Posts Tagged ‘Huffington Post’

Thank you, Jesus, for the bad news of the gospel

November 13, 2015

In her November 10 post, “Taking the Merry out of Christmas: The Offense of the Gospel,” blogger Anne Kennedy reflects on two recent events that relate to the taking and giving of offense: the mostly fabricated indignation about Starbucks’s holiday-themed cups and the controversy at Yale relating to racism and free speech.

Before getting to her main point, she takes a well-deserved swipe at the Huffington Post’s “Christianity” section. Referring to the pastor who created the original viral video about Starbucks, she writes:

His chief offense, as I can tell from reading this article in Huffpo, is, and it should be predicated with ‘shut up stupid Christians’, is that he is an ordinary beefy American who is ruining the gospel, which Huffpo knows all about, shut up shut up shut up.

How curious, I thought to myself, that Huffpo believes the gathering up of offense is a Good Thing–you can see it all up and down their page–but as soon as someone who might be identified as a Christian considers it, it becomes instantaneously a Bad Thing.

I like this:

I think the true offense, and why Christians must, absolutely, be constantly told to Shut Up, is because it is the Christian’s job to reveal and speak about the very dire reality of humanity’s true offense. Offense is a problem, but it’s not ours to take. It is God’s to measure and judge. We offend him, every single tiny second. Our sin is a stench rising up in his nostril and sometime he will have enough and come and destroy the offender. If you haven’t flung yourself on his mercy before that you will find all your angers and minute micro aggressions have brought you to a place eternally perishing. The Christian’s job isn’t to take offense, it is to announce the offense of the sinner and plead with the sinner to repent. Starbucks has a lovely, carefully crafted little pagan deity on its cheerful red cup, a cup that pours out coffee to a humanity spiraling into the depths of depravity and sin. That young lady, screaming her rage, later cupping her warm coffee and scrolling down her expensive handheld device, is a sinner in need of mercy from God. She is the offender, not the offended.

Christians do have a purpose in this dark time, but it’s not spread a message of peace and love. Not initially. It’s to say to the person who is gathering their threads of offense and weaving them into a warm, cozy blanket of offense, “Stop It.” And that is the best, most sure way to offend everyone that I can think of.

As she rightly points out, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ—as opposed, for example, to the lesser gospel I blogged about on Wednesday—begins with bad news. In a vain effort to grow our churches at the expense of the truth, we pastors often try to gloss over this bad news.

But you know what I’ve discovered in my own life? Even this bad news, when you let it sink into your bones, is incredibly good news: What a relief to know—apart from God’s grace, left to my own devices—what a hopeless sinner I am! At last I see there’s a reason I struggle like this! There’s actually a reason, as St. Paul says, that “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

Years ago, I heard an interview with actress Patty Duke, who lived for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She said she was so relieved when her doctor finally told her that something really was wrong with her, and that this problem had a name.

Humanity’s main problem has a name, too—sin. Left untreated, it will destroy us and people we love, both now and for eternity.

When you realize the “very dire reality of humanity’s true offense”—and your own—that all you can do, as Kennedy says, is to “fling yourself on God’s mercies” and cry out, “Help me, Jesus,” that is a wonderful place to be!  Because that’s the place at which God’s all-sufficient grace meets you.

Thank you, Jesus, for this bad news!

The Bible is (mostly) a book for grown-ups

November 29, 2012

While I disagree with much of what she sayabout the Bible and theology in the opening paragraphs of this HuffPost piece, I mostly liked Yale religious studies professor Christine Hayes’s “five common misconceptions about the Bible.”

She overstates misconception #5. No surprise there: anyone who refers to the God of Christianity as “the god of western theological speculation” is obviously prone to overstatement. (It would come as a surprise to our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters, among others, that the triune God of the Nicene Creed is a product of western theological reflection!)

She writes, “The attributes assigned to ‘God’ by post-biblical theologians—such as omniscience and immutability—are simply not attributes possessed by the character Yahweh as drawn in biblical narratives.” Really? Beware of any Bible scholar who uses the word “simply not,” because you can be sure that what he or she is saying is highly disputed and far from simple. Little about the Bible is simple—and isn’t that the main point of her blog post? Oh, well…

Needless to say, at times Yahweh possesses the attributes of omniscience and immutability (among others). The Old Testament speaks with multiple voices on the subject of God and God’s attributes, and it is the legitimate task of theology to synthesize or make sense of these voices.

Still, I strongly agree with her misconception #4—that the stories of the Old Testament are “pious parables about saints” or “G-rated tales easily understood by children.” They are, instead,

psychologically real stories about very human beings whose behavior can be scandalous, violent, rebellious, outrageous, lewd and vicious. At the same time, like real people, biblical characters can change and act with justice and compassion. Nevertheless, many readers are shocked and disgusted to discover that Jacob is a deceiver, Joseph is an arrogant, spoiled brat and Judah sleeps with his daughter-in-law when she is disguised as a prostitute!

The unfounded expectation that biblical characters are perfectly pious models for our own conduct causes many readers to work to vindicate biblical characters, just because they are biblical characters. But if we attribute to these characters the reputation for piety manufactured by later religious traditions, if we whitewash their flaws, then we miss the moral complexities and the deep psychological insights that have made these (often R-rated) stories of timeless interest. Biblical narratives place serious demands on their readers. The stories rarely moralize. They explore moral issues and situations by placing biblical characters in moral dilemmas — but they usually leave the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

Clichés aren’t the worst sin

July 11, 2012

Speaking of clichés…

I had high hopes for this HuffPost blog post by Christian Piatt entitled “10 Cliches Christians Should Avoid.” Having read the post, however, I would tell Mr. Piatt that being sanctimonious is a greater sin than using a cliché. I’m sure he imagines that his post will win the sympathies of the atheist trolls who hang out at HuffPost’s Christianity section. I don’t have to read the comments section—2,688 comments and counting—to know how badly he failed.

By all means, I agree that most of them are clichés, but that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily untrue. I’ll quickly review them:

1. “Everything happens for a reason.” Yep, this is the worst one on the list, for sure. Only the most hard-nosed Calvinist buys into the idea that everything happens, directly or indirectly, for God’s glory. They say this, I think, because they imagine that if history doesn’t unfold in exactly this manner, down to its minutest and most absurd detail, then God’s will will not ultimately be done. So, by this logic, when something unspeakably evil happens—like rape, for instance—it could not be any other way: it must serve God’s purposes, and who are we to question it?

Yes, this theology grosses me out. But the vast majority of people who use this cliché aren’t thinking in these terms. They’re trying to find comfort when something bad happens. In my role as pastor, I’ve heard people in the throes of grief say this of a loved one who died tragically. In that moment, I’m not going to say anything to “correct” their theology or tell them they’re wrong. Besides, what they’re usually trying to say is that God hasn’t abandoned them, even in the midst of their suffering. And that’s certainly true. Read the rest of this entry »