While the United States celebrates the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Israeli army shot and murdered 58 Palestinians. Yesterday Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary while Palestinians commemorated the great tragedy of the Nakba, their violent displacement that to this day has not ended and has resulted in refugee camps outside Israeli territory and two separated enclaves where Palestinians struggle for survival under economic hardship.
My friend, Dwaine Sutherland, was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) this weekend in Minnesota. I’ve known Dwaine for some years and from the first moment I met him in the library of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, I realized, by observing his body language and listening to his Southern accent, that he was not your typical Lutheran. Like me, he has a background in evangelicalism. This is the story of his struggle away from double predestination Calvinism toward becoming a Lutheran pastor. Congrats on your ordination Dwaine! May you be a faithful shepherd of God’s flock.
I have opened many sermons, preaching at congregations that had not met me before, with a humorous, “No I am not from Minnesota”. My southern accent does stand out and it is a novelty for some to hear the liturgy done with a Tennessee country accent. So, how did a small-town Tennessee boy end up as a Lutheran Pastor in the Midwest? I get this question quite often.
What To Do When God is Unfaithful
We often talk about human unfaithfulness. Novels become bestsellers partly to the extent their plots involve the right amounts of betrayal, infidelity, and intrigue. Why is this? The answer is that human beings are prone to unfaithfulness even though they know it is a vice rather than a virtue. Unfaithfulness is all around us. Not just in marriages. How often don’t we fail to live up to our friend’s expectations? How often don’t we break our own rules? We disappoint friends, let down colleagues, break promises to our children, etc.. In short, being human is to be unfaithful.
Europe has abandoned religion at a very fundamental level and on a widespread scale. Religion no longer provides an interpretive framework for how the world fits together. It no longer informs social, economic, or political ethics. Religion is still present but either as a largely irrelevant entity that has absolutely no impact on lawmaking, politics, or economy (Christianity) or as a menace that needs to be contained before the genie gets out of the bottle (Islam).
This article is the fourth and final installment of my series on evangelicalism. The central question is whether there is faith after evangelicalism and a theology to support it. Obviously, there is; there are post-evangelicals. If understood purely temporally, there are a lot of people who once were evangelical but are now “post,” i.e. “after.” They’re done. It is also obvious that there are plenty of post-evangelical theologians when we understand the “post” in post-evangelical temporally. I happily call myself a post-evangelical theologian in that sense. I once was able to dig the gig and then I couldn’t and then I didn’t. I became “post.”
Not too long ago I had an interesting conversation with a long lost friend who had become an atheist. As we reminisced long-forgotten memories we also had to talk about faith and unfaith. Both of us grew up in a fundamentalist faith community and it was during that time that we had met. We lost touch, but over the years, at different times and in different ways, both of us distanced ourselves from the faith we once belonged to. Unlike my friend, though, I decided not to become an atheist, though the option is always open to me as a genuine possibility.
Why is it so hard to overcome racism? It is strange that in a world where most people tend to agree that racism is a bad thing, there is still is so much left of it. It is incomprehensible that in our civilized societies the specter of fascism is looming again. Most people don’t want to be racist, so why are so many driven by racist motivations of hatred for the racial other? Apparently declaring it a thing of the past is not enough. Education is barely making enough of an impression in order to train us to be good citizens.
I’ve been an evangelical Christian all of my life. Though I’ve drifted away from much of what goes under the flag of evangelicalism certain emphases of the movement will remain dear to me. One of these is the centrality of the person and work of Jesus Christ. For evangelicals, the personal relationship with Christ matters more than anything. It starts with the question whether one has accepted Jesus Christ as savior and lord in one’s life. The direct unmitigated relationship with Christ is at the center of the evangelical experience. I still resonate with what theologians call a Christocentric emphasis. It’s all about Christ; nothing else matters.
When the word theology is mentioned people either have no idea what you are talking about or they think you’re talking about something religious. This week I listened to the new album by A Perfect Circle and their songs TalkTalk and The Doomed spoke to me. Theologically! This band illustrates some aspects of what I mean by public theology.
Actually, I don’t believe in predestination. We are not robots! I hate predestination and consider it one of the great heretical ideas that have crept into Christian theology, first by the philosophically inclined medieval theologians, but then, in a horribly amplified version of the doctrine, by way of the Calvinists and their double predestination (some are destined for salvation and some for damnation). Through their ardent labor, millions have lived in agony about their whereabouts in the afterlife and have seen, in the misery of their earthly conditions, a sure sign of the divine determination to ransack and haunt them all the way from a hellish earth to a fiery hell.