Friday, August 18, 2017

Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world

Last summer, researchers at the International Monetary Fund settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics – or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left’s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality . . .

From an essay I'm writing on "Harry Potter and the Mission of the Church"

Opposing the church in our world is a foe of great power with its own design on world domination. Whether we personify this power in a devil figure or see it as an impersonal power or force is less important than recognizing the existence of malignant intent in the universe and its strategic plans to usurp God’s place in the world. I like to picture this power as an unholy trinity – Mars, Mammon, and Me. The undoing of our Hogwarts, the church, has its focal point in the primacy of the self, the power of “stuff”, and the efficacy of violence.

How to Make Fun of Nazis


August 17, 2017

For decades, Wunsiedel, a German town near the Czech border, has struggled with a parade of unwanted visitors. It is the birthplace of one of Adolf Hitler’s deputies, a man named Rudolf Hess. And every year, to residents’ chagrin, neo-Nazis marched to his grave site there. The town had staged counterdemonstrations to dissuade these pilgrims. In 2011 it had exhumed Hess’s body and even removed his grave stone. But undeterred, the neo-Nazis returned. So in 2014, the town tried a different tactic: humorous subversion.

The campaign, called Rechts Gegen Rechts — the Right Against the Right — turned the march into Germany’s “most involuntary walkathon.” For every meter the neo-Nazis marched, local residents and businesses pledged to donate 10 euros (then equivalent to about $12.50) to a program that helps people leave right-wing extremist groups, called EXIT Deutschland.

They turned the march into a mock sporting event. Someone stenciled onto the street “start,” a halfway mark and a finish line, as if it were a race. Colorful signs with silly slogans festooned the route. “If only the F├╝hrer knew!” read one. “Mein Mampf!” (my munch) read another that hung over a table of bananas. A sign at the end of the route thanked the marchers for their contribution to the anti-Nazi cause — €10,000 (close to $12,000). And someone showered the marchers with rainbow confetti at the finish line.

The approach has spread to several other German towns and one in Sweden (where it was billed as Nazis Against Nazis).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

We Need a New Republic

By Daron AcemogluDaron Acemoglu is a co-author with James A. Robinson of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. , Simon JohnsonSimon Johnson is the Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan School of Management. He is also a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C.

August 15, 2017

Most Americans tend to believe that they’ve lived under the same form of government, more or less, since the country was founded in late 1700s. They’re mistaken.

It’s true that there have been important continuities. The American conception of what government should and should not do is deeply rooted in clear thinking at the start of the republic; the country has long preferred limited government and effective constraints on capricious executive action. But this persistence of core ideas (and the consistent use of the same buildings in Washington, D.C.) obscures the dramatic changes that have taken place within the governing institutions themselves.

In fact, formidable challenges at the end of the 19th century were met by fashioning a transformation so thorough it could effectively be deemed a “Second Republic.” This new republic came with significantly different economic and political rules — and, as a result, enabled the American system to survive and even thrive for another century. Today, faced with serious economic and political dysfunction, we are in need of another round of deep institutional renewal: a Third Republic.

The conditions that brought about the first transformation of American society are strikingly similar to those we see today. At the root of the problems confronting the United States by 1900 was a wave of innovation that sped up growth. The direct benefits of these new technologies accrued to a few, while many others became more uncertain about their economic future.

Early in the 21st century, we have reached a similar phase; the latest technology enables the offshoring of many of the manufacturing jobs that had previously been the mainstay of the middle class, or automates them out of existence. And we witness newly extreme concentrations of economic power, which are again making our politics less genuinely democratic.

There are differences too, of course. The modification of the American republic early in the 20th century would not have been feasible, for instance, without the Civil War, which tore down slavery. Still, there are lessons to be learned.

The prime driver of reform at the end of the 19th century was the progressive movement, itself a reaction to the accelerating technological change and the rise of oligarchs. If America as we know it — or, even better, a renewed, reinvigorated version of it — is to survive for yet another century, it will have to replicate the progressives’ achievements. The first task will be to understand the degree of improvisation which accounted for those successes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Why slippery slope arguments should not stop us from removing Confederate monuments

The inside track on Washington politics.

August 15 at 10:28 PM



Following the violence in Charlottesville, Va. that was sparked by plans to remove the Robert E. Lee statue, cities across the country are stepping up efforts to pull Confederate monuments from public spaces. Cities across the country are stepping up efforts to pull Confederate monuments from public spaces. (Reuters)

Following the violence in Charlottesville, Va. that was sparked by plans to remove the Robert E. Lee statue, cities across the country are stepping up efforts to pull Confederate monuments from public spaces. (Reuters)

This past weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia arose from a gathering of racists, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists, whose ostensible purpose was to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Over the last several years, efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces have gathered steam because more and more people are coming to realize that government should not honor people who principal claim to fame was fighting a war in defense of the evil institution of slavery.

Defenders of Confederate monuments sometimes try to argue that slavery actually had nothing to do with the Civil War and secession. This theory is undermined by the Confederates’ own explanation of their motives, including those in the Southern states’ official statements outlining their reasons for secession, which focus on slavery far more than any other issue, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who famously said that “slavery . . . was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution” and that protecting it was the “cornerstone” of the new Confederate government .  . .

Monday, August 14, 2017

Trump Is Not the Problem

His election is the consequence of a crisis that’s been brewing for a long time.

August 8, 2017

Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us. It was not always so. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president (1850–1853), presided over but did not personify the American republic. He was merely the federal chief executive. Contemporary observers did not refer to his term in office as the Age of Fillmore. With occasional exceptions, Abraham Lincoln in particular, much the same could be said of Fillmore’s successors. They brought to office low expectations, which they rarely exceeded. So when Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885) or William Howard Taft (1909–1913) left the White House, there was no rush to immortalize them by erecting gaudy shrines—now known as “presidential libraries”—to the glory of their presidencies. In those distant days, ex-presidents went back home or somewhere else where they could find work.

Over the course of the past century, all that has changed. Ours is a republic that has long since taken on the trappings of a monarchy, with the president inhabiting rarefied space as our king-emperor. The Brits have their woman in Buckingham Palace. We have our man in the White House.

Nominally, the Constitution assigns responsibilities and allocates prerogatives to three co-equal branches of government. In practice, the executive branch enjoys primacy. Prompted by a seemingly endless series of crises since the Great Depression and World War II, presidents have accumulated ever-greater authority, partly through usurpation, but more often than not through forfeiture.

At the same time, they also took on various extraconstitutional responsibilities. By the beginning of the present century, Americans took it for granted that the occupant of the Oval Office should function as prophet, moral philosopher, style setter, interpreter of the prevailing zeitgeist, and—last but hardly least—celebrity in chief. In short, POTUS was the bright star at the center of the American solar system.

As recently as a year ago, few saw in this cult of the presidency cause for complaint. On odd occasions, some particularly egregious bit of executive tomfoolery might trigger grumbling about an “imperial presidency.” Yet rarely did such complaints lead to effective remedial action. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 might be considered the exception that proves the rule. Inspired by the disaster of the Vietnam War and intended to constrain presidents from using force without congressional buy-in and support, that particular piece of legislation ranks alongside the Volstead Act of 1919(enacted to enforce Prohibition) as among the least effective ever to become law.

In truth, influential American institutions—investment banks and multinational corporations, churches and universities, big =city newspapers and TV networks, the bloated national-security apparatus and both major political parties—have found reason aplenty to endorse a system that elevates the president to the status of demigod. By and large, it’s been good for business, whatever that business happens to be.

Furthermore, it’s our president—not some foreign dude—who is, by common consent, the most powerful person in the universe. For inhabitants of a nation that considers itself both “exceptional” and “indispensable,” this seems only right and proper. So Americans generally like it that their president is the acknowledged Leader of the Free World rather than some fresh-faced pretender from France or Canada.

Then came the Great Hysteria. Arriving with a Pearl Harbor–like shock, it erupted on the night of November 8, 2016, just as the news that Hillary Clinton was losing Florida and appeared certain to lose much else besides became apparent.

Suddenly, all the habits and precedents that had contributed to empowering the modern American presidency no longer made sense. That a single deeply flawed individual along with a handful of unelected associates and family members should be entrusted with determining the fate of the planet suddenly seemed the very definition of madness.

Emotion-laden upheavals producing behavior that is not entirely rational are hardly unknown in the American experience. Indeed, they recur with some frequency. The Great Awakenings of the 18th and early 19th centuries are examples of the phenomenon. So also are the two Red Scares of the 20th century, the first in the early 1920s and the second, commonly known as “McCarthyism,” coinciding with the onset of the Cold War.

Yet the response to Donald Trump’s election, combining as it has fear, anger, bewilderment, disgust, and something akin to despair, qualifies as an upheaval without precedent. History itself had seemingly gone off the rails. The crude Andrew Jackson’s 1828 ousting of an impeccably pedigreed president, John Quincy Adams, was nothing compared to the vulgar Donald Trump’s defeat of an impeccably credentialed graduate of Wellesley and Yale who had served as first lady, United States senator, and secretary of state. A self-evidently inconceivable outcome—all the smart people agreed on that point—had somehow happened anyway.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Confession of 1967 (PCUSA): Fifty Years Later

In 1967 amid the tumultuous societal upheaval of the late 1960’s the then Northern Presbyterian Church issued The Confession of 1967. It applied a reformed, Barthian approach to theology to the issues of those times. Specifically, it addresses discrimination, conflict among nations, poverty, and male-female relations. I’ve reproduced them below from the inclusive language version. It is striking how relevant these concerns are today fifty years later.

