The Voice of Money

Emma Green takes a look at the changing face of (Evangelical) Christian philanthropy over at The Atlantic. On one hand the shift from funding the cultural wars is welcome — it is hard to see how this conflict has especially promoted a Christian sensibility in culture. (Everything is given away with Donald Trump). Then again, will the funding build institutions? This gets to the heart of the issue, whether programs (and followers) exist, and if they do not, can the money then be a catalyst for a new identity.

this seems to be the greatest shift in how rich evangelicals are thinking about their influence at a moment of juncture for their church: At least some of them seem more interested in living out their faith than in asserting an agenda onto American culture. “One of our deeper hopes … would be that praxis, which means faith in action, would be the reputation of the church over a long term—not in the brand, but in posture,” said Dave Blanchard, who helped found Praxis along with (Josh) Kwan. “That we would be more known for redemptive action than political position.”

Can money, in short step into the place where the church has historically done its work. Without a change there in the community, the new voice is likely to get lost.

Emma Green, “Evangelical Mega-donors Are Rethinking Money in Politics.” The Atlantic. Jan 2 2019.

The Awkward Language of Creation

DSC_0102Creation is part of Christian conviction, yet for the most part Christians continue to struggle with how to express engagement. On other social movements there is often an underlying Christian template of justice or redemption that can sustain political conversation, however on green issues and climate issues there is a missing story.

Of course, it’s not for want of trying. Our Christian language defaults to the celebration of the variety of creation, so Ps 148:

7Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!

This missing internal voice has two consequences: first, it defaults to external frameworks, leaving Christian voices more as allies rather than as contributors to the discussion. Second, there is an internal turn to focus on Creation, ante-Redemption. This recovers a voice but leaves the larger story of God’s intervention and rescue in Jesus Christ as a minor part.

Conservative voices have been reluctant to pick up the green or climate change issues, since at best it seems little more than politics, and at worst a surrender to a sort of panentheism.

Out of all this, there may be one more item to bring to mind. In an era of climate change, and that often of a disastrous nature, the Christian may bring another, more pertinent voice: that of tragedy. With the change and its destruction comes the grief, the sense of loss: how does one stand before catastrophe? How does one hope? Here, perhaps is where the Christian tongue may be released, not in a language of celebration or of politics, but of lament, of knowing that loss is not the final word.

 

M-o-m!!

Hope43

It began with Scott Culpepper attacking the American syncretism of “Christianity”. An important discussion but one that left out a key detail. As Cyprian noted, “one cannot have God as Father who does not have the Church as mother.” Christianity, however understood, must come with an ecclesial structure; the problem with American syncretists may not be their thinking but their lack of groundedness in the Church.

Enter reader RLG who complains

 It’s the church that has gotten Christianity into so much trouble, from the beginning to the present. The Jewish mentality was, you weren’t a true Jew unless you belonged to the Jewish community. And Jesus, certainly, did not support such a concept. How many verses can we quote that suggests that a Christian believe and be a member of the church and he/she will be saved? How many can we quote that suggests, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved? It’s kinda like saying, you need a marriage certificate to really be married.

Contrary to this, the question is whether we can live separately, apart from each other; we are constituted as social beings. Individual commitment stands as part of an ongoing life of the community. Not only are we linked to each other in the present, but we are those who also remember; memory and imagination connects us across time. So we read a Calvin, an Aquinas, an Augustine in part as our contemporary even as we understand them to be distant — this is what empathy, imagination and memory produce. And if we’re honest, we also understand how our current life has been shaped by this remembered past.

Christianity then is not some sort of free-floating, perhaps Kantian entity, but an embodied reality. We start there.

Here’s where Scot is correct. The Christianity is always deeply permeated by cultural assumptions. Always. The Church, tacitly or explicitly functions as a counterbalance to this cultural capture; thus, we cannot speak about Christianity without speaking about the form that Christianity takes. (Note also, the idea that we can drop the label — apart from its rhetorical impossibility — belies the fact that even in disobedience we remain with our identity; it’s much stickier than that.)

And while Scripture may not prescribe the exact nature of this community, there is no doubt that we exist together, linked, a church. Take the vine and branches in John; consider Psalms, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the House of the Lord” (and all the Psalms of Ascent); consult Hebrews where we are not to  forsake the gathering together. Or simply consider the plural when Paul addresses his letters. It’s all there. We belong together, and that shared life informs and on occasion challenges the cultural form of faith we understand as Christianity.

The counter to a syncretistic American Christianity is not a countering piece of theology, but a better church.

 

Scott Culpepper, Let’s Stop Calling it Christianity, The Twelve.

Finding Trump, Missing Jesus

Sometimes the pain of politics gets us, robs us. One plaintive cry from Facebook

I have been questioning Christianity since Trump took office. A lot of church members supported him (to my complete surprise) and I just couldn’t understand. I stopped going to church and I am now starting to question my faith, which makes me sad. I wonder “am I believing in something for good reasons or am I just following”. At first it just gave me pause for church but now has me questioning my faith. Does anyone have any advice?

Yes the faith map is so discouraging sometimes, especially if you are accustomed to gathering with conservative Christians of the Evangelical variety. So to break on politics means that you also give up a community that has in some sense nurtured you or given you a sense of place. Part of the underlying fear is that if you go to one of those “other” churches you will find an expressed faith that is not as vibrant, the thing that holds you currently with the church.

 
Spiritual communities give some needed resources in this time. First, there is simply the solace of friendship arising from a common task (not to dis the political, but in politics we tend to think instrumentally, that we are only as good as we give. the best spiritual gatherings have a sort of baked-in acceptance, as you are, where you are.) A second reason to consider a spiritual community is because the critique of this Trumpian time has such spiritual qualities, the turning away from others for the exaltation of self, say. The unwillingness to work for the common good. The shrinkage — the absence! — of compassion. Churches and other spiritual communities have some pretty deep wells that can help here.
 
And I do hear how alone you are in this. There are others of us out there, and we very much want you to know how embraced you are. Peace.