“Shh! Here He Comes!”

June 30, 2007

Zach Snyder: I don’t know if you read this blog or not, but…thank you for alerting me to this important video series about the life of Christ.

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The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter 6

June 29, 2007

Chapter 6 in Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, which mirrors the title of the book itself, explores the impact of a church which has sold itself out to the civil religion that marries America with God’s will and interest.

Boyd’s point is simple: by associating America with Christianity, Christians do harm to global and local missions, while simultaneoulsy creating the false impression that we are “doing” Christianity by maintaining the civil religion.

First, when Christians come to affiliate America with Christianity, tremendous harm has been and continues to be done to global missions. There has been much talk about this lately among missionaries, and – as usual – Boyd pulls no punches when it comes to conveying this problem. When Christians come out in support of American policies – even calling them “Christian” in nature – people around the world resent it, especially when the policies we support result in bombs being dropped on large populations and the systematic torture of suspected terrorists.

Boyd warns us that nations will always try to associate themselves with “God’s causes” to justify their policies, but Christians should never go along with this. Likewise, in other countries, America is routinely viewed as an exploitative, greedy, violent, and morally decadent. When foreigners notice that American Christians think of America as “Christian,” they lose respect for the message of the gospel.  

Similarly, Boyd points out, when Christians falsely think of America as a “Christian nation,” they neglect local missions based on the assumption that everyone here is “okay” with God.

Finally, Boyd makes an argument that I have been hoping someone would articulate for a long time. Specifically, he argues that maintaining a civil religion is a distraction. Christians come to think that they are “advancing God’s causes” by supporting or opposing particular policies, be they causes involving abortion, homosexual marriage, school prayer, or even aid to the poor. When we are consumed by political discourse and lobbying, he says, we lose sight of our capacity to actually do the things Jesus called us to do.

I can’t overemphasize this point: A lot of people think they are doing God’s work by forwarding politically charged emails, placing signs in their yards, and displaying bumper stickers for their particular angle (right or left-leaning) on what God wants to happen in our government. This leads to a sort-of complacency that says “I’m doing my part,” when – in actuality – nothing is really being done that imitates Jesus’ life.

As an example of the type-of activity that imitates Jesus, Boyd talks about an occasion where a church decided to do an “extreme makeover” on an inner city school that was in a very poor condition. The project became so popular in the community that many others joined in the effort, and the entire process took only about ten hours. It was highly publicized. And after the project was completed, there was considerable media attention to the question of why the school had been so neglected, and why more resources seemed to be flowing into predominantly white schools. Boyd points out that the church in this case had a political impact, but they accomplished it by doing what Jesus would do, rather than by using political force to achieve its ends.

Previous Posts:
Introduction
Chapter One: The Kingdom of the Sword
Chapter Two: The Kingdom of the Cross
Chapter Three: Keeping the Kingdom Holy
Chapter Four: From Resident Aliens to Conquering Warlords
Chapter Five: Taking America Back for God


The Theology of BSG: Religion in the BSG Universe

June 23, 2007

This is the second of two “set up” posts in this series, which focuses on the theologies that are present in the BSG universe. Since putting up the first post, I’ve learned that Ellen Leventry has written a brief article on the same subject on BeliefNet. You can find it here.

In the first post, I focused on what I believe is the central issue that is at play in the new BSG universe: Is there hope for the human condition? And, if so, are humans even worth saving? I pointed out that these questions are often explored in the context of the various faith traditions that exist in the BSG universe – traditions that mirror those in our own world.

Here are the chief examples:

1. Paganism/polytheism – the humans in the BSG universe are pagans/polytheists. Like the Romans and ancient Greeks, they believe in multiple gods, most of which are more “human” that the monotheistic “god/God” with which most of us are familiar. In times of crisis, they turn to the gods for protection. Particularly notable is the presence of the twelve zodiac signs (which originated in or before ancient Babylon). Each “sign” parallels one of the twelve colonies.

2. Samsara – some of the Cylons have expressed a conviction that the characters of the BSG universe are playing out roles that they have played in prior “lives.” This belief is similar to the Bhuddist and Hindu notion of samsara, which holds that there is a continual cycle of life, death, and re-birth. I think that there are also some versions of Hinduism which specifically hold that the stories/myths of history repeat themselves, but I’m not well versed on that belief system, and can’t really speak to it in any detail.

While I’m on the point, it is also notable that, when it originally aired in England, the main theme from the new BSG was in the form of a Hindu mantra.

3. Monotheism – the Cylons themselves are monotheists, as is the case with Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Interestingly, their religion is primarily manifested in the use of their god to justify their militaristic, genocidal campaign to wipe out humanity.

4. Exodus – the theme of exodus, in which an oppressed people are led out of danger and to a haven of safety by a great leader, is strongly present in BSG. Similar themes abound in Judaism, and – Leventry points out in her article – Mormonism.

5. Resurrection – a central teaching of Christianity is that God will bring about a resurrection of the dead, of which Jesus was the first. The Cylons experience resurrection, though it is disturbingly unlike anything Christians profess. Yet, as I will explore later, the problems with the Cylon experience of resurrection highlight an important and distinct aspect of Christian resurrection which is deserving of reflection.

6. The Child/Savior – there are presently two children in the BSG universe in whom both “sides” hold great interest. The stories of these children parallel the Jewish prophecies of Messiah and the Christian tradition of Jesus’ birth. I think they also parallel some other older, pagan mythologies in which a child/deliverer is predicted to arise to save a people or nation.

7. Athiesm – Baltar, the chief bad guy in the series, begins as an athiest, though he appears to now have turned to a belief in the Cylon god. Adama, the commander of the human fleet and the Galactica itself, also begins the series as an athiest. Other characters appear to be agnostic, or just plain apathetic about religion.

What follows in this series will mostly focus on the parallels to the Judeo-Christian tradition and their response to the problem of evil, but I thought it would be good at the outset to recognize that there are a lot more faith traditions in the BSG universe than those which involve a personal, monotheistic deity.


The Myth of a Christian Nation: Chapter Five

June 22, 2007

The first four chapters of The Myth of a Christian Nation established Boyd’s primary line of argument – that there is a fundamental difference between the way nations weild power and the way God moves to transform people through Jesus. For that reason, we should never attempt to achieve kingdom-of-God ends through kingdom-of-the-sword means.

Having set up this line of thought, Boyd turns in the latter half of the book to discuss various misconceptions that American Christians have about the relationship between their faith and their politics. He begins in Chapter Five with the phrase “taking America back for God.”

Boyd emphasizes that his purpose is not to critique America. America merely functions the way every other government in world history has functioned – by using force, where necessary, to pursue its perceived interests. Rather, Boyd’s criticism is of the American church, which is all too ready to endorse American policies.

So what does Boyd say about “taking America back for God”? His argument goes like this:

1. There is no biblical precedent for using governmental and political power in the pursuit of “Christian” goals. Jesus, for example, never argued about influencing the powers that be to “take Israel back for God.” Likewise, no other New Testament author ever speaks of using political influence for purposes of “implementing” Godly values or achieving Godly ends.

2. Anticipating an objection that early Chrsitians weren’t in a position to exercise such influence, Boyd reminds us about how the history of attempts to utlilize the power of the state (not only on the part of Christians, but on the part of Islam as well) has consistently led to bloodshed and horrible atrocities.

3. Boyd then asks: When was America “for” God anyway? When it murdered and oppressed the native population of North America? When it captured and enslaved tens of thousands of Africans? When, even after the slaves were freed, it set up institutionalized systems of discrimination? What must Nativie American and African American Christians make of this nonsense? Their view of the past is not nearly as romantic.

4. Although he recognizes some disagreement on the point, Boyd says that he believes the founding fathers were not Christians – rather, they were deists, and that they were never, in any event, inclined to place much emphasis on the Bible. Thus, our founding documents occasionally mention God, but never Christ or the Christian scriptures. Here, he quotes Frederick Douglass, a nineteenth-century slave:

Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference …. I love the purse, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.

The problem is not just whether America is a “Christian nation,” Boyd says, but whether – since all nations depend on force to maintain power – any nation can ever be considered “Christian.” Nevertheless, he says, when we clearly and consistently separate the kingdom of God from all versions of the kingdom of the world, we can affirm the good things from American history without undertaking the impossible task of defending its entire history as “Christian.” (I find this last point to be particularly well taken.)

Boyd winds up the chapter by pointing out that there is a sense in which we should “take America back for God,” as well as Europe, Iraq, Sudan, Rwanda, etc. The question is how should we do this? If you think the way of submission and service is impractical, or even morally irresponsible, you need to reflect on the cross itself. When Jesus was on the cross, it looked as if he were losing – as it may appear when Christians choose this path – but God raised Jesus up on the third day. Our task is to trust that such power is still at work in us.

Previous Posts:
Introduction
Chapter One: The Kingdom of the Sword
Chapter Two: The Kingdom of the Cross
Chapter Three: Keeping the Kingdom Holy
Chapter Four: From Resident Aliens to Conquering Warlords


Quote of the Day

June 22, 2007

From Richard Beck’s blog:

Maybe there is a God. Maybe there isn’t. Round and round it goes in my head. But every time I think of Jesus eating with sinners something in me breaks–like bubbles breaking in the sun–and I say, screw it, I’m living my life like that guy.


McKnight on the Romans Road

June 21, 2007

Scot McKnight wrote earlier today on the subject of so-called “Romans road” evangelism (a style that uses Romans to emphasize the concepts of sin, faith, and forgiveness). You can read his post here.

In short, Scot says that the “Romans road” contains the gospel, but not the whole gospel. As usual, Scot provides a very thoughtful analysis of the issue that is also gracious and generous toward those with whom he disagrees.


“Surely…”?

June 18, 2007

Via my friend Amy Boone comes this must-see video: