Mary and prayers to the saints.

However, given the tumultuous Catholic v. Protestant divide, I took the opportunity in seminary to really investigate Catholicism through a couple of required research papers with the intention of dealing fairly with the material, to the best of my Protestant ability. Considering the charges that are commonly levied against Catholicism and it’s adherents as being misled at best or a false religion at worst,  I thought it was really necessary to examine the charges levied against this system by actually striving to understand the system. Given the love that Christ has lavished on his church, I think some caution is in order before banishing folks out as heretics. Continue reading

Some Dissing Required

My friend Miguel asked this question on Facebook today, “Can Christians respect beliefs that are diametrically opposed to their own”. Well, I wasn’t certain if he meant diametrically opposed to Christian beliefs or diametrically opposed to doctrinal/tradition differences within Christianity.

Nonetheless, if it was in reference to beliefs within Christianity, I could help but reflect on a Facebook discussion that occurred earlier that morning. The discussion related to a post I saw associating baptism and communion with magical rites, which basically spit on the idea sacraments.

I agree wholeheartedly with my friend Laurie’s comment in that discussion

I am growing weary of this movement of people whose goal seems to be to dismantle Christianity and the body of Christ and recreate in their own image and to suit their own desires….and all supposedly in the name of Christ. It is one thing to try to address falsehood and error, but this is something altogether different, I think. It feels like mockery.

Yeah, if feels like mockery to me, too. And it typically is because something new has been discovered about Christianity that no one else has figured out until now.

church history chart cartoon

Now new doesn’t automatically mean bad or untrue. But when 2,000 years of Christian tradition is ignored for novel concepts with the accompanying attitude of having it all figured out, I can’t help but not see that as disrespecting the church that Christ said he would build. Now clearly there has been some doctrinal splintering. But even in the disagreements, we should be able to acknowledge some validity in historical development and elements of timeless tradition that are rooted in Jesus’ own commands (including his apostles’ teaching). This transcends doctrinal/denominational perspectives and is not just related to sacraments but any component related to Christ’s church.

So back to Miguel’s question, I hate to say this but when Christians dismiss and disrespect 2,000 of church history, some dissing may be required.