9.44 a. God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love, God over comes the barriers between sisters and brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all people to receive and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore, the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize others, however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess.

9.45 b. God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting human power and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of humankind. Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling.

9.46 c. The reconciliation of humankind through Jesus Christ makes it plain that enslaving poverty in a world of abundance is an intolerable violation of God’s good creation. Because Jesus identified himself with the needy and exploited, the cause of the world’s poor is the cause of his disciples. The church cannot condone poverty , whether it is the product of unjust social structures, exploitation of the defenseless, lack of national resources, absence of technological understanding, or rapid expansion of populations. The church calls all people to use their abilities, their possessions, and the fruits of technology as gifts entrusted to them by God for the maintenance of their families and the advancement of the common welfare. It encourages those forces in human society that raise hopes for better conditions and provide people with opportunity for a decent living. A church that is in different to poverty , or evades responsibility in economic affairs, or is open to one social class only, or expects gratitude for its beneficence makes a mockery of reconciliation and offers no acceptable worship to God.

9.47 d. The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which God created humankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of alienation from God, neighbors, and self. Perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, by the pressures of urbanization, by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and by world overpopulation. The church, as the household of God, is called to lead people out of this alienation into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ. Reconciled to God, people have joy in and respect for their own humanity and that of other persons; a man and woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; parents receive the grace to care for children in love and to nurture their individuality. The church comes under the judgment of God and invites rejection by society when it fails to lead men and women into the full meaning of life together, or withholds the compassion of Christ from those caught in the moral confusion of our time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Almost Completely Unknown Difference that Makes All the Difference….

December 17, 2012 by Roger E. Olson

The Almost Completely Unknown Difference that Makes All the Difference (between Christians and Culture and between Christians and Christians)

We talk endlessly about differences among Christians: Catholic versus Protestant, Calvinist versus Arminian, liberal versus conservative, neo-fundamentalist versus postconservative, premillennial versus amillennial, pedobaptist versus credobaptist—to name just a few of our favorite divisions.

But over the past few years I have become convinced there’s one deeper difference that is largely unrecognized and runs deeper than all those others. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, among Protestants, at least, it is rarely spoken about. We certainly don’t divide over it. Yet it does divide us without our knowing it. We don’t know it because it’s so seemingly subtle, it sounds esoteric. Whenever I bring it up eyes glaze over and people act as if it’s a drug that immediately causes mental confusion. Yet, it’s not really all that difficult to understand.

Before the dawn of modernity nominalism was hardly known or ever discussed except in the most rarified circles of scholastic philosophy and theology. Only as it became more widely discussed did people begin to realize Christians had always been something else—“realists.” Now, suddenly, beginning sometime in the high middle ages but increasingly with modernity, there was an alternative . . .


Thursday, August 10, 2017

The First Five of Ten Commandments for Bible Reading

                                                                        Herman and Herma Neutics offer the first five of Ten Commandments of Bible Reading 

1.       You shall expect to hear God speak to you through the Bible, even if you are not always aware of it.

2.       You shall treat the Bible as a strange book from far distant cultures. It is written for you but not to you. What you think you know about it will probably mislead you.

3.       You shall hear a word of Grace in the Bible. Humans hate grace, however, and are likely to twist it into a word of self-justification or self-expression.

4.       You shall also hear a word of judgment. You will know by when you hear it as a call to return to the God who loves you and not as a word of condemnation.

5.       Whatever you think you hear in the Bible, if it doesn’t end up with you clinging to and/or shouldering the cross, it’s not God’s word.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

8 Thoughts on Staying Christian Anyway

In my last post, we looked at your 5 biggest challenges to staying Christian from a survey I took a few years ago.

Now let’s move on and talk about moving forward amid those challenges.

I’m a little nervous about using language of “moving on” and “moving forward,” since that could imply minimizing the challenges“Oh that’s not really a problem. Here’s the answer, now move on.” I avoid that common pattern like mold on bread.

To get us started, below are my present thoughts on addressing and living with the challenges to staying Christian. In the comments section you can interact with them or add your own.

To be extra clear, I am not in any way, shape, or form suggesting that what I think is mandate for the rest of you, an attempt at an iron-clad defense of Christianity, or an etched-in-stone “here I stand” statement. But this is where I am. You are, of course, free to accept, ignore, modify, be bored, whatever.

