Book Review: Thomas Reeves’ Was Jesus an Evangelical?

One of the things that makes writing this blog tricky is the simple fact that being a product of the Anglican and Catholic world on the one hand and being in the Pentecostal world on the other forces one to live in many “tensions” to borrow a term from the seminary academics.  Some of those (albeit going in the opposite direction) can be seen in Thomas Reeves’ Was Jesus an Evangelical?: Some Thoughts About the American Church and the Kingdom of God.  Reeves is an Anglican rector in Roanoke, VA, who has come from Evangelicalism to write a book that is both challenging and dissatisfying at the same time.

Most of the book is taken up in an examination of the Beatitudes, with an introductory section to start with and some conclusions at the end.  That brings us to the first strong point of the book: his knowledge of the Scriptures and his ability and willingness to apply them in ways that are both informed and challenging.  Any barbecue of Evangelicalism will sooner or later involve looking at the Sermon on the Mount; it is doubtless the most purposely neglected portion of the Scriptures in Evangelicalism.  He starts there, and his critique is effective; one hopes that he pursues the rest of the Sermon in subsequent writings.  His interpretation of the genealogy of Matthew 1 is probably the best I’ve seen.

The second is his realisation that the faults of American Christianity are across the board.  Progressives typically seize things he points out to justify themselves and their idea, as if they have a monopoly on the Sermon’s teachings.  Reeves wisely avoids this; any ACNA man (or woman) of the cloth who has interacted with their Episcopal counterparts should know better, and he does.  In a sense Reeves comes with the assumption that both American progressive and Evangelical Christianity come with many of the same shared assumptions and are in many ways mirror images of each other.

The third is his critique of the “performance-based theology” (to use a phrase from a friend of mine in the Church of God) at both the clerical and lay levels in the church.  The predominance of that has always bothered me about the church I’m in now, although it is an effective counterweight against the inertia I’ve seen elsewhere in the church.

With the strong points are the weak ones.  The first one is his tendency towards sweeping generalisations, usually of those he is criticising but also sometimes of those he supports.  Some of that is due to his reticence in being specific about naming names of those he is either supporting or not.  That’s not bad in itself but in some cases he not only paints with a broad brush but, like a man who used to work for my father, spray paints anything that doesn’t move.

Second, he has a want of a real historical sense, either of the history he’s trying to play down or that which he’s lifting up.  To a large extent where you’re at in Christianity is determined by what history you think is important, but history (especially Anglican history) can be a messy, complicated business.  He should be aware, for example, that the whole Pentecostal movement, with the Wesleyan-Holiness one behind it, in part started as a reaction to the respectable “go down, shake the preacher’s hand and join the church” Christianity that he finds justifiably inadequate.

That brings us to the most significant weakness of the book: the solution he proposes to fix the problem.  Like many Anglicans (and others) he proposes a return to historical Protestantism, with its creeds, liturgies and emphasis on Patristic teaching.  While I think that American Christianity would be better off with all three coming to the surface more often, I don’t think that these alone will get us to the “Sermon on the Mount” Christianity that Reeves so comprehensively describes in his book.

For openers, the “historical Protestantism” he advocates for is not univocal.  There were significant differences between Luther, Calvin and the Anglican reformers, both in doctrine and in practice, and these cannot be ignored.  Reeves also ignores another important reformer–Zwingli–whose influence on Evangelicalism is enormous, including but not limited to Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology.  To present a united front based on the Reformation is easier said than done, and in any case the fact that American Christianity is traditionally Protestant hasn’t stopped the “success gospel” from being front and centre, even before the tasteless prosperity teachers of our day got going.

Beyond that, the restoration of “historical” Christianity would be enriched if it included individual renewal and encouragement of a personal relationship with God.  The alternative is to see what Main Line churches have done from the Reformation onwards: degenerate into box-checking institutions where vague assent to creeds was for most a substitute for real Christianity.  Unfortunately most of these churches–and we might as well throw in the Roman Catholic Church while we’re at it–have shown an unwillingness to put the pastoral effort into making a higher level of commitment among the laity actually work.   It’s easier for someone who was raised in that environment to see than one coming from a “performance-based” environment, but it’s true none the less.

