Katharine Jefferts-Schori on Leadership: Has an Entire Generation Given Up on Democratic Process?

This fascinating video from the Washington Post by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori opens with this comment:

…and at some point it became necessary to shift approach and to say: “If you’re going to stay as a leader in this organization, you have to be engaged, even if you don’t like this decision over here. And if you are not willing to be engaged it’s time to let go of your leadership position, and that’s hard, that’s hard…”

Just about everyone knows that KJS is an expert in giving people the boot.  But in watching this video something else occurred to me: has the entire Baby Boom generation, especially in churches liberal and conservative alike, given up on any kind of democratic process in the church, with the messy and slow politics that go with it?  And is this reflected in our society at large?

The answer to the second question is obvious to anyone who watches our polarised system and the demonisation that is stock in trade these days.

With the first, KJS speaks of the urgent changes that she think TEC needs to respond to ASAP.  If we look at her time as Presiding Bishop, we see her both ignore the canons of her church when she deems it necessary to deal with those who oppose her and change them radically when the opportunity presents itself to centralise the church.  TEC historically has a more decentralised organisation–one that, as she admits, wasn’t accidental–than most other churches with diocesan bishops.  Her idea, of course, is that this has to be changed to meet the challenges in front of her as she sees them, and her actions speak of a “take no prisoners” approach to leadership.

On the conservative side, I see my own church centralising in many ways, eliminating elected offices, tightening the central structure, lengthening the terms of its own presiding bishops, etc.   Conservatives, however, have Bill Gothard as their eminence grise in this project.  Beyond that though, we have the endless corporate example, where a certain leader comes in and transforms the corporation (or is up from nothing in a corporate start-up) and makes it successful.  This “hero narrative” relegates the messy politics that churches as standing in the way of progress.  That’s why we have so many leadership seminars.

So we see a centralising–and anti-democratic–ethos on “both sides of the aisle”.  But will this result in institutional progress in either case?  I doubt it.

In the case of TEC, the whole idea of embracing the culture’s elite conventional wisdom is a dead end.  Why go to the trouble and expense of being part of a church when you can achieve most if not all of what the church is doing in a secular context?

In the case of my own church, the “missional mandate” masks the preservation of the centrality of a Scots-Irish core with a penchant for expansive physical plants and the debt to go with it, neither of which is particularly missional.

The church needs a remaking, but Boomer “top-down leadership” isn’t the answer.

They're Still Talking About Obama as an Elitist Snob

And well they should, too:

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” he told a roomful of doctors who chipped in at least $15,200 each to Democratic coffers. “And the country is scared, and they have good reason to be.”

The notion that voters would reject Democrats only because they don’t understand the facts prompted a round of recriminations — “Obama the snob,” read the headline on a Washington Post column by Michael Gerson, the former speechwriter for President George W. Bush — and fuelled the underlying argument of the campaign that ends Tuesday. For all the discussion of health care and spending and jobs, at the core of the nation’s debate this fall has been the battle of elitism.

Mr. Obama’s remark that autumn evening played into a perception promoted by his critics that he is a Harvard-educated millionaire elitist who is sure that he knows best and thinks that those who disagree just aren’t in their right minds. Never mind that Mr. Obama was raised in less exalted circumstances by a single mother who he said once needed food stamps. Or that although he went to private school, he took years to pay off his college loans. Something about Mr. Obama’s cerebral confidence has made him into a symbol of something he never used to be.

What all of those who attempt to refute the charge that Obama isn’t the product of an elite background haven’t–or won’t–realise is that the method one employs to become an accepted elitist snob has changed in the U.S.  Today it’s the holding of educational credentials–and the cursus honorum that follows therefrom, high income results or not–that makes one a legitimate elitist snob.  Obama’s inveterate “president as anthropologist” only sticks the knife in further.

The fact that American people elected him in 2008 with this fact obvious is indicative of a change in the psyche of the U.S.  The fact that the voters are having “buyer’s remorse” two years later reflect a) the economy, where Obama’s idea of success and the American people’s diverge and b) the change in the mix of the electorate from a presidential year to an “off-year.”  You can get away with being an insufferable snob if the result you deliver is pleasing to your audience, but this hasn’t happened in the last two years.

And, just to be hopelessly repetitive, I’ll take another swipe at this kind of thinking:

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was lambasted in television ads as “another rich liberal elitist” during the 2004 presidential campaign, used similar language in his introduction of Mr. Obama at the Boston fund-raiser two weeks ago. “Facts, science, truth seem to be significantly absent from what we call our political dialogue,” he said.

John Kerry comes closer to being an elitist snob in both the older and the newer methods of becoming one than Barack Obama does.  But his–and Obama’s–endless appeal to “science” is a farce.  If the left is serious about increasing the scientific level of our country, they would begin by running more people with scientific and technical backgrounds, and the Ivy League produces such people if that’s an absolute requirement.  We’ll never have really scientific results until we have scientific people in our government, the way our Chinese counterparts do.  But I’m not holding my breath on this.

Mystagogy, Sacramental Theology and the Poker Playing Dog

This is the eleventh in a sporadic series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  The previous post was The End Times Without Revelation.

The last five of Cyril’s lectures are referred to as the “mystagogic” lectures. They were given after the catechumens were baptised and received their First Communion. They have given as much delight to supporters of sacramental theology as they have heartburn to those who oppose the whole concept of a grace-imparting sacrament. But what is this business of “mystagogy” anyway?

First, it’s noteworthy that the exact sequence of events in the Baptism, Chrismation and First Communion were not covered in the pre-baptismal lectures. He lays out the theology of these sacraments, other matters of belief, and what the candidate needed to do to prepare him or herself for them, but the exact sequence was saved for the actual ceremony (which took place in the evening, the weight of which is something Pentecostals understand well.) But he saves the detail of the ceremony for after it’s over.

Second, the ceremony, unlike baptisms today of any kind, was not exactly a public event, although doubtless those who were elsewhere in the church knew what was going on. One way we can be sure of that is the following:

As soon, then, as you entered (the baptismal pool,) you put off your tunic; and this was an image of putting off the old man with his deeds. (Colossians 3:9) Having stripped yourselves, you were naked; in this also imitating Christ, who was stripped naked on the Cross, and by His nakedness put off from Himself the principalities and powers, and openly triumphed over them on the tree. For since the adverse powers made their lair in your members, you may no longer wear that old garment; I do not at all mean this visible one, but the old man, which waxes corrupt in the lusts of deceit. (Ephesians 4:22) May the soul which has once put him off, never again put him on, but say with the Spouse of Christ in the Song of Songs, I have put off my garment, how shall I put it on? (Song of Songs 5:3) O wondrous thing! You were naked in the sight of all, and were not ashamed ; for truly ye bore the likeness of the first-formed Adam, who was naked in the garden, and was not ashamed. Then, when you were stripped, you were anointed with exorcised oil , from the very hairs of your head to your feet, and were made partakers of the good olive-tree, Jesus Christ…After these things, you were led to the holy pool of Divine Baptism, as Christ was carried from the Cross to the Sepulchre which is before our eyes. And each of you was asked, whether he believed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and you made that saving confession, and descended three times into the water, and ascended again; here also hinting by a symbol at the three days burial of Christ. (XX, 2-4)

After the baptismal ceremony, the First Communion came. But even here Cyril saves the description for the lectures to after the fact. Why is this?

The usual explanation for this is that a) Cyril is trying to save the thrill of the ceremonies and b) Christianity was trying to compete with the mystery religions for converts. The mystery religions also had secret ceremonies, so Christianity had to keep up with them. These explain the symptoms without adding to our understanding of the underlying causes.

Let’s begin by observing that the mystery element in what Cyril is doing and sacramental theology are not the same, nor are they by necessity tied together. Roman Catholicism especially teaches that the efficacy of a sacrament is not related to the nature of its administration so long as the liturgy of the church is followed. This has led to things such as the thirty-five minute Mass I experienced the first time I stepped into St. Edwards Catholic Church in Palm Beach.

Beyond that, as I observed towards the start of this series, Cyril is very insistent that his catechumens experience an inner transformation as they undergo an outward ceremony. So I think concerns over Cyril’s sacramental theology should be laid to rest.

But that still leave the question: why are Cyril and his contemporaries so insistent upon preserving the mystery of baptism (and the Eucharist as well) in the style of administration? To answer that question we must retrace the course of history to the point where Cyril stood.

In the early years (and the mystery religions were operative then also) Christian writers were not as reticent about discussing the core sacraments of the faith as they were later. One example of this is the Anaphora of Hippolytus, the central part of the Eucharistic liturgy. Christians of this era were eager to disprove pagan charges that the Eucharist was, in reality, a cannibalistic ceremony.

The change in openness was, in my opinion, occasioned by the crisis of the third century. It’s no secret that Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire, but the persecutions of the first two centuries were sporadic and localised. It wasn’t until the chaos the third century, and especially starting with the reign of Decius, that the Roman Empire saw Christianity as an existential threat. The worst persecutions—including but not limited to that of Diocletian—were in the period from Decius until Constantine legalised Christianity. Even with that, the Arian controversy occasioned imperial intervention—and persecution—in the affairs of the church, a process that was ongoing in Cyril’s day.

In the increasing centralisation and despotism of Rome, civic life—part of that troika of civilisation that includes public (political) and private life—was squeezed out by the growth of the state. Under these circumstances many things went “behind closed doors” as it were. Christianity and the mystery religions retreated into their secret gatherings and ceremonies. Contrary to the way we’re conditioned today (for the moment at least,) people felt that what was really important in life was hidden from view. To have the central mysteries of Christianity expressed in a secret ceremony actually became a part of the appeal.

Today, of course, Evangelical Christianity is an “open” process. Baptisms are considered one’s public profession of faith, although if churches were serious about this (and some are) they would hold them somewhere else than the church. People are exhorted to come forward in front of God and everyone and get saved. Even Roman Catholicism and Anglican/Episcopal churches are reticent about private baptisms these days.

The open process extends to the life of the church. We like as much publicity as we can get. We try (sometimes) to make our services attractive to outsiders. “Seeker friendly” churches take this both to its logical conclusion and to its extreme. We do this because Evangelicals believe that this is necessary to bring people in for a presentation of the Gospel (well, that should be the idea) and that, since the Gospel is for everyone, the methodology should be, too.

But the results of any endeavour depend upon the methodology used in its execution. Putting it plainly, what kind of fish you catch depends upon what kind of bait you use. Evangelicals like to think that they are experts at being “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22) but the people they attract are clearly influenced by the existing appeal. If you have an open church with an open process, you will attract “open” people, i.e., people with an unexclusivistic view of life who are basically transparent. As desirable as that combination is for church leaders (it makes it easy for them to run the church,) it encourages people who have the same fault as Willie Nelson’s poker playing dogs: they don’t win very often because they always wag their tails when they have a good hand.

