History Doesn’t Have Sides (take it from a professional)

Citizens of the U.S. have become used to presidents talking about “the right side of history”:

Most recently, during his December 6 Oval Office address on terrorism, Obama said: “My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history.” It’s a phrase Obama loves: He’s used it 15 times, in debates; at synagogues; in weekly radio addresses; at fundraisers. Obama is almost as fond of its converse, “the wrong side of history,” which he has used 13 times; staffers and press secretaries have invoked it a further 16. (These figures are all based on the archives of the American Presidency Project at the University of California Santa Barbara.)

But the expressions are hardly original to Obama. Bill Clinton referred to “the right side of history” 21 times over his time in office, while his staffers added another 15. Clinton also mentioned the “wrong side of history” several times. Ronald Reagan, for his part, wryly resurrected Leon Trotsky’s relegation of the Mensheviks to the “dustbin” or “ash heap of history.” Speaking to the British Parliament in 1982, the Gipper said, “The march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”

That kind of naivete from the smartest people in the country (minus Reagan, of course) makes you (okay mmmmeeeeEEEEE) wonder what it feels like to lose and be on the wrong side of history (now Democrats know how Jerry Falwell felt in 1993).

But this is not simply an American problem. Paul Helm (not licensed as a historian) points out that history is not so readily categorized as right or wrong. But it is the legacy of the Enlightenment and a departure from Augustinianism:

This idea of history having a ‘side’, which is liberal, enlightened and so on, harks back to the enlightenment of the 18th century, to the emergence of what David Hume called ‘these enlightened ages’, in sharp contrast to the side of the ‘dark ages’ of medievalism. The idea is that such a surge as the Enlightenment, having begun, is inevitable, tending unstoppably in one direction. This side of history is on the move to better times, and so if we wish these times for ourselves and others, we had better get on the right side. And that direction becomes ‘obvious’ to those with enlightened minds.

The forces of darkness, of barbarism and superstition, are history’s other side, its faltering side, the side of those intent on ‘turning the clock back’, impeding or interrupting and so delaying its progress. Sooner or later history’s other side is to be decisively supplanted by the enlightened. So that dark side is destined to fail. The light side of history will succeed. Who wants to be left behind? So do not get left behind, for the Light and its forces will ultimately triumph over Darkness, reason against unreason, liberty against slavery, and so on. This is somehow connected with what Herbert Butterfield and others referred to as the Whig interpretation of history. Though this seems to have been, insofar as it existed, a gentler version of the current ‘sides of history’ view, at least insofar as it is view of history that is the outcome of ongoing parliamentary debate. In fact it may be said that so long as freedom of speech and the working of government and opposition in Parliament continues, the enlightened ages continue.

One implication is a lesson for those who think progressively about Christianity making the world a better place (read transformationalism). Don’t mimic Enlightenment progressivism:

Also linked with the winning side of history view is the idea of Western leadership and hegemony, which causes the rising sun to shine on the Sunny Side until the entire world basks in it. These are the engines of light. Currently these are the forces of globalism, international corporatism, and the waging of the war against global warming. Its personal ‘values’ include unlimited tolerance, and the freedom from offendedness of various kinds, along with the renouncing of the vestiges of nationalism and popularism, two currently-favoured examples.. Though it is said that we are living in a post-Enlightenment period, the confidence of the Enlightenment persists. Whatever ‘post-modernism’ is, it is not pessimistic.

The solution? Thinking like aliens and strangers, not conquerors and transformers:

It is a feature of living ‘between the times’ that God’s activity in history, his macro activity we might call it – cannot be correlated with the ebb and flow of history. Why is this? Because there is now no fixity between the events in history and the saving purposes of God. The only possible exception is the history of the church. But that is also rather uncertain. During the eras if special revelation – in the call of Abraham, and the history of Israel, and of course in the coming into flesh of the eternal Son, there is redemptive history in something like the usual sense of history. There were times in which the purposes of God with those with eyes to see, could be discerned. Through the ebbing and flowing, a trajectory of the divine redemptive purpose is discernible. But no longer. There is no ‘open vision’. Attempts to make a connection between historical states as the centuries roll, and the redemptive purposes of God are doomed. . . .

Such an understanding of history and the place of the Christian church in it throws into sharp relief the New Testament teaching on Christians as pilgrims and strangers, whose citizenship lies exclusively in a future city whose maker and builder is God. Any ‘Christian’ activity which seeks to impact dimensions of this present age and its cities –through social policies, political agendas, or arts and crafts – as so many expressions of Christian faith, inevitably compromises the root importance of a pilgrimage of men and women who otherwise may agree on little else, but whose eyes and hopes are in the New Jerusalsem. Besides these, the questions of history, its various sides and significances, matter not.

Helm should add, this outlook is not inspiring. No conferences on “Embrace the Suck” or “Endure the Uncertainty.”

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Could Christ Have Preached Christ and Him Crucified?

Rick Phillips introduces a tension — though that was not his intention — between Jesus’ preaching and Paul’s. We have the old was-Paul-the-second-founder-of-Christianity problem.

Here‘s is what Christ preached according to Phillips:

I noted 4 main types of ministry emphases highlighted by Jesus in Mark:

1. Jesus declaring his deity as Messiah, together with his teaching about God and salvation (i.e. theology and redemptive history).

2. Jesus preaching the gospel: pointing out his hearers’ need to be forgiven and God’s wonderful remedy through his saving work. Included here would be calls to prospective disciples to believe and follow Jesus.

3. Jesus training and reproving his disciples, including ethical and spiritual instruction and his call to evangelistic labor.

4. Jesus exposing false teachers and religious opposition. This includes the confronting and correcting of false doctrine.

And here is how Paul described his preaching:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (1 Cor 2:1-2)

Again, I don’t think Phillips is trying to drive a wedge between Jesus and Paul, but the way he frames the question does lead in that direction — one that contrasts the way Jesus preached with the way his disciples did (think of Peter in Acts 2). Why isn’t it the case that Jesus is NOT a model for post-ascension preaching — nor is John the Baptist. Until the main event of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, the preaching of biblical prophets is going to be types and shadows. Think Geerhardus Vos.

And also think Marilyn Robinson. This is what can happen if you use Jesus as your model for preaching and leave out Paul:

Since these folk claim to be defenders of embattled Christianity (under siege by liberalism, as they would have it), they might be struck by the passage in Matthew 25 in which Jesus says, identifying himself with the poorest, “I was hungry, and ye fed me not.” This is the parable in hallowed be your name which Jesus portrays himself as eschatological judge and in which he separates “the nations.” It should surely be noted that he does not apply any standard of creed – of purity or of orthodoxy – in deciding whom to save and whom to damn. This seems to me a valuable insight into what Jesus himself might consider fundamental. To those who have not recognized him in the hungry and the naked, he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels.” Neofundamentalists seem to crave this sort of language – more than they might if they were to consider its context here. It is the teaching of the Bible passim that God has confided us very largely to one another’s care, but that in doing so he has in no degree detached himself from us. Indeed, in this parable Jesus would seem to push beyond the image of God as final judge to describe an immanence of God in humankind that makes judgment present and continuous, and that in effect makes our victim our judge. Neither here nor anywhere else in the Bible is there the slightest suggestion that our judge/victim would find a plea of economic rationalism extenuating. This supposed new Awakening is to the first two Awakenings, and this neofundamentalism is to the first fundamentalism, as the New Right is to the New Deal, or as matter is to antimatter’.

If You Can Deceive Planned Parenthood, Why Not a Gay Couple?

Just trying to figure out the tender parts of the Christian social conservative conscience.

If it’s okay for David Daleiden to lie to Planned Parenthood, then is it okay for a Christian baker to lie to a gay couple that wants the baker to make a wedding cake for the couple’s wedding? If lying is okay in the former case, do we need to change laws in states like Indiana to protect the religious freedom of Christian bakers to tell the truth?

Isn’t there something off about defending lying in one instance and in the name of constitutional protections demanding truth telling in the other?

