Values of A Public Faith – Part 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts from Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, titled “Values of a Public Faith: A Contribution to a Conversation.”

Click here for the first, second, and third installments.

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11. Death Penalty

Value: Death should never be punishment for a crime. Since out of love Christ died for every human being (“the world”), no one should rob a human being of a chance to be transformed by God’s love, and no one should put to death a human being who has been transformed by God’s love.

Rationale: “Jesus straightened up and said to her [the woman caught in adultery, an act for which the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty], ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again’” (John 8:10–11). “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Debate: Notwithstanding the Old Testament endorsement of death penalty, for Christians, there is no debate on this one.

Question to Ask: Will the candidate push to abolish capital punishment, and if so, how hard?

12. Criminal Offenders

Value: Mere retributive punishment is an inadequate and mistaken way of dealing with offenders. We need to find creative ways to reconcile offenders to their victims and reintegrate them into the society.

Rationale: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Eph. 2:14).

Debate: We should debate viable alternatives to incarceration and how best to achieve the reintegration of offenders into the society. We should also debate the extent to which ethnic and racial prejudices are influencing our practices—more specifically why it is that Hispanics and African-Americans make up the largest proportion of the prison population—as well as the effect of the privatization of prisons on the increase of the prison population (the U.S. has the highest per capita prison population of any country in the world!).

Question to Ask: What does the candidate propose to do to reduce the number of incarcerated people in the U.S.?

13. World Hunger

Value: Given the world’s resources, no human being should go hungry; as individuals and a nation we should be committed to complete eradication of hunger.

Rationale: “[The Lord] executes justice for the oppressed [and] gives food to the hungry” (Ps. 146:7). “Then he [the Son of Man] will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink” (Matt. 25:41–42).

Debate: The debate should not be whether the eradication of world hunger ought to be one of our top priorities but rather what the most effective ways are to achieve that goal, including how best to fight corruption in countries in which hunger is widespread.

Questions to Ask: Is the candidate committed to the eradication of world hunger, and if so, what means will he use toward that goal? Is the candidate prepared to set aside a percentage of the Gross National Product for the eradication of hunger?

14. Equality of Nations

Value: No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world.

Rationale: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether America is somehow exceptional (and therefore permitted to do what other nations are not—for instance, carrying out raids on foreign soil in search of terrorists). The debate should, rather, be about what it means for the one remaining superpower to act responsibly in the community of nations.

Questions to Ask: At the international level, would the candidate renounce a double moral standard: one for the U.S. and its allies and another for the rest of the world? Even when the candidate considers an American perspective morally superior, will he seek to persuade other nations of the moral rightness of these values rather than imposing them on other nations?

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Check back on Tuesday for Part 5 of this series.
You can also follow our blog feed to make sure you don’t miss a post.
For more information on A Public Faithclick here.

Values of A Public Faith – Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts from Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, titled “Values of a Public Faith: A Contribution to a Conversation.”

Click here for the first and second installments.

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7. The Elderly

Value: Those who are frail on account of their advanced age deserve our special help. They need adequate medical assistance, social interaction, and meaningful activities. (The humanity of a society is measured perhaps especially by how it treats those no longer capable of doing “useful” work.)

Rationale: “Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” (Ps. 68:5). (In today’s world, the “elderly,” arguably, belong to the categories of the “poor” and “widows”.)

Debate: The debate here is about the extent of the responsibility for the wellbeing of the elderly. What resources should a society set aside for the care of elderly, and what are the best ways to manage those resources?

Question to Ask: What will the candidate do to help honor the elderly and attend to their specific needs?

8. Unborn

Value: Unborn human life, just like fully developed human life, deserves our respect, protection, and nurture.

Rationale: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13).

Debate: There is a legitimate debate about the point at which life that can plausibly be deemed human begins and whether the best way to reduce abortions is to criminalize abortion or to improve the living conditions of the poor (for instance, through fighting poverty in inner cities, providing education for women, making available affordable childcare).

Question to Ask: Is the candidate firmly committed to reducing the number of abortions performed, to make it not just safe when it is legal, but also rare?

9. Healthcare

Value: All people—poor or rich—should have access to affordable basic healthcare, just as all are responsible for living in a way conducive to physical and mental health.

Rationale: “Jesus went through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (Matt. 9:35).

Debate: There is a legitimate debate as to how best to ensure that all people have access to affordable healthcare—but not as to whether the destitute should or should not be left to fend for themselves when faced with serious or chronic illness. We roughly know what it takes to lead a healthy lifestyle (exercise, minimal intake of sugar, no substance abuse, etc.), but we can and ought to debate most effective ways to help people lead such a lifestyle (for instance, how heavily the food industry should be regulated).

Questions to Ask: Which candidate is more likely to give the destitute effective access to healthcare? Which candidate is more likely to reduce the number of people who need to seek medical help?

10. Care for Creation

Value: We are part of God’s creation, and we must seek to preserve the integrity of God’s creation as an interdependent ecosystem and, if possible, to pass it on to the future generations improved. Above all, we should not damage creation by leading  lifestyles marked by acquisitiveness and wastefulness.

Rationale: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).

Debate: The debate here should be about the extent of present ecological damage (for instance, whether or not we are barreling toward a climate apocalypse) and about the appropriate means and sacrifices necessary to preserve God’s creation.

Question to Ask: Which candidate shows a better understanding of the ecological health of the planet and has a better track record in preventing the devastation of what God has created and pronounced good?

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Check back on Thursday for Part 4 of this series.
You can also follow our blog feed to make sure you don’t miss a post.
For more information on A Public Faithclick here.

Values of A Public Faith – Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts from Miroslav Volf, author of A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, titled “Values of a Public Faith: A Contribution to a Conversation.”

To view the first installment, click here.
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3. Economic Growth

Value: Economic growth is not a value in its own right because increasing wealth and money are not values in their own right. They are means—indispensable means, but only means—to human flourishing, which consists more in righteousness than in possessions.

Rationale: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. . . . But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:24, 33).

Debate: We can abandon the old debate about whether efficient wealth creation or just wealth distribution is more important; both are important, for we cannot distribute what we don’t have, and we should not possess what is given to us to pass on to others. Instead, we should debate (1) what are morally irresponsible (Wall Street gambling), inhumane (child labor), and unsustainable (deforestation) ways of creating wealth and how to create wealth in humanly and ecologically sustainable ways; (2) what kind of wealth contributes to human flourishing; and (3) how to make wealth serve us instead of us serving wealth.

Question to Ask: Which candidate is reminding us that we diminish ourselves when we turn into money-making and consumption-obsessed creatures and that we flourish when we pursue truth, goodness, and beauty, that we are truly ourselves when we reach to others in solidarity and enjoy one another in love?

4. Work and Employment

Value: Every person should have meaningful and, if employed for pay, adequately remunerated work. All able citizens should work to take care of their needs and to contribute to the wellbeing of others and the planet.

Rationale: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). The prophet Isaiah envisions a time when all God’s people “shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (Isa. 65:21). Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Debate: The debate should be about what the required economic, cultural, and political conditions are for people to have meaningful work, and who is mainly responsible to create and maintain these conditions. How can we best fight unemployment and underemployment? Given the present state of economy and future economic developments, how can we stimulate the creation of jobs that pay adequate wages?

Questions to Ask: What policies does the candidate propose to help encourage meaningful employment and adequate pay for all people? What will the candidate do to encourage people to work not just for personal gain but for the common good?

5. Debt

Value: As individuals and as a nation, we should live within our means and not borrow beyond what we can reasonably expect to return; we shouldn’t offload onto others, whether our contemporaries or future generations, the price of our overreaching or risk-taking; instead, we should save so as to be able to give to others who are less fortunate then we.

Rationale: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy” (Eph. 4:28).

Debate: We should debate what responsible levels of debt are for households, businesses, or a nation; what constitutes predatory lending practices and how to prevent them; to what degree, if at all, spending on consumer goods should be promoted as cure for a faltering economy; and what the public significance of contentment might be.

Questions to Ask: What will a candidate do to bring and keep national debt under control? What will the candidate do to encourage individual saving and living within one’s means?

6. The Poor

Value: The poor—above all those without adequate food or shelter—deserve our special concern. (“The moral test of government is how it treats people in the dawn of life, the children, in the twilight of life, the aged, and in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped” [Hubert Humphrey].)

Rationale: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). “There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession to occupy” (Deut. 15:4).

Debate: There should be no debate whether fighting extreme poverty is a top priority of the government. That’s a given. We should debate the following: How should we generate a sense of solidarity with the poor among all citizens? In poverty alleviation, what is the proper role of governments and of individuals, religious communities, and civic organizations? What macroeconomic conditions most favor lifting people out of poverty? What should the minimum wage be?

Questions to Ask: Is overcoming extreme poverty (rather than fostering the wellbeing of the middle class) a priority for the candidate? For what poverty-reducing policies is the candidate prepared to fight?

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Check back on Tuesday for Part 3 of this series.
You can also follow our blog feed to make sure you don’t miss a post.
For more information on A Public Faithclick here.

Values of A Public Faith – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts from Miroslav Volf titled “Values of a Public Faith.” Between now and the election, we will be hosting these original posts from Miroslav on the values that he identifies as significant for a political candidate.

Miroslav Volf is the author of the Brazos book A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good -which was named a Top Ten Religion Book of 2011 by Publishers Weekly. In this series of blog posts (originally featured on his Facebook page), Miroslav continues to themes of A Public Faith in a way directly relevant for us in this political season.

Be sure to visit The Brazos Blog every Tuesday and Thursday as Miroslav shares his twenty values of A Public Faith.
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Values of a Public Faith: A Contribution to a Conversation

by Miroslav Volf

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. There are three basic elements of choosing a candidate for public office responsibly:

1.    Values we hope the candidate will stand for and the order of priority among them (which requires of us knowledge of faith as a whole, rather than just a few favorite topics, and knowledge of how faith applies to contemporary life)

2.    Ways in which and means by which these values are best implemented in any given situation (which requires of us a great deal of knowledge about how the world actually functions and what policies lead to what outcomes—for instance, whether it would be an economically wise decision to try to reintroduce the gold standard)

3.    Capacity—ability and determination—to contribute to the implementation of these values (which requires of us knowledge of the track record of the candidate)
Most important are the values. As I identify each value, I will (1) name the basic content of the value, (2) give a basic rationale for holding it, (3) suggest some parameters of legitimate debate about it, and (4) identify a key question for the candidate.

I write as a Christian theologian, from the perspective of my own understanding of the Christian faith. Whole books have been written on each of these values, explicating and adjudicating complex debates. In providing a rationale for a given value, I only take one or two verses from the Bible to back up my position, more to flag the direction in which a rationale would need to go than, in fact, to strictly offer such a rationale.

0. Christ as the Measure of All Values

Value: The ultimate allegiance of a Christian is to Jesus Christ, the creative Word (become flesh), who enlightens everyone, and the redeeming Lamb of God, who bears the sin of the whole world. A Christian ought not embrace any practice, no matter how prudent it may seem from the standpoint of national security or national competitive advantage, which conflicts with her or his allegiance to Christ.

Rationale: “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11)*

Debate: For Christians, the debate should not be whether one’s allegiance to Christ trumps one’s allegiance to the nation. The debate should be what key values for national life follow from allegiance to Jesus Christ and what the proper relation is between the universal claims of Christ and the particular claims of the nation.

Question to Ask: To what extent is the candidate merely seeking to serve the “goddess nation” and to what extent is what he stands for compatible with the Christian conviction that Christ is the key to human flourishing?

1. Freedom of Religion (and Irreligion)

Value: All people are responsible for their own life, and they have the right to embrace a faith or way of life they deem meaningful and abandon the one with which they no longer identify without suffering discrimination.

Rationale: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ . . . Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’” (John 6:60, 66–67).

Debate: The debatable issue should not be whether people should be free to choose and exercise their religion (or irreligion) without discrimination; that’s a given. Public debate should be about which way of life, including its public dimensions or implications, is more salutary, and whether there are ways of life so inimical to human flourishing and common life that their exclusion doesn’t represent an act of discrimination but is a condition of humane social life. We should also debate the moral foundation of a state that is “neutral” with regard to distinct faiths and secular interpretations of life as well as the precise nature of political arrangements required to keep the state “neutral.”

Questions to Ask: Does the candidate respect the right of all—Christians and Muslims, fundamentalists and secularists, conservatives and progressives, to name a few groups often at odds with one another—to take personal responsibility for their lives and to lead them as they see fit? Does the candidate think of America as a Christian nation (so that, in one way or another, all others have to fit into a Christian mold) or as a pluralistic nation (in which a way of life is not imposed on anyone without his or her endorsement)?

2. Education

Value: It is important for all citizens to understand the world in which they live, to learn to reflect critically on what makes life worth living, and to acquire qualifications for jobs which increasingly require complex skills. We should strive for excellent and affordable education for all citizens.

Rationale: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth’” (Gen. 1:26). “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. . . . Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her” (Prov. 8:4–5, 10–11).

Debate: The debate should be about what families and government must do to improve the educational system, what exactly improvements in education look like, and what proportion of the budget should be allotted for educational purposes (as compared to, for instance, defense). The debate should not be about whether we should have an educational system that is both excellent and affordable for all.

Question to Ask: What will the candidate do to ensure that all citizens—the poor no less than the wealthy—are taught to make intelligent judgments about what makes life worth living, acquire skills necessary for functioning in modern societies, and have an adequate understanding of the world?

*unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the NRSV translation.
©2012 Miroslav Volf. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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Check back on Thursday for Part 2 of this series.
You can also follow our blog feed to make sure you don’t miss a post.
For more information on A Public Faith, click here.

Best of The Brazos Blog – Beyond the Book

It is the one year anniversary of The Brazos Blog! To celebrate we are posting the best of the blog – along with a variety of giveaways (we will have one per day – see below).

Monday we highlighted our Between the Lines posts – featuring an interview w/ Miroslav Volf.
Tuesday we featured videos that have appeared on our blog – highlighting those w/ Lee C. Camp.
Yesterday we ran a post from Peter Enns on why he wrote The Evolution of Adam to highlight our Behind the Book series.

Today we are featuring our Beyond the Book entries – in which Brazos authors write original posts that extend the conversation of their books. Some notable Beyond the Book posts include:

“Job Description for a Dying Pastor” by Dale Goldsmith, co-author of Speaking of Dying
“Hide it under a bushel? Yes!” by Jonathan Malesic, author of Secret Faith in the Public Square
“The Best Weapon against Vampires Has Always Been the Cross” by Susannah Clements, author of The Vampire Defanged
“Being and Becoming: Learning from the Mystics” by David Benner, author of Spirituality and the Awakening Self

In January of this year, Christian Scharen, author of Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God, wrote three Beyond the Book posts for The Brazos Blog. The first was titled “Reflections on Grammy Nominees, Part 1: Mumford and Sons.” We’ve chosen to feature this post, not only because it is a great article, but also because Mumford and Sons release their second album next week. Enjoy.

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One reason I wrote Broken Hallelujahs was to offer a theology of culture that sees–expects!–God’s redeeming presence already at work in the world. Pop culture is not God-forsaken, despite the ‘constricted imagination’ present in some corners of Christianity which would say it is. As a case in point, I’m starting a series of posts here engaging some of the featured artists in the upcoming Grammy Awards, the recording industry’s major awards ceremony, on February 12.

First up: Mumford and Sons, the British folk-rock band that has exploded in popularity on the strength of their debut album, Sigh No More. Last year, they were present at the Grammy Awards with nominations in two categories: “Best New Artist” and “Best Rock Song” (For “Little Lion Man”). While they lost both, they did get a rousing set playing “The Cave” and then sharing the stage with The Avett Brother’s “Head Full of Doubt / Road Full of Promise” before both bands backed Bob Dylan on “Maggie’s Farm.” It is a rousing performance, worth a watch especially for “The Cave” which I’ll talk about next.

This year, Mumford and Sons are back with four nominations, all for “The Cave” and with the wave they are riding I very much expect them to win one or more. The nominations are for “Record of the Year,” “Song of the Year,” “Best Rock Performance,” and “Best Rock Song.” As an aside, I find it hilarious that a group that got its start in the London folk scene and that played “hoe-downs” in a barn in its early days would continue to get nominations as a rock group. As I’ve written elsewhere, Mumford and Sons are a spiritually deep band. Their music has its own energy, often rising to a joyous crescendo, drawing the enthusiastic audience into a kind of musical rapture, taken outside of oneself into another place.

While such energy can be bent or twisted towards unsavory and self-destructive ends in pop music, Mumford and Sons are an unusual example of a band that has lyrical depth, depth that repays listening and even study. Marcus Mumford, the lead singer and songwriter, is the son of Vineyard UK leaders John and Eleanor Mumford and the Scriptures are an obvious source of lyrics in some of the band’s songs. Others, like “The Cave,” are not as readily accessible. Yet “The Cave”, according to Mike who blogs at Laughter and Humility, seems to be at least in part a song about spiritual transformation, a story modeled on and even quoting directly from G.K.Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis. The lyrics of the song say:

“So come out of your cave walking on your hands / And see the world hanging upside down / You can understand dependence / When you know the Maker’s hand”

And in Chapter Five of Chesterton’s biography, he writes:

“Francis, at the time or somewhere about the time when he disappeared into the prison or the dark cavern, underwent a reversal of a certain psychological kind […] The man who went into the cave was not the man who came out again […] He looked at the world as differently from other men as if he had come out of that dark hole walking on his hands […] This state can only be represented in symbol; but the symbol of inversion is true in another way. If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasize the idea of dependence. There is a Latin and literal connection; for the very word dependence only means hanging. It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hung the world upon nothing.”

Should “The Cave” win at the Grammys it will be icing on the cake. It is a moving and powerful thing to see a band surfing a wave of mainstream popularity that can invite spiritual seekers into much deeper things through their art.

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Is Christian Just War Just Like Jihad? – by Lee C. Camp

The following article is written by Dr. Lee C. Camp, author of Who Is My Enemy? and Mere Discipleshipand was originally published on Patheos.com in August 2011.

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Is Christian Just War Just Like Jihad?

When it comes to questions of war and peace, is American Christianity more like Muhammad or Jesus?

Since 9/11, such a question has seemed outrageous to many Americans. But perhaps the offense is grounded in some unhelpful assumptions.

Here in the Bible Belt, many argue that Islam is inherently war-mongering and oppressive, and that it is waging a “holy war” against anyone that refuses to embrace Muhammad.  Others around the country assert that all religions are inherently concerned with the same ethical core, pursuing “love” and “peace.”

Both these stereotypes are deeply problematic, and their assertions ironic. Consider the second one first: the assertion that “all religions are basically saying the same thing.” It is clear that the founding narratives, what we might call the “story logic” of Christianity and Islam, are fundamentally different when it comes to the employment of violence and warfare.

The Jesus story entails a Savior responding to the injustice and violence of the world through suffering love: do not return evil for evil; love your enemies, and do good to those who do evil to you.

The early church took this at face value. Centuries later, Gandhi would claim, “The only people on earth who do not see Christ and His teachings as non-violent are Christians,” but this was certainly not true of the early church. In fact, as the Yale historian Roland Bainton has summarized, “All of the outstanding writers of the East and the West repudiated participation in warfare for Christians.” Moreover, Bainton notes, this was a novel development in human history: “prior to the advent of Christianity there is no record of anyone suffering death for a refusal of military service.”

The Muhammad story begins with a similar stance: when suffering in Mecca, Muhammad counsels the early Muslims not to retaliate, but to suffer patiently. As is commonly known, Muhammad and the early Muslims leave Mecca, emigrating to Medina where Muhammad takes a role of leadership, and in this position of power, Muhammad permits retaliation and war-making. Moreover, retaliation became seen as that which would check and limit oppression. Justice, taught Muhammad, requires the brave employment of measured force.

So the very basic narrative of the stories differs significantly: in the Jesus story, doing good to those who persecute you is consistently taught and practiced, while in the Muhammad story, retaliation becomes an accepted practice.

This difference is heightened by the way in which the two narratives speak of vindication, of victory: the New Testament claims that Jesus was vindicated through resurrection, on the other side of a humiliating defeat in crucifixion. That a Messiah, an anointed one of God, should suffer such humiliation is what the apostle Paul said was “foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews.” But the resurrection was what we might call the “stamp of approval” by God the Father: this enemy-loving Jesus was indeed the anointed one, the Son who had obeyed God’s will. This “story-logic” might be summarized as cross-vindicated-by-resurrection.

The Qur’an, on the other hand, assumes that the faithfulness of Muhammad and the Muslims was evidenced in their military victories, especially when small Muslim minorities overcame military odds, defeating larger forces. This “story-logic” might be summarized as martial-power-vindicated-in-military-victory. Given that justice should triumph over persecution, given that God is on the side of the right against the purveyors of wrong, this logic assumes that military endeavor, undertaken by those who are doing God’s will, would and should win. In continuity with this logic, the Qur’an denies that Jesus, whom Muslims honor as a true prophet of God, was crucified.

These, then, are two very different stories. Clearly, on questions of war and peacemaking, the New Testament and the Qur’an go different directions, with different ethical implications.

But this is clearly not the end of the story, nor all that needs be said. The mainstream of the Christian tradition did not continue to reject war-making. Along with the alliance of Christianity and the Roman empire in the fourth century, the Christian “Just War tradition” (JWT) emerged. This tradition employs earlier Greek and Roman notions, and argues that war is always lamentable, but sometimes the common good requires followers of Jesus to engage in war-making. Even then, war should be practiced only for the goal of justice and cessation of violence, within certain limits carefully observed. The JWT became the mainstream conviction of the Christian tradition from the fourth century until today.

But it turns out that the Qur’anic and classical Islamic limitations on war-making happen to parallel in many ways the Christian JWT. In fact, John Kelsay, who has done perhaps the most work in the U.S. comparing the Christian JWT with classical Islamic teaching, calls the parallels “striking,” and maintains that a notion of justifiable war is “an aspect of the foundational narrative of Islam.”

So perhaps it is true that the mainstream Christian conviction regarding war-making is more like Muhammad than Jesus.

But there is even yet a more important question, which I think is terribly important in our late modern, western context: Do we American Christians even take seriously this so-called Just War tradition and the limits it places upon war-making?

Consider the limit found in both the Christian and Muslim mainstream limits on war: civilians are not to be targeted. This limit has been, in gross ways, ignored in the West. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who in the U.S. Civil War popularized the notion that war is an engagement not merely between two armies, but between two societies. Thus Sherman burned and destroyed his way to the sea in order to “make the South howl.”

Ironically, this logic developed steadily in the arguments of Osama bin Laden: early on he argued that his gripe was not with the American people as such, but with the U.S. government. But increasingly, bin Laden obliterated that distinction: a democratic citizenry is responsible for the deeds of its government, and thus become legitimate targets.

