Biblical intersectionality

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“Intersectionality” is a concept that has been a popular punching bag of many conservatives, including evangelical Christian ones, in the past year or two. But today, in the midst of a post responding to John MacArthur and co’s statement on social justice, Dr. Joel McDurmon provides an example of the principles of intersectionality right out of the book of Acts:

For example, “intersectionality” in its most general form refers to how different classes of people in society experience power or the lack of it differently, and how belonging to multiple classes can compound that one way or another.

That may lead to all kinds of Marxist claptrap about class warfare, etc., but it is not an illegitimate idea altogether. If you were a helpless widow in first century Israel, you would not have judged it illegitimate at all. If you crossed multiple social classes and were, for example, a Greek-speaking widow in the first century church, you may have been the first to recognize you were being overlooked, neglected, left out, and you may have complained about it in those terms. This is exactly what happened (Acts 6:1–7).

When faced with just such an example of intersectionality in the early church, the Apostles went the extra mile to make sure the marginalized group was cared for. The church met this intersectional social concern directly and ordained six Greek­-named deacons to serve the Greek speaking widows among their Hebrew society.

Fascinating insight.

Response to “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel”

What are Evangelicals afraid of losing?

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Dr. Michael Horton has a wise piece on CT in response to President Trump’s comments to evangelical leaders that they are “one election away from losing everything”.

Nowhere in the New Testament are Christians called to avoid the responsibilities of our temporary citizenship, even though our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). However, many of us sound like we’ve staked everything not only on constitutional freedoms but also on social respect, acceptance, and even power. But that comes at the cost of confusing the gospel with Christian nationalism.

Anyone who believes, much less preaches, that evangelical Christians are “one election away from losing everything” in November has forgotten how to sing the psalmist’s warning, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Ps. 146:3).

That’ll preach.

What are Evangelicals Afraid of Losing? – Christianity Today

Finished reading: 2018, part five

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My reading has apparently slowed down a bit this summer. Still, there’s been some good stuff recently:

Well, first an intro to the first two books. I heard Brad Jersak speak at the Water to Wine Gathering back in June – what a treat. Brad is a Canadian pastor and author, more recent convert to Orthodoxy, and spent many years in pastoral ministry working with the mentally challenged and the poor. He’s funny, wise, and kind… and I’ll pick up whatever book he writes next.

A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel by Bradley Jersak
If Christ is the truest expression of what God is like, what does that really mean? How should we then think about God? Jersak is no fan of the “loving Son protects us from the wrath of the angry Father” picture, and instead works through what it looks like to think that Jesus is what God the Father is like.

Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem by Bradley Jersak
Here Jersak takes a careful look at the Biblical texts about heaven and hell and judgment. While it seems he can’t quite bring himself to become a universalist, he makes a strong case for the potential that heaven will be much fuller, and hell much emptier, than my traditional evangelical upbringing taught me to expect. And I like the hopeful view. If there’s a reasonable case for being hopeful, why not be hopeful?

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Hugo-winning sci-fi to change things up. A decent story, nothing amazing but entertaining enough.

Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk
I picked this one off the library shelf on a whim and ended up not really liking it that much. Brutal, pessimistic, dark… No time for that nonsense.

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
Kurlansky tracks the usage of salt through history. The book is more interesting when it focuses on ancient times, and progressively less interesting as it reaches the modern day. Also there were far more recipes for salting foods included than I will really ever need.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
A classic from Baldwin, and the first I’ve read of him. What a writer! Beautifully written with a powerful message.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Picked this one up after @johnthelutheran raved about it. I’d previously read Faber’s Book of Strange New Things and enjoyed it. The Crimson Petal and the White was something completely different – a Victorian novel that reminded me a good bit of Dickens – but it kept me interested all the way through.

