Tuesday, May 21, 2013

John Piper's Problem

John Piper has a major problem.

It is directly connected to a recent tweet of his that he went on to delete without so much as an apology.

The problem as I see it is, ironically, traceable within the very (con)text he draws from.

Why is this you ask?

Well, first of all, like Job's friends accusers (add to this list Pat Robertson), John Piper has a history of blaming (super?)natural catastrophes on God's wrath on homosexuals, feminists, and liberals.

So what was the purpose of his tweet? To rub salt on the wounds of the victims of the latest (tornado) catastrophe? It would appear that, in accord with Piper's history of making such statements, he meant to let us know why these tornadoes/whirlwinds came through.

Let us not quickly forget the first thing God said out of that whirlwind in Job 38: "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?"Job was not to listen to his accusers, because they did not know the mind of God.

Neither does Piper. He ought to learn to hear the wisdom of the text he quotes. He also ought to learn when it is inappropriate to rub salt in victim's wounds.

Monday, December 17, 2012

No Huckabee, In God's Name No

Mike Huckabee seems to suggest that if we had not "systematically remove[d] God from our schools," God perhaps would have intervened...or at least, the Newtown massacre would not have happened. This is outrageous for a few reasons that I will explore here. (I base this on the God-of-grace who Christians claim faith in.)

First of all, a God of grace is a God of unconditional grace. Grace by definition is gift without conditions. To say that, as another politician stated, God is a "gentleman" for not showing up where he is not wanted is, well, stupid. Grace does not abandon in the name of politeness. To say that God's grace was cut short by a lack of invitation or rejection is to create limits that contradict the very definition of grace.

Secondly, a God of grace is a universal God, and certainly not the God of Christian imperialism. Christian imperialism, the backbone of the Religious Right and the ideology used to legitimate the military-industrial complex, is anything but gracious. It is misogynistic, homophobic, often racist, and anti-Muslim. It is used to support a capitalist system that privileges the stronger over the weaker in a game of competition, trampling all over the poor and disenfranchised, and legitimates killing the "enemy" in the name of God while claiming to be "pro-life" (i.e. middle east warfare). This system is evil.

So the God that has been kept out of schools is the God of Christian imperialism. The vision our education system as encouraged is one of pluralism and inclusivity--one that tolerates different religious viewpoints. I don't think this is opposed to the God of grace.

There really is no good reason for what happened. A mentally-ill boy shot up a bunch of children. A woman gave her life. Why God allowed it, especially a God of grace, I cannot say. But the Christian imperialists, in using this tragedy to further their wicked agenda, to me is beyond comprehension. The military-industrial complex, backboned by Christian imperialism, calls for drone strikes in the middle east that kill hundreds of innocent children ("casualties"), and we don't even bat an eye, much less even come close to considering it a "national tragedy" that adds to America's long list of sins. 

But I guess it doesn't matter, because God has been "systematically removed" from the middle east by our Muslim enemies and is too much a "gentleman" to intrude on our drone strikes that kill multitudes innocent children in his name.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Snare Laid for Penal Substitution

Last year I read through the first novel in the Hunger Games series. What I found interesting was the way in which the logic of penal substitutionary atonement theory was set up as a prop and then fired down through an alternative logic based upon self-sacrificial love. How ironic it is that many conservative Christians enjoyed it!

To state the obvious, Katniss Everdeen is the Christ figure, and ironically a female. She intends to give her life away to liberate the people from oppression and expose the evil of the Capitalist empire that hovers over them. Think of the parallels here between the Hunger Games' political structure and America's relationship to "third-world" countries. Theologically, this fits well with the real situation surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus. He opposed the economic greed of an empire and got crucified for it, acting nonviolently and self-sacrificially to expose its wickedness with a higher love from God.

Katniss does a similar thing, although the empire spares her before embarrassing itself. By paralleling this with the Jesus story, it can be exciting for a Christian. But before getting too excited, all of you who subscribe to penal substitution should know a stumbling block has been laid in front of you.

Penal substitution states that God the Father poured out his wrath on his Son for the vicarious atonement of human sin. But in the Hunger Games the "higher power" demanding a "tribute" or payment is the empire -- an empire that looks much the same as the Roman Empire which murdered Jesus.

So whose side was God on come Good Friday? Jesus's side or the empire's? You choose.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Dark Side of Conservative Logic

Today I wrote a paragraph on my Facebook that would have had me burned at the stake in previous centuries by people like John Calvin and company. This is what I wrote:

"Perhaps the fundamental difference between the view of God in classical theology and the view of God in contemporary theology is that the former is about a God who displays and demands power and the latter is about a God who empowers the other. The former capitalizes on unilateral omnipotent action while the latter capitalizes on relational omnibenevolent and kenotic (i.e. self-emptying) action."

Then a Facebook friend who identifies with Calvin's tradition composed a post that was ostensibly written in opposition to mine (or at least served as a response) which read like this:

"The Bible is holy, inspired, inerrant, and sufficient. The God-breathed Scriptures are not subjective responses to man’s encounters with God, but rather they are God’s Word which reveals Himself to His creatures, and this Word demands the submission of mankind to His objective truths."

(As an aside, I wrote an article for my college's newspaper a while back that argued precisely that Scripture acts as a subjective response to encounters with God, and this guy wrote a response to it in that paper. So it's safe to say he was responding to my post.) Now without going into all of the scholarly and theological reasons for why the Bible is not best taken as inerrant, I had to shiver a little in thinking about how this guy's response may have manifested itself differently a few centuries ago. Would he have been like Saul as he stood by and watched the stoning of Steven approvingly? I don't know. He's always been kind to me in person and to my face, but he stands by a tradition and theology which not only provided a hegemonic justification for witch- and heretic-burning a few centuries ago (not to mention slavery and the subordination of women and widows), but his own camp believes that mine is hanging over the Lake of Fire by a thread.

It is discomfiting to say the least. Do people not understand the dangers of their beliefs? Do they not realize that a world built on classical theology takes us back to the time of Puritan theocracy and persecution of heretics? The dark side of conservative logic is that it justifies the condemnation of our own beloved flesh and blood in the human race in favor of a God no one has ever seen. As the Apostle John said, who can love a God they have never seen if they cannot love a human being they have seen? Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul once said that we cannot slay truth in the streets for the sake of peace. And based upon this logic, some of us choose to sacrifice peace in the streets for the sake of a truth we cannot prove, not to mention a truth that has failed to produce peace for millenia.

You would think that after thousands of years of believing in wrathful, egotistical gods that provide hegemonic ideologies for greed, oppression, violence, and war, many more people would question traditional religion. That they would look back upon theory with the retrospection of praxis and consequence. Jesus said that "you will know them by their fruit." A theory that claims to create peace in the world but fails to do so needs to be questioned. Is not the theory a lie if it cannot accomplish what it says it can?

There are two kinds of insanity in the world. The first is the belief that the old cycle of violence, war, and the old moral-metaphysical God of Divine egotism can still redeem the world after ages of not only its failure to do so, but its very place as a culprit in such atrocities as we have witnessed. The second kind of insanity is the belief that an understanding of God as pure love and of our lives as channels of that generous, merciful, and creative energy that comes from this God is in fact the way forward, and that it will more likely create a better world than the first insanity which has committed even the most humble and loving of people (e.g. Lao Tzu) to claiming that the world is forever committed to Samsara (the endless, unchangeable cycle of the world).

The bottom line is that no one really knows rationally and/or empirically that their religious convictions are true, so perhaps the best litmus test for religious validity is once again the one put forth by Jesus himself: you will know them by their fruit (remember the fruit of the spirit? love, joy, peace, etc.). Unfortunately, the logic of the conservative church flies directly and stubbornly against this.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Christian (Cult)ure Classics: Johnny Mac

John Macarthur, or as his endearing fans affectionately call him, "Johnny Mac," is a bit of a cult classic due to his growing status as a cult leader. Like Willy Wonka, he will take you into a world of pure imagination, the world of John Macarthur's Calvinistic imagination.

However, this isn't the good kind of surreal. This isn't a chocolate factory and you aren't being invited to dine with the Mad Hatter. John Macarthur's world is a world of illogical impossibilities, apocalyptic terror, and divine egotism, all with the ironic banner "GRACE TO YOU" hanging over the gates of this dystopian nightmare. And John Macarthur has mixed up a special Kool-Aid to aid you in your journey through this world. To numb your mind and make the insanity easier.

See the resemblance?

Well, that is, if and only if you've been predestined to drink it. According to Johnny Mac, God shuffled his cards at the foundation of the world to sort out who would be vessels of wrath and who would be vessels of mercy. And to make it worse, he (arbitrarily?) decided to make way more vessels of wrath than of mercy. Lucky us.

And yes, it really is an "arbitrary" choice, and not simply "according to his purposes" as the Bible says. If you don't think so, go out and smell the TULIPS. According to the "U" in TULIP, our Sovereign beast of a master chose his ornamental saints according to his "unconditional election," which means he elected us for saint-ship based upon absolutely no conditions. Talk about relativism. And you thought postmodernism was bad.

But it only gets worse. All of those precious vessels of wrath will eternally burn simply for being sloppily made vessels. But Macarthur's Divine Potter is not ready to take the blame for having shaky hands. These vessels will burn forever on the alter of hell as they give off a sweet aroma to the nostrils of the Almighty, like a sweet Levitical offering, and it will all amount to giving him glory. And the vessels of mercy will see his glory and fall on their faces and worship him, the glorious one who showed them the error of their way which was inherited through the man's seed passed down over thousands of years from a proto-human whose will was biased to eat a fruit from the hand of a woman seduced by a cunning serpent.

