Tag Archives: richard mouw

How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

No, this is not a blog about how I changed my mind about evolution, however it is a blog about a book containing essays from many well known and well respected evangelicals about how they changed their mind about evolution.

This book, edited by Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump contains a numerous amount of essays from some significant names like:

  • James K.A. Smith
  • Scot McKnight
  • Ken Fong
  • Tremper Longman III
  • Francis Collins
  • Oliver Crisp
  • John Ortberg
  • N.T. Wright
  • Richard Mouw

Any book with a collection of new essays from authors like those – on any subject would already be incredibly fascinating, let alone on such a contentious subject among evangelicals, like evolution.

Most of the essays in this book are extremely personal, they recount the stories of the contributors’ journey toward accepting evolution as a viable Christian belief about creation. Many of the stories are quite typical, which some readers will find encouraging.how-i-changed-my-mind-about-evolution The story typically goes something like this: 1)I was taught evolution was a godless, anti-Christian theory. 2) I became very interested in “creation science” in order to defend Christianity. 3) I actually began to learn about science and evolution. 4) I was able to reconcile my faith and this belief. 5)Conclusion: evolution, contrary to what I was taught early on, is not a threat to the faith.

One essay in particular, that I found helpful (no surprise here) in understanding the logic behind most of these “evolutions” in belief about creation, was Oliver Crisp’s essay. In his essay he outlines three principles which have helped him reflect upon how faith connects to evolution. The first is that notion of faith seeking understanding. From a position of faith we are committed to understanding our faith. The second is that all truth is God’s truth. Because God is the creator, not truth will actually be a threat to who God is, so we shouldn’t be afraid to seek truth ruthlessly.  Also, this means that in principle our understanding of Scripture and since are compatible, even though we may not yet see how they are compatible. The third is that God is mysterious. Who can fathom God’s ways in providence and creation. He can create in any way he deems necessary.

So who should pick up this book? I think there are several people who need to read it. First, I think that people who don’t believe that evolution and Christianity can be compatible. I recommend this to them, not because they should read this and “believe.” Rather It would be helpful for them to see that genuine Jesus loving Christians can hold to evolutionary theory (whether or not they are correct). Second, those who feel tension in holding their belief in evolutionary theory and robust evangelical faith. Such people need exemplars who can show the way forward in how to hold both views together.  Finally, people who’s “last objection” to becoming a Christian is that they need to check their rational-scientific mind at the door when coming to faith in Christ. As Oliver Crisp’s essay so clearly articulates, all truth is God’s truth. If our faith is true, and evolutionary theory is true, then this poses no threat to God whatsoever.

Book Giveaway

Book Giveaway: I would love to give out a copy of this book to whoever believes it would be helpful to their faith. In order to be eligible to win a copy of this book you can do one of several things (each will constitute one entry).

  1. Tweet out this blog post and mention @cwoznicki
  2. Like this post.
  3. Comment below on how this book would benefit you and your faith.

I will choose one winner very soon. The winner must live within the US in order to be eligible to receive the book.

(Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review)

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My Thoughts on “Nonviolent Action”

Erin Dufault-Hunter, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, recently wrote:

Many Mennonites shirk the label “evangelical,” especially as it often associates us with US Christians who narrate their relationship to the nation-state quite differently than we do. But most recently my tiny adopted tradition has become cool; nonviolence has become fashionable (and God help us if we so depreciate the cost of waging peace).

Though I am not drawn to the Mennonite tradition (and I certainly love my evangelical tradition/label), I can definitely agree with her that among evangelicalism – nonviolence and Anabaptism has become quite cool. Its probably for good reasons though – the Anabaptists are on to something when it comes to their ethics. But its not just the Anabaptists – you can find some reformed (lower case “r”) writers writing about non-violence (see Preston Sprinkle’s Fight – I wrote a review here). So being reformed myself and committed to non-violent action, I’m glad to see more resources come out that are accessible to evangelicals. Ron Sider has a history of writing books that have pushed evangelicals to be more socially Nonviolent Actionaware and engaged. He has pushed them (us) to think through issues that we might have ignored i.e. the legitimate use of violence as Christians. His latest book: Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands But Most Christians Have Never Really Tried is one such book.

