Atonement in Scripture: Why Trump and Cruz Are the Direct, Logical Result of American Evangelical Theology

Some people might say oh this is American, however American Christianity is hugely influential around the world, so this must be looked at and engaged with. This is a reblogged post from elsewhere. Not mine.

New Humanity Institute

Donald Trump Delivers Convocation At Liberty University LYNCHBURG, VA – JANUARY 18: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers the convocation at the Vines Center on the campus of Liberty University January 18, 2016 in Lynchburg, Virginia. A billionaire real estate mogul and reality television personality, Trump addressed students and guests at the non-profit, private Christian university that was founded in 1971 by evangelical Southern Baptist televangelist Jerry Falwell. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Thirst for Retribution

‘How could this happen?’ bemoan some conservative evangelicals.  Titles abound, such as:  The Inexplicable Evangelical Support for Donald Trump.[1]  But the reality is far from inexplicable.  Noam Chomsky weighed in with an argument about economic inequality and working class whites, which I think has lots of validity.[2]  But the argument from economic inequality doesn’t explain everything – after all, why did Southern states refuse Obamacare?  Why don’t more Southerners vote for Bernie Sanders?  We are becoming…

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A bit of Jesus

Yesterday, during the church service I spied my four year old, K2 standing at the communion table. She was looking intently at what our vicar was doing and I tried making eyes at her to move away from that. He was preparing the elements and performing the liturgy and as any parent I was worried that she would be ‘disturbing’ the process.

Turns out she had gone up and asked our vic whether she could help. And he said yes. And there she was getting her hands sanitised, walking along with our vicar while he gave the body of Christ to the people. She then helped him wash the cup and the plate.

I was incredibly moved. Obviously as a dad anything your cute little one does can be moving (sometimes even into a rage). I was moved by a few things.

First K2’s impulse to help and her confidence to go up.

Second the environment of our church which allowed her to have that confidence.

Third, our Vic who was very happy to have her there.

At a particularly cynical time for me it was a strangely ordinary beautfiul thing: a bit of Jesus, not just from the bread and wine but from the actions of a four year old girl and 60+ year old man.

Reflelection

I’m not that surprised that David Cameron is still Prime Minister. Most of the media empires were openly and sometimes hysterically supporting him. The wealthy supporters of the Conservative party raised more money which as we can see was spent well. Labour got out of the starting blocks too late. And Scotland played a pivotal role in this election.

I was however surprised (as most) at the scale of the victory. It made me feel quite insecure. I suppose I see myself as someone who is fairly liberal and progressive. And for the first time in a few decades a prime minister had with a message of Cutts the Butcher actually increased his support. Am I in a country that is looking backward? Are liberals dying out?

Looking at vote share gives us some insight. UKIP and Conservatives together got 49.5% of the vote. So it can be fair to say the country is evenly split between conservative and progressive parties. So that’s reassuring. I’m not some small minority in being not very conservative.

But as an artist and theologian it has made me reflect. Reading Ben Quash’s ‘Abiding’, he says that we are all essentially conservative. Now this is not just a political term. We like keeping our rhythms, our traditions and values that are important to us. This is what a conservative essentially means. Someone who wants to conserve what’s important to her. Obviously exactly what is conserved is where the whole argument lies but I think this is true.

Personally for me I’ve always wanted to move on to the next thing and in that sense I’m not conservative. However this has led to problems for me. I’ve never really stuck to anything and held on to anything and I’m realising late that I really need to. So I fully accept the importance of conservatism in a broad way and also politically.

As an artist and theologian this has implications. I love IMAGINING that I’m somehow aware of the cutting edge of both these disciplines. (I’m probably middle of the road). I know for sure what I know and have experienced isn’t what a majority of the population has experienced. This explains the disconnect I feel in church since most people are naturally conservative and a church is especially dedicated to conserving a particular tradition, a particular way of being.

So what I feel are especially resonant practices in art and theology have no meaning whatsoever to the people I’m with. So I have to pedal back to a practice which I feel is old, tired and wheezy. This is what happens to so many theological students and art students. The best and most radical work we feel we do is during our studies UNLESS we are in someway lucky to be part of the researching community of these disciplines and make a career out of it.

On one level I can say, ‘they don’t know what’s good for them,’ but I feel people could REALLY DO with experiencing art and theology more deeply. The only way I can do this is to love people. Otherwise I won’t have the energy or patience to go back to ‘basics’ – (‘Yes, I do think God exists’, ‘No I don’t think a painting that looks like a photograph is good art’) – and allow myself to guide and be guided in that convoluted journey of growth into becoming more human.

