If You Worry about Pompeo, Why Not Pope Francis?

The Guardian has a story that should trouble 2kers. It’s about the influence of evangelicals, holding office, mind you, and responsible for foreign policy in the Middle East:

In his speech at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo said that in his state department office: “I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.”

The secretary of state’s primary message in Cairo was that the US was ready once more to embrace conservative Middle Eastern regimes, no matter how repressive, if they made common cause against Iran.

His second message was religious. In his visit to Egypt, he came across as much as a preacher as a diplomat. He talked about “America’s innate goodness” and marveled at a newly built cathedral as “a stunning testament to the Lord’s hand”.

The desire to erase Barack Obama’s legacy, Donald Trump’s instinctive embrace of autocrats, and the private interests of the Trump Organisation have all been analysed as driving forces behind the administration’s foreign policy.

The gravitational pull of white evangelicals has been less visible. But it could have far-reaching policy consequences. Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo both cite evangelical theology as a powerful motivating force.

Just as he did in Cairo, Pompeo called on the congregation of a Kansan megachurch three years ago to join a fight of good against evil.

“We will continue to fight these battles,” the then congressman said at the Summit church in Wichita. “It is a never-ending struggle … until the rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

This is not good on two counts. First, it mixes the church and the state. Second, it uses bad theology for one of the mix’s ingredients. Good for Julian Borger to catch this.

But what about when the Vatican does the same thing (but without the Word of God)?

Though the week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally a fairly slow period on the Vatican beat, this is the Pope Francis era, when tradition and a Euro will buy you a cup of cappuccino in a Roman café.

Thus it’s entirely fitting that arguably one of the Vatican’s most important diplomatic encounters of 2018 came the day after Christmas, when Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, met Iraqi President Barham Salih in Baghdad.

During the meeting, Salih extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit the Iraqi city of Ur, the Biblical city of Abraham, for an interreligious summit. It’s a trip that St. John Paul II desperately wanted to make in 2000, during a jubilee year pilgrimage to sites associated with salvation history, but the security situation at the time made such a trip impossible.

There was no immediate word from the Vatican whether Francis intends to accept the invitation, although there has been some media buzz about an outing coming as early as February. Doing so would be entirely consistent with his penchant for visiting both the peripheries of the world and also conflict zones.

Parolin was accompanied in the Dec. 26 meeting by the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, the largest of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome in the country, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako. That was an important signal, in part underlining that the Vatican isn’t interested in pursuing a parallel diplomatic track with Baghdad that doesn’t prioritize the concerns of the local church.

(That’s a real concern, given the fact that critics insist the Vatican has done precisely the opposite in some other parts of the world, including China and Russia.)

According to a statement afterwards from the Iraqi president’s office, Salih and Parolin discussed the importance of different religions working together to combat extremist ideology “that does not reflect the beliefs and values of our divine messages and social norms.”

The statement also said the two leaders discussed the situation facing Christians in Iraq, talking “a great deal” about how to maintain their presence in the country and to assist in rebuilding their homes, businesses and places of worship in the wake of devastation caused by ISIS and other extremist Islamic forces.

Is it because the Vatican has been engaged in foreign policy for a millennium, compared to evangelicals who have only been at it maybe 30 years tops, that allows reporters to take Bishops’ influence on temporal rulers for granted?

Or are evangelicals scarier because with the executive branch of the U.S. federal government they have more power than the pope?

If so, that’s true audacity.

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What the Gospel Co-Allies Could Learn from Non-Christian Movies

Jared Wilson (not at TGC website) makes some good points about the poor quality of Christian movies:

Christian movies are not made by artists but propagandists.

I don’t mean that these projects aren’t carried about by people who know what they’re doing with cameras, lighting, etc. The visual quality of Christian movies has definitely increased over the last decade. The caliber of talent on both sides of the camera has increased, as well. So when I say Christian movies aren’t made by artists, I don’t mean they aren’t made by people who are good at their jobs. What I mean is that they are made by people who don’t really know what the job ought to be.

I tracked this shift most notably in Christian writing (fiction) about 20 years ago. We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

Christian movies are more akin to propaganda than art, because they begin with wanting to communicate some Christian theme — the power of prayer, the power of believing, the power of something — and then the story is crafted around that message. This is true even when the story is something based on a real-life incident. Delving into the depths of human character and motivation is subservient to getting the message across. This is why so much of the dialogue in Christian movies violates the classic writing proverb, “Show, don’t tell.”

Wilson makes several other good points about Christian movies’ lameness.

The thing is, someone could make similar points about the content at TGC, whether current events, movie reviews, or even discussions of Christianity. The problem with the Christian intellectual bright web is that the Christianity or w-w on view is mainly about uplift and rooting for the good guys, that is, the celebrity pastors who sometimes leave their own parachurch platforms to perform occasional services for TGC.

A basic problem is an inability to regard non-Christians as confronting real life situations that believers also face, or portraying Christians as people with similar problems to non-Christians — juggling multiple loyalties, avoiding temptation, maintaining integrity, or even looking up to people without faith for insights into the human condition. Is it possible, for instance, for a Christian to render a non-Christian as a charming, likable, even wise person? I understand the challenges that non-believers have in portraying Christians as anything other than two-dimensional figures. That’s because Christians have such trouble admitting that they are both human and spiritual, justified and unsanctified. But is it so hard to portray human existence apart from Christ as a compelling story from which Christians can learn how to participate in all those parts of experience that are not obviously religious? If it is hard — and it is — it is because the victorious Christian living, teaching, and defending that TGC advocates is one where Christians are sanctified across all parts of ordinary life. Christians do Christian music, holy child-rearing, sanctified plumbing, and spiritual goat breeding. If everything has to have Christian significance, you are going to miss a lot of life.

That is why The Big Kahuna is such a great movie. Of course, we may no longer watch it because it stars Kevin Spacey among others. Plus, it has at least 20 f-bombs. But it also portrays the haplessness of an evangelical engineer who works with worldly salesmen and turns out not to be a reliable colleague because he (Bob, played by Peter Facinelli) is so eager to evangelize on the job. The movie, to its credit, treats this evangelical as a real life human being. When he says that it’s more important to follow Jesus than sell an industrial lubricant (at a business convention), you actually see Bob’s dilemma. It is not a ridiculous riddle. But the evangelical also lacks character, as Danny DeVito’s character points out, because Bob doesn’t see how his desire to serve the Lord has blinded him to poor performance on the job, or a distance from co-workers. Bob sees himself in two dimensions because his piety tells him to view himself that way.

It is a smart movie from which Christians and non-Christians can see the way life doesn’t proceed in straight lines.

If TGC wants Christians to make better movies, they should produce better content.

Forget the Optics, Try the Acoustics

Why is it when reading Tim Keller you (okay I) get the sense that he is above it all. This interview in 2008 in First Things (Oldlife.org did not begin until 2009) captures Keller’s sense of his own exceptionalism. When asked if Redeemer is a megachurch, well, no, it’s better than that:

I found that if you define megachurch as anything over two thousand people, then yes, then we are. But here’s four ways in which we’re not a megachurch, or we don’t do things people associate with megachurches. One is, we do no advertising or publicity of any sort, except I’m trying to get the book out there so people read it and have their lives changed by it, but Redeemer’s never advertised or publicized. And the reason is, if a person walks in off the street just because they’ve heard about Redeemer through advertising, and they have questions or they want to get involved, there’s almost no way to do it unless you have all kinds of complicated programs, places where they can go. But if they come with a friend who already goes there, their questions are answered naturally, the next steps happen organically, the connections they want to make happen naturally . . . We do not want a crowd of spectators. We want a community.

Secondly, we do almost no technology. We don’t have laser-light shows, we don’t have Jumbotrons, we don’t have overheard projectors, we don’t have screens. We don’t have anything like that. Thirdly, we have a lot of classical music, chamber music¯we are not hip at all. We don’t go out of our way to be hip.

There’s praise music in the evening services.

Yeah, but it’s jazz. It’s toned down. It’s much more New York. It’s certainly not your typical evangelical contemporary music. We actually pound into people that we’re not here to meet your needs but to serve the city. So we pound that into them, that we’re not a consumer place, that we’re not here to meet your needs but to serve the city.

Not an ordinary megachurch, but one with class. No CCM but Jazz. No Jumbotrons but ballet.

And what about being Presbyterian? Again, that’s a tad confining for Redeemer’s grander efforts:

Do you ever see a point at which Redeemer’s mission, which is transdenominational, if not nondenominational, is inhibited by being a member of a specific denomination? Would it be easier to do what you do if you were not connected to the Presbyterian Church in America?

Maybe a little. Because, when you’re part of a denomination, you’ve got to have some constitution, some structure, that you hold with everybody else. The larger a church gets, the more unique it gets, and it would always be a little easier, I suppose, if we didn’t have any¯like, for example, how we do elections. We have to get a quorum of our members. When our constitution was built, no one was thinking about a church that held five services on a Sunday, at three locations. So the problem is to get a quorum of our congregation, we don’t actually have a quorum of our congregation at any one service. So where do we hold an election for our services? And the answer is, we choose the largest one and we just hope people come. So it’s a bit of a struggle to get a quorum, because our constitution is set up for a traditional church in a small town. Its not set up for multi-site churches, it’s not set up for churches that don’t have their own buildings. And if we were an independent church, we’d just do it our own way. But we think it’s very very important to be part of the connection. We think for accountability it’s important, for tradition it’s important. So we just put up with it.

Even though you’re helping to plant non-Presbyterian churches?

Yes, because I don’t believe you can reach New York with the gospel if you only plant Presbyterian churches. There are all kinds of people who’ll never be Presbyterians. It just doesn’t appeal to them. Some people are going to be Pentecostals, some people are going to be Catholics. I mean, I know that sounds¯I’m not talking about that certain cultures reach certain people. It’s much more complicated than that. Even though there’s something to that. We all know that certain cultures seem to have more of an affinity toward a certain kind of Christian tradition than others, but I wouldn’t want to reduce it to that at all. I would just say that I only know that God seems to use all these kinds of churches to reach the whole breadth of humanity, and so that’s why we give money to start churches of other denominations, and give free training to it. And we’ve done about a hundred in the New York area, where we’ve helped people. It’s very important to us.

Presbyterianism is a brand that’s distinct from Baptist and Pentecostal. Then again, Redeemer is a brand unto itself. If I were in the PCA I wouldn’t take much heart from having the NYC congregation in the denomination because it is the Lebron James of contemporary Protestantism.

I wonder if Keller considers how he comes across. It sure sounds like none of the rules, contemporary church, Presbyterianism, celebrity, marketing, apply to Keller and Redeemer. They are bigger and better.

Imagine That, Church as Safe Space

Could the Pretty Good Awokening nurture the spirituality of the church? Some of the speakers at the recent evangelical summit on sexual abuse sure made it sound like the church needs to be a place of respite:

These are all scandals that emerged from within the church. But many speakers at the Wheaton summit focused on how to make the church a safe haven from the perils of the outside world, rather than on rooting out harm coming from its own ranks. Beth Moore, a Bible teacher who has become a prominent voice on misogyny and abuse within Christian circles, described her childhood church as a harbor that contrasted with her “unsafe” home. Still, she said, “I have often wondered what a difference it might have made if that safe harbor had not only been a place to hide but a place to heal. What if I’d heard my pastor or my teachers or any of my leaders address what I was going through, call it what it was, say that I wasn’t to blame and not to be ashamed? … What if I’d known I wasn’t alone? What if I’d known there was help?

A safe harbor was all that Machen asked for as a remedy from the abuse of politicized Christianity:

But meanwhile our souls are tried. We can only try to do our duty in humility and in sole reliance upon the Savior who bought us with His blood. . . . whatever solution there may be, one thing is clear. There must be somewhere groups of redeemed men and women who can gather together humbly in the name of Christ, to give thanks to Him for His unspeakable gift and to worship the Father through Him. Such groups alone can satisfy the needs of the soul. At the present time, there is one longing of the human heart which is often forgotten − it is the deep, pathetic longing of the Christian for fellowship with his brethren. One hears much, it is true, about Christian union and harmony and co-operation. But the union that is meant is often a union with the world against the Lord, or at best a forced union of machinery and tyrannical committees. How different is the true unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! Sometimes, it is true, the longing for Christian fellowship is satisfied. There are congregations, even in the present age of conflict, that are really gathered around the table of the crucified Lord; there are pastors that are pastors indeed. But such congregations, in many cities, are difficult to find. Weary with the conflicts of the world, one goes into the Church to seek refreshment for the soul. And what does one find? Alas, too often, one finds only the turmoil of the world. The preacher comes forward, not out of a secret place of meditation and power, not with the authority of God’s Word permeating his message, not with human wisdom pushed far into the background by the glory of the Cross, but with human opinions about the social problems of the hour or easy solutions of the vast problem of sin. Such is the sermon. And then perhaps the service is closed by one of those hymns breathing out the angry passions of 1861, which are to be found in the back part of the hymnals. Thus the warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God, and sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace. (Christianity and Liberalism)

I hope for the sake of the abused that they find peace and solace in the church, so long as they remember that making the church #woke or prophetic is only to bring the “conflicts of the world” back into the place where souls are looking for comfort.

When Will the Gospel Coalition Police Evangelicalism’s Mean Streets?

Justin Taylor wants to parse the numbers of Trump voters to remove the EIGHTY-ONE PERCENT mantra (which is a tired and cliched understanding of the 2016 vote and allows Never Trumpers to have a target). Here‘s how to save evangelicalism from Trump:

Third, we know almost nothing about the 80 percent beyond a religious label they affirm or an experience they claim.

Do they go to church? Are they Protestant? Unless we are willing to say that “an evangelical is anyone who says he or she is an evangelical or says he or she has been ‘born again,’” then we have to admit that we are talking more about a label of self-designation than an actual movement or network, much less a reflection of theological belief or religious practice.

For example, an array of theological traditions outside of the traditional evangelical movement have adherents who say they are “evangelical” or have been “born again,” including:

mainline Protestants (27 percent)
Roman Catholics (22 percent)
Orthodox (18 percent)
Mormons (23 percent)
Jehovah’s Witness (24 percent)
spiritualist Christians (24 percent)

So, evangelical is a plastic word. It doesn’t identify much. Then why does TGC identify as evangelical if the term is so bad, which everyone has known for a while? The problem is that the term is the best for gaining as many followers as you can. If you use Baptist or Presbyterian, you cut down on potential followers, readers, and donors. So you go with the broad term and then qualify TGC further as “broadly” Reformed.

Only now when such breadth looks pretty bad out there in the mainstream media to you object how easy it is to be evangelical. Well, are TGC’s memberships requirements all that demanding?

What is Going on in the SBC?

I understand somewhat the dilemmas created by the communion’s troubled history of racism, but does honesty about the past require finding sustenance in Marian devotion? Here is how the authors of what is pasted below describe themselves:

Matt Emerson (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary ) serves as the Dickinson Associate Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, OK and as Co-Executive Director of the Center for Baptist Renewal. His areas of interest include biblical theology, canonical interpretation, theological method, and Baptist theology.

R. Lucas Stamps (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Associate Professor of Theology & Christian Studies at Anderson University. He also serves as Co-Executive Director of the Center for Baptist Renewal. His areas of scholarly interest include Christology, the Trinity, and Baptist theology.

So I suspect these scholars are Southern Baptists.

Here is part of what Dr. Emerson and Dr. Stamps wrote about Protestants and Mary:

In Protestant thought Mary has been neglected, ignored, and sometimes even disparaged, but given the biblical data about her we think this is unfortunate. There are at least six typological categories and one dogmatic category we need in order to understand the biblical portrait of Mary:

Eve typology
Israelite Matriarch typology
Remnant of Israel typology
Lady Wisdom typology
The Skull-Crushing People of God typology
Ark typology
“The whole course of Christ’s obedience.”

If you follow the biblical citations that the authors use, they only have one from any of the New Testament epistles and that is to Eph. 5 where Paul compares wives to the church. In other words, most of the biblical argument for Mary relies on typological and perhaps some other literary tricks but it sure would be good to follow the Protestant practice of letting the clear passages interpret the obscure. And when it comes to Peter and Paul (or the author to the Hebrews), Mary is a no-show.

Hence the question, what’s going on in the SBC?

Postscript: the great thing about writing posts about Mary is that you don’t have to worry about violating the Second Commandment when looking for accompanying images.

Bigly

Chortles Weakly tweeted a link to an old (2014) article by Kevin DeYoung and Ryan Kelly about denominations and parachurch organizations. One paragraph stood out:

The ministries of T4G and TGC are distinct and prominent on the landscape of American evangelicalism, but they are not novel or unique. Other ministries share many of the same aims and inhabit the same theological universe of evangelical Calvinism. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), founded by the late James Montgomery Boice in 1994, is something of a forerunner to today’s most popular partnerships. This multi-dimensional networking and resourcing ministry is similar in many respects to TGC. Several church-planting networks also contribute to the scene, including Acts 29 (now led by Matt Chandler) and Redeemer City to City (under Tim Keller). While some such church-planting networks function as something closer to denominations, with pastoral training and a vetting process, they nevertheless together represent this growth of intentional collegiality that is not merely denominational.

Notice that one parachurch organization is insufficient for all the interested parties. TGC wants unity. Its members want to be the voice of broadly Reformed evangelicalism:

A part of the criticism of TGC has centered on its perceived desire to dominate the evangelical scene, to become “the voice” of Reformed evangelicalism, or to “set the church’s agenda.” Perhaps one reason for this concern is the sheer size of TGC’s footprint on the web and social media. The numbers involved, already mentioned, are quite remarkable. In as much as these pageviews represent people reading good, thoughtful material, we rejoice that Christ may use those efforts to strengthen his church. The same would go for the number of TGC conferences and their attendees. Many have come. Conferences have been added. Hopefully those labors have borne true fruit, by God’s grace. We believe that they have, along with many other good conferences of our day.

But it can’t satisfy the appetites of its own members who not only belong to other parachurch organizations and denominations, but also have embarked on other church planting efforts.

What we are witnessing is paraparachurch.

But imagine if all the members of TGC’s council devoted their energies to making TGC the one-stop shop for broadly Reformed teaching and encouragement about broadly Reformed ministry.

As it stands, one of the council’s members has his own congregation, perhaps a regional meeting of his communion, then an annual one, plus TGC, plus a church planting network, and then a book contract or two.

At some point, simple wisdom suggests something about the danger of spreading yourself too thin. I guess that explains what makes TGC broad.

And yet, we’re supposed to look to these gents for wisdom?

Why #Woke Christianity Won’t Last

If social psychologists are right about the need for friends, family, and colleagues to sustain a person’s beliefs, then the results from a new Pew survey might give the social justice Christians pause:

Politically conservative Americans are more likely than liberals to find meaning in religion, while liberals find more meaning in creativity and causes than do conservatives. Spirituality and faith are commonly mentioned by very conservative Americans as imbuing their lives with meaning and fulfillment; 38% cite it in response to the open-ended question, compared with just 8% of very liberal Americans – a difference that holds even when controlling for religious affiliation. By contrast, the closed-ended question finds that very liberal Americans are especially likely to derive “a great deal” of meaning from arts or crafts (34%) and social and political causes (30%), compared with rates of 20% and 12% among very conservative Americans.

In other words, the number of believers in the socially concerned world of MeToo, NeverTrump, and BlackLivesMatter is arguably small. It’s a free country and no one is saying that leftists and progressives have to be religious. But if you wind up finding meaning in those circles, you won’t find much encouragement for faith. What is likely the case is that you’ll encounter hostility to faith, especially of a conservative Protestant variety.

Maybe #woke evangelicals can console themselves that they are a niche market and will persevere as a special case of committed believers who are also on the left side of politics. Chances are, though, as other results from Pew suggest, that if these #woke believers remain religious it will not be as evangelical.

Many evangelicals find meaning in faith, while atheists often find it in activities and finances. Spirituality and religious faith are particularly meaningful for evangelical Protestants, 43% of whom mention religion-related topics in the open-ended question. Among members of the historically black Protestant tradition, 32% mention faith and spirituality, as do 18% of mainline Protestants and 16% of Catholics. Evangelical Protestants’ focus on religious faith also emerges in the closed-ended survey: 65% say it provides “a great deal” of meaning in their lives, compared with 36% for the full sample. At the other end of the spectrum, atheists are more likely than Christians to mention finances (37%), and activities and hobbies (32%), including travel (13%), as things that make their lives meaningful. Atheists tend to have relatively high levels of education and income, but these patterns hold even when controlling for socioeconomic status.

Gospelllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Glad to see John Fea stand up for evangelism (in response to the news of John Allen Chau’s death) as something distinct from social justice:

The Great Commission is one of the reasons I remain an evangelical. If you are a Christian and do not believe in evangelism, missions, or “making disciples” in the world then you need to explain to me why you take Jesus’s words seriously in some places of the Gospels (love your neighbor, caring for the poor, etc.) and not in Matthew 28:16-20. It seems to me that the Great Commission of Matthew 28 is something more than simply, “go into the world and do acts of social justice.” If this is what the Great Commission means, then I am not sure how Christianity is any different than the Peace Corps or some other non-religious agency. It seems to me that the requirement to “make disciples” and “baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit” requires something more. Chau took this call seriously.

But for some proponents of social justice, John crossed a line:

In fact, John’s position is in the ballpark of the spirituality of the church since he implies that salvation is something more (and more profound) than rearranging equitably the chairs on the deck of Good Ship Society.

I sometimes wonder if John follows the news more than he should. But so far, he’s still reading the Bible along with his headlines.

Evangelicals Have Been At This Longer than Woke Millennials

Eric Weinstein, of Intellectual Dark Web fame (Bret’s brother), recently tweeted how novel the ideas and language of social justice warriors are:

But for evangelicals, “social concern” has been around for almost forty-five years:

The Lausanne Congress, sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, drew 2,700 peopple from around the globe — at the time the largest-ever gathering of evangelical Christian leaders.  The Assembled believers — ministers and lay people, racially diverse, the vast majority of them men — would be part of a singular moment in postwar evangelicalism.

Like all of the major presenters, [Rene] Padilla had pre-circulated a paper, a rather scholarly treatise on the centrality of repentance to Christian ethics. The audience was not surprise, then, to hear Padilla lecture his fellow participants at Lausanne on the sins of the evangelical church, and on its failure — their own failure  — to take seriously Jesus’s call to social action. What was remarkable was the controlled fury emanating from the stage. Padilla challenged the room to remember that Jesus had demanded that his followers confront the “darkness of the world”  But evangelicals, he pronounced, had focused so long on individual sin that they had forgotten that darkness included materialism, racism, class division, political abuses, and, quoting Reinhold Niebuhr, “collective egoism.” (Melani McAlister, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders, 85)

Of course, one way of looking at this is that evangelicals have been ever consistent in their call for social justice or social concern.

Another is that this is something that regularly repeats itself among Christians who want to immanentize the eschaton because they believe the gospel is not really relevant if it prepares someone for not the present but eternity.

And yet, if this social concern regularly repeats itself, from Walter Rauschenbusch to Rachel Held Evans, why has it accomplished so little (especially now that it has support from mainstream journalists, elite universities, and at least one of the major political parties — not to mention Silicon Valley)?