Getting Rid of the White People Won’t Get Rid of Christianity

Some people evidently work under that assumption, as this ugly event in New York attests:

New Yorkers woke up Thursday morning to find colorful new street art popping up on trash cans along the Lower East Side.

Their message is clear – Trump and his supporters are “trash.” The controversial posters feature images of “Trump supporter” stereotypes with the words, “Keep NYC Trash Free.”…

Another features a white woman wearing a “Make America Great Again Hat” while holding the Bible.

Most of the Christians in the New York area I know aren’t white.  That’s a legacy in part of leaving that whitest (and soi-disant social justice) church, the Episcopal Church.  Most of these aren’t Trump supporters either.  If they had featured Christianity with a non-white person holding the bible sans Trump hat, it would have been more accurate to the reality on the ground, but the reaction would have been entirely different.

There’s an underlying assumption on the left that, if we could just get rid of white Evangelicals, Christianity and Trump will go away, and we can get laid, high or drunk without guilt or interference.  That’s simply not true.  God’s plan will go forth without white American Evangelicals or even the United States, if it comes to that.  In some ways, it would probably help.  Our country is headed towards a day of reckoning; we spend too much time and energy on things that won’t stop that reckoning.

Once a Fundie, Always a Fundie

In Randal Rouser’s post on village atheism, after he lists the characteristics of village atheists, he makes the following observation:

As I already noted, there are also many village Christians who exhibit similar traits. (But the way, it should not surprise us that when village Christians leave the church, they typically become village atheist.)

To put it another way: once a fundie (fundamentalist) always a fundie.  You can change the book or creed you’re working from but the mentality is the same.  Atheists who have left Christianity frequently think of themselves as “enlightened,” but that’s easier said than done.  Probably the most egregious example of that to butt heads with this blog was James Alexander, but more recently one of my church people went postal on me regarding immigration.

My Review of Duane Alexander Miller’s Two Stories of Everything for Global Missology

Recently Duane Alexander Miller, a long-time friend of this blog, wrote Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and ChristianityMy review of this excellent book is here at Global MIssology.

Some Thoughts on the 2018 Church of God General Council Agenda

Well, it’s that time of the biennium again, when our ministers and their church pack up and spend several million dollars on the gathering called the General Assembly.  I’ve made it my habit to comment on the agenda, which can be found here.  The last time, OurCoG copied my comments in serial format (guys, next time give a link back) so perhaps they made a little more impact than usual.

It’s true that American Christianity in general and the Church of God in particular are having a rough time.  So how does the agenda deal with our current situation?  Let’s take a look…

The “FINISH Commitment” Resolutions

At the very start the agenda makes a bold statement:

The 77th General Assembly agenda is different. It is conceived and contextualized on the declared Mission and Vision of the Church of God. The purpose of the FINISH Commitment Agenda is to articulate the vision predicated upon six primary areas delineated as resolutions. These include the following: Visional Actualization, Doctrinal Affirmation, Structural Acclimation, Ministerial Activation, Generational Assimilation, and Spiritual Acceleration. Every agenda item is categorized under one of these visional resolutions.

It’s tempting to regard these resolutions as “fluff” (like corporate vision statements) but many of the points in these resolutions are carried through in the agenda items that actually alter the Minutes of the church.  So these are worth paying attention to, and some comments are in order.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Task Force specifically focus on the following areas and prepare recommendations for the Executive Council to consider for implementation and, as necessary, inclusion on the International General Council agenda for 2020:

a. Evaluation of the departments and ministries of the International Offices to determine the value added to local churches and to develop an instrument for state/regional offices to evaluate the value their programs and ministries are adding to the local church;
b. Assessment of the budget of the International Offices to determine the funding priorities supporting the core values of the church and finishing the Great Commission;
c. Review of the systems (including elections and appointments) and programs of the church considering multinational and multigenerational culture, including language-specific resources, cultural variants, etc.;
d. Appraisal of the church planting and church revitalization efforts and funding with a goal to enlarge and enhance the effectiveness of these priorities;
e. Analysis of the need for and promotion of ministerial recruitment, development, and placement in the Western USA, and other areas;
f. Refine, expand, and promote the current affiliation and amalgamation opportunities and procedures;
g. Devise policy guidelines for multisite campuses; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that a report of this Task Force’s work be prepared and made available to the 2020 International General Council.

