What Should We Make of Ralph Reed’s “Christian Case” for Trump?

GOP political operative Ralph Reed recently appeared on the Eric Metaxas Show. Watch:

Thoughts:

2:45ff:  The interview begins with a discussion of the quarantine. Reed seems to be making a case that coronavirus deaths and the shut-down of the economy are both “life” issues. This is certainly true. I am glad to see Reed is extending his understanding of pro-life politics beyond abortion. If Reed is willing to think about what it means to be pro-life in a way that takes him beyond abortion (or disease-based deaths), perhaps he is open to going a step further by starting to think about pro-life policy in terms of poverty, immigration, and the environment.

5:00ff: Reed says that Hillary Clinton was an “unspeakable alternative” in 2016. I understand why he said this. I have argued that Hillary Clinton’s decision to ignore evangelicals in 2020 was a huge political mistake. But I also think Reed’s views on Clinton are based more on recent history than theologically-informed politics.

The history of anti-Hillary sentiment among conservative evangelicals reaches back at least to Bill Clinton’s first campaign, when Hillary defended working in her law practice during her husband’s governorship by saying, “You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” To many who embraced the importance of traditional family roles, this seemed like a disparaging attack on their values. Then, when revelations of her husband’s marital infidelities surfaced, conservatives who challenged his character saw only defensiveness–and maybe something of a double standard–in Hillary’s response. She seemed willing to overlook her husband’s shortcomings, but she was ready to attack her husband’s accusers to advance a political agenda. In a Today interview in 1998, following the Monica Lewinksy affair, Clinton said that the impeachment allegations against her husband were little more than a “vast-right-wing conspiracy.

Many of these values voters have been so deeply influenced by the political playbook of the Christian Right that they were incapable of seeing Hillary Clinton, a devout mainline Methodist, as anything but an enemy. Fear of a Clinton victory blinded them to the fact that, not only did she have far more experience than Trump did, she also championed a position on paid leave that would have strengthened families, had a humane immigration policy, and defended the rights of women, children, the poor, and people of color. Many Christians see plenty of biblical themes at work in her positions, but these are not the themes long championed by the Christian Right. It is worth noting that there were evangelical leaders, including Ronald Sider and Thabiti Anyabwile, who said she was the best evangelical choice in 2016.

Notice how Reed does not use the words “unspeakable alternative” to describe Trump.

13:45: Reed says: “As Christians we hold a dual passport. We are citizens of a Kingdom that is here and yet to come, but we are also citizens of the United States. And we have to be good stewards of that citizenship.” This statement speaks volumes. Reed seems to imply that these dual identities are somehow equal. (I don’t think he really believes this, but political captivity makes people say strange things). If the Kingdom of God has a “here” dimension (in addition to a “yet to come” dimension), as Reed acknowledges, then the Kingdom of God is an alternative political community. What else could it be? It’s a Kingdom, right? And if Jesus reigns over this Kingdom, then its citizens–Christians guided by the Holy Spirit– must say something by way of moral critique to the earthly powers and kingdoms that rival it.

What does it mean, as Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, and Matthew Bates, among others, have argued, that Jesus is King? What role do Christians play as a royal priesthood, proclaiming the truth of God to the darkness and, as Wright puts it, “reflecting God’s wisdom and justice into the world.”And there’s the rub. Reed’s Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God as understood by many conservative evangelicals, looks the other way when a ruler from another kingdom (so to speak) practices immorality. They do not seem to take their citizenship in this Kingdom as seriously as they take their American citizenship or, at the very least, they seem unwilling to say more about the tensions between the two. (There is, of course, a deep history behind the conflation of these two kingdoms).

14:05: At this point, Metaxas starts to sing the praises of the Christian Right political playbook designed in the late 1970s to win the burgeoning culture war. As I have argued multiple times, including in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, this political playbook teaches Christians that fear, power, and nostalgia are the predominant ways of engaging political life. This playbook is barely Christian. Yes, as Metaxas goes on to say here, Christians must speak to the culture as representatives of the Kingdom of God. He is right to criticize the rapture culture of modern evangelicalism that tells us not to worry about this world because we will be leaving soon to meet God in the air. But Metaxas’s public theology (if you can call it that) is severely limited. Kingdom ethics teaches Christians not to put their trust in political strongmen and grasp at worldly power. He is correct in his desire to engage the culture, but wrong in his approach. Sadly, he has the majority of American evangelicals on his side and this enables him to sustain his brand.

