Friday, April 11, 2008

Fundamental Symmantics

It is an ingenious and compelling way to eliminate or marginalize an opponent. Give them the rope and let them hang themselves.
So it is with evangelicals in the post 9/11 era. Eager to rush into the suddenly soft center of the population and fill the void of helplessness left by the carnage of the attacks, Christian leaders have unwittingly joined a subtle methodology that will serve to further disenfranchise Fundamentalist Christians even more in the US.
One of the first early by-products of the attacks was the bumbling attempts by Christian leaders and left-leaning media to quickly characterize Islam to their paticular benefit and ideology.
The government and the media both went to great lengths to mitigate potential backlash, retaliations, persecution and prejudice against Muslim Americans and other foreign nationals in the wake of their identification of Osama Bin Laden as the prime suspect in the attacks. Lengthy articles and television pieces appeared pontificating Islam as a "religion of peace" and that the attacks and other acts of Islamic terrorism, do not reflect the essence of the Muslim people and their faith.
Anxious to contrast the wholesomeness of Christianity against Islam, Evangelical leaders like James Dobson, and others, pointed out that these were innaccurate depictions of Islam and that "radicals" were a constant in the faith. Painting Muslims as the "Klingons" against the "Federation" of the Judeo-Christian world, Evangelicals have inadvertantly walked into a trap of symmantics which could prove to be the mechanism that brings about further Christian marginalization in the post-modern world.
Both of these positions are fellacious,...based on erroneous world views.
The government and the media used American Muslims to demonstrate the unfair perceptions of Islam and to characterize the terroists, in contrast, as a fringe element. Both label the combatants against the US occupation of Iraq as "insurgents" or "fundamentalist extremists". One can hardly believe in suicide bombers when we see these communities in the US blended so well into the melting pot of American culture. All of these spokesmen and media portrayals of Islam have been secularized, Westernized, Muslims, living in our culture and far removed from the true faith practiced in Mecca or Medina. While they do represent a contingent of Islam, they no more represent a true view of Islam any more than a liberal Methodist church could represent true fundamentalist theology. Having live in Saudi Arabia for an extended period, I have seen the iron-handed administration of Islam. War, ethno-centrism, mysogony, and suicidal zeal are all aspects of fundamentalist Islam. Islam, like Christianity, has sects and denominations, each with its own distance or closeness to the truer, fundamentalist original. The Bible supports this view of Islam when God blesses Ishmael and tells him that he and his decendants will multiply but always be in contention with their neighbors. This, of course, is supported by the landscape of history and current events.
The House of Saud, the ruling family of the Kingdom, decended from Bedowin nomads, learned this quickly. To maintain their precarious hold on the oil and the country, the secular, oppulently wealthy royal family realized that they must maintain Saudi Arabia as the most stringently fundamentally Islamic nation on Earth. They realized that secular, westernized Islamic nations don't survive. Lebenon's constant turmoil, Iran before the Shah are examples.
Most disturbing though is the media and government's rhetoric about "Muslim fundamentalists". The implication is that fundamentalist are extremist and do not represent the true faith. They are outside the main stream. The media has married the term fundamentalist with the term extremist and I contend that it will serve a further purpose. Fundamentalist Christians and the government/media are often polar opposites, usually diametrically opposed. Even the conservative Republican party would be more content if the social agenda of the Religious Right wasn't having to be appeased...the Religious Right...the fundamentalists...the extremists. Ruby Ridge and Waco were extreme examples of government intolerance of unpopular expressions of Christian or Constitutional fundamentalism.
The core point is this. Blind support of a war on non-secular, fundamentalist Muslims could serve to set a precedent for the culture to further marginalize Christian fundamentalists...especially as the Church itself is becoming more wordly and secular. The true faith will only stand more glaringly in the light of Laodecea. The Social War gets fought in high profile arenas like abortion-rights, gay marriage and seperation of Church and state. It could be lost in the more innocuous battles the symanntics of words like "fundamentalist".
80 percent of Americans say that they identify themselves as "Christian". Yet, those who support fundamentalist, evangelical theology account for a dramatically smaller portion.
One of the lessons of the history of the Church, that it may be doomed to repeat, is that the Emerging Church has been so concerned with its call to Evangelize, that it ceases to work out its own salvation with fear and trembling. Confident in the rightness of its position and purpose, Evangelicals have joined in another crusade against Islamic fundamentalism, aligning itself with a culture that despises its theology and ingraining in the secular masses the opposition to all things
fundamental". In a nation and culture where religion is so marginalized and secularized, the symmantic easily translates from Islam to Evangelical Christianity in the sound-bite, fast-food information age of the secular world. This secular world view accepts religious conviction as long as it is "personal" and non-invasive.
Conversely, fundamentalism, both Christian or Islamic, seek to impact and win the world for their faith.
Islam demands that a code of behavior be adhered to and enforced on the population, rejecting all other beliefs and in some cases, conquering non-believers to conform them to the true faith, even to the costs of their own lives in martyrdom for their god.
Fundamentalist Christianity demands adherance of obedience to a code of righteousness that was demonstrated by Jesus and brotherhood with a non-believing world that, by the Holy Spirit, would stand against the prevailing world-view and permeate the society. A true Believer in Christ may be called upon, and should be willing to, lay down his life for his God.
The correlation is too great to ignore.
For Evangelicals the error in judgement comes from a fellacious understanding of Scripture. It comes from a failier to agree with the Biblical admonition about the assuredness of moral entropy in the culture. Instead of working on personal holiness which best reflects Jesus and therefore best effects the world, like battling a tsunami with a sandbag, Evangelicals seek to change moral fiber by activism and aggressive opposition. This forsakes the command to be in the world and not of the world. It is also hard to love your enemy while you are supporting a war to kill him.
Instead, we have Christian talking heads joing the teeming masses of secular talking heads in opposition to the evils of Islamic jihad. Some day there will be a time where those secular talking heads will be giving scathing analysis and editorials about the dangers of Christian fundamentalist extremism.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Tale of Two Tragedies

"Do you believe in God?
Written on a bullet
Say yes and pull the trigger.
...and Cassie pulled the trigger."

----"Cassie" by Flyleaf

When this song came out, reflecting on a young Christian girl's split-second decision to allow herself to be martyred at the Columbine high school shootings, I found my own thoughts drifting back over two similar tragedies which had diametrically different eternal consequences.
I qualify all that I'm writing by stating for the record that any violent loss of life is repugnant. I also state for the record that I am a gun owner, support gun-owner rights and have a concealed weapons permit.
Recently, a deranged, or simply very angry, man burst into the commons area of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, heavily armed, having just shot 4 people outside the building. His intent was to inflict terrible loss of life. New Life is the states largest church and services at the mega-church were just releasing. Having heard the shots outside, Jeanne Assam, a former police officer, and part of New Life's armed security team engaged the assailant and killed him.
New Life, like many churches in America, has a full staff of security, half of which, according to Pastor Brady Boyd, are licensed and are armed. Ms Assam was lauded by law enforcement officials, Boyd and the church constituency for saving lives
Contrast that event with the deranged man who, heavily armed, walked into an Amish schoolhouse, took hostages and then killed five little girls, aged 7 to 13, before killing himself. Clearly, New Life's proactive foresight to have armed security prevented in Colorado, what the Amish were unwilling to do in use deadly force to protect itself. Let me clarify here. The Amish were not in a house of worship. Had the man come into an Amish home, the result would likely have been the same. The Colorado incident was hailed as a victory for conservative, gun-rights activists.
Indeed, as a husband and father, a Christian, a gun owner, and an American, I demand the right to use deadly force, if neccesary, to protect my family. There is Old Testement precedent for this as well as admonition to the head of the home to protect his own. So why did I find the results at the New Life so much more unpalatable then in Pennsylvania?
The answer lies in the starkest contrast between the two incidents. It wasn't the body was the eternal ramifications.
I don't pretend to be knowledgable about Amish theology. Like most people the most I know is from watching the movie, "Witness" with Harrison Ford. Clearly, I don't embrace their theology about the use of force in the protection of family. The Amish are ardent pacifists. However, there is one place that I can come alongside the Amish and where I part strongly from New Life. The Amish are willing to die for what they believe in. They don't want to die. They don't want to suffer. They didn't want to grieve the lives of 5 little girls. Yet, much like Cassie's decision to say that she believed in God at Columbine, the Amish do not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. The extraordinary belief that safety isn't an end paticularly in the post 9/11 age of fear and security leaves post modern Americans to shake their heads at the tragedy of 5 little girls being laid on the alter of martyrdom.
Conversely, Pastor Brady noted at a news conference with Ms. Assam, that she had perhaps saved 60 or 70 lives with her quick action. In the aftermath, there was a gush of thankfulness of the church constituency and law enforcement. Then the events faded into media factoid history. But let us examine the eternal, transcendent consequences.
It is very possible the gunman at New Life might have killed himself as so many lone wolf killers do after exacting their wrath. However, we will never know that because an agent of the church, representing Jesus, the Christ, the Savior...his Savior..., shot him dead. What we do know is that one lost soul will not be in the kingdom. One person who will never have the opportunity to repent, who will never receive our forgiveness, or our mercy or His Grace extended through us. Who will never know Salvation.
So, with this result we are left to tally the scorecard between the two events. Our culture has already determined that the Amish, tragic though their loss is, are a partial victim of their own eccentricity. That culture has already assigned praise to Ms. Assam and New Life for their security measures. New Life and the culture have declared by their actions that they value their lives more than the salvation of one soul.
We must now consider the hypethetical. What if a large number of New Life's congregation were killed, martyred for the Kingdom. Speculate that after his initial rage relented, the perpetrator doesn't kill himself and is captured or surrendered. Imagine further, that the church and the grieving families extended to the killer, unwarranted Christian grace and forgiveness that the Amish did to the killer of their children. (Oddly, no one doubts that the Amish would have extended forgiveness to their children's killer even if he hadn't taken his own life.) One wonders how far reaching the scope of the Amish experience has advanced the Kingdom. We will never know this side of Glory, outside of the immensely favorable testimony of their Savior that warmed the hearts of America in the weeks that followed. At New Life, we will never know the scope of what would have happened if the killer had been saved.
I don't take away the proper right of self-defense of one's self and more importantly the protection of one's family. If I were at New Life that morning and I had been armed, I would have shot the man myself.
But I would have been acting as the protector of my family. I wouldn't be an agent of the church. In much the same way that Timothy was charged with a higher standard of accountability in the pastoral letters, so too does New Life, and all churches now arming themselves, take on a higher responsibility and higher level of risk.
Democratic Freedom and Christianity share that in common...risk.
I know that Jesus would have allowed Himself to be crucified even if I was the only person on earth to believe. His love for me and for that killer are such that He did not love His life so much as to shrink from death. This is the attitude of the Amish. This is why we, as a culture, can't understand suicide, Islamic terrorist. Because we have been taught that there is nothing more valuable than transient and temporary as it is...and that their testimony is only valid if it is a living one. Doesn't the New Life, and other similar churches, assume a greater level of risk. Certainly, Jesus spelled out the risk to His disciples, assuring them that if He, God Himself, would be persecuted, so too, would they. Still, He admonished us to "love our enemies" and to "offer them our other cheek".
This is just one more example of how humanism has crept into the Christian world-view. Safety and comfort have supplanted freedom and risk. We can thank the Patriot Act for this spirit of fear. Christianity, like freedom, isn't supposed to be safe. The Gospel of Jesus is dangerous...provocative...convicting. One day we can ask Stephen about martyrdom. Or perhaps we can ask the countless saints recorded by Mr. Fox. Or we can simply sit at lunch with a nice, Amish family in Pennsylvania and reminisce about their late daughters.
One thing is for sure. We won't be able to ask a repentant persecutor of New Life Church in Colorado.

"Don't be surprised,
When people die.
Be surprised you're still alive."
---from "Cassie" by Flyleaf

The Truth Axiom Part 2

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.
This is where deceit has made the greatest strides. In a generation that disdains discomfort, pain or consequence, the love and grace centered emerging church has provided a place for Believers to feel good about themselves while downplaying the judgement and consequence part of the equation. Invariably, the larger emerging churches will bring messages that shy away from inductive methodology, in favor of bullet point, sound bite teaching. But its allure besides being unchallenging, this lunbalanced theology has been the harbringer of errors that is ever so subtle. For example, instead of courtship, we see ministries espousing purity in dating. This is despite the fact that there is absolutely no Scriptural precedent for dating.
We find healing ministries, well-meaning and with genuine purpose, clogged with people who seek validation for the woundings in their lives. Instead of growing past their pain, they become defined by it. They believe the lies of what wounded them instead of the truth of their sinful response to it. You see, in both examples, the veering from the True path is only a subtle variance of the truth.
Throughout these dissertations, I will be referring to the Truth Axiom to discern both the grossly obvious errors and the more insidious small errors that have caused us to stray from the Way. The church in America is not struggling. Indeed, it is fat, wealthy and opulent. It's message is tepid and falling off the ears of the world as if off teflon. What truths have we missed? Is the desperation of martyrdom the only way the Church will truly center itself on the Truth?

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Truth Axiom

During His ministry on Earth, Jesus spoke often about His character and nature. When He told the disciples that He was the "Way, the Truth and the Life", these were more than characterizations of His personality. They were axiomatic facts through which all of Scripture was to be filtered. When He said He was the Way, He confirmed it by saying that no one could come to the Father, except through Him (John 14:10). Whe He said He was the Life, He confirmed this through His ressurrection.
However, I have always considered His statement that He was the Truth to be the most tangibly important because it is the primary axiom in the Scripture. The entire struggle of good versus evil can be boiled down to each element's primary methodology...Truth versus deceit.
Truth is a person. Jesus was the Truth. In His entire life He never sinned and therefore, never lied. Everything He ever did or spoke was absolute and true. A strong, healthy Christian theology is built on the foundation of this simple axiom. Because the world has secularized and conceptualized the word "truth", the very meaning of the term has become subjective and relative.
That is why I have coined the phrase, Truth Axiom. I suppose it's a little like those bracelets that reminded you about , "What would Jesus do?". The Truth Axiom simply says that for all things to be true, they must be verified by the the Scripture. Base arguements about this kind of fundamentalism questions the veracity of Scripture. I won't use this time to do what Josh McDowell and other Christian apologists have done so well. However, I will use the Truth Axiom here...
At the beginning of the book of John, we are told that Jesus is the Word or the Logos. Scripture reminds me to come to Him as a little child...with simple reasoning...axiomatically. Jesus is the Word...the Logos...or the written Scripture. He is the living embodiment of what was divinely written. Jesus is the Truth ergo the Word is also the Truth. This simple axiom now explodes my understanding as all dicernment matters are passed through this filter. Now I have the whole canon of Scripture to use as my Truth measuring stick.
Theonly way to negotiate through humanism and relativism is with the ruddr of Truth. We cannot begin to wade through heady topics without having as base to work from. Truth is not bread crumbs to which you find your way back. Truth is the cobblestones forever cemented ontothe path so cant lose your Way in the first place. This is how we will approach every topic in these postings.
Truth helps us discern deceit. As our relationship with Truth grows so will our ability to discern Truth's voice from deceit. We become so familiar with our Beloved's voice and character, we recognize it even when we don't see Him.
This is infinitely important. Where Truth is stark, clear and unmistakable...deceit is subtle, vague and conveluted. Deceit doesn't have to be exactly just isn't exactly right. These are the subtle turns in theology that has fracture the Body of Christ into the inneffective denaminations which infest this age of Laodecea. They forever mark their territory...their paticular revelation of orthodoxy. This is the vague humanism that has crept into the "seeker-friendly" emerging church. It is a watered-down theology that over-emphasizes Grace and leaves out the conviction of the Law. At one time, "Turn or Burn" theology was just as erroneous. The "seeker-friendly" model is steeped with true aspects, but in its efforts to be relevant to the world has begun to take on the trappings of the world. Conviction is no longer a part of the equation...acceptance whereever you are is.
Grace and Mercy are only one side of the algebra of Salvation and Sanctification. The (X) on the other side of the equation is Judgement and Conviction. Jesus reminded us that He came to fulfill the Law not abolish it. We will continue to look at how we have become so luke warm and tepid in our next post.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

You're an Evangelical...You have to like George Bush!

Now while I have no idea of how many people will read this, I plunge headlong into the blogosphere. I hope that my way with words and my desire to push critical thinking in unpopular subjects will win some hearts or at least create useful debate.
This blog is named quite simply because I don't want to be "pigeon-holed". It will often deal with subjects of evangelical Christian theology, but as is often the case, will move out into the secular sphere of influence. Most paticularly, I will try to make sense of the montage of conspiracies, theologies, and world-views which have brought us to this cultural precipice that we seem to live.
It is early in the year 2008. The Mayans believe that in a little over 4 years there will a cataclysmic shift in the world we live in. For us in the US, I believe the clock is on a much shorter leash. It would behoove you to save this posting and prove me wrong in 4 years. It is foolish to believe that our culture, so much more decadent and apathetic than Rome ever grew to be, can ever survive much longer under the weight of its decay.
As a Believer, I take great comfort in this. It's not that I am trying to bring about Armaggedon. God is completely capable of doing that without my help. But as I read the Scriptures, everything is going according to plan. Now many of my faithful church brethren tell me I shouldn't live in fear or try to figure out the end times. This is simply false theology. While Jesus clearly tells us that know one will know the day or hour, He also tells us that the signs of those times will be clear and empiracal, giving us numerous things to look for. He tells us to be "wise as serpents" when discerning between Truth and what is deception. This is just one small example of the subtle deviation from absolute Truth that has pervaded the Evangelical church over the last 150 years and most notably, the last 50. This is one subject with different threads we will be talking about.
For the sake of symantics I suppose I should put forth my theological position, since the very fact that I am labeled because I say I am an Evangelical Christian seems to denote specific patterns whether they are actually correct or not. I will not presume that anyone here will come with that agenda.
I am a socially conservative (I oppose homosexuality, abortion-rights and sex out of wedlock; I believe in modesty, prudence and self-responsibility), fiscally liberal (we tithe or give charity over 15% of our income), politically civil libertarian (that is, much like a fundamentalist believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible, so do I believe in a literal interpretation of the Constitution), Born-again pentecostal (yes, I believe in those wacky manifestations of the Spirit, such as the laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, etc...within the strict boundaries of Scriptural precedence) believer in Jesus, the Christ, the risen Son of God the Father. I believe in the third Person of Trinity, the Holy Spirit, who will, unfortunately, withdraw from this world, sooner than later, so that Jesus can pronounce judgement on all of us, for better or worse.
I realize to more seasoned readers that this might seem a maelstrom of contradictions, but that is what the title infers. This idea came of age when I clearly had Scriptural precedent for opposing George W Bush in the last two elections, (though I am a fairly staunch Republican). For me it was a no-brainer. Many articles in the mainstream press wrote about his affiliation with the Skull and Bones, a masonic secret society at Yale and something every good conspiracy theorist knows about. Scripture says to have nothing to do with divination where the rituals of the Skulls are identical to those of Wiccan rights. Also they require him to take blood oaths. The Scripture says we cannot serve two masters and that we should take no vows. In absence of a renouncment of his membership, it was obvious and clear what course to take during the election.
This however caused a storm of controversy with my politically active Christian friends who basically thought I was looney even though my theological position was absolutely correct. So was birthed the idea of this blog out of my frustration of what I am 'supposed' to think, instead of living out the Scriptures in an axiomatic manner.
When next I post, I will go into detail about "Axiomatic Theology" and introduce you to a friend of mine, who calls Himself, "the TRUTH".