David Bentley Hart’s case for socialism

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Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart takes a break from theology to talk briefly about his political views; he is, he reveals, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

His rant on socialism and the popular American distaste for it is too good to not share (though rather long):

I realize that in America, alone among nations with developed economies, the word “socialism” has a sinister ring in many ears. I take this as a symptom of our unique national genius for stupidity. I am well aware of how badly the various parts of a “socialized” economy can at times be managed (the tales I could tell of my experiences with the NHS); but, well managed, they make for a far more humane governing philosophy than ours, and one that comes as close to something like “Distributist” justice in the use of property and wealth as we can hope for under current circumstances. So I find it very odd that, when we look at those nations of northern and western Europe that enjoy the benefits of sane socialist policies, as a result of both their Social Democratic and their Christian Democratic traditions—nations, like Germany or Denmark or France, where the cost of healthcare per capita is far lower and yet coverage is universal, where life spans are longer, where working people are not rendered bankrupt by serious illnesses, where the children of the poor cannot be denied expensive treatments by predatory insurance adjusters, where people have far more savings in bank and endure much lower levels of debt, where wages generally keep pace with inflation, where every worker has decent vacation time each year, where suicide and opioid addiction are not the default lifestyle of the working poor, where homelessness has been nearly abolished, where retirement care is humane and comprehensive, where schools are immeasurably better, where literacy is far higher…—we recoil in horror and thank God that we are free from such things. Surely, we tell ourselves, these are curses, only a few steps away from the gulags. We know that civic wealth is not meant for civic welfare, but is supposed to be diverted into the pockets of the military-industrial complex, by the needless purchase each year of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons systems that will never be used, or is supposed to be squandered through unneeded tax cuts for the very richest of the investment class. We know that when the child of a working family is diagnosed with cancer, that the child should be denied the most expensive treatments, even if they alone can possibly save him or her, and then should probably die, and that his or her family should be utterly impoverished in the process. We call this, I believe, being free. And, as long as we have access to all the guns we could ever need to fight off invasions from Venus, what more can we ask?

A Brief Political Confession

Power corrupts. Including religious power.

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Former Christianity Today editor Katelyn Beaty has a great op-ed over on RNS making the case that the #ChurchToo scandal isn’t as much a case of sex abuse as it is a case of power abuse. And while the church has spent a lot of time talking about the proper boundaries and exercise of sex, it has spent almost no time talking about the proper boundaries and exercise of power.

If money, sex and power are the unholy trinity of spiritual temptation, arguably most Christians have a relatively paltry understanding of the third. Churches teach regular tithing and Dave Ramsey-style financial management. Scads of books and articles are written every year helping Christians practice sexual purity before marriage and sexual fulfillment within it. By contrast, little is taught and written about power and its corrosive effects.

Beaty goes on to suggest three actions for the church if we want to avoid continued scandals like the one with Bill Hybels at Willow Creek. She hits the nail right on the head with the first one:

Churches must seek leaders who are accountable and vulnerable, not just charismatic and driven.

Hybels and Willow Creek have taught the evangelical church culture a lot of lessons over the past two decades about church growth and the megachurch model. Now maybe it’s time to start un-learning those lessons. Beaty has some good ideas on where to start.

As Willow Creek reels, churches must reckon with how power corrupts

Bullet Points for a Wednesday Morning, German Edition

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I’m on work travel this week, visiting Cologne, Germany. It’s my second visit to Cologne, which is a lovely European city. Random thoughts:

  • Jet lag is a weird thing. I’ve slept solidly the past two nights here in Germany but I’m still dog tired mid-morning and late afternoon. Coffee is only marginally helpful.
  • One thing I love about Cologne is the number of bakeries with fresh bread and rolls easily available. A croissant and coffee for breakfast is just my speed.
  • 18 people in my meeting today and only 4 women. Which, sadly, is still better representation than our industry overall. We should do better.
  • I’m astonished by the number of people out and about to very late hours. 10 pm and it’s just twilight, restaurants all still going strong, lots of people hanging out along the river.
  • Trips to Europe turn into opportunities to do two workdays – just as the workday here is ending, the one back home is cranking up. Lots of stuff popping back at the home office this week.
  • I wish they did air conditioning better over here. It’s HOT.
  • “Economy Comfort +” on an old Boeing 767-400 is kind of a joke. It’s still expensive and isn’t really comfortable.
  • They have an abundance of beer house restaurants over here that are remarkably the same – get your choice of bratwurst, wiener schnitzel, or schwein haxe (pork knuckle) with potatoes and sauerkraut. They only serve one kind of beer, the house brand. It’d be kinda like choosing between the Budweiser Restaurant, the Miller Restaurant, and the Coors Restaurant, all of which served similar burgers and fries.
  • So much beer, not enough water.
  • That all being said, it’s kinda fun to order 1/2 meter of bratwurst at the restaurant.
  • I just realized last night that I misplaced a meeting on my calendar for the fall, and since my wife has already scheduled around it, I’ll probably just need to miss the meeting. Oops.
  • On the other hand, if I could keep that trip I might just make it to gold status with Delta for the first time. Two international trips this year and a bunch of domestic travel…
  • Oof I’m tired. Where’s the coffee?

