Category Archives: Culture

The New Christian Zionism

“A survey of 2,000 American Evangelical Christians released Monday found generational differences among participants in positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with older evangelicals offering more unconditional support of Israel than those under 35.

According to the survey, American evangelicals under 35 are less likely than their older counterparts to offer unquestionable support for Israel, and are more likely to hold positive views of the Palestinians.” (Haaretz, 12/4/17)

For many years evangelical Christianity has been known to be highly Zionistic. Undoubtedly this is due, at least in part, to the influence of dispensationalism on5138 conservative Christians. Studies show, however, that Zionistic attitudes among American Christians are waning. Is this due to trends in dispensationalism? Trends in social media, e.g. we have a better view of what Palestinians are experiencing? Or is it something else?

The New Christian Zionism, edited by Gerald McDermott, does not attempt to answer those questions, however in light of Christian Zionism’s waning popularity, McDermott and a host of biblical scholars, theologians, and ethicists attempt to make a case for Zionism which is not dependent upon dispensationalism.

So what was the old Christian Zionism? Basically it was the dispensational view which puts Israel and the church on two separate, but parallel tracks. All the promises given to Israel will literally be fulfilled by the Jewish people group (ethic, national, territorial Israel), and not by a “spiritual” church.

What is the new Christian Zionism? Here I quote McDermott:

The New Christian Zionism asserts that the people and the land of Israel represent a provisional and proleptic fulfillment of the promises of the new world to come. So Jesus brought a new era to the history of Israel but without abolishing what came before, and he predicted that his people and land would be central to that new world. This is why the New Christian Zionism speaks of fulfillment and not supersessionism.

In making their case for this NCZ McDermott shows that Christian Zionism goes back two thousand years , and before the 19th century it had nothing to do with dispensationalism.

McDermott’s introduction is followed by four essays dealing with the biblical material (from a non-dispensationalist standpoint). Craig Blasing attempts to show that the NT affirms the OT expectation of an ethnic, national, territorial Israel in God’s plan. Joel Willits shows that the restoration of the land of Israel is fundamental to Matthew’s story of Jesus. Mark Kinzer argues that eschatology in Luke-Acts is tethered to the holy land. David Rudolph shows that Paul is looking forward to a renewed earth that is centered in Israel.

Jerusalem

The next section deals with some issues that people have brought up against Christian Zionism, often other Christians! Mark Tooley addresses mainline protestant objections to NCZ. Rebert Benne address the objection that Israel is an unjust political state oppressing Palestinians. He turns to Reinhold Niebuhr’s work to defend Israel. Some of the most interesting chapters follow Benne’s. Robert Nicholson addresses the objection that Israel is violating international law by controlling the west bank. He argues that 1)International law is unclear, and where it is clear, Israel is not in violation and 2)Israel’s legal standards are higher than all of its neighbors and many leading western countries. Shadi Khalloul, an Aramean Christian, argues that while Israel is far from perfect, it is far from unjust in its treatment of minority groups.

The last set of essays are written by Darrell Bock and Gerald McDermott, they both chart some possible ways forward for NCZ.

My favorite chapter was by far Nicholson’s chapter. Most likely because he addresses some objections I often hear – namely that Israel does not deserve the land beause it is violating the Mosaic covenant. Nicholson makes a strong case for the difficulty of making that claim. Second, Christian Zionism has lost a lot of support because many western Christians who pay attention to international politics are under the impression that Israel is in violation of international law in its treatment of Palestine. Nicholson, addresses whether or not there were any violations of international law in the taking of territory during the Six Day War. In trying to answer this question he gives his readers a history lesson. He provides 8 essential pieces of background for determing the legal and political context of Israel’s supposed violation of international law:

  1. Israel’s actions in the Six-Day Ware were conducted in self-defense in reponse to overwhelming aggression from surrounding Arab countries.
  2. The “Palestinian” territories that Israel captured in the war did not belong to anyone else under international law.
  3. Israel planned to exchange the captured territories for peace.
  4. The law of occupation may not apply to the West Bank and Gaza. (Because they are “disputed” territories.
  5. Israel has substantially performed its obligations as a belligerent occupier.
  6. The presence of Jewish civilians insde the West Bank does not constitute a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
  7. Israel has substantially pefromed its obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.
  8. Palestinians have legal and political autonomy.

Nicholson concludes by saying that “An objective reading of the situation must conceded that Israel has in fact complied with international law. That Israel is routinely thought to be in violation stems more from ignorance of the laws involved and prejudice against Israel than the facts on the ground.” (280)

So where should Christians who are hesitant about Christian Zionism go from here? Bock makes an important and wise suggestion:

Israel is still responsible to God for how she responds to covenant obligations. To endorse Israel and a national place for the nation is not to give her carte blanche for everything she does. Christian Zionism is not a blind endorsement for Israel. It does not give the nation a pass on issues of justice or moral righteousness. She is still called to live responsibly as a nation like other nations. Rather, Christian Zionism merely makes the affirmation that Israel has a right to a secure homeland, which she should govern and occupy morally and responsibly. (309)

Now you may not find yourself agreeing with Bock’s or any of the other author’s conclusions, nevertheless, you should still give this book a shot. Given our political climate, evangelical (in all senses of the word) Christians really need to think through these issues carefully. To do so would be not only politically disastrous, but potentially spiritually as well.

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TheologyGrams: Theology Explained in Diagrams

Meme’s and infographics are today’s preferred choice of communication for a lot of people – Millennials I’m looking at you…(and myself).

For those of you who don’t know, infographics are “graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly” (Thanks Wikipedia)

So for example, here is a cool infographic about coffee:

3539a5028859416976f2408ab0f3770f-drink-coffee-coffee-coffee

Infographics have also been used to communicate theological concepts. Here’s one on the Fruit of the Spirit:

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TheologyGrams

This year, Rich Wyld (such a cool name!), an Anglican priest educated at Durham, turned his blog into a short book titled: Theologygrams: Theology Explained in Diagrams.

The book is pretty simple and straightforward. It uses diagrams to offer a more visual way of thinking about theological topics. He moves from the OT to the NT and then deals with practical issues in the life of the church. He concludes with a chapter on theology.

The chapters include some really interesting topics. In the OT chapter we get “Jonah’s Mood-O-Meter” and its pretty funny. The NT chapter gives us a very helpful diagram on “Resurrection Appearances.” Also, a hilarious graph on Paul’s defense in 2 Corinthians 11. I’m definetly showing this one to my class at Eternity Bible College. His Theology chapter has a diagram on the Trinity – and guess what: Its not incorrect!

This is a really fun book to flip through. It would make a really cool stocking stuffer for theology nerds. It would also make a cool coffee table book for theology nerds. Also… if you are a nerd and into infographics and like theology you are going to like this. Also, if you are into nerdy puns or nerdy cultural references you are going to be into this book. Basically, if you are a theology nerd get this book. And if you aren’t a theology nerd, but know a theology nerd get them this book. *Enough Said*

In all seriousness, this book is really cool. You should get it.

Here are some older TheologyGrams from Rich’s Blog:scripturetradreason

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calvin-arminius

 

(Review) Beyond the Modern Age

In Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard (Free University Amsterdam) and Craig Bartholomew (Redeemer College) provide an in-depth examination and critique of four modern worldviews. These four worldviews are: 1) the classical modern worldview, 2) the structural-critical worldview, 3) the cultural-critical worldview, and 4) postmodernism. In formulating their critique they lean on the work of Philip Reiff on culture and religion, Rene Girard on desire, and Len Goodman & Abraham Kuyper on pluralism. 513vpc01u1l-_sx322_bo1204203200_With this arsenal of contemporary thinkers, they proceed to put forth a positive proposal for a worldview which can contend with modern worldviews. This is a worldview which is thoroughly Christian but also fits well within our increasingly pluralistic world.

So what does this proposed Christianity for public life look like? The authors propose that Christianity which will be able to engage in our pluralistic world, and compete among the panoply of worldviews will be marked by the following:

  1. It will be self-critical, willing to take a close look at itself, explore how it has been positively and negatively shaped by modernity, and resubmit itself to the authority of Scripture and tradition.
  2. It will see clearly the relevance of the gospel for the whole of creation, for the whole of society and not just the individual soul or the institutional church.
  3. It will be genuinely committed to the flourishing of all creation.
  4. It will have a preferential option for the poor.
  5. It will take spiritual formation seriously.
  6. It will attempt to “live the solution.”

Their positive proposal is essentially and expansion upon points 3, 4, and 6. The problem of modernity, as they see it, boils down to an interconnectedness between population growth, environmental crisis, material production and consumption, economic crisis, decreasing global security, and deepening world poverty. The four modern worldviews have proposed solutions to these problems, however, they have not only failed to provide an adequate solution, some of these worldviews exacerbate the problems! Their answer to these problems is to set forth a solution in light of Reiff’s work on the sacred in culture, Girard’s work on desire, and the preferred option for the poor. They call this solution an economy of care. An economy of care flips upside down what modernist economies say is the “bottom line”:

Suppose our first priority is not dynamic economic growth but rather the ability to safeguard time, provide justice for the poor, protect and restore the environment, create more opportunities for meaningful employment, and care for the vulnerable. There is nothing to prevent these needs from becoming the starting point in an economic approach rather than expansion of material prosperity at all costs. (235)

They call this approach an “economy of care.” Although it may sound crazy, they are convinced that it is not simply wishful thinking. The authors point to several small scale instances in which an economy of care has worked for local communities. They also point to how an economy of care has had an impact upon the well-being and even economy of Holland. A Dutch study has shown that long term an economy of care would have a more favorable impact than either the market economy or welfare state on 1) employment levels, 2) quality of work, 3) the environment, 4) energy saving, 5) capital transfer to the South, and 6) government deficits. (254) And this economy of care could be implemented if “the Dutch people were willing to maintain average income and consumption levels at their present level and if they agreed to cooperate in orienting society, as a whole and in parts to these broader ends.” (254) All this to say, an economy of care seems not only plausible, but realistic! That is until we start thinking about the sinful condition of humanity. Maybe its my Calvinist bent (or maybe my realism), but I tend to believe that people are actually pretty selfish. Maybe they aren’t selfish with people they love and know, but they are certainly selfish about people that bear no relation to them. Not only that but people have a near future bias. In other words, people are prone to taking actions which serve their near futures rather than their further out futures. This means, that even though it may be irrational, people in general will be less likely to make sacrifices in the near future for the sake of a more secure future further out. Think about how people treat their health. Most people are more likely to not workout now because its painful for the near future even though rationally they know it is best for their far out future. If we can’t even get people to work out, how will we convince people to sacrifice their economic good in the near future for the sake of their far-out future, and more so, for the sake of the far-out future of other generations and of people from other nations and states! There is absolutely no reason to do so. That is, unless, there is a stronger drive compelling them to do so. Something like the gospel. The gospel has the power to reshape our desires, to shift our desires from self-centered and near-future oriented, to other-centered and eschatologically focused. The gospel really does have power. This book shows that the gospel really could have an impact on the flourishing of this world, and if taken seriously, provides a stronger alternative to the current worldview that are available.

 

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

 

Rogue One and the Return of Reverence (Spoilers)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

(Donnie Yen)

Ph: Film Frame

©Lucasfilm LFL
This morning over at First Things, Marc Barnes published a wonderful article on “reverence” and the Force in the Star Wars movies. Here he argues that Episodes 4-6 display a sort of religious reverence for the Force. But in the prequels, the Force loses its sacred status and becomes a magic weapon. He connects this to the secularization of the Force (think Midi-chlorians). The secularization of the Force in the prequels leads to irreverent use of it. “The Force is used so often, and for so many purposes, throughout the prequels—from eating pears to throwing people—that it loses its religious valence and becomes just another technological element: blasters, lightsabers, X-wings, Force.” You can read the article here: Rogue One and the Return of Reverence (It contains spoilers).

Barnes says,
But the prequels give us a lesson that life repeats. No matter how amazing something is, if it is susceptible to our power and manipulation, it gets boring….Only that which is not “currently” out of reach, mysterious “by the research standards of today,” can be approached with reverence…..Reverence is an emotion that responds to the presence of a value higher than ourselves—a value that exists in its own right and does not need us. Reverence is not oriented toward the useful, no matter how awesome the use. The prequels irreverently secularized the Force, making it a controllable entity, measurable and understandable, infinitely use-able.

He then praises the new films, Force Awakens & Rogue One, for how they bring back a sense of Reverence to the Force, and really to the world. Its really a great read. You should check it out. Thought it does contain some spoilers if you haven’t seen Rogue One Yet (who hasn’t!!!!).

Now, the real reason I’m writing this is to make a comment on his thesis. Barnes seems to think that the irreverence displayed in the sequels and the “commercialization” of the Force was more so a reflection of the film makers/writers pandering to audiences. The audiences wanted to see the Force in full effect! They wanted to see some spectacular fights and some super powers! However I disagree. I think the irreverent use of the force in the prequels is intentional. Reverence is something that only returns once the Jedi are forced into exile.

Think about the story line of the prequels. Part of it revolves around the idea that the Jedi losing touch with the Force. E.G. Yoda can’t even see the Sith before him and the council is a mess. They have lost touch with the Force and what it was intended to be used for. The fact that the Jedi irreverently start using the Force is part of the story line.

Also, I think there’s something to be said about the Jedi reclaiming the true “meaning” of the force when in exile. Exile tends to bring clarity. It’s in exile that one gets vision. Think of Scripture for a minute, who is known as The Seer? John, who is exiled on Patmos. When does Israel finally see its vocation? When does it begin to see its future liberation and God’s kingdom? It’s in exile. Think of the book of Ezekiel & Jeremiah… This is where the real parallels come out.

Ezekiel & Jeremiah chide the Elders of Israel for being BLIND, for making alliances with foreign kings. They chide the Elders of Israel for trusting in the Temple as a power, rather than God himself. Israel has sought safety in the power of God rather than in God himself. Much like the Jedi in the prequel, Israel has commercialized & mechanized God’s powers. In doing so, they have treated God irreverently, even desecrating the temple. Its only when Israel is sent off into exile that they begin to the real power of God. Similarly, its only in exile that the last surviving Jedi (Obi-Wan and Yoda) recover a greater reverence for the force.

Books Read in 2016

At the end of each the year I put out the list of books I have read that year. Usually they consist of a lot of theology books, followed up by a good chunk of philosophy books, and a few fiction books thrown in. In 2013 I read 106 books. In 2014 I read 87 books. In 2015 I read  88 books. This year, my numbers went down drastically. However, that was mainly because I was in school again, reading lots of journals and book chapters, and writing a whole bunch. The numbers also dropped because I stopped reading at the gym. My workouts sort of changed (became more intense) so I no longer read while doing cardio. Anyway, this year’s total is 52 book. That’s one per week!

book-piles

Books Read in 2016 = 52!

January

  1. Systematic Theology Volume 1 – Wolfhart Pannenberg
  2. Experiences in Theology – Jurgen Moltmann
  3. The Nature of Doctrine – George Lindbeck
  4. The Nature of Confession – Phillips & Okholm

February

  1. Beyond Foundationalism – Grenz & Francke
  2. The Drama of Doctrine – Kevin Vanhoozer
  3. Black Theology of Liberation – James Cone
  4. Models of God – Sally McFague
  5. Introducing Radical Orthodoxy – James K.A. Smith

March

  1. Analytic Theology – Crisp & Rae
  2. An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology – Thomas McCall
  3. Four Views on Hell – Preston Sprinkle
  4. Strong and Weak – Andy Crouch
  5. The Problem of Hell – Jonathan Kvanvig
  6. Hell: The Logic of Damnation – Jerry Walls

April

  1. Gaining by Losing – J.D. Greear
  2. The Unfolding Mystery – Edmund Clowney
  3. Jonathan Edwards Among the Theologians – Oliver Crisp
  4. Sacrifice and Atonement – Stephen Finlan

May

  1. Knowledge and Christian Belief – Alvin Plantinga
  2. Living on the Devil’s Doorstep – Floyd McClung
  3. How I Changed My Mind About Evolution – Stump and Applegate
  4. The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World – Gene Green, Stephen Pardue, K.K. Yeo

June

  1. Prodigal God – Tim Keller
  2. The Father Heart of God – Floyd McClung
  3. Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous – W. Jay Wood
  4. The Pastor Theologian – Gerald Heistand & Todd Wilson
  5. Reading Romans in Context – Ben Blackwell, John Goodrich, and Jason Matson
  6. You are What You Love – James K.A. Smith

July

  1. The Claim of Humanity in Christ – Alexandra Radcliff
  2. The Lost Letters of Pergamum – Bruce Longenecker

Lost Track of Dates

  1. Writings on Pastoral Piety – John Calvin (ed. McKee)
  2. Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation – William Naphy
  3. Infant Baptism in Reformation Genega – Karen Spierling
  4. Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension – Julie Canlis
  5. America at the Crossroads – George Barna
  6. The Uncontrolling Love of God – Thomas Oord
  7. Pentecostal Outpourings – ed. Robert Smart, Michael Haykin, and Ian Clary
  8. Crossing Cultures in Scripture – Marvin Newell
  9. Rational Faith – Stephen Evans
  10. What is Reformed Theology – R.C. Sproul
  11. Judaism Before Jesus – Anthony Tomasino
  12. Reordering the Trinity – Rodrick Durst
  13. Delighting in the Trinity – Michael Reeves

November

  1. A Little Handbook for Preachers – Mary Hulst
  2. Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life – Henri Nouwen
  3. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective – Marc Cortez

December

  1. The Vulnerable Pastor – Mandy Smith
  2. Serving a Movement – Timothy Keller
  3. Saving Calvinism – Oliver Crisp
  4. Paul’s New Perspective – Garwood Anderson
  5. Soul Keeping – John Ortberg

Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary use words.

Supposedly Francis of Assisi said those famous words. Likely he didn’t, regardless, those word’s don’t mesh with Scripture’s understanding of BEING witnesses to the gospel. As Michael Gorman says: Witness-bearing calls for interpretation.

“Walking little old ladies across the street” may be appropriate Christian behavior, but it does not lead to persecution. It only leads the persecution when one explains such behavior as a manifestation of true power, or when one excuses oneself from attending an event honoring the emperor, the empire, or other cultural deities – like youth soccer or professional football or a Fourth of July Parade – in order to walk those little old ladies across the street, or to worship as Lord the one who essentially did the same thing when he willingly became humanity’s slave. (Gorman, Becoming the Gospel, 129)

Would the church learn to heed this word in a day and age where it is “hated” for its “conservative” values. Would it espouse those values not because they are “conservative” but because it means bowing the knee to Christ and not to the gods of this world. Would the church not confuse self-serving “servant-hood” for real “put your life on the line”-servanthood.

America and the Imperial Cult

The emperors use of this but bears some resemblance to modern politicians’ identification with American symbols…as a way to gain the trust and respect of its citizens. For much of its existence, the United States has had an informal mixture of Protestant Christianity and patriotism, a so-called civil religion, that has some of the feel and impact of the emperor cult. For example, this informal union gave political and economic notions such as individual liberty, democracy, and free enterprise a sacred or sacrosanct status, concepts that one may oppose at the cost of harsh criticism. The phrase “America, love it or leave it” gives something of this flavor. In addition, American Civil Religion meant that those who were not members of a Protestant Christian Church, such as Jews and Roman Catholics, were at times seen as un-American. -James Jeffers in The Greco-Roman World (103)