This very logic was at work in Churchill’s willingness to target residential areas and burn German cities with firebombs, intentionally killing hundreds of thousands in their homes. Though Churchill expressed scruples against such wholesale destruction, he believed a higher justice to be at work, “that those who have loosed these horrors upon mankind will now in their homes and persons feel the shattering strokes of just retribution.” The logic leads, in similar fashion, to the U.S. destruction of Japanese cities through systematic firebombing of civilian populations, and ultimately the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The same logic led to certain U.S. diplomats justifying the economic warfare waged against Iraq between the two Gulf Wars, that according to the U.N. led to the deaths of some 500,000 children aged five and under.

So we come to a doubly troubling possibility: First, that the mainstream Christian Just War tradition may, in fact, be closer to the teaching of Muhammad than that of Jesus. Second, that we American Christians have too often failed to live up even to the ethic of the Just War tradition: we seem pleased with its logic that war may be justified, but ignore the limits it imposes upon the ways we fight.

Perhaps the question with which we began is not such a bad one to ponder at great length this September, as we grieve the violence that continues to mar God’s good creation.

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Lee C. Camp (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is professor of theology and ethics at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of Mere Discipleship and the host of Tokens, a popular radio show based in Nashville. Camp speaks regularly to university and church audiences and has served in various ministry roles in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Nairobi, Kenya.

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To read this article on Patheos.com, click here.

Being and Becoming: Learning from the Mystics – by David G. Benner

The following article is written by Dr. David G. Benner, author of Spirituality and the Awakening Self and Soulful Spirituality, and was originally published as a part of the Patheos.com Book Club in March 2012.

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Being and Becoming: Learning from the Mystics

Most Christians find the mystics mystifying. Their language often makes it hard to identify with them, their lifestyle seems out of sync with modernity, and their message simply doesn’t seem relevant to life as most of us know and live it. It’s easy, therefore, to think of mysticism as a hobby for people on the fringe of life—spiritual gurus or others seeking esoteric spiritual experiences. But this easy dismissal would be unfortunate because the mystics are surprisingly relevant to modern life and their message is much more practical than usually realized. This is the reason Karl Rahner, perhaps the most influential Roman Catholic theologian of the 20th century, argued that “the Christian of the future will either be a mystic or not exist at all.”

However, before we attempt to learn from this rich Christian tradition let me take a moment to clear some common misconceptions. Despite what you might have heard, Christian mysticism is not about seeing visions or receiving special messages from God. Nor is it the pursuit of enlightenment or esoteric spiritual or religious experiences. In fact, its goal is not experience at all—or, at least, it should not be. The goal is simply knowing—deep personal knowing of God. The mystical or contemplative journey is, therefore, deeply relational. At its core is a longing for an intimate knowing of God in love. There is nothing that mystics desire more deeply than this.

What the mystics offer us isn’t primarily techniques or theories but wisdom—wisdom that is deeply congruent with biblical teaching but which emphasizes the interior dimensions of the transformational encounter with God that authentic knowing of God involves. Although it is immensely practical and includes practices, this wisdom can’t be reduced to those practices. For like any wisdom teaching, it starts at a place much deeper than what we believe or what we do. It starts with ontology—with our being—and moves out from there.

Being and Becoming
The starting point of the Christian contemplative journey is the paradoxical realization that there really is nothing to achieve and no where to go. This is because God is already present and we already exist in God and God exists in us. All that is lacking is awareness of this most fundamental reality of our existence. But, even that awareness is not something we need to achieve. It is a gift from God and is not something we can manufacture. But it is a gift that we can unwrap and this is where the wisdom of the mystics is so helpful.

Within contemplative spirituality there is a tension between being and becoming. In terms of being, we are always, already, one with God, immersed in God’s presence and deeply enmeshed with God’s very being. Becoming is returning to this eternal state of being. It is being aware of what is most deeply the truth of my being and allowing this to become equally true of my identity. Consequently, even the metaphor of the journey is somewhat misleading. Of course, life is a journey and our spirituality is deeply part of that journey. But, it is not a journey of finding God because God is already present in Christ in my depths. If it is a journey of anything it is a journey of knowing—of knowing the truth of my being and knowing the transformational power of the life and love of God flowing through us.

So how is this practical? It is, in fact, immensely practical. It reminds us to relax and let go of our striving to know God—or our striving to achieve anything of spiritual significance. It tells us that the initiative in this relationship has been and always will be all God’s. Everything that God asks of us, God gives us. And everything that we most deeply seek is already ours in the God who resides at the center of our being. God having taken that initiative and being now fully present to me, my job is simply to open myself in trust to the God whose abiding presence is the very foundation of my existence. Because, if the eternal I AM were not present to me, I would not be.

Inner Space and Hospitality
The second important thing the mystics have to teach us is how to open ourselves in trust to the knowing of God’s loving presence that we seek. The answer is that we do this by making space for God. Christian mysticism is less about attaining unity with God and more about creating the inner emptiness where you can offer God hospitality. It is, therefore, more a matter of subtraction than addition.

This brings us to the important role of silence and solitude. These are not primarily things to achieve as they are ways of preparing ourselves to receive the gifts God has for us. Both are ways of stepping outside our usual patterns of self-preoccupation and distraction. They are ways of making space in the depths of our being. And the clearing of this space is our way of showing hospitality to the God who is already there but who has not been noticed in all the clutter and noise that usually fills that space.

The silence and solitude that are important are, of course, inner—not merely external. Scriptures speak of this as stillness. Think, for example, of the words of Psalm 46:10—”Be still and know that I am God.” Inner stillness is a way of communicating our intent to make space for God. Offering whatever inner stillness we have in the moment allows us to be present to the One who is present to us. And it results in a unique form of knowing that the mystics call contemplative knowing.

Contemplative Knowing
Any genuinely transformational knowing of God will always involve more than knowing about God. John of the Cross says that God cannot be thought but can be loved. Even though we will often feel the need to put words to our experience of the Mystery that is God, our words can never hold God. They may point in the general direction of God but that pointing will always be imperfect and limited. And looking at fingers that point toward God should never be confused with the ineffable mystery to which they point. That’s the limitation of words and of the mind in the encounter with God.

Knowing God who is love will always involve what the mystics call knowing in love or knowing through love. Love is its own form of knowing. We can be as certain of what we know in or through love as we can of any other form of knowing. In fact, it will usually resonate with things deep in our soul in a way that will confirm the validity of our knowing in ways that go beyond what we can ever experience with intellectual knowing. Some, therefore, speak of bringing our heart, not just our head, to the contemplative encounter. But we shouldn’t think of this as making space for feelings but making space for love—God’s love, God’s life. Contemplation isn’t thinking about something or other—even thinking about God. It is making space in our hearts for the touch of the Loving and Living God, and then allowing that touch to flow through the rest of our being—heads included—and out into the world.

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David G. Benner (PhD, York University; postdoctoral studies, Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis) is an internationally known depth psychologist, author, spiritual guide, and personal transformation coach. He currently serves as Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Spirituality at the Psychological Studies Institute, Richmont Graduate University. He has authored or edited more than twenty books, including Soulful Spirituality and Strategic Pastoral Counseling. Benner lectures widely around the world and has held numerous clinical and academic appointments. Visit his website at www.drdavidgbenner.ca.

To read this article on Patheos.com, click here.

Job Description for the Dying Pastor

This is an original post by Dale Goldsmith, co-author of Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death.

Dale Goldsmith (PhD, University of Chicago) taught for several years at McPherson College and at the Baptist Seminary of Mexico. He is the author of New Testament Ethics and lives in Amarillo, Texas.

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© Corliss Metcalf

When a pastor knows she or he is dying and wants to stay on the job, what should that job description look like?

If that question seems like it is irrelevant or a joke, I would suggest that if you have a dying pastor, it is a most relevant question. Admittedly, while my knowledge of employed but dying pastors is limited to about a dozen, every one of whom I know insisted on working right up to the end.

And in every case, their churches allowed and supported them. The tacit job description for the terminal leader was as follows:

Keep on doing whatever you want to do and can. The church will support you in your fight to recover, so you will not need to address any issues of dying. The church program and preaching should carry on as usual, and your (excuse the use of the term) dying need not be addressed in any way—not even in informing the mission, ministry, or teaching of the church.

The appalling result was that the pastors’ struggle with death never (with one exception) factored into the sermons or into improving or expanding the ministry of the church to address issues of dying.

In Speaking of Dying, we were told stories of ten Christian communities in which dying was happening before their very eyes, week in and week out (in one instance over a five-year period), and nobody seemed to notice it—or if they did, no one suggested that the congregation’s life of study and mission be informed by the first-hand experience that they were having with life’s final labors.

This is where the dysfunction of these churches found, if not its beginning, then at least its fertile ground. Churches ignored the dying part of the dying pastor and, in focusing on the pastor, lost focus of pretty much everything else. In Speaking of Dying we report some of the major catastrophes that befell these churches.

Dying and death are not topics that Christians can avoid; indeed, the resources accessible in the great treasures of the church give us both technique and content for addressing dying in the most helpful ways.

In addition to our christological, biblical, and ecclesiastical resources, a dying pastor’s experience gives practical resources to bring the congregation into the valley of the shadow of death in the most remarkable ways. For pastors with terminal illnesses who want to continue in ministry, their uninvited yet permanent guest need not instill the silence of terror or avoidance. Instead, pastors and their congregations—can offer the hospitality that leads to deeper understanding and appreciation of the guest.

