Albert Mohler

Why Makes Justice So Controversial?

Oklahoma incarcerates more people per capita than any other State in the Union – men and women. Legislators work to reform our justice system. The gears turn slowly. Part of the issue turns on how we talk about justice.

Last year, a group of Evangelicals, some from my tribe of Southern Baptists, developed what is referred to as the Statement on Social Justice. A list of affirmations and denials, accompanied by a list of Scriptures, has been signed by a nearly 11,000 people to date. The SJS, a shorthand for the document, took center stage in a segment at the recent Shepherd’s Conference hosted by John MacArthur Jr., one of the initial signatories. Some on the panel had signed the Statement while others had not. Even among hosts and guests, it was clear there was an underlying point of contention, if not outright division.

What is it that makes justice so hard to discuss for Christians, particularly many Evangelicals? Justice, for some philosophers, is the un-deconstructable subject. Yet, listening to some Evangelicals one wonders if it is not destructive. It certainly has proven contentious in online exchanges be it blog posts or Twitter exchanges. There are intimations, if not outright assertions, that a focus on justice obscures the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

One sure way to come off dismissive is to refer to your opponent at a Social Justice Warrior, SJW for short. Take it a step further and accuse your interlocutor of Cultural Marxism. Game Over. The related labeling and acts of ascription leave us with more than a few Inigo Montoya moments. You keep using that word . . . . It appears to be quite satisfying to go in search of someone, on your team, that will give the label or ascription your preferred nuance. Now you have found your authority and can claim intellectual high ground. We call that insider baseball. Why not take up a source that appears to have not dog in your internecine squabble. Take this piece from Andrew Lynn. I have yet to see Lynn locked in a Twitter battle over the SJS.

Maybe it would be good to tak up the testimonial of someone who actually admits to being a full-on Marxist. Here is a piece, albeit a little wonky at te close, that provides an existential experience with Marxism. Haykin clearly understands many throw around Cultural Marxism the say way they use to throw around the word Liberal. It was more to incite than interrogate.

If a person takes the time to write a blogpost alleging error, maybe it would be good to look at the issue using a greater breadth of sources than simply those that confirm an existing bias. It could be one of the most Christian things to do.

The recent combination of articles and videos prompted me to invite a group of friends, all Southern Baptists, and relative nobodies, to consider what is going on, even getting done, in these internecine debates. This first part of our discussion offers a critique. We will get together again to offer some constructive ideas in a future episdoe.

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Taming Theologians – A Different Bonhoffer?

We like to tame our theologians. We fit them into our own matrix of orthodoxy and then lay claim to be an heir. Scot McKnight recently offered a review of Molly Worthen’s, Apostle’s of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism. He posted a second installment yesterday. I look forward to reading Worthen’s book having read Richard Quebedeaux’s, The Young Evangelicals and Robert Webber’s, The Younger Evangelicals. Molly appears to cover similar ground with a different exploration in mind. Al Mohler writes that Evangelicals need to reckon with this book.

What is the big deal? Evangelicals, and frankly most human beings share this trait, have a penchant for tribalism. Protecting turf is no small polemical sport. Just today David Fitch calls attention to this feature as he quoted Hauerwas,

Bolstering our tribes’ historical and intellectual capital often trades in locating the thread of a preferred Who’s Who’s theology that fits neatly into its trendy theological currents. There is little comment, or more likely a rationalization, when it is discovered that same  Who’s Who also wrote something that would scandalize the tribes’ neat system.

The recent Evangelical Theological Society meeting that included a panel on Inerrancy, as reported by Michael Bird and Pete Enns, provided anecdotal evidence that the decision to oust Robert Gundry by the ETS may not have come so quickly had everyone acknowledged what is now known, there is no universally accepted definition for inerrancy despite the CSBI of 1978. These five guys, smart ones at that, did not all agree. Oh no, pluralism over inerrancy. Will the Evangelical House crumble?

We do face plurality in the way theologians are read and appropriated. Consider the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. One could not escape reading C.S. Lewis quotes on that day. Many Evangelicals quote C.S. Lewis. That is until he is used by a theological  opponent. Think about the debate over Lewis in the aftermath of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. The debate turned to center on Lewis’ context by some as a means to distinguish how one group read Lewis over another group. Some Evangelicals love Mere Christianity but do not talk much about A Grief Observed. Unless of course it is used to distance oneself from some of Lewis’ other ideas. This brings me to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Chad Lakies’ recent piece at The Church and Postmodern Culture by Baker Academic titled, Paradox of Loneliness in the Midst of Community, caught my attention when he noted there is more to Bonhoeffer than The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together.

Lakies writes,

From the confines of Tegel prison in Berlin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned these moving words to his family:

 

It’s remarkable how we think at such times about the people that we should not like to live without, and almost or entirely forget about ourselves. It is only then that we feel how closely our own lives are bound up with other people’s, and in fact how the center of our own lives is outside of ourselves, and how little we are separate entities. The ‘as though it were a part of me’ is perfectly true, as I have often felt after hearing that one of my colleagues or pupils had been killed. I think it is a literal fact of nature that human life extends far beyond our physical existence. (Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison) (Image – “Three Alone But Together” – Carmen Guedez)

I often think that only a mother could understand these words fully, but then I must remember than Bonhoeffer was never even married, much less experienced the blessing of his own children. Bonhoeffer, who has been described as an ad hoc phenomenologist, had a unique and penetrating way of speaking about the experiences of the Christian life. While many readers of Bonhoeffer pay attention only to The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together or perhaps a devotional work that cobbles together some of his writings, most never delve deeper into any of his other material. Theological students may read his very short book on the Psalmsor his treatment of Genesis 1-3, or even try to get through his Ethics. Perhaps they will read some of his sermons which are becoming more widely available. But most will never read his earliest works which set the stage for everything that is to come: his doctoral dissertation, published as Sanctorum Communio and his habilitation, published as Act and Being. In those texts Bonhoeffer laid a theological and philosophical foundation for his work that he would never stray from. Thus when we read his later and more well known works that are the favorites in the church, and for our purposes, the words above, we must recognize Bonhoeffer’s deep sensitivity to the social constitution of human life.

I shared Lakies’ article on my Facebook Wall and my friend Guy replied,

Guy Rittger Thought provoking reading, to be sure. Reminded me that it’s time to revisit Bonhoeffer, whose words and actions are no less relevant today than they were in his lifetime. In this respect, I think the article needed a bit of historical contextualization, both of the circumstances under which Bonhoeffer’s ideas developed, as well as of our own circumstances – i.e., the materialist dimension is missing for me, or perhaps not as explicitly articulated as I believe is needed. We can’t overlook how loneliness can emerge when one finds oneself isolated intellectually / spiritually within a dominant ideology fundamentally in conflict with one’s own deepest beliefs and desires. This certainly isn’t new, of course. And perhaps it’s precisely in those / these times that one needs to engage with greater frequency and intensity with those of like mind / spirit.

Guy considers Lakies’ article good but in need of contextualization. He added, “the materialist dimension is missing for me.” Most of us never pause to question any issue of materiality when reading Bonhoeffer. But, Guy picks up on a very important reading of Bonhoeffer that seems to be quite apropos for today.

I thought of Tripp Fuller describing the way Bonhoeffer is read by various theological streams, including Radical Theology. Maybe we should read all of our theologians through other lenses to capture the robust ways they may both influence us and call our givens into question. It could be quite disruptive. But, it could be beautifully zesty too.

Land’s Al (ibi) or, Mohler Selects Which Sins May Be Minimized by His Silence

Last year Dr. Al Mohler responded to questions about comments he made concerning Evangelicals and homosexuality. He remarked,

But we as Evangelicals have a very sad history in dealing with this issue. We have told not the truth, but we’ve told about half the truth. We’ve told the biblical truth and that’s important, but we haven’t applied it in the biblical way. For instance, we have said to people that homosexuality’s just a choice. Well it’s clear that it is more than a choice. That doesn’t mean it’s any less sinful. But it does mean it’s not something that people can just turn on and turn off.

Yesterday in his patterned “all things lead to liberalism” logic, Mohler calls out North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley for a lack of clarity regarding his, and the church’s position, on homosexuality. At issue is a sermon Stanley recently preached giving an illustration of the very complexity Mohler describes in the quote above. Mohler calls for Stanley and North Point to remove any ambiguity and correct the notion that grace and truth are in tension. Maybe he should have continued to listen to the next Stanley sermon. Read More

Clippings No. 5

Scot McKnight recently spoke at the Apprentis Institute at Friends University. He demonstrated his knack for a turn of the phrase. Recounting Peter’s ongoing conversion, Scot described what Peter learned in his vision on the roof. Aside from discovering there is some good food to be eaten once he was knocked off his “kosher block,” he (Peter) learned the Jews ” were not a cut above any other people.”

After he finished his talk he sat with James Bryan Smith and Dallas Willard for a brief conversation. You should look for the recording of this session for both McKnight’s talk and the conversation that followed. Willard remarked that how one understands the Cross event informs their vision of God. Scot interjected that there needs to be some hard work looking into how we now understand the word translated propitiation in Romans 3. Would have paid twice the price to hear a few hours on that discussion.

Those are two clippings from sitting in on Scot’s session. I had a great time hanging out with Mark Scandrette. It had been almost four years. We talked about practical spiritual formation and the role of the pastor. You should pick up his new book, Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. Now to some clips from my online reading over the past week or so. Read More

The Scary Other, Or If You Are Not For Me You Are Against Me

Yesterday, Alan commented on my recent post on “Risking the Ethics of Critique.” He did not understand why someone of John Piper’s stature would feel the need to engage Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost so negatively after reading only a paragraph of a referenced book. Maybe, he wrote, it had to do with Piper seeing himself at the headwaters of the Reformed stream and he needed to keep conflicting influences away. Gatekeeping? Could be. Certainty requires me to know the mind of John Piper. Not happening.

But, it appears some know the mind of God better than others. The result is a stridency about his or her position that they frame all others as “scary.” In Piper’s post in question, the “scary other” is euphemistically referred to as, “false to the gospel.” Any good conservative knows false to the gospel could well be short-hand for false teacher – and so scary. What will Piper say of McKnight after reading a paragraph of his new book, The King Jesus Gospel?

My tribe often has high-profile figures who convey that sentiment to others. I recently read a post by John Stackhouse who evidently is aiming at a bit of controversy. Notifying his readers that a book to which he contributed was forthcoming he vetted those who dared to read further.

The book, The Spectrum of Evangelicalism, is one of those “four view” styled books. Out of the gate, Stackhouse admits the writers are far from representative of the diversity found among Evangelicals. Read More