Big day today for the vocal chords. Church, then warmups, then a Chamber Singers concert.
Let my prayer arise …
Sermon on the Mount
Those Sermon on the Mount Virtues …
… just don’t work any more
Pastors have spoken to [Russell] Moore about getting blowback from their congregants for preaching biblical ideas about mercy, with people saying, “That doesn’t work anymore, in a culture as hostile as this.”
So mercy (and other Sermon on the Mount virtues) are just some kind of jujitsu? A tactic rather than a principle?
Pathetic! Any pastor with integrity will recognize that it’s time to preach the whole Gospel until those who don’t like it repent or leave.
Can a place be holy?
Rod Dreher is doing tons and tons of research and thinking for a forthcoming book on the re-enchantment of imagination (my version of his project, not his). Preparation includes visiting ancient Christian sites — presumably to try to recapture the context in which a more expansive view of reality than ours prevailed.
He’s been going back and forth with another American on the tour:
Pat and I got into another argument on the bus. I mentioned that the holiest place on earth for Christians is Jerusalem, especially inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which takes in the spot where Jesus died, and the place where he rose from the dead. “You can’t say that,” said Pat. “I’m a Christian, and I don’t necessarily agree with you.” And then we were off. Pat’s view — a thoroughly nominalist one — is that when you say a place is “holy,” you are offering an opinion about the emotions it evokes within you. To Pat, there is no intrinsic holiness to a place, or an object. If the Prayer Tower at Oral Roberts University makes you feel closer to God than the Holy Sepulchre, well, then it is holier for you. Nobody can say that one place is more sacred than another.
You can imagine how I reacted to that line of argument. But again, I think it was important for me to hear it — I mean, to encounter someone who believes these things, and who thinks this way. Remember, Pat is not a liberal; in fact, Pat complained at one point on the trip about how the cultural climate in the city requires non-progressive Christians like him to be closeted. I never could really figure Pat out, to be honest, but he seems to sincerely believe that true Christianity can only be disembodied. He deflected every challenge from me with some form of, “That’s your perspective.” My guess is that he has only lived and dwelled among fellow Pentecostals, and assumes that Pentecostalism is normative. He had no awareness how very, very modern his take on Christianity is. I said to him at one point that if the early church had thought and lived as he does, it would not have survived. I got the sense that he regards me as a nut who worships Tradition, not God.
Again: it’s really useful for me to know as I write this book. Pat — who is a nice guy, actually — and I are at two extremes of the Christian spectrum, but I suspect that most contemporary American Christians are a lot closer to Pat’s end than mine.
So at which end, or where along the spectrum, do you stand? My reasoning as an ecclesial Christian puts me with Rod; my culture — and I cannot deny being its creature to a substantial extent — sides with Pat.
So I wouldn’t argue against Rod’s project, but my visceral reactions might not be consistently welcoming.
An older system of values
David French had a very powerful Sunday column last week, Remembering What Repentance Looks Like.
He leads with the story of Johnny Hunt, a big-name Southern Baptist pastor (and former national President) who in May, after finding that his lies about sexually assaulting another pastor’s wife weren’t fooling anybody, was forced out of ministry.
Now a self-appointed committee of four lackies/pastors declare that he’s ready to be restored — less than seven months after removal, and despite a recent SBC resolution (toothless, like all SBC resolutions, because each local church is entirely autonomous) that “any person who has committed sexual abuse is permanently disqualified from holding the office of pastor.”
Lots of juicy stuff in that story, including a cameo appearance by Herschel Walker, whose “repentance” looks more like intransigence. But I want to note two un-juicy things:
- Southern Baptist scripture-twisting. Johnny Hunt never confessed his sin to his congregation, citing Psalm 51:4, which states, “against You and You only have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” Further, one of the four lackeys justified his whitewashing of Hunt with the story of the Good Samaritan — which should have led him to run to the aid of the low-status victim pastor’s wife who’d been assaulted by Hunt, not to Hunt, the high-status perpetrator.
