Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What I didn't get a chance to say on the Craig Roberts Show

Yesterday I was interviewed on Lifeline with Craig Roberts , a Christian radio talk show in Northern California. In addition to talking about my book Alone with a Jihadist we also had a healthy debate on Pacifism Vs. Just War theory, with me advocating the former and Craig Roberts advocating the latter. All in all, it was a very good discussion, and I appreciated that Craig kept the dialogue civil, unlike experiences I've had in the past with Christian talk show hosts. Still, one thing I figured out is that when you're a guest on a program and you're arguing a different perspective than the host, the deck is always stacked in favor of the host, mainly because once you've made your point, the host can respond and then go to a commercial break. You never get the last word.

The interview was supposed to last 45 minutes, but Craig kept me on for an additional 15 minutes at the top of the hour. I had a hugely embarrassing moment when I thought that we were still in dialogue mode, and it turned out that Craig was making his closing remarks. I kept trying to cut in till the last moment before he ended the segment--something I hope I never do again! You live and you learn. All in all, I got most of my points in. Those of you that know me, or have had robust discussions with me personally on some of these issues, you know that my brain goes about 1,000 miles a minute. For every point made, I usually have about 5-10 counter points in my head. The problem is, when you have so much information, it's hard to reduce your arguments to sound bites and get every point in. So, in the interest of redeeming myself, here are some of the points I didn't get a chance to say.

1. Craig asked the question of what do we do with all of the warrior imagery in Scripture, in particular the Spiritual Warfare imagery that the Apostle Paul uses and the passages in Scripture portraying God as a warrior. What I said was that the warrior imagery that Paul used is meant to be taken spiritually, and nothing else. In fact, Paul explicitly says "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (I Corinthians 10:4). What I didn't get around to saying was that one of the reasons why Scripture consistently portrays God as a warrior is to illustrate the point that covenant people are supposed to trust in God, not the sword. In fact, the prophet Ezekiel specifically lists relying on the sword as one of the reasons why God sent the Jews to Babylon in judgment (Ezekiel 33:26). One of the constant themes in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is that God got ticked off at His people when they didn't trust Him to fight their battles for them, but instead trusted in their own military might. I find it odd that not once have I ever heard the theme of "repenting for our reliance on our military might" come up in a major prayer and repentance conference here in the U.S. We repent for a lot of other things, but never for trusting in the sword to save us. Interestingly, the period of the Pax Romana, a two hundred year period of relative peace and security of the Roman Empire, ended right around the time the first Christian soldier is recorded. Before then, Christians saw that their primary duty to the empire was to pray for the peace and well-being of their fellow Roman citizens.

2. I made a lot of points about why the Bible should be read through the lens of Jesus, and why Christians are under the Law of Christ, not the Law of the Old Covenant. For example, Hebrews 8:13 calls the Old Covenant obsolete. Jesus said, "You've heard that it was said an eye for an eye, but I say unto you...." still the counter-argument was that Jesus said "I've not come to destroy the law but to fulfill the law" (Matthew 5:7-18) What I didn't get a chance to say is that when it comes to Biblical interpretation, when you have numerous verses that clearly say one thing and one verse that seems to contradict the numerous verses, you don't throw out the numerous verses in favor of the one, like many people do in this case. There are a myriad interpretations of this verse ( I like the one that says that if you obey Jesus, then you're fulfilling the Spirit of the Law, which is what Jesus never intended to abolish), the fact is still the same. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15) (italics emphasis mine). The question of whether a Christian should participate in violence should be determined by Jesus, not by what God commanded Israel to do in the Old Testament era.

3. Craig used the cleansing of the temple to show that Jesus was, in fact violent. I pointed out that Isaiah 53:9 specifically says that Jesus never did anyone violence. The example of Jesus cleansing the temple is more of a basis for an aggressive activism against injustice, like what was displayed in the civil rights movement. I wish I would have elaborated on that point of non-violent direct action as a way of addressing injustice in the world. Besides, isn't it a bit of grasping for straws to use a civil protest as a pretext for flying over skies and dropping bombs?

4. Craig made the point that the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount were meant to be limited to personal interactions. I never got a chance to rebut this, so here's my partial answer now. I think the distinction between personal enemies and national enemies is an artificial one, especially when you look at the political backdrop of the New Testament. One of the over-arching themes that we see in the New Testament is that Jesus and the Apostles did not want their followers participating in a rebellion against Rome. The Romans did some awful things, both in their brutal persecution of Christians and also in the way they put down rebellions--like slaughtering and crucifying civilians--yet still the answer that Jesus and the Apostles gave was Christians were not to participate in violence even against such monstrous evil as what the Roman Empire was doing to many of its citizens. In fact, the very context of the Romans 13 passage, which many just war theorists use as the ace in the hole argument, is don't rebel against Rome! Especially if you back up a few verses to the last few verses of chapter 12, you'll see that the entire context of Romans 12:14-13:7 is that Christians should be kind and gentle, and never exacting vengeance even on their worst political enemies!

There's a lot, lot, lot, more I could say on these points, but this post has been longer than normal as is. Thank you Craig for keeping the dialogue respectful.

To my readers, keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our non-violent faith!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Code Pink attempts citizens arrest of Karl Rove

I've been accused of only going after the extremism and violent rhetoric of one side. Here's my chance to say, for the record, I don't approve of this either.

Monday, March 29, 2010

9 militia members charged in police-killing plot--should these "terrorists" be tortured?

For my 6 out of 10 white evangelical friends that support torture, I have a few questions for you.

1. Are the people in this story terrorists?

2. If so, should they be tortured?

3. If they had a different color of skin and professed a different religion (read: Islam), would your answer be the same?

By COREY WILLIAMS and DEVLIN BARRETT, Associated Press Writers – 51 mins ago
DETROIT – Nine suspects tied to a Midwest Christian militia that was preparing for the Antichrist were charged with conspiring to kill police officers, then attack a funeral using homemade bombs in the hopes of killing more law enforcement personnel, federal prosecutors said Monday.
The Michigan-based group, called Hutaree, planned to use the attack on police as a catalyst for a larger uprising against the government, according to newly unsealed court papers. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said agents moved on the group because its members were planning a violent reconnaissance mission sometime in April.
Members of the group, including its leader, David Brian Stone, also known as "Captain Hutaree," were charged following FBI raids over the weekend on locations in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
The idea of attacking a police funeral was one of numerous scenarios discussed as ways to go after law enforcement officers, the indictment said. Other scenarios included a fake 911 call to lure an officer to his or her death, or an attack on the family of a police officer.
Once other officers gathered for a slain officer's funeral, the group planned to detonate homemade bombs at the funeral, killing more, according to the indictment.
After such attacks, the group allegedly planned to retreat to "rally points" protected by trip-wired improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, for what they expected would become a violent standoff with law enforcement personnel.
"It is believed by the Hutaree that this engagement would then serve as a catalyst for a more wide-spread uprising against the government," the indictment charges.
According to investigators, the Hutaree view local, state, and federal law enforcement personnel as a "brotherhood" and an enemy, and planned to attack them as part of an armed struggle against the U.S. government.
The indictment charges members of the group conspired "to levy war against the United States, (and) to oppose by force the authority of the government of the United States."
Eight suspects have been arrested by the FBI, and one more is being sought. Of the eight captured, seven were arraigned Monday in Detroit and ordered held pending a bond hearing Wednesday.
The charges against the eight include seditious conspiracy, possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, teaching the use of explosives, and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction — homemade bombs. All seven defendants in court on Monday requested to be represented by the federal defender's office.
The case "is an example of radical and extremist fringe groups which can be found throughout our society. The FBI takes such extremist groups seriously, especially those who would target innocent citizens and the law enforcement officers who protect the citizens of the United States," said Andrew Arena, head of the FBI's field office in Detroit.
Stone's ex-wife, Donna Stone, told The Associated Press before the arraignments that her former husband was to blame for pulling her son into the Hutaree movement. She said David Brian Stone legally adopted her son, David Brian Stone Jr., who is among those indicted. She said the marriage lasted about 10 years.
"It started out as a Christian thing," said Donna Stone, 44. "You go to church. You pray. You take care of your family. I think David started to take it a little too far. He dragged a lot of people with him."
Another son of David Brian Stone, Joshua Matthew Stone, is also indicted and currently a fugitive, said Detroit FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold.
On its Web site, Hutaree quotes several Bible passages and states: "We believe that one day, as prophecy says, there will be an Anti-Christ. ... Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment." There's also a picture on the site of 17 camouflaged men, all holding large guns.
The group didn't return an e-mail sent by The Associated Press, and attempts by telephone to reach the Stones went unanswered.
FBI agents in Michigan swarmed a rural, wooded property Saturday evening in Adrian, about 70 miles southwest of Detroit. That same night in Hammond, Ind., law enforcement agents flooded a neighborhood, startling workers at a nearby pizzeria. And in Ohio authorities blocked off streets and raided two homes.
In Adrian, two ramshackle trailers sat side-by-side on the property, the door to one slightly ajar late Sunday as if it had been forced open. Phyllis Brugger, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years, said some people who lived there were known as having ties to militia. They would shoot guns and often wore camouflage, according to Brugger and her daughter, Heidi Wood.
"Everybody knew they were militia," Brugger said. "You don't mess with them."
In Hammond, 18-year-old George Ponce, who works at a pizzeria next door to a home that was raided, said he and a few co-workers stepped outside for a break Saturday night and saw a swarm of law enforcement.
"I heard a yell, 'Get back inside!' and saw a squad member pointing a rifle at us," Ponce said. "They told us the bomb squad was going in, sweeping the house looking for bombs."
He said another agent was in the bushes near the house, and law enforcement vehicles were "all over." He estimated that agents took more than two dozen guns from the house.
In Ohio, one of the raids occurred at Bayshore Estates, a well-kept trailer park in Sandusky, a small city on Lake Erie between Toledo and Cleveland. Neighbors said the man taken into custody lived in a trailer on a cul-de-sac with his wife and two young children.

Can anyone imagine Jesus, Peter, or Paul sanctioning a "Christian" militia?

May God free us from the myths of redemptive violence!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Speak Evil of No Man...Really??

I love the New Testament. I think it’s fair to say that I live, eat, breathe, and drink the New Testament. I honestly think that there’s no piece of literature more inspiring and uplifting than the New Testament. Having said that, I have to admit that more often than not, I find myself frustrated—and a bit annoyed—at its content. Because the more I read the New Testament, the more I realize that God has set the bar sky-high for those that would call themselves Christ -followers. Case in point. The Apostle Paul tells us in Titus 3:2 to “Speak evil of no man.”

Um…excuse me Paul? What were you thinking? Don’t you believe that evil exists in the world? Certainly when you talk about speaking evil of no man, you don’t mean to include people like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot …or do you? Oh, wait a second. I almost forgot. You wrote these words when the homicidal maniac named Nero was doing some pretty crazy things, like impaling Christians and using them for torches. My bad. Still, couldn’t you have at least put in an exception clause for those that are really bad?

Why does this verse annoy me so much? Because I’ve got some pretty strong political opinions. And what I think this verse is saying is that even if I believed that the presidency of Barack Obama represents the second coming of Chairman Mao or that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin want to reduce the middle class to permanent serfdom, I’m still not supposed to speak evil of them.

I can hear the half-screams already. You’re proof-texting! Certainly we need to speak against people that believe in killing unborn babies, that are in bed with Wall Street, that raise taxes, that cut social spending, that are steering our country on a path to socialism or—insert your political beef here. Very well then. My question to you is this. Is the person that you’re thinking about worse than Satan? According to Jude verses 8 and 9, Christians aren’t even supposed to bring a reviling accusation against Satan! And, by the way, the context of the passage in Jude is talking about those in authority—including political leaders.

When Jesus spoke about loving enemies, He used the Heavenly Father as an example of someone who is “kind to the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35). Notice the word evil. Evil is a pretty strong word. It encompasses everything from your passive aggressive mother- in- law to the terrorism of Osama Bin Laden and—yes—to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Glen Beck depending on your political persuasion. It’s true that Jesus called the Pharisees “Brood of vipers!” (Matthew 23:33) but notice that He never called Caiaphas a snake. Jesus never made it personal. He attacked ideas, not people.

Furthermore, if anyone would have qualified for the title of scumbag, it would have been Zacchaeus; the guy that was using his position with the Romans to screw the poor among his own people. Yet, how did Jesus treat Zacchaeus? He offered unconditional friendship to the man by inviting Himself to his house. Zacchaeus became a changed man (Luke 19:1-10). Heck, Jesus even called Judas His friend after the Scriptures specifically tell us that Judas became indwelt by Satan! (Matthew 26:50, Luke 22:3) Talk about seeing life through rose-colored glasses!

I’m not saying that I have all the answers when it comes to reconciling this teaching with the idea that Christians are supposed to take a stand against injustice and “expose” the works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). I’m just wondering what would happen if Christians worldwide became known as people that are so loving, so kind, so gracious, so humble, that they refuse to speak evil of people with whom they have deep disagreements? What if Christians became known as people that are—to quote the last part of the verse we started with—“peaceable and gentle, showing all humility to all men?” What if?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Meet Tim Wise, the Angry White Man

I'd like to introduce my readers to Tim Wise, the self-described "Angry White Man"

No, it's not what you're thinking.

Tim Wise is one of the nation's premier anti-racist authors.

Here is the latest article on his blog.

Fair warning, Tim lets nobody off the hook.

Including myself.

Prepare to be challenged.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dark age in Pakistan: Muslims burn Christian man as policeman rapes his wife

News Type: Event — Tue Mar 23, 2010 1:06 PM CDT
pakistan, washington-dc, christian-killed, christian-raped, policeman-rape
By Ahmar Mustikhan

Washington, D.C. (March 23, 2010)–International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Christian man, Arshed Masih, died yesterday after Muslims burned him alive for refusing to recant his faith. Additionally, a Muslim policeman raped Masih’s wife.

Masih and his wife, Martha, worked and lived at the house of Sheik Mohammad Sultan, a powerful Muslim businessman in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, since 2005.

Pakistan's most powerful man, army chef General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is from the Rawalpindi area and is visiting the U.S. capitol.

In January, Muslim religious leaders and Sheik Sultan asked Masih and his family to convert to Islam. Masih and his family refused to convert and informed Sheik Sultan that they were going to quit working for him. The Sheik became furious and warned Masih that he would kill him if he quit. Masih told his family and friends about the entire incident. Christian leaders tried to persuade the Sheik to let Masih and his family leave his house.

On March 14, Sheik Sultan`s house was robbed. He filed a case of theft of 500,000 Rupees ($ 5,952) against Martha. After taking them for questioning, the police assaulted Masih and raped Martha. Two days later, Sheik Sultan told the couple that he would ask the police to release them if they converted to Islam. The couple refused to recant their faith.

On March 19, Masih was set on fire in front of the police station. At the time, three Muslim religious leaders and three policemen were present at the scene. The perpetrators have not been identified.

Masih was taken to the Holy Family Hospital where he received treatment for three days before finally dying today.

Masih’s children Mary, 12, Nasir, 10, and Neha, 7, are deeply traumatized after witnessing acts of brutality against their family at the hands of Muslims.

ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, Jonathan Racho, said “We are outraged and deeply saddened by the murder of Masih and the rape of Martha by the police. As this case clearly indicates, Pakistani Christians are treated as less than animals by the Muslims. We urge the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zadari, and other high level government officials to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice.”

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, president of Pakistan Christian Congress, condemned the killing of Masih and rape of his wife.“ Rape of Martha Bibi before her children by Muslim police officials and burning of her husband took place just a few miles from building of the Supreme Court of Pakistan where Muslim jusdges sitting on benches of justice have no sympathy with Christian victims. Perhaps in the eyes of these judges rape of an "infidel woman" is not a crime."

Please call the Pakistani Embassy in your country and demand of the officials of Pakistan to thoroughly investigate the heinous crime committed against Masih and Martha and bring all the perpetrators to justice.

Pakistani Embassies:

USA: (202) 243-6500

Canada: (613) 238-7881

UK: 0870-005-6967

David Kuo's article "God Help Us"

I just found this article by David Kuo on the website Qideas.

It's a little long but well worth the read.

David Kuo worked for the Bush White House. He later went on to write a book called Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, a book I highly recommend.

David is one of the rare evangelical voices calling on both sides of the political aisle to stop--my words, not his--pimping God to promote their political agendas.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Will the real gospel please stand up?

When I read the Book of Acts in the New Testament, I notice a stark contrast between the gospel that the Apostles preached and the gospel that is preached in many American churches today. America is a trendy nation. It seems that for every cultural trend there's a gospel to fit that trend. How does the church react to a materialistic society? No problem! It's called the "health and wealth" gospel. And the postmodern trend? No problem! There are gospels that emphasize "deconstruction" and "negative theology." Sometimes I wonder what Peter, James, John, and Paul would think if they took a look at the books on the Christian best- seller lists today. Or what would they think of the "if you're looking for meaning and fulfillment in your life, come to Jesus" altar calls? Will the real gospel please stand up?

Here's my proposition. What if instead of trying adapt the gospel to make it relevant to the culture, we proclaim the gospel as is and let the culture adapt to the gospel? What would that look like? What are the essential elements that Jesus and the Apostles thought were necessary to qualify as a genuine gospel presentation? Why not just preach what the Apostles preached?

After a careful study of the Book of Acts and the letters of Paul, I've come up with a succinct statement that I believe qualifies as the essence of the gospel. Since the word preach literally means "to herald" or "to announce", think of this as Aaron D. Taylor's official gospel press release.

Here goes. The Apostolic gospel is as follows: "Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. He was buried and rose again on the third day. He ascended into heaven and now He sits at the right hand of the Father. On a day that God has appointed, Jesus Christ is coming back to judge the living and the dead. Anyone who repents and believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life."

I wonder what would happen if the average American preacher used this kind of language when preaching the gospel? Some say that the average listener would fail to emotionally connect with straight Bible talk such as this. Maybe, maybe not. I don't really know, but I suspect that even if that were true; God probably knew that when He inspired the New Testament. Maybe gospel language isn't meant to be reduced to what we perceive our felt needs to be. Either way, I'll take the real gospel over the best seller version any day.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Bethlehem Evangelical Affirmation

We affirm the foundational truth that God loves everyone (John 3:16).

We affirm that as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to do justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8), to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21), and to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

We affirm that the Holy Spirit empowers followers of Jesus to speak and live humbly and prophetically (Acts 1:8).

We recognize that this is the time to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Therefore, we are convinced that the Holy Spirit is leading us at such a time as this to unite as Christians throughout the world in order to pray and work for a just peace in Israel and Palestine.

To this end, we commit to reconnect with the local Palestinian church and to listen and learn from all those who follow Jesus in the Holy Land and to share their stories with our own faith communities.

We further commit to work together to advocate changes in public policy and so achieve a just and lasting resolution of the conflict. Our vision and our hope is that Israelis and Palestinians will live in justice and peace in the land of the Holy One.

Drafting Committee

Paul Alexander
Christine M. Anderson
Brother Andrew
Alex Awad
Bishara Awad
Mubarak Awad
Sami Awad
Gary Burge
Tony Campolo
Steven Haas
Lynne Hybels
Manfred Kohl
Jonathan Kuttab
Paul Johnson
Stephen Sizer
Porter Speakman, Jr.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Prince of Peace God of War

A friend of mine sent me this video the other day. It's called Prince of Peace God of War. I highly encourage you to watch it. The filmmaker, John Campea, interviews both Just War theorists and pacifists. My only criticism is--ironically-- that the Just War side wasn't adequately represented. Some of the arguments they presented were really grasping at straws, like using the story of Jesus cleansing the temple as a proof text that Jesus approved of His followers killing in war. Really???

