Wayne Grudem, Thomas Aquinas, and Cultural Blindness

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The evangelical world was caught off balance yesterday by a Wayne Grudem’s endorsement of Donald Trump. Actually, what the theologian posted on Townhall  goes beyond a simple endorsement, as he makes the argument that, not only is it morally correct to vote for Trump, but that it would be sinful for a Christian to vote for anyone other than Trump (even a conservative third-party candidate).

Wayne Grudem is a giant of theological intellect, and a much-respected and much-beloved member of the evangelical community. His magnum opus, Systematic Theology, is one of the definitive works of Western Christianity in the 20th Century. He has been name-dropped in lyrics by Christian rappers like Braille and Lecrae. I, like many Christians, am grateful to Dr. Grudem for his work.

But this article is really, really, dumb. A brilliant man used go-go-gadget arms to reach for Biblical interpretations and applications while making breathtaking leaps of ignorance and inconsistency. While some Christians have accepted his words as the sound work of a solid logician, many in the evangelical community are shocked and disappointed. I won’t bother to walk through everything that is wrong with what he writes – if you can’t recognize it on your own then I don’t think I’ll be able to help you see it, at least not in one go.

However, Grudem is not the first brilliant theologian with an authoritative tome to his name to have written something really, really dumb.

Just yesterday I was reading Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is, and she refers to a quote from the 13th Century theologian Thomas Aquinas, in which he claims that it is a failure of man when his seed leads to the creation of a female:

“Only as regards nature in the individual is the female something defective and misbegotten. For the active power in the seed of the male tends to produce something like itself, perfect in masculinity; but the procreation of a female is the result either of the debility of the active power, of some unsuitability of the material, or some change effected by external influences, like the south wind, for example, which is damp, as we are told by Aristotle.”

Another genius, with the epic albeit incomplete Summa Theologica to his name, basically said that a man’s sexual performance determines whether or not he creates another man or disappoints nature with another female.

Clearly, that is really, really dumb.

But Thomas Aquinas, despite being nicknamed the “Dumb Ox” by his classmates, was not dumb at all. And Wayne Grudem, as he has time and again demonstrated, is not a dumb man either. It would also be irresponsible to claim that either of them are bad men – indeed, those who know Dr. Grudem would say that he has only the best intentions.

And therein lies the danger of making this about Dr. Grudem. This is the urgent matter at hand: while not excusing his ignorance, Dr. Grudem is a product of the Christian culture from which he comes, one that has chased after the wind and missed the billionaire Leviathan coming straight for them.

We do not throw out Thomas Aquinas because of this one quote largely because this sort of view is not particularly unique among thinkers of the 13th Century. Rather than indicate something about Aquinas, what this really reveals is something about that culture. Sexism was so bad at that time that a genius could think dumb things like the above quote – and it is for this reason that Johnson uses this quote to highlight the need for feminist theology. Again, it doesn’t excuse Aquinas for his view, but it is much more a condemnation of the culture than it is of that one man. Christianity and slavery have a similar relationship. For example, Jonathan Edwards owned slaves. That’s not about Edwards as much as it is about the evil slave-owning culture he lived in (and again, it doesn’t excuse Edwards).

Wayne Grudem’s argument reveals a strain of Christianity that is saturated with conservative principles, not the Gospel. Grudem dismisses all facets of liberalism, and asserts a desire for Christian cultural dominance and comfort. This is not written like a theologian who has decided it is time to get involved in politics – it sounds more like something Sean Hannity would write after Googling a few passages of scripture.

Now, if someone believes that Hillary Clinton must be defeated at all costs solely on the grounds of overturning Roe v. Wade, and if they think that overturning that decision will somehow end all abortions, and if the thought of the unborn being killed far outweighs any other moral issue, then I can’t really tell that person that they are wrong to feel that way. It’s an issue I wrestle with, as it is of great importance to me, too. So I get it – abortion is, for some people, the only issue that matters at all, and if that’s the case, I guess I understand why that person would vote for Trump.

