Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The Main Problem is…

posted by Scot McKnight

Allan Bevere, at his blog, engages the Christian and the State issue, and here’s a major idea.

My thesis throughout this multi-part discussion will be that the main reason the practices of discipleship are in such sad shape in Western culture is not because Christians don’t want to read their Bibles, nor because they don’t want to take time to pray, nor because they would rather hoard their money than give it to those in need. While all of those may be true to a greater or lesser extent, they are but symptoms of something deeper. The main reason for the decline of the church in the West is Christian support for large government, which undermines the very integrity of the church itself as the counter-story that interprets the world’s politics. The reason it is so difficult to get Christians to attend to all the practices of discipleship is because they frankly see no need in a society where the government is the major player in the lives of people in the way that makes the church irrelevant. As the state becomes larger Christian identity is supplanted by national identity because the state requires more from its citizens as it does more. Thus it becomes more important for Christians to work, not so they can tithe, but so that they can pay their taxes.


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Jeremy Berg

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:59 am


I agree that the American Story with freedom, democracy, capitalism and American political ideals is more central in shaping the identity of many Christians than the counter-Story of the gospel of the Kingdom and the politics of Jesus.
But, in light of the current political climate and passage of health care bill, I’m worried that this post may be pointing the finger at the bigger-government party, and letting the other side off too easy. It is conservatives, not liberals, who are most in danger of providing a parody of the true Christian faith.
But I have only read this quote, so I may be misreading him. I agree with the main point: American politics and government has more influence on Christians than Kingdom discipleship.



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rebeccat

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:16 am


I like this line of thinking, HOWEVER, if I am honest, I am forced to acknowlege that before the government gave out food stamps, people were starving in this country. Today this is not true. Before the government started social security, the elderly were the poorest people in our country. This is no longer true. And, although I’m not too enthused about the details of the health care reform that just passed, today there are tens of millions of people who can’t get routine medical care and hundreds of thousands who are driven into bankruptcy each year by medical bills. So, while I like the idea of people – particularly Christians – stepping up the the plate and providing for the needs of others without expecting the government to do it for us, the fact of the matter is that as a practical matter, the government sometimes meets needs better than we do on our own.
I think the real problem with Christianity in America is the double edged sword of prosperity. We do not recognize our enormous prosperity as the undeserved gift from God that it is. So we believe that we are entitled to our wealth and comforts – although we are no smarter, harder working or deserving than many people living in 3rd world countries who will lose children to starvation or disease tonight. We become callous and arrogant. Our prosperity allows us to segregate ourselves from poverty and suffering to the point that we honestly don’t see it. Where we do see it, we allow our (sometimes legitimate) judgements about the personal failings which are associated with poverty and suffering to become excuses to abdicate our call to love and serve. Or we fail to recognize how prosperous and blessed even the relatively poor among us actually are and desire more in order to feel OK about ourselves and our lives. And worst of all, our prosperity allows us to embrace the delusion that we are or should be self-sufficient. So we abandon God either outright through unbelief or practically through shunting God into a safe corner or our Sunday lives.
Obviously, I’m painting with a broad brush here and not all Christians are guilty of this. Although I would bet that all Christians who are not like this have had to struggle mightily not to allow their prosperity to overcome their Christian life.
At any rate, as much as I’d like to be able to say, “I’d be a better Christian if only it weren’t for our government”, I just don’t think that’s true. It’s just an excuse. If government (as an over-arching concept, not any particularly government) is provided by God for our wellbeing, then it makes sense that the government can also be a tool to provide for the needs of the least of us as God clearly desires us to do. Especially in a democracy where our government is supposed to represent us and our values. And when there is clear evidence that the needs of people are beyond the ability or willingness of believers and churches to provide for them, to insist that government not fill that gap to ameliorate suffering, seems willfully stubborn.



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Nate

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:16 am


Umm… what about Jesus?
As far as I can tell, attention to Jesus, or lack thereof is, was, and always will be the reason Christian discipleship is anemic. This has been my conviction for some time. Any time someone announces the “big problem” or “big solution” and then goes on to talk about things like evolution or the government or R-rated movies or something, I start holding my nose. Great. He doesn’t like the healthcare bill. Congratulations.
Seriously? Support for big government is a greater hindrance to discipleship than a lack of interest in the Bible? Sorry, but that’s bizarre.
Nate



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Nick

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:28 am


The Church of Heaven and Earth, which Christ founded and promised to never be overcome by Hell, is not in decline. Nor is sin the result of this or that. Temptations exist but men can resist temptation. No, sin comes not from without but within. Those who wish to blame things without will never be at peace because they will never accept Jesus, who demands us to accept our weakness and accept His Mercy and Cross.
Oh, and a history lesson: The Church flourished during the Roman Empire. No amount of government, abortions, paganism, magic, cannibalism, barbarians, secularism, discrimination, homosexuality, persecution, confusion, illiteracy, disease, heresies, schisms, lawlessness, demonic activity, or anti-Christs could prevent the growth of the Church, in light of the paradox of our religion.



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Sue

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:56 am


Really. The main reason for the decline of the church in the West is Christian support for large government? So?what was going on during the Middle Ages? Charlemagne. The Holy Roman Empire. Seems to me that the church was doing pretty well supporting nearly totalitarian government.
Bevere has an incredibly utilitarian view of the church?If people are being cared for, if society is showing glimmers of shalom, then the church is irrelevant? What kind of ecclesiology is that? So?God?s dream and intent of a just and peaceful society makes God?s people irrelevant?
The whole idea that it is solely the church?s job to care for the poor and sick assumes a very, very wealthy church. I would like for someone to pick any 10 inner city churches, add up every member?s total medical expenses for an entire year?the full amount, not just post-insurance costs (assuming people have insurance. Include the full cost of everyone in a nursing home. Then add up everyone?s total salaries. Which number do you think would be bigger? And if you think the salaries would be a bigger number, how much bigger? Assume we take out a tithe and then basic living expenses out of those salaries, then what?
To me, expecting the church to be able to do this seems delusional.



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MarkP

posted March 26, 2010 at 6:57 am


Interesting argument (and I’ve read only the excerpt). But it raises the question: if he’s right, what should a Christian root for? We’re enjoined to care for the orphan and widow, but is that because the orphan and widow are intrinsically important or because it’s good for me to care for them? If the welfare state does a better job caring for all the orphans and widows, should I be in favor of it even though it gives less scope for my own discipleship?
I think the current mess of a world leaves us plenty to work for (and the ancient world had taxes too, that’s why tax collectors were figures of such scorn — it’s just the taxes didn’t go to social welfare), and I rejoice to know that there will be less misery among the powerless because we join together to act on their behalf (which is what a state does).
There’s a more general question, too. Everybody says “there are no atheists in fox holes,” and many have noticed that people often find it easier to find faith in times of agony than in times of joy. Should we be in favor of more agony for all, in hopes of bringing more people to faith? More agony for me, to deepen my own faith? There’s plenty of agony to go around, even if we work to minimize it. Holy Week is a good time to find courage to face the agony we must face if we’re to live with integrity, not to celebrate agony as if it were a good in and of itself.



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MarkP

posted March 26, 2010 at 7:22 am


One more thing. He says, “hus it becomes more important for Christians to work, not so they can tithe, but so that they can pay their taxes.”
Can someone cite a source for believing that most modern American Christians work harder or longer than most first century farmers? My guess is we work nowhere near so long or hard, and have plenty of time to work for the common good if we wanted to. We could pay our taxes and still work on tithing if it were important to us.



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Mick Porter

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:05 am


Once more, an American viewpoint projected onto the world (or at least “the West”).
Sorry, but the world’s problems are vastly bigger than America’s problems, and the church isn’t about to solve them especially if it expends all its energy on debating American political issues. I really believe that an article (series of articles?) like this only increases that problem – an astonishing level of self-focus by one nation upon itself.
Other nations just don’t carry these worldviews – terms like “big government”, even “liberal” and “conservative” are meaningless to a lot of people in the West, and to impose this uniquely-American obsession with a uniquely-American political landscape onto the rest of the world is unreasonable.



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mick

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:22 am


Jesus seemed to indicate that it was possible for us to live/work in such a way that we can “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. I’d much rather pay taxes for things that are more consistent with biblical principles and virtues such as mercy, justice, charity, etc. than a government that does not. There is still plenty more the church can do. We will always have the poor and needed with us, places and people that need the Gospel in word and deed, here or afar. The issue he raises about discipleship is more about my own heart, what do I treasure? Any political/economic system can become and idol if we make it our treasure.



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JHM

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:22 am


I would say Bevere makes a good point that a large government is significant “competitor” to a socially-focused church and perhaps we should bring that in to our political awareness. Time and time again I see/hear Christians say government is our only option for caring for the poor, the sick, etc., but to me that seems so very far from the truth. Governments come and go, but what should remain is the Bride of Christ, the Church; people living out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. If a society can look at itself, say “if Christianity disappears from our society today, would it make a difference?”, and answer “no”, then I think we’re not doing what Jesus told us to do.
However, I don’t think I agree with Bevere that it is the “main reason the practices of discipleship are in such sad shape in Western culture”. I would perhaps say that history might show (for example, the USSR in its day and China still today) that it is perhaps persecution, oppression and opposition that make disciples stronger. We see time and time again, throughout the Bible, throughout history, that we are quick to call out to God in the bad times, but so quick to drop Him like a dirty shirt when things are going “our way”.



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Scot McKnight

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:27 am


Mick,
Forgive Allan for that, but I wonder if you might be willing to consider whether or not bigger government, or more centralization etc, impacts commitment to the church, the viability of the church, and the strength of the church.
I’ve heard it said that liberal Protestantism is losing its voice in the USA because the government and the culture has embraced its form of liberalism. Thus, the liberal Protestant church has less to say. [This is a classic study by a scholar; don’t have the citation in front of me.] Still, the point being: has the church’s relinquishment of some of its singular concerns to the government diminished the church.
Mick, I think that’s a fair question to ask and answer.



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Jeremy

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:53 am


There’s so many things wrong with his line of thinking, I don’t know where to start. For one, he’s blaming the failure of Christians to be good Christians on big government?! He’s begging the question of when nationalism began to interfere with Kingdom.
Also, by his logic, we should never support the Red Cross as it’s a non-Christian organization and thus would take our money away from Christian work (as if God only works through religious organizations!), and we should all stop dancing immediately as it will lead to fornication. (Reductio Ad Absurdum, I know)
Also, it doesn’t follow, and demonstrably so, that reduced government will be filled in by the Church. If that were true, the healthcare debate wouldn’t be one at all.



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dopderbeck

posted March 26, 2010 at 8:55 am


I’m sorry, but this statement — “The main reason for the decline of the church in the West is Christian support for large government, which undermines the very integrity of the church itself as the counter-story that interprets the world’s politics: — is one of the most ludicrous commentaries on the Church that I’ve ever heard.
One hardly knows where to begin. With Sue (#5), who points out the actual history here? Or with the assumption that the church in the West is in “decline”? (Do you really buy the narrative that the Church once enjoyed some kind of golden age in the West from which it is now in “decline”?) Or with the basic category mistake of comparing “big government” in the context of a pluralistic democracy to “big government,” say, in the 16th Century?



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Richard

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:11 am


In the comments at his blog, Allan addresses the questions regarding Rome and persecuted church to amend his point slightly to state that

…unlike modern Western societies, the Romans were not friendly toward the church, nor did the church get caught up in the government agenda. Thus being an alternative was always before the early Christians by necessity. Indeed, once Christians gained favored status they had a stake in the Empire in a way that undermined the church as polis. So perhaps I should have entitled this series “A Christian Case for Limited Governments Who are Church Friendly.” The enticements for the church to unwittingly give up her character are much more subtle in a free society and therefore more dangerous”
I disagree with Allan that the issue centers around large or small government. I would point to issues of watered down discipleship (cheap grace a la Bonhoeffer), lack of spiritual disciplines, material prosperity, etc. It’s is easy to follow Jesus when it just requires you to be a good citizen of the empire, Roman or otherwise. I would tend to bring up the question of causation vs. correlation again. I’m suspicious of silver bullet solutions.
Also, I know Allan isn’t painting this in light of the labels “libertarian,” “liberal,” etc but the timing makes me wonder if he might unintentionally be reinforcing a libertarian understanding of government and not be aware that he’s doing so.



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Travis Greene

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:14 am


I hate to pile on, but I agree with dopderbeck and others. There are some quarters where this is a problem, but to define it as “the main reason” is both incorrect and irresponsible.



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John W Frye

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:17 am


What if Allen Bevere is simply saying in a bumbling way that evangelicalism and the church in the West is now primarily a civil religion, wrapping Jesus Christ in the red, white and blue? Francis Schaeffer was arguing strongly against the same shift in the mid 70s. Schaeffer urged churches (*The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century*) to never put the Christian flag on the same stage as the American flag.[and the point is not if there is such a thing as a Christian flag,OK?] Bevere seems to be saying that Christians passionate involvement with political realities is sapping their Christian identity as salt and light. He seems to be blaming big government, but his beef is not with big government itself. He laments the church aligning with big government either on the Right or the Left. I could be wrong.