Welcome to America…

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David Bentley Hart with a prophetic critique of America in a recent NYT column (HT to Richard Beck for pointing it out):

“America — with its decaying infrastructure, its third-world public transit, its shrinking labor market, its evaporating middle class, its expanding gulf between rich and poor, its heartless health insurance system, its mindless indifference to a dying ecology, its predatory credit agencies, its looming Social Security collapse, its interminable war, its metastasizing national debt and all the social pathologies that gave it a degenerate imbecile and child-abducting sadist as its president — remains the only developed economy in the world that believes it wrong to use civic wealth for civic goods. Its absurdly engorged military budget diverts hundreds of billions of dollars a year from the public weal to those who profit from the military-industrial complex. Its plutocratic policies and libertarian ethos are immune to all appeals of human solidarity. It towers over the world, but promises secure shelter only to the fortunate few.”

–David Bentley Hart, “The New York Yankees Are a Moral Abomination”

Zahnd: Christianity vs. Biblicism

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I attended the Water to Wine Gathering at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO a couple weekends ago. WOLC’s pastor Brian Zahnd included in one of his talks some discussion of the dangers of biblicism. I had hoped to summarize that talk in a blog post, but happily Zahnd has published a post of his own doing just that. (It’s actually the preface to an upcoming book, but he shared it on his blog.) I find his thinking very helpful in how we approach and interpret the Bible.

I particularly enjoy his opening metaphor:

As modern Christians we are children of a broken home. Five centuries ago the Western church went through a bitter divorce that divided European Christians and their heirs into estranged Catholic and Protestant families. The reality that the Renaissance church was in desperate need of reformation doesn’t change the fact that along with a reformation there also came an ugly split that divided the church’s children between a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. In the divorce settlement (to push the metaphor a bit further) Catholic Mom got a long history, a rich tradition, and a unified church, but all Protestant Dad got was the Bible. Without history, tradition, or a magisterium, the Bible had to be everything for Protestant Dad — and Protestants have made the most of it.

He goes on to liken the Bible to rich soil out of which grows the tree that is the Christian faith. The Christian faith is rooted in and draws nourishment from the Bible, but Christianity and the Bible are not synonymous. To approach it this way, says Zahnd,

…is both conservative and progressive. Conservative in that it recognizes the inviolability of Scripture. Progressive in that it makes a vital distinction between the living faith and the historic text.

I probably have some readers getting very nervous at this point, but if so I would really recommend reading the whole thing. Zahnd and others like him are pointing the way to embrace Scripture while at the same time moving past reading it in a flat, biblicistic way.

Finished reading: 2018, part four

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What I’ve read the past month or so:

Head On by John Scalzi
A sequel in Scalzi’s series from the near future where some humans are afflicted by a disease that causes “lock in”, where their bodies are vegetative but their minds are able to interact with the outside world via a neural interface and proxy robot-like bodies. An entertaining read.

The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton by Michael Mott
Interesting to read a biography of Merton written by someone other than himself. (While The Seven Storey Mountain is well worth a read, it’s clearly pretty one-sided.) Merton remains a fascinating character to me.

Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution by Kenneth Miller
I found Miller’s name when looking at biology textbooks – he’s the author of a very popular one used by our public high school. Turns out he’s a professing Christian who has spent a bunch of time thinking and writing about how he makes sense of his faith in light of his life-long study of evolution. I found the book thoughtful and very reasonable. Worth a read.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior
This one isn’t out yet, but I snagged a review copy and will write a full post later. Prior uses each chapter in this book to highlight a virtue and a great book that illustrates the virtue. I now have a bunch more books on my list that I’ve somehow failed to read thus far.