I honestly think that this book would have been better if it had been organised as a “devotional” type of book to challenge Christians to seek change in themselves and their churches rather than an assault on certain types of Christianity.  Certainly Reeves’ treatment of the Beatitudes lend themselves to that kind of application.  And one wonders if his title Was Jesus an Evangelical?: Some Thoughts About the American Church and the Kingdom of God is really the best.   Perhaps it would be better if the title asked the question Was Jesus an American?

The answer: thank God no!

Lessons about Women’s Ordination from Palm Beach’s Social System

Some readers of the blog are doubtless buffaloed at my blasé attitude regarding what Anglicans call WO (women’s ordination.)  I explain some of my rationale here but some of that comes from being a product of the Palm Beach social system.  That system–exclusivistic and highly non-industrial–moulds everyone who lives there in ways that aren’t obvious until they get away from it.  So here are some reflections on the effect of that system and why it’s relevant in the church today.

First, a core feature of the system is the simple fact that women have been powerful and played a central role in the system long before the move to “liberate” them got going.  An easy-to-understand example of this was Marjorie Merriweather Post, who owned Mar-a-Lago for so many years.  Mar-a-Lago was (and is if you ignore the fact that it’s a private club now) the largest private residence on the island, and she was prominent (including the square dances she held.)  But she was only one.  Palm Beach was a place where work was a four-letter word in the past for many people (or in their ancestors’ past.)  With this a person’s position based on the job they did (and for many years it was the men who did most of the paid jobs) didn’t really bear on where you stood in the scheme of things.

This tended to put women in the driver’s seat in many ways–overseeing households (where they routinely told men what to do,) controlling fortunes (based on the terms and conditions of those fortunes) and organising events.  There’s power in all of that.  It’s hard to swallow industrial-era based complementarianism when you’ve been exposed to that.  (A cursory reading of Proverbs 31 should also put paid to such thinking, but I digress…)

The second is that power is not always exercised in the open.  We are routinely regaled with things such as “the first woman to…” and so forth.  And these accomplishments should not be gainsaid.  However, one thing one learns in a place like Palm Beach (and should be learned elsewhere but frequently isn’t) is that real power often resides in the hands of those who aren’t in the limelight, or who don’t have the formal position.  That, just about as much as anything, drives me crazy about American political dialogue.  The whole rise of the Religious Right in politics was based on the idea that, if we could win enough elections, we could take American back for God again.  We now know that this was not true in the 1980’s and certainly isn’t now, although elections are important.

An interesting example of how this played out relevant to the topic of women took place when the Vestry of Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, led by shirt magnate William Cluett, booted the ladies’ rummage sale from the parish hall on “scriptural” grounds.  In those days vestries were an all-male affair, and in a complementarian world the ladies would be compelled to sit down and shut up.  They didn’t; led by prominent socialite Helene Tuchbreiter, they moved their operation elsewhere and started the Church Mouse resale shop, which is today a part of the scene in Palm Beach.

So why is Palm Beach’s social system educational for the rest of us?  Well, “moving up” is a big deal for Americans in church and elsewhere.  You simply cannot promote industrial-era complementarianism one the one hand and the desire of upward social mobility on the other without running in the simple fact that, when you reach the peak of the latter the former isn’t operative.  For all of its unBiblical aspects, Palm Beach’s social system in many ways reflects a time before what job someone had defined their status in life, and that’s something that everyone needs to remember.  If we could get past that, we could liberate ourselves from many things.