Some of this was done in the wake of the “Missional Revolt” of the last decade, which included the reduction by a third of our local churches’ contribution to the state and international offices (including World Missions.)  Evidently things have not worked out quite as hoped; part of that is due to the fact that the serious changes that needed to be made were not done.  Those include ending the requirement that the central church own the local church property (a sore subject with Anglicans in this country,) the election of state and regional bishops, and other topics that will be discussed.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our ministers prayerfully reaffirm their commitment to and belief in these doctrinal statements…

With the experience of the Anglican-Episcopal world at my back, I have supported the idea that our ministers affirm their commitment to what the church stands for.  I have gotten pushback on that, which you can see here.  I doubt we’ll get any further with this now than we did then; I hear a ticking time bomb, but I’m not sure how to prevent it from going off…

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that careful consideration be made of our voting and appointment processes to assure that they reflect our multicultural diversity and enhance our missional impact…

Evidently some of the logic of this post is coming to the forefront, but for those of you who might think this is a “leftist” bent, it really isn’t.  That’s because of one simple reality: the ethnic mix of Pentecostal churches is rapidly shifting towards non-white people, and the long-term survival of the church depends upon our ability to attract and keep these people in our churches.  If that means doing like Canada (Ontario) and using a quota system in our leadership irrespective of the offering, so be it.  But getting a church with its current ethnic mix to go along with quotas of any kind (and that includes the “hipsters” who’d like to age the rest of us out) is an uphill battle.

Expanding the Council of 18 to become the Council of 24

Honestly I think the main effect of this will be to enlarge the travel budget of the International offices, and frankly we don’t need that.  Making this body more representative of the international church may involve slaughtering some sacred cows, but they make great hamburger and we could save some money in the bargain.

One thing we need to keep in mind is that, if we internationalise more effectively our executive bodies, and that includes the Executive Committee, Executive Council, General Council and General Assembly, that might be a strong backstop against whatever pansexual agendas ooze out of the “Global North.”  It’s worked for the United Methodists and sort of worked for the Anglicans (who aren’t as tightly bound.)  Just a thought.

Election and Appointment Study Commission

That a Study Commission be appointed to review the election and appointment process, including reflection of multicultural diversity with recommendations to the International Executive Council for implementation of, and as necessary, inclusion on the 2020 International General Council agenda.

I think that we should elect our state and regional administrative bishops.  I know that many think it would make a “popularity contest” but anyone who has worked with our state system knows that, even with centrally appointed bishops, the states still have a great deal of autonomy.  It worked for the Roman Empire church and will work for us too.  Who knows, a layman like Ambrose might get the nod…

Applicants for Ministry

There are  a couple of resolutions on the table on this topic.  Pentecostal churches have been known for relatively easy entry into the ministry, but also have a high attrition rate.  The trend in recent years has been to up the education requirements for our ministers, which is expensive and time-consuming.

Right after we came home from the last General Assembly in Nashville, i received my PhD, so I feel I can say some things about education that I couldn’t before.  They are as follows:

  1. The educational level of the ministers of the church is related to that of the laity; both should be in the same ballpark.  That’s an issue of the minister relating to his or her congregation.
  2. I don’t think that the Church of God, given its current demographic, can financially afford the types of educational programs for ministers that we see in other denominations.  Given the expense of higher education these days, students at both undergraduate and graduate levels receive their degrees with high levels of student debt.  Most of our churches cannot pay the salaries necessary to liquidate that debt; that’s the problem many millennials have with ministerial positions.
  3. I think we’d be better off figuring out a way to produce “90-day wonders” with much continuing education following (and, of course, discernment as to whether a person has any business being in the ministry to start with.)  That would also attract another class of people: those in highly paid (and educated) professions who could support themselves with their jobs and not be so dependent upon the church for income.  The last will become more important as stewardship declines and full time ministry as we know it now becomes the exception rather than the rule.

