Sometimes it seems a statement of faith Is a state of unfaith, A badly built gate To shut down debate.
Maybe you’ve had that sinking feeling too. Someone you respected and wanted to work with signs up to a ‘statement of faith’ that feels like anything but.
For me, it happened most recently when a pastor I knew put his name, along with thousands of other signatories, in an open letter to the UK government. Amongst a great many other things, that letter said marriage protects from abuse. I came away wanting never to work with any of its signatories.
“The most pervasive — and pernicious — false teaching of our day is that “love your neighbor” is the greatest commandment in the law.”
It was written by a Southern Baptist pastor in the US who later doubled-down with a looooonnnng thread about the law and what Jesus meant when he talked about the two greatest commandments. (For those less familiar: these two commandments are (1) to love God and (2) to love your neighbour.)
If you’re wondering why I’ve given no direct links, that’s because a couple of weeks later he followed up with another tweet (which I didn’t see but was screencapped) about the Old Testament law and slavery. When that thread blew up he deleted his entire timeline. He then said people should be able to ask questions and acknowledged that his thread had caused hurt, but did little more.
I’m not interested trolling a particular person, but I do care deeply about how Christians understand the Old Testament and apply it in their everyday lives. Because that application – for good or for bad – can have far-reaching consequences.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen some pretty horrific things passing through my social media feed the last few weeks. And I am not OK.
I’m not going to re-share the relevant images or specifics, but I want to pause for a moment and talk about what to make these stories. Because their haunting horror isn’t easing and I need to find a way to get through my grief and sense of helplessness.
Content warning: Non-specific mentions of martyrdom, suffering and ‘thoughts and prayers’.
So, I saw someone asking why white Christians were repenting of the sins their ancestors committed against people of colour.
And I want to write about this.
Caveats: I’m mainly going to talk to how I understand the Old Testament, because the Old Testament was being quoted and it’s something I’m familiar with as a Christian. But just because I’m taking this angle, that doesn’t mean it’s the most relevant or comprehensive angle; I just want to demonstrate how this particular argument doesn’t stack up.
In short, the argument was this: if we’re all responsible for what we do ourselves, not what other people do, then white people shouldn’t have to apologise for the racism of other white people. See, for example, the principle of individual responsibility promoted in Ezekiel 18:19-20.
However, I think this fails to appreciate the context of Ezekiel and the attitudes the book was responding to.
This is the second of a pair of posts about Good Omens. I’ll start with a quick recap of where I got to in the previous one, and don’t worry, this post is half the length of its predecessor.
There was this bit:
We should appreciate then that the story is about misfits trying to change the establishment, far more than any modern concepts of witchcraft. In fact, all the heroes, by their very nature and identity, transgress the bounds of acceptability in one way or another.
And this bit:
The question for critics, if they can concede that Good Omens is a good piece of storytelling, is whether its transgressive core is against Christian belief. Because let’s face it: disobedience, mischief and rebellion aren’t exactly renowned Christian virtues.
It’s easy to guffaw when a bunch of anxious conservative Christians launch a petition calling for Netflix to cancel a popular show. Especially when that show, the recent adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s book Good Omens, was actually a joint work from Amazon and the BBC.
But if we can reasonably assume that these concerns will persist even in the face of Netflix’s promise not to make any more, let’s ask the question in all seriousness: does the show make Satanism ‘appear normal, light and acceptable’? Does it mock God’s wisdom?
You’ll get the most out of this post if you first read the previous one. Basically, I went to a talk where a man preached that Jesus took humanity’s punishment when Jesus suffered on the cross. At the end I said I didn’t think was supported by the bible, but rather Jesus took humanity’s sin.
In the previous post, I talked about what the theology of penal substitutionary atonement is, why I have such issue with it, what this man actually said, and what I said by way of challenge.
This post charts my experiencing of going into that talk, coming away from it, and how people responded to me.
Last Christmas I realised something that made me so angry I wanted to pick up my laptop and smash it to pieces.
No, this was not an urge that I had felt before.
I was contemplating the second chapter of Hebrews which talks about Jesus being made like the people whom he helped. The book is one of my favourites in the New Testament because it has a wholesale take on Jesus as the Great High Priest. I’m a sucker for the Old Testament books of law (don’t judge me!) so I lap up the words of this letter with delight every time I read them. Assuming I understand them, of course. And there’s no guarantee of that because, good grief, this book is complex!
Anyway: I was contemplating how Jesus was both like and unlike the people that he acted on behalf of as a priest. The thought-process was in aid of a blog post I published in the new year about how “priest” was to be my word for 2017. You see, a priest identifies with someone who is both like and unlike them. That is an integral part of how a priest ministers reconciliation. It was that like-and-unlike idea I had in mind when picked the image for that post – which I’m reusing for this one. (It comes from a winter wedding, in case you hadn’t guessed.)
The thought I had as I was contemplating was this: when a group of people, called by God to be ministers of his covenant to the world, separate themselves from others on the grounds of “purity”, they subvert and frustrate God’s reconciling plan for everyone else.
When I was a plucky secondary school pupil, I had an idea for a perpetual motion machine. I was beyond excited. I was going to solve the world’s energy problems. I was prepared to accept that maybe there was a glitch in my design that I hadn’t realised, so I prayed earnestly that if I was wrong then God will tell me that very same day.
That afternoon my older brother told me it wouldn’t work.
I didn’t believe him to begin with, but gradually reality sank in as he explained. As Scotty would say, “Ya canna change the laws of physics!” Unknowingly, I had been trying to break the first rule of thermodynamics – that energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Thing is, right now, I feel like a child again. I feel like I can change the world. Or maybe it’s not that I can but that I will – by the grace of God, in the wisdom of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of the church – change the world.
Is that me or is that not me? I don’t care! The world is going to change – and that’s what really excites me.
So, what’s this big world-changing idea?
I’ve tried to blog about it before and I’m hoping I’ll blog about it in various forms over the coming months (years?): it’s all about purity.
I wondered what I should I do when I read your recent post about your sense of lament at leaving evangelicalism. Much of what you wrote resonated with me – and yet there were differences. I wondered whether we’re seeing a slightly different problem, or the same problem from different perspectives. Even now, I’m not sure. What I do know is that I wanted to write. And I hope that this letter will be a blessing to you and others who read it.
While the debate rages about whether social media helps or hinders real connectedness between people – you’re what I’d call a ‘social media success’. By which I mean, you’re someone I’ve been able to connect to, in a way that probably wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. Mainly because I live in the UK and you live in the US.
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