P.S. One thing I didn’t touch on was the exclusivist nature of Palm Beach’s social system.  We hear many opponents of Christianity decry churches as “country clubs” but if you’re a product of a system where being in a club was a big deal that isn’t much of an insult.  And if we’re going to implement things such as the “Benedict Option” that aspect will be a key to our survival.  But again that’s another post…

If Michael Curry Really Wants to Confront Donald Trump, He Should Start in Palm Beach

He did the “Jericho March” around the White House last night:

The Holy Spirit came a knocking for President Trump Thursday night … in the form of royal wedding preacher Bishop Michael Curry.

The standout star of Prince Harry and Meghan‘s big day was part of a candlelight vigil in the Capitol that included prayer and song outside the White House. The Bishop told us their goal was spreading a message of “love of God and love of neighbor.”

Frankly this is ridiculous because, if Curry had a little patience, he could even make a bigger splash because Donald Trump visits one of his own churches, Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, for Christmas and Easter.  And, when that auspicious moment comes, he could do one of two things.  He could stand in the front door and block Trump’s entrance.  Or, he could mount the pulpit and rail against the usual Trump sins the left is so obsessed with while Trump sits there.  He has the potential of being the religious left’s John Chrysostom and Thomas More rolled into one.

But then again…if he did that to Trump, he’d be aiming at a good portion of Bethesda’s own membership, including the Trumpettes who have stuck with the President through thick and thin.  And many of the social justice charges he would level against Trump would apply to those members as well.  Then they would leave and take their offerings with them, and for a church which has just blown USD60 million on litigation to keep its property and faces declining membership, that would be hard to take.

As I mentioned earlier, Curry needs to take a hard look at his own house before he keeps doling out his version of Anglican Fudge against the rest of us.

Build a House with 3D Printing? An Anglican Divine Shows the Way

But, when Christ came, he appeared as High Priest of that Better System which was established; and he entered through that nobler and more perfect ‘Tabernacle,’ not made by human hands–that is to say, not a part of this present creation.  (Hebrews 9:11 TCNT)

For the structures that are made by human hands (with a great deal of help from stuff like this) we can now turn to 3D printing for possible solutions, and that brings up Anglican divine Bruce Hilbert.  We’ve featured him before and this brief video shows what he does and a little of how he does it:

In the past Anglican (and other divines, such as this Lutheran) have been involved in scientific and technological discoveries and advances.  Bruce continues in that tradition.  Should there be others?  Why not!

Why I’m in a Pentecostal Church and Not an Episcopal One

All of the blather we’ve been hearing about Presiding Bishop (not Archbishop) Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding last weekend obviously focuses attention not only on Curry and the duplicitous Justin Welby but on the Episcopal Church in general.  I don’t doubt that same church, faced with years of declining membership and self-inflicted litigation costs, would like a shot in the arm with a few more visitors and members.

Those who have criticised Curry on doctrinal issues have, IMHO, missed a point.  Episcopal ministers have been doling out vacuous, unchallenging fudge for as long as I’ve been on the earth and then some.  The serious question is “Has their departure from the Gospel paid off for them (the leadership) and their parishioners?”  The simple answer is no, and there are many ways this failure has happened, but I’ll concentrate on one: the social justice aspect.  Curry told us that love will transform the world; they’ve had at least fifty years to pull that off with their obsession with social justice, has it taken place?

One thing that hasn’t taken place is a demographic shift.  The Episcopal Church is still a largely white denomination with an elite demographic, even after all these years of trying to be the advocate of the poor.  You’d think that some of the recipients of this support would show up just out of gratitude, but few have.  For me, that runs into two serious problems from two separate sources.

Karl Marx told us that people like the Episcopalians were exploiters of other peoples’ surplus value; thus, they would always be the problem, to be overthrown in the revolution (and subsequently liquidated according to the usual Leninist and Maoist pattern.)

