Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Interreligious Dialogue as Prophetic Dialogue

I am absolutely sick unto death of this need in mainline Protestantism (and apparently semi-liberal Catholicism) to keep referring to everything as "prophetic".  Every word we say and deed we do has become somehow "prophetic".  I actually think it's really arrogant and manipulative.  It's no different than when your average "spirit-filled" non-denom says, "God told me to tell you that....."  Once something has been declared "prophetic", anyone who disagrees with it is now anti-prophecy and anti-God.  Have something to say that other people aren't going to like?  Slap a "prophetic" label on it, and you're granted immunity. 

So now we come to the concept of "interreligious dialogue" as "prophetic dialogue".  First of all, a prophet is one who mediates the mind and will of God.  One.  ONE.  Prophecy is not a group activity.  In the Old Testament, Israel is not called to prophesy anything.  Specific individuals, members of the nation of Israel, are.  And they are called to do so in certain times and locations only.  It's a charism, not a character or lifelong imprint.  Thus, "the Church" is not a prophet. Second, the bottom line of virtually all "interreligious dialogue" these days is "can't we all just get along?"  No one will come right out and say it, but that's really the upshot of it.  The Church is terrible at claiming her authorization to witness.  We don't really care what anybody actually believes, let's just all stop killing each other.  But that is not even close to "prophetic".  The problem with is that nowhere in the Old Testament is there any sort of "can't we all just get along" mentality when it comes to the prophets' approach to "interreligious dialogue".  God wants to make sure that He is known as the maker and ruler of the world, He wants to communicate that knowledge even to "the nations" (i.e., everybody that's not Israel).  Extrapolated to the New Testament, this is "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth."  (Philippians 2:10). 

There is no "can't we all just get along?"  Prophets, real, true prophets, were 100% sold out for YHWH, and YHWH alone.  Anything that isn't that, isn't prophetic.  It may be good, it may be worthwhile, it may be helpful, it may be a good idea, it may be an alright endeavor.  But it is not "prophetic". 

Thus saith me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Little Bit of Political-ness

I'm discovering this year that my tolerance-for-the-political seems to have swung back to a healthy medium.  After I got out of the game a few years ago, I kind of went cold turkey.  Aside from keeping tabs on a few local races that I cared about because my friends were staffing, I just dropped it.  I didn't really read anything about politics, I stopped watching the news almost entirely, quit reading blogs, and generally didn't want to talk about it with anyone.  In fact, I would tell people, "I used to be in politics but I don't do that anymore" and then people would think that meant that I really wanted to discuss campaign and electoral minutiae with them, and I would get really ticked, because I just didn't want to. 

But this year I've been coming back to more of a middling position, where I'm really enjoying watching the race (presidential, at least), and talking about it with some friends.  Maybe it's because I'm not working for anyone, and I'm not particularly enthralled with any of the candidates, so my emotions aren't running so high.  Maybe it's just an ability to put things in perspective, and to see politics for what it is - useful for organizing this life, but not the most important thing, by a long shot.  I don't know. 

But I do know that it's fun to get excited about the fun things again - even dumb things like autocalls from Newt Gingrich.  I'm still not 100% sure who I'm voting for in the primary.  But right now I'm kind of on the Uncle Newt bandwagon.  Lord knows the man has enough personal baggage to fill a 747, but he's wicked smart, he knows what the heck is going on and how to go about addressing problems, and he's at the point in his career where he doesn't have anything to lose.  He's going to say what needs to be said, to whoever needs to hear it, and let the chips fall where they may.  There's something really refreshing about that sort of honesty.  As regards the personal baggage, well, yeah.  I don't like it.  But this country is in a place where, more than anything, we need someone who knows what he's doing, and isn't afraid to say tough, unpopular things.  We need a leader, and I'm kind of getting that from Newt right now.  Plus, even amidst all the calling people out on their crap, he still maintains this kindly, grandfatherly sort of attitude, that makes me want to call him Uncle Newt.  He's just "cute", in that "sweet old man" sort of way. 

I have no idea how I'll feel when the primaries actually roll around, but for now, Go Newt!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reference Points

This post is dedicated to my friends who are struggling right now with everything that is "faith".  Seminary is one of the worst places to be if you want to have your faith confirmed, I'm convinced.  This weekend I had the luxury of going home to Gigantor Church, and I got to talk with my senior pastor for a few minutes.  He must have seen the distress in my eyes, because he said to me, "Keep. the. faith.  DO NOT let them kick it out of you up there."  That was something I really needed to hear, because I've felt really battered and bruised lately, and it can feel like the faith is just being kicked out of you.

So having friends right now who are going through the same thing breaks my heart, and yet, all I can do is pray that they'll come out the other side refined.  And write.

A professor mine wrote to me this spring, when I was really struggling with what I believed, with the truth of God, that "sometimes the Holy Spirit takes away all your reference points", and it's in those moments that you just have to hang on by your fingernails, and wait for the reference points to come back, slowly, over time, as God sees fit.

I do believe though, that even in the midst of these terrible dark nights of the soul, that we are never without the presence of God (in fact, we are probably closer to Him), and that even in the absence of reference points, there always exists a tiny glimmer of that star over Bethlehem.  It might be tiny indeed, faint, reflected and refracted through many other substances, but I believe it's there.  

And this is what gives me cause for hope:
"...the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John"...."the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus"....When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit...."  ~Luke 1: 13, 30-31, 41

"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!""  ~John 1:29

"When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?'""  ~Luke 7:20
John the Baptist, who while he was still in his mother's womb leaped for joy in the presence of Jesus - the Lord - while Jesus himself was still in his mother's womb; John the Baptist who cried at the sight of Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world", that same John the Baptist, when the going got tough, when he was trapped in prison about to be executed, looked around at what he could see from prison and doubted his faith. 

And I figure if doubting the faith can happen to John the Baptist - John the freaking Baptist, for crying out loud - it's liable to happen to us.  So we can't let the fact that it's happening at any particular moment in time freak us out, we've simply got to keep getting up in the morning and doing what's been given to us to do.  Because what does Jesus say in response to the questions of John's disciples?  He doesn't give some long apologetic defense of the Old Testament prophecies, proving Lee Strobel-style that "of course it's me".  He doesn't vilify John and ask him what happened to his faith, or say something like, "Look, we've got a lot of work to do around here and it simply won't do to have John the Baptist faltering - haven't you read the script?  If you can't get it together, I might just have to replace you." 

No, what does he say?  He sends John's disciples back to tell what they have seen and heard (because John is in prison and can't see or hear what they can).  "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor."

So for anyone out there - friends and family, random strangers who stumble by - anyone who is stuck in prison and can't see anything but darkness and despair and death and doom, let me tell you what I'm seeing: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  

Hang in there. "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day" - and what I'm entrusting to him tonight is you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Barth Remix

Seriously, this stuff is awesome:

  • There is a whole world which for various reasons is not yet or no longer attached to any religion, and certainly not to the Word of God, but obstinately boasts of its own sovereignty.  Yet we must not conclude too hastily that this constitutes a limit to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ and the power of His prophecy, so that true words are not to be expected on human lips in this sphere.  We are not even to say that they are hardly to be expected, or expected only with a lesser degree of probability.  For we must not forget that, while man may deny God, according to the Word of reconciliation God does not deny man.  Man may be hostile to the Gospel of God, but this Gospel is not hostile to him.  The fact that he is closed to it does not alter the further fact that it is open for him.
  • In neither case should we have any illusions as to the antithesis between the kingdom of heaven and those of this earth.  But in neither case should we have too little confidence in the One who extends His dominion also over the kingdoms of this earth, nor expect too little in the way of signs of this lordship.  How many signs He may well have set up in both the outer and inner darkness which Christianity has overlooked in an unjustifiable excess of sceptiscism, to the detriment of itself and its cause! We are summoned to believe in Him, and in His victorious power, not in the invincibility of any non-Christian, anti-Christian, or pseudo-Christian worldliness which confronts Him.  The more seriously and joyfully we believe in Him, the more we shall see such signs in the worldly sphere, and the more we shall be able to receive true words from it.
  • For we might at any time be brought to see that these traditional norms of the Church need to be revised, and the Church might perhaps be confronted by the task of a new formulation of these norms.  If they are true words, they will show themselves to be such by the fact that, as more or less powerful elements in the progress of the Church, they will guide it, not to break continuity with the insights of preceding fathers and brethren, but in obedience to the one Lord of the Church and in the discipleship of the prophets and apostles to take it up and continue it with new responsibility on the basis of better instruction.
  • When Christianity is called to repentance, it is a criterion that, no matter where the summons may come from or in what language, angry and offensive perhaps, it may be couched, it has to do with a true word addressed to it on the commission of its Lord.  But we must be cautious.  For even as a call to repentance it will be a true and genuine word only if it is also one which affirms and strengthens and upbuilds the community.

Karl Barth, reconsidered

The problem with saying that one "doesn't much care for Karl Barth's stuff" is that when one actually sits down to read "Karl Barth's stuff", one encounters gems such as these:

From Church Dogmatics IV:

  • To attest the Gospel in the world, there is serious though not exclusive need in both speaking and hearing of definite information which it is the duty of the community carefully to impart to both the young and the old, the educated and uneducated, within might some day be asked of any Christian to give an answer to those without concerning "the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15). 
  • But as preaching should not degenerate into mere instruction, so instruction for confirmation - or should we say baptism? - should not degenerate into preaching.  Nor should the Bible hour, the lecture, or the discussion.  In this sphere there should be a place for questions and answers which are out of keeping in the assembly for worship. 
  • It is the particular task, undoubtedly laid upon the Church in every period, of ministering the Word of God to the countless men who theoretically ought long since to have heard and accepted and responded to it, but who in fact have not really done so at all, or only at a distance and therefore in a way which is meaningless as regards their participation in the cause of the community.  Evangelisation serves to awaken this sleeping Church....Certainly a Church which is not as such an evangelising Church is either yet or no longer the Church, or only a dead Church, itself standing in supreme need of renewal by evangelisation. 
  • We must first maintain that even missions to the heathen, and they particularly, can be pursued meaningfully only on the presupposition of the clear promise and firm belief that everything which was needed for the salvation of all, and therefore of these men who have fallen victim to these false beliefs and false gods, has already taken place, that Jesus Christ died and rose again for these heathen too.  Thus the task of mission can consist only in announcing this to them.   
  • [Regarding the Jews:]...He is first their Christ.  They are the people of God loved by Him in free grace, elected and called to His service, and originally sent into the world as His witnesses.  "Salvation is of the Jews" (Jn 4:22).  And this klesij of theirs (Rom. 11:29) is ametameletoj, irrevocable and unrevoked.  It is we Christians called out of the nations who have been associated with them.  It is we who as wild shoots have been grafted into this cultivated tree (Rom. 11:17ff).  The Gentile Christian community of every age and land is a guest in the house of Israel. 
  • It is not the Swiss or the German or the Indian or the Japanese awakened to faith in Jesus Christ, but the Jew, even the unbelieving Jew, so miraculously preserved, as we must say, through the many calamities of his history, who as such is the natural historical monument to the love and faithfulness of God, who in concrete form is the epitome of the man freely chosen and blessed by God, who as a living commentary on the Old Testament is the only convincing proof of God outside the Bible. 
  • Even the modern ecumenical movement suffers more seriously from the absence of Israel than of Rome or Moscow. 
  • The recurrent Jewish question is the question of Christ and the Church which has not been and cannot be answered by any of its ministries.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Is It Just Me...

...or are Calvinism and Catholicism much closer to each other (in some ways) than either is to Lutheranism?

Is this weird?

Update: No, for real.