On the back of the book – Richard Mouw writes that Sider has written a “wise, balanced, and inspiring book” that is “a richly instructive guide for all who have pledged their allegiance to the Savior who is also the prince of peace.” Whether you agree with non-violence or believe in just war – the fact is that as Christians we are called to follow the Prince of Peace and we are called to be peacemakers. So at the very least non-violence is an issue that all Christians have to deal with. We have to ask ourselves – is this the best way to live as disciples of Jesus Christ or is there some other way?

Alright – lets actually get to the book…

Non-Violent Action

The structure of the book is pretty straightforward; there are four parts. Each of the first three parts is intended to inspire people to nonviolence and to show people that unlike what many opponents say, nonviolence actually works. Part 1 covers the early days of nonviolence by looing at non-violence in the early church and nonviolence through leaders like MLK and Gandhi. Part 2 show us how non-violence helped topple the soviet empire. Part three takes a look at non-violent movement in the last decade or so. Let it be known that all of the cases he examines are not necessarily Christian movements (i.e. Ghandi & the Arab Spring) however a majority of the cases he follows are Christian an Sider’s call to non-violence is ultimately grounded in Christianity.

For me, the fourth part was the most interesting. It consisted of Sider’s constructive argument for non-violence. His first argument is that non-violent movements contrary to popular opinion, actually work. They accomplish their goals with far less loss and they tend to lead to stronger democratic societies. The reason for this latter accomplishment is that “those who win by the gun tend to rule by the gun.” His other argument for non-violence is that non-violence as a strategic systematized method has not really been tried yet. Regarding this, Sider makes a great point,

Pacifists have long claimed that they have an alternative to war. But that claim remains empty unless they are willing to risk death, as soldiers do to stop injustice and bring peace. (158)

If pacifists think that they have an alternative to war, then they must have the guts and integrity to prove it in the brutal world in which dictators such as Hitler, Somoza, Stalin, and Marcos kill and destroy. If pacifists are not ready to run the same risk as soldiers in nonviolent struggle against evil, then they have no moral right to pretend they know a better way. (167)

Those are powerful words! Sider’s other point is that According to the just war tradition (which most Christians find themselves in) lethal violence must always be the last resort. He calls into question the notion that just war theorists have been consistent with this position. He points to the fact that just war theorists have not spent the amount of time and money to explore the possibilities of nonviolent action.

"Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace" - one of the stories of a successful nonviolent movement that worked.
“Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace” – one of the stories of a successful nonviolent movement that worked.

Sider’s book however ignores the most important argument for nonviolence (although the title does imply it) – namely that it is what Christianity demands. When I hear most people argue against nonviolence (usually for loving reasons and to protect the weak) the argument almost always goes something like this…

Non-violence would be great. But we live in a sinful broken world. Non-violence just doesn’t work because we don’t live in an ideal world.

Arguments around non-violence almost always center around the idea that “it doesn’t work.” Sider here set out to argue that it does in fact work, and history has proved that it can and it does! However that misses the point of Christian non-violence. The call to Christian non-violence isn’t a call to pragmatism. Even if nonviolence didn’t work and Jesus called us to it then we would have to do it! (Whether God calls for it is up to debate; I certainly believe he did call us to peace.)

What I’m trying to point out – and what Sider so unhelpfully forgot to address – is that: The call to nonviolence isn’t grounded on what does or does not work. The call to nonviolence is grounded on whether or not this is what Jesus calls his followers to do.

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

The Gospel According to Levi’s (or Dockers)

Levis vs. Dockers. This is a tale of two pairs of pants. Or better yet two kinds of Christians who tend to wear two kinds of pants. In one corner you have the skinny jean wearing, tattoo flaunting, hipster eye-glassed, latte sipping Christians who think that “the Kingdom deeds good deeds done by good people in the public sector for the common good” (4). In other words the Kingdom mission means working for social justice and peace. In the other corner you have the pleated pants crew – the Docker wearing Christians who have focused all of their kingdom theorizing on two questions – “When does the Kingdom arrive?” and “Where is the Kingdom?”

A typical Christian hipster... This guy is probably a pastor too.
A typical Christian hipster… This guy is probably a pastor too.

Their answer to these questions is generally “The kingdom is both present and future, and the kingdom is both a rule and a realm over which God governs” (9). We might summarize their position as “kingdom = God’s redemptive rule and power at work in the world.”

In Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church Scot McKnight offers an Anabaptist interpretation of what scripture means by Kingdom of God & how that will affect the mission of the church. He concludes that kingdom means “a people governed by a king.” (66) Kingdom does not refer to rule, or a redemptive dynamic, it specifically refers to a people governed by a king. This leads to the surprising conclusion that “kingdom is a people and the church is a people, then it follows that the church people are the kingdom people… there is no kingdom outside of the church.”

This claim goes up against the evangelical consensus which has in general followed George Ladd who claims that:

The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and derivatively the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live in it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself… the Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men and women.

The upshot of McKnight’s position is that kingdom mission is church mission, church mission is kingdom mission, and there is no kingdom mission that is not church mission. Or we might say that the criteria for deciding whether something is “mission” or not is whether it forms or enhances local churches. Something is only mission if it is about Jesus. This will certainly ruffle the feathers of the Skinny Jeans crowd.

Kingdom mission is church mission is gospeling about Jesus in the context of a church witness and loving life. Anyone who calls what they are doing “kingdom work” but does not present Jesus to others or summon others to surrender themselves to King Jesus as Lord and Savior is simply not doing kingdom mission or Kingdom work. They are probably doing good work and doing social justice, but until Jesus is made known, it is not kingdom mission. (142)

I believe that this last paragraph is the heart of this book – if its not pointing people to Jesus & if its not carried out by Jesus’ people then its not really kingdom work.

Just because you are a part of the dockers (i.e. pleated pants) crowd that doesn’t mean you can’t rock them with style!

Review

There are so many great things about this book. I love the fact that he makes a case for why all social justice isn’t necessarily kingdom work. I love the fact that he centers mission around the proclamation of King Jesus. I love the fact that he grounds his arguments in thorough readings of scripture. However despite the fact that I agree with his vision for who King Jesus is and what mission is, I can’t buy into what he sees as the implications of the gospel and mission. Before I push back on a bunch of things, let me just say that I ate up this book, I loved McKnight’s heart for the church and for proclaiming Jesus as the one and only king. In fact, I agree with Publisher’s Weekly who said that “This is must reading for church leaders today.” I really believe that this is a book that many people in my own generation, those who are drawn to a Skinny Jeans gospel, need to read. Having said that, here is where I want to push back:

  1. The Kingdom Story is All Mixed-Up: Most evangelicals hold to a Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation story of the bible. Some have ignored some key parts of this story (Abraham, Israel, Exile, etc) but in the last few years we have been improving our understanding of this big picture story. McKnight however suggests a different story. He suggests an A-B-A’ story. The Story goes: Plan A: God rules the world through is elected people but God is the one and only King. Plan B: God accommodates to Israel’s selfish desires and lets David or an Israelite king rule. Plan A’: Plan B failed, Plan A takes on a new form, with God ruling in the God-man Jesus. What is wrong with this Kingdom Story? It makes it seem as though God’s plan failed and he had to come up with a brand new plan. It makes it seem as though Jesus was not the point the whole time, as though Jesus was God’s backup. I just can’t go there.
  2. McKnight’s Theology of Mission Needs to be Nuanced: McKnight is absolutely right, anyone who calls what they are doing “kingdom work” but does not present Jesus to others or summon others to surrender themselves to King Jesus as Lord and Savior is simply not doing kingdom mission or Kingdom work. However this position needs to be nuanced. He doesn’t do this, so I will try to offer a nuanced position for him ( I think he will agree). Here is my revision of his position: Kingdom work is work that proclaims King Jesus as Lord and Savior. Any work which proclaims the reality of Jesus’ universal reign as King – and is done by kingdom people is kingdom work. We need to remember though that proclamation need not be verbal at all times. Ultimately it will lead to verbal proclamation, but one can testify to the reality that Jesus is king without a verbal proclamation. Practically this means, that a Christian who works for an organization like Living Water International can do kingdom work because her work is done in the name of Jesus and proclaims the fact that under Jesus’ rule it is unthinkable that people would suffer from a lack of clean water. This means that a church who serves their community by opening their doors for recovery programs is doing Kingdom work because it is done in the name of Jesus by Christians. This means that the lone Christian who works in a secular non-profit that does public health education is doing Kingdom work because he is bringing God’s reign to bear (people’s health flourishing) and is doing so in an effort to proclaim “this is what life is like when Jesus reigns,” even though they might not be doing so explicitly with their words on a daily basis.
  3. The Kingdom is Not the Church: In an effort to make his case that Kingdom = Church he quotes D.A. Carson who says that “In no instance is Kingdom to be identified with church, as if the two words can occasion become tight synonyms. Even when there is a referential overlap, the domain of ‘kingdom’ is reign, and the domain of ‘church’ is people.” I agree with Carson. McKnight believes that one day Christ will reign over all of creation, but right now Christ’s reign is only over the church. Again I have to disagree – for there is no square inch of creation over which Christ does not say “mine.” How is that reign expressed? And to what extent do we experience that reign? That is a question for another place and another day. Nevertheless we can say with Richard Mouw that:

The Kingdom is the broad range of reality over which Christ rules… Kingdom covers all those areas of reality where Christ’s rule is acknowledged by those who work to make that rule visible…The institutional church is certainly an important part of Christ’s kingdom, but the church is only one part of the Kingdom…You don’t have to go into a church to do something related to the kingdom…Wherever followers of Christ are attempting to glorify God in one or another sphere of cultural interaction, they are engaged in kingdom activity.” (Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Person Introduction)

McKnight’s Anabaptist theology will not allow him to buy into this Kuperian-Reformed view of Kingdom and culture. I believe that contrasting Mouw’s/Kuyper’s vision with McKnight’s vision of the Kingdom reveals the core of McKnight’s kingdom theology – ultimately McKnight’s kingdom theology is Anabaptist – it is one in which the Church is radically separate from the world. This means that the church does its own thing and can only stand against culture. The church and its mission cannot begin from within the system. This is exactly what McKnight sees happening with the Skinny Jeans Christians and the Pleated Pants Christians. And according to McKnight this is a big problem. Even though I do have a few problems with this book – I certainly don’t want it to come off as though I don’t recommend this book. I highly recommend this book, I honestly believe that every person in ministry should read it, primarily because it will challenge your assumptions about what “Kingdom” means, and hopefully that will lead you to come to your own conclusions.

Kramer obviously prefers to roll with the skinny jeans Christians - he needs to read McKnight's book.
Kramer obviously prefers to roll with the skinny jeans Christians – he needs to read Kingdom Conspiracy. George Castanza clearly rolls with the pleated pants crew, he needs a new wardrobe.

Why We Won’t Need the Government Anymore (Maybe)

Anarchy – the government is unnecessary, undesirable, or harmful. On one end of the spectrum of anarchism you have some people who hold that the government is a necessary evil, on the other end of the spectrum you have those who believe that the government is an unnecessary evil that we need to eliminate as much as possible. Both of these positions are untenable.

Anarchy!!!
Anarchy!!!

Minarchism – think of this as minimal anarchism (that’s easy to remember). Minarchists like Robert Nozick argue that governments ought to exist, but they ought to have a very limited function, namely the protection of individuals. That means that police, courts, fire departments, the military, etc. have a right to exist. Minarchism is the so called – “night watchman” state. In a real world this position is untenable. However, we ought to ask ourselves, an ideal world, is a minimalist form of government the best form of government? Or we might even want to ask ourselves –

In the new heavens and the new earth, will there be any form of human run government?

“In the new heavens and the new earth we won’t need the government anymore. Jesus will be our king. Government is a necessary institution in this fallen world, if the fall had never happened government would not have developed.” I highly doubt all those things. And so did Abraham Kuyper….

Humans need government. Political institutions aren’t the result of the fall.

Without a doubt the government should keep from unduly intruding upon other institutions (what “unduly” actually means is certainly up for debate.) However, according to Kuyper, the government certainly has some legitimate functions – 1) it exists do adjudicate disputes between competing institutions and people as well, 2) it exists to defend the weak against the strong, and finally 3) it exists to ensure that everybody is playing a part in making the society flourish.

Abraham Kuyper

All of these points seem to point towards a minimalist form of government that would only exist if the fall hadn’t occurred. 1) Disputes would not occur if people didn’t have sinful competing desires. James seems to say so – “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” 2) The weak only need defense in a fallen sinful world where the powerful are prone to prey upon the weak. The author of Ecclesiastes seems to say so – “If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at church things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.” 3) People wouldn’t need to government to ensure that everybody is flourishing, because in an unfallen world everybody would care about making sure that others are flourishing. However we are selfish people and there aren’t enough resources to go around, so selfish people make sure that they flourish with little regard to the flourishing of others, especially of those others are not like them.

So it seems as though government is necessary because of our fallen condition. If we weren’t fallen we wouldn’t need government. Kuyper (and I) would disagree with that line of thought. Kuyper believed that the political authority that we currently experience is simply a manifestation of something that was already implicit in creation’s design prior to the fall.

