Michael F. Bird on Christians Who Fear Critical Scholarship

A witty (and terrifyingly accurate) description of the fear some Christians display towards critical biblical scholarship:

“There are those ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with word of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama.”

– Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus, 68. (Thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy – full review coming soon).

Has World Vision Abandoned the Gospel?

World Vision recently announced its decision to begin hiring Christians who are in monogamous same-sex marriages.

Does this mean they have abandoned the Gospel?

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, seems to think so. He says that this is another example of “parachurch evangelical ministries… running headlong… toward the very mainline liberalism to which they were founded as alternative” and that “at stake (in this decision) is the Gospel.

I’m uneasy with Moore’s moral grandstanding for three reasons:

1) The “Divorce” ProblemScreen shot 2013-09-11 at 12.17.40 PM

If evangelical Christians were really concerned with protecting a biblical definition of marriage, then we should have shut the doors on divorce a long time ago. After seeing evangelicals swallow their tongues on this issue (and continue to do so), it’s hard for many (especially us “younger” ones) to hear cries against same-sex marriage, in defense of biblical values, as genuine. Divorce is much more strongly condemned in the Scriptures than gay relationships are. It is also much more prevalent in the church. If Moore believes that marital-purity is essential to Gospel-faithfulness, does he avoid all organizations that hire divorced Christians?

2) The “Endorsement” Problem 

If we grant the traditional view that gay relationships are a sin, we are still left with the nuanced problem of the proper relationship between Christian communities and LGBT people. What part of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels teaches us that standing up for the gospel = strict moral hiring policies? Couldn’t an argument be made that Christians should hire those in same-sex marriages for precisely that reason – so those who are holy can act as contagions around those who are not (look at Jesus’ “contagious holiness” in the Gospels). Since when does “hiring” = “endorsing a moral position” (anymore than hiring someone who is divorced = supporting divorce)? Is this too different from the accusation that Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners made him complicit in their gluttony and drunkenness?

3) The Justice Problem

What is more important: global acts of justice or making sure “the homosexuals” can’t have certain jobs? Christian unity or fights over purity? I’m saddened over what appears to be a largely negative reaction to World Vision over this issue. I can only hope the Christian care of the poor is not hindered because of an in-house fight about which sins are worth banning employment for. Surely Matthew 25:31-46 is an important text for today. In Matthew 25, faithfulness to the Gospel is not seen as commitment to specific and nuanced religious stances on sin, but in ministry to the poor, hungry, and destitute.

I sponsor multiple children through World Vision and will continue to do so. I see no reason not to accept World Vision’s claims at face value – they are punting the theological issue to the church (and you can try to pretend it’s not an issue…. but if you open up your eyes you will see that in reality it is a big issue) and opting for unity at the present time. They have not come out in support of same-sex marriage, much less given up a commitment to the Gospel.

What do you think?
Has World Vision abandoned the Gospel?

What should the proper Christian reaction be to this policy announcement?

Jesus is a Person, not an Idea

A recent poll reveals that “younger Christians are not as supportive of the death penalty as older members of their faith.  When asked if they agreed that “the government should have the option to execute the worst criminals,” 42 percent of self-identified Christian boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, said “yes.” Only 32 percent of self-identified Christian millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, said the same thing.”

Perhaps more noteworthy is the revelation that only 5% of participants believed that Jesus would support the death penalty.  I wonder what goes through the mind of someone who checks the box indicating “I am a practicing Christian” and then publicly disagrees with (what they believe is) Jesus’ opinion on a certain issue?  I only hope that 35% of the participants at least appreciated the irony of their answers.

This is simply one more example of what we already knew: despite the fact that Christians have a decent grasp on Jesus’ clear teachings (on violence, wealth/poverty, divorce, etc), they feel little need to conform their own beliefs or actions to those of Jesus.  In fact, this is such a non-issue for the majority of Christians that they don’t even attempt to hide or rationalize this gap (by arguing that Jesus was for the death penalty, perhaps).  How have Christians become so comfortably distant from their own Lord?

My diagnosis: too many people worship an “idea” of Jesus more than Jesus himself.  That is to say, they have elevated a vague sense of “love,” forgiveness,” and/or “hope for heaven” over and above the actual person and ministry of Jesus.  Too many churches don’t read the Gospels seriously, don’t even try to obey Jesus’ direct teachings, and don’t instruct new believers in the way of discipleship.

In many ways, we treat Jesus as another dead historical figure who has come to stand for certain timeless truths.  We forget that he is alive, that he is on the move, and that he continues to call men, women, and children to join in the revolution he called “the Kingdom of God.”  Sunday morning worship is not a memorial service in which we gather to fondly remember a distant life.  It is a gathering of Jesus’ people, who have joined him in rebellion against the powers of darkness and have instead adopted his way of being human.  It is a reminder that Jesus is a person to be followed, not just an idea to appreciate.


Marijuana and Jesus: Love it or Hate it?

The time is here: marijuana is being legally sold for recreational use.

As someone interested in both how the church does ethics and what conclusions she reaches, this is about to be an interesting time.  Anyone paying attention to this issue has probably seen the writing on the wall for a while and it appears that it might not be too long until the entire country can smoke legally (although I realize that this is not a foregone conclusion).

This creates an interesting and complex situation for evangelical church leaders, though, who for so long have demonized marijuana use.  The situation is even more intriguing due to the following fact: (it seems to me, at least) the leading argument from Christian parents and youth leaders up to now was simply, “It’s illegal. And Christians have to obey the law.”  Not a wholly satisfying answer to a generation of smokers, but logical.

I’d like to pose two questions in hopes of a significant discussion taking place between readers and authors of Cataclysmic:

[1] Prediction: How do you think church leaders will react?
Not how should they react, but how do you predict that they will react?  Will there be a turn-about?  Will marijuana eventually be treated by evangelicals in a way similar to popular views on alcohol? [See: Is Marijuana Sinful for Christians?]  Or will evangelicals bunker down against marijuana use by utilizing arguments besides that of legality (a resurgence in the “gateway drug” argument, perhaps)?  [See: Driscoll’s Puff or Pass: Should Christians Smoke Pot or Not?]  How polarizing will the issue be? (Will folks get fired for coming out in support of legal marijuana use?)  Even if church leaders denounce the morality of marijuana, will the average congregant pay any attention?

[2] Ethical Analysis: Do you think it is sinful for Christians to legally use marijuana?  Why or why not?
What are the important arguments (Biblical/theological, historical, philosophical, scientific/medical, etc) for and against?  What is at stake?  How should Christian leaders go about sharing their opinions on the issue (if at all)?

I’d love for you to join the discussion and share your answers!


Speaking Out Clearly and Paying Up Personally

“What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man.  That they should get away from the abstraction and confront the blood-stained face that history has taken on today.  The grouping we need is a grouping of men resolved to speak out clearly and pay up personally.  The world of today needs Christians who remain Christians.”

– Albert Camus