14:48:  Metaxas references his recent debate with David French. (See the transcript here and see my commentary here). Metaxas argues that Trump is a man of character because he has “fulfilled his promises” to evangelicals. Does Metaxas really believe that Trump is somehow different from any other first-term politician who wants to fulfill campaign promises to get re-elected? Metaxas is scraping the bottom of the barrel. His Trump cheerleading seems to have blinded him from the possibility that evangelicals are being played. Is this what evangelical political engagement has come to? Are we now defining presidential character–something that our founding fathers said a lot about–on whether or not a president keeps his election promises? Is “Make America Great Again?” all we’ve got?

16:25: Reed mentions Joe Biden’s ethical challenges. Here, in my view, Reed misses the point. Trump is not a man of character. His tweets and public statements are not only disgusting, but they mobilize the ugly populism that make-up a significant part of his base. They should not dismissed, as Reed does in this interview. Trump’s racist remarks at Charlottesville empowered white supremacists. His immigration policies, including keeping humans in cages, is unChristian. His narcissism got in the way of his ability to handle the coronavirus effectively and lives have been lost as a result. He worked with a foreign country to influence the 2020 election.

I don’t know all the details about this Tara Reade-Joe Biden controversy. If it turns out that Biden harassed Reade, I will condemn it. Granted, it looks like we will have an imperfect choice to make in November, as we often do. But Joe Biden’s character as a man far exceeds Donald Trump. Moreover, his policies are more just, humane, and in some ways more Christian than Trump. (See my comments on Hillary Clinton above).

20:00: Reed addresses the charge that pro-Trump evangelicals who condemned Bill Clinton for his moral indiscretions in 1998 are hypocritical. (I and others have made this charge on multiple occasions and have documented this here at the blog and in Believe Me). Reed argues that with Clinton it was more than just sexual because he also lied and obstructed justice. But if you read the 1998 remarks of James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Gary Bauer, and Wayne Grudem, it is clear that they all thought Clinton was ill-equipped to serve as president almost entirely because of the sexual affair and his willingness to lie about it. Of course, Trump has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women (granted, not in the Oval Office, as far we know) and he denies every charge. He has also told thousands and thousands of lies to the American people unrelated to his sexual escapades. And, if I remember correctly, Trump was also impeached for obstructing justice and trying to cover-it-up. I can’t get my head around Reed’s logic here. What am I missing?

20:30: Reed claims that he did not disqualify Clinton because of his immoral past, but instead disqualified him on the issues. Fair enough. It sounds like Reed does not belong in the Dobson, Graham, Bauer, Grudem camp here. (Does someone want to check him on this one?). But then he says this:

My argument in the book is: if you’re going to exclude someone from serving in society because they’ve made mistakes in the past and because they’ve come up short, then I think that is not only contrary to good citizenship, I think it’s contrary to the Gospel. Throughout scripture, God takes people who are the dismissed, the demeaned, the failures, the outcasts, the people who came up short, the prostitute, the women who had five husbands and was then living with the Samaritan women at the well–these are the people who Jesus reached out to. And I personally think that what Christians did with Donald Trump was they extended grace to him, they hoped for the best out of him, and they accepted him for who he was and where he was and they  hoped to move him along by loving on him instead of throwing rocks and judging him.

It is hard to argue with grace and love. Indeed, Christians are called to pray for those in authority. I hope Reed will apply the same test to the next Democratic president, whether it is Joe Biden or someone else. But at what point does the grace period end? In the Old Testament, God decided Saul was not His guy. And we can think of other similar examples in scripture. Granted, God’s grace to human beings is endless. He will never stop pursuing Donald Trump. But isn’t there a difference between God extending grace to Donald Trump in his personal spiritual life and evangelicals looking the other way on Trump’s indiscretions and then justifying their behavior by invoking Christian grace? Please stop using the doctrine of grace as a political tool.