Jesus Christ gives the rich an entirely different challenge:

And a man came up to Jesus, and said: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to obtain Immortal life?” “Why ask me about goodness?” answered Jesus. “There is but One who is good. If you want to enter the Life, keep the commandments.” “What commandments?” asked the man. “These,” answered Jesus:–“‘Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not say what is false about others. Honor thy father and thy mother.’ And ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thou dost thyself.” “I have observed all these,” said the young man. “What is still wanting in me?” “If you wish to be perfect,” answered Jesus, “go and sell your property, and give to the poor, and you shall have wealth in Heaven; then come and follow me.” On hearing these words, the young man went away distressed, for he had great possessions.  (Matthew 19:16-22 TCNT)

When these disparate authorities tell you that you’re wrong from two standpoints, you have a problem.   But TEC hasn’t addressed either of these; in fact, it’s embraced the pansexual agenda to paper over the inequality/social justice problem, just as the secular elites have.  Moreover Bishop Curry, as a black man, is an outlier in a denomination that is even more unsuccessful in breaking out of its Caucasian trap than the Southern Baptists.

Personally I found the elite nature of the Episcopal Church not only unBiblical but stifling.  That started to change when I swam the Tiber.  Now I got to go to church where people, as my brother observed, actually looked like they worked with their hands.  That expanded during my years at Texas A&M.

Today I go to a Pentecostal church.  The demographic is the mirror image of the Episcopal Church.  Real people have real problems that they cannot solve by throwing money at them, which was the usual approach in the bubble I was raised in, but must turn to God.  The ethnic diversity of the church is amazing, not only on a national/international level but now on a local level.  And the Gospel goes forth, to use the BCP’s phrase not only with our lips but in our lives.

It’s not perfect.  It still suffers from the American obsession with moving up, although with some of our people to see God bring them out of where they started is wonderful.  It’s too deferential to their “betters,” who usually turn out to be those in the church with the higher AGI.  (To be fair, that problem even turned up in a church like Bethesda.And the Scots-Irish are always there to complicate things.

Sometimes in my superannuated state, when I’m tired of one more maudlin paean to “the old time religion,” or I’m forced to worship to yet another new chorus “from the throne room,” I have moments like this.  But I think that I would have to leave behind the people I go to church with, those who are, at the end of the service, happy, and whose lives have been meaningfully transformed by Jesus Christ.  That gives me pause.  A church isn’t made by its ministers but by its laity.

Curry can talk all he wants about love, but I’ve seen more of it in the church I’m in than the one I started in, namely his.  And more social justice acted out, too, in the church which is the preferential option of the poor rather than just for it.  If Curry and Welby want to show they’re serious, their respective institutions will have a “shoes of the fisherman” moment, rather then blowing smoke in the face of credulous elites.  But I’m not holding my breath.

The Faustian Bargain of Being the State Church

The upside of that status was very much in evidence at the royal wedding yesterday, but every silver lining has a cloud.  We’ve discussed this issue before. One normally expects the chief objectors to be Evangelicals, but this comes from the Anglo-Catholic Herbert Luckock’s The Divine Liturgy:

Every thoughtful ecclesiastical ruler recognises the absence of a sound and wholesome system of discipline as a real hindrance to the well-being of the Church and it cannot be denied that without it the rubrics which form the prelude to her highest Service are little more than a dead letter. The Church and the State, though allied in theory, are antagonistic in practice, and the civil power is found to cripple the ecclesiastical in every attempt to revive her discipline. It may well be felt that to gain discipline at the price of disestablishment might form a disastrous bargain; but there is no denying the fact that the retention of the disciplinary rubrics in this Office is a bitter revelation of the pitiable degree of impotence to which the clergy are reduced through the action of the State.

Finding thoughtful ecclesiastical leaders is no mean feat these days.  We now have the sad spectacle of a church with a small proportion of the population (where a few choice expulsions would have little impact) which pretty much works to reflect the values coming from the government and the top of the society.

