Practicing Faith from Edge of the Inside

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The Plane of Poor Discipleship or, President Obama May Have More In Common with Christians Who Refuse Him

“My candidate will best your candidate!” We will know the winner of Election 2012 sooner or later according to the pundits. Sooner may mean by midnight tonight. Later could mean by week’s end. Except, I am not interested in playing the game of one-upmanship. Let’s agree not to play that game.

Bill Kinnon offered an insightful piece yesterday, Zero-Sum Games. An outside observer to the fervor generated in Sooner Land or any other major college football program, Kinnon claims what hinders the church from conversation, real honest conversation, is the zero-sum game. He sums it up, “I win! You lose! It’s a zero-sum game.”

Bludgeoning others in order to lay claim to victory in politics and religion seems an assimilation of the spirit of the age – the spirit of sports. Reading comments on Christian blogs where opinions diverge often feels like being on the playground listening to pre-adolescents tout the bravado of my Dad over against the presumed wimpy-ness of your Dad. The subject is really not important. The conversation has moved on to, I’m smart; you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I read the first chapter of Rachel Held Evans’ controversial A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Some find it hard to believe the need exists to question assumptions a person presumes to be true because the adults around them told them, “Now this is the way it is.”

Evans describes the way we use biblical. It is the adjective that trumps all other forms. Gospel is another trump adjective en vogue today. These important words end up serving a function rather than really describing inherent features. As such, the words face abuse rather than good use. Or, when employed strategically they are conversation killers. When finally you cannot support your argument you insert biblical or gospel in adjectival form before your opponent. You win. She loses.

I continue to read reviews and reviews of reviews. I call it the battle of interpretation, hermeneutics. The disparity of opinions, it seems to me, points up that the real battle centers on whose a prioris will win the day.

The two more prominent reviews by women come from Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. I made an allusion to Matt Mikalatos’ review of reviews in an Out of Ur Blog post. Matt noted that Newbell, writing for Desiring God, takes Evans out of context. He writes,

Newbell says that Evans is making a point here that the Bible should not be used as a guide for our lives. But let’s look at the next sentence Evans writes, after the one quoted by Newbell. “The text predates our Western construct of the nuclear family and presents us with a familial culture closer to that of a third-world country (or a TLC reality show) than that of Ward and June Cleaver. In ancient Israel, ‘biblical womanhood’ looked different from woman to woman, depending on her status. (48)” Evans’s point is that scripture does not purely hold up the “nuclear family” as the only biblical family structure. In fact, Newbell’s review takes multiple quotes out of context to make her own point. That’s not to say that “Desiring God” or Trillia Newbell shouldn’t be trusted, or that they aren’t usually good sources, but in this case they got it wrong. We leaders who might rely on that review to inform our opinion would be, sadly, misinformed.

Matt does not dismiss Newbell. He simply suggests she got it wrong this time.

Yesterday Brandon O’Brien weighed in. He too takes exception with the way some reviewers are framing the issue. He raises issue with Newbell who flags Evans with putting the Bible on trial. O’Brien says not so fast. He writes,

Based on what I’ve read, the issue isn’t truly whether you view the Bible as the Word of God or not. The issue is to what degree you think your cultural biases affect how you read the Bible. Another way to say this is that our culture influences what we see in the Bible and what we overlook.

Brandon does not stop there. He takes up Own Strachan’s critique of the Dad-Mom to task when he adds,

The issue of egalitarianism and complementarianism is not at stake here. A man can be a stay-at-home dad and be the spiritual leader of his household. Jonathan Edwards was an eighteenth-century complementarian who worked from home. And he didn’t make enough as a pastor to support his family, so his wife, Sarah, picked up the slack.

Low blow. Edwards is often used to illustrate a trait or conviction we ought to hold today. However, this is the first time I imagine anyone pointed out that Edwards’ wife, “picked up the slack.”

Kathy Keller instructs Evans on the rules of hermeneutics in her review offered on The Gospel Coalition website. Pete Enns adds “(Hermeneutics 101)” to his blog post suggesting Evans in fact follows good interpretive rules. Add in Roger Olsen and Ben Witherington 3 who also encourage Evans and you quickly see how the responses divide out.

The issue seems to be a battle fitting of a book title, Whose Community? Which Interpretation? So, while Evans draws attention to the way biblical calls into question our before thinking assumptions, some readers and reviewers play the zero-sum game. Only it more resembles the shouting match on the playground rather than a conversation had between charitable adults.

Here is what strikes me. Debates have swirled around President Obama’s faith. The current conclusion by many seems to be that the President is simply a Mainline Liberal Christian. Quietly some suggest he suffered the consequences of poor discipleship. Read the interactions between Christians in comment threads, or read the condescension when reviewing another Christian’s book and it appears we face a speck-log dilemma.

One wonders how it is that President Obama can lay claim to faith in Jesus and hold his position on abortion. I wonder how it is that many Christians lay claim to faith in Jesus who by and with their words wound and murder the character and reputations of others all in the name of biblical or gospel. Maybe what we witness is the two poles on the same plane of poor discipleship in the way and manner of Jesus.

Bill closed his piece with a reference to the Apostle Paul’s call to love lest all we do is make a bunch of noise.

Yesterday our Associate Pastor read a quote to spur us to thinking along these lines. It was part of our Sunday liturgy, our time of Repentance and Cleansing.

“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith, teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors.”

—   Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ

Now this should be our before thinking move. Don’t you think?

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