In a traditionally egalitarian country like the US, obsessed as we are by proper socialisation, this has worked, and worked well. But, as I have chronicled elsewhere, that is changing, and changing rapidly. Also changing rapidly is the legal status of the religion. At my church’s last General Assembly, a prominent leader in the denomination pointed out that, in ten years, it will be effectively illegal to preach against homosexuality and abortion, and in any case churches can’t make the payments on the facilities they have. The solution? House churches! We’re back to the first century with a vengeance.

Beyond that, if you’re interested in attracting leaders to the church, the system we’re using now is just about a guarantee that we won’t get the results we’re looking for. People who lead know that things are different “behind the curtain” and need to be both savvy enough to navigate the system and strong enough not to be corrupted by it. To avoid dissonance, people like the people and institutions they associate with to reflect their state of life and their view of it. In the recent past people who wanted this reflection in their spiritual and social life joined the Lodge, and when they jettisoned the spiritual aspect the country club. But is it Christianity’s purpose to discourage these people from eternal life just because they don’t fit the mould of the church we’ve put together?

I don’t think so, and Cyril’s church—the product of a society where mystery and, dare I say it, exclusivity was driven not only by the human desire to be superior but by the society having squeezed out its civic life through totalitarianism—is a sure sign that you can attract converts, impress upon them the importance of living a holy life, and do so in a system with some mystery—a part of life whether we like it or not—associated with it.

The Execution of Tariq Aziz: A Revenge Killing

That’s exactly what it is, the revenged being in this case Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki:

On April 24 of the same year (2003), however, he willingly surrendered to occupying US forces, four days before his 67th birthday. On Tuesday, after seven years in solitary confinement, the 74-year-old former diplomat was sentenced to death by the Iraqi Supreme Court, over the persecution of Islamic parties during his long years in power with Saddam Hussein.

One of those parties, Da’wa, was indeed severely persecuted by Saddam’s men after it tried to kill Aziz while he visited Baghdad University, in April 1980. Aziz barely survived the grenade attack and he sent his men hunting left and right for Da’wa members. Many were executed in revenge; others were sent either to long-term imprisonment or into exile.

Today, Dawa’s top man, Nuri al-Maliki, is at the helm of power in Iraq while the judge who handed down Aziz’s sentence, Mahmud Saleh al-Hasan, is a member of Maliki’s State of Law Coalition.

Middle Eastern politics are unyieldingly tough, have been for thousands of years, long before the coming of Islam.  Neither the Bush Administration nor the peace activists who opposed him (especially the Christian ones who should have known better) nor the Wikileaks people who cry “war crimes” understand this.  That’s the message of this event, and whether the Pope can change things remains to be seen.  I’m not holding my breath.

Book Review: Jim Wallis' The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America

The last two years haven’t been kind to Jim Wallis.  First his man in the White House, Barack Obama, has spectacularly stumbled in his bid to reunify the country and get the economy going again (I don’t think he was sincere about either, but that’s another post).  To use Sarah Palin’s delightful phrase, that “hopey-changey thing” hasn’t worked out for Wallis any better than anyone else.  Then the Religious Right, whose demise he celebrates in the book under consideration, has helped to energise the Tea Party, creating more (and broader based) triumph on the right and heartburn on the left.  And last but not least we all know that Jim Wallis, who enjoys “speaking truth to power,” in reality takes money from that ultimate power of the financial world, George Soros.

Given all of this, it’s probably not a bad idea to revisit Wallis in one of his more triumphalistic moments, before all of these disasters took place.  So let’s take a look at his book The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America.  Wallis’ basic thesis is that we need–and are on the verge of–a socially conscious revival that will sweep away the Religious Right (am I sounding like Mao here?) and bring social justice to the land, in the tradition of Charles Finney and the anti-slavery movement.  Since he’s brought up Finney, a good place to start would be to consider his legacy.

To put things into focus, let me start with an analogy to another towering figure, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.  Probably one of the most influential philosophers to ever live, Hegel’s immediate legacy is conventionally divided into two camps: the “right Hegelians,” who wanted to keep Hegel’s idea more or less intact, and the “left Hegelians,” who turned Hegel’s philosophy into a vehicle for radial revolution of one kind or another.  The best known left Hegelians, of course, are Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.

It is my opinion that Charles Grandison Finney is the single greatest religious figure in American history.  Reading Revivals of Religion, one wonders why anyone bothers to write anything else on the subject after that, because all of the elements of revivalistic Christianity are described there in their most successful implementation.  Finney is currently at the “back of the bus” in Evangelical discourse because Evangelical Christianity in this country is dominated by the Southern Scots-Irish, and they can’t quite bring themselves to give credit to a Northerner who did so much to spark the War Between the States.  Cane Ridge is a more congenial place to mark the beginning of revival than somewhere between Albany and Buffalo.

As with Hegel, Finney’s successors have split into right and left camps.  The right camp desires to continue revivals without necessarily linking them to a political, social justice movement.  The name of Leonard Ravenhill is conventionally associated with this idea; in our time people such as Lou Engle (and outside the U.S. Reinhard Bonnke) continue this tradition.  On the left you have those who pursued the social justice movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as prohibition (Wallis shows no sign of having learned anything from that fiasco).  The split has been exacerbated by the Fundamentalist-Modernist split.