I number them as separate items (because I’m German), but these thoughts overlap.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Rabbi Kushner on Reading the Bible

The Rabbi Lawrence Kushner wrote a book called God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know, in which each chapter is a different interpretation of the same passage in the Bible. ...

You keep turning the gem, seeing something new each time. That’s what we’ve been doing in this book—we’ve been turning the gem.

We read it, and we let it read us. We dive into their story, discovering our story in the process.
I’ve heard people say that they read it literally. As if that’s the best way to understand the Bible.

It’s not.

We read it literately.
We read it according to the kind of literature that it is.

That’s how you honor it.
That’s how you respect it.
That’s how you learn from it.
That’s how you enjoy it.

If it’s a poem, then you read it as a poem.
If it’s a letter, then you read it as a letter.
If it’s a story but some of the details seem exaggerated or extreme—like when Samson kills exactly one thousand Philistines
or Balaam’s donkey starts talking to him
or Elijah is taken up into heaven before their very eyes—
there’s a good chance the writer is making a larger point and you shouldn’t get too hung up on those details.
You read it,
and you ask questions of it,
and you study and analyze and reflect and smile and argue and speculate and discuss.

Other times people want to know the right answer to a passage in the Bible. As if there is a right and a wrong reading of each verse in the Bible. There are, of course, lots of ways to miss the point and truly read it wrongly. But to say that there’s a right way may unnecessarily limit your reading of the Bible.

There are lots of right ways to read it. In fact, right isn’t even the best way to think about the Bible.
How about dancing?
You dance with it.
And to dance, you have to hear its music.
And then you move in response to it.

My friend Kent was doing graduate work in Jerusalem with a rabbi who one day gave the class an assignment to go home and read the story of Abraham offering his son Isaac (which is called the Akedah, or the Binding of Isaac) and then think up as many questions as they possibly could about the story. They returned to class, and the rabbi asked the students to share their questions. They each had a few. After a few students had read theirs, the rabbi launched into a rant about how dumbfounded he was that they had so few. Hadn’t they read the story? How could they have read it and come away with so few questions?

You dance with the Bible, but you also interrogate it.
You challenge it, question it, poke it, probe it.
You let it get under your skin.
We read it, and we let it read us,
and then we turn the gem,
and again,
and again,
seeing something new over and over and over again . . ."
- Rob Bell

Thursday, August 3, 2017

How a Church Can (and Should) Come to  Love Leviticus

The great early church theologian Origen speaks for most of us today when he says:

“If you read people passages from the divine books that are good and clear, they will hear them with great joy . . . But provide someone a reading from Leviticus, and at once the listener will gag and push it away as if it were some bizarre food. He came, after all, to learn how to honor God, to take in the teachings that concern justice and piety. But instead he is now hearing about the ritual of burnt sacrifices!”[1]

Love Leviticus? Perish the thought! It’s in the Bible but most of us offer it only scorn or more or less benign neglect. Love it? We don’t even like it. All that holiness and purity stuff. Clean and unclean – who can make sense of all that? Who wants to? What difference does it make?

No, we don’t love Leviticus. And we really don’t want to.

It’s about a nation we don’t understand (biblically and theologically),

in a time and place foreign and distant to us,

full of ideas and image that mystify and sometimes appall us,

that make it the strangest book in the Bible (save Revelation) to us.

And there’s the stuff about homosexuality.

Oh, there’s the Day of Atonement stuff that we can connect a little bit to the work of Christ. And the Year of Jubilee laws are, well, somewhat inspiring but mostly daunting and unbelievable.

There’s just precious little relevance we can find in it for our Christian lives today.

And that’s the main reason we don’t (or can’t) love Leviticus: it’s not about us! Leviticus is about something else altogether. It doesn’t fit into the frame of understanding most of us bring to the Bible. Our inability or failure to grasp the importance of Leviticus and embrace is a measure of how little we really “get” what this being God’s people is all about!

That’s because we believe (in practice if not in theology) that God is distant from us (in heaven) and our gospel too small (about the salvation of my soul and assurance of life with God in heaven after death). David Wells summarizes this “too small” gospel”

“The biblical interest in righteousness is replaced by a search for happiness, holiness by wholeness, truth by feeling, ethics by feeling good about one's self. The world shrinks to the range of personal circumstances; the community of faith shrinks to a circle of personal friends. The past recedes. The Church recedes. The world recedes. All that remains is the self.”[2]

To be sure, Leviticus is far distant in culture and thought from us. Hard work I still required to get into its world enough to grasp what’s going on in it. But even with that, we’ll never get it coming at it with the above-summarized “too small” gospel.

For, in a word, Leviticus is about God’s presence in our world. The Temple. And how that presence in the temple shapes the whole of our lives. Indeed, my title for Leviticus is “How a Holy God makes an Unholy People Wholly His.” When God comes to “rest” in his creation (Gen.2:1-3) his presence created the equilibrium that keeps order in the cosmos. God at rest (which means not relaxing and taking it easy but seeing that the creation operates as he designed it without opposition or malfunction). God creates “sacred space” in the world for him to reside. And maintaining the equilibrium his presence bestows is what Leviticus is all about. John Walton summarizes the early parts of the biblical story:

“God has brought order and equilibrium to the cosmos and maintains them in the world he has created. Further distinctions in sacred space are made as Eden is identified as the place of God's presence with the garden planted adjoining it. Temples or palaces with adjoining garden/parks are well-known in the ancient Near East. Gen 2:10 details how the rivers flowed from Eden (the equivalent to the Holy of Holies) to water the garden (adjoining it, equivalent to the antechamber). When Adam and Eve sinned, they were cast out of the garden, lost their access to sacred space, and upset the equilibrium that God had established. The plan of the tabernacle (and later, the temple) was designed to reestablish equilibrium in a sacred space—God's presence on earth—while retaining restricted access.

“The design was reminiscent of Eden with the cherub decor, the Table of the presence (provision of food as in Eden), and the menorah, which most agree represents the tree of life. As Exodus 40 describes the glory of the Lord filling the temple, the Israelites experience what is, in effect, a return to Eden—not in the sense of full restoration, but in the sense that God's presence again takes up its residence among people, and access to God's presence, however limited, is restored.”[3]

The ritual, priests, the sacrifices, the celebrations, all recorded in such seemingly tedious detail in Leviticus, are all about maintaining the equilibrium of God’s presence, the source and goal of the world.

Major foci emerging from these practices of maintaining equilibrium of the divine presence revolve around space, status, and time.[4] The Day of Atonement was the annual “recalibration” of the equilibrium of God’s presence in the midst of his people.

Both practices to reset the equilibrium of the divine presence in the tabernacle/temple (Chs.1-23) and in the larger camp (chs.24-27) are present and embrace the whole of Israel’s life. Everything in Leviticus is finally about God’s presence with his people. Space, status, and time form the matrix within which Israel is to maintain the equilibrium. These three matters point us to what for ancient Israel and for us are of urgent and perennial importance.

Though the details and rituals of the tabernacle/temple are not applicable to the church today because Christ is now the temple of God (Jn.2:22), the site of God’s presence now and forever. In him we are part of that temple as well. And the same dynamics for maintaining that equilibrium are relevant for it is still God’s presence we are dealing with! And the world is his as well, so these dynamics apply there too.

The matrix of space, status, and time is an important, perhaps essential, way of conceptualizing the church’s ministry in our world. It would be useful to flesh all that out but this is not the place for that. Perhaps your next small group Bible study could take a shot at it?

Space, status, and time – a fulsome, no-reductive way to describe the church’s life in the world. A “too-small” gospel directs our attention only to the status aspect. A “Levitical” gospel directs us to the full expanse of what God is up to in the world. Such a gospel of course only achieves this fulness in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is its temple, the world is its camp, and we “redeem the time” (Eph.5:16) by living by the rhythms of the liturgical year. Our focus is on maintaining a lively and living sense of the presence of God. And the deeper and more intentionally we live our way into this matrix of space, status, and time, the more we might come to love Leviticus. Or at least have our gag reflex tamped down a bit.


[1] Origen, Homily 27: Numbers 33:1–49, quoted in Ephraim Radner, Leviticus, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2008), 17.
[2] David Wells, No Place for Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993) 183.
[3] John H. Walton, “Equilibrium and the Sacred Compass: The Structure of Leviticus,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 11.2 (2001), 295-296.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

People from Somewhere vs People from Anywhere

by Michael Frost | Jul 29, 2017 | Homepage | 1 comment

Are you a Somewhere or an Anywhere?

Last years Brexit vote stunned many pundits and social commentators, who struggled to explain how it could have happened. But one of them, author David Goodhart has come up with an intriguing explanation for the deep divisions in British society.

It’s all about “people from Somewhere versus people from Anywhere.”

I think this fascinating idea helps make sense not only of Brexit, but the emergence of conservative nationalism in Europe and Australia, and the election of US President Donald Trump.

Let me explain. In his book The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics, David Goodhart says society can be broken into two large groups.

First, there’s the Somewheres. . .

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

For the Love of God, Bono, Please Stop Touring

By Ben Swihart  July 21, 2017

I thought she was joking.

“I had to find someone who wouldn’t annoy me the whole time. Consider this your fair warning—this will be a spiritual experience for me.”

A friend called me a couple of weeks ago with an extra ticket to see U2 ’s Joshua Tree tour. I remembered liking some of their songs on the radio, and knowing that everything sounds better at a live concert, I happily accepted. Having not yet been lured into the cult of Bono’s personality, all I knew was the legend that preceded him—international poverty relief icon, (aging) Gen-X sex symbol, and all-around good guy.

As the openers left the stage, a scrolling montage of poetry slowly came into focus. While those around me were ordering another $12 beer and taking selfies with their new merchandise, the depth and radicality of this real-life “U2charist” struck me. Maybe this dude was the real deal. While waiting for the founder of the ONE anti-poverty campaign, the author of the corporate (RED) campaign against HIV/AIDS, and the role model for American evangelicals (not to mention multi-platinum rock star) to come to stage, my friend proclaimed, “I think Bono just reads poetry when he’s not recording,” barely giving the screen another glimpse.

read more at:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Learning to Love Leviticus

Hey, friends! We've been on vocation for a few weeks now. But we're back now and wanted to give you some help on how to understand the second most confusing book in the Bible (after Revelation): the OT book of Leviticus. Our friend, the esteemed OT scholar Christopher J. H. Wright, wrote an excellent and lucid article on this, so we give it to you as our best guidance on reading Leviticus. it's from Christianity Today, 7.22.13.

Learning to Love Leviticus

Even those passages about shellfish, mixed fibers, and animal sacrifice.

Christopher J. H. Wright| July 22, 2013

Learning to Love Leviticus

Even those passages about shellfish, mixed fibers, and animal sacrifice.

Christopher J. H. Wright| July 22, 2013

Perhaps the fact that it is catalogued under "Humor and Entertainment" should tell us how to rightly appreciate A. J. Jacobs's best-selling 2007 book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. In the course of a fascinating year, Jacobs tries to obey literally the 700-plus commands he finds in the Bible—including stoning an adulterer, offering an animal sacrifice, and upholding all the jots and tittles of the Old Testament law. Clearly, taking the Bible literally does not always mean taking it seriously.

More recently, Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans undertook her own experiment in "living biblically" by following for a year all the Bible's passages about women's behavior. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is Evans's subversive way of revealing that no one—not even the most conservative Christian—takes the whole Bible literally, and that to do so is both impossible and silly.

Both books, while unfortunately mocking in their own ways, nonetheless underscore some persistent misunderstandings about the Bible:

How the Bible has come to us. Scripture is placed within the context of ancient cultures in the Middle East. It comes dressed in all the particularities of history and geography, which God took seriously when he spoke to us through various people who lived in them. To treat all of Scripture as if it were written directly into today's world is to imagine that God himself thought the world would never change and that we could just keep on obeying all the rules. That is absurd, as we shall see.

How laws function in society, then and now. Sometimes laws are like statutes—expressed in general principles. Sometimes they are cases or precedents from which judges draw principles that can be applied to different situations. Sometimes laws reflect a whole culture's way of thinking about life.

The Old Testament laws are like all of these. They exemplify how God wanted certain kinds of situations to be handled. They embody values and objectives, on the assumption that people would understand how to extrapolate from a particular case to a general principle and apply that to new situations. So to take all of the Old Testament laws at face value is to misunderstand their original intent in the first place.

How commands can function in relationships and communication. If I hear someone on the street shout, "Freeze! Put your hands behind your head!" I need to know two things. First, who is shouting? If it's a police officer—someone whose authorized command I need to submit to—then yes. Second, is he addressing me? Likely the answer is no. It's addressed to the guy who just robbed a street vendor and is running away. So the command has authority because of who gave it, but it is not addressed to me in that moment. It claims my respect—I should not break the law in that way either—but it does not claim my compliance.

Next time you come to London, ask your taxi driver if he is obeying the law. Doubtless he'll answer, "Yes, Guv."

Then ask him, in that case, where his bale of hay and bag of oats are located. Remind him of the English law, never repealed, that requires London-licensed hackney cabs to carry those items for the horses that originally pulled them. Clearly he stands accused of not literally obeying the law. But he will probably retort, "You can't be serious." We all understand that an ancient law passed in the days of horse-drawn transport no longer applies to vehicles with engines. Mind you, it does embody a principle about how to care for a working animal, and that remains relevant—we'll come back to that.

In the same way, common sense tells us that when Paul commands Timothy to "endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ," that is a command that I should seek to obey whenever I face hardship like Timothy. It transfers to me in principle. But when Paul commands Timothy, "Come before winter, bring my cloak, and especially the parchments," we know that is a local, particular command, meant for Timothy only. The idea that all the imperative statements in the Bible should be taken literally, as if they all apply to me, is a nonsensical way of handling Scripture.

Old Testament law: Why is it there?

What we usually mean by "Old Testament law" comes from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The word Torah does not really mean "law" in the sense of legislation. It means "guidance." And the Torah guides its original recipients, and us, by setting the laws and commandments within the framework of a story.

Before we get the Ten Commandments, we get the story of Creation, the brokenness of our sin and rebellion, and the wonder of God's redemption, displayed in the Exodus of the Israelites. So the law was given to a people who not only knew that story, and knew the God who stands behind it, but who had lived it as well. God gave his law to people who had already experienced his grace, his love and faithfulness, his great act of salvation. Obeying the law was never a way to earn God's salvation, but the right way for redeemed people to respond to God's salvation when they had experienced it (Ex. 19:3–6; Deut. 6:20–25).

And God gave Israel his law in order to shape them into a society that would reflect God's character and values in the midst of the nations—what we might call a missional motivation (Lev. 18:3–4; Deut. 4:6–8). The Israelites were to be distinctive by living in God's way, the ways of personal integrity, economic and social justice, and community compassion. The law was not a set of arbitrary rules to keep God happy. It was a way of life, a way of being human, a culture in a particular time and place, to show what a redeemed people under God looks like.

To imagine that "living biblically" means trying to keep as many ancient rules as possible just because they are in the Bible misses the point of the law in the first place. Old Testament law was not just about rules but also about relationship with God, founded on God's grace and redemption, and motivated by the mission of living as the people of God in the world, so that the world should come to know the living God.

Old Testament law: What's in it?

Every society follows different kinds of law—constitutional, criminal, civil, and so forth. So also in Old Testament Israel. There's an old tradition that divides Old Testament law into three categories: moral, civil, and ceremonial. It has some value, but it can result in people saying, "I only need to pay attention to the moral law and can ignore all the rest." But that doesn't seem to fit with Paul's affirmation that "all Scripture" is authoritative and useful (2 Tim. 3:16–17, emphasis mine).

To fill the picture, we need to recognize that the ancient Israelites had at least the following kinds of law.

Criminal laws: Offenses against the foundations of the society itself, meaning against God and the covenant. Most of those were sanctioned by the death penalty, indicating how seriously the Israelites took any behavior that threatened the nation's relationship with God. All the capital offenses in Israel are linked, directly or indirectly, to one of the Ten Commandments.

Civil laws: Disputes between citizens over land, property, damages, compensation, animals, and so forth. Many of the case laws fall into this category.

Family laws: Parents, rather than courts, dealt with most of these matters, such as inheritance, marriage, and divorce. Only if something went beyond the power of parents to control did it come before the elders.

Religious or cultic laws: All the regulations concerning sacrifice, priesthood, festivals, offerings, cleanness and uncleanness, and so on.

Compassionate laws: We would hardly call these "laws" at all, but the Torah has many of them, such as how to treat the poor and needy, the homeless, those without families or land, debtors, ethnic minorities, and immigrants.

The point is that on one hand, all of these kinds of laws were intended for Israel's society and not directly for us. They are culturally specific and limited. Yet at the same time, as Paul says, all of the laws were "written for our instruction" and are "useful" for us. So we should not find ourselves asking, "Which of these laws do I have to obey, and which can I ignore?" Rather, we should ask, "What can I learn from all of these laws about how God wants me to live and how he wants his people and society at large to live?" Not, "What rules do I have to keep?" but rather, "What kind of relationship do I need to cultivate with God and live out among others?"

Why don't we keep all the laws?

Obviously we don't obey all the Old Testament laws—law such as avoiding clothing made of mixed fibers, stoning to death people who cheat on their spouses, and refusing to eat seafood without fins or scales. Indeed, many of the laws we simply can't obey, because they would break the laws of our own time. For example, we cannot obey the Old Testament laws about how to treat slaves as owning a slave is now illegal (though the biblical laws about slaves have plenty to teach us when we note how unique they were in the ancient world). History has moved on. God knew it would.

See also Wright's sidebar to this article, "Sex in Leviticus."

But just as well, we should never say, "Oh, we don't bother with those things because they are just Old Testament rules." There are principled reasons why Christians not only need but also should not observe certain Old Testament laws simply as written. And regarding two kinds of law, the New Testament itself provides those reasons.

The sacrificial laws: The New Testament makes it clear that the religious system of temple, altar, animal sacrifices, priesthood, and the Day of Atonement has been fulfilled by Jesus Christ through the Cross and Resurrection. He has accomplished once and for all what that great system pointed toward. The Book of Hebrews stresses that, whether we are Jewish or Gentile believers, we must not go back to that system, because we already have all that it represented through Christ's sacrificial death and ascended life in the presence of the Father.

The food laws: The distinction between clean and unclean animals and foods was symbolic of the distinction between Israel as God's holy people and the Gentile nations (Lev. 20:25–26). In the New Testament, that separation is abolished in Christ, as Paul says in Ephesians 2. Through the Cross, God has made the two cultures one new humanity. And as Peter discovered through his vision in Acts 10, before going to the home of the Gentile Cornelius, what God has called clean should no longer be called unclean. Today some Messianic Jewish believers choose freely to observe the kashrut regulations as a mark of their Jewish community and cultural identity. But in their unity, believers are free from food laws.

But just because we no longer keep these laws literally does not mean they can't teach us anything. We are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice in the service of God. We are called to offer the sacrifice of praise. We are called to cleanness of life in a corrupt world. In fact, if we are tempted to mock Jewish fastidiousness over kosher food in the kitchen, we might ask if we have any sustained commitment to the moral and spiritual distinctiveness that the New Testament upholds.

We can find principles even in Israel's civil laws to apply today. The urban Christians in Corinth did not see oxen grinding corn in their city houses. But when Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, he took an Old Testament law about allowing working oxen to be fed from the product of their labors (Deut. 25:4) and applied it to Christian workers in Corinth. He sees a principle in the case law—originally meant for the benefit of animals—and applies it to working humans. The principle: Work deserves reward. Later he applies another commandment about how manna was to be collected (totally irrelevant to Corinth, you might think), and applies it to the principle of equality between Christians (1 Cor. 9:8–10; 2 Cor. 8:13–15). These are biblical examples of creative application of biblical laws in nonliteral, but very appropriate, ways.

How do we find the principles?

The best way to derive principles from the Old Testament law is to ask questions. All laws in all human societies are made for a purpose. Laws happen because people want to change society, to achieve some social goal, to foster certain interests, or to prevent some social evil. So when we look at any particular law or group of biblical laws, we can ask, "What could be the purpose behind this law?" To be more specific:

● What kind of situation was this law intended to promote or to prevent?

● What change in society would this law achieve if it were followed?

● What kind of situation made this law necessary or desirable?

● What kind of person would benefit from this law, by assistance or protection?

● What kind of person would be restrained or restricted by this law, and why?

● What values are given priority in this law? Whose needs or rights are upheld?

● In what way does this law reflect what we know from elsewhere in the Bible about the character of God and his plans for human life?

● What principle or principles does this law embody or instantiate?

Now we won't always be able to answer these questions with much detail or insight. Some laws are just plain puzzling. But asking questions like these leads us to a much broader and deeper grasp of what Old Testament laws were all about: forming the kind of society God wanted to create.

Then, having done that homework as best we can, we step out of the Old Testament world and back into our own. Ask the same kind of questions about the society we live in and the kind of people we need to be, and the kind of personal and societal objectives we need to aim for in order to be in any sense "biblical."

In this way, biblical law can function sharply as a paradigm or model for our personal and social ethics in all kinds of areas: economic, familial, political, judicial, sexual, and so on. We are not "keeping it" in a literalist way like a list of rules. But more important, we are not ignoring it in defiance of what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16–17. We are studying and using it as guidance, light for the path, in the joyful way of Psalms 1, 19, and 119.

What would Jesus and Paul say?

A. J. Jacobs tried it for a year. The rich young ruler said he had done it all his life. Jesus' response might have been the same: "You need to follow me and get your priorities right. Seek first the reign of God in all of life." Even the law itself expresses key priorities (e.g., Deut. 10:12–13). The prophets put social justice way above religious rituals (1 Sam. 15:22; Hos. 6:6). Jesus agreed, telling those who were meticulously keeping the jot-and-tittle rules that they had forgotten the bigger picture—namely, justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23). And he concentrated all the law in the twin first and second commandments, love for God and neighbor. Paul took the same view (Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 5:13–14).

But Paul went further. To those who imagine that "living biblically" means keeping all the rules you can possibly find in the Bible, I think he would say, "You haven't understood the first thing about the gospel. The Good News is not, 'Here are the rules, see how many of them you can keep.' " Instead, I believe he would say, "Here is Jesus. See what God has done for you through him."

The good news is that the God who created the world has kept his promise to save the world. He has done it through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And we can be part of the story that ends in a new creation, with Christ reigning as king. The good news also is that once we have entered that story by repentance and faith, God gives us his Spirit, precisely so that "the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:4).

There is plenty that we can learn from Old Testament laws that can still usefully guide our ethical and missional thinking and action. The Torah was always intended to do just that. But the heartbeat of Christian life and freedom is not keeping all the rules. Instead, it is living as people whose whole life and character are shaped by God's Word in all its Christ-centered fullness, becoming more like the Christ we trust and follow, and bearing the fruit of God's Spirit. That's living biblically.