After all Jesus met people where they were at. But he didn’t leave it there. He made the call to follow him. And some did. They were conservative, uninformed folk. And the world changed because that happened.

Does the sun rise in the east?

Recently there was this debate,… well two people talking anyway. Bill Nye and Ken Ham talked about the question ‘Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?’

Reams and reams of 1’s and 0’s are going on about it. So here are a few of my own dregs.

I didn’t fully realise the seriousness of this issue in the US until I found out about the pressure in some parts of the country to teach creationism as science. I fully admire Bill Nye’s passion and vision in trying to counter this. As a Christian I don’t want my daughters to look at the Bible that way and I don’t want them to shut themselves off from all that science has to offer. (Whether they do or not is a different matter.) I think I would like them to explore and experience and come to decisions themselves. My job as a parent is to give them tools and as they grow they can either use them or find better ones.

In one way the ‘debate’ (I don’t know why I find it hard, but I just can’t take the word seriously) was about truth. Ken Ham and the creationists seem to think that if 7-day creation didn’t happen then the bible isn’t true. So since the bible is true then the 7-day creation did happen! Or so goes my caricature of the creationist thought.

For many, creationists and atheists alike, science is truth. So you have creationists pile driving science into texts and using texts to prove science doing violence to both. Then you have the certain atheist who can only accept evidence. For both science is the only truth.

Hence the title of my post. Does the sun rise in the east? Scientifically no. The sun doesn’t rise at all. The earth spins and this causes day and night. But is the question valid and a yes answer correct? This is where our contexts come into play. The question of the sun rising in the east can be useful in a geography lesson where maps are involved. In a physics or astronomy lesson it becomes a completely different question.

Similarly if my daughter says, ‘look daddy, a rainbow in the sky!’ I’m not going to turn around and say ‘no you unscientific beautiful thing, it’s just a visual phenomena of a dispersal of light due to refractive properties of water.’ And not because I don’t want to disappoint her, but because as humans we see rainbows in the sky and refer to ‘rainbows’ and ‘skies’ as objects even though neither of them exist as physical entities.

Again a discussion of rainbows and skies will vastly differ if you’re in a literature or physics class. Literature and physics do different things. But they both have access to truth. What Ken Ham does is drive physics into literature and spectacularly ruins both. I think this is a problem that runs through many societies. We don’t give science and art their proper dues and we come off much worse as individuals and communities. Hopefully we’ll evolve soon. 🙂

Community is not the answer to everything

Recently on facebook an article was posted on leadership. I liked the article but a line at the top of the page made me a bit uneasy. It said ‘Whatever the problem, community is the answer.’ Really?

I wonder if ‘community’ has become a buzz word whose implications we don’t fully get. Community can be beautiful. Community can be dangerous. Community can be empowering. Community can be oppressive.

Maybe it’s the reaction to consumerist individualism and uncaring faith that makes community such an attractive Utopia. Many have tried to create this community, sometimes by force, sometimes by rules or sometimes by coercion. When something goes wrong we immediately look for a scapegoat. Rene Girard speaks of this powerfully in his writings and I am yet to read him properly. Yet it is interesting that blame seems to be such an individual category. But I think communities must be willing to take blame. For they have power and communities engage in good and bad acts. Who is to take responsibility for these actions whether good or bad?

Which is why the research of my friend Drew into the apology of the church of England for the slave trade is fascinating. After all the slave trade had such a wide participation of certain societies that even today the prejudices of that age are still echoing and resonating around the world.

The bible is quite ambiguous whether communities are good or bad. Many times it’s the single individual who is called to stand against the community. Yet the times of unified celebration and joy is definitely portrayed as good.

I think the word ‘community’ needs to be always qualified. We need to always refresh its meaning so that it protects and empowers the individuals in it. Otherwise we’ll be consigned to codes of silence, of abuses of authority and of excluding the slightly different.

Apologetics and me

While growing up and growing into faith I met many good people who gave me support and so much help and in many ways a home. My first interaction with Christian apologetics came at a time when I was reaching a point where my faith was more than the thing that the family did. It started meaning something to me.

The apologetics that I came in contact with was amazing. It was very clever and in some ways fun. It was great to see so many spurious arguments against faith dismantled with ease and to see that faith had some intellectual basis. Most of the influence for my friends came from Ravi Zacharias, the Indian born North America based evangelical apologist.

At first I wondered why anyone would name a ministry after themselves. Later I discovered that this was quite common in America. There are some deep cultural reasons for this but that was my first discomfort. My closest friend at the time was known as quite a star in apologist circles but again I started having discomfort about this brand of Christian Apologetics.