Also, pay close attention to how Tony Campolo deals with the Nazi argument. The story he tells, which is the very last part of the film, is one of the most moving stories I've ever heard about the power of non-violent redemptive love identifying with the suffering of the world--the way of Jesus.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Texas board of education excludes hispanics from history books

Below is a portion of the AP story about the Texas Board of Education's new standards for textbooks.

Numerous attempts to add the names or references to important Hispanics throughout history also were denied, inducing one amendment that would specify that Tejanos died at the Alamo alongside Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Another amendment deleted a requirement that sociology students "explain how institutional racism is evident in American society."

So I guess we're living in the United White States of America.

It gets worse.

Democrats did score a victory by deleting a portion of an amendment by Republican Don McLeroy suggesting that the civil rights movement led to "unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes."

That an amendment suggesting that the civil rights movement led to "unrealistic expectations of equal outcomes" would even be considered is revealing enough. Of course, the chief culprits in this story are those that name the name of Christ.

Weep with me.

You can read the rest of the story here:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ruth was an illegal immigrant, so does that make Boaz a villain?

Every once in a while I get an “aha” moment and I can’t turn my mind off, thus preventing me from a good night’s sleep. Last night’s “aha” moment came as I was reflecting on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. The tendency of faith leaders advocating for a compassionate approach to illegal immigrants is to appeal to the numerous “be kind to strangers” texts in the Hebrew Scriptures. The problem with this approach is that it elicits a universal response from the other side, “Yes, but those were legal immigrants. I’m talking about illegal immigrants. Since illegal immigrants are lawbreakers, they shouldn’t have any rights. And if you think they should, you’re just another godless liberal seeking to undermine the moral fabric of America….ect…ect..” It occurred to me that one of the most famous and beloved women in the entire Bible was an illegal immigrant. Her name was Ruth.

I’m not making this up. Deuteronomy 23:3 is clear as mud, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever.” If you’re still not convinced that descendants of Moab were ordered to be excluded from the congregation of Israel, take a look at verse 6, which says, “You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever.” With this in mind, isn’t it strange that the hero in the story of Ruth is Boaz, a man that showed kindness to a Moabite woman? We look at the story today and know intuitively that Boaz was a hero, but we often forget that Boaz could have very well been considered a villain to the religious leaders of his day. After all, they might have said, the law forbids people like Ruth from being included in Israeli society—and they would have been right.

Kind of strange isn’t it? God writes a law and then commends people for breaking it? I can think of two other examples where this strange paradox occurs. One example is Joseph, the husband of Mary. Once Joseph discovered that his wife was pregnant with an illegitimate child, the Law of Moses said that Mary should have been stoned (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). Isn’t it a little odd then that the Holy Spirit, speaking through Matthew, calls Joseph a “just man” because He wanted to put her away secretly? (Matthew 1:19) Or how about when Jesus commended David for doing what was unlawful–His word, not mine—on the Sabbath because of a pressing human need? (Mark 2:25-26)

Yes, we’re supposed to respect the law, and I’m not saying that illegal immigrants are right to break into the United States illegally (I happen to believe that nations do have a right to protect their borders); but there comes a time when we have to ask the question of how much should “respect for the law” determine a Christian’s response to those that suffer from economic forces beyond their control? Let’s not forget that it was because of famine and death (read: economic hardship) that compelled Ruth to migrate with her mother in law Naomi. The same story could be told millions of times over today. If God commended people for breaking His laws because of compassion for their fellow human beings, what might He think of people today that challenge man-made laws for reasons of human compassion? Think about it.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Earth to Aaron, holding your baby is more important than saving the world

I'm a dreamer. I can't help it. I was born that way. On my list of things to do before I die, I'd like to preach the gospel to millions of people, save the rain forest, end the Israel/Palestinian conflict, win an Oscar, and--I almost forgot--I'd like to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men. I'm being a little facetious, but you get the point. Like many people, I want my life to count. The problem is that often times ambitious people like myself can lose our perspectives on life and become--shall I say--a little vain? So how do I pull myself back down to earth?

