The Fundamental Freedom

I’ve just started reading through this forum put on by the ERLC and was struck by this quote from Rick Warren:

The first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment of the Constitution is freedom of religion. In our constitution, freedom of religion comes before freedom of the press. It comes before freedom of speech. It comes before freedom to assemble. It comes before the right to bear arms. Why? Because if I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my beliefs, I don’t need the freedom of press. If I don’t have the freedom of conscience to live as I believe God is telling me to live, then I don’t need freedom to assemble. If I don’t have the freedom to think and believe and act on those beliefs, I don’t need freedom of speech or freedom of the press or even any of these other freedoms. This is America’s first freedom because it is fundamental. Now, if the Constitution is redefined, which is what is happening today, to be only about freedom of worship, then that means you don’t have the freedom to actually practice your belief, and we are seeing that today.

A bit later, addressing the issue of civil liberties vs. liberties of conscience:

I stand in 100% solidarity with the Catholic Bishops Conference saying you have a right to not offer contraceptives. It’s not like they are illegal. You can get them anywhere; they are even free, so why would you force somebody who has a conviction against it to sell it. But it’s not illegal. For instance if they made a law that said every Jewish deli in Manhattan now has to sell pork, I would be down there with that Rabbi protesting because he has a…pork is not illegal. You can get it anywhere, okay, so why are you forcing a guy who says it’s immoral for him to do it? For instance, Muslims don’t drink any alcohol. If they made a law that said Muslims must now sell alcohol at all of their restaurants, I’m going to be there with the Muslim helping that guy because if it is them today, it is us tomorrow. So that’s an important thing to realize we are really in this together.

 

Website Refresh

I’m currently working on overhauling some things about my site, and on the off chance that you happen to be visiting it this week, you’ll probably find some stuff missing. The videos aren’t showing up at the moment and I still have to fix the formatting on the contact page. I still can’t decide exactly how I want the blog page to look, even though I don’t use it often.

I’ve started using the Genesis framework as good starting point, and I designed the layout in the amazing application TypecastIt’s delivered with CloudFront, which I’m just starting to play around with.

Though it’s a bit cliche at the moment, I have taken a lot of stuff out, most notably here the post dates. When blogs have dates, new visitors feel like they are getting old information if nothing has been posted in a while. But that’s kind of silly. Most of the quotes and clips I share aren’t time-bound. No one comes here for their news. So I just left the posts without dates.

At any rate, “pardon our progress” and I should have it up and running fully in the next couple of days.

Theology Among Other Disciplines

I was incredibly intrigued by several articles written for a symposium for First Things from 2006, and thought I’d share these two quotes. The symposium centered on the idea of “Theology as Knowledge” and covered very interesting debates, but this note, mentioned only in passing by D.B. Hart, really struck me. It had to do with theology among other disciplines. Make sure to see the whole series for more.

Now, as it happens, theology is actually a pitilessly demanding discipline concerning an immense, profoundly sophisticated legacy of hermeneutics, dialectics, and logic…Even if one entirely avoids considering what metaphysical content one should attach to the word “God,” one can still plausibly argue that theology is no more lacking in a substantial field of inquiry than are history, philosophy, the study of literature, or any of the other genuinely respectable university disciplines.

And then this bit:

Moreover, theology requires far greater scholarly range. The properly trained Christian theologian should be a proficient linguist, with a mastery of several ancient and modern tongues, should have formation in the subtleties of the whole Christian dogmatic tradition, should possess a considerable knowledge of the liturgies, texts, and arguments produced in every period of the Church, should be a good historian, should have a thorough philosophical training, should possess considerable knowledge of the fine arts, should have an intelligent interest in such areas as law or economics, and so on.

This is not to say that one cannot practice theology without all these attainments, but such an education remains the scholarly ideal of the guild. And, as Stoner rightly notes, the absence or near-absence of theology from the general curriculum has done incalculable harm to students’ ability to understand their own fields. This is perhaps especially or at least most obviously true in the case of literary studies; but, in fact, it would be hard to name a discipline outside the hard sciences or mathematics that can be mastered adequately without some degree of theological literacy.

Assessing a Theological Foundation

There’s plenty of room and reason for having a diversity of opinion on theological issues. Yet there do seem to be a core set of ideas which determine if a person’s view of God can be reconciled with the Bible’s view of God. For anyone who thinks it’s important to have the same view of God as the Bible, these questions become especially important and helpful.

I’ve been thinking recently about what those very most important, essential questions are. Here’s what I came up with. I’ll include this in English and German for simplicity’s sake. Independent of the answers which one might think are correct, I think the questions themselves help us unearth the topics on which people will have irreconcilable differences.