Or put it this way: would the Christian baker who refuses to bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony as a matter of conscience be willing to lie to make a video that exposes the wickedness of Planned Parenthood? Wouldn’t such a demanding conscience prevent the baker, as “journalist,” from doing anything at odds with her religious integrity?

This is what got me thinking (thanks to our California correspondent):

Sin is sin, no matter what, and there is a judgment for those who sin and are not part of the church. But that judgment is up to God. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t advocate for righteous laws everywhere necessary, and that doesn’t mean Christians cannot make moral pronouncements in the public square. It does mean that if our extra-ecclesial institutions have moral failures, it is not our necessary individual duties to correct those failures. Non-Christian people intent on sinning, at some point, may be allowed to fail.

Christians have the moral right to refuse to provide services for gay weddings and other events, in part because it is necessary to preserve freedom of speech. This case should be taken to the highest court in the land because no one, of any faith, should have to choose between violating conscience and closing his business for the right to choose what moral visions he publicly expresses.

But, critically, those religious liberty and free speech realities do not mean that Christians necessarily sin when they bake gay wedding cakes or sign marriage certificates for gay couples. One can act in Christian righteousness and either deliver the wedding cake or sign the marriage certificate. We need to be very careful about what God requires and very specific about what political decisions must trigger Christian rebellion. It is getting bad and will likely get worse, but we are not at that breaking point yet.

Can you re-write those last two paragraphs to read:

Christians have the moral right to refuse to provide services for gay weddings and other events tell the truth to abortionists, in part because it is necessary to preserve freedom of speech the sanctity of human life. This case should not be taken to the highest court in the land because no one, of any faith, should have to choose between violating consciencetelling the truth and closing his business for the right to choose what moral visions he publicly expresses preserving human life.

But, critically, those religious liberty and free speech realities do not mean that Christians necessarily sin when they bake gay wedding cakes or sign marriage certificates for gay couples lie. One can act in Christian righteousness and either deliver the wedding cake or sign the marriage certificate lie. We need to be very careful about what God requires and very specific about what political decisions must trigger Christian rebellion. It is getting bad and will likely get worse, but we are not at that breaking point yet.

Where does the analogy break down? Where does it clarify?

Your move.

Looking both Ways

What would happen to race relations in the U.S. (at least) if Americans of African descent sometimes tried to identify with the experience of a white person? It may happen more than blog posts after racially charged incidents suggest, but the theme of many an African-American pastor after the Michael Brown shooting was that white people need to empathize with the experience of African-American men.

Well, sometimes, an African-American does see the world through the eyes of a white man (or boy). How could that happen? Well, in the case of mixed-race couples who reproduce children who look white, an African-American parent will need, as Trillia Newbell reminds her readers, to consider the experience of white folk in the U.S.:

Because he is white-looking, I fear my son will grow up in an environment that is hostile towards white males. I do live in the south where racial tension and strife have plagued our history. So what if we end up doing just the thing we’ve fought so hard to stop? What if we, black Americans, begin judging other brothers and sisters solely based on the color of their skin? Could my son be thought of as an ignorant, uncaring, privileged white male? There is a good and needed call to repentance, action, and – at the very least – acknowledgement that there remains a problem in America regarding racial reconciliation. We haven’t arrived—far from it. And yet I wonder how it feels to be a white male in America today. There are some who have indeed acknowledged that racism continues to rot the hearts of men and women—even those within the Church. There are many who feel a weight of responsibility that could prove to be useful, but there are others who I believe feel a weight of responsibility, guilt, and fear. I want my son to know about our country’s history, to realize the sin of man, and to not retreat when faced with difficult and heart wrenching situations like that of Ferguson. But I don’t want him to walk around feeling guilt, shame, and fear.

If a mother can empathize with a son in this way, what about an African-American pastor who ministers to white and black people? Does a minister of the word, no matter what his background, need somehow to lay aside his own experience based on race or class or nationality and minister to the people in his congregation whose experience may be very different from his? It makes sense that a mother looks out for a son. It also makes sense that an undershepherd looks out for his sheep whether they are white or black.