But how could you resist that smile? Grace to you, my friend. If you're elect :)

Yes, Johnny Mac believes all of these things. But that's not all folks.

Unlike his reformed brothers and sisters, Dr. Macarthur also believes that the entire world will be set on fire. For God so loved the world, he sent down fire from the heavens to burn up all the infidels so that only the Word of God and a few souls of men will endure. The creation really wasn't that great anyway.

But to spare you the pain and time of having to read page after page about what exactly his systematic dispensationalist paradigm of sensationalist end-time glory looks like, I'll simply ask you to Google it. Dispensationalism. Seven Year Tribulation. Uncreation of the earth. Antichrist. John Darby.

That's right. It was this guy's idea.

So may you not drink the Kool-Aid of Johnny Mac's theology. May you always remember and revere him as a frightening and fictitious character in a Stephen King novel and nothing else. Long live cult classics.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Defamation of (Non)Hell (Cult)ure

I guess if I was an evangelical I would be a little concerned about all these lights and cameras and shows and bands and coffee gatherings and fads and appeals to hip fashion, because quite frankly, it would all be a terrible cover-up of the awful, glaring reality of an eternity spent in unending torment for those not "in." I guess I would want my art and presentation and gatherings to reflect this terrible reality rather than my glorious, selfish "in-ness" because I wouldn't want to hide the truth from those who are "perishing."

So why do people cover this awful reality up?

The answer is simple: we as humans cannot bare it. When I was young, I could barely sustain any amount of time thinking about unending torment in my mind, no matter what justification I attempted to give it. The more I thought about it, the more atheistic I would feel. I had to block it out. I had a friend who told me he would lose sleep over this doctrine, have horrible nightmares over it, and remembers running into the other room away from his family once to cry his eyes out over it because it seemed so cruel and horrible to his young mind. He was forever scarred and traumatized.

Even the thought of it traumatizes us, so the actual experience would have to be so much worse.

The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is so horrible and traumatic that no one can stand to dwell on it for long. Consequently, we as human beings know naturally that it is harmful and unhealthy (not to mention downright immoral) to parade this doctrine around and center our religious gatherings on it.

Which is exactly why I cannot and never could believe in such a doctrine. If being a Christian means that I must believe this, I don't want in now and never will. If it is not healthy and life-enhancing, what good is it? How can we possibly believe it without a little borderline insanity?

"Whatever diminishes life is evil, and whatever enhances life is good." John Shelby Spong

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Deconstructing Piper and Driscoll's Masculine Christianity

What would our society look like if John Piper and Mark Driscoll's vision of the church were to be realized as a global kingdom? Because ecclesiology isn't just about the church, but how we think the world ought to look, what we think the Kingdom of God looks like as God's benevolent society spread over the earth.

If Piper and Driscoll's vision reigned, we would revert to a pre-Enlightenment state of culture. We would see a world where women and children find no freedom beyond the marginalizing constraints of the Patriarchal household. Women wouldn't vote, they wouldn't make major decisions in public life, and more seriously, as widows and orphans women and children would suffer terribly (unless they were taken care of, in which case they would be given more rights!).

John Piper and Mark Driscoll call for a masculine Christianity, a Patriarchal ecclesiology. According to Piper,

“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother. Second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male. God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”

He argues for an "overarching godly male leadership." Now I could spend time talking about why this is shortsighted, about how an incarnational vision of God involves getting involved in the messy details of culture (i.e. kings, patriarchs, etc)  and speaking through them. I could talk about God as Good Housewife in the NT, or God as "like a womb" in the OT, or "mother hen." I could talk about Deborah the judge. The list goes on. But I want to deconstruct this ideology by its own merits to show why it doesn't work.

If God is seen as a Divine Patriarch, a Sovereign deity of phallic domination (think: the Sword of his Word) which will one day consummate his bride -- and if we are this, then is not the church female? And if the church is female, should not the church embody the virtues of the feminine, of self-sacrifice, compassion, love, humility, and submission? Should not the church be yonic, a place of opening up and welcoming and surrendering and submitting rather than a place of domination and abuse and tyranny?

There have been recent reports of Mark Driscoll as a tyrant, of firing any elder who disagrees with him at all. Mark Driscoll is a powerful embodiment of phallic tyranny--a man in love with the masculine, with talking about and practicing the masculine, and guilty of spiritually abusing his own followers (cult leader?).

I find it ironic that Mark Driscoll's book Real Marriage would be published as is by Thomas Nelson, a book that talks explicitly about Mark's sexual and emotional relationship with his wife, about sex toys, etc, etc. And yet, Thomas Nelson required Rachel Held Evans to remove the word "vagina" from her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood before they would publish it. This only points to the church's phallocentric privileging of the masculine over the feminine and its commitment to the outdated models of the Patriarchal world.