As an aside, Luckock also has an interesting observation regarding the effect of the removal of the requirement that officials in the government be communicating Anglicans, one which was long past in his day:

The abolition of religious disabilities, and the withdrawal of all temptation to qualify for civil offices by participation of the Sacrament, have removed one of the greatest dangers of irreverence. The strongest safeguard is really the exaltation of the ordinance.

Those disabilities were a source of irritation for many, including the mathematician Augustus de Morgan, who flatly stated that he would not confess his Lord openly because it might be taken opportunistically.  It is a strange juxtaposition of doing one unBiblical thing to avoid another, but that’s another thing that happens when you make the Faustian bargain of the state church.

Thinking about Mission the Anglican Way

I’m glad to share a new article just published at the blog of The Living Church. I am basically asking why Anglicans have a concrete approach to music, theology, and architecture, but don’t seem to have anything like this when it comes to global mission. Here is the lead: Like most Christians, we Anglicans tend to […]

via “Thinking about Mission the Anglican Way” in *The Living Church* — Duane Alexander Miller’s Blog

Scourged and Crucified: A Good Friday Reflection

In all of their glorification of the “giants of the faith,” evangelicals either overlook or ignore the fact that same giants were usually far better versed in the classics of antiquity than is common today.   To some extent this is understandable: study of these works has taken a beating the last fifty years, and we have the ignorant national discourse to show it.  But it is also indicative of Evangelicals’ own narrow view of things.  They learn enough about classical antiquity in order to read the maps in the back of the Bible, and that’s about it.

One giant of the faith who was well versed in them was G.K. Chesterton.  When he looked at the clash between Elijah and the followers of Yahweh and Jezebel and the followers of Baal at Mt. Carmel, he saw more than two competing teams: he saw a civilisational conflict between those who put there trust in the intangible and those who were driven strictly by commercial considerations.  To him the competition between the Romans and the Carthiginians (Carthage was a colony of Tyre) was just the “Western Front” of this war, and archeology has borne this out in a grisly way.

In addition to such unappetising customs, the Carthaginians brought crucifixion to the western Mediterranean.  This grisly combined punishment and execution was Middle Eastern in origin; Herodotus mentions it, probably came from Persia.  It percolated across the Levant and from there to Carthage.  The fact that it combined punishment and execution meant that, in most cases, it was deemed enough by itself.

The Second Punic War (of three) between Rome and Carthage had several classical historians document it and one of those was Livy.  His history from the start of Rome to Augustus is sweeping in its scope.  Much of the history is centred on battles and punishments, and it’s the latter we will focus on.  Although as noted crucifixion was usually considered punishment enough, Livy records two instances during the Second Punic War where people were both scourged and crucified.

The first took place after Hannibal’s victory at Lake Trasimene, in the early stages of his Italian campaign:

He (Hannibal) then ordered a guide to lead him into the territory of Casinum, as he had been informed by people familiar with the country that the occupation of the pass would cut the route by which the Romans could bring aid to their allies.  His pronunciation, however, did not take kindly to Latin names, with the result that the guide thought he said ‘Casilinum’; he accordingly went in the wrong direction, coming down by way of Allifae, Calatia and Cales in the plain of Stella, where seeing on every side a barrier of mountains and rivers, he sent for the guide and asked where on earth he was.  The guide answered he would lodge that day at Casilinum, whereupon Hannibal realised his mistake and knew that Casinum was miles away in a different direction.  He had the guide scourged and crucified as an example to others… (Livy, XXII, 13)

The second took place towards the end of the war, when the Carthiginian general Mago attempted to enter Gades (Cadiz) in southwestern Spain.  Formerly a Carthiginian ally, their change in heart proved deadly for the town’s leadership:

Mago on his return to Gades found himself shut out of the town.  Sailing to Cimbii, which was not far distant, he sent representatives back to Gades to complain of the gates’ being barred against a friend and ally; the people of the town tried to excuse themselves by saying it had been the work of a section of the populace which was enraged because the soldiers had stolen property of their when they went aboard ship; whereupon Mago enticed to a conference the sufetes of the town (the highest sort of Carthaginian magistrate) together with the treasurer, and, once they were in his power, had them scourged and crucified.  (Livy, XXVIII, 37)