Personally I don’t think that the whole process of “revival” (and it is a process, not just an event) that Finney practised can be replicated in this country today.  We are too ethnically and religiously diverse country to start with, and have too many distractions, for such a focused process (and anyone who has read Finney knows how focused it is) to be sustainable.  We need something more viral than the mass-movement kind of thing that Finney saw in his day.  In the case of a “left-style revival” that Wallis envisions, the broad power of the state and the nature of the allies that Wallis has to have will turn such a process into a “perpetual revolution” that Mao Zedong tried to implement in China.  (Wallis supportively uses that phrase in the book, quoting Jaques Ellul).  The end of result of that was the Cultural Revolution, which may explain why Chinese Communist and Christian alike have moved on to other methods.

But, as No. 2 said in The Prisoner, to the matter at hand: this book is a call to a Finney-type of awakening where social justice is at least as much a part of revival as personal conversion.  He starts by setting the scene with the “New Agenda” for American Christianity, why it’s important, why it’s now viable (that’s where he pronounces the “death” of the Religious Right) and how he thinks the best way is to accomplish it.  The book then turns on his call for a “moral centre” for American politics.  The rest of the book concentrates on specific issues: war, the environment, life, etc., and he ends with another call for action and a hopeful look for the future based on the dispositions of the new generation.

I would have to admit that there are certain points with which I agree with Wallis.  We need leaders who are more interested in the general good of the country rather than simply lining their own pockets.  What has eluded our generation is defining what that “general good” is, and I’m not sure Wallis has moved that part of the debate as far forward as he thinks he has.  He’s also correct that the right’s approach to immigration is flawed; I have stated on numerous occasions that the Republican Party’s general stance on this issue is one of the stupidest things we have ever done.  And I agree that the Religious Right has spent too much time on same sex civil marriage, although I doubt that Wallis is far enough along to support the abolition of civil marriage altogether.

That being the case, I found much of this book hard to take.  And that, in turn, forced me to ask myself the question: why is it that, ever since left-wing religious social activism was first thrust in my face in prep school, I have always had such a profound aversion for it?  There are five basic reasons for this.

First, particularly in the Main Line churches, many of the purveyors of this kind of thinking and action are also purveyors of unorthodox belief.  Although there were a few things in the book that left me suspicious, I don’t think that Jim Wallis is a James Pike or Katharine Jefferts-Schori, not yet at least.

Second, putting political and social action at the centre of Christianity seemed to me than and seems to me now to be a diversion from what Christianity is at its heart.  Wallis spends a great deal of time, for example, talking about the redistribution of wealth, but in good Evangelical style seldom discusses its renunciation.  (I’d like for him to try to sell that to George Soros, because we’d all be better off if he succeeded).  As is the case with his Main Line friends, he’s always more comfortable lobbying Caesar to spend his money than to direct God’s money to do the work.  He never quite grasps the truth, as Jesuit John McKenzie did, that the image the New Testament gives of the church’s relationship to the state is Jesus before Pilate.

Third, his “prophetic” approach to politics is, in practical terms, a non-starter.  Do it long enough, and one of three things will happen: you will get tired of seeing nothing done and sell out, you will turn to those who will accomplish what you believe is God’s will by force (more about that below), or you will become a perennial gadfly, garnering no respect from either side of the debate.  As a general rule, it is the prophet’s job to proclaim what is on the Lord’s mind and then let God make it happen.  The “right-Finneyites” know that; the left ones don’t.

Fourth, Wallis is a babe in the woods on two topics he needs to be more conversant with if he’s going to debate intelligently in the public square: economics and science.  In that respect it’s unfair to compare a “left-Finneyite” like Wallis with left-Hegelians like the aforementioned Marx and Engels, because the latter had a far better grasp of both the economics and science of their day than Wallis does of his.  This is a typical fault of left-wing Christian activists, Main Line and Evangelical, and Wallis does nothing to fix it.  No where does this become more evident than in his chapter on the environment.  He uncritically replicates the environment movement’s conventional wisdom every chance he gets, including the “green jobs” mirage.  Needless to say he also replicates Al Gore style panic on climate change, although the rough road that this line has experienced lately post-dates the book.  What really rankles about this last point, however, is that he does not come out and state the obvious: that, if he and Al Gore are right on climate change, the only appropriate solution is universal poverty (the “fifty square metre apartment” business), which would induce an immediate drop in energy consumption.  If universal poverty is the deal, why all of this longing to bring the people who are there out of it?  His position is either delusional or disingenuous.

And that leads me to the fifth reason for aversion: Wallis’ uncritical belief, evidenced in just about every chapter, that all problems can be solved by another “moral crusade”, never mind that Christianity is not principally a moral system.  Much of our current difficulty in the U.S. is due to the simple fact that our criminal and civil codes are littered with the results of one moral crusade after another.  Think about it: just about every piece of legislation is the product of some blow-hard member of Congress telling us that “we need to get tough on _________”, or “so that ___________ will never happen again”.  Our ridiculously high rate of incarceration is a testament to the victims of perfectionistic moralism driving our political life.   Today we live in a society where there are so many laws and so much regulation that it has shoved real, bottom-up wealth creation (a concept that eludes Wallis as it does many clerics) into the legal shadows and rewarded inaction as surely as it did in H.M.S. Pinafore. As Robert Samuelson observes:

Second, politics has become more moralistic from both left and right. Idealistic ideologues campaign to “save the planet,” “protect the unborn,” “reclaim the Constitution.” When goals become moral imperatives, there’s no room for compromise. Opponents are not just mistaken; they’re immoral. They’re cast as evil, ignorant, dangerous, or all three.

Wallis extols the virtue of Micah 4:4 (“But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it,”) but it never occurs to him that this is most appropriately applied to a society where individuals can live and create wealth for themselves and their families with inviolate property rights.  Wallis’ moral posturing is guaranteed to erode that possibility as it has done in the past.

He brings up slavery (old and new) up often, and Finney’s crusading against it.  But he ignores the fact that it wasn’t a moral crusade that ended slavery in the U.S. but the War Between the States.  Since he thinks he’s such a prophet, he needs to answer this question: when is he going to anoint his Jehu?  How many people will have to die, be imprisoned, or financially ruined to see his moral vision fulfilled?  I guess the answer to that is tied up in his call for an international “police force”.

His stance on same sex civil marriage–that we need same sex civil unions–may sound good to him but will not cut it with his LGBT friends, or at least their leadership.  One thing he will find out the hard way–as many North American Anglicans have–is that the message of the LGBT community to the nation and the church is the same as Ulysses Grant’s to Simon Bolivar Buckner: no terms except unconditional surrender.  I expect that, sooner or later, he will sell the pass on the Christian sexual ethic, as his Main Line counterparts have done, but that is something he will have to deal with.

He spends some time at the end of the book about the death of Jerry Falwell, telling us that it is a turning point for Christian political involvement in the U.S.  Another figure in the “Religious Right” that doesn’t get the same space is Pat Robertson, only mentioned once, and that in a disparaging way by secularists.  I suppose that a figure such as Robertson, who himself expressed grave misgivings about the war in Iraq, who poured millions into the relief of the 2004 Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina and participated in the “One” campaign is too complex for Wallis to unpack.

In his discussion on race, Wallis quotes himself (it’s a bad habit of both his and mine) as follows:

The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another.

When I read that, my gut reaction was simple: “If he thinks that’s true of this country, why doesn’t he call for its abolition”?  Such a connection eludes Wallis, whose Evangelical roots leave him unwilling to think an issue through to its logical conclusions.  With our country’s parlous economic state, dysfunctional political system and ballooning debt, he may yet live to see a world without the United States.  I doubt very seriously he would find that an improvement, and would doubtless consign any hopes he has of seeing the best parts of his agenda realised to the dustbin of history. The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right Americamay be his idea for making this country a better place, but it certainly isn’t mine, and I would not be as sure as he is that it is God’s.

The End Times Without Revelation

This is the tenth in a sporadic series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  The previous post was The Holy Spirit and Miracles, Then and Now.

One part of Patristic theology that gets very little play these days from anyone is their eschatology, i.e., their idea of the sequence of the events that end history. This is a tragedy, because the Patristic idea of what the Scriptures have to say on the subject is important for two primary reasons: because they were the closest to the composition of the text (esp. the New Testament ones), and because they lived in the political system that related to same texts.

But few these days want to consider what they have to say:

  • They do not deal with the issues with the precision that is de rigeur with modern prophecy exponents. For the last two centuries, prophecy preachers have been expected to lay out a very precise timetable of the end. I am inclined to think, however, that one of the lessons of the Patristic method is that modern style precision is not to be expected in the interpretation of the Scriptures on this subject.
  • They are not univocal on the millennium. Most of the church was premillenial until Origen, who introduced amillenialism.
  • They do not support many of the ideas that are now thought to be Biblical. This includes the pretribulational rapture or postmillenialism.

So let’s look at what Cyril has to say. He spends an entire lecture (XV) on the subject. In very broad outline, let me hit some of the high points:

The two comings of Christ are of a different nature:

We preach not one advent only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the former. For the former gave a view of His patience; but the latter brings with it the crown of a divine kingdom. For all things, for the most part, are twofold in our Lord Jesus Christ: a twofold generation; one, of God, before the ages; and one, of a Virgin, at the close of the ages: His descents twofold; one, the unobserved, like rain on a fleece; (Psalm 72:6) and a second His open coming, which is to be. In His former advent, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger; in His second, He covers Himself with light as with a garment. (Psalm 104:2) In His first coming, He endured the Cross, despising shame (Hebrews 12:2); in His second, He comes attended by a host of Angels, receiving glory. We rest not then upon His first advent only, but look also for His second. And as at His first coming we said, Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord, (Matthew 21:9) so will we repeat the same at His second coming; that when with Angels we meet our Master, we may worship Him and say, Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord. The Saviour comes, not to be judged again, but to judge them who judged Him; He who before held His peace when judged , shall remind the transgressors who did those daring deeds at the Cross, and shall say, These things have you done, and I kept silence. Then, He came because of a divine dispensation, teaching men with persuasion; but this time they will of necessity have Him for their King, even though they wish it not. (XV, 1)

Just because there are bad things going on now doesn’t mean the end times are around the corner:

Take heed that no man mislead you: for many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and shall mislead many. (Matthew 24:4,5) This has happened in part: for already Simon Magus has said this, and Menander , and some others of the godless leaders of heresy; and others will say it in our days, or after us.

A second sign. And you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. (Matthew 24:6) Is there then at this time war between Persians and Romans for Mesopotamia, or no? Does nation rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom, or no? And there shall be famines and pestilences and earthquakes in various places. These things have already come to pass; and again, And fearful sights from heaven, and mighty storms. (Luke 21:11) Watch therefore, He says; for you know not at what hour your Lord does come. (Matthew 24:42) (XV, 5,6)

A necessary prerequisite for the second coming is the preaching of the Gospel to the world, although Cyril jumps the gun a bit:

You have this sign also: And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14) And as we see, nearly the whole world is now filled with the doctrine of Christ. (XV, 8 )

After this the Antichrist will come, when the Roman Empire has ended, and the ten kingdom were in place:

But this aforesaid Antichrist is to come when the times of the Roman empire shall have been fulfilled, and the end of the world is now drawing near. There shall rise up together ten kings of the Romans, reigning in different parts perhaps, but all about the same time; and after these an eleventh, the Antichrist, who by his magical craft shall seize upon the Roman power; and of the kings who reigned before him, three he shall humble , and the remaining seven he shall keep in subjection to himself. At first indeed he will put on a show of mildness (as though he were a learned and discreet person), and of soberness and benevolence : and by the lying signs and wonders of his magical deceit having beguiled the Jews, as though he were the expected Christ, he shall afterwards be characterized by all kinds of crimes of inhumanity and lawlessness, so as to outdo all unrighteous and ungodly men who have gone before him; displaying against all men, but especially against us Christians, a spirit murderous and most cruel, merciless and crafty. And after perpetrating such things for three years and six months only, he shall be destroyed by the glorious second advent from heaven of the only-begotten Son of God, our Lord and Saviour Jesus, the true Christ, who shall slay Antichrist with the breath of His mouth , and shall deliver him over to the fire of hell. (XV, 12)

It is noteworthy that the time of rule of the Antichrist, roughly equivalent with what is called these days the Great Tribulation, only lasts 3 ½ years, after which time Jesus Christ comes back.

The Antichrist will rebuild the temple to win the favour of the Jews:

And again he says, Who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God, or that is worshipped; (against every God; Antichrist forsooth will abhor the idols,) so that he seats himself in the temple of God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4) What temple then? He means, the Temple of the Jews which has been destroyed. For God forbid that it should be the one in which we are! Why say we this? That we may not be supposed to favour ourselves. For if he comes to the Jews as Christ, and desires to be worshipped by the Jews, he will make great account of the Temple, that he may more completely beguile them; making it supposed that he is the man of the race of David, who shall build up the Temple which was erected by Solomon. And Antichrist will come at the time when there shall not be left one stone upon another in the Temple of the Jews, according to the doom pronounced by our Saviour ; for when, either decay of time, or demolition ensuing on pretence of new buildings, or from any other causes, shall have overthrown all the stones, I mean not merely of the outer circuit, but of the inner shrine also, where the Cherubim were, then shall he come with all signs and lying wonders, exalting himself against all idols; at first indeed making a pretence of benevolence, but afterwards displaying his relentless temper, and that chiefly against the Saints of God. (XV, 15)

It’s interesting to note that Cyril portrays Antichrist as something of a “fake Jew,” but that one thing he is not is a pagan. That’s interesting in a society (a pre-Islamic one, I might add) where paganism was so widespread, even after Constantine.

After Antichrist’s rule Jesus Christ returns:

But let us wait and look for the Lord’s coming upon the clouds from heaven. Then shall Angelic trumpets sound; the dead in Christ shall rise first (1 Thessalonians 4:16)—the godly persons who are alive shall be caught up in the clouds, receiving as the reward of their labours more than human honour, inasmuch as theirs was a more than human strife; according as the Apostle Paul writes, saying, For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17) (XV, 19)

Then there shall be the judgement:

When the Son of Man, He says, shall come in His glory, and all the Angels with Him. (Matthew 25:31) Behold, O man, before what multitudes you shall come to judgement. Every race of mankind will then be present. Reckon, therefore, how many are the Roman nation; reckon how many the barbarian tribes now living, and how many have died within the last hundred years; reckon how many nations have been buried during the last thousand years; reckon all from Adam to this day. Great indeed is the multitude; but yet it is little, for the Angels are many more. They are the ninety and nine sheep, but mankind is the single one. For according to the extent of universal space, must we reckon the number of its inhabitants. The whole earth is but as a point in the midst of the one heaven, and yet contains so great a multitude; what a multitude must the heaven which encircles it contain? And must not the heaven of heavens contain unimaginable numbers ? And it is written, Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him (Daniel 7:10); not that the multitude is only so great, but because the Prophet could not express more than these. So there will be present at the judgement in that day, God, the Father of all, Jesus Christ being seated with Him, and the Holy Ghost present with Them; and an angel’s trumpet shall summon us all to bring our deeds with us. Ought we not then from this time forth to be sore troubled? Think it not a slight doom, O man, even apart from punishment, to be condemned in the presence of so many. Shall we not choose rather to die many deaths, than be condemned by friends? (XV, 24)

It’s interesting to see Cyril’s comment about the whole earth being “but as a point in the midst of the one heaven,” the truth of which the science of the day had no way of quantifying.

Cyril concludes by exhorting his students to stay faithful to God, a lesson of the course of the end times:

And though I have many more testimonies out of the divine Scriptures, concerning the kingdom of Christ which has no end for ever, I will be content at present with those above mentioned, because the day is far spent. But you, O hearer, worship only Him as your King, and flee all heretical error. And if the grace of God permit us, the remaining Articles also of the Faith shall be in good time declared to you. And may the God of the whole world keep you all in safety, bearing in mind the signs of the end, and remaining unsubdued by Antichrist. You have received the tokens of the Deceiver who is to come; you have received the proofs of the true Christ, who shall openly come down from heaven. Flee therefore the one, the False one; and look for the other, the True. You have learned the way, how in the judgement you may be found among those on the right hand; guard that which is committed to you (1 Timothy 6:20) concerning Christ, and be conspicuous in good works, that you may stand with a good confidence before the Judge, and inherit the kingdom of heaven:— Through whom, and with whom, be glory to God with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen. (XV, 33)

Through all of this and the other things he says here, there is one remarkable fact: in all of his copious references to the Scriptures, there is not one reference to the Book of Revelation. There is no reference to the lake of fire, no books to be opened, no thousand year reign (literal or symbolic), no Jerusalem coming out of heaven. Why is this?