But that isn’t what Dr. Grudem does. Rather, he writes a comprehensive list of reasons that make Trump a good candidate and Hillary a bad one, and each and every time it is on the basis of conservative far-right politics. Dr. Grudem is so committed to his ideology that he misses, ignores, or excuses all of Trump’s faults, editorializing a demagogue into a “good candidate with flaws.”

It’s not just that he’s saying that a vote for Hillary is a sinful choice – it’s that he saying that to vote for anyone besides Trump, to conscientiously object, and vote for, say, Gary Johnson or Ben Sasse or anyone else would be sinful.

The temptation is to make this about Grudem, and while it affects the way I see him, it should reveal much more to us about Christianity in America. What does it say about what American Christianity teaches and what it practices when one of the most influential minds since the Puritans can write something like this?

I believe it indicates that large portions of white evangelicalism in America are still plagued by racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism. They are still led astray by nationalism, militarism, and a need to be culturally dominant and secure. There is cowardice. There is ignorance. And there is an overwhelming anti-liberal sentiment. I’m sure many of you have felt that last one personally.

The Democratic National Convention made a tour-de-force case for their party and their candidate as the option for love, patriotism, and democracy, following up the bumbling and flailing efforts of the circus in Cleveland. I’m not saying that Hillary and the Democrats are really all about the things that were promoted at that convention, and it’s not like every Republican loves the idea of the authoritarian state which Trump envisions. But it’s remarkably tone deaf to denounce the comprehensive evils of liberalism after those two conventions.

But tone deaf is what much of American Christianity is, and we need to be aware of this and the way it affects our religion and our politics. This tone-deafness leads Eric Metaxas, the man who wrote a big book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to say that Hillary, not Trump, is like Hitler. C’mon man – you wrote the book!

It is important to be aware of our religious blindspots. Rather than trying to isolate particular cases as problematic, it’s important to see failures as the norm.

All this is to say, it’s not Dr. Grudem’s opinion that alarms me, so much as it is the culture that has shaped his brilliant mind.

Forth now, and fear no darkness.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

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Love is the Why – Why the Love Is

<p>Arizona Street Art</p>

“Jesus Saves”

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have posted some articles discussing American Christianity. It would be fair to call these posts criticisms, as I walked through why a lack of love has helped contribute to the decline in the number of Americans who call themselves Christians. I would say it has been, in some respects, an exercise in righteous anger. It has been a vehement exhortation for social change among American Christians.

I told you that love is the why.

But, as much as I believe that “love is the why” is a beautifully simple credo, and while I appreciate that DeRay McKesson continues to tweet it every few days as he continues his tireless work for racial justice, “love” is much too broad to be thrown around when speaking of topics of great importance, topics like the ones I spent the last few weeks posting about.

Let me be clear: American Christianity makes me very angry sometimes. And I earnestly hope that we will make efforts at all times to be loving, especially in areas of sin, gay marriage, racism, and politics, and I hope a lack of love is not the reason for an increasingly secular society.

And the reason for this love and this anger and this urgency is the love that our very name contains.

I am a Christian. By calling myself that I am a representative of Jesus Christ and the Gospel message.

And that message is the most important thing in the world.

Every good thing in the world is a reflection of the glory of God, and God’s most important revelation to humanity is the god-man Jesus.

God took the form of a Jewish carpenter, and after a ministry full of love through service to others and the glorification of God, the most innocent person in history died the most unjust death in history, bearing the entire brunt of God’s wrath against sin. Jesus lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we should all die, in an act that shows not only Jesus’ love for God but Jesus’ love for us. Then Jesus conquered death and rose from the dead, giving us victory over the grave, allowing us to die to sin and be exalted with Jesus.

