Stephen’s Sermon in Post-Christian America

stephenThe seventh chapter of Acts tells the story of Stephen, a newly ordained deacon (Church waiter), who is brought before the Jewish authorities with false charges of blasphemy and plans to destroy the Temple. In his defense, full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen offers an alternate history of Judaism that both devalues the importance of the Temple and charges the authorities with the murder of Jesus and all of the previous prophets. Stephen is hastily dragged out of the city and stoned to death. He becomes the first post-Ressurection martyr and an immense persecution immediately breaks out against the Church.

My bible study group was recently discussing this passage and my wife rhetorically asked “Was Stephen’s sermon effective?” The obvious Christian answer is “yes”, but I can’t imagine in the first weeks and months following Stephen’s sermon that many Christians thought that it was effective. The story does not tell of any Jew who became a Christian because of the sermon; in fact it seemed to have the opposite effect, entrenching the hatred and persecution of this new religious community. The church at that moment in time is what we today would call a mega-church. Thousands of believers were together, centered in Jerusalem with thousands being added daily. The church was becoming institutionalized adding structure and organization to make it more effective in its mission. As Stephen was dragged out of the city, all of the success of the early church seemed to be dragged out with him. Christians were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria and forced into secrecy and fear. Many more would lose their lives for preaching the name of Jesus. Jewish authorities would no longer call for patient tolerance of this new heresy but instead made it legal to pursue and punish all who dared devote their lives to Jesus. By all appearances and short term evidences the event seemed to be an utter disaster for Christianity.

The Evangelical Church in America is currently facing a paradigm shift. For most of American history it has enjoyed a “favored religion” status and enjoyed both significant political and cultural influence. The culture as a whole has entered into a post-Christian age, where all of the presumptions of Christianity are now actively questioned and rejected. Almost all of the tenets of the Sexual Revolution have been adapted by the culture and many of those ideas stand in direct contradiction to Christian ethics. Christianity is moving from a place of preference and respect to one of suspicion and derision. The influence on faith in the public sphere is rejected and religious freedom is actively redefined as “freedom of worship” by segments of the federal government.

“Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas has recently captured the attention and imagination of large swaths of the Evangelical church. It tells the story of a young German theologian who actively opposes the transition in the German culture and institutional Lutheran Church to adopt and adapt to Nazism (in an effort to remain culturally acceptable). Bonhoeffer eventually founded a rival Lutheran sect and an underground Bible college. He also joined a resistance movement that plotted a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. Eventually Bonhoeffer was captured and executed by the Nazis in the last days of World War II.

Many Evangelicals (Metaxas included) are inspired by Bonhoeffer’s resistance to the changing culture and its intrusions on the theology of the Lutheran church. They fear the sexual liberation of our current age will likewise intrude on Christianity and demand the same kind of rejection of core principles that Nazism did in 1930s Germany. Others are offended by these comparisons and remind us, with respect to our previous failures to show compassion and justice to the LGBT community, that Bonhoeffer stood against the oppression of the Jewish minority; likewise Evangelicals should seek the political and social benefit of today’s homosexual minority lest we spoil our future witness. Still others, have whole-heartedly accepted the Sexual Revolution and embraced the rejection of heteronormativity either by a rejection of Biblical authority or by alternative interpretations that endorse sexual expression outside the confines of covenant, heterosexual marriage.

404401_467601803289377_6333310_nI recently saw this quote posted on Facebook and I think it’s about half way there. “One of the biggest temptations we face in the post-Christian context is the temptation to be liked.” – J.R. Vassar  I think the other great temptation of post-Christianity is to intentionally seek rejection and find solace in being despised. Both temptations are too easily achieved. For the next 20-30 years Evangelicalism will be finding a new place in American culture. In that time I’m certain of only one thing, there will be a great many mistakes made by Evangelicals. Some will adopt the spirit of the age and offer nothing the world does not have on its own. Others will remain quiet when they should speak, worried that the offense of the Gospel will be a burden neither they nor the church can bear. Some, without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will rebuke and condemn the culture and alienate the name of Jesus from a great many people. I’ve seen all of these things by friends and acquaintances. They will continue to happen in large scale ways and in individual conversations. They will be tragic and embarrassing.

There is a very fine line for us to walk, one that I constantly worry is not being well minded. I think that the days of the United States sitting in the center of Evangelical culture are behind us. New leadership, new expressions and new revivals will be found. In the mean time, I will pray for the day, when a Christian with tremendous character, but a seemingly low office of influence, finds herself (or himself) full of the Holy Spirit; saying things that utterly destroy all of the influence and institutions that we have placed our hope in — thereby causing the kingdom of God to flourish in the most unexpected and seemingly disastrous ways we can imagine.

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65 thoughts on “Stephen’s Sermon in Post-Christian America

  1. “In the mean time, I will pray for the day, when a Christian with tremendous character, but a seemingly low office of influence, finds herself (or himself) full of the Holy Spirit; saying things that utterly destroy all of the influence and institutions that we have placed our hope in — ”

    There are Christians like that here and there. Doing their work. Usually in small places, or even on their own.

