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Plundering Egypt: A Conversation on the Passing of Rachel Held Evans

Just two days after Stan Grenz died, David Dockery began his concluding paragraph warning Baptists, specifically Southern Baptists, that Grenz might lead his readers into orthodox inconsistency.

Unfortunately, his pietism didn’t translate into evangelical coherene or orthodox consistency.

That was fourteen year ago.

Reading some of the responses to the death of Rachel Held Evans reminded me of that incident. In fact, to demonstrate how this works, the same thing happened after the death of Jerry Falwell. No matter your theological convictions you may be sure someone will take advantage of the news of your death to point out all the error of your ways. It makes us feel better about our chosen perspective on the spectrum.

Among we Southern Baptists it appears that orthodoxy is now tied to how one interprets the Scriptures regarding women in ministry – preaching or pastoring. But, one of the oldest creeds of the Christian faith does not make that issue a matter of Christian orthodoxy. What’s more, it now appears that after claiming to be a confessional denomination, Southern Baptists indeed have a Magisterium that weighs theological positions in the balance. Welcome to the new SBC. Entity heads take your bow.

Could we benefit from splitting the hair between Christian Orthodoxy and doctrinalism? I think so. Take this simple test. If Stan Grenz, Jerry Falwell and Rachel Held Evans all would affirm the Nicene Creed, then they would be considered within the bounds of Christan orthodoxy. But, given their doctrinal differences, they would likely not share a home in the same denomination. That is the difference between orthodoxy and doctrinalism.

When Grenz and Evans moved beyond the doctrinalism of Evangelicalism that did not mean they were now unorthodox. What’s more, if Grenz identified as a Pietist with a PhD then, he is echoing what my friend Bill Borror recently described on a podcast. Bill used the imagery of Isreal leaving Egypt for his own move out of Evangelicalism and into a different Christian stream most would consider Mainline. He noted that he felt like he had left Egypt carrying with him some plunder.

Listening to Rachel Held Evans and reading her books reveals much the same. While she left her Baptist, Evangelical roots, she maintained the fervor of an Evangelical even if she found her home in the Episcopalian branch of the Christian tree. Think the late Robert Weber who followed the Canterbury Trail later in his life.

Tommie Marshell joins me on this podcast episode. We talk about her response to Rachel, public responses on social media and in major publications. We work to distinguish between orthodoxy and doctrinalism. Take a listen and leave your thoughts in the comments. Be nice.

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Governor Stitt Aims for Oklahoma’s First Top Ten Win . . . In Firearm Deaths

Our new Governor laid out his goal to make Oklahoma a top ten State. Who would have thought that before education, justice reform and healthcare that Oklahoma would pass legislation with the promise of the Governor’s signature that will surely propel Oklahoma into the top ten of states with the highest rate of firearm deaths?!

According to the CDC, Oklahoma is currently at number thirteen for States with the highest rate of firearm deaths. If the statistics from other states that have passed permitless carry legislation inform what we may expect in Oklhaoma, Governor Stitt will get his dream of making Oklahoma a top ten state sooner than later.

What defies common sense, and surely the common good, is that permitless carry was not one of Governor Stitt’s platform planks. There is no outcry from any majority for this legislation. More than 80% oppose this. The Oklahoma Legislature has run House and Senate Bills so fast that Law Enforcement has not had time to weigh in. And, it looks like it is too late.

Many people have hoped that Governor Stitt would undo eight years of Mary Fallin. Who knew that he would undo one of the best acts she undertook when she vetoed this legislation just last year? The Governor is not up for re-election. Even The Oklahoman’s Editors noted what a waste of time this is. Who cares that Representative Echols checked with the NRA. What about Oklahomans?

There is hope. Maybe Governor Stitt will be called upon by religious leaders who follow a King who said to Peter, “Put away your sword.” Gathering for a prayer service to the God of Jesus Christ at the outset of his term might need to be followed with a commitment to the Prince of Peace.

Today I was invited to speak to this issue as a representative of Oklahoma Faith Leaders. Who knows if this will make the news. I offer it here in hopes that maybe, just maybe the Governor will keep his eye on his top ten list that would make us proud, not more bloody.

My oldest grandson, Cohen, will turn sixteen in seven years. His Dad, Craig, is a Driver’s License Examiner. There is no chance that Cohen will be allowed to get behind the wheel of an automobile without training, license and insurance. Not only would his Dad not allow it, neither would the State of Oklahoma. Putting a teenager behind the wheel of a potentially deadly weapon without training has made little sense to anyone. Requiring training and a license helps protect the common good from those untrained, unprepared. Why would we offer a 21-yr old to carry a gun, an intentionally lethal weapon, without a permit or training? Even an 18-year old on the grounds they serve in the military.

Craig supervises the DPS station in Chickasha, he is recognized as one of the best. He insists that teenagers pass written and driving tests before sending them on to a Tag Agency to obtain their much coveted license. Craig also has made sure that those who drive semi rigs over the roadways maintain their CDL’s. None of us would have any confidence should a would-be driver take to the highway with a heavy load behind an 18-wheeler. No. The State requires training, licensure and driving logs for professional drivers. We would not dare let loose untrained drivers to carry goods across the Country, risking the lives of others. It’s not that we dare not do it, we don’t do it.

My congregation represents a cross-section of opinions. Some of our folks possess conceal carry permits. Others frequent or work gun shows. We, even me, are not opposed to guns. We, not me, are not looking to confiscate guns. But, it is clear permitless carry is not legislation intended for the common good. What sort of common good is it that our State would make intentionally lethal products available to untrained young people, the most frequent demographic subject to gun violence. 

There is a likelihood that my presence today will startle friends, even church members. It could be some will object. They will wonder why couldn’t I just leave politics to the Legislature. I wonder what it is that makes our current, liberal, gun laws require the Legislature, with the promise of the Governor’s signature, to pass high risk legislation to satisfy a minority on the promise of more money for re-election. Who’s common is that good for?

My church members should not expect any less from their pastor than to suggest the way of peace does not include greater access to deadly weapons, particularly without training and regulation. To ask the pastor to stay out of politics at this point is to request he ignore Jesus’ message of peace.

Cohen, Max, Fox and Marlee need not worry that others their age will drive a car without training and permits. But, they need not grow up in an Oklahoma where they will wonder if their peers are carrying an intentionally deadly product without training and permit.

Until?

Pastoral Prayer: Holy One, we are often lulled into smugness. Here we sit this morning while others are elsewhere. Quickly we allow this seed to grow into a spiritual superiority that blinds us from Jesus, from you. Too often we read the prophets and sit in judgement on a people we barely understand . . . that is until we are reminded with Isaiah that they are us. Spare us the consequences of our hard hearts by revisiting us with your grace, lest our cities, our lives, lay in ruins. And all God’s people say . . . Amen.

Isaiah 6:1-13; Luke 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 15:1-11

Then I said, “Until when, Lord?” And he replied;

Until . . . That leaves a stump when felled.”

“Just wait until your Father gets home.” What that meant was Mom had spent plenty of time telling us,

Keep listening but not obeying,

Keep observing my anger but not connecting your danger

Sure, that is an adaption of Isaiah 6:9, but it gets better. How long should Mom’s keep repeating the line, “Just wait until your Father gets home?”

Until your summer dreams lay in ruins,

your hoped for trips to the community pool is empty,

until your access to your favorite Saturday morning cartoons is unplugged.

The more immediate translation was, if you think grounding is something, wait until the tender portion of your backside meets Mr. Leather. Now before you judge my parents for their use of corporeal punishment, remember it is not the best practice to judge the 60’s, even the 70’s, based on the 2000’s. I mean, when we played Little League, we did not have drafts, we signed up and played with our local team win or lose. And, when, like us, we did not win every game, we learned to be good losers. Learning to be good losers is much easier than learning to be good winners.

There was no such thing as participation trophies. Uniforms? Really? T-Shirts and jeans. We rarely spotted baseball pants until we played in Jr. High. And, no one ever used the term, Snowflake to talk about others in either direction of the social divides. 

Judging people from decades ago by the standards of the present should also be applied when reading the Scriptures. We often read what is described and treat it like it is prescribed. My recollections are in no way meant to say to teams and parents today that you should do it like we did it. It is to say parents today should take great care to judge parents from bygone days by their contemporary standards. And, that goes for the Bible.

It has become a favorite pastime in many places to castigate Israel for her regular illustrations of infidelity. We use that small tribal people as our “go to” for an example of “how not do do it” when following God. It is a move that suggests that we are a more advanced people, after all, we have Jesus.

If there is one thing we find here in Isaiah 6, is that people are people and the sooner we realize that together we comprise one big cluster of unfaithfulness to the Creator, the more quickly we will be enamored of God’s grace. Yes, that sounds awful pessimistic. But, hey, I am talking about Christ’s Church. You object. This morning, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative piece on the Southern Baptist Convention and its unwillingness to create a clergy abuse registry. The paper let it be known the article was on its way. The President of our Convention, whom I know, JD Greear, tweeted this on Friday,

I recently learned of this coming story. It is certain to be disturbing & painful, but I plan to read it immediately on Sunday. In fact, we all should read it & pray for the victims & survivors. In order for the SBC to move forward, we need to know the truth & demonstrate Jesus.

It has been easy for those in the SBC to point to the scandals in the Catholic Church among priests, and the recently revealed abuse of Nuns.  It has been like swinging at low hanging fruit to ridicule the United Methodist Church for their upcoming General Conference on a Way Forward on the issue of human sexuality and the church. For decades we have pointed out the decline in the UCC, the DoC, the PCUSA, and every other denomination. I have heard our leaders criticize these groups. Maybe it was to make us feel better about ourselves. The news that came out this morning is but one illustration that the pot should never call the kettle black.

Some of us have pushed for a registry in the SBC for more than a decade. We have not hid behind Jesus. Instead, we have hid behind an ecclesiology, a way of understand church, that privileges the institution over the person. And, we have done it all the while claiming faithfulness to orthodoxy, that is right believing about the Bible. But, here we are faced with the Bible. Sure, I am frustrated. I have grown up in SBC churches, I have pastored SBC churches now for more than 30 years. The things I know about us makes me sad and mad all at the same time.  But, the truth is, I know myself. That is exactly what Isaiah noted when he recognized that when God is not made in my image, it is fearful.

Did you catch that? Isaiah did not respond to a vision of God that was of his own making. He did not react to a God that liked who he liked and did not like who he did not like. Isaiah did not project onto his favorite political party the role of righteousness. Nope. When he entered the Temple of the Lord, he saw something different. He had a vision of how things really are, not how we wanted them to be. And, his response was, to acknowledge that his lips, his speech, his words were words of death. 

Woe is me.

Isaiah was not expressing self-pity. His was not some rendition of gloom, despair and agony on me. Deep dark depression and excessive misery. His was not the result of bad luck, it was the consequence of learning that he lived among a group of people who had set such a low bar for all their relationships. 

It would be easier for us, like it would have been last week with Jeremiah, to think this is all about Isaiah. That the words we read are only for his day and his people. That somehow after Jesus’ coming the people of God are immune to to reverting to things as they were rather than living in the newness of what God has revealed in the Messiah, in Christ Jesus. But, that is an optimism that cannot connect us with hope. I know, you fear that the Pastor has reverted to some former Fundamentalist ideology. That the once optimistic and hopeful version of your pastor has been kidnapped and brainwashed. The reality is I am the little boy that heard the words, Just wait until your Father gets home. And, while I am not as bad as I could be, I am not as good as I want you to think I am. If I am not careful, I will create a vision of God that happens to give me a pass for what is lacking … but not you. And, that is the projection of the Christian Church, the Evangelical Church, even the Southern Baptist Church, that the world rejects. And, so may we.

Isaiah, like Jeremiah, is about God. While we cannot escape the details of either prophets call and context, we must not forget that the Scripture is about God, not about us. We are the objects. God is the subject. What that means is that God acts in ways to change the way things are. That reality turns my sadness, my madness, into hope. 

God’s messengers took a hot coal and touched Isaiah’s lips. The act did not give third degree burns. Instead, God cleansed Isaiah. His confession included his cleansing. Did you see that?

Grace.

God’s grace to Isaiah moved him to respond to a question without detail. 

Who should I send?

Who will go for us?

When we hear God call, we want a job description, what will it cost me, how much time do I have? Grace experienced prompted Isaiah to answer without so much as a hint that he would be asked to give a message that essentially meant no one would listen. In other words, Isaiah was asked to give announcements at church to which almost no one ever listens. 

Listen to his assignment,

Go! Say to these people:

Keep listening but do not understand;

keep looking but do not perceive.

Make the minds of these people dull;

deafen their hears and blind their eyes;

otherwise they might see with their eyes

and hear with their ears,

understand with their minds,

turn back, and be healed.

Oh, boy! It gets better.

Then I said, “Until when, Lord? And he replied:

Until cities lie in ruins without inhabitants,

houses are without people,

the land is ruined and desolate,

and the LORD drives the people far away,

leaving great emptiness in the land,

Though a tenth will remain in the land,

it will be burned again.

Like the terebinth or the oak

that leaves a stump when felled,

the holy seed is the stump.

Wow, Pastor, it is cold enough outside. We came for some warmth!

There it is. Do you see it?

All four of the gospels tell the story of Jesus quoting Isaiah. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke it comes as the disciples ask why parables or what does a parable mean. John points to the lack of response to the signs Jesus gives that Messiah has come as the enactment of Isaiah 6. In other words, Isaiah’s words point to an issue human beings have always had. We look for the God of our making.

We want warmth. We want an end to the Until. There in the last line of Isaiah 6,

the holy seed is the stump

From the ashes comes grace. Our readings from 1 Corinthians and from Luke combine to give us two people who saw God not as the object they had created for themselves, but as the One who came to them and loved them despite themselves.

Peter and Paul.

Quickly, Peter and his fishing buddies were asked to trust someone whom they figured did not know as much as they about fishing. “Cast out in deeper water,” came the suggestion. “We are slap worn out after a long night of unsuccessful fishing.” But like any of us who fish, the prospect of finally catching a fish would spur us to try another place. What Peter had experienced in scarcity, Jesus delivered in abundance. The overwhelmed Peter recognized that his self-dependence was exposed and needed Jesus to go. Jesus did not riff on Peter. Instead he gave him hope that others would be drawn into the same net of grace. This same Peter would run to Jesus on the shoreline after the Resurrection. 

Paul recounts the message, announcement, he heard. This is the fellow that stood by as Stephen was stoned. Paul is the one name that struck fear in the hearts of early Christians as he roamed about looking to purge the world of those who followed Jesus. Yet, God appeared to him. His vision of God, the one that he had made suitable to himself, was crushed beneath the weight of the Resurrected Jesus. He knew himself all the more in the face of Jesus.

Until . . . Where the power of Sin abounds, grace much more abounds. 

Until we see the glory of God in the face of Christ.

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