All love flows from God, and God’s most beautiful demonstration of this love came in the Gospel. The religion of Christianity exists because of the Gospel. Jesus’ disciples took his story to the nations and endured hardship, persecution, and death in an effort to bring the world the Good News.

How unconscionable is it that Christians should ever drive someone away from Christianity for a lack of love?

Yes – some churches are like country clubs and youth groups are sometimes just social time and the whole thing can just look more like a big politically interested organization built to maintain comfort for good honest Americans.

But that is not what Christianity is. It isn’t a game. And to just call it a lifestyle would even be an act of shortchanging.

It’s something to die for and it’s something to live for. It’s something that calls us to fight and also to surrender. It’s about knowing you’re wrong and seeking what is right.

And it’s all tied together by love.

Love is the why. Why? Because God is love.

I don’t always show this love, and neither does the body of American Christianity. But what we have in American Christianity is the peace of God which surpasses understanding. We have something of supreme importance, and we live in a nation full of people who need what we have. And the first step is love.

We’re allowed to disagree. No one has all the answers. But Christianity’s objective first and foremost is to show Christ-like love to all people. We are called to imitate Christ, and I believe that means an honest re-evaluation of American Christianity’s thoughts on sinning, gay marriage, racism, and politics.

The Gospel is taken as offensive because it calls everyone a sinner deserving death. The Bible is not politically correct. Christianity is, at its root, about being an outsider.

But “I am unashamed of the Gospel, for the it is the power of God to salvation for all who believe.” And if we live our lives as American Christians unashamed of Jesus Christ and as conduits of God’s overflowing love, then the power of the Gospel will work in the hearts and minds of a nation and a world that is crying out for a savior.

Maybe our nation will continue to become more secular.

Let Christians be all the more loving.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

 

L.I.T.W. – Race

The third installment of “Love is the Why” features the next great issue that American Christians must meet with love – or fuel with inaction.

Christians be like....

Christians be like….

Most Christians are not racists.

Which is, of course, a very good thing, considering that few things are so diametrically opposed to the Gospel as racism.

But there are some racist “Christians.” And some “Christians” who use Christianity to justify racism.

And many Christians are racenorant (too ignorant to be just racist, too racist to be just ignorant). And just about every single Christian (including this writer) suffers from some degree of subconscious racism.

American Christians live in a nation that is racist. And racial tensions are as high as they have been in some time. The last 300 days have seen the rise of a powerful movement of protesters that has especially focused on police brutality against black Americans. Their efforts have shed light on systemic injustices that go well beyond the guns of the police.

Race will be one of the most important issues in America in 2015 and beyond. And my heart longs for my generation be the one to finally be the change I wish to see.

American Christians are a part of this struggle. How will we acquit ourselves?

Because, so far, our participation in this issue has been pitiful. And unless we act, the 21st Century Church of AC will stand next to slaveholders and the KKK in a tradition of Christians that chose which people counted as their neighbor.

This topic, like gay marriage, is worth considerably more than a couple thousand words. Again I find myself needing to narrow the scope of my writing in order to take on something a little more manageable. In just the first 250 words of this post I have already set off numerous alarm bells and made many statements that might need clarification or justification.

First thing’s first: this Scandinavian-American perspective will comment on white American Christians and their place in this issue. Obviously black American Christians can also be racist and can also fail to live out the Gospel in race relations, but it’s not quite the same. I hope I don’t have to explain this any further.

Second, we can’t dwell on the history for now. It’s just important that you understand that, while the Christian message is unequivocally anti-racism, Christianity has in its history had some pretty big racial issues. Your idea of Christianity’s place in history might be just a tad misguided (for instance, John Newton didn’t give up slaving right after his conversion. Yikes.).

And, lastly, it’s important to understand that this is, in fact, a big deal/problem/thing/issue.

And it’s because many white American Christians either refuse to believe this is a problem or ignore the problem altogether that brings us to our place in this discussion.