The answer is found back in the fourth lecture. Let’s start with his enumeration of the books of the Old Testament:

And of the Old Testament, as we have said, study the two and twenty books, which, if you are desirous of learning, strive to remember by name, as I recite them. For of the Law the books of Moses are the first five, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. And next, Joshua the son of Nave , and the book of Judges, including Ruth, counted as seventh. And of the other historical books, the first and second books of the Kings are among the Hebrews one book; also the third and fourth one book. And in like manner, the first and second of Chronicles are with them one book; and the first and second of Esdras are counted one. Esther is the twelfth book; and these are the Historical writings. But those which are written in verses are five, Job, and the book of Psalms, and Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, which is the seventeenth book. And after these come the five Prophetic books: of the Twelve Prophets one book, of Isaiah one, of Jeremiah one, including Baruch and Lamentations and the Epistle ; then Ezekiel, and the Book of Daniel, the twenty-second of the Old Testament. (IV, 35)

This is the same canon that the Jews used then and use now, or the “Protestant” canon of the Old Testament. This should warm the hearts of anyone who is opposed to what Catholics call the “Deuterocanonical” books (more about this here.)

Now to the New Testament:

Then of the New Testament there are the four Gospels only, for the rest have false titles and are mischievous. The Manichæans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort. Receive also the Acts of the Twelve Apostles; and in addition to these the seven Catholic Epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude; and as a seal upon them all, and the last work of the disciples, the fourteen Epistles of Paul. But let all the rest be put aside in a secondary rank. And whatever books are not read in Churches, these read not even by yourself, as you have heard me say. Thus much of these subjects. (IV, 36)

It’s the same canon we use today, except that…Revelation is missing. Cyril does not accept Revelation as part of the New Testament, something that is doubtless related to the position of the church at Jerusalem on the subject.

The whole story of the canon of Scripture, how it varied during the Roman Empire church and how we ended up with more than one would be a long business (to use Origen’s phrase) to recount. But variations in the canon were not uncommon, even of the New Testament. Cyril had contemporaries (Athanasius comes to mind) who accepted Revelation as part of the canon, but evidently Cyril and his colleagues in Jerusalem had another opinion, at least at the time when Cyril delivered his lectures.

There are two lessons to be derived from both his exposition of the end and his position on the book of Revelation.

First, the general course of events he lays out isn’t one that would pass muster with most prophecy preachers today, but the general outline is there. Without Revelation Cyril uses the book of Daniel, Jesus’ own description of the end, and Paul’s letters to put together the sequence of events. The fact that what he comes up with is as close as it is to what we teach today (and there are variations in that) is a witness to the continuity of the scriptures. Revelation isn’t the outlier it’s sometimes portrayed to be, but an integral part of God’s message.

Second, the favourite scripture of the cessationsists, which I discussed in the last post in this series is this:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:9, 10)

Their idea is that, with the coming of the New Testament (the “perfect”), there was no further need for spiritual gifts.

But when did the perfect come? Certainly it was written in the time of the Apostles (I have friends who will disagree with that, but they’ll just have to live with it). But how can one reasonably say that the perfect had come when its entire acceptance took somewhere around four centuries? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to say that such a dispensational change would have to wait until the twenty-seven book New Testament was accepted in its entirety everywhere? And what self-respecting cessationist would put a dispensational change in, say, the third or fourth century?

I believe that the promulgation of the canon of Scripture was a divinely guided process. But it was just that: a process whereby God, rather than forcing the issue at one time, lead the church into a more voluntary acceptance of the canon and content of the New Testament. (It should be compared to the way that the Qur’an was done.) That should tear up our fine lines of demarcation, and we should concede the drawing of same to God, not reserve it for ourselves.

If Allah Wills It, I Will Be Back in the Office

I’ve mentioned it from time to time, but in the summer of 2007 I had a long email debate with a Salafi Muslim civil engineer in South-east Asia about Islam and Christianity.  Needless to say, it was an education.

We correspond from time to time, and he’s on my list when I announce new technical books.  Like many civil engineers, he spends a lot of time out of the office on the job site.  The last mailing I sent out I received the following “out of office reply”:

I am in a site visit to __________.  Insyaaa Allah, I will be back on __________.

For urgent matters please call or send sms to…

For the uninitiated, “Insyaaa Allah,” is the common Muslim sentiment, “If Allah wills it”.

One of the topics of our dicsussion was the difference between this phrase and the following:

Listen to me, you who say ‘To-day or to-morrow we will go to such and such a town, spend a year there, and trade, and make money,’ And yet you do not know what your life will be like to-morrow! For you are but a mist appearing for a little while and then disappearing. You ought, rather, to say ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ (James 4:13-15)

"Shovel Ready" Was a Non-Starter From the Get-Go

Another “I told you so” moment.

First the after-the-fact admission:

Ezra Klein: The president has now told at least two journalists that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” He obviously believes it. But what, exactly, does he mean?

Jared Bernstein: The president definitely had some initial frustration that projects were taking longer to get up and running than he wanted. About 100 days into the stimulus, the president and the vice president spoke to the agencies about speeding things up and laid out ambitious targets. And ultimately, they met and exceeded every one of those targets. The fact is that there are more than 75,000 infrastructure projects up and running today and creating jobs.

Now, my prediction, from right after the 2008 election:

Barack Obama has some ambitious plans for upgrading the U.S.’s infrastructure:

President-elect Barack Obama said he’ll make the “single largest new investment” in roads, bridges and public buildings since the Eisenhower Administration to lift the sagging economy and create jobs.

Obama, in his weekly radio speech today, said his plan to create or preserve 2.5 million jobs will also include making public buildings more energy efficient, repairing schools and modernizing health care with electronic medical records.

“We won’t just throw money at the problem,” he said. “We’ll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve — by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world.”

But this road–and I’m going to concentrate on the transportation infrastructure–is longer than it looks.

  • The general financial situation of the Federal government, coupled with that of the states, will make allocating funds to this difficult, even in a “stimulus mode.”  The general trend in American governmental budget allocation has been towards entitlements, and reversing that habit won’t be easy.  For the most part the states don’t have the option of deficit spending.
  • All transportation infrastructure projects have an environmental impact, and getting through both the regulatory maze and the political opposition of the environmentalists will be time consuming.  I discussed this during the campaign.
  • Most state DOT’s have projects “on the shelf” ready to go for Federal funding.  But there will be a delay in finalising the designs and getting through aforementioned regulatory processes.
  • If he tries to push too hard, the waste of money will increase.  Any time a large flow of money comes from the government all at once, oversight deteriorates and more money ends up in places it wasn’t intended to.  The financial bailout is a good example of this.
  • The construction industry will be delighted with the increase in activity.  But expanding the labour force will take time.  In the 1930′s when FDR and Huey Long were out expanding the infrastructure, much construction labour was unskilled and people with no prior experience could be absorbed into the workforce much for easily.  On today’s techno-mechanised, safety conscious job site, people (especially in the heavy construction segment, which builds transportation projects) needs to be trained and know what they’re doing.  And that, with the native labour force, is easier said than done.

Although upgrading our infrastructure is badly overdue, it’s not a quick road to reinflating our economy.  And in a political system notoriously short of patience, Barack Obama will discover that his electorate will become restless very quickly.

And, a year later, slow going was the rule:

From here:

Stimulus spending on transportation projects is expected to account for more than half the 3.5 million jobs the Obama administration says the stimulus will create or save. So far, only 7 percent of transportation stimulus funds have been paid out. (Snail image from Jürgen Schoner/Wikipedia Commons)

Stimulus money for transportation projects is being spent far more slowly than expected.

When the economic stimulus act passed in February, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated [1] that the U.S. Department of Transportation would spend about $5 billion by the end of the fiscal year, which was Wednesday.

But Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday that only $3.4 billion has been spent [2] so far – about a third less than forecast. Rep. John Mica, the top Republican on the House transportation committee, said the spending rate was disappointing, noting that unemployment figures released today were expected to hit 9.8 percent [3].

The snail picture is priceless, though…but I suppose this kind of posting is now an annual event at Positive Infinity.

How Is It Possible That Obama Can Get Away With Insulting the Voters?

He’s at it again, and it’s so bad that Newsweek takes exception to it:

But of course the basic argument is exactly the same. It’s vulgar economic determinism: When people are afraid for their economic livelihood they do foolish things, like clinging to their guns and God or, in this case, voting in opposition to Obama’s presidency. When they feel more secure, they’ll come around.

Even if there’s something to this world view—and I can’t shake it completely myself—it’s a deeply troubling sign if it dominates your thinking three weeks before a big election. Especially this election. Insulting voters is rarely a good way to win them over. But usually the “blame the customer” approach, as Mark Shields calls it, takes hold in the wake of an election defeat. Obama has broken new ground by moving it up to three weeks in advance of the vote.

The last line: ROFL.

The main reason why this blog is advertised as “the online perch of a real elitist snob” is because Barack Obama got away with the “guns and Bibles” remark.  That told me that Americans had reached the point where they didn’t have enough pride in themselves not to be condescended to, or at least enough Americans were at this point to put a snob like Obama in the White House.

Some of us got the message.  You want to be looked down at now?  This Palm Beacher can make it happen!  (Just ask the trade union I used to go head-to-head with…)  Barack Obama can be justifiably criticised for his attitude, but he’s at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, either because of it or in spite of it.

What we’re seeing is “Obama as anthropologist” again, an inheritance from his mother.  I went over that ground again last month. The real crunch time for him will come up in 2012, when he has to face the voters again and the Senate’s rotation coughs up an array of vulnerable Democrats.

Klein vs. West: Human Sexuality Not the Only Debate in an Episcopal Church

In this case, the two candidates for FL-22 House district debated at Bethesda:

A standing-room-only crowd gathered Monday to watch a debate between Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Klein and Allen West, his Republican challenger in the Nov. 2 election.

West sought to tie Klein to President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying Klein voted along with the two Democratic leaders 98 percent of the time.

He accused Klein of supporting new taxes and bigger government while failing to put Americans back to work…

More than 250 people attended the debate at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea. Some people were forced to wait outside; the Palm Beach Civic Association had to turn people away from the debate room to comply with the fire marshal code, which limits attendance for safety reasons.