As Dr. Craddock points out in his chapter on preaching on dying, the congregation can co-minister with the pastor as its members assume responsibility for acknowledging and discussing dying. The dying pastor and the caregiving congregation need not spend their final time together denying death. To the extent that all are open and honest, their fears and sorrows can be shared, and their ministry can reach out to all of the rest of us who can ignore but never evade life’s final moment.

The job description for the dying pastor can be a new covenant with the congregation:

We will support one another as we proclaim the gospel of Christ, the kingdom of God, and the strength of the Holy Spirit in these days of uncertainty.

I (the pastor) will, with God’s help and to the extent I am physically, mentally, and spiritually able, faithfully live my vocation as the pastor of this congregation:

attending to the priestly (administrative) duties of the church
giving care to the pastoral duties for those in need
committing to the prophetic (preaching, teaching) opportunities given to me

We (the congregation) will, with God’s help, support the pastor now compromised by a terminal illness by making ourselves available for those tasks for which we have the gifts and training and resources. We will be ever conscious that our covenant, while eternal in love, is contingent on the weakness of the flesh, and that the time will come when our working relationship as pastor and flock will terminate. This termination will be the result of our regular mutual conversations.

I (the pastor) accept this covenant and commit to it as long as I am able and according to the guidance of our mutual decision-making.

Facing dying with honest and commitment from all participants will surely result in a ministry full of hope for all.

“Hide it under a bushel? Yes!” by Jonathan Malesic

The following piece was written by Brazos author Jonathan Malesic, author of Secret Faith in the Public Square.
 

Hide it under a bushel? Yes!

Americans are growing tired of overt religious speech in the political sphere. This is great news for American Christianity.

Two years ago, 37% of respondents to a Pew Research Center poll said that there was “too little” religious expression by politicians; 29% said there was “too much.” As a poll released last month shows, these numbers have flipped. For the first time since October 2001, when Pew began asking this question, more of those polled (38%) said that politicians engaged in “too much” religious expression. Thirty percent said they did “too little.”

The data should not be taken as a sign of rapidly increasing secularization. With one important exception (more on that in a moment), Christians across the board think the amount of politicians’ religious speech is excessive. The data instead show that we may be moving out of an era in which Christian identity has been cheapened through its inclusion in the political–consumerist matrix and into an era of quieter reflection on the mysteries of the faith.

This is what I hoped could happen when I argued in my 2009 book, Secret Faith in the Public Square: An Argument for the Concealment of Christian Identity, that American Christians should keep faith hidden in the public sphere in order to preserve that identity’s integrity. If Christian identity is just another brand loyalty, then it is pointless.

In the book and in my writing since then, I was not optimistic that politicians would start concealing their Christianity unless American Christians stopped rewarding politicians for exploiting it. The results of the Pew study suggest that, for whatever reason, a shift has occurred in voters’ minds. I hope that it is because American Christians are tired of the pandering and the perversion of their faith.

Perhaps American Christians are ready to heed the words of the second-century Letter to Diognetus: “As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen.”

In the Pew poll, one demographic was a statistical outlier: white evangelicals. Not only were they the group least likely to think there was “too much” religious expression in politics (only 14% said so), but they were also the only group that did not exhibit increased dismay over the prevalence of religious expression by politicians. Moreover, in several states where white evangelicals make up the core of the Republican Party, a solid majority of Republican primary voters told pollsters that it was important that a candidate share their religious commitments.

With white evangelicals’ favored candidate, Rick Santorum, now out of the running, and with neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney likely to draw enthusiastic support from them, evangelicals will likely get less attention from the candidates. And with other Christian groups now less interested in hearing professions of politicians’ faith, we stand a decent chance of seeing a presidential campaign season in which Christian identity is not the rope in a tug-of-war. Christian identity can be more about faith than focus groups this time.

Jonathan Malesic (PhD, University of Virginia) is associate professor of theology at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He is currently working on a book offering a theological work ethic for postindustrial, post-Protestant America.

Today’s Focal Practice: Walking

As part of the conversation on Living Into Focus: Choosing What Matters In An Age of Distractions at the Patheos Book Club, we asked Arthur Boers to reflect on some specific practices that give him life. First up: walking.

“You walked in this weather?” people often ask me, as if walking is only pleasurable in a congenial climate. Will Ferguson a Canadian humorist once walked 500 miles in Ireland and when he grew frustrated with the perpetual precipitation, he was often told: “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” Or, as I once heard somewhere, only drivers complain about weather. So, yes, chances are I did walk “in this weather,” whether it was hot or cold, dry or wet, sunny or cloudy. Why not? Walking gives me life. (Read the rest at Patheos).

 Also, be sure to check out Bruce Epperly’s contribution to the Living Into Focus Roundtable: “Grandpareting as a Focal Spiritual Practice.”