Saturday, January 04, 2020

around the web

Welcome to the first 2020 look around the web from my viewpoint. Perhaps you'll find something of interest, perhaps not. But at least enjoy the ride...

You aren't paranoid; you really are being followed! And not only that, frequently you are paying for that questionable privilege. This article has all the juicy details. By the way, I started using Jumbo and was surprised by how many things I had failed to set on my privacy settings. I'm usually pretty strict, but it caught some I didn't even know existed. Highly recommended.

Meanwhile, the reaction to the Christianity Today editorial has been strong from the pro-Trump team. Michael Bird has some good insights; here's a small snippet:

Now I understand how pro-Trumpers can say, “Hey, he’s no Mother Theresa, but he’s effective, he’s appointed conservatives to SCOTUS, and he’s our bodyguard protecting us against the pathologically Christian hating types in the Democratic party.” I get it, I don’t agree, but I get it. But for Grudem to say in effect that Good Policies = Good Man is morally blindsided and sets a dangerous precedent.

I’ve never liked liberal theology because it produces a God without wrath who brings men and women without sin to a kingdom without judgment thanks to the ministrations of a Christ without a cross [that’s from Niebuhr]. Yet I fear Grudem’s Trumpology because it presents a God with partisan mercy, who expects men and women to ignore their moral compasses, to call the wicked good and the good wicked, in order to keep themselves positioned in the court of earthly power.

And John Hawthorne, an evangelical sociologist has some good thoughts:
It must be noted that most evangelical churchgoers may not be paying any attention to these conflicts. They are happy to go to their Sunday Services and worship Jesus in song and word. Emma Green had a great interview with former head of the National Association of Evangelicals Leith Anderson. He argues that evangelicalism is about faith and not about politics. Emma tries valiantly and compassionately to get him to address the conflict therein, but he never gets there. Sarah McCammon interviewed a pair of Southern Baptist pastors (note: lots of evangelicals are not Southern Baptists!) on Saturday’s Weekend All Things Considered. The pastors argued that while there are broad social conflicts, people “at the level of the pew” don’t experience that division.

It needs to be recognized that the privatization of faith is what has allowed a public political stance that is largely divorced from deep theological insight. If we ever need serious work on political theology, it is today. Even though it runs the risk of causing short-term discomfort within local congregations, it would create a more healthy body of Christ as it interrogates matters of politics and public policy.

But don't look for that to happen anytime soon. Discomfort means a possible budget shortfall in the church building program, or that the megapastor won't get his million dollar bonus, or something like that. Besides, who wants to think? That's hard work. Nope. Keep the bread and circuses coming and everything will be fine. Except it won't.

Take a look at John Fea's blog. He's been following the Trump phenomena closely since 2016 and is quite insightful. Here's a recent sample:

Would a non-college educated factory worker in the Midwest who claims the name of Jesus Christ think that racism, misogyny, nativism, the degradation of one’s enemies, and lying are moral problems? Wouldn’t any Christian, formed by the teachings of a local church and the spiritual disciplines (as opposed to the daily barrage of Fox News), see the need to condemn such behavior? What does social class have to do with it? Shouldn’t one’s identity in the Gospel and its moral implications for living transcend class identity?

For those who are lamenting disunion in the church, I have another question: Shouldn’t the church be an otherworldly, counter-cultural institution that finds some unity in the condemnation of immoral behavior in the corridors of national power? Or should we take our marching orders from the divisive, class-based identity politics of Donald Trump?

And long-time pacifist/activist/theologian/seminary professor Ron Sider chimes in, citing Christmas, urging Christians to look at the bigger picture:
Christ has chosen the church as the place where his reign is to become most visible and powerful. And that means that Christians must live and promote biblical values about truth, justice, freedom, life and peace both in their personal lives and their political decisions. It also means that no matter who wins elections or what politicians do, God’s reign continues to take shape on this earth. When politicians are at their worst, defying Christ and promoting evil, Christ’s kingdom can still advance. (Although when people who claim the name of Jesus join evil politicians, God’s kingdom suffers serious setbacks.) And when politicians are most sympathetic to biblical values, they are still a mixed bag of good and evil, and everything they do is less important than proclaiming the gospel and living as Jesus’ new redeemed body of believers.
OK, one last look at this and then we'll move on to other things. Righting of America takes a look at a defense of Trump written by a Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas. I have to agree with the final paragraphs of the critique:
I am not calling into question Rev. Graham’s sincerity because I have no doubt of his sincerity. I am sure he is a very serious and sincere Christian. What I don’t recognize is the Christianity he represents. I am convinced that the Christianity represented by the evangelical defenders of President Trump is in fact not Christian. It is not shaped by the gospel but by the secular political philosophy of evangelical leaders. It is an “Americanized” faith that has faith in the USA, in “Make America Great Again,” in a false patriotism that excludes dissenters, in a greed-infested idolatry of wealth, in an ignoring of the teachings of the prophets and especially of Jesus.

This version of Christianity no longer knows how to recognize idolatry. It exists in an atmosphere of fear, nostalgia, and a deep-seated desire to have the power to control others (John Fea, Believe Me). Pulling no punches, Stanley Hauerwas concludes that churches identified with the “church growth movement” are nothing more than paganism in disguise” (In Good Company: The Church as Polis, Kindle ed., 4).

What Rev. Graham defends is not historic evangelical faith, but a Trump evangelical understanding rooted in secular political power and wealth. Graham’s argument in behalf of President Trump represents just another example of the church and her preachers failing to take the radical good news of Jesus to heart and apply it to all of life.

Violence! Everywhere violence! Whether church or synagogue shootings, or drone attacks, it seems our society is addicted to violence. What's a Christian to do? The ReKnew blog takes a look:
If Jesus is Lord, we are commanded to renounce violence as a way of resisting evil. We renounce the violence of evil men (it’s always men right?) and we renounce the cycle that so easily ensnares our sanctified minds. Fear of death corrodes our ability to imagine a faithful response beyond full participation in the cycle of violence. Death, and the fear of it, are signs that God’s good world is not as it should be. We are not as we should be.

Jesus entered our world of violence and lived into a story that contradicted the lie that death is in charge. Jesus saw reality the way God saw it; he could see something deeper than our collective human experience and conviction about death. He proclaimed this message and invited us to live into it. Therefore, we must resist the pull to live into a false narrative of retribution and heroic violence. We must resist the story death proclaims by grieving its widespread acceptance and condemning it as vanity. We resist death by taking up arms of communal prayer, self sacrifice, lament, and gospel hope, but never with weapons of worldly means. Churches that use guns for self protection acquiesce to the spirit of this age.

If we begin to accept armed protection as a legitimate means we deny the One we claim to follow. By accepting armed protection, we move into a false narrative that says self protection, even at the expense of taking life, is compatible, justifiable, and reasonable with enemy love. We deny the very story that has changed the world, and we live as if the new has not come and as if the old is not already passing away.

And what is a posting on this blog without mentioning books?! Here are a pair: Wade Burleson on the value of books and reading. He takes special aim at television, but I would include binge-watching in that category.

But, be careful about setting a goal of XX books this year, as this person discovered:

Finding myself in the middle of a book I never want to end is among the greatest joys of reading. I live for the desire to finish a book in one sitting, and the competing desire to slow down and make the pleasure last. Sadly, I robbed myself that pleasure this year. I blew through everything I read, including books I would’ve dragged out for weeks just to live in their worlds a little longer.

Today’s habit-happy productivity culture advocates for setting measurable, attainable goals. Finishing what we start is considered a victory. But our reading lives shouldn’t depend on filling in a Goodreads progress bar. That’s because reading isn’t just any old habit to track.

Yep. I've never really measured how many books I read each year. I've also never felt bad about abandoning a book that didn't interest me. I've also been wrestling my way through some books for a few years. For example, I'm about 2/3 through an introduction to cognitive linguistics that I started over 3 years ago. By the time I finish it, I'll need to go back and read it again!

OK, that's it for this week. Good reading!

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