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Showing posts from March, 2017

Quick Hitter: What You Can't Concede

Bill Lindsey has a series of posts on the recent dust-up at Princeton Theological Seminary with relation to Tim Keller.  To briefly summarize, Princeton is an old and very well-respected Seminary affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA).  PCUSA allows women to be ordained and lead congregations, and also allows LGBT folks to fully participate in the life of the church (and last year authorized same-sex weddings).  Tim Keller just stepped down as the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, a large congregation.  Redeemer is affiliated with the rival Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), which does not allow women or LGBT people to be ordained, and is much more conservative.  Keller and Redeemer have publicly endorsed the positions of the PCA along these lines (here's a position paper on women's ordination from Redeemer).  Princeton initially awarded a theology prize to Keller, before later revoking it.  Hence the brouhaha.

Bill was responding to a pie…

The Problem of Orthodoxy, Part 4--How About a Nice Game of Chess?

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In the 80s movie War Games, a computer system (called, for reasons I don't remember, WOPR) is installed to take command of the nuclear arsenal of the United States.  A hacker played by a young Matthew Broderick accidentally triggers the "Global Thermonuclear War" scenario, and so WOPR attempts to run the scenario using real nuclear weapons.  In the climatic scene, Broderick "teaches" WOPR that nuclear war is an unwinnable game by causing the computer to replay itself Tic-Tac-Toe on a continuous loop.  Since Tic-Tac-Toe always ends up in a tie if the players understand the game, WOPR "learns" that all nuclear war scenarios, like Tic-Tac-Toe, always end in "ties," in that everyone is destroyed.  Having learned this lesson, WOPR provides the pithy lesson shown above: "A strange game.  The only winning move is not to play."

I am becoming increasingly convinced that this sentiment describes the focus on orthodoxy--the idea that the Chr…

Quick Hitter: This is Not Our Project

In the last couple of weeks, I've been listening to a great podcast called Inglorious Pasterds.  The three guys who make up the show--Matt Polley, Brad Polley, and Michael Baysinger--are insightful as well as funny and irreverent in the best possible way.  It's great, and the community that has formed around it is pretty great as well.  Seriously, check them out.

Anyway, this week they had Pastor Brian Zahnd on the podcast.  My twitter friend "Egregious Philbin" turned me on to Zahnd a few months back, and his discussion on the podcast was interesting and challenging.  One of the things he said that stuck with me was, when discussing the full-throated embrace by evangelicals of Trump and the trapping of power, he said (paraphrasing a bit) that "they (i.e. evangelicals) don't see the Kingdom of God working in the world, and so they turn to political action to fix things."

I think that's right, and it is even broader than just talking about Trump or e…

On Florists and "Sincerely Held" Beliefs

As  I have mentioned before, when I am not writing this blog, I work as a lawyer.  I try to keep those two worlds separate, but every once in a while something crops up that bridges the gap that is interesting and worth talking about.  One such issue is the recent decision in State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, a copy of which you can find here from the Washington Supreme Court.  What I would like to do in this piece is to talk about the legal issues at stake here, because I think that the way this is being talked about misses a big part of what the key issues at stake are in this case, and similar cases that are surely coming down the pike.

Arlene's Flowers is a floral shop owned by Baronelle Stutzman.  Ms. Stutzman refused to sell flowers to Robert Ingersoll for his wedding, because Mr. Ingersoll was intending to (and in fact did) marry a man, Curt Freed.  Ms. Stutzman and Arlene's Flowers were sued by both Mr. Ingersoll and the State of Washington under the Washing…

Quick Hitter: When Christianity Becomes About One Thing

Over the course of the last week, the Take-O-Sphere has been awash with reactions to Rod Dreher's long promised book on the Benedict Option, titled, well, The Benedict Option.  Elizabeth Bruenig had a good review, that I talked about briefly here.  Rachel Held Evans had some reasonable reactions on Twitter, provoking Dreher's now reflexive response of accusing her of preparing to become informant for some hypothetical anti-Christian Gestapo, a charge we recall he leveled on David Gushee some time ago.  Damon Linker and the New York Times's David Brooks also wrote thoughtful responses, and it is those two pieces that I want to talk about for a bit.

I have stated my objections to the entire enterprise of the Benedict Option in the past, and I stand by those objections.  But what I think gets the least amount of attention in thinking about Dreher's project is how monomanically focused his vision of Christianity is.  Linker's piece hits on the key factor in Dreher's…

The Problem of Orthodoxy, Part 3--The Politics of Temple Policing

In the previous post, we looked at one part of what comes from having a focus on "believing the right stuff" as the foundation of Christianity.  But there is another dimension to this, one that is on some level on the opposite side of the coin from the Endless Spiral.  The Endless Spiral is, in many ways, the product of taking "believing the right stuff" hyper-seriously--it leads to a kind of neurosis that forces you to keep drilling further and further down to make sure that the "right stuff" that you are believing is indeed right.  But there is a dimension to this that transcends the specifics of any specific theological point, and it has to do with the image of God that lies behind that vision of "believing the right stuff."

I am coming around to a basic conviction with regard to any religious discussion or any analysis of a person's religious faith--the way you see God is the center of everything.  Now, that statement might seem trivial …

Cloutier, Johnson and Coakley--Thinking Through Transgender Issues

There was a piece in Commonweal magazine that I read a week or so ago that I wanted to write about, but it took me a while to put together my thoughts.  It's about, in broad terms, a Christian (or, in this case, explicitly Roman Catholic) approach or response to the transgender questions that have become very prominent and contentious in the U.S.  It's worth reading, even though I don't really agree with either of the authors.

Let's start first with David Cloutier's article.  As I see it, he raises three basic points--two of which I basically agree with, if not in the way he means it, and one that I disagree with very strongly.  Cloutier's first move is to point out the core conundrum of at least some presentations of this issue.  On the one hand, gender identity is presented as being so sacrosanct and central to one's core nature that forcing someone to live in a manner inconsistent with that identity is to do violence to the person; on the other hand, ge…

Quick Hitter: How Enchanted Was the Medieval World, Really?

So, Rod Dreher's long promised tome on the Benedict Option--entitled The Benedict Option--has been released, and the great Elizabeth Brueing has a review/reflection that is (not surprisingly) very much worth reading.  Bruenig hits on one of the core problems with Dreher's thesis, which is whether it is truly possible, desirable, or authentically Christian to withdraw from political life in the way Dreher suggests.  That critique is an important one, and I think Bruenig is 100% correct.

But as I was reading Bruenig's review, I was struck again by how much I don't buy the basic conceptual premise that underlines all of this Benedict Option talk.  The master narrative here goes, as Bruenig well sets it out, something like this:

[T]he Christian West began to lose its way in the fourteenth century, when the English Franciscan friar William of Ockham pioneered the theory of nominalism, which held there is no inherent order or purpose encoded into the material world. This was…