Use of the Term “Bishop”

That open Ministry Forums be conducted globally to provide opportunity for deliberate and meaningful discussion, dialogue, questions/answers and time for spiritual insight regarding the importance and understanding of ministry ranks, qualifications, and women in ministry with attention upon the meaning and usage of the title “bishop.” Following the forums, appropriate motion(s) be formulated by the International Executive Council specifically addressing the stated issues and brought to the 2020 International General Council.

The title “bishop” should be restricted to state/regional/national/international prelates.  Period.  The expansion was a mistake.  But that, in turn, has complicated another debate: the ordination of women as “ordained bishops” to use the current term.

The history of Pentecostal churches and the way they look at church in general makes the whole topic different from, say, their Anglican counterparts, although Pentecostals could learn a thing or two from that experience.  We actually went through a “listening tour” ten years ago on this topic, and the result was simple: everyone but the Scots-irish were prepared to go along with what the Anglicans call “WO.”  My guess is that these new “Ministry Forums” will generate many travel expenses and come to pretty much the same result, although the generational shift will soften the opposition.  I think this is an issue where real change is going to take more than just a vote of the present ministers and laity.

Pastoral Requirement to Become a State Administrative Bishop

Dan Tomberlin has an excellent piece supporting this concept.  I’m inclined to agree with him; however, the problem in many cases is that, in the past at least, some of our more successful ministers didn’t do well at a local church became they were particularly “pastoral,” but because they were good pulpiteers and fund-raisers.  (in the old days, good building skills didn’t hurt, either.)  Our Administrative Bishops need to be pastors to their pastors; being at a local church is necessary but not sufficient to insure that will take place.

Engaging the “Jeremiah Generation”

That each State/Regional Overseer in cooperation with the State/Regional Youth and Discipleship Director, lead pastors, student pastors, and the perspective state/regional Ministerial Development Board (CAMS and MIP) adopt an annual plan for identifying, mentoring/training, and engaging young men and women designated as the “Jeremiah Generation” in both local and state/regional ministry of the Church of God.

The whole issue of the generation coming up has become a near obsession with our leadership, given the common beliefs that a) the millennials are abandoning Christianity wholesale, b) they cannot be reached by anyone other than their own contemporaries, and c) they cannot be reached by anything other than the methodology those in (b) are putting forward.  I think, however, that this whole topic needs to be tempered by the following:

  1. A discipleship-based approach to church life is an absolute must now.  The biggest difference between what our older ministers are used to and what our younger ones face is that we cannot rely on the culture to pre-disciple our people, quite the opposite.  I can tell you from experience that discipleship-based approaches are a hard sell.  The smaller, more traditional churches don’t see the need and the larger ones don’t want to invest the time because it gets in the way of growing the church financially and numerically.  There are exceptions to that but when a discipleship-based approach becomes the rule and not the exception this divide will fade away.
  2. The economics of full-time ministry are no where near what they used to be.  I’ve discussed this with respect to education, and that’s a big driver.  Pentecostal churches, traditionally, have been better at dealing with economic adversity than their Main Line counterparts.  Unfortunately recent prosperity has blurred our vision of reality; we thought we had seen the light at the end of the poverty tunnel, but it was only a guy with a flashlight.  We need first to be real with the “Jeremiah Generation” leaders about this.
  3. Although Pentecostal churches are not immune to cultural secularisation, most of the exodus from Christianity in this country is among white people.  The changing ethnic mix in our churches will offset this if we have the sense to take full advantage of our situation.