How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Light-hearted fluff… perfect for reading on vacation next to a swimming pool… which was exactly what I did.

Warning Light by David Ricciardi
Highly forgettable spy thriller. Something about a guy who may or may not have been spying on an Iranian nuclear site and then is trying to escape. Yawn.

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire by Alan Kreider
Now this was a good one. Kreider was a Professor of Church History at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. He spends most of this volume examining primary sources from the first few centuries A.D. (basically 1st century up through Constantine) and looking at what those Christians viewed as important. Notably important: patience and longsuffering. It becomes clear reading Kreider how much the tenor of the early church changed when Constantine brought them out of the

Bed and Board: Plain Talk About Marriage by Robert Farrar Capon
This one was in urban legend status for a while – an old, out-of-print title from a beloved (if somewhat niche) author that supposedly was very good. And hey, it got reprinted, and it’s not even that expensive! Capon is his familiar crusty self, and honestly the chapters on marriage fell a little short in my mind. But the chapter on Things and our approach to them was golden. Completely worth the price of the book. Merits a blog post later.

Eisenhower vs. Warren: The Battle for Civil Rights and Liberties by James F. Simon
A nice overview of Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and President Dwight Eisenhower and how they interacted specifically around civil rights issues in the 1950s. Most striking to me was how different a time it was politically – Warren and Eisenhower were centrist and courted as presidential candidates by both political parties. We could use some more of that today. Warren particularly was an interesting story to me. Second-generation European immigrant, son of blue-collar parents just scraping by, had fairness as an overriding political objective, and championed both social programs and fiscal responsibility, and somehow made it all work as governor of California.

The Greatest Show pointing to the greatest story

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Whatever you want to say about The Greatest Showman, it’s not subtle. I know I’m late to the party discussing this movie musical. Hugh Jackman reminds us he can sing and dance while telling a story that in all likelihood bears little resemblance to the actual life of P.T. Barnum. What’s striking to me after watching it a couple times, though, is how the songwriters, performers, and director are expressing some very Christian themes.

Barnum is unashamedly putting together his “circus” (a critic’s derogatory term that Barnum chooses to embrace) of oddities and “freaks”. There’s the very tall man, the very short man, the very fat man, the very tattooed man, the trapeze artists, and (most notably in the show) the bearded lady. They are living in the shadows, mocked for their differences by the people around them.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one will love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

What makes these people receptive to Barnum’s invitation to perform, though, is that he doesn’t see them as freaks or mistakes but as people who need to be seen and loved and appreciated for who they are.

As a follower of Jesus I can affirm and need to be reminded of this attitude. Each person I encounter, even (especially?) if unseemly, is glorious, because they are a human who bears God’s image. They are deserving of love and embrace, not in spite of who they are but because of who they are.

The movie goes on a fairly predictable story arc from there – Barnum’s ambition drives him to pursue greater and greater success. His desire for the approval of the wealthy and elite drives him to be ashamed of his family of misfits. He chases high culture and leaves his wife and children behind to tour the country with a prima donna. He has his moment of realization, heads back home to try to reconcile with his wife and circus family, loses everything in a fire, and is finally brought back from despair by his circus family who have been there all along.

It’s all very on the nose. There are no real surprises. But it rings true, maybe not in a “that’s realistically how it could’ve happened” sense, but more in a “this is what the redemption arc should look like” sense.

And the gospel themes are present even right there in the finale. As Hugh Jackman is belting out the message that he has learned his lesson and will not, in the future, be blinded by the bright lights of fame, the circus performers have their own hopeful chorus in response.

And we will come back home
And we will come back home
Home again!

And there is the cry of every heart, though it manifests in diverse ways: a cry for redemption and for restoration. A cry that we could be home, loved for who we are, embraced by a family.

There’s no obvious sign that The Greatest Showman was intended to bring any sort of Christian message. But it highlights to me how direct and relevant the message of Jesus is, even for those who may not be looking for it: that God is love, that we are created gloriously in His image, that He is working in our brokenness for redemption, and that He calls us to follow Jesus and be a part of that restoration.

This is the greatest story.