The Carthiginians were hard masters, which may in part explain why the Italian allies/subjects of Rome did not bolt en masse after Cannae.  But the Romans, the supreme adapters as they were, made crucifixion part of their arsenal against those who had the bad idea of challenge or revolt against Roman authority.  Our Lord had predicted that he would be the victim of such a treatment:

When Jesus was on the point of going up to Jerusalem, he gathered the twelve disciples round him by themselves, and said to them as they were on their way: “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem; and there the Son of Man will be betrayed to the Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law, and they will condemn him to death, And give him up to the Gentiles for them to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify; and on the third day he will rise.” (Matthew 20:17-19, TCNT.)

The Romans lived up to his expectations:

Pilate, however, spoke to them again: “What shall I do then with the man whom you call the ‘King of the Jews’?”

Again they shouted: “Crucify him!”

“Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them.

But they shouted furiously: “Crucify him!” And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified. (Mark 15:12-15, TCNT.)

Scourging someone before crucifixion made death on the cross more rapid, something that Pilate, mindful of the Jews’ Passover, may have wanted to take place.

But that scourging, anticipated by Our Lord, had a purpose, as did the crucifixion:

He bears our sins, and is pained for us: yet we accounted him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But he was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his bruises we were healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5 Brenton)

In his crucifixion and resurrection Jesus won a victory, not only over sin, death, and the physical pain of this life, but over those who would posit life only as an extended business deal like the Carthaginians who, with Jezebel’s co-religionists, sacrificed their own children as part of their bargain with the gods.

And that’s good news for everyone.

 

Just Because Your Alma Mater is “Christian” Doesn’t Mean You’ll Be

Higher education is a competitive business.  One of the things that educational institutions that are affiliated with a church or profess or call themselves Christian use to attract students is “your faith will be enhanced by coming here.”  Christian parents and students find that attractive, which is why many pay the premium to go to one of these institutions.

Unfortunately things don’t always work out the way we think they’re supposed to.  I didn’t have to wait until college to find that out: the one and only church affiliated educational institution I ever attended, the St. Andrew’s School, was the place where I entered an Episcopalian (the school was and is affiliated with the Episcopal diocese it’s in) and left a Roman Catholic, a move which liberal and conservative alike found distasteful.

So how did this happen?  There are basically two reasons for this.

The first is that the school, like many in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, received an influx of sixties radicals in the faculty.  These obviously had little use for any “traditional” agenda of any kind, Christian or otherwise.

The second is that neither of the school’s head chaplains–who also taught the required theology courses–had much use for the Episcopal Church’s historical beliefs either.  I document my conflict with the second one here.

Although life at Bethesda had its moments, when I came to St. Andrew’s I was basically happy with being an Episcopalian.  By the time I left I wasn’t.  I could have just dropped out of church altogether, like many did (and do) when faced with people who had fled their post.  Thankfully I didn’t.

Christian educational institutions don’t exist in a vacuum.  They’re subject to the changes going both in the society at large and in their own church (if they’re affiliated with one.)  It’s takes a special effort–and occasionally some unpleasant staff and policy changes–to keep such an institution on course.  It’s easy to let things and people slip.  This is true for Evangelical and Pentecostal institutions as well; the firm doctrinal stand is frequently overwhelmed by the shame-based desire to be acceptable in society.  The accreditation system accelerates this process.

For me, I went to Texas A&M, which exceeded my expectations in many ways.  I’ve never been on the faculty or received a degree from a Christian institution since.

So what is to be done?  For Christian parents and prospective students, it’s time to be discerning.  Don’t accept labels and heritage at face value; things are changing too fast these days.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in his good time, laying all your anxieties upon him, for he makes you his care. Exercise self-control, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, like a roaring lion, is prowling about, eager to devour you. Stand firm against him, strong in your faith; knowing, as you do, that the very sufferings which you are undergoing are being endured to the full by your Brotherhood throughout the world. God, from whom all help comes, and who called you, by your union with Christ, into his eternal glory, will, when you have suffered for a little while, himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be ascribed dominion for ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11 TCNT)

The Real Problem with Prosperity Teaching Isn’t Theological (Well, not entirely…)

There’s a well-known Anglican “divine” (to use the old term) in this country who’s engaged in a Facebook campaign/rant (take your pick) about African faith declarations and the popularity of prosperity teaching.  It’s gone on for some time, and the fact that he’s Reformed only adds to the persistence.  (Maybe he’s also trying to prove that doctrine, but that’s another post…)

Readers of this blog know that an family heritage snob like me doesn’t have much use for prosperity teaching as it is currently propagated by the arrivistes on this side of the Atlantic.  And that may be a big part of our Anglican divine’s problem: Episcopal churches in this Republic have traditionally been the church home of people who really don’t need “name it and claim it” or “blab it and grab it” because they already have it and know how to get it by other means.  I suspect that Anglican churches have inherited many of these people and have attracted more to their ranks, which is why it’s easy for Anglican and Episcopal divines to sniff at others not so well endowed.

But to turn sniffing into heresy hunting is a game-changer.  It’s easy if you’re a hammer to see everything else as a nail; it’s easy if you’re a minister of the Gospel to see everything that doesn’t square with what you know to be true as heresy, especially when you’ve been pummeled by the stuff from the Episcopal left.  It’s also easy to miss the forest for the trees, and I think objectors to prosperity teaching have done just that.  The real problem with prosperity teaching isn’t theological, but it’s wrapped up with the whole theodicy issue.

I’ve discussed this before, but the core problem is that Americans in particular have been drilled in the idea that life is supposed to be a “bowl of cherries” and that they’re not supposed to experience adversity or pain.  That’s an interesting idea in a country where interpersonal relationships (like marriage and parenting) are so unstable and thus cause pain by themselves.  That’s had a great deal of fallout, I’ll mentioned two examples.

The first is the opioid crisis.  Boomers act like this is something new, but face it: the generation committed to “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” put drugs front and center in life.  But why?  Why are Americans so prone to taking drugs, and have been for the last 50+ years?  Some of that blame must be put squarely on the drug companies themselves.  Leaving out the scourge of prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, so many over-the-counter drugs were sold on the idea of “take a pill, you don’t have to feel pain, everything will be fine.”  That’s a powerful concept for drugs both legal, illegal and those in transition.  But it’s left a wreckage.

The second is prosperity teaching itself.  You never learn to appreciate the “positive confession” movement until you’ve been subjected to the “negative confession” one.  But prosperity teaching here pushes very strongly the idea of the pain-free, adversity-free life, especially for people who have been primed for that idea by their culture.

And that’s where the Africans come in.  Prosperity teaching has an obvious appeal in a place as poor as Africa.  But my exposure to the Africans tells me that for the most part they haven’t bought into the pain-free, adversity-free mentality that we have here in the U.S.  Their daily life and bad actors such as Boko Haram only reinforce reality in a way that most Americans find incomprehensible.

So what’s a Christian to do?  The first thing is to define the extremes, and see what’s in the middle.  We’ve seen one extreme, the adversity-free idea.  The other is that we should just tough everything out in life and do it ourselves.  The problem with that is that it basically leaves God out as our ultimate source and strength.  A good example of that is the “Contract on the Episcopalians, ” where the promises of God were replaced by what we promised to do.

Somewhere between these two extremes is reality, that we live in a fallen world, that our God as given us the promise of eternity, that bad things happen but ultimately that the life that God has given us is good.

Finding a middle ground on anything these days isn’t easy.  In this case, however, it is both Biblical and necessary.