Even if the fall had not occurred government would still have developed.

Richard Mouw, explaining Kuyper’s position has argued that “the government is not fundamentally a remedial response to human perversity, but a natural provision for regulating – “ordering” – the complexity of created cultural life” (Abraham Kuyper, 51). Mouw leads us into a thought experiment where we imagine a pre-fall world, in this thought experiment you have two people living in an apartment complex. One person is a tuba player who wants to practice on a daily basis at the same time as her neighbor puts his children down for a nap. Neither of these people have sinful desires – in fact they are both good desires, one is working towards cultivating culture and the other is fulfilling parental responsibilities. The tubal player wants to make music for people to enjoy, the father wants his children to be well rested and healthy. These two people need somebody to help them resolve this benign dispute. Mouw leads us into another thought experiment.

Think about traffic patterns. Even sinless people would have to agree about which side of the road they would use when driving their cars. Thus there is a need for regulation of group activities, even when it is not necessary to reinforce such regulative activity with coercive threats. (52)

Both of these short thought experiments illustrate the fact that there is nothing implausible about a political system or a governmental institution existing in a world where sin does not exist. Order and regulation are a necessary part of human flourishing, order and regulation are woven into creation itself. All this to say, even if the fall had not occurred, human beings would naturally develop some system of ordering and regulation because 1)it is pragmatic and 2)it is woven into creation.

So back to the idea that “in the new heavens and the new earth we won’t need the government anymore…” The truth is that if God wove the need for government into the nature of creation itself (even if we only catch a glimpse of that prior to the fall) then why believe that the very same need that existed within us prior to the fall will suddenly disappear in new creation?

Recommended books on Christ and Culture

If you are looking for some books on the interaction between Christianity and Culture here are some I definitely recommend.

D.A. Carson – Known more for his exegetical prowess than his cultural engagement, but in recent years he has entered the arena of “Christ and Culture”.

Carson, D. A. Christ and Culture Revisited. Eerdmans, 2008.

Andy Crouch – He has quickly become the expert on Christ and Culture (at least in my mind and the minds of a lot of other evangelicals). His books have reshaped the discussion of Christ and Culture in recent years.

Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Stanley Hauwerwas – He brings wisdom from the Anabaptist tradition.

Hauerwas, Stanley, and William Willimon. Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. Abingdon Press, 1989.

Abraham Kuyper – A true man of all trades. He was never a professional theologian, yet as a lay theologian-politician he isn’t just a man sitting up in the ivory tower theorizing. He put his theories to work!

Kuyper, Abraham. Lectures on Calvinism. Eerdmans, 1943.

Richard Mouw – A true Kuyperian. If you want to know about Kuyperianism read Mouw. More than anybody else Mouw has shaped my understanding of Calvinism and the reformed take on Christ and Culture.

Mouw, Richard. When The Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem. Eerdmans, 2002. ISBN: 978-0-8028-3996-1. $14.

Richard Neibuhr – This book is a classic. It is the starting point for all discussion about Christ and culture.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Kevin Vanhoozer – He is a theological beast! Enough said….

Vanhoozer, Kevin, Charles Anderson, and Michael Sleasman. Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends. Baker Academic, 2007.

Book Review – The Suffering and Victorious Christ by Richard Mouw and Douglas Sweeney

Richard Mouw and Douglas Sweeney, The Suffering and Victorious Christ: Toward a More Compassionate Christology, Baker, 2013, 108pp.

The Suffering and Victorious Christ

As evangelical Christians become more and more aware of the fact that Christian theology is not simply a western endeavor we will begin to so see more and more interaction between American Evangelical theology and Non-Western theology, in other words we will begin to see that our American theology is also a contextualized theology. As we slowly being to realize American theology is also a contextualized theology we will come to see that there is no such thing as “American Theology.” Who do we mean by “American?” Do we mean Latino-Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans? What about people like me, who are mixed, with parents from different cultures and continents? How will traditional Anglo-American theology, specifically Christology address these segments of the Christian church? Douglas Sweeney and Richard Mouw provide us with an example of how that might go….

The Suffering and Victorious Christ was birthed  out of a Christology conference held in Japan in 2010. During the conference it became clearer that

“Western militarism led Americans to highlight God and Jesus’ Christ’s power, stringent holiness, and victory over sin far above their passion condescension to our weakness, and identification with human suffering” (2)

On the other hand Asian theologies have consistently emphasized the suffering and brokenness of Christ. Mouw and Sweeny say that they are “not convinced that violence, triumphalism, and denial of the suffering of God are essential to the Reformation traditions.” With that they engage in a project of digging through their respective traditions (Reformed and Lutheran) for a more compassionate Christology. At the forefront of their minds is a missional concern, people need to hear that God identifies with them in their suffering, they don’t only need to hear about God’s wrath against sin….

Mouw and Sweeney mine their traditions for Christological gold, through the study of hymns, sermons, and personal narratives as well as more traditional theological resources, they show that the Reformed and Lutheran tradition can serve as a basis for a Christus dolor, not simply a Christus Victor. They set up their purpose in light of contextual theology. On page 9, they say that their question is

“How can we articulate a more compassionate and globally relevant Christology in terms that are faithful to and consistent with the Reformation traditions we claim, but are also disciplined by the concerns and expersience of our Asian and non-European brothers and sisters?”

Overview

In order to answer this question they begin by dealing with resources from their own theological heritages. Mouw begins by examining the Reformed theologian, John Williamson Nevin, a central figure in Mercersburg theology. Sweeney then devotes a chapter to Lutheran theologian Franz Pieper, who predicates suffering of God himself by talking about the suffering of God in Christ. This chapter is followed by a brief interlude on Roman Catholic theology and incarnational presence. After this interlude Mouw adds another chapter on Reformed theology and the suffering of Christ. Hodge, Berkhof, and Faber are the central foci of this chapter. Mouw argues that the seeds of a compassionate Christology were there, but what is needed is an emphasis on a compassionate Christology. Mouw and Sweeney then devote a chapter to a less traditional theological resource, narratives and hymns. They examine African American slave experiences of suffering and the role of Christ’s suffering in their making sense of their situation. They point out that the slaves believed that Christ, and Christ alone understood their suffering. They believed that he suffered with them and like them. The Christus dolor is a Christ that suffering slaves could identify with. They conclude with some words of warning, stating that the exploitation of Christus dolor can be just as dangerous as the exploitation of Christus victor. We need scriptural guidance to form our Christology. In their conclusion they offer some words of encouragement for those who seek to form more global and compassionate Christologies.

Assessment

In one sense this is an act of constructive Christology, yet in another sense it is a report of what different traditions have to say regarding a particular subject. Given that it is partially a constructive project and a report, its difficult to asses this book. For instance, I have qualms with some parts of Lutheran Christology, but this is not the place to address those issues. Others will have issues with Reformed Christology, but again this is not the sort of critique that the book invites. The type of critique that this book invites is regarding whether or not the project that Mouw and Sweeney are engaged in is possible in principle and whether or not it is a worthwhile project. Some will surely respond that theology ought not be contextual. Theology is objective so speaking about contextual theology brings the subject into subjectivity. However I don’t think that is the case. Mouw and Sweeney rightly point out that “diverse circumstances…require different emphases in the way they configure theology, they can – and should – nonetheless expresses as hared theology that unites them in the body of Christ. (91)” So there is certainly room for manifold theologies that have a different emphasis, yet talk about the same thing, because they are talking about Christ. So to those that say that contextual theology is in principle misdirected, I simply say “you are wrong.” Regarding the second question, whether or not Mouw and Sweeney are engaged in a worthwhile project, we must answer that they are. The fact is that we Americans have often ignored the suffering Christ and instead have chosen to focus only on the victorious Christ…

The other day I was preaching on Matthew 5:10, I was preaching about persecution and how Christ identifies with us in our suffering and in our persecution. At the end of the sermon a college student who was visiting from another church came up to me to thank me for preaching on God’s suffering. He said that he has never heard a sermon about that. We simply don’t like to talk about suffering in church.

For some reason we Americans don’t like to think about God suffering, maybe its because we think comfort is a mark of godliness.

Nevertheless it is a fact that the God-Man (however you want to cash that out, either in a Reformed fashion or a Lutheran fashion) suffered for us and in our place. Christ was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with pain. And if we choose not to address that part of Christ’s person and work we are missing a central part of the gospel.

Honor thy Mother(land) and thy Father(land)

“America is not God’s nation. Let me make this clear… America is not the new Israel, nor is it a Christian nation. What the Old Testament does do is critiques the massive wave of Christian support for America’s unbridled militarism. Such alligance is misplaced; such support is unbiblical…..Seing America’s military strength as the hope of the world is an affront to God’s rule over the world. Its idolatry.” – Preston Sprinkle in Fight

Nationalism and Patriotism are quite different things. Growing up I didn’t understand this whatsoever. I vividly remember 9/11. I was in 8th grade when it happened. I remember the types of conversation I had with my friends in the days ensuing the tragedy. “If I were 18 I would join the army and kill those idiots.” “We have to pay them back.” “How dare they do this to America, don’t they know who we are!” There was a surge in nationalism during those days. People blindly turned to war as the solution (or revenge) for what had happened. Pay back through violence is how we made ourselves feel better for what had happened to us. I was one of those people who blindly followed along.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I really figured out my view of a Christian’s relationship to the government. Somehow I had picked up a Lutheran(ish) 2 Kingdoms view of politics.

Church and State

The Kingdom of the State was one thing, and the Kingdom of God was another. Certain things belonged to Caesar and certain things belonged to King Jesus. As  Christian I was a citizen of the State but also a citizen of God’s kingdom. This lead me to say things such as “As an American I support the war in Iraq, but as Christian I don’t.” Or “As a citizen I support torture for the sake of America’s safety, but as a Christian I believe it is wrong.” That was typical of my views…. “As an American I_________, but as a Christian I ___________.”  It was only when I began to dive into the Gospels and theology of the Kingdom, mainly through N.T. Wright that my views began to change. I began to see how ridiculous it was to hold a position as an American and hold the opposite position as a Christian. It was during this period, and my time at Fuller under Glen Stassen that I began to submit my political views to Jesus and the way of the Kingdom. My views became integrated. And then I realized that I could still love my country, but not support the things it does. I could be patriotic without being nationalistic.

Here is how Richard Mouw spells out the difference between the two in an essay titled “Patriotism”:

I had serious doubts about the war in Vietnam in my youth, and this was not a popular stance to take in the evangelical world in those days. Evangelical Christians were often super patriotic. “My country, right or wrong” was one their rallying cries.

I had real theological problems with that attitude. That kind of patriotism struck me as boarding on idolatry. The worship – or near-worship – of a nation is a serious problem from a biblical perspective…. Absolute loyalty is something that only God deserves from us.

There is nothing wrong with Patriotism… Indeed it can be a very healthy thing. The Bible often uses the word “honor” in describing what Christians should cultivate in their dealings with the nations in which they live. That’s the same word that is applied in the 10 commandments to our parental relations: “Honor your father and mother.” The link between parents and nation is a good one to think about. There is a natural connection. “Patriotism” comes from the word for “father.” We often speak of our “fatherland” or our “motherland.”

There is nothing wrong with feeling sentimental about our parents… When a mother gets a card from a son that says “You are the Greatest Mom in the World,” she has every right to simply enjoy the compliment… the hyperbole is OK. We all understand that is going on. And we all know that any woman who took the claim literally could be dangerous.

For similar reasons, there is nothing inappropriate as such in thinking of my own country as the Greatest Nation in the World. Sentimental hyperbole is one of the ways we express important affections. But there is a special danger when we say such things of our country. Nations have a tendency to believe that they really ARE the greatest. And nations, especially powerful nations like the United States, have lots of guns and bombs in their possession. Whey they start backing up their belief in their own greatness by using these bombs and guns against other nations, they can become a serious threat.” (Praying at Burger King pg. 116-119)

Mouw’s observation that “patriotism” comes from the same root as “father” is very insightful. We honor our mothers and fathers, but we do not obey when they ask us to do things that contradict what our Heavenly Father requires from us.

Nationalism is blind obedience and support of our nation rooted in the belief that our nation is the “greatest nation in the world.” Patriotism can say that we are “the greatest nation in the world,” however patriotism doesn’t really believe that we are the “greatest nation in the world.” Patriotism honors and cares for one’s nation in the same way one honors and cares for one’s mother and father.

Patriotism is what we are called to as Christians. It’s biblical. Nationalism, on the other hand is idolatry.

To say “As an American I_________, but as a Christian I ___________,” is nationalistic. It’s idolatrous. It’s believing that certain things belong to Caesar and other things belong to King Jesus. It fails to recognize that they only true king and ruler is Jesus. It fails to express the fact that our allegiance belongs to Jesus alone.