What about love? If Reed and evangelicals truly love Donald Trump they should take him aside and tell him that his character, rhetoric, narcissism, and many of his policies make him ill-equipped to serve in this role. They will tell him that God is not happy with his behavior. They should give him some hard-love, like the prophet Nathan did to David in 2 Samuel 12. They should lovingly speak truth to power and tell him it is time to go. Why don’t the court evangelicals use their “unprecedented access” to the White House to channel the voice of God to the 45th President of the United States?

22:10: Eric Metaxas wonders why non-evangelicals have such a “cartoonish” view of evangelicals. He fails to realize that evangelicals are mostly to blame for how “secular” people view them. They have damaged their witness, but instead of reminding his listeners of this, Metaxas chooses to play the victim.

I’ll stop there.  Watch the video and draw your own conclusions.

The “Ethic of Being”

Image of God

This week in Created and Called for Community at Messiah College we are exploring the Judeo-Christian creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.  On Monday we read the scriptural text and yesterday we discussed Old Testament theologian Bruce Birch‘s essay “In the Image of God” from his book (with Larry L. Rasmussen) The Predicament of the Prosperous

Birch begins his essay with a story:

A socially committed pastor once said to me after I had spoken on biblical understandings of hunger issues, “That was interesting, but we really don’t have time to be reading the Bible.  People are starving out there.”

I asked my students to respond to this story.  Some of them related to this pastor.  Others, it was clear to me, had never thought deeply about social issues and thus could not relate to the pastor’s sense of urgency.

Birch continues:

…Christian social witness in our time has become chiefly identified with the “doing” side of the Christian moral life. “What shall we do about _____? ”  You can fill in any issue of concern: peace, racism, poverty.  The emphasis is on decision-making, strategy, and action…The Bible, however, does not make decisions for us or plan courses of action.  Attempts to use the Bible as a rule book are not very successful.  There are, of course, broad moral imperatives, such as the command to love our neighbor, which are of central importance, but the church is left with the struggle to decide what the loving act toward the neighbor might be in a given situation.  Many issues our society faces–nuclear war, environmental damage–were not anticipated at all by the biblical communities.  Even when we share a common concern with those communities, such as feeding the hungry, we must make decisions and take actions in a complex global economic system totally unlike anything imagined in the biblical tradition.

While it took a few minutes for my Christian students to get beyond the idea that “attempts to use the Bible as a rule book are not very successful,” we all agreed with Birch that the scriptures do not offer specific strategies, action steps, or policies for how to deal with pressing social issues in the world.  Instead, I suggested, the Bible offers what I called (for lack of a better term) “first principles” for building specific responses to social concerns in a “complex” 21st-century world.

Birch writes:

Does this make the Bible remote or irrelevant to our Christian social concern?  By no means!  Alongside the concern for the ethics of “doing” lies an ethics of “being.”  Christian social concern requires not only that we ask what we should do in a broken world but also that we ask who we are to be.  The shaping of decision-makers is as important as the shaping of the decision.  As we enter and are nurtured by the Christian community, we form values, perspectives, and perceptions that inform our deciding and acting.  The identity we bring with us as Christians deeply affects our participation in ministering to a broken world.

There was a lot to think about here.  We returned to Birch’s story about the socially-conscious pastor.  While Messiah College is committed to service, and students will get multiple opportunities to serve during their years as a student, Messiah is fundamentally a Christian college–a place of intellectual and spiritual formation.  College is a unique experience.  It is a time to think, learn, and study.  Stanley Hauerwas and John Henry Newman have already taught us that college is a time to prepare for a life of service to the church and the world.  Students should not feel guilty about spending more time thinking and reflecting about the world than they do acting in the world.  The time to act will come, but right now they need to learn who they are.  They need to think about what Birch calls the “ethics of being.”

So who are we?  What does the Christian tradition teach us about what it means to be “human? At this point I introduced my students to the word “humanism.” Back when I was a college student at an evangelical school, “humanism” had a negative connotation.  It was often preceded by the adjective “secular.” Secular humanists, we were told, lurked around every corner trying to undermine Christianity and convince young people to abandon their faith. Secular humanism was the work of the devil. It was corroding Christian values.  We studied “apologetics” in order to intellectually defeat secular humanism.

But I was pleasantly surprised to learn only one student–a thirty or forty-something non-traditional student–knew what I meant when I referenced “secular humanism.” The fact that my students did not come with the cultural war baggage of the 1980s and 1990s allowed us to explore more freely the historic meaning of humanism–the study of what it means to be a human being in this world.

Any exploration of Christian humanism should begin in Genesis 1 and 2.

Birch spends a significant part of his essay interpreting this passage. We did not have time to examine all of his exegesis, so I tried to narrow our discussion to a few of his points.  Birch writes:

We know the God of blessing not only as the Creator who called the world into being but in the ongoing reliability of the created order and in the divine presence that sustains life in all its week-to-week rhythms.  This aspect of God is present with us in all moments and is universally known by all humanity.  God’s intentions in creation is for all to experience shalom, a Hebrew word meaning wholeness.

We talked about shalom.  Some students identified it as a greeting.  Others associated it with “peace.” I asked them to call out some antonyms for “peace” and they responded with words like “chaos,” “war,” “conflict,” and “division.”  Indeed war, conflict, and division undermine shalom.  These things rip at the wholeness God intended for His creation.

Birch then offers four themes from Genesis 1 and 2 to help us think about “what it means to be given life as a creature and to live that life in relationship to God and the rest of the created order.”

  1. Humanity is created in the image of God.  On Monday, during our discussion of Genesis 1:26-27, I introduced students to the idea of Imago Dei. The Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible, as New Testament scholar Scot McKnight shows us, translates the word behind “image” with the word eikon.  We talked about the role of “icons” in Christian worship.  Icons are paintings, statues, or figures that aid us in our devotion to God.  Genesis 1 teaches us that we are living eikons.  Much in the same way that monuments try to help us understand more fully what happened in a particular historic place, the creation story teaches us that our lives are monuments–eikons that should point people toward a deeper understanding of God.  We are image bearers. I told my students that the larger culture will try to tell them who they are, but Genesis 1 and 2 will always remind of them of their true identity.
  2. Genesis 1 and 2 also affirms the “goodness of creation.”  God did not create everything in His image, but everything God created is “good.” We talked a bit about the implications of this truth for our relationship with the animal kingdom and the environment.
  3. This passage also reminds us of the “interrelatedness of creation.” As Birch writes, “We are created for relationship to God, to others, and to nature.” In a college or university such “interrelatedness” manifests itself in the liberal arts curriculum and the way it challenges students to see the connectedness (to use Ernest Boyer’s phrase) of their general education coursework.
  4. Finally, Birch warns us about what he calls “the distortion of hierarchical thinking about creation.”  Over the centuries, Christians have misused “God’s commission giving humanity dominion over the earth” in such a way that has led to “a hierarchical  understanding that divided the relationship of the human to God and to nature.”  Birch adds: “Early in the history of the Christian church a subdivided hierarchy became the standard: God, males, females, other races than white, Jews, animals, plants, and the earth itself.  This hierarchical understanding of creation became the foundation for entire superstructures of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism.”

This last theme was the perfect way to open-up a discussion of the final section of Birch’s essay: “The Brokenness of Creation.” We are created in the image of God and called to pursue relationships with God and His “good” creation. But Genesis 3 teaches us that we are also sinners who have abused the human freedom God has given to us. “Sin,” Birch writes, “is the word we use to describe how shalom, wholeness, gets broken.” Or to use McKnight’s phrase, we are “cracked eikons.”  I wish we had more time to discuss the implications of sin, but there will be other opportunities later in the class.

In the end, I encouraged the students to see this discussion of Genesis 1 and 2 (with the help of Bruce Birch) as a starting point for both future class discussions and all of their future college work.  If time permitted, I would have asked students to think about what this “ethic of being” might mean for their college majors.  How does the fact that we are simultaneously image-bearers and sinners help us think about our disciplines and professions? (I tried to do this for the field of history in my book Why Study History?).  And how, in the wake of the Cross and the Resurrection, might we work to restore shalom to a broken creation?

Tomorrow we are reading James Weldon Johnson’s poem The Creation.  Follow along here.