    The theologians of glory (the wanting to be liked Christians) make a much bigger splash and are much better received.

    But they do change live (via the Holy Spirit). One person at a time.

    Thanks, Tim.

  2. Pingback: Day 125: Whence the Kingdom of God? | Finding God in 365 Days

  3. I disagree that all the tenets of the sexual revolution stand in defiance of Christianity, and I bristle against the idea that “true” Christianity demands rigid gender roles and homophobia. We need to resist the temptation to sacrilize cultural trends and norms, whether they lean in a more liberal OR conservative direction.

    The sexual revolution created lots of problems that didn’t exist before, but it also freed us from lots of problems that did. I’m not convinced it’s been a net-negative.

  4. I’m not sure how easy it is for people who are, say, 30 or younger to understand how dramatic the change in American society has been in terms of sexual mores since the 1950s or so. I’d say it’s as dramatic as the changes in communications technology.

    In the days I was growing up, the societal and cultural standard was that sex was something reserved for marriage. I’m not saying there weren’t tons of hypocrisy around the issue, nor that the norms weren’t frequently violated (and, yes, there was a double standard in much of society, although, not as far as I know, in evangelicalism). This standard was generally reinforced by laws as well as by popular media. For someone in my generation, it wasn’t that long ago where a blood test was required to get a marriage license in some states, and that in some states contraceptives couldn’t be prescribed to unmarried people. Even if something like Facebook would have been conceivable at the time I was growing up, an app such as Bang with Friends would not have been.

    So to give part of my answer to Katie L’s question to Tim, I’d say that the aspect of the sexual revolution that has to do with separating sex from marriage would certainly be in opposition to traditional Christian teaching on the issue. I’d also agree that some changes of the “revolution” have been positive. I’m not sure in which direction things balance out, but I’m not convinced there’s a net positive.

  5. Which ones do you think do stand in opposition to Christianity?
    The question kind of begs a discussion about “what is the Sexual Revolution and what are its tenets?” But I’ll play ball.

    Any and all that ultimately divorce sex from the confines of a covenant heterosexual marriage. They would include, but are not limited to:
    – sexual fulfillment being the greatest objective in a person’s life
    – equating orgasm with sex
    – love being something that is discovered rather than chosen
    – test driving sexual compatibility before marriage
    – child bearing stands in the way of a woman’s “power”
    – divorcing child bearing/rearing from marriage
    – commodifying sexual experience, intrigue and ability
    – the disconnection of sexual experience from emotional attachment
    – my children are happiest when I am happy
    – serial monogamy
    – sexual desires must be acted upon
    – the consequences of sexual entanglement are manufactured by oppressive cultures and need to be overcome and ignored
    – sex is only best experienced with desire

  6. Eric —

    I’m a bit younger but I think people tend to overplay the changes. There is I think quite a bit more pornography and much less prostitution. There is more fornication and much less adultery.
    In the 50s-1970s there was far less fornication and far more adultery. Today people marry later but are more likely to stay faithful, they’ve had their time experimenting before marriage not after. So far fewer people have open marriages.
    ___

    I’ll agree that adolescent on adolescent sex is more common. But even a generation ago there was an expectation of adults sexualizing adolescents.

    I started being solicited by prostitutes from about age 14, and I looked a year or two younger. Today there is a lot less street prostitution and the few that exist wouldn’t go near someone under 18.

    Lots of high school age girls were dating men in their 20s and having their first sexual experiences with these much older boyfriends. Today that’s much more rare. Just for example, look at the groupies from the 1960s count backwards to when they started and realize that many of them started touring with these bands, around ages 13-16.

    And there have been huge changes regarding paederasty, with the .exception of prison this has all but disappeared as a normalized activity. Even the lesbian community, the last to adjust, has the notion of “jailbait” and adults gay or straight mostly don’t cross the age barrier anymore.

    ____

    Magazines like Playboy and Penthouse were part of respectable culture when I was growing up. It would never cross Obama’s mind to do serious interviews in a nudie magazine today. Playboy conversely could legitimately be read for the articles, it did great journalism. The 1980s anti-porn movement was not successful in banning porn but they were completely successful in creating a wall between porn and non-porn so that there is very little crossover.

    ___

    I think the big change is the issue of hypocrisy. In the 1950s most Americans did have a value that, “hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue”. Today hypocrisy is looked upon as a serious sin even by secular culture. It is not so much that people used to have Christian sexual values and now don’t, rather I’d argue they used to pretend to have Christian sexual values when they didn’t and now don’t.

    It is the proud affirmation, not the behaviors that have changed.

  7. Tim —
    I agree with your post pretty heavily. Absolutely the big shift is from Evangelical Protestantism having state sanction to it just being a private function. Your list to Katie not so much. IMHO you are intermixing a lot of ideas that predate the 1960s. For example Jane Austen’s books had their focus was on how best to balance financial concerns against love, honor and self respect. There was no denial that these were the choices woman faced in Austen, nor was there any attempt to argue that woman should be joyful about having to sacrifice the one for the other.

    The effect of children and matrimony as a form of bondage for women is a major theme of 18th century and early 19th century literature. The Free Love movement (i.e. marriage for love) that was part of the victorian revolution was a response to this and tried to build a structure in which marriage was a joy not a duty. The idea that children bearing is a hinderance to women’s power, self expression and happiness goes back centuries. You have to more or less go back to times where women had their children 14 till their early 20s and then stopped to not see this attitude.

    Other things are missing from your list. You focus a lot on fornication. 150 years ago evangelicals were much more concerned with the ethnical effects of masturbation. Fornication was an imitation of the marital act while masturbation was a celebration of sloth and self gratification without labor and responsibility. Far more destructive.

    I’d also say things like “sexual fulfillment being the greatest objective in a person’s life” are not part of the sexual revolution. If anything the sexual revolution and feminism were focused on freeing people from having sexual fulfillment be their greatest goal. For example Vindication of the Rights of Women, arguably the first feminist book, focuses its main argument on the fact that women should be educated in practical matters so as to be a better helpmate to their husband rather than educated in the art of seduction so as to secure the richest husband possible.

  8. Tim, I think these are powerful thoughts. Certain Christian lives are compelling. Bonhoeffer’s life leaves many unanswered questions and challenges for Christians.
    What would a Bonhoeffer-style stand against the excesses of the sexual revolution look like? From my view, those who take dramatic stands against governments to combat the sexual excesses of the west are generally Islamic terrorists or other dangerous reactionaries. )
    What ideals of the Sermon on the Mount does the sexual revolution?

    Bonhoeffer dramatically opposed the political power that stood for hate and violence. I think we should look for those who are willing to give up everything for important Christian values, but the sexual revolution is a far more tricky case. Nazism is the paradigm of evil, almost nothing in the sexual revolution fits that description.

  9. CD-Host,

    You’re objections to my list are the very reason I was hesitant to type it out. I will just say that the Sexual Revolution wasn’t created ex-nihilo and it’s very clear how much influence came out of Victorianism.

    It is not so much that people used to have Christian sexual values and now don’t, rather I’d argue they used to pretend to have Christian sexual values when they didn’t and now don’t.

    I agree with this. It’s part of the reason I’m not so concerned about the rise of the religious “nones”. People are not dropping vibrant, intentional Christianity for “none”, they are dropping Christian-influenced civil religion.

  10. Jared said

    Nazism is the paradigm of evil, almost nothing in the sexual revolution fits that description.

    Have you ever read “1984” and “Brave New World” back-to-back?

  11. What would a Bonhoeffer-style stand against the excesses of the sexual revolution look like? From my view, those who take dramatic stands against governments to combat the sexual excesses of the west are generally Islamic terrorists or other dangerous reactionaries.

    Much of Bonhoeffer’s “dramatic stand” was against the Lutheran church and German culture rather than the Nazi government.

  12. Hmmm. I guess I’m just not convinced that the institution of marriage itself deserves to be so sacrilized. Covenantal lifelong committed relationships, yes — and if you want to call that marriage, okay. But heterosexual marriage doesn’t exactly have a pristine track record from a Christian perspective. It’s been inextricably mixed up with politics, oppression, power struggle, abuse, and so on.

    I do agree that many of the items on your list are problematic, and insofar as they spring from the sexual revolution they need to be corrected. On the other hand, there’s all this nostalgia for the past (not saying you have it, but it’s out there), as though we’ve “lost our way” and should retrench to “traditional values.” But I don’t want to hearken back to a time when women were treated as chattel, when it was legal to rape your wife, when marriage was about status/politics/land primarily, when marriages were forced, when there was no recourse for abused spouses and children, and so forth. Those are also very damaging and un-Christian social circumstances.

    So we’ve traded one set of problems for another. The difference is that the problems we have now come as a direct result of asking ourselves the question, “What does the world look like when women are autonomous and equal?” We are in a transitory period where we are exploring the personhood of women in ways that are literally unprecedented in human history. That we don’t know exactly how to be healthy yet within that paradigm doesn’t necessarily mean we’re on the wrong path. It means we’re learning.

    And that is why I’m not convinced it’s a net negative. It’s messier, sure. But I, for one, am not interested in going back.

  13. I think the term “homophobia” is nothing more than name-calling. A completely worthless term that describes little, if any, of the actual opposition to gay marriage.

  14. CD, the only reason there is less adultery today is because people today divorce at the drop of a hat, or never get married in the first place and simply cohabitate.

    The people haven’t improved one jot – it’s just that the modern paradigm masks the douchebaggery now in a way it didn’t before.

  15. It’s part of the reason I’m not so concerned about the rise of the religious “nones”. People are not dropping vibrant, intentional Christianity for “none”, they are dropping Christian-influenced civil religion.

    I really agree with this.

  16. I think the term “homophobia” is nothing more than name-calling. A completely worthless term that describes little, if any, of the actual opposition to gay marriage.

    I disagree, Seth. There are thoughtful, non-hateful critiques to gay marriage.

    But there’s still a helluvalot of true homophobia out there, and people of faith are not immune to it.

  17. CD, the only reason there is less adultery today is because people today divorce at the drop of a hat, or never get married in the first place and simply cohabitate.

    The people haven’t improved one jot – it’s just that the modern paradigm masks the douchebaggery now in a way it didn’t before.

    Right. I think that was his point.

  18. Katie said:

    But heterosexual marriage doesn’t exactly have a pristine track record from a Christian perspective. It’s been inextricably mixed up with politics, oppression, power struggle, abuse, and so on.

    Because something has been corrupted or polluted does not mean that the thing itself is flawed. In fact the Christian worldview teaches that we can expect all good things to be corrupted and polluted.

    But I don’t want to hearken back to a time when women were treated as chattel, when it was legal to rape your wife, when marriage was about status/politics/land primarily, when marriages were forced, when there was no recourse for abused spouses and children, and so forth. Those are also very damaging and un-Christian social circumstances.

    I agree that those stand in opposition to Biblical standards of marriage. Like I said, I’m not opposed to all the tenets of the Sexual Revolution. I even think some of them cross over and are completely compatible with Christianity. I like sex. I think it should be viewed as recreational. Birth control and family planning are good things. Viewing women as commodities in marriage is just as damaging as viewing women as commodities in fulfilling sexual desires.

  19. I think the term “homophobia” is nothing more than name-calling. A completely worthless term that describes little, if any, of the actual opposition to gay marriage.

    a serious national conversation about that term really needs to be had. It’s starting to approach the realm of “Nazi”.

  20. Well then, Tim, I think that besides the “heterosexual” part (I want the same values of love, fidelity, honor, longsuffering, even childrearing, that we hold up for heterosexuals extended to gay people), I think we’re pretty well agreed.

  21. @Tim

    Glad we agree on the hypocrisy issue!

    You’re objections to my list are the very reason I was hesitant to type it out. I will just say that the Sexual Revolution wasn’t created ex-nihilo and it’s very clear how much influence came out of Victorianism.

    I agree which is why I have trouble considering that “the sexual revolution”. The real changes in the 1960s were

    a) institutionalization of contraception and abortion
    b) normalization of divorce and a corresponding huge increase in the frequency

    Before, during and after the sexual revolution the United States has been moving from an early marriage culture to a late marriage culture. And many of the premarital fornication issues have far more to do with the normalization of late marriage than any major change in attitudes. Humans become sexually active between 14 and 19. Societies decide what their status is going to be during that age range.

    In terms of the Victorian change in sexual mores, to my mind the Victorian ideals were arguably a much large change in marital and sexual norms than the one from the last generation. To my mind, what’s happening now is that Christians are having to confront the issues that people had when the Victorian norms were created, i.e. the pre-Victorian world. Christians are having trouble with this since they have this ideology that sexual / marital norms were constant until the 1960s rather than the norms that existed in the 1950s were the result of hard fought battles from Christian reformers of the 1830s.

  22. Katie —

    Try this on for size. I think we are moving to a society where women don’t go from being daughters to wives and thus always have a “responsible man”. In such a society I think older Christian values might fit far better. Marriage instead of being an institution about sex becomes an institution defining the relationship between the natural father of a women’s children and those children. Marriage is a commitment to long term joint responsibilities that people still do take seriously. Religious and secular alike consider procreation a very big deal, I think there are easy shared values when the issue returns to the natural product of sex and not the act of sex.

    I think we would want to use other terms but:
    a) A wife is a woman whose children from the relationship have a lifelong claim on their father’s assets.

    b) POSSLQ (concubine / shacking-up in the old language) is a woman whose children have a claim on their father’s assets as long as the sexual relationship remains intact.

    c) A mistress or prostitute has no claim at any point.

    That gives marriage its rightful place but doesn’t assume a shared system of values about sex which are society no longer has.

    _____

    Then in terms of gay marriage it becomes pretty clear cut. Two gay people are married if they see any children they adopt, produce as jointly theirs with joint obligations for life.

  23. Have you ever read “1984″ and “Brave New World” back-to-back?

    I see your point. I guess I was pointing out the two-edged sword to sex that is not there with rabid racism. Sex is both the most sacred and profane of human activities. It must be controlled by rules and order, yet it is so strong that it can’t. (See Catholic Church.)

    So I agree with you. The human sex drive fosters the most despicable bastions of slavery and subjugation. Part of the sexual revolution was to take some of the institutional power from men, who have dominated sexuality for centuries, and give it to women. Of course the backfire falling America is that sexuality is being now being checked only by the market rather than morality or good sense. From both the male and female side. Growing sex slavery seems to be the most horrifying development.

    So, sex slavery may be the Nazism of the sexual revolution. A market where people sell the violation of women and children through unchecked brutal sexuality– can’t get much worse than that. People do take Stephen-like stands against that. There is no money in fighting sex-slavery. But people sacrifice wealth and security for their children in order to further this cause. Fighting the forces of institutionalized crime is, perhaps, one of the most dangerous things and individual can do. And when they are stoned to death for their, its in a back alley–without witnesses. Those activists have to be revered like Stephen.

    The problem is that most people ignore martyrs these days. . . they wait until the problem is so bad that you cannot ignore the victims. The problem of sex slavery is a deep institutional problem that can’t be fixed by reactionary attitudes. It is like race based slavery, its roots permeate society. Misogyny is out of fashion in American pop-culture, but pick up any magazine and you realize how male dominated it is. Women are the peacocks and the workhorses. Female virtues are still marginalized.

    The answer seems to be a new Christian view of marriage and sexuality that moves away from the male-dominated historical social institutions, yet realistically takes into account the glory of sexuality from both a male and female perspective. However, traditional marriage from the perspective of many women and men, breaks down into a crude transaction. Unanswered sexual needs are serviced by the market, almost immediately.. Romance-based marriage AND virtue-based marriage are both too brittle to survive in this environment.

  24. To be clear- I think virtue-based marriage is the answer, but the traditional forms of virtue-based marriage are too infected with misogyny, or at least strong male bias.

  25. The reason Nazism has such a bad name in America is that we have decided as a culture that racism is an utterly false and destructive way of looking at humanity. Racism is a natural thing, but it should be squashed. Society used to think this about homosexuality.

    The anti-homophobia sentiment is a gut reaction to certain traditional stances, which anti-homophobes see as similarly destructive as racism. The homophobe does not fear or hate gays, they are just defending part of a constellation of traditional attitudes that consistently hurt gay people. The reason the term is problematic is that homophobe is defined by the anti-homophobe. (See Jean Paul Sarte’s “Anti-Semite and Jew.”)

  26. @Seth R —
    I think the term “homophobia” is nothing more than name-calling. A completely worthless term that describes little, if any, of the actual opposition to gay marriage.

    I don’t think that’s true. I think if it were true, that the issue with gay marriage is just a belief that marriage should reflect biblical norms there would be a much more caring and tolerant attitude towards gays. You wouldn’t see strong support for anti-gay legislation in the military, bans on gay teachers, support for workplace discrimination, attacks on gay clubs…..

    Even on the marriage issue, anti-gay marriage groups would understand they were asking a lot and would anxious to try and find reasonable compromises. So for example we would expect to see Christian conservatives enthusiastic about domestic partnership legislation. By having the state set down guidelines about insurance, benefits, child custody… in a context of domestic partnership they could leave “marriage” to a church function. This would be very much like how Orthodox Jews function here the Jewish marriages are strictly a synagogue function and the state provides an additional optional contractual framework.

  27. @Seth

    “The people haven’t improved one jot – it’s just that the modern paradigm masks the douchebaggery now in a way it didn’t before.”

    Right, the problem is that Christianity is incredible to people who see a slavish devotion to state-sanctioned marriage as silly and unnecessary to have a good society. See the Nordic Countries. But conservative progress toward a new goal is the answer, not reactionary sentiment wishing all people would want what used to be conventional.

  28. Jared, the Nordic countries are not the social paradise you seem to be fantasizing about. Some of what they are doing over there is downright Orwellian, and the societal costs are still only barely being understood.

    As for homophobia – the word is stupid.

    It means “irrational fear of gay people.”

    Homo (homosexuality) + phobia (irrational fear).

    It’s nothing more than a schoolyard taunt “heeey – look who’s CHICK-eeen. Bwawk, bwawk, bwawk, bwawk!”

  29. And yes, I’m aware that pro-gay marriage sociologists are working really hard to give the taunt an academically respectable definition so that lazy Internet debaters can feel justified in using it.

    I don’t care.

  30. Jared, the Nordic countries are not the social paradise you seem to be fantasizing about. Some of what they are doing over there is downright Orwellian, and the societal costs are still only barely being understood.

    I don’t know if you have the straight story here. I lived in Finland on and off for over 8 years. Its no paradise, and it was a pretty dreary place for me culturally, but its not Orwellian by any stretch. I fear the U.S. government far more than the Finnish government. There are no paradises, but some solutions are more sane and work. Learning from other’s successes is worth doing, even when they fail in other areas. Finland, Sweden, Norway, have excesses and systemic problems, but they are few. Mainly because there are less variables at play. Their economy can’t keep everyone employed, they have less resources than the US, which is a huge problem, but I don’t see Orwell showing up. there is not for the government to fight over and protect. Big money and ideological interests are less at play, because the Nordic is less powerful than the US. This doesn’t mean we should fear them. \

    Don’t be a Nordo-phobe!

  31. An embodiment of the “paradise of adult rights and entitlements” all for the affordable price of childcare hell.

    Fair trade, no?

  32. Jared, this guy is talking about Sweeden, not Finland. In defense of Finland, he speaks of it as not having the same or as worse problems as Sweeden, in fact, it’s the country Sweedish homeschoolers flee to to avoid being arrested by the daycare gestapo.

  33. Tim, I’m not sure if this is a lament or a just a handful of astute observations, but its a timely subject. I’ve actually attended a few J.R. Vassar sermons and found the “post-Christian” topic to be a driving theme of his teaching. One of the problems I have with it:

    I know Christianity has a long history of dominance in the West, but you could make a compelling argument that this has ultimately been bad for the soul of the Church. In fact Madison, the leading voice for religious freedom, was also a highly devoted Evangelical and argued that freedom of thought in the realm of God was the only way for true religious devotion to thrive. In other words, pluralism may have some casualties, but it also breeds out apathy and I might add – corruption. I’ve heard Matt Chandler(Christianized Dallas) say that he argues with Driscoll(secular Seattle) about who has the greater challenge in ministry. I think he does – by far.

  34. There’s always been a pattern of abuse as soon as the Church becomes entangled with, or co-opted by the secular regimes.

    For instance, the Spanish Inquisition was due, in large part to the Catholic courts being stripped of power, and the Pope cowed into agreement by the Spanish monarchy – who then prosecuted their reign of terror through the brutal and unjust secular court system.

    One thing people in the United States often don’t realize is that the “Separation of Church and State” concept was more to protect religion from the corrupting infiltration of government, rather than to protect government from the church.

  35. One thing people in the United States often don’t realize is that the “Separation of Church and State” concept was more to protect religion from the corrupting infiltration of government, rather than to protect government from the church.

    Seth, if that’s true, fine. Maybe the Founders couldn’t imagine a day when we’d be making foreign policy decisions based on apocalyptic theology.

  36. Well, seeing as that day hasn’t happened yet – safe assumption on their part, I’d say.

  37. Seth, Christian Zionism is not a left wing conspiracy theory. Its members on Capital Hill are loud and proud that their religious beliefs about the 2nd coming of Jesus and the gathering of the Jews informs their politics on Israel.

  38. Yeah, and I’m sure these guys are just as religious as Rick Santorum was.

    Snort.

    Israel is, and always has been, about realpolitik. Not religion.

  39. ” Israel is, and always has been, about realpolitik. Not religion.”

    I used to think the same thing. At the vert least the realpolitik takes advantage of the religion.

  40. Christian J,
    I haven’t heard any of Vassar’s sermons, but my talk of Post-Christianity is an observation not a lament (complaining wouldn’t do any good).

    I’ve long contended that civil religion is the worst kind. One of my biggest points of frustrations is with Evangelicals who which to defend American religionism over true Christianity. At times I think it’s evil. Whether or not Christianity can have sway over a culture without being a civil religion is an interesting topic for debate.

  41. Finland has a very civil Christian religion. It’s debatable how it effects their culture. Its a place where religion is rarely spoken of at all in politics but explicitly taught in schools.

  42. @Tim —

    Whether or not Christianity can have sway over a culture without being a civil religion is an interesting topic for debate.

    I agree it is an interesting debate. Especially since Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity are in different places in the cycle. What I mean by the cycle is a 4 generational problem.

    If you have a regenerate church then you must exclude or effectively exclude a large number of the children of believers. Now those children are educated in the faith and willfully reject it, which doesn’t present a huge moral dilemma for believers. They are going to be pained their children choose to reject the faith of their childhood, but they rejected it. What it does mean though that does present a moral dilemma is a large number of the grandchildren of believers aren’t raised in the church at all. They don’t even get an opportunity to reject it. The only way for these grandchildren, the children of non believers to have an effective opportunity is for the message of the church to be welcomed and supported by society. But to do that a church can’t exclude those parents who rejected the church. So there has to be compromise with non-believers and not a regenerate membership. There needs to at least be a “half-way covenant”.

    The problem is a halfway covenant is almost totally at variance with the idea that everyone is damned without an experience of regeneration. And so the church sells out the gospel and in exchange gets broad civil influence. Almost immediately the people drawn to the gospel are drawn towards some notion of a regenerate church: they build a church in a church and only later form a separate institution. As long as the secular civil church exists and the regenerate church considers itself a branch from it the grandchild problem doesn’t exist, because the children just quit the branch and join the main trunk. But within a generation or two of the break they have carried off huge numbers from the secular / civil church with them. At that point they have the numbers to start thinking of themselves as a separate institution with little relationship to the trunk. The civil church no longer its primary purpose of uniting religious / pious and the secular in compromise and so dies, the cycle starts anew.

    I think Mormons are in the early stages of building a church within a church. Religious Mormons are frustrated by not having a magisterium capable of engaging and wrestling with issues of the faith, so they’ve created FAIR. Religious Mormons are frustrated with the church not offering a fully developed moral theology of politics and so Cleon Skousen. The people who read and talk about and engage this way form the church within a church.

    Evangelicals by and large are a bit complex. In the northeast and midwest they are in the first generation after their now separate institutions stole huge numbers of people from the civil churches of the victorian era to their new churches. They have completely discredited the mainline churches to the point that cooperation would be impossible. They are still regenerate and thus they are losing members. But evangelicals in the northeast and midwest don’t have the grandchildren problem yet. In the south, they have a civil institution. Southerners identify as evangelical and Christian their whole lives and never really consider an alternative. Being Christian is part of being from the South.

  43. I think calling either FAIR or Cleon Skousen “churches within the church” is a bit much CD. What characteristics of churches do either of these things even have?

    When my daughter goes to her high school principle and asks to form a chess club, is that “a school within a school?”

  44. When my daughter goes to her high school principle and asks to form a chess club, is that “a school within a school?”

    No, but when a “gifted” program begins it’s a school within a school. I think CD-Host is on to something because “non-official” Mormon voices are beginning to create supplemental content and theological strategies that have never been voiced by anyone correlated. These voices are beginning to be viewed as legitimate (and often more valuable) as anything produced by the corporate church. Look at your own inspiration from Teryl Givens.

    The corporate church is not just supposed to provide financial and organization structure. It’s supposed to be developing and delivering theology and answers to today’s biggest questions. The corporation has been reluctant to do this for a number of reasons.

  45. Seth —

    I think calling either FAIR or Cleon Skousen “churches within the church” is a bit much CD. What characteristics of churches do either of these things even have?

    The characteristic they have is the big deficiency of the mainstream Mormon church. A religion is an organized collection of belief systems. The LDS church is failing to organize their belief system into a coherent whole. It is failing to preach and teach to its membership.

    For example D&D 124 is rather explicit about baptism for the dead. What is the historical origin for the dead, was that a lost early Christian practice or a new revelation of Joseph Smith in 1841? The LDS church doesn’t answer that question FAIR does and makes a historical claim that this was a lost practice of the early church. What does it mean for the church to purge names from their roles if the dead were validly baptized and accepted baptism after death? Are they excommunicated? Does it invalidate the baptism even if it was accepted? The doctrine makes no sense and the church has refused to answer legitimate theological questions.

    Another example with this I’m more familiar with is the Mormon Doctrine of the Great Apostasy. There are several hugely conflicting doctrines regarding what exactly the Great Apostasy was. No one is reconciling these conflicts. Which is a very serious problem. So for example when we find DSS 11Q13 about Melchizedek a primitive form of the Book of Hebrews predating the Book of Hebrews by about 100 years. Is that more or less authentic to restored Christianity? I’ve had this conversation with Mormons and they are all over the map on this one.

    The church is refusing to answer basic theological questions. A variety of different theologies which are answering these questions are being created inside the Mormon church. Those are for many Mormons their religion. Right now these groups aren’t formal sects, they are more like cliques. Give them another generation or two to grow and they will become much more.

  46. Right now these groups aren’t formal sects, they are more like cliques. Give them another generation or two to grow and they will become much more.

    I don’t think so. The church as an entity is far more powerful than groups who are theologically divergent within it. These groups inevitably die. Mormonism, by its nature, is designed to gin new theological ideas and new practices, but its institutional structure is what currently holds these divergent groups together. As soon as theology becomes more important than unity, the rebelling theologians are expelled summarily. The church is built that way top down. You don’t criticize the Bishop, even when he is wrong, you only let the superior priesthood leader do so. Unlike the most churches, the leadership does not have to answer to theologians or historians.

    The missionary program will also head off theological divergence. Little mini-churches pop up all of the time in the mission field and are excommunicated summarily. The faithful members who serve missions deepen their commitment and belief in the cause. Missions are also a dramatic way to spread culture and keep church culture consistent, even if theological/historical positions are very different.

  47. The intellectuals in the church will always be a foil to and influence on the institutional leadership, but they will never be able to compete with them.

  48. Jarod —

    I’m sure Catholics prior to the reformation or Presbyterians and Episcopalians prior the 2nd Great Awakening of the Mainline churches prior to the 1970s would have said the same thing. I know you’ve read my article on Machen. He got excommunicated but he had a following and he kept talking. Sure the current leadership can expel rival leaders, but what happens when a group of members follows them out the door? Think about the world today vs. when the September Six were expelled. You have blogs all over the place, like this one, where Mormons quite openly expressing their disagreement with the church leaders. There are probably on the order of 5m heavily theologically dissatisfied Mormons. Just imagine an alternate world where Lynne Kanavel Whitesides gets excommunicated and 10,000 Mormons (not a huge percentage) openly agree with her about Heavenly Mother. That’s .2% of my 5m figure. You now have a nascent counter church.

    We know there are a 1/2 dozen rival groups from the earlier days of the LDS. I don’t have to argue they can form, obviously the did form. These current theological sects don’t agree with each other yet, they don’t work together, and they haven’t formed a counter church. Excommunications from a leadership that are rejected by at least some substantial fraction of the church are frequently what kicks off a more serious rebellion.

  49. I don’t think so. When has a splinter ever taken more than a small minority of LDS believers?
    The number of splinters is beside the point. And Protestant schisms are different than Mormon schisms. To supplant the established Mormon leadership you have to claim to be a prophet and back it up somehow. You can’t get away with simply arguing a different interpretation of scripture. And you have to do what Joseph did, break from almost all previous tradition. Few capable and convincing people also think they are prophets. So splinters are marked by charismatic leadership or minority doctrines, both of which don’t readily translate into missionary results.

    So can’t compete head-to-head with the larger Utah church. The splinter groups are interesting, but will never vie for the core of the religion, they don’t have the institutional momentum or the missionary expertise.

  50. I wouldn’t dismiss Jared’s or Seth’s point outright. I am unaware of a post correlation, theologically liberal leaning splinter group coming out of Salt Lake Mormonism.

    I don’t think that the splitting of Protestant denominations really work as a historical model to compare with the LDS. Like Machen’s they are generally the conservatives leaving because of a liberalizing of doctrine not liberals claiming priesthood and prophetic authority. Besides Machen was an American Presbyterian, where a tradition exists for splitting over doctrinal matters.

    Post Vatican II Roman Catholicism seems to exist quite well with both orthodox and liberals having theology that is all over the place. I would imagine that Salt Lake can function just as well with a diversity of theological opinions.

  51. @Jared —

    The LDS hasn’t been around that long. . As I mentioned this is 4 generation cycle to play out and that assumes a fairly stable society for it to play out in. Mormonism is only about 6 generations old and I think the huge number of converts completely changes things. Converts are young, and enthusiastic. More importantly when converts apostatize they leave the community entirely. It is the apostate children of converts or long term members that kickoff the cycle. I haven’t really thought through what this would look for a group with continuous inflows but I’d assume you would have to have a situation where the children of long term members or converts leaving the faith substantially outnumber new converts for this cycle to even start to play out. And that really hasn’t happened to the LDS since the late 1930s. I don’t know Mormon history to know what happened then but something kicked off the huge surge is missionary activity in the 1950s. But that’s the period I’d naturally want to look at in terms of how the LDS responded previously.

  52. Historically, Christianity, like all religions I am aware of, is incoherent. Some Christians are people I admire. Some are not. Some Muslims are people I admire. Some are not. Some Jews are people I admire, and so on. I don’t really care what community or communal profession of faith or non-faith people make any more. To me the manner of their life speaks louder than the social posture they affect (a social posture that collectively makes no sense and has no integrity: it can be invoked by criminals as easily as by saints). I believe in individual integrity, in the ability of individual human beings to take the ideas and opportunities around them and turn them to good account. I believe in good people. I do not believe in good religions (or good non-religions: refusing to “pick a side” explicitly doesn’t make one immune from the reality that we are all imitators sharing culture with asymmetric effects; atheists and agnostics are moral and immoral the same way religious people are).

    To me Stephen’s words are hot air. I prefer to look at his deeds. If he demonstrates integrity that I can recognize (owning his own decisions and being responsible for them to others), then I respect him. Otherwise, I couldn’t care less what he or anyone else says (about anything).

  53. Christianity isn’t about the Christians.

    It’s about Jesus and what He has done for on the cross. Giving us forgiveness, new life, and salvation.

    All people will either go to the cross in this life…or the next. Because of Christ, it only has to be in this life.

  54. Old Adam, I confess I have little sympathy for your position. If Christianity isn’t about the Christians, then Islam isn’t about the Muslims, Judaism isn’t about the Jews, atheism isn’t about the atheists, and Nazism isn’t about the Nazis (who might have been particularly bad advocates for a particularly wonderful ideology, for all I know as an outsider). Hitler did nice things for people, too–just like every other great moral leader.

    I agree that everyone has to fail (“go to the cross”), and that there is value in constructing narratives wherein the value of failure as a tool for redemption (and a necessary part of life, which it is) becomes evident. I have nothing against Jesus–or any other savior of the world, in theory. In practice, however, I find many of their followers ushering me into hell–inadvertently or on purpose–under the pretense of saving me for some heaven that fails to appear (until I have already given these followers everything I own and am–my time, my money, my talents, and my moral integrity). I don’t like this gig (in any religion or society of ideologically charged people). No matter how many times you wave the Jedi hand in my face and tell me to just accept Jesus (or Mohammed, or the Baal Shem Tov, or Hitler, or Richard Dawkins), I will remain unmoved. Until I see the kind of new life you are talking about in the flesh–in you and others around you–and approve it there, I don’t care about words (names, saviors, stories). Stephen can talk himself hoarse. He can buy media advertisements in every venue available. He can sing. He can dance. He can cry. He can testify. Until I see him do something indicative of moral integrity that I can respect, his rhetorical performance will always strike me as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (which is how I see most stories of universal salvation these days, I confess: I think they are all less universally applicable and thus “true” than their most passionate advocates admit).

  55. Hermes,

    I have a lot of agreement with much of what you say.

    Christians say and do a lot of stupid things. They are fallen people, as the whole world is fallen.

    If people would do, could do, as Jesus taught, there’d have been no need for Him to die on a Cross for our sin. But we just flat out refuse to put ourselves ahead of our neighbor, as He did.

    As a Christian, and as a human, I am a mixed bag. Incapable of being totally giving and loving to my neighbor.

    But I am thankful that He was capable of it. And that He did it for me, as well as you.

  56. This audio mp3 says it much better than I could:

    [audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/the-last-day-of-jesus-life.mp3" /]

    It explains the why of it all, I believe, better than anything I have ever heard.

  57. Pingback: The Man With An Angel Face | love unconditional

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