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Drew Tatusko

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:22 am


bunk. no data reveals this observation at all. the closest is from norris & inglehart’s analysis of secularization that shows a relationship between social welfare and intensity of religious belief. the more poor you are, the greater the religious belief. in some ways this supports niebuhr’s thesis in the social sources of denominationalism where he argues that as one moves up the class scale the tension, to borrow benson’s theory, one’s religion has with society diminishes creating a more secular religion.
absolutely none of this has to do with the “size” of government! it has to do with social welfare. if the us military-industrial complex shrunk by 50% and funds to social welfare increased by 25% we would see a gross federal budget shrink dramatically. yet the nature of our religion would absolutely change if these theses hold.
this is an example where someone has decided to force feed an assumed ideology onto secularization theory. it’s a straw-man and very unfortunate since it is something that will mislead the intellectually vulnerable that outlets like newscorp are currently feasting on.



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Steve

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:25 am


I kind of like the premise of the post but am not sure I can agree with it. Knowing ?small government? to be a ?conservative? position, and knowing that many conservatives assert that America was ?founded as a Christian nation,? (that is a whole other debate), I have to ask why government should be excluded from the ways in which a Judeo-Christian society expresses its mandate to care for its poorer neighbors? Aren?t there examples, indeed admonitions, in scripture to do just that?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:28 am


I think most of you are thinking in binary terms. Allan did not say that the government has no role to play. The question is whether government is the central player in our lives or a supporting character?
Going back at least 125 years social scientists have seen two types of community … call them “face-to-face community” and “commercial society.” Face-to-face communities have a high degree of “face time” with a small band of folks and people know each other relatively well. People are related to in deeply personal and personalized ways. Commercial society consists of a fabric of networks and institutions that connect us with others outside our face-to-face communities. By definition they can not be personal or personalized.
What I hear Allan saying is that the culture, and with it the church, is losing sight of the primacy of “face-to-face” community in shaping people’s lives. The work that is done in “face-to-face” community is quickly becoming perceived as supplemental to the real work of caring for each other which is done through large bureaucratic institutions and the legislature. This is the idea of subsidiarity turned on its head. Subsidiarity says that problems of people should be addressed at most local and particularized level as possible with more more expansive and institutions playing a subsidiary (supplemental) role.
Certainly there are roles for big institutions to play in helping with things like a social safety net. But the church, along with culture, is succumbing to the idea that main event is what happens with government. Our institutions … business, education, health care, etc., … are merely becoming extension agents for achieving national political ends, rather than semi-autonomous spheres of life. And rather than resisting this trend and instead seeking the preservation of face-to-face community and seeking to be transformative face-to-face communities, much of the church has not decided that their primary mission is to shape national policy.
Hang in the Allan. I’m with ya brother.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:36 am


Michael Kruse… thanks brother for interpreting me spot on!



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Jeff Stewart

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:41 am


Never thought of it that way. This is certainly worth considering as a contributing factor. I’m in no way for socialist government, but the “socialist” dooms-dayers need to light candles being more active with rolled up sleeves in place of cursing the darkness with loud-mouth anxieties.



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Richard

posted March 26, 2010 at 9:45 am


@ 17 and 18
That makes more sense to me. In essence saying that the church is trusting more in silver bullets and big solutions rather than life on life in the trenches or transformation. I would agree with that.
I’m not sure that the size of the government affects that as much as our tendency as humans to focus on BIG, POWERFUL, SUCCESS, etc as the defining mantra instead of looking at mustard seeds and a crucified messiah from the backwoods. But that might be a chicken/egg debate on which came first.
And does political activism automatically discount one from focusing their energies on the gospel? Can’t these be overlapping? My concern in asking that is that it seems that the local and small can address local injustices and be good news for the poor in our neighborhood but what about nukes, environmental care, etc. It seems like those are some macro issues that require something in addition to my wife and I recycling and not personally developing nuclear capacities…



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Brianmpei

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:12 am


I haven’t read the original blog post but I do think this is chicken/egg stuff.
The Church withdrew and continues to withdraw – for the most part – from the face to face, shirt off our back, kind of care we once provided. Supposedly Roman Emperor Julian said, ?Atheism [Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar; and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.?
Nature abhors a vacuum.



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Ben Wheaton

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:22 am


I think that Allan is on to a good point here. It’s not so much the size of the state as it is its position in our society and its position in our worldviews.
But I think that there is a bigger issue here that undergirds the inappropriate focus on government; namely, the secularization of the thought of too many Christians.
I think that it can be safely said that the prevailing “secular” position on government is that its job is to preserve the existence of the species mankind. Anything that is done by government must pertain to this end, in this view. So for left-wingers, hunger is a problem not because people suffer, but because it prevents some people from living out their only existence in a semblance of peace. From a right-wing perspective, big government does the same thing as hunger; but both perspectives assume that it is the state’s job to make us happy and prosperous. So politics becomes the most important thing in life, because it involves dealing with the only thing that actually matters, that is, Humanity. So we come to the end result of man’s usurpation of God’s role in the Fall; our species is God, so politics, the religion of Humanity, is our religion.
Why is “hate” so bad in our society? Because it threatens the peace and security of society; far better to restrain free speech and forbid disapprobation than to allow the possibility of societal strife, in the secular view. I also think that some Christians’ moral crusades to “end poverty” or “ban nuclear weapons” are based on this secular viewpoint. Why is environmentalism so important? Not because we are to be good stewards, but because we might become extinct as a species; THAT is the real danger that is driving some, I think. (e.g., McLaren)
Two good books on this topic: Jacques Ellul’s “The Political Illusion” and Hannah Arendt’s “The Human Condition.”



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Jeremy

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:26 am


Ok, that makes a ton more sense. I can totally see how people can displace their own responsibility to power structures. It makes much more sense to say that government cannot replace Christian mission because of the nature of engagement.
I still wonder though if we can blame “big government” for this though. It seems to me that some things are best done in a centralized manner as there’s no real effective way to do it on a small scale. I’m also not entirely convinced that our propensity to use tools to avoid responsibility means we should not have those tools.
Is the root of the problem government or the idolization of money? I’ve been in churches where the entire congregation was at subsistence level and they tithed or were generous. Here in the US, we have disposable income and complain that taxes interfere with our ability to even tithe, much less be actively generous, which makes no sense. I hope I’m articulating my reason for skepticism well.
A question: As I understand subsidiarity, it is the idea that things should be done at the smallest level possible and it is the responsibility of the next highest level to pick up the slack when the ideal level fails. So, for example, health care is best dealt with by private organizations or local government. However, if I understand subsidiarity, our failure to handle the problem requires that the next highest level takes over. It does not, as a principle, automatically exclude the federal government from acting on a broad scale.



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Jon Berbaum

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:36 am


Michael (17) and Allan (18),
If the analysis is about face-to-face and stable care for our communities versus our partially government-enabled state of mobility, insulation and individualism, then I’m on board. But focusing the blame on the size of government is absolutely the wrong place to start. The shifts that have transformed our society are primarily economic, in which government has played a part but not the most critical one. I think here the government policies Allan is highlighting are reacting to the societal/economic shifts away from rootedness and communal belonging, not creating them.
Wendell Berry of course has a ton to say about the importance of place and community, and I tend to agree with his analysis both of how we got here and how we proceed. Making the size of the government the key issue is barking up the wrong tree.



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Pat

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:46 am


“The reason it is so difficult to get Christians to attend to all the practices of discipleship is because they frankly see no need..”
I agree with this statement, but I’m not sure the reason is big government. I think it’s more cultural and I think the Church lost its voice and relevance long before big government. Families and individuals started making other things a priority a long time ago and I don’t think it’s all attributable to taxes. Greed and the desire for more, bigger and better at some point became paramount. We traded in contentment and bought advertisers lies of happiness. What I see is more of a self-centeredness in people, not a slavery to Uncle Sam. I’m sure that exists for some people, but I think there are far more who have just bought a bill of goods on what success is and that has become more important than church and discipleship. But I also think there’s been a shift in church in that sitting behind four walls being preached to is not as attractive as being out in the world BEING the church. A lot more people want to do that and so a quick stop on Sunday is enough to fuel their tanks and then they want to be out where the people are, not in midweek service and a myriad of other activities, some of which are good and needful. Somehow, we’ve got to get the pendulum back to center.



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dopderbeck

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:56 am


Michael (#17) said: “The work that is done in “face-to-face” community is quickly becoming perceived as supplemental to the real work of caring for each other which is done through large bureaucratic institutions and the legislature.”
I respond: Oh, please. Who actually thinks this way? I don’t know anybody in the Church, whether evangelical, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc., who thinks like this. And I don’t know anybody in my neighborhood who thinks like this. And I don’t know anybody in the legal profession who thinks like this. And I don’t know anybody in legal academia who thinks like this (well, ok, I know a few radical law-and-behavioral-economics academics whose ideas boil down to something like this). I mean, really. What real-world people do you know who actually think “face-to-face community” is only “supplemental” to Big Brother?
This is the kind of strawman you hear on the Rush Limbaugh show, particularly when folks like Rush talk about the “underclass,” which of course is a code word for race.
The narrative that the Great Society programs have eroded face-to-face discipleship is just bunk.



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Jason Derr

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:00 am


While the point is interesting – and the Christian abandonment of the public square is worth exploring – I doubt it has anything to do with big goverment.
I am more curious why Christians as a whole feel it is ok to let society off the hook for looking after the poor and marginilized. Do we fear for the preservation of our own power-structures.
Jesus said allot about goverment and he did allot of commentary on the roman system. But he said little about the Jewish system, ruled by the Torah which provides guidance for goverments to take care of their poor, redistribute wealth etc.



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T

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:00 am


Thanks to Michael (and Alan’s confirmation), I think I see what Alan is trying to say. It sounds as if he’s saying that very few folks, even very few Christians, believe that the Church or even Jesus is “the major player” in dealing with the real important problems of the day. Most think the US government is that player. It’s like one of the commercials for the Army where parents say of their daughter-recruit, “She wants to make a difference.” How many Christians have that reason for being in a church as a disciple of Jesus?
Over the last two years or so, I’ve been convinced by Tom Wright’s work and a review of “gospel” texts in the OT and NT that there is a central component to the biblical gospel that the Church, particularly in the West, only embraces in the smallest of slivers (and which sliver depends on which branch of the Church you’re in), and it’s this: the gospel is in no small part about who has real power to deal with all that threatens mankind, within and without. Look at the OT gospel: “good news . . . to Zion, YOUR God reigns.” Look at the gospels, filled with stories demonstrating his authority, lordship, over one thing after another, climaxing with Rome’s chief symbol of power and death itself. The gospel comes declaring the reign of the true king. It is a statement about who’s really got God’s power and the character and agenda of the One who has it. It was no mistake that God let Jesus be killed on and resurrected from a Roman cross and at the Jewish leader’s insistence. He turned what Rome used as the macabre commercial of its power into another footstool to declare the power of the real Lord and Son of God (not to mention invalidated the priests’ leadership of Israel v. his own). Just as God’s fame spread by humbling Pharoah (the great king of the day), he spread Christ’s fame by humbling Rome’s cross.
Alan is right in that even Jesus gave his authority over everything “in heaven and on earth” as the reason for us to become and make disciples of him, learning/teaching everything he says, and being immersed in God’s character/name. In any event, I think it’s worth asking: who or what do people join if they want to make a difference? Who is the major player in the world in rescuing people from all that threatens us? What sliver(s) of Jesus’ power and agenda displayed in the gospels does your tradition accept? What does it leave out?



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Jim

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:13 am


perhaps part of the problem is that we have co-evolved a way of doing church that fits with our way of life. Part of that is an over-reliance upon institutionalism, which, as Alan Hirsch points out, occurs anytime we develop structures to do what we should or could do ourselves.



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Your Name

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:17 am


Dopderbeck,
I do not want to insert myself into this discussion because I would simply like to learn from what others are saying. I am making notes on many of the comments here which will shape the way I take the discussion on my blog over the next few weeks. So, I am appreciative of everyone’s perspective.
I don’t think you get what I am trying to say. I suppose I don’t mind reading that my ideas are delusional, even bunk (I’m a pastor, I have an exceedingly thick skin), but the one thing I cannot do is allow anyone tie me to Rush Limbaugh. To do so is a clear revelation that you misunderstand my concerns. And while we are on the topic, please don’t associate me with Glenn Beck either.
And I am trying real hard not to take offense at your inference that I am positing an almost racist view in my comments in your reference to the code word “underclass.”
All I can say to you is that I hope you will check my blog for further posts (I hope the next one will be Monday), and perhaps I can clarify in your mind what I am really trying to get at in this discussion. And I hope you will weigh in with your thoughts. As I have said before, I do not expect people to agree with me, but I hope they at least make the effort to interpret me correctly.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:18 am


Oops! I’m comment number 30. :-)



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Sue

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:26 am


While I can understand that perhaps we’ve moved away from face-to-face community, is that a result of big government, or is it a result of big business and advertising? How about individualism?
How would this theory describe China, which has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations on the planet, yet has arguably one of the biggest governments?
Is it not God’s desire that humankind flourish? Didn’t YHWH say, “There shall be no poor among you”? If, somehow, big government means that fewer children go to bed hungry every night, or if big government means that no mom has to fear that if her kid gets cancer again, it will wipe out the family’s finances for life; would it not be better for the church to support such measures, even if it is to the expense of her institutional self? Would that not be Christ-like, to give up one’s “life” for the sake of others?
OR, is the problem that the “gospel” that the church has preached for so long is a diminished gospel, that tells people that they “need” God so that they can “have” eternal life, or earthly blessings, or what have you, so that when those earthly blessings come, there is no longer any need for that gospel, because it is a gospel of the exchange of goods and services?
Perhaps it is time, rather, for the church to consider that she exists not primarily for the purpose of social welfare, but because God is, because God is God, and because God has called her to worship. Yes, that worship is holistic and includes doing everything possible for the poor, but even if there are no poor, God’s call to worship still remains.
We are still God’s people, and the sheep of his pasture, and if that pasture is green and lush for other sheep too, how much more reason to give God our praise?



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T

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:29 am


Here’s an excerpt from a post on Michael Gorman’s blog about Phil. 2. He may be making a similar argument to Alan. Check the whole post (http://www.michaeljgorman.net/2010/03/23/philippians-2-and-the-story-we-tell-this-sunday/)
“Part of [our] worship [in response to the story of Phil 2]?its high point if we follow the trajectory of the story?is confessing ?Jesus is Lord.? . . . I would submit that the intrusion of an alien master story, and the ongoing re-conversion of the church to that pseudo-gospel, is the greatest and most persistent sin of the church, at least in the United States, today. From presidential claims, both Democrat and Republican, that the United States is the light of the world and the hope for human freedom, to the language of ?mission? that permeates military discourse, to talk of ?redemptive violence,? to the incorporation of nationalistic holidays and devotion into the liturgical life of the church, the church is constantly bombarded with temptations to honor an alien Lord with an alien mission in the world.
By telling and re-telling the church?s true master story, however, the church is empowered to cast off this alien master story and is prepared to live the story missionally and faithfully.”



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:32 am


Alan, you previously wrote about the way ?Empire? has been used by Christians to criticize the international expansionism of the U.S. Yet, where in the NT do we see this notion of Empire as the focus of critique? We don?t see it.
What we see is an Empire where Caesar has casts himself as an agent for the gods ? the Empire is a household with Caesar as the oikonomos (household manager) eventually taking on godlike status himself. He controls and directs all that happens toward the good of the Empire. Everything in society is made an extension of the Empire?s agenda.
Meanwhile, the 1st Century Palestinian peasants dreamed of a day where they are each living unmolested on their own land, in self-sufficient face-to-face communities, enjoying the fruits of their labor, and worshiping God. Then a Galilean rabbi comes along saying the jubilee is here ? each will now be able to return to his ancestral land. The oppressed are set free from debt and slavery ? from the Empire. His movement results in the formation of transformative ?face-to-face communities? that by the virtue of their distinctive communities (i.e., men and women, slaves and free, Jew and Greek, poor and wealthy, all working and worshiping in community and caring for the outcast) draw people into community and end up transforming culture.
Fast forward a millennium and a half to the Enlightenment and Modernist eras. Here the idea develops that through dispassionate reason elite intellectuals can reduce all of life to a set of principles for the scientific management of society. (Look up French positivist philosopher and founder of sociology Auguste Comte.) ?Economics? is from the Greek oikonomos. Economists envisioned society as a household that would be directed by enlightened intellectuals (the oikonomos of the household) using scientific principles and dispassionate reason. Welcome to the Modernist Empire.
Rather than resisting the totalizing Modernist impulse, many in the church have embraced the idea that government is indeed the oikonomos. They just think the oikonomos needs to manage society according to their particular brand of Christian ethics rather than Enlightenment ethics. A fading memory is the idea that we are all oikonomoi over the households God has entrusted to each of us, cooperatively working and worshiping together, with the support of larger institutions connecting our face-to-face communities together.
John Kennedy said ?Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,? as though the state is a deity worthy of our votive service. The real mission is to ask not what your country can do for you. Ask how God would have us best serve each other and how the state might be supportive in that effort. That may indeed include things like Social Security and aid with health care but it is a supportive role. (A couple of years ago I visited a display of Great Depression era photos taken by government photographers. One photo had a bust shot of a Salvation Army man and woman leading singing from behind the pulpit. The caption noted that the Roosevelt administration forbid these photographers from photographing Salvation Army folks doing relief work because it would undermine the image of government aid programs as the principal solution to the economic problems.)
To those living under the influence of early 21st Century Modernist Empire, your statements are going to look silly and out of touch.



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Rick Presley

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:35 am


Interesting example of Christian schizophrenia. On the one hand we are to be engaged in the culture and be active in supplanting the immorality around us with the message of the Kingdom. But if the Government takes seriously the mandate the church preaches toward society that in needs to be engaged in efforts to reach the poor, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, etc. the church cries foul and blames the government for being too intrusive.
We enshrine in our Constitution the separation of church and state, but cry out when the state wants to act independently and in contrast to the church, whether with gay rights or health care. At the same time we preach the need to be involved with the government, all the while running down the government (which in our country is ostensibly of the people, by the people, and for the people).
Interesting.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:45 am


Michael #34, you writes, “To those living under the influence of early 21st Century Modernist Empire, your statements are going to look silly and out of touch.”
Yep.



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Brad

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:48 am


dopderbeck #26
First off, your comment is pretty offensive. You’ve basically done everything but call Allan (and those who agree with him) racist.
Second, you can walk up and ask anybody in any church “do you think face-to-face community is merely secondary to the work of large, bureaucratic institutions like the government?” Of course nobody is going to agree with that. But how do they act? What are their attitudes? Frankly I see a *lot* of this kind of attitude in churches. I see it in attitudes right here on Jesus Creed. An example is how animated people get over politics as opposed to their excitement level over furtherance of the kingdom.
It’s basically the same type of issue that the evangelical church faces on the issue of abortion. The idea of eliminating abortions through engaging people one one one and bringing about changes in their lives, spiritual change as well as physical and financial change, is almost wholly abandoned and subsumed in the pursuit of legal and political avenues. I don’t see a political or legal solution to the abortion problem.
And that attitude is not limited to the “politically right wing” church, nor is it limited to the abortion issue.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:51 am


Rick #35
“But if the Government takes seriously the mandate the church preaches toward society that in needs to be engaged in efforts to reach the poor, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, etc. the church cries foul and blames the government for being too intrusive. ”
Allan and I have said nothing of the sort. No where have we said that government has not roll to play in these matters. I’d invite you to point out where that case was made.
The issue here is one of subsidiarity.



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dopderbeck

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:52 am


Allan (#30) – fair enough, but understand that there are folks like me who’ve heard all this before, and it all sounds like the tired old conservative “party line.”



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samb

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:52 am


So far the comments that have been most helpful to me on this issue are 17, 18 and 28. Also, reading Allan’s blog entry that contained the quote everyone is commenting on. At this point, I agree with those who are saying they there are many other important reasons that so many of us have such a hard time following Jesus with the tragic consequence that Jesus’ way of living is so hard for those he loves to see in their neighborhoods. However, this area is one in which many of us are very loud in our opinions and don’t seem to be aware of the tremendous boulder we are putting in the path of many who are being drawn by God’s love to Jesus. I pray we will begin to listen to one another with great humility and love. I think Allan is trying to help us remember what is truly most important, and I thank him for it.



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dopderbeck

posted March 26, 2010 at 11:59 am


Brad (#37) — I’m sorry you’re offended, but you need to understand how this sort of rhetoric is used in conservative circles. Who are those that rely on government rather than on face-to-face community? Mostly the poor. In America, who are the poor? Mostly minorities living in our cities. So is the problem of the poor mostly “our” problem? No, it is mostly their own, resulting from their own personal moral failings and their own lack of community. If you haven’t heard this sort of argument from conservatives, then you haven’t been paying attention.
I am not saying the author is making such arguments, but unfortunately that’s where they often lead.
And in my home church, the people that care the most about the abortion issue volunteer in a local pregnancy resource center.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm


Dopderbeck,
Yes, I understand that my view can be (mis)interpreted as the same old politically “conservative line,” which is why I attempted a clarification of that in my first post. I also understand that it is my responsibility to demonstrate why what I am proposing is not that conservative line… All I can say to that is more to come.
By the way, I have politically conservative friends who think I’m a political liberal, which I deny as well… what can I say.



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dopderbeck

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm


And no one has yet addressed this problem: from where are we getting the “decline of the Church in the West” narrative? Who sez the Church in the “West” is “in decline?” I see the Church in the West today doing remarkable things that haven’t been ever been done before in the history of the Church. I see acts of racial reconciliation, I see huge volumes of money and other resources being donated, I see denominations that literally have been at war with each other talking about their differences peacefully, I see unprecedented levels of education and interaction, I see the Gospel being proclaimed all around the globe. I also see enormous problems and challenges — a loss of cultural credibility because of various intellectual failures, a pandemic of sexual misconduct, and various other issues.
In short, I see neither a metanarrative of “decline” nor one of “advance,” but rather one in which the Church in all its diversity is wrestling with its unique historical circumstances, just as it always has.



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Travis Greene

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:31 pm


Michael @ 34, “Alan, you previously wrote about the way ?Empire? has been used by Christians to criticize the international expansionism of the U.S. Yet, where in the NT do we see this notion of Empire as the focus of critique?”
Revelation.



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JMorrow

posted March 26, 2010 at 12:42 pm


Michael you said earlier:
“But the church, along with culture, is succumbing to the idea that main event is what happens with government. Our institutions … business, education, health care, etc., … are merely becoming extension agents for achieving national political ends, rather than semi-autonomous spheres of life.”
Agreed, there is much wisdom in that statement. I hope it is what Allan was getting at. There is a call for the Church, at least in this culture, to play a different role. But it should be said that this “main event” typology exists as well with those overly enamored of the power of the market economy as a kind of deus ex machina.
I think the problem here is that linking this issue to the size of government specifically rather than the place of government or other large “governance” systems more broadly (i.e. economies and industries) plays into the hands of all of our political biases and doesn’t open up a new conversation. It comes across as a way of saying essentially: ‘the problem with Xtian discipleship is your political views’ and that will always be a keg of dynamite.
I believe this is a cultural issue as much as anything. Afterall the political culture of previous centuries in Europe, much more governmentally controlled than ours (even if they were more local), still enabled Xtian discipleship. And the relative number or kind of services that a govt provides is not a good predictor of Xtian discipleship either… do we even have any global figures on this? So I think to put the argument in these terms, while well meaning, only fuels disagreement and obscures the wisdom.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:08 pm


Someone I think invoked Tom Wright implicitly as one who would be in favor of what Allan is saying in regard to big government. Though I heard him say in an interview in a offhand kind of way that he would like government help of the church that some European nations have. That it would make the work of the church of England easier.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:13 pm


I just don’t know enough to say, but it seems questionable that it is government per-say that is the problem. Is the kingdom of God confined only to what the church is doing? Daniel served the king of Babylon, etc., but was really serving and doing the works of the King of kings. And the early church, or the church in China. Government can be powerful and benefiting many, but does that actually make the church irrelevant? Just thinking out loud. Wish I had time and strength to take in all that is being said here (the thread).



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Brad

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm


dopderbeck (#43) – I see some of what you see as well. But isn’t there also a decline in church attendance and in the number of people who even identify themselves as Christian? Isn’t it pretty much unquestioned that Christianity is in a decline in Europe? For example, this article seems to assume it…
http://www.christianitytoday.com/global/printer.html?/ch/news/2003/jul18.html
Regarding your comment in #41, believe me when I say I have a very deep understanding of how things are in conservative circles. I actually consider myself to be somewhat conservative, though many of my friends (the vast majority of whom are *very* politically conservative) consider me to be liberal. I live in the deep South in a *very* “red” state. So red that my vote really doesn’t matter as all of our representatives are and will be republican for the foreseeable future. Political conservatism is also rampant in my home church. So much so that I feel than non-conservative visitors might find themselves feeling unwelcome. I find this very troubling. And I have very, very major issues with a lot of the positions of the political right, particularly the “let them eat cake” attitude of some of my Christian friends for whom a tax cut for themselves seems to be the highest moral good.
But I didn’t see any of the worst of the right wing attitude in any of what Allan was saying in his blog. Lumping him into that category strikes me as unfair and somewhat prejudiced.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:38 pm


#45 JMorrow
I think those are helpful observations. I got distracted an hour ago by real life and didn’t get posted a comment I wanted make, which basically goes to the question of what we mean by “big.” What I read from Allan’s context was that “big” meant invasive and pervasive. The opposite of big government is not “no government.” The issue is the appropriate role of government.
“But it should be said that this “main event” typology exists as well with those overly enamored of the power of the market economy as a kind of deus ex machina.”
Absolutely. Markets are essential for the health and well-being in that they allow us to benefit from each others labors via commercial society. But markets are also leaky. They create externalities. There are some things that markets do not efficiently or justly provide. But addressing the weaknesses of markets is a far cry from government directing markets toward accomplishing its agenda.
What is instructive is the underlying thinking that is evidenced in some of the comments above. It is said that we should care for the poor. What is meant by “we.” If you read closely “we” is frequently a synonym for “the government.” It is as if there are only individuals and the government. Society is a complex network of individuals, families, neighborhoods, and intermediate level institutions and national entities like the federal government. They all constitute “we” and serving the poor is the agenda for all of these.
I’m not sure I’d say earlier societies were so much government controlled as under the influence of feudalism but I’d be going to far afield to go down that tangent.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:52 pm


Brad #48
“But I didn’t see any of the worst of the right wing attitude in any of what Allan was saying in his blog. Lumping him into that category strikes me as unfair and somewhat prejudiced.”
Actually, if you go back to #26, I’m the one being quoted. I’m the Limbaugh listening closet racist. ;-)
Actually, as I understand Allan, he is coming from a very strong Anabaptist framing of issues. I have some this influence as well from Ron Sider (who I disagree with on some things) and from Mennonites I’ve known over the years. A real epiphany for me was Roman Catholic social teaching. Coming from my Mainline Presbyterian world, as Allan comes from a Mainline Methodist world, I suspect our views are shaped in reaction to the bareness of our denominations.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm


Been gone for awhile… Sorry…
Dopderbeck, You ask a very good question in reference to the decline of the church. There is no doubt plenty of wonderful and faithful stuff happening in the contemporary church… only someone who has been asleep for decades would think otherwise.
So when someone says the church is in decline they have to explain what they mean, just as if someone says the church is not in decline. For example a decline in numbers in a church could be an example of true decline; in another church it could be a sign that it is a community of faith so faithful and vital and sacrificial that the marginal just leave (think of the end of John chapter 6). So your question is well taken. I have written your comments down, and at some point I will attempt to incorporate them into my discussion.
As far as empire goes, I think the NT claim that Jesus is Lord is sufficient to speak of empire. Having said that, however, as much as I like many of the things N.T. Wright says about empire, I think he sees it everywhere in the NT and I don’t.
Also, I do not assume that my discussion of church as polis or anything I might say about empire would be embraced in every detail by people who are congenial with my views on those subjects. In other words, I do not assume that Hauerwas or Wright would necessarily agree with every detail in the way I want to take these subjects. People who share like minds on issues do not always share like minds on the details.
One more point… my mention of empire is only to call Christians to consistently in their employment of it. Empire cannot be claimed only when a government employs an intrusive foreign policy only. Ancient Rome was an empire not only in its “forign policy” but in its “domestic policy” as well. I am only insisting that the concept be applied equally and fairly, not simply to serve a particular agenda of the political left or the political right.
And I am serious when I say that intrusive government does affect the vitality of Christian discipleship. I do not deny that there are other things as well, but I stand by my claim that it is central. Of course, I need to make the case… I understand that. I do not expect anyone simply to accept what I say.
But you must admit, that my framing of matters of church and state and politics as it relates to discipleship has sure generated a lot of discussion. That is what I am hoping for.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 26, 2010 at 2:01 pm


Michael #50, You write, “Coming from my Mainline Presbyterian world, as Allan comes from a Mainline Methodist world, I suspect our views are shaped in reaction to the bareness of our denominations.
Brother, you speak the truth!



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dopderbeck

posted March 26, 2010 at 2:08 pm


Michael (#50) said: I’m the Limbaugh listening closet racist. ;-)
I respond: you said it, Dittohead, not me! ;-) (just kidding!)
Your observation about the worlds we come from is important, I think. I come from the rightest of right-wing Evangelical worlds. The Mainline often looks very good and refreshing to me. I associate Methodist with Duke and Presbyterian with PTS, neither of which seem bare to me. Whereas, I associate my background with Podunk Bible College, at which the “Left Behind” novels are considered among the Great Books. I envy you Mainline guys. Spend a couple of years in a church in which Ken Ham is considered an intellectual and the American Nation thesis is gospel, and then let’s trade stories!



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 26, 2010 at 2:08 pm


Travis #44
How does Revelation frame the Empire? As a warrior conquering other lands or as a harlot who has seduced everyone into her influence?



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 26, 2010 at 2:24 pm


“How does Revelation frame the Empire? As a warrior conquering other lands or as a harlot who has seduced everyone into her influence?”
Gosh, I wish I had said that!



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Brad

posted March 26, 2010 at 2:40 pm


dopderbeck (#53) – Been there, brother. I left a church several years back because of stuff like Ken Ham, Henry Morris, and Duane Gish ICR literature proudly displayed in lobbies, along with sermons on Jesus turning water into non-alcoholic grape juice (complete with references to the Greek). What pushed me over the edge was listening to folks in Sunday school spend 15 minutes bashing democrats one Sunday morning (with full participation from the teacher) prior to starting the lesson.
I grew up in an area where people actually left a church because a member invited an inter-racial couple to church one Sunday morning. That incident almost caused a church split. Sure, this was 30 years ago. But still…pretty outrageous.
However, I still don’t find most politically conservative people, even those coming from and even still in that same background and even most of the non-Christians, to be closet racists. In fact, one of my dearest and oldest friends, who I respect as much as any other man I’ve ever met, is black and yet holds to many of the views and much of the philosophy of Rush Limbaugh. He’s extremely politically conservative despite being a very, very godly man whom I often seek to emulate in my life. Many of the social views of the left that many Christians would view as progressive or furthering the kingdom, he would see as simply poisoning his community. And by community I mean his secular friends, relatives, and neighbors with whom he lives and not just his spiritual community. And I’d find it difficult to characterize him as any sort of racist. Extremely difficult. In fact, he’s done more to personally further reconciliation between races than any one person I know.
Likewise, I don’t see anything that Allan or Michael said as coming anywhere close to closet racism, or even suggesting such. Maybe your background has made you overly sensitive to some things?



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Brad

posted March 26, 2010 at 2:42 pm


Micheal, can you elaborate on the “bareness of our denominations”? I’m probably overlooking something simple, but I don’t follow you there.



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T

posted March 26, 2010 at 2:44 pm


“And I am serious when I say that intrusive government does affect the vitality of Christian discipleship. I do not deny that there are other things as well, but I stand by my claim that it is central.”
To me, this becomes a question of “Which idol, on the whole, is most effective in luring or intimidating people, even in the Church, into loyalty and/or service?” I’ll be the first to admit that, for the right and the left in my neck of the Church woods, the US government wins a lot of believers, openly setting up their shrines in the meeting places for God’s people. But what about addictions to porn, alcohol and other drugs, for instance. And lets not forget Jesus’ favorite idol/rival to point out: $$$$. I agree with you that idolatry of ‘America’–whether the Fox News or Al Franken version–is a much more acceptable form of idolatry in the American church than alcohol, but you still seem to be overstating the point a bit. I don’t think most people I see everyday are America-worshippers, unless we roll into that idol people’s basic selfish desires for their life, which seems a little inappropriate.
Also, if “intrusive government” were really the biggest, nastiest idol/power around to divert discipleship to Christ, I wonder how Christianity is spreading so quickly in China. (And in reference to the Revelation question, I think Satan, through any idol, is willing to use honey or vinegar to get obedience, and both seem at work in Revelation; it makes no difference whether seduction or intimidation gets results.)



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Richard

posted March 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm


“How does Revelation frame the Empire? As a warrior conquering other lands or as a harlot who has seduced everyone into her influence?”
Echoing T @ 60, the answer is yes. Unless you interpret the whore of Babylon as Jerusalem riding on the 7 hills of Rome…then the emphasis seems to be on seduction.



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dopderbeck

posted March 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm


Brad (#58) said: I still don’t find most politically conservative people, even those coming from and even still in that same background and even most of the non-Christians, to be closet racists.
I respond: I don’t either. I didn’t mean to imply that anyone here is a closet racist. What I wanted to suggest is that we have to surface and be aware of the fact that the relationship between virtue, volunteerism, and government assistance has historically been used by people who are racists to impede reform.
And even if someone is not a racist — and again, I don’t think Michael or Allan are racists — issues of class and race are simmering below the surface of this discussion, whether we like it or not. I don’t think it’s rude or offensive to bring those concerns to the fore. At a certain level, one’s attitude about government assistance vs. volunteerism will be shaped inexorably by class and race.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm


I think I have about exhausted my welcome here, but let me say one more thing. Some have suggested I am blaming government for the lack of depth of discipleship in the church. I am not blaming government; I am offering a critique of the church that set up and then got caught up into this arrangement we now find ourselves in.
I truly appreciate everyone’s insights, I hope you will contribute to the discussion in future posts.



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JMorrow

posted March 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm


dopderbeck,
I will say this about your introduction of class/race dynamics into our perception of Gov’t. It’s an issue I’ve found complex and disquieting. I’m a Millenial who grew up in an African American family shaped by the Civil Rights movement. However much I maybe a fan of localism on the political level or see the unintended consequences of gov’t intervention in various aspects of US society, I still have to confront my parents and grandparents experiences which tell me that localism (and subsidiarity as its ideological cousin) can be as much a source of oppression as nationalized or centralized govt. As well, I also have to confront the fact that both corporate (business) and governmental powers colluded in denying those generations their due. You’re right then that these idealized categories need to at some point give way to the complex reality. And again, I think that falls back to culture. Not saying culture isn’t influenced by these structures I’ve mentioned, but it also colors how they are used as well. We won’t know the impact until we have more self-awareness of our culture.



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Mick Porter

posted March 26, 2010 at 7:56 pm


I think I was a bit harsh to Allan in my previous comment. Scot says “Forgive Allan for that, but I wonder if you might be willing to consider whether or not bigger government, or more centralization etc, impacts commitment to the church, the viability of the church, and the strength of the church.”
It’s quite hard for me to consider that, as they’re not categories I’m used to. I don’t see the government affecting the church here in Australia – whether in its sermons, in discussion with Christians, whatever – I just don’t hear the government even mentioned. We have comparitively high levels of social security and health care, but I don’t think we have less of a social concern in the churches here than in the USA. We certainly have a lot less focus on the military. Sometimes I think even Australians are more interested in American politics than were are in our own politics, because it tends to dominate the media and especially the Internet.



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Jeremy Berg

posted March 26, 2010 at 10:07 pm


Michael (#19) nailed it:
“The question is whether government is the central player in our lives or a supporting character?”
I, like many, just read the excerpt here. I would recommend you all go read the rest of his posts to get larger context.
Good discussion though.



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Ann

posted March 27, 2010 at 2:18 am


My thesis throughout this multi-part discussion will be that the main reason the practices of discipleship are in such sad shape in Western culture is not because Christians don’t want to read their Bibles, nor because they don’t want to take time to pray, nor because they would rather hoard their money than give it to those in need. While all of those may be true to a greater or lesser extent, they are but symptoms of something deeper. The main reason for the decline of the church in the West is Christian support for large government, which undermines the very integrity of the church itself as the counter-story that interprets the world’s politics.
Wait, wait, what?? Did sin disappear as the main reason for faithlessness? Is Bevere claiming that advocating for justice in government is sinful? Do prophets only speak to the faithful? Are governments uncaring to the poor and the sick “better” for the church? The metaphor that came to mind for his argumentation is that of a seemingly solid cup made of crystalline sugar – it just doesn’t hold the water! Yikes.



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Allan R. Bevere

posted March 27, 2010 at 9:19 am


Ann,
The answer to all your questions in your second paragraph is “No.”
Please read the entire post and all the following comments for the context.



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Ann

posted March 31, 2010 at 12:27 am


Allan, I read your entire post, twice. (Insufficient time, now, to read all the comments.) The thesis still doesn’t hold water for me. My AB is in Government and Economics and I worked in federal and private financial institutions before non-profit work, seminary and then, ministry. I’m married to a European and we’ve lived in Europe. Perceptions of corruption in whichever (State) Church, and collusion with political &/or financial powers in maneuvering for advantage were the main reasons offered why people didn’t attend or identify w/ their churches. They were irrelevant because of the perception (warranted and no) that they didn’t embody any good news, not because the State services mimicked their own. Your fundamental thesis seems to state that taxation empties the pocketbooks and social programs usurp the churches’ place. There are always poor for the church to love & serve; the problem in Europe and here seems to be that many of the poor may be undocumented aliens who didn’t honor the laws of nation-states.
If your thesis doesn’t convey clearly what you intended, then perhaps it needs some refinement and rewording. I responded to it as written, and from what I understood. (By the way, I’m not sure that Hauerwas would agree with the way his words were employed in your blog. Can you support that use with other writings of his?)
I advocate for integrity, justice, right treatment, and mercy to be embodied in our systems, and not wedded to any political party. Although my roots are in the Society of Friends who used to separate from governmental activity altogether in prior centuries, I participate in the vote.



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