Scot McKnight’s *Jesus Creed* Moves to *Christianity Today*

McKnight

I did not see any formal announcement about this, but I was glad to learn that McKnight’s very popular blog has moved to Christianity Today.  Here is a taste of his recent post, “Christianity Tomorrow“:

At no time in my life have I seen the church more engaged in politics and more absorbed by a political story. I’m not referring here simply to Republican vs. Democrat or Conservative vs. Progressive. Rather, I mean the belief that what matters most is what happens in D.C. and if we get the right candidate elected America can be saved. Blogs, Facebook updates, Twitter posts and websites are tied together and double-knotted with this political narrative. It is so pervasive many don’t even know it’s running and ruining our public and private lives. Ask them about a candidate and their blood pressure pops or their mouth spews or their mind runs into the wall of exasperation…

Our political narrative is not the Bible’s narrative, but human beings are inescapably storytellers, and it is their stories that make sense of life for them. Is there an alternative? Yes, but it is dying and only pastors can resurrect the alternative.

Read the entire post here.

What story is forming the evangelical church today?  Is it the story of Jesus and the Gospels?  Or is it the story emanating from Fox News and our social media silos?  Here is a taste of my recent piece at USA Today:

At one point in his speech, Trump rattled off the names of the Fox News personalities who carry his water on cable television. The crowd roared as the president read this laundry list of conservative media pundits. 

This rhetorical flourish was all very appropriate on such an occasion because Fox News, more than anything else, including the Bible and the spiritual disciplines, has formed and shaped the values of so many people in the sanctuary. Trump’s staff knows this. Why else would they put such a roll call in the speech?

At times, it seemed like Trump was putting a new spin on the heroes of the faith described in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Instead of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, David and Samuel, we got Sean (Hannity), Laura (Ingraham), Tucker (Carlson) and the hosts of “Fox and Friends.”

Read Jesus Creed here.

Scot McKnight: “I can think of no good thing that has happened to evangelicalism as a result of its alliance to the Republican party. All I can think of are negative things”

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Biblical scholar and theologian Scot McKnight recently visited Oklahoma Christian University (OCU).  Here is a taste of an article from The Talon, the OCU student newspaper:

In a Q&A following the speech, McKnight did not hesitate to call out multiple facets of modern-day Christianity. He began by commenting on the contradiction of party politics with the evangelical faith.

“I think it is undeniable that the church in the United States is declining in its numbers, but it is clearly declining in its significance in our culture,” McKnight said. “I think it was a massive mistake in the 1970s and 80s when James Kennedy, James Dobson and Jerry Falwell decided to align that group of evangelical fundamentalists with the Republican party.”

Continuing in this line of thought, McKnight went on to state a thought surmised by many evangelical thinkers of our time.

“I can think of no good thing that has happened to evangelicalism as a result of its alliance to the Republican party. All I can think of are negative things,” McKnight said. “I’m not taking a political position. I would call myself a classic conservative. I’m not a Republican, I’m a Christian. I believe that we have made undeniable damage to the church’s witness because we align ourselves so much with political parties.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Willow Creek Mess

Hybels

A couple of weeks ago I was lecturing about George Whitefield to a group of K-12 history teachers gathered for a summer seminar at Princeton University.  I was rambling-on about Whitefield’s celebrity and his ability to attract large crowds.  I talked about his ability to unite Atlantic provincials in a common evangelicalism.  I described his relationship with Ben Franklin, his founding of an orphanage in Georgia, and his leadership of the First Great Awakening.

At one point in the lecture, an elementary-school social studies teacher who had never heard of Whitefield raised her hand and asked, “So what happened with this guy?  As I hear you talk I am expecting some kind of scandal or moral indiscretion.  How did Whitefield fall?”  This teacher seemed surprised that Whitefield never got caught-up in some kind of sex scandal.  She assumed that the Whitefield story ended badly.  We stopped and talked about Whitefield’s self-promotion, his ownership of slaves, and the way he divided local congregations, but as far as I know there was never an Elmer Gantry or Jimmy Swaggart moment in Whitefield’s life.

I thought about this teacher’s question as I read more about Bill Hybels and his moral indiscretions while serving as pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.  She may have meant her question to be snarky or cynical, but I did not take it this way.  It seemed like she had just come to expect this kind of thing from popular and powerful evangelical preachers.