- The contrast with disgraced John Profumo, the backstory to which I personally recall: “the dignity, discretion, restraint, and repentance with which Profumo lived his life after his fall were the last gasp of an old system of values. His honorable conduct—continued for years, away from the blaze of publicity—would now be almost inconceivable among the political elite.”
We first of all need more men to keep their zippers up, but among those who fail, we need more John Profumos and fewer Johnny Hunts.
Freddie demolishes a straw man
For what it’s worth, I recognize almost nothing as authentically Christian in the straw man Freddie DeBoer attacked Monday.
I should say that Freddie almost certainly is not aware that he has set up a straw man. He’s a painfully honest man, who is describing the kind of Christianish stuff he’s seen on television or encounted beyond whatever church doors he has darkened.
The only thing he says about such Christianish stuff that belongs to authentic Christianity is his tacit acknowledgement that Christianity holds that Christ was more than a man and that his incarnation is salvific.
Curiously, on Friday, Freddie ranked the works of his favorite film director, Terrence Malick. Is there a more Christian director than Malick?
I’m very glad we live in a society that is more religiously tolerant. But this has also come at the cost of a greater indifference to the truths our various religions proclaim. Walking around these ancient once-pagan cities, thinking about how syncretic Greco-Roman polytheism was, it’s easy to grasp what a mortal threat monotheism combined with universalism was to the settled order. (The Jews were also monotheistic, but they did not proselytize, because their faith was not universalist.) How strange it is to think that Christianity in the contemporary West has become a lot like the syncretism of the ancient pagan world, in the sense that most Christians (myself included) don’t have a reflexive willingness to throw down to defend theological truths and police ecclesial borders. The Christians who lived in these Asia Minor cities were a threat to the settled social order precisely because they refused to worship the local gods. Had they just added Jesus into the mix, nobody would have bothered them. Had they kept their religion to themselves, as the Jews did, nobody would have bothered them.
In our time, the only Christians who get marked out for opprobrium are those who refuse to observe the dominant culture’s religious feasts (e.g., Pride Month), and who insist that all those who profess the faith they evangelize must also refuse. The Christians who assimilate easily to the idolatries of the day (“idolatry” is worshiping anything but the true God) have no problems. It’s helpful to think about if you were a Jesus believer in first-century Ephesus or Pergamum, if you would have been Christian enough to be persecuted.
Rod Dreher, pensive as he tours the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse in Asia Minor.
Damon Linker, when he worked at First Things in 2003 and beyond, wrote an article on becoming a father, which produced many negative letters to the editor, most of them the equivalent of shit-posting comments on the web. Since First Things was a high-toned magazine, the contrast with its readers was revealing:
But reading all of those angry, sometimes vulgar, letters from First Things readers attacking me and the magazine, accusing us of abandoning the properly gendered outlook on the family, supposedly rooted in Scripture (but actually derived from pop-culture representations of 1950s middle-class white suburban family life), was significant, too. Doing so left me feeling deeply alienated from the place I worked. Not, again, in terms of the workplace. But in terms of the workplace’s telos—its end or goal. I was an editor for an opinion magazine. But who were its readers? What did its “base” believe about the world? How did I feel about devoting myself and my talents to serving this group of people and its prejudices, which I now began to wonder if I shared?
What Linker writes there is part of what I felt when shifting from Evangelicalism, many long decades before Florida Man’s seduction of Evangelicalism, to the sober Calvinism of the Christian Reformed Church. Alienation. “These are not really my people.” That sort of thing, along with a more intellectual rationale that wasn’t entirely rationalization.
From what was I alienated?
- Taboos that lacked even minimally plausible scriptural roots.
- Altar calls in churches, irnoically without altars and without scriptural precedent.
- Psychological manipulation in those altar calls: “I see that hand.” (There was no hand, but how was anyone to know with “every head bowed, every eye closed”? I guess I’ve outed myself.) “Is there another?”
- Flagrant scripture-twisting.
There’s probably more.
I don’t know much about book-binding, but it appears to me that my small Psalter’s cover letting will wear off before the binding shows any wear.
There’s even a sort of hinge so I can hold it open without straining the spine:
Be careful what you aim for
[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.
Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge
To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.
Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry
The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.
Fr. Jonathan Tobias
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