Contra Benedict II: The Scriptural Basis for Multi-Culturalism & Pluralism

23 09 2006

For those of you who have been waiting with baited breath for the next installment of this series, you wait is over (yes, I am a legend in my own mind). First, I want to again make it clear that I deplore those who want to kill the Pope because of a quotation he made from a 14th century emperor critiquing Islam for converting people through the point of a sword. This is madness. God does not need a defender, and it is a sin of the highest order to kill another human being who is made in God’s image. Only God has the right to take life. We demonstrate the veracity of our faith by loving others sacrificially, not by killing those we consider to be infidels. Violent religious extremists of whatever stripe hurt the cause of religion for everyone.

That said, let us move on to the biblical basis for multi-culturalism & plurality. If you listen to the Pope, he would like to make you believe that the postmodern moment that we swim in is just a fad and a phase. That once we get past it, we need to return to the modernistic methods of rationality and reason to prove our faith is reasonable, rational, and true. And that we need to get back to the specific brand of Platonic/Cartesian understandings of rationalism to do this right.

I say this is wrong, and it is wrong on biblical grounds. First, as I said before, God can, and has spoken to each and every culture and social system known to humankind. God is not in a box. We see in Genesis 11 that God is the creator of culture. Yes, he wants unity (more on this later) but at the expense of diversity. God is too big for to squeeze in to just one culture or ethnic group. He wants to be known and glorified in each and every ethnic group.

Second, both the letters to the Romans and Galatians demonstrate to us that you don’t have to become a Jew to become a Christian, but we are all sons of Abraham (including women) no matter where we come from. I think that it would be fair to say that if you don’t have to become a Jew to be a Christian, then you don’t have to become Greek to become a Christian. Nor do you have to become white to get close to God, and so on.

Third, according to 1Corinthians 9:19-23: “19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel…”

It is clear to me from this passage that it is dangerous for the Gospel to be soley be tied to any particular culture. Yes, Christianity is a Western religion, but it is an Eastern one too. The Gospel is for all, it is not only for the West. Truth be told, I am sure that those in the East “get” aspects of the Gospel that those in the West don’t.

Jesus did not come to save only Greeks and Jews, He came to save the world, and to redeem each and every human culture and society that is out there. His image is borne by every person who has ever lived, and hence, He is present in every culture there ever has been or ever will be.

Fourth, it is not human reason that leads men to God, but God Himself. Listen to Paul again in 1Corinthians 2:

1When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

And in the first chapter of the same epistle:

18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Again, it is clear from me in these passages that the wisdom of humanity is not what brings us to God, but rather, it is God Himself who demonstrates His reality to us. It is not reason or rationalism that wins the day, but revelation, and that is something that only God can do.

Finally, as I said, God wants unity, but not uniformity. Genesis 11 demonstrates that God is the creator of diverse human cultures. Culture is not a dirty word to God. God is not against diversity, He is all for it, and He is the initiator of it. But at the same time, God’s ultimate plan is for all these human cultures to eventually form into another God-ordained culture that we see in Revelations 7, a vast human throng made up of peple of every ethnicity, hue and tongue, praising God in a new song with a new rhythm, in a new style, that is shaped by all the different songs and cultures and personalities that are standing before God’s throne.

This is the point of Pentecost in Acts 2. The diverse languages that were created the day the tower of Babel was tossed down by God, has now turned into a new language that all can understand. God has created unity out of diversity, and through it all, a new humanity.


Contra Benedict: Taking Issue With the Pope on Postmodernity

20 09 2006

I am not a scholar, merely a campus minister with a modicum of gumption. So I take on the Pope with some trepidation, who no doubt is no mean scholar and only the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world. He knows several languages, I know only one. He can read the Bible in its original languages, well, at least I know the Greek and Hebrew alphabets. That said, with regard to his recent talk that has created such a flap, I boldy and baldly say that he is flat out wrong.