You can get up to speed on the recent developments in the Hybels case by reading Laurie Goodstein’s piece in The New York Times.  I also appreciate Scot McKnight’s critique of Willow Creek and Hybels at Jesus Creed.  McKnight once attended Willow Creek.

Here is a taste of McKnight’s post; “Willow Creek, Your Time is Now”:

The time is now to be guided by this independent council of wisdom to tell the truth about Bill, to tell the truth about the women and Bill’s inappropriate, sexual relations, to tell the truth about governance that protected Bill’s reputation rather than Willow’s congregation, to tell the truth about bullying by the leaders through the Human Resources and buying silence through NDA (non disclosure agreements), to tell the truth about how the WCA’s Board was told by the three who resigned when the WCA refused to investigate Bill Hybels, and to tell the truth about the need for an independent investigation. The investigators cannot choose those who have to be investigated. An independent leadership council must do the choosing. Willow must be willing to listen to the council.  It is also time to tell the truth, in spite of what has been said by leaders after his resignation, about Bill’s continued contact with leaders at Willow to shape decisions.

It is time now to find the truth, to be transparent, to investigate the governance, and to tell that truth honestly.

The women told the truth. The Willow narrative is a false and deceptive narrative.

Why was it so easy for the journalists at Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today to find stories from women but Willow’s so-called investigation turned up nothing?

The time is now. Willow, your time is now. Time to find the truth, tell the truth, and live into that truth.

Read the entire piece here.

Scot McKnight Comments on the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

wheaton-il

In a blog post at Jesus Creed, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight responds to Katelyn Beaty’s recent piece at The New Yorker on last week’s gathering of evangelical leaders in Wheaton.  McKnight writes:

When I was hearing about the conference at Wheaton on evangelicalism and Trump, I was hopeful somehow a statement would come out. What came out was a clear lack of (1) leadership and (2) of a coherent theory of political engagement that is unafraid of political alliance.

Can You Write “On the Side?”

Writing

Scot McKnight does not think so.  I think I agree with him.

Here is a taste of his recent post at Jesus Creed:

I don’t write “on the side.” Many take up careers, most often as professors or sometimes editors or pastors, with the plan to write “on the side.” Most editors I know struggle, once they become editors, to write on the side. Not enough time, and the best hours of the day already consumed. And most pastors don’t have time, nor the practice, to write on the side. What might surprise many of you is that the vast majority of professors also don’t write “on the side.” Why?

My explanation is simple: writing can’t be done on the side because, as James Vanoosting says it, “Writing is not pedagogy but an epistemology” (160).

In other words, writing is a lifestyle, a way of life, a way of being, a modus operandi, a way of breathing and eating and drinking. Better yet, writing is a way of learning, a way of coming to know what someone wants to know, a way of discovering.

Read the entire post here.

How Scot McKnight Writes

McKnight

Our evangelical readers will know Scot McKnight.  He is a New Testament scholar, a prolific author, the proprietor at the incredibly successful blog Jesus Creed, and the guy who once tried to teach me biblical Greek.

In this post he discusses how he pursues “The Writing Life.”

Here is a taste:

Here’s a good (and typical) day, and it would be every day if my school somehow got the idea that funding a professor to write without teaching would be a good idea, and if they’d point my finger at me when they called forward the one they wanted to assign to The Writing Life.

Until that day, and I’m not waiting on it, I do this when the day permits.

I get up somewhere between 5 and 5:30am, spend some time pottering around the house doing all the things that folks like me do to rev up the engines for the day, like eating breakfast (Greek yogurt), making a cafe latte, saying my prayers and reading the news online, checking on the blog and making sure the tweets are ready for the day. Between 7 and 8am I descend into the bowels of my house (the basement) and get to my desk and work there — with normal breaks and interruptions — until I’m done, usually by 2pm and occasionally not until 3pm. I used to be able to work later, and I spend the rest of my day reading or pottering around.

The Writing Life is about routine, day after day, month after month, year after year, and it takes a decade or more for The Writing Life to make sense and to be natural. If I miss a few days it gets hard to get back into the rhythm, and a week or two away and it takes at least two days to feel comfortable again.

On my off days and in the summer and over breaks I do this every day. The days don’t vary much unless I have coffee with a friend or a luncheon. I’d like to play more golf but I manage that rarely these days. I wonder if my golf game will desert me while my neighbors must wonder what I do in this house all day because nothing seems to be going on from the outside.

Read the entire post here.

*The Bible Cause* Selected as Church History Book of the Year at Jesus Creed Blog

Bible Cause CoverScot McKnight, the proprietor and author of the Jesus Creed blog, has chosen The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society as his church history book of the year. Needless to say, I couldn’t be more happy and honored!   This means a lot since McKnight and Jesus Creed was one of my inspirations for entering the blogosphere back in 2008.

Here are Scot’s kind words about The Bible Cause:

Enter the Bible, and in particular, the American Bible Society, and it should not take long to see in the picture to the right an open Bible in one hand and American flag in the other. A recent and exceptional book by Messiah College historian, John Fea, called The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society, tells this story through one institution — the American Bible society — but in so doing Fea demonstrates the constant intersection of Bible and nation building. I recommend this book for all churches and for all schools, colleges and universities. The impact of the ABS is of magnitudes and often enough totally unknown. Fea is an exceptional historian of the church in America. His expertise in connecting ABS to American church history is all over this book. Those who read the New Testament in Greek or the Old Testament in Hebrew or the Septuagint in Greek read from an ABS or United Bible Societies produced edition. Many of the most important tools used in Bible studies today were produced by or in cooperation with the ABS. Every major translation of the Bible today translates the Hebrew and Greek texts produced in conjunction with ABS and UBS. This alone justifies the importance of knowing the story told by Fea.

Thanks, Scot.

 

Scot McKnight of “Jesus Creed” Reviews “The Bible Cause”

Bible Cause CoverHere is a taste of McKnight’s review at his popular blog Jesus Creed:

The United States of America chose intelligently and rigorously not to have a national religion/faith. American Christians have not been so rigorous, even if intelligent. Instead of a national religion we have Americans of all persuasions seeking to express their viewpoints and claims and, at the same time, using the political process to implement those persuasions for the nation — even if only slightly cleverly disguised. Both Republicans and Democrats think their agendas and platforms are the most Christian while many leaders avoid partisan politics from the pulpit (many don’t) while they use the same to announce which moral issue points to which political party. We don’t have a national religion but instead religionists who want it to go national.

Enter the Bible, and in particular, the American Bible Society, and it should not take long to see in the picture to the right an open Bible in one hand and American flag in the other. A recent and exceptional book by John Fea, called The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society, tells this story through one institution — the American Bible society — but in so doing Fea demonstrates the constant intersection of Bible and nation building. I recommend this book for all churches and for all schools, colleges and universities. The impact of the ABS is of magnitudes and often enough totally unknown. Fea is an exceptional historian of the church in America. His expertise in connecting ABS to American church history is all over this book.

Before I begin this: those who read the New Testament in Greek or the Old Testament in Hebrew or the Septuagint in Greek read from an ABS or United Bible Societies produced edition. Many of the most important tools used in Bible studies today were produced by or in cooperation with the ABS.

Read the entire review here.

Attention Christian Colleges: Larycia Hawkins May Be on the Job Market

hawkinsWhen Larycia Hawkins put on a hijab and said that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Wheaton College Provost Stanton Jones had some “concerns.”  He asked the political science professor to address them. Hawkins responded with a “theological statement.”  She has now posted that statement on her website.  You can read it here.

Hawkins’s statement is solidly within the theological parameters of evangelical Christianity and Wheaton College’s statement of faith.  I am now more baffled than ever as to why she is being terminated.

On the matter of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, Hawkins quotes Miroslav Volf, Scot McKnight, Timothy George, and John Stackhouse.

Scot McKnight is one of evangelicalism’s foremost New Testament scholars. (Full disclosure:  He taught me Greek in the summer of 1989 at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School).

Timothy George is a “life advisory trustee” of Wheaton College and a “theological advisor” for the evangelical magazine Christianity Today.

John Stackhouse is a Wheaton graduate.

I am beginning to think Hawkins is being fired for reasons other than her theology.

If she is being fired for what she wrote in her theological statement that I linked to above, then no one at Wheaton College is safe.

