Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Social Justice Perspective (J. Philip Wogaman) #2: Social Justice and Creation, Social Science, History, and Issues

Wogaman argues against a Gnostic or docetic view of the world. That is, creation matters, but it is not ultimate. Creation is the arena in where we develop covenant with God. This is important because it means the material, physical world is important and, I presume, we need to seek justice within it, not just wait for eternal justice. Next, Wogaman discusses the social justice perspective’s willingness to use the most recent scientific discoveries to inform how social justice should be lived out. These findings are not ultimate, but they are taken into consideration. (Not sure why he made issue of this, to be honest.)

While there are always questions (apart from Catholics, I suppose) about who really speaks for the church, it is important for the church to speak. Sometimes it has disastrous effects (prohibition) and other times it is successful (antislavery movement). To avoid the disasters, it is probably better to influence hearts and minds rather than force something legally. Wogaman points to abortion as such a contemporary issue.

To conclude, Wogaman goes through a Methodist document and where they stand on current issues as an example of what churches should do. Whether politicians listen to them or not, it is good for churches to think through these issues.

This was a strange essay and wasn’t altogether helpful in some ways, but the prohibition/abortion issue really has me thinking. Of course I’d like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and abortion outlawed, but – whether that happens or not – maybe we need to re-think our tactics in such a way that we can change hearts and minds on the issue so it is lasting and not an ongoing tug-of-war. I’m not sure how to do that, but it seems more lasting and less divisive than the political gridlock we’re currently engaged in. Thoughts?

(PS – I’m done with political stuff for a while, which is a good thing since nobody wants to talk about it or read about it, I imagine.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Social Justice Perspective (J. Philip Wogaman) #1: Introduction & Basics

The social justice view essentially argues that churches should strive for social justice by influencing public policy. It is grounded, initially in Wogaman’s account, that the state is society acting as a whole. This does not mean that we necessarily agree with every aspect of what’s done by our nation, but we participate in it nonetheless as participants in our society. This unified society is grounded on influencing others’ values to determine the majority values. Wogaman emphasizes, “anything that is actually valued by people is potentially a source of influence and therefore political power” (p. 217). Obviously people’s values are influenced by faith.

Theological Basis for Social Justice
The idea of rendering each their due is important biblically and in the social justice perspective. This plays itself out in biblical retributive justice, but Wogaman also uses the workers who get paid the same wage in his argument (Mt. 20.1-16). Ultimately, all are due punishment for sin, Wogaman argues, but God has given grace and invited people into life with Him. Likewise, the key component of social justice is that none would be marginalized, but all are included in the process and all have a voice. We are a communal people and all have a right to belong to a society and make their voice known in that society. We are individuals, Wogaman doesn’t go Marxist (and makes a point to say so), but we are less than human if we are not both individual and communal. In his discussion of liberation theology and Marxism, Wogaman notes that, in the emphasis to stem the tide of structural sin, not enough attention was paid to personal sin. The pendulum had swung too far away from the individual.

I was leery of this perspective, coming from a more evangelical, rather than mainline background, but I appreciate Wogaman’s balance between the communal and individual. I take some issue, but there are some interesting insights in this.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Anabaptist Perspective (Ronald Sider) #3: The Logic of Anabaptist Political Engagement

The Logic of Anabaptist Political Engagement
This section is so titled because some say, since every state uses force, that Anabaptist social engagement is logically inconsistent. Sider admits it is unlikely that a pacifist would ever be elected to political office. Yet, their goal is to move people more toward Anabaptist values. This includes holding just war adherents to their own standards, voting for people who are the lesser of two evils, and offering alternatives to war like nonviolent intervention teams for the purpose of reconciliation. Sider agrees God uses governments and force for good at times, but he does not think it ideal and, while the cost may be great, a pacifistic way is to be preferred. Even though force can be used for good, that doesn’t mean it is preferred.

Separating Church and State and ‘Legislating Morality’
Anabaptists are strong supporters of separation of church and state, but they do not argue for a privatization and irrelevance of spiritual beliefs. Our spiritual beliefs shape us and should influence how we engage politically. In a democratic process, our spiritual beliefs should shape our philosophy of what we contend for, but the majority and the process (outside of discrimination) should determine what law is.

From here Sider argues in favor of Bush’ Faith Based Initiative and Clinton’s Charitable Choice legislation arguing that, where church and state values match, they should work together with the understanding that there are things the church does that the state should not – like conversion – and the church should not lose their prophetic voice in the process of cooperation. Still, partnership in common goals is a good thing. This is similar to the Catholic Social Teaching in the first chapter of this book, but the Catholic perspective seems a bit more exhaustive in the roles the church plays.

Some of the critiques pointed to inconsistency in the Anabaptist tradition – first and foremost be a witness as the church, but yet move people politically toward your goals/ends. This has been an interesting enterprise, but better minds than mine need to wade through some details of political theory. One more position – the Social Justice Perspective by J. Philip Wogaman coming soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Anabaptist Perspective (Ronald Sider) #2: Church, Politics, & the Sword

The Church
Sider continues to argue that the church is part of the gospel of the Kingdom and it is to be a visible expression of God’s new creation/community. It’s values are such that it stands out (racial unity in the 1st century) as a countercultural (not anticultural) community. This new community should influence the surrounding culture and it does so by living out Jesus’ values first and foremost. This includes “binding and loosing” – where differences are resolved by “reconciling dialoge,” not force, economic sharing, an inclusive community, everyone having a voice and a gift, and “forgiveness rather than retaliation is the way to reconciliation” (p. 175). The living out of these values are to influence culture positively.

Government, Society, and the Sword
Next, Sider offers that government is a good gift that should be limited, but is intended to restrain evil and promote the good. From there he talks specifically about how government should (or shouldn’t) wield the sword.

He begins with the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5.38-48), which Hengel believes is written contra the Zealots. Loving your enemies is radical, as is the expansion of the definition of “neighbor” (Lk. 10.29-37). Sider argues the context is public, not a two powers view articulated by Luther (personal ethic and public responsibility). The ultimate responsibility is loving the other and doing what they need.

This idea of nonviolence is not nonresistance. The key tenets of Sider’s pacifism are…
1. Don’t place every evil person in the category of enemy.
2. Don’t retaliate, but respond according to the needs of others – even if they’re offensive.
3. Regardless of response, we need to love because love is not based upon response.
4. We should act in these ways at great personal cost.

To do anything less than these is to weaken Jesus’ costly call. Sider does not buy the double ethic of public/private because he doesn’t think God has a double ethic. Jesus was calling the nation of Israel to righteousness, not private righteousness. It also goes against the literal understanding of the text. Also, this dual ethic allows for Christians to engage in atrocities like Nazi Germany. Finally, the early church (prior to Constantine) knows nothing of this public/private distinction and Christians were forbade from being executioners or in the military, according to Sider.

Lastly, God shows us how to treat our enemies in that while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5). Just as Christ dealt with His enemies through suffering, so we should do the same because the cross is not the end of the story. There is a resurrection and it tells us that Jesus’ way triumphs and He will ultimately make things right.

What do you think of this sketch of pacifism? I’m intrigued and certainly challenged. I see some basic issues, but I don’t know that I could build anything as textual and coherent as Sider has at this point. I have a book, When God Says War is Right, that I’ll probably be reading soon to see how it compares to Sider. Thoughts?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Anabaptist Perspective (Ronald Sider) #1: Introduction and First Principle

Sider discusses the Anabaptist perspective, which I find commendable in many ways upon first glance, apart from the pacifism. And the fact that I like most of what he says otherwise, it makes me think I should at least take seriously his arguments for pacifism. His is the argument (thus far) most grounded in the biblical text (that’s not to say the others aren’t biblical). He gives a little history lesson to start, which is pretty interesting – though you could probably look it up on Wikipedia and get a better summary than I can give. The key gift of the Anabaptists, according to Sider, is religious freedom. They were persecuted by Lutherans and Calvinists early in their existence, but they have won the day with religious freedom being preferred in society over state religion.

The Center: Jesus Christ
Sider lays out his Anabaptist perspective by starting with Jesus. Specifically, he wants Jesus set as the example of what we’re to strive to be. While we may never attain Jesus’ values and character, He is normative. And this gospel He came to preach is not just a matter of having sins forgiven. It is that, but then these disciples are forming a new community that are living out the next age in the here and now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Principled Pluralist Perspective (Corwin Smidt) #4: The Rest of the Political Principles

2. The nature of the church: The church is a community that observes sacraments, preaches the Scripture, and exercises discipline. But it is not a community that exists in a vacuum. The church – even beyond the visible church – is to be God’s people, but they are also to promote God’s righteousness in the culture.
3. The nature of the state: There are two key aspects to the state. It has limited powers and should secure justice. Power is limited because God has delegated authority to communities other than the state – the family for instance. Government ought not overstep their authority. Governmental power is also limited for the Christian by their conscience. Submission to God trumps submission to government.
Regarding securing justice, governments are to make sure different spheres do not encroach on the others and to make sure justice is protected. It cannot enforce every moral code, nor should it, but it should ensure that behaviors that impinge upon others’ fundamental rights should be stopped.
4. An agent of common grace: The state has nothing to do with the spiritual welfare and salvation of people, but it is an instrument of God to care for order and the general good of all people. It is an agent of common grace.
5. The call to political engagement: All of creation is touched by the fall and God wants Christians to redeem every area in the cultural mandate. No area of life is so forsaken that God does not want Christians to make a difference.
6. Political modesty, toleration, cooperation, and compromise: Even if believers have the Truth, we still see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13.12). Toleration only comes when there is genuine disagreement between people, but the key to government is enforcing justice. That means, even if we don’t agree with everyone, we need to cooperate and compromise for the movement toward good and God’s values – even if we can’t have everything. “The perfect should not be the enemy of the good” (p. 149).
7. Principled pluralism and public policy: Using the Charitable Choice Act, Smidt shows how it practically works. The idea being that when there is a common interest for the good, church and state should work together – like poverty. Because the circles are different, working together will reach some groups that would fall through the cracks – and the common good is accomplished.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Principled Pluralist Perspective (Corwin Smidt) #3: Definition and Political Principles

Principled Pluralism
Kuyper advanced Calvin’s views to the idea of “sphere sovereignty.” The idea of sphere sovereignty is articulated in the Introduction to this section. This perspective is good because people recognizes the real presence of different spheres and that people are networked in different ways, which is a good thing.

The principled pