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)

Is Going to a Canadian Style Immigration System That Bad?

While most Americans were bracing themselves for Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address (which turned out reasonably,) I got myself into a Facebook argument with the most bilious person I know about immigration policy.  During that dialogue I stated my preference for a Canadian (the Aussies use a similar system) immigration system which uses points to favour immigrants which, in the opinion of the government, would contribute most to the betterment of the country.  This usually means those with more education and income potential, as opposed to the “Emma Lazarus” dream we usually see in the US.

There was a time when such a proposal would have gone down well with progressives in the US, for two main reasons.

First, it’s Canadian.  Our elites have been holding up places like Canada and Western Europe as a model for us as long as I can remember.  They have universal health care; we don’t.  They have strict gun control, we don’t.  They have lots of paid family leave and holiday; we don’t.  And so on…remoulding this country in the image and likeness of places like this has been a long-time dream for many progressives, at least up to now.

The second is that it would skew our immigration towards more educated people.  Our elites constantly hold up people with high intelligence and as many degrees as Dr. Fahrenheit as the ideal; the more people like this we can attract, the happier they should be.

It would make sense that the left should then be the first to propose such a system.  But they haven’t: Donald Trump did, and reiterated that proposal in his SOTU address.  Personally I’m surprised that he did this; I would think his base would react badly to it, having been pummeled by legions of “pointy-headed,” overeducated elites and with little stomach for more.  Donald Trump, however, not only knows how to play to his base; he knows when they’re not paying attention, and this is one of those times.

My bilious opponent was unreceptive to such an idea; she changed the subject and then blasted me for my disinterest in DACA (I am fine with the legalisation on the table, actually.)  I think her idea on this exemplifies the apparent volte-face of the left on the subject, which has its roots in more recent history.

First, the obvious: they’re thinking, if Donald Trump proposed it, it must be bad.  For people who style themselves as reason- and reality-based, this is pretty stupid.  Everything they look at is through the lens of Trump even though the law passed (if the opposite of progress gets moving) will be in place after he is gone (kinda like the ACA and BHO, and we see how that’s come out.)

Second, it would dilute the large numbers of unskilled people coming in who, in their mind, would automatically vote Democrat if they achieved citizenship (and, in some places, before then.)  In addition to an abuse of the electoral system, this is a monument to their inability to “close the deal” with the American people.  If the ten trillion in debt the illustrious BHO borrowed couldn’t buy off the population, how can they expect to hold new people?

Third, I think the traditional Europhile nature of our “knowledge classes” has been diluted by years of multiculturalism.  About the only countries that get that treatment any more on a routine basis are the Scandinavian ones, and honestly Canada, Australia and the UK are better comparisons for many reasons.  Conservative people decry the fact that people in the West don’t believe in Christendom any more, but really they don’t believe in the secular replacement either!

I said that I’m surprised that Trump proposed this.  But if he believes he’ll get more immigration from Norway, he’s badly mistaken; he’s likely to get more from India, China and Iran than any place in Western Europe.  Perhaps, in this case, ignorance is bliss.

It’s also bliss for his base: what will happen with more merit-base immigration is the importation of a new elite which will crowd his base into an underclass.  As David “Spengler” Goldman put it a long time ago, the children of the soccer moms will be serving tea to the children of the tiger moms.

At this point I’m not prepared to predict how or whether this “critical moment” will come to a legislative resolution.  I wasn’t optimistic about a new tax law but we got one anyway. Maybe we’ll take a cue from our neighbour to the north and maybe we won’t.  On this topic we could do a lot worse, and given the current state of our political system, one can never count worse out.

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.

Drift, Like Real Estate, Is All About Location

It’s almost like the Illinois Family Association overlooked the most important detail in their lament over the course of at least one Evangelical Covenant Church:

There’s something rotten in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). It’s rotting from the inside due to the presence of wolves in sheep’s clothing like Peter Hawkinson, pastor of Winnetka Covenant Church…Hawkinson has been drifting in the direction of heresy for several years, but kinda, sorta started “coming out” in baby steps—always wearing sheep’s clothing—over the past two years beginning with the church leadership presenting to the congregation “a motion inviting the church leadership to propose to the congregation a specific program of purposeful discernment for addressing the issue of LGBTQ inclusion.” I kid you not. That’s what a December letter to the congregation said.

The reason why Hawkinson is doing this is simple: his location demands it.

When my grandfather was done (in his mind at least) with his aviation career in Washington and was ready to really take command at the family business, he bought a house in Winnetka.  My grandparents lived there until they moved to Palm Beach; we lived in the same house until we moved the business to Chattanooga.

Today Winnetka is one of the most expensive places in the United States to live, or at least buy a house.  It’s another one of those places which I cannot return to.  My guess is that Hawkinson’s church is pretty high maintenance; without a congregation that’s at least holding steady and has a strong demographic to fill the offering plate, the “system maintenance” will get him and his church will close.  He thinks that, if can appeal to an elite whose main goals in life are to get laid, high or drunk, he’ll be OK.  He’s going to find out that such a move is a Faustian bargain, but, as my father used to say, too soon old and too late smart.

Personally I’d rather go to churches where there’s lots people from places Donald Trump doesn’t like.  And I’d rather spend my time helping people not to have to move to this place.  But that’s just me, I guess.

David Meece: My Father's Chair

At this time of year I usually think of my mother, who passed at this time of year.  But I heard this gem on Jradio Rewind this AM, had to share:

The Wesleyan Advent Hymn the Wesleyan Pentecostals Don't Sing

It’s the classic hymn for the Second Sunday in Advent: “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” done in good Anglo-Catholic style here:

The lyrics were written by Charles Wesley in 1758; more than one tune has been affixed to them, this is my favourite.  It’s about the Second Coming, which is really what Advent is all about: Jesus Christ came once, he will come again.  A better known song with the same theme is “Joy to the World” but it’s been lost in the Christmas carols.

It’s a magnificent hymn, so why don’t those who claim the Wesleyan (albeit John) name sing it?  Probably the same reason they adopted Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: because the Baptists didn’t do it that way!

I am sure, however, that our contemporary ministers of music can adapt this to their style and instrumentation.  Why?  Because the old High Church types and the smoke machine people have one thing in common: they both like it loud.

Not Much on Taking Advice: Pentecostals and Anglicanism

Growing up–especially when we lived on Lookout Mountain, something of a fantasy land in itself–I always enjoyed the Disney movies and records I could take in or had.  One of those that’s stuck with me is the song “Very Good Advice” from Alice in Wonderland. The clip from the movie is below:

Today is the Feast of Christ the King where, in addition to celebrating Our Lord’s coming return, we put a wrap on one liturgical year and prepare for the beginning of another with the First Sunday in Advent.  Considering the liturgical year brings me to a topic that, I think, needs to be discussed: the growing interest that some Pentecostals have in Anglicanism and other liturgical/apostolic churches, and specifically my adventure (or lack of it) in this process.

This website has been around for over two decades and I’ve been on social media (first Facebook, then Twitter) for almost half that time.  Much of what’s driven that has been my participation in the “Anglican Revolt,” so much of what’s here is aimed in that direction.  It’s almost innate for me to discuss Anglican/Episcopalian and Roman Catholic things because I was raised in one and spent much of my early adult life in another; my intellectual formation (and first entry into the Charismatic/Pentecostal world) came largely from my years as a Roman Catholic.  And I’ve gotten into some interesting dialogues with my Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox visitors, some positive, some not as much.

Engaging my Pentecostal friends in a dialogue has been another matter altogether.  With a few exceptions, the general response from that direction has been silence.  In the meanwhile I see them posting things such as nice Anglican churches, interest in liturgy and even evidence that they sneak into an Episcopal Church from time to time.  After my father’s experience in trying to get through the shoals of the Bahamas without a native guide, I thought that they might like one as well, with perhaps some “good advice.”  But by and large they have not, preferring to risk hitting the reef and going to the bottom.

There are a couple of things that need to be said at this point.

The first is that I’d be the first one to admit that there are many problems with Pentecostal/Charismatic churches these days.   Coming from a tradition of spontaneity and Spirit-led worship,  worship in many of these churches is a well-programmed floor show.  There’s too much emphasis on income generation and system maintenance, which (unBiblical though it is)  is a lot easier to carry out in the demographic of, say, the Episcopal Church than it is with most Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.  And, of course, there’s always the political element, although in this country both sides of the debate have too many of their eggs in the political basket.

The second is that, relative to those of us who are products of liturgical/apostolic churches, people who are raised in a Pentecostal church are products of an alternative universe.  That means that they often don’t “get” what they’re looking at, or how might be used to improve their own situation.  For example, I have yet to see a cogent explanation from any Pentecostal about what a “sacrament” is, or what it’s supposed to do, or why they’re important, or how sacramental theology differs substantially from what we’ve been regaled with up until now.  And potential cognitive dissonance extends to other topics.  For example, with Advent coming up, how do you plan to turn the Christmas season into an Advent one after years of Dickensenian conditioning?   How do we do Lent when many of our congregations have already run off and done the Daniel Diet in January?  Will we ever ditch Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology?  Or how do we incorporate the move of the Spirit into liturgical worship?  (Having experienced this myself, I really thought that people would be interested in it, but silly me…)  Instead of tackling these questions head-on, what I see these days is Pentecostal thinkers papering over the problems with post-modern fudge (which, sad to say, is too much like Anglican fudge, with potentially the same result.)

Unlike some people, I don’t have any problem investigating “how the other half lives.”  In some respects that’s what I’ve done here for a long time.  What bothers me is that others that do aren’t interested in the experience and observations of those who have trod the path, even if they had started from another place and took the path in a different direction.

And that leads me to something that bothers me even more: that these investigations, for some at least, are a part of moving up.  Pentecostal churches have two things that most of American Christianity only dreams of: the preferential option of the poor and ethnic diversity.  Nevertheless, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, it seems that some who trod the Anglican/Episcopal road want to end up in a place which, really, has neither, because their own life situation no longer matches the state of their church.  And that, of course, will draw them into the struggles which have convulsed the Anglican/Episcopal world for the last half century.  Which side will they choose?  I am fearful, if for no other reason than that they will project their own problems with their own past into the conflict.

But, as I said at the start, many eschew the native guide.  Like Alice, they peer into the Gothic cathedrals and churches “through the looking glass” not realising what they’re really peering into is a palantir.  Those of us who have slogged through the battles with the likes of KJS and now Justin Welby know what’s coming but theological Siegfrieds know no fear at their peril.  They and their churches will end up pointless and they will, like Alice in the video at the start of this post, will end up crying in the dark, wishing they had taken some good advice.

It's All About Moving Up, Only the Ladder Changes

Consider this nasty, self-righteous screed:

Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence.

It’s amazing that people can so lack self-reflection that they don’t see they’ve destroyed themselves in the first sentence.  If the Christian Left isn’t about currying favour with the opposite side of the spectrum, by twisting the Gospel to conform with those whose first goal is to get laid, high or drunk, than I don’t know what it is.  As Julian Assange pointed out a while back:

The received wisdom in advanced capitalist societies is that there still exists an organic “civil society sector” in which institutions form autonomously and come together to manifest the interests and will of citizens. The fable has it that the boundaries of this sector are respected by actors from government and the “private sector,” leaving a safe space for NGOs and nonprofits to advocate for things like human rights, free speech and accountable government.

This sounds like a great idea. But if it was ever true, it has not been for decades. Since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming “civil society” into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence at arm’s length. The last forty years have seen a huge proliferation of think tanks and political NGOs whose purpose, beneath all the verbiage, is to execute political agendas by proxy.

Or to put it more directly, everyone–including the self-righteous lefties–is shilling for someone.  Everyone wants to move up, the main difference is the ladder each has chosen to climb.

There was a time when ex-officials of the state were not permitted to be ministers or priest on account of the corruptionThere was even a time when the faithful were not permitted to vote, although the reasons for that were as much a secular insult as a spiritual one.  Now we’re all expected to be political animals, and enthusiastic ones at that.  We’re not permitted to admit that we were forced into this game by the wish to stay out of jail.

Personally I find all the climbing by people who profess and call themselves Christians hard to take.  But it’s the American way.  I guess we’re stuck with it for the time being, but the left doesn’t have any business being in denial about what they’re really trying to do.

The Strange Consequence of Luther's Concept of Justification

Bossuet, in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, I, 7, gets to the point:

Justification is that grace which, remitting to us our sins, at the same time renders us agreeable to God. Till then, it had been believed that what wrought this effect proceeded indeed from God, but yet necessarily existed in man; and that to be justified,—namely, for a sinner to be made just, it was necessary he should have this justice in him; as to be learned and virtuous, one must have in him learning and virtue. But Luther had not followed so simple an idea. He would have it, that what justifies us and renders us agreeable to God was nothing in us; but we were justified because God imputed to us the justice of Jesus Christ, as if it were our own, and because by faith we could indeed appropriate it to ourselves.

The defect in the Lutheran concept of justification is that it is unnecessary to internalise God’s grace as long as our name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Growing up Episcopalian, I saw too much of the result of that kind of thing: people whose lives had little evidence of alteration by the Gospel, even though the New Testament demands such a transformation.  The Roman Catholic concept of “Christ alive in us” (the concept set to music at the start of this album) is better, although it’s wrapped in a defective ecclesiology and obscured by the Roman Catholic concept of merit.

What we’re really after is to make that internalisation the centrepiece of Christian life, and from that standpoint the Reformation is either the first step or the greatest obstacle.

How Martin Luther Would Solve Karl Barth's Mistress Problem

As a follow-up to my earlier post, an interesting parallel to Barth’s situation, with Luther’s solution, from The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants:

None the less the Lutheran territories suffered an incisive setback, foreshadowing worse things to come.  In 1540 the political bulwark of Protestantism, Langrave Philipp of Hesse, became involved in a public scandal in which the theological bulwark of Protestantism, Martin Luther, was more than an innocent bystander.  The cause célèbre was Philipp’s bigamy and the fact that Luther had counselled him into it.  Philipp, like many other crowned head, was dynastically married to a woman he did not love, which did not prevent him, however, from having ten children by her.  The woman he loved made marriage the prerequisite of other considerations.  Divorce seemed out of the question, but not, surprisingly enough, bigamy.  Martin Luther, approached in the matter, discovered that in the Old Testament polygamy evidently had been practised without divine disapproval and counselled Philipp into a second, albeit secret, marriage.  Before long the secret was out–one might suggest that too many women were in on it!  Luther counselled ‘a good, strong lie for the good of the Christian Church’ in order to clear the air, but Philipp now decided that lying was a sin.  He was furthermore concerned about losing the good grace of the Emperor.  After all, he had broken the accepted moral and criminal code, for which the Emperor could hold him responsible.  Charles assured him of his benevolence and Philipp agreed, in turn,to prevent the inclusion of European powers in the League of Schmalkald. (p. 377)

Wonder if Barth thought about this…