English
  1. Do you think we have historically and epistemologically justifiable reasons to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead in the way that the event is recorded in the New Testament? Why?
  2. Do we have to have Jesus’ understanding of the Old Testament and why?
  3. The Gospel of John says “the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God.” On the basis of this idea, the authors of the New Testament seemed to see their own writings as immediately, inherently authoritative: because they recorded the God-man’s words. Do you take this view as well? Why?
  4. Can you name a passage in Scripture which is clearly erroneous but authoritative nonetheless? Why or how is that the case?
  5. There is a long-standing debate about biblical interpretation. Some say we should interpret the Bible the way we want our own writings to be interpreted: according to authorial intent, in a way which attempts to understand us the way we want to be understood. Other say that authorial intent is less helpful or important and that we should use the Bible as a source of vocabulary and metaphors in order to explain our own more contemporary philosophy. What are your thoughts about this debate?
German
  1. Glauben Sie, dass wir historisch und erkenntnistheoretisch berechtigt sind, überzeugt zu sein, dass Jesus von Nazareth körperlich von dem Tod auferstanden ist, wie dieses Ereignis in dem Neuen Testament beschrieben wird? Wenn ja, warum? Wenn nein, warum?
  2. Müssen wir Jesus Verständnis vom Alten Testament haben?
  3. In dem Johannes Evangelium steht: der, der von Gott gesandt ist, spricht Gottes Wort. Mit dem Anfangspunkt haben die ersten Jünger die neutestamentlichen Akten als sofort autoritativ gesehen: weil sie die Worte des menschgewordenen Gottes aufnahmen. Sind Sie auch dieser Überzeugung von den Aposteln? Warum?
  4. Können Sie einen Text in der Bibel nennen, der klar fehlerhaft ist der aber noch autoritativ ist? Wenn nein, wieso?
  5. Es gibt eine langjährige Debatte über Auslegungstheorie. Manche sagen, wir sollen die Autoren der Bibel auslegen, wie wir es gerne mit unseren eigenen Worten gerne hätten: dass Leute unsere Absichten achten und versuchen, uns so zu verstehen, wie wir verstanden werden möchten. Andere sagen, dass das weniger wichtig ist, und dass wir die Bibel einfach als Quelle von Metapher verstehen sollten, die wir gebrauchen können, um eigene oder zeitnähere Philosophien hervorzuheben. Wo stehen Sie zu dieser Debatte?

Confessions of a One-Night VIP

Here’s an excerpt from my most recent publication over at the Huffington Post. Click here to read the whole thing.

As I climbed in a cab at 3 a.m., two thoughts crossed my mind. The first, which I understood in a new way that night, was that every conversion is a miracle. Every conversion — whether of the famous actor inside, or the anonymous cab driver outside — follows a dramatic, heart-altering act of God. This is what gives us peace as we do the instrumental work of “reaching them.”

And secondly, I realized that I was thinking about these peoples’ conversion from the standpoint of their career preservation, which is a perspective which none of them would have were they truly converted. It was the perspective not of a lover of God and men, which I’m called to be, but of an elite-person-converter, a kind of career-focused person in my own right. And it struck me that no person, elite or otherwise, would ever be moved to seek God by seeing in me what he could just as easily have found in himself.

Letter from an Ex-Evangelical

This is an absolutely must read article that Rod Dreher posted. A young reader wrote him to explain why so many Christians (himself included) were leaving the church over debates about homosexuality. He absolutely nailed it.

The writer introduces himself by saying:

I went to Evangelical churches fifty-two Sundays a year for the better part of 19 years, and I cannot for the life of me remember once when the name of a theologian was mentioned. And, in fact, even the various doctrines that were taught were never mentioned by name…Instead of an intellectual tradition, it is a church built on emotion. Every sermon is a revival stump speech about the evils of the world and the need for salvation. Every sermon ends in a sentimental pop song/worship chorus to accompany an altar call in which the same handful of members weeps at the altar (these people are subsequently held up as the most exemplary Christians. I had a friend in junior high who could cry on cue; she cleaned up on attention in this system).

He continues:

A lot of the Christians that are being argued against have traded in nothing but emotion for the last 30 years. Salvation is a weeping, sinners-prayer mumbling, emotional roller coaster, and the emoting never stops. In all the years I was a member, my evangelical church made exactly one argument about SSM. It’s the argument I like to call the Argument from Ickiness: Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worst kind of sinner you can be. Period, done, amen, pass the casserole. When you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues, the moment ickiness no longer rings true with young believers, their faith is destroyed. This is why other young ex-evangelicals I know point as their “turning point” on gay marriage to the moment they first really got to know someone who was gay.

And concludes:

If your belief on SSM is based on a learned disgust at the thought of a gay person, the moment a gay person, any gay person, ceases to disgust you, you have nothing left. In short, the anti-SSM side, and really the Christian side of the culture war in general, is responsible for its own collapse. It failed to train up the young people on its own side preferring instead to harness their energy while providing them no doctrinal depth by keeping them in a bubble of emotion dependent on their never engaging with the outside world on anything but warlike terms. Perhaps someday my fellow ex-evangelical Millennials and I will join other churches, but it will be as essentially new Christians with no religious heritage from our childhoods to fall back on.