Closing Thoughts

This is a very sweeping agenda; it will be interesting to see whether the General Council actually has the time to get through it.  Most of the issues, however, are ones that have been around for all of this millennium and have been addressed in the upheavals we have had.  Having been a witness/participant in the “Missional Revolt” (and ultimately a casualty in an employment sense,) I see that this didn’t produce the change it advertised it would.  That being the case, if we want to see change in the church, we really need to see some in ourselves, and that’s beyond the scope of any Church of God General Council Agenda.

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…

Paige Patterson’s Baptistic End

The board of Southwestern Baptistic Theological Seminary’s volte face is stunning:

After midnight in Germany, while Patterson was sleeping, the chairman of the board of trustees, Kevin Ueckert, ordered Scott Colter to wake Patterson for a phone call. On the call, Ueckert told Patterson he was fired effective immediately, with no salary, no health insurance and no home. He then relayed that Patterson would receive instructions for vacating Pecan Manor upon returning to Fort Worth.

Before the phone call, both Pattersons’ and Colter’s email accounts, including personal contacts and calendar, were shut down without notice and while the three were traveling in Germany on behalf of Southwestern, leaving them without access to itineraries, train tickets, local contact information, hotel confirmation and flight boarding passes.

Also at some point before the phone call, the locks were changed without notice to the room on Southwestern’s campus housing Patterson’s private and personal archives containing ministry materials and documents from Criswell College and the Conservative Resurgence. No notice was given, and the Pattersons had no knowledge that this was being done and had not given permission for such. Despite accusations that the archives were mishandled, the attached correspondence from 2004 from Patterson to Southeastern’s librarian and president indicate he believes all was handled properly.

The whole article–written by the wife of Patterson’s chief of staff–needs to be read in its entirety.  But the way the Board reversed its previous decision and unceremoniously dumped him is unfortunately typical of the way Southern Baptists handle situations like this.  In their system you’re either highly favoured or cast into outer darkness, there’s no middle ground.

In the early 1980’s a county Baptist association’s director’s son came out of the closet and subsequently died of AIDS.  Their response was to dump the association director.  Needless to say he became an apologist for the LGBT agenda.

I think much of that has to do with their defective combination of Arminian election and Calvinistic perseverance.  Once you’ve made your decision for Christ and then mess up, the only explanation left is that you weren’t saved to start with.  So how can anything subsequent to that be trusted?  Out with you.  It’s a highly binary (dare I say digital) way of looking at Christian life, but it is, as the Russians would say, their idea.

In other places, it’s different.  In my own Pentecostal denomination, a friend A got fired by a prominent denominational leader B from his position.  Another leader C made the shrewd observation that everyone who doesn’t like B is suddenly A’s friend, and sure enough he got hired to another position.  I can’t see that happening very often in the SBC.

It’s this kind of thing that makes me wonder how the Southern Baptist Convention is going to prosper in the coming years.  Today it’s big enough to get away with it, but what about tomorrow?

HT for the article Robert A.J. Gagnon.

Bill Gothard’s Poison Pill for Southern Baptists

This is Memorial Day weekend, when we as Americans remember those who gave their lives for our country.  For me that turns back to my uncle, Don Gaston Shofner, and his sacrifice even before he could get to enemy skies.  But that brings up another point: Gaston (as he was called in good Southern tradition) and his family were (and those who are left mostly are) Southern Baptists.  Now the Baptists tend to get the “left hand of fellowship” on this site, starting with Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology (another Arkansas Baptist) and going downhill from there.

These days they’re getting it from many sources, especially in the wake of the mess surrounding Paige Patterson.  Patterson, with others, was a leader in one of the most successful ecclesiastical coups of the last fifty years: the ascendancy of conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention and the prevention of the leftward drift that has plagued just about every Main Line denomination.  (I wouldn’t describe the SBC as Main Line for a long list of reasons, but that’s another post…)  I was actually in the SBC during the central part of that drama, and it was interesting.  The “moderates” in power appealed for people to “get with the program” of the denomination, while the conservatives appealed to the authority and inerrancy of God’s Word.  For someone like me who had spent much of his growing up years struggling against the tide to place God’s Word above the program, the choice wasn’t difficult.  Evidently most of the Convention felt the same way.

In a sense both were appealing to authority, the moderates to the established authority of the convention and the conservatives to God himself.  At this point, however, something strange happened that got lost in the victory: the conservatives, having justified themselves on God’s authority, proceeded to make getting human authority a big deal.  Although many wouldn’t admit it then (and certainly not now) a good deal of their inspiration came from Bill Gothard.

Gothard, in my humble opinion, had more influence on Boomer Evangelicals than any other single Christian teacher during the 1970’s.  He taught that God’s way was a top-down authority structure, one that started with God himself and permeated through the state, church and ultimately the family itself.  For a generation mired in rebellion, Gothard offered an authority-driven order as not only a way out of the chaos of the 1960’s and 1970’s but as a way of papering over past rebelliousness.

The problem with this as applied to Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular is that the Baptists had pretty much torn up the whole top-down authority structure in the church in favour of a bottom-up, congregational model.  Baptist churches are locally autonomous; they call their own ministers, regulate their own finances and ordain their own ministers, to be recognised by other local churches.  The SBC was founded with the idea that some functions, such as home and foreign missions, were best handled “cooperatively” by organisations such as the Foreign Mission Board.  The wonderfulness of that idea wasn’t shared by all Baptists: the Landmark movement, which Gaston’s parents were very much a part of when he went off to war, was started in part as a disagreement over the FMB.

So how did the Southern Baptists hold things in the road with their anarchic system?  Traditionally they did it through an emphasis on rigid conformity and peer pressure.  This appealed to their core ethnic group, the Scots-Irish, because it allowed them to have an organised religion without someone obviously telling them what to do, which they hated more than death itself.  This system can have serious problems but introducing a top-down system like Gothard’s, which seeped into even a self-contained system such as the SBC, was the introduction of an alien idea, one which has turned into a “poison pill.”

Perhaps that alien idea was forwarded by the most distasteful aspect of Gothard himself: his sexual advances on women in his organisation.  The whole fight over WO in the SBC, and the serious complementarianism that is used to oppose it, is based on women not having “authority” over a man.  In a system where authority is a dicey proposition to start with, it’s difficult to see how a hard line can be taken.

The church isn’t the only place where authority is a question.  Gothard and his Baptist allies apply it to the home, but that’s where Patterson got into trouble: he advised a woman to stick it out under “authority.”  Personally I don’t see that the New Testament justifies the use of violence against another human being, and certainly any of Gothard’s advances should be lumped with fornication and adultery, neither of which has Scriptural sanction.  But once you make human authority a central part of church life, you open up the possibility of people exercising their “authority” for unBiblical purposes of all kinds.

Our society has changed, and mostly not for the better.  Much of what the Southern Baptists and other Christians do was once lauded and now cursed because of changes in society, not changes in God’s standard for his people.  But most systems fall when their own weaknesses overtake their own strengths, and that’s a lot of what we’re seeing with the SBC.  In addition to some of the things discussed here, we have the Baptists’ metastable idea of election and perseverance  and their lack of success in breaking out of their own ethnic ghetto.

I don’t see how the Baptists plan to get out of the mess they’re in.  Some things would be helped if they reverted to a more autonomous, bottom-up view of church life they used to have.  Others would benefit from throttling back the regional obsession with status and “moving up,” but one could apply that to American Christianity in general.  But structures survive storms and earthquakes not as much from sheer strength and rigidity but because they can deflect and return to their original state during times such as this.  The whole Baptist system strikes me as too rigid to do that.  This is sad, because many people’s eternity has been changed through the tireless outreach of Southern Baptists, and that–followed by discipleship–is ultimately what the church is all about.

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.

What We Really Need to Do is to Unhitch @AndyStanley

Atlanta’s Christian management guru is at it again, this time with the Old Testament:

North Point Community Church Senior Pastor Andy Stanley has stated that Christians need to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith.

In the final part of a recent sermon series, Stanley explained that while he believes that the Old Testament is “divinely inspired,” it should not be “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.”

In making this pronouncement, Andy Stanley does two things that drive me batty about Evangelical Christianity.

The first is that he accepts the literalistic hermeneutic that dominates Evangelical Christianity as normative.  Once you do that, then his idea to “unhitch” is just about the only thing left to do.  It never occurs to him that Christians–and Jews like Philo–have tackled this problem a long time ago and dealt with it, without denigrating the Old Testament the way Stanley does.  But taking lessons from the Patristic witness is something that Stanley, like most evangelicals, is allergic to.

The second–and in some ways worse than the first–is this:

For Stanley, the difficulty lay with the Old Testament and his concern that many Christians are turning away from the faith because of certain passages in the Hebrew Bible.

For evangelicals, and especially those like Stanley, church is an endless popularity contest.  Fortunately Our Lord thought otherwise:

“In truth I tell you,” answered Jesus, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have not Life within you. He who takes my flesh for his food, and drinks my blood, has Immortal Life; and I will raise him up at the Last Day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink. He who takes my flesh for his food, and drinks my blood, remains united to me, and I to him. As the Living Father sent me as his Messenger, and as I live because the Father lives, so he who takes me for his food shall live because I live. That is the Bread which has come down from Heaven–not such as your ancestors ate, and yet died; he who takes this Bread for his food shall live for ever.” All this Jesus said in a Synagogue, when he was teaching in Capernaum. On hearing it, many of his disciples said: “This is harsh doctrine! Who can bear to listen to it?” But Jesus, aware that his disciples were murmuring about it, said to them: “Is this a hindrance to you? What, then, if you should see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives Life; mere flesh is of no avail. In the teaching that I have been giving you there is Spirit and there is Life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe in me.” For Jesus knew from the first who they were that did not believe in him, and who it was that would betray him; And he added: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me, unless enabled by the Father.” After this many of his disciples drew back, and did not go about with him any longer. So Jesus said to the Twelve: “Do you also wish to leave me?” But Simon Peter answered: “Master, to whom shall we go? Immortal Life is in your teaching; And we have learned to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:53-69 TCNT)

Maybe it’s time we unhitch ourselves from Andy Stanley…

The Only Real Alternative to “Two Kingdoms” Theology is Islam

Some people will complain about anything:

Recently some critics of prominent Trump-supporting Dallas Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress have disapprovingly identified him as a supporter of “Two Kingdoms” theology, an historic Protestant belief about the division of duties between spiritual & earthly rule. Jeffress in public pronouncements has stressed that civil government is called to provide public order, not embody the Sermon on the Mount, on issues like immigration.

Two kingdoms theology’s most expansive expression is Augustine’s City of God, written late in the game for another world power, the Roman Empire (well, the western part.)  In those times those in civil authority who “wore the belt” were not allowed to become priests.  The system was so corrupt at that stage that Christianity could not see its way clear to fix it (although it made improvements such as getting slavery to dissipate.)  Rome collapsed, but the Church, in a different way, laid the foundation for a civilisation that was greater than the one that was there.

I honestly don’t think that the howling social justice warriors who profess and call themselves Christians (and I’ve run into them of late) have really thought through what the New Testament commands us to do vs. what the state should do.  The blunt truth is that, like it or not, Christianity has never really set forth a morality for the state, or that the morality of the state should be at unity with that in the church.  The religion that has done that is Islam; that may explain in part the affinity that people on the left feel with IslamEven a secular historian like Ferdinand Lot grasped that truth.  Since most of the focus on refugees have been those from the Middle East, it pays to look and see how things have worked out under the various forms of Islam before we unwittingly advocate those things for ourselves.