However these CAs (Christian Apologists) loved CS Lewis and having grown up with Narnia, I thought that it there MUST be cool. Anyway as a young urban Christian in India CA was very cool and hip and tons of my friends wanted go study it further and learn more and so on.

The first I heard anyone in authority mildly critique CA, was in bible school, where one of my lecturers suggested that maybe CA doesn’t have it all right. This was a huge relief to me. I still don’t fully know why.

In one of those summers in England I went to the Keswick convention where we saw a speaker from RZ ministries giving some very engaging talks. It felt like a great dizzying ride through intellectual depths and it was invigorating. In one of the sessions an old man with a wavering voice, with a shaking raised eye questioned the trinity. What happened next has never left me. The RZ man pounced on this old doddering man and intellectually just pounded him to the floor. Argument and reasoning flooded out drowning this man. He mumbled, ‘you’re just making me dizzy.’

Back in India I started observing how my friend conducted his arguments and realised that it was essentially belittling. We had a few arguments as well. Then RZ himself came and visited our church. At least a thousand people came and the church hired extra PA and video equipment to broadcast this amazing intellect. Yet I felt very unmoved. Over those few years I’d started hearing these arguments not as clever defenses but as a sneer against those who ‘don’t get it.’

Essentially I felt that CA was more polemic than apologetic. These weren’t defenses to a question. They were rational crushing balls to a justifiable thought. They relied on silencing the questioner with brilliance. Since then I don’t have too much respect for CA. Though of course RZ and his people ARE brilliant and it will be crude to question their passion for what they do.

However I do wonder whether my friends and me in urban India made an idol out of Apologetics and also idolized the leaders within this area. As I read CS Lewis further I also discovered there’s a lot in CS Lewis which these particular folks from CA wouldn’t really like or agree with. In other words CS Lewis was being very selectively read and portrayed as a CA. When in fact he is much broader than most evangelicals would like him to be.

This is not a pure rant against CA but more against the excesses of CA. I think at the heart of it, it is the classic elevation of intellect over all else. The issue here is that it encourages us to live our lives especially our faith, in our head. Yet our faith is meant to be our whole selves, body and whatever else is housed in it. Our heads and our thinking aren’t the beginning and end of who we are as God’s children.

So this ends with the question, if our faith is not just in our heads, how does it live out in the rest of us?

The (M)otherness of God

The Son: Dad can we play football?

The Father: Um… I guess we could… Erm.. why?

The Son: Well it’s Saturday and since I’m incarnate to all cultures especially English speaking cultures I want to be like the other sons and play football with my dad.

The Father: Oh, I see. Well Son if you read your scriptures carefully you’ll find that Saturday is when I take a rest.

This silly, irreverent and inane conversation typifies a problem that we have in continously twisting metaphors and breaking them when we talk of God. John Piper made some comments a while back and the brilliant Rachel Held Evans encouraged us all to respond in a creative way to redress the imbalance.

Growing up in Kerala, South India I was known as ‘Suguachende Mon’. Literally ‘Sugu Father’s Son.’ My dad’s name is Sugu and he is an ordained priest in the Anglican Church of South India. So he is known as Father Sugu. Now everyone, even most of the ones who keep piping up about Christianity being male will understand that the word father in that phrase does not refer to Sugu being my dad. And where I grew up being someone’s son at the time meant almost immediately that your identity was bound up in your father and most likely you would do what your father did (which very strangely I have, much to my surprise). It says minimally about the kind of relationship that my father and I have.

I’ve often heard that the lack of a father means that you are less likely to know who God is. I think that’s ridiculous. The Fatherness of God through most of the bible seems to me to be about identity and belonging. The cultures that the bible was written in gave minimal value to the mother in terms of identity and belonging. To say that one’s mother was so and so didn’t give much value, status or identity. Most identity was bound up in the father. So if Jesus said that he was sent by his mother, it would be a meaningless statement. Such is and was women’s status in society. So the live relational part of God doesn’t have much to do with ‘daddyness’, in fact the way God seems to behave with his people is stereotypically more like a mother.

He is jealous, calling out to find his children in the garden, giving them food, shouting at them, clothing them, wrestling with them, singing to them, weeping over them, protecting them, cleaning them. Of course stereotypically dad moments also abound. The point is simply that because he is referred to as Father that in no way makes him male. That is the way Jesus and the writers of scripture chose to illustrate the amazing reality that we belong to this indescribable God.

By beating on about the sperm count of God the piper and his mark are reducing God, reducing humanity and allowing the unjust systems that promote the objectification of women to go unquestioned.

God has brought us so far in allowing us to move forward in understanding and loving each other. He’ll take us further no matter how much a marked piper blows in the other direction.