Christians facing this issue have tended to use five different responses:

  1. “This is just a bunch of media fodder. There’s not really a problem to worry about.”
  2. “There’s a good explanation for all this.”
  3. “Those people have problems.”
  4. “Christ is the answer.”
  5. “My brothers, sisters, and neighbors are crying out in pain and I must listen and act.”

The fifth option is the only acceptable response. Walk with me here.

“There’s not really a problem….”

This the response in which the Christian avoids showing love by denying that an object in need of love even exists. The person who ignores this issue and pretends racism doesn’t exist somehow manages to be blithely ignorant of their surroundings. Or, they truly do live in a bubble that appears free of racial tension, and when some tension is introduced to that bubble, they react by playing it off as a non-issue. Because this is the most ignorant of the four responses, it is hard to call this type of response un-loving. But it is self-absorbed. I believe Christians should constantly have their ear to the ground. While we are supposed to have our beliefs and convictions, some of which we would gladly die for, we should also be always listening and considering the views of others. For an individual to think that their view of the Gospel, the Bible, God, and the rest of the world is the immaculately correct view is all sorts of obtuse. Christians should always be listening for voices that sound different from theirs, while also seeking close community with people echoing what they believe to be true. So, as a Christian, if you hear a black person saying “I’m being oppressed because of my skin color” or “The police are unfairly targeting me,” shouldn’t you take some time to listen and consider? Might there be a problem even if you hadn’t ever given it much thought?

“There’s a good explanation….”

It seems to me that white Christians are quick to explain away or justify racial injustices, perhaps especially when it comes to police brutality. Where is the love in rushing to the side of the people holding the power and the badges and the guns? How is it loving to use mental gymnastics to explain why the young unarmed black man lying dead on the street was in the wrong? Why does a crime make someone deserving of death? I wonder: if Jesus was walking through a park in Cleveland and saw Tamir Rice dying on the ground, what would he have done? I can’t speculate, but I don’t think he would have brought up how much the toy gun looked like a real one. I think he might have John 11:35’d.

“Those people have problems….”

This is the most unloving response that Christians seem ready to use. This line of thinking attributes the Baltimore Uprising to misguided anger, exploitative thuggery, moral depravity, cultural deficiencies, and urban brokenness. Essentially it seeks to bring up all the problems in the black community, and it uses those problems to mask the issues that protesters are bringing to light. Christians should have open hearts and minds. Rather than criticizing a black person for smashing a window, why don’t we ask what could have possibly made that person so mad in the first place? We can try to understand these things without condoning them. What is the Christian response? “Shame on those people. How dare they break the law.” Or “Those people are hurting and I don’t understand why they’re doing this but I want someone to help them.” Rather than creating this figure of the poor, uneducated, hip-hopping, drug-dealing, angry black person, why don’t we ask “What has made them so upset?” Why do we rush to the side of those in power? Why don’t we sympathize with the protesters?

“Christ is the answer….”

Yes. Of course Christ is the answer. I believe that with all my heart. But what does that look like? What do Christians think will be accomplished by only speaking the Gospel? I believe in the power of the Gospel, and I believe as Paul writes that the Gospel is to be proclaimed first and foremost, and I echo Lecrae’s sentiment “Lord kill me if I don’t preach the Gospel.” But since when does sitting around shouting “Jesus saves” solve anything? I am not, for a moment, minimizing the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. I’m maximizing the ability of God to work through Christians who go forth and live out the Gospel in their actions as they preach it. The Gospel has equipped us to join in issues of social injustice with hearts full of love as we live to glorify the name of above all names. Sitting at home and in our segregated churches is not what preaching the Gospel is about. What is masked in this response is a desire to just keep things the way they are and avoid controversy. Where in Jesus’ ministry did he avoid controversy? And, if we are to keep things the same, how is that going to do anything but just make the issue worse? And, finally, being angry is not sinful. We as Christians should get angry when we see injustice. Not rageful or hateful, and our anger should not drive us to sin, but it is okay for injustice to make us angry.

“My brothers, sisters, and neighbors are crying out in pain and I must listen and act….”

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you are a Christian, you should be listening for the cries of the oppressed. And when you hear those cries, you should act. Perhaps this means acting against the government. Maybe it means causing a stir or creating controversy.

If you don’t think there is a race problem in America, you are tragically mistaken either as a result of colossal unawareness or close-minded unkindness. And if you recognize that there is a problem but decide to explain it away when it is inconvenient or just ostrich the situation altogether, then you are not acting in a loving manner.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ: please, please, make racial relations a priority in your life. Get educated in the history of black America. Seek out black perspectives. Become aware of your own racism. See the media’s racial bias. Recognize white privilege. And love. Not just those black people who wake up on a Sunday morning to get dressed up for church, but the ones marching and holding signs and even the ones who smash windows, run from the police, steal, or reach for the officer’s weapon. The Gospel message is so fundamentally opposed to everything racism stands for, and when we refuse to act against racism on the personal and systemic level, evil prospers. And to explain away or ignore an issue when fellow Christians of darker skin speak out is the type of self-centered Christianity that destroys church communities. If a Christian won’t try to believe a fellow Christian about an issue like this, there is something quite wrong.

The battle to defeat racism in America is intensifying and it will endure. No justice no peace. The movement lives. It will continue and, Lord willing, it will one day be resolved. If AC lives out the Gospel, and bears in mind the words of Micah 6:8 and Dietrich Bonhoeffer while trying to follow Christ’s example, Christians will naturally end up at the front of the charge that brings this reign of fear and hatred to an end.

But if AC continues in its current course, others will take our nation to a more progressive and humane condition while Christians waste time chasing other issues. Christians will have failed, but at least the racial situation will be better.

Or maybe the issue won’t get better. Maybe it needs Christians to heal racial wounds and bridge racial gaps with the love of the Gospel. And maybe, when white Christians are needed to step up, they will be nowhere to be found.

Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, perhaps Christians will carry on singing Chris Tomlin songs as the body of Black America hangs smoldering on a liberty tree.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

Love is the Why

Gandhi and Christians

Much ado has been made about the findings of the Pew Research Center regarding religion in the United States. I recommend that you take a few minutes to look over the study to find a number of interesting trends that appear in this year’s survey, the first done by Pew since 2007.

Pew’s sub-title for the release of their research is, “Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow.” There’s a clear story being told there: The number of people identifying themselves as Christian has seen a noticeable downturn since 2007, and the number of people claiming no religion – classified as “nones” by Pew – has increased substantially.

Furthermore, the decline has been caused, in large part, by the fact that while the older generations (read: people who are dying) are overwhelmingly Christian, millenials are not even 60% Christian and have significantly higher rates of “nones.” In other words, young people are moving further and further away from Christianity and religion in general.

Of course this has caused a stir in a nation where 7 out of 10 people identify themselves as Christian. And, without a doubt, it should provoke us to ask tough questions and have earnest discussions.

There are reasons why this happening. Very good reasons. And no, Bill O’Reilly, you can’t blame this on rap music.

And, while many Christians will use this as the reasoning, this is not about America’s moral depravity.

This isn’t about Jersey ShoreGame of ThronesFifty Shades of Grey, marijuana, social media, Lady Gaga, liberals, feminists, Richard Dawkins, Kim Kardashian, Obama, the gays, Muslims, or college professors.

It’s not about putting so much emphasis on the individual that our society neglects community. It’s not about everyone having it their way. You can’t blame entertainers, educators, religious thinkers, or “the media.”

This is about Christians.

This is about Christians failing.