Contrary to what many people think, the Pope was really not trying to take on Islam (though I think he meant what he said about Islam, even if he was quoting Byzantine emperor from the latter part of the 14th century). No, what he was really taking on was postmodernity. The Pope essentially believes that Christian theology needs to be made on an equal footing with empirical sciences. Along with this, he is arguing that Greek thought needs to be exalted too, because he believes that it was no accident that the New Testament was written in Greek, and that the first non-Jewish believers were Greek. So he does not see a disjuncture between the rationalism of the Greek mind and Christian faith. He of course is against the gnosticism that comes from Greek thought, but nonetheless, he sees the rationalism and reason arising out of the Greek philosophy as being necessary for faith that is based on reason.

On its face, this sounds good, but the problem with this thinking is that it is necessarilly chauvinistic, narrow and downright untrue in my humblest opion. It is chauvinistic in the sense that he does not recognize God’s ability to speak to all cultures everywhere. He unwittingly exalts the Greeks, but what about the Jews who actually were the carriers of Holy Writ for centuries? He says nothing about Jewish thought and philosophy, but exalts Greek thought. And what about Native American culture, where many tribes believed in the Great Creator, respected the land, and lived without avarice and an overweening selfish ambition.

But no, the Pope wants us to exalt not only Platonic philosophy, but also Cartesian thought, that quite frankly is too self-focused, and even helps to undergird the worst of Greek docetism. In this sense, is not Christ not more clearly seen amongst the Cherokee than the European? This view would suggest that the European was not only the possessor of the Gospel, but the possessor of a superior civilization. Now I do not believe that all cultures are equal. There are some cultures that are truly brutal and dehumanizing. However, I would assert that European culture in the time of slavery and colonization was the most brutal, dehumanizing, barbaric, and uncivilized culture of the day. The Native Americans tribes were by no means perfect (hey, everybody needs Jesus), but they were not subjugating and destroying whole groups of people like the English, the Spanish, the French, et al.

So my main beef with Pope Benedict XVI is with is lack of historical context when he made his remarks. Surely he understands that Catholicism has just as much blood on its hands historically as the Muslims do? What, does he forget the Spanish Inquisition and the Counter Reformation? We do not even have to go that far back, how about the Clergy abuse scandal of the 1990s that is still rocking the Church? In light of all of this, I just think that his comments are off base.

Tomorrow, I will show how the Bible refutes his claims.

Looking More Deeply at What the Pope Said

19 09 2006

My friend Roger from Maurice’s message board sent me a copy of the Pope’s talk that caused such a stir in the Islamic world over the last couple of days. Please read it and tell me what you think. I will respond to his message in a series of blog posts beginning later today.

For now, suffice it to say that the Pope has opened a can of worms that in my view go far beyond the RCC’s engagement with Islam. To me, the very heart of the issue has to do with how we understand the message of Jesus and our faith. I have deep and profound disagreements with this man.


Does God Need a Bodyguard? Notes on Religious Violence

18 09 2006

Iraqi Muslims burn an effigy of Pope Bendedict IV.I cannot comment on Pope Benedict XVIrecent comments that set off such a firestorm in the Islamic world the last couple of days because I have not heard his speech in its entirety. I cannot even comment on his apology because I have not heard it in its entirety either. So I will choose to believe that he probably misspoke, and that he did not intend to cause harm. Yet I do hold him responsible because he must realize that there are certain people in the world who do not need much to set them off. And there has already been some grave consequences: at least 7 churches have been firbombed or vandalized because of his speech. And an Italian nun and her bodyguard were shot to death in Somalia.

That said, this in no way justifies the behavior and anger of Islamic extremists all over the world. My main beef with Islamic extremism in particular, and relgious extremism of any stripe, is with their sense that somehow, God needs their protection and that any disrespect shown their faith must be dealt with through intimidation and bloodshed.

My view is drastically different. I believe that everyone is made in the image of God, and as such, everyone is “holy ground”. To harm another human being is a grave sin and an affront against God, even if they are an “infidel”. I think that God is big enough to handle people who think and talk badly about Him. Those who think it is there duty to “defend the faith” do not really have a true faith in my opinion.

Finally, I really think that it is incumbent upon Islamic people of deep humanity and sensitivity to step up and make their voices heard concerning religious violence done in the name of Islam. Shia and Sunni alike must put a check on this immorality and nihilism. This sordid violence is making a mockery of religion and creating even more “infidels” who are tired of religious violence and the religious zealots who commit them.

Azusa Street and the Meaning of Pentecost

17 09 2006

This past April marked the 100 year centennial for the Azuza Street Revival, in Los Angeles. A one-eyed, semi-literate, black man named William Seymour was the acknowledged leader of the strange new movement that was gaining international renown . Seymour was teaching a new doctrine that taught that you must receive the Holy Spirit to be empowered for holiness and witness. The cornerstone of the teaching is that the evidence of receiving the Spirit was speaking in tongues. Seymour himself learned this doctrine by a white man named Charles Parham in Houston, Texas. Seymour wanted to learn this teaching so much that he was willing to hear the racist Parham teach this new doctrine outside of the Jim Crow segregated classroom in the hallway (read Vinson Synan’s “The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United states” for a thorough history). It is even said that when Parham came out to investigate what was happening in L.A. at Seymour’s request that his comment was something like this: “This is nothing but over-emotional niggah-religion”.

Now I am not nay-saying the Pentecostal faith or speaking in tongues. In fact, I speak in tongues myself. I am fine with God giving someone an ecstatic experience in order for their faith to be shored up and strengthened. However, I do think that Seymour and Parham missed out on what Pentecost was really about. The wonder of what happened in Los Angeles one hundred years ago is that there were people all over the world worshipping together: black, white, Asian, Hispanic, male, female, young, old, rich, poor, English speakers, non-English speakers, all in one place and on one accord. This is the heart of the Gospel, reconciliation between God and humankind, and the creation of a new humanity from every ethnic and racial group.

It is a reclamation and redemption to what happened at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 when the nations were scattered because humankind wanted to come together as one independent of God. Now, God was putting together a new people from all the peoples of the earth. And they were speaking in a new language, that God gave them.

I think that it is time for a new Pentecost that is not only focused on speaking in tongues, but in racial reconciliation, justice, and authentic community. Just like the first Pentecost was fundamentally about the formation of Jesus’ church, the third Pentecost must be about developing a witnessing community that is so radically transformed by the Holy Spirit that everyone has to stand up and take notice of what God is doing in the midst.

Wanted: Missional, Christ-centered Folk Who Love Columbus, Ohio

15 09 2006

Particularly the Weinland Park/Short North districts. I am looking for people in that area who are doing incarnational ministry in those communities (or want to do so). Please contact me.

Does God Want You To Be Rich?

14 09 2006

That is the title and cover story of this weeks Time Magazine. The authors of the story are reporting on the new prosperity preachers, folks like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyers and others. But the intriguing thing to me is that all of the people they solicited critiques from are well off, influential, white guys who certainly are not poor. How about a Michael Eric Dyson or a Tony Evans eh? But hey, those two guys are well off, influential black guys. Now don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of prosperity preaching, most of it in my view is rank heresy. But here is the thing, if poor people actually followed the precepts of the Bible to a “t”, most of them would probably climb out of poverty. When you work hard, play by the rules, and don’t have kids out of wed lock, you tend to do okay in this society. It is as simple as that. And don’t we want poor people to get out poverty and enter the middle class? What is exactly wrong with that? In fact, I have heard Osteen preach some pretty sound, biblical concepts on loving your enemy and doing good to those who want to do you dirty. And I have heard Dollar call poor people out of a victim’s mentality and to become more responsible and reliant on God, not the government. So I really cannot fault them for this kind of message.

Here is the thing, the only people who really have to walk by faith in this country are poor people. If you grew up middle class and have decent skills, you can make your own way. And you probably don’t need God so much. The fact of the matter is that many of those speaking out against the health/wealth gospel are pretty healthy and wealthy themselves. It is one thing to deny yourselves nice cars and clothes if you grew up middle class and have always had access to those sorts of things, but is a whole other thing growing up poor with no trust fund as a safety net, and no real hope to own nice new cars and clothes through honest labor.

So when those guys sell everything that they own and live amongst the poor, then they can say something. But even so, they first need to really understand what it means to be poor, and giving all your earthly pessessions away does not help you to understand one bit, because you first have to have something to give away.