Enter into Aaron's world: an infant. Last week my eight week old son had a cold. We had to take him to the doctor twice. My wife and I were concerned about his breathing. The doctors gave us a nebulizer. As I sat down with my son blowing medicine up his nose, I had an epiphany. I realized that, at that very moment, I could care less about global warming and peace on earth. All I really cared about was seeing my son recover from his illness. For the past eight weeks, I've probably sat down hundreds of times to hold my son. I feel sometimes that having a child is God's way of forcing people to sit down and shut up. It's therapeutic.

Now that I think about it, Jesus taught that God is a perfect Heavenly Father. God's knowledge of His children is perfect, even to the number of hairs on their head. God has a much bigger to-do list than any human being could ever fathom, yet He takes the time to care for His children, and He's even jealous for their affection! Some find offense at the Bible's depiction of God as a jealous God. I think it's comforting. Who am I that I could demand such attention from the one responsible for governing the universe? I bet if I thought about this some more, my picture of God would get bigger, not smaller.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

What I learned from the--gasp!--Word of Faith movement

Perhaps you’ve heard of them. Televangelists with bouffant hairstyles and Rolex watches saying send me a dollar and God will give you a hundred, women with gaudy make-up, and the ever-famous “Be healed in the name of Jeeeee-sus” while pushing people to the ground. These are the excesses that come to mind when the average Christian thinks of the “Word of Faith” movement. I’ve been writing progressive evangelical articles for about a year now on the Sojourners website, but I think it’s time for me to come out of the closet. Not only was I raised in a Word of Faith church; one of the most profound intellectual influences on my life is a female Word of Faith teacher.

I met Dianne Kannady when I was a student in public high school. Dianne was a history teacher and I was the high school evangelist. I started a prayer club and Dianne was kind enough to be the host. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Dianne knew a lot more about Scripture than I did, so I went to her with all of my questions. After I graduated from high school, I started attending her Friday night Bible studies at a church near downtown St. Louis. I also started listening to her daily radio program and for several years met with her on numerous occasions to discuss theology—often for hours on end.

I realize that some people may write Dianne off because of the dreaded words “Word of Faith” but before you do, let me tell you what I learned from Dianne. The first thing I learned from Dianne is that the Bible is progressive revelation and that it should be interpreted through the lens of Jesus (ring a bell Anabaptists?). I also learned that through Christ’s death and resurrection, I’ve been given “everything that pertains to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), “been made a partaker of the divine nature” (Vs 4), I’ve been “seated with Christ Jesus in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6) and that Christ is my “wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). I learned that there are unseen realities all around us and that God’s Word spoken on the lips of faith has limitless power to change what we see and feel. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that love isn’t merely an attribute of God. It’s who God is.

I would have a hard time identifying with the Word of Faith movement today. For one thing, the Word of Faith movement, and modern day Pentecostalism in general, has some pretty huge blind spots. To the average Word of Faith practitioner, the definition of living like Jesus is limited to healing the sick, casting out demons, and saving souls. It has very little to do with practicing non-violence and challenging institutional structures that perpetuate inequality.

Having said that, I often wonder if the emergent /progressive evangelical movement will have the same staying power as the faith that Dianne teaches. If there’s one thing that remains consistent about all of the Word of Faith practitioners that I know, it’s a deep appreciation for the work of Christ on the cross, and an unshakable conviction that the benefits of the cross—be it eternal life, healing, victory over sin—are appropriated by personal faith. While Dianne is hardly a fundamentalist, you won’t find Dianne wishy-washy on issues like the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Deity of Christ, the atonement, or salvation by grace through faith.

Liberation theologians may have a preferential option for the poor, but I hate to be the bearer of bad news for liberation theologians, if we look at the kind of Christianity exploding in the global south, it appears that the poor have a preferential option for Pentecostalism. Emergent groups may congratulate themselves on their intellectual ability to “deconstruct” the Bible in the light of postmodernism, but we’ll see how long that lasts. Because unless a theological movement can bring God from the head to the gut, it runs the risk of having a form of godliness, but denying it’s power. It may save social security, but will it save Sally?