Scot McKnight Responds to Union University

Scot McKnight

Last week we did a post on Carl Trueman’s article at First Things in which he wondered whether Union University was expecting too much from the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) by demanding that the Council expel Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University for allowing faculty to participate in gay marriages. (See our coverage of this issue here and here and here.


Following the publication of Trueman’s piece, Union University Provost C. Ben Mitchell responded. Here is part of what he wrote:

Thus, Professor Trueman is right to say that our relationship to the CCCU, like both of our relationships with the ECFA, is not built on comprehensive confessional commitment. But here’s where he errs, I think. Our relationship with the CCCU is not “really pragmatic and only very superficially theological” any more than Westminster’s relationship with the ECFA and financial responsibility is pragmatic and only superficially theological. We take the CCCU’s missional affirmation of Christ-centeredness and service to biblical truth very seriously. We believe that claiming Christ’s lordship over Christian higher education is, or should be, a robust theological claim.

That is why we have been so deeply disappointed over the last nearly two years in the CCCU leadership’s unwillingness to deal decisively with whether or not the organization will take a stand for traditional marriage. The good news that Jesus is Lord entails that we believe what he says wholeheartedly and follow him faithfully. In our view, one cannot consistently affirm his lordship and affirm the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. After all, every time Jesus dealt with questions about the sanctity of marriage, he himself affirmed that “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Matthew 19: 4). The prescription, “a man” and “a wife” in a “one flesh” union, proscribes same-sex marriage.

Now Scot McKnight, whose original post at his blog Jesus Creed prompted the Trueman piece, has responded to Mitchell.  Here is a taste: 

To all this I would say: It is big leap to go from the essentials of the faith and theological robustness to the ethics of same-sex marriage. Not that I disagree with Union or with traditionalists on the ethical stance about same-sex marriage —I’ve been contending for the traditional view for a long time. The issue is that essentials of the faith and theological robustness speak to the Christian creeds and not to anything about marriage. The CCCU’s terms about theology, as I understand them, were designed to set a boundary against theologically liberal colleges and seminaries and against church- and denomination-based schools. The problem was that there were some Christian colleges in name only. Perhaps now Union thinks that of Goshen and Eastern Mennonite. I suspect these two offending institutions have not changed their theological statements. 

Furthermore, the CCCU has been a mishmash of theological orientations and persuasions and articulations for its entire history. Notice this list of Christian colleges/universities and that Union has been in some kind of “fellowship” with these schools for as long as it has been part of the CCCU.

The point is clear: There is here a widespread—if not breathtaking—set of differences between these schools. Theological robustness is stretched beyond anything that could possibly be maintained in one theological statement. Here is the list:

Anderson University in Indiana
Baylor University
Campbell University
Emanuel College
Evangel and other charismatic and Pentecostal schools
All the Churches of Christ schools
Franciscan at Steubenville is overtly and radically Catholic
Friends, George Fox, Malone and other Quaker schools
Fuller Theological Seminary
Shorter
Wisconsin Lutheran


Traditionally, conservative Evangelical schools will have tensions with all or some of these institutions, and vice versa. The CCCU embraced this kind of diversity at the theological level because its concerns were not primarily theological but rather rooted in some very basic agreements.

What cracked the surface here, then, was the culture war being waged over same-sex marriage—not commitment to theological robustness and the essentials of the faith. What Carl Trueman rightly calls “comprehensive confessional commitment” is not what the CCCU has in mind because it offers only a basic theological commitment for pragmatic, practical, and strategic common concerns. These are schools who say they are “Christ-centered” and who believe in the “essentials of the faith” but who gather not to discuss theology but to help one another along in their commitment to Christian higher education. One could well say the CCCU’s statement is too thin to garner deep theological unity—but it may well answer back that its concerns are more practical.

So what this crack-up with the CCCU illustrates is the total inability for theologically non-specific theological statements to hold Christians together theologically. Generic brand theological statements in low churches will never be enough and nearly all such churches end up amending the statements, producing white papers, or announcing at some level new conclusions about pressing theological concerns. The CCCU is not in the position, nor does it have the theological breadth and depth, to adjudicate pressing theological challenges.