People are leaving the Christian faith for a life of theism, deism, agnosticism, or atheism, because the church of American Christianity (AC) is failing. Having grown lazy and complacent in a position of power in the most prosperous nation in human history, numerous problems have taken root in AC and choked out the light of the Gospel. Legalism, moral superiority, homophobia, racism, greed, conformity, scientific ignorance, sexism, religious bigotry, isolationism, revisionist history, child molestation, God Hates Fags, financial scams, archaic adherence to tradition, the gun-toting pseudo-religion of American Christo-Patriotic Conservatism, and more have all contributed to the decline in AC’s adherents and the effectiveness of AC in general.

Why?

Love. Love is the why.

Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

A religion built on love and mercy and grace has become built on being right and being successful.

Feeding the five thousand has become a means of creating dependency. Kill and eat has turned into trash the planet. The righteousness of foreign wars comes down to who happens to be in office. Finances, political ideology, and personal freedom have pushed away the priority of radical love.

Of course, AC is still doing a lot of great things and showing a lot of love. There isn’t a number that can measure the positive impact that Christians have had on their communities, whether that be organizing community projects, giving to the poor, or reaching out to touch the hearts of the broken and down-trodden. Locally and internationally, Christians are doing great things for people. There are, most certainly, many many Christians going hard for the Gospel and loving when it would be easier to hate.

But there isn’t one Christian who can’t do better. And many Christians are doing next to nothing for anyone outside themselves or their church community. If 70% of the country were as loving as the 1,000 most loving people in the nation, we’d live in a pretty amazing place. Because, and maybe this is the kicker, it’s not just people of faith who are doing great things in the world. Many of the most loving people out there doing things for their fellow human are people who do not claim any religion. I know many good people who are not Christians. So imagine if all Christians did what Christ calls them to do and joined their efforts with those who are concerned just out of being a decent human being.

And love is why I’m doing this. I’m not a doomsayer here to condemn the world of Christianity. I’m not looking to get a rise out of the conservative Christians that I know are going to object to some of the things I say over the course of the next couple weeks. I’m not here to make myself more superior, tout the rightness of Christians, or criticize non-Christians. Love is the why. I know that Christianity is not the religion of white supremacists, snake handlers, grandmas with kitsch in their front yard and living room, and Ned Flanders. I know it’s more than that, because, in a way, it’s less than that. It’s about Jesus Christ. And that means it’s about love, mercy, and grace. Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The second greatest, Jesus says, is to love your neighbor as yourself.

I want us to ardently pursue these two commandments. I want my fellow Christians to love God by loving their neighbor. I want them to assess their Christian life and accept that they might not be doing everything right. I want them to love. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Your life as a Christian should make non believers question their disbelief in God.” The best way to hate the sinner’s sin is to love the sinner.

And I’m doing this because I love God and I love people, and I want all people to know God. I’m not out to crusade against non-believers and convert them with a doctrinal sword. I’m not here to shout fire and brimstone and demand that they turn from their ways and repent. Non-believer, I want you to know God because I love God and I love you. One day this world will pass away and all things will be made new. I want to dance with all of you in eternity. And I know that, as it stands right now, AC isn’t making a particularly compelling case to join the dance.

Allow me now to preface this series of posts that will be coming over the next couple weeks, as well as any religiously concerned posts that appear on this blog.

I believe I am right, but I would never claim to be inerrant. I’m open to being wrong. I may someday change my mind as I learn more. But I do have some theological training and I have read the Bible and kept up with modern Christian thought, so I know a few things. I have been a Christian most of my life, but most of 21 years is not very long. For what it’s worth, I am part of Evangelical Protestantism, the branch of Christianity that has, from a numbers standpoint, fared the best since 2007. In that time, it is the only branch of Christianity to have more converts than departures, although the overall number is slightly down but at a lesser rate than other branches. I certainly have room to grow too, a lot of room, as a Christian and as a human being that actively seeks to make the world better. Far be it from me to claim I’m any better than you. Most importantly, I implore you to seriously consider the things I say. Please do not outright accept or reject my ideas. Rather, carefully consider what I suggest, and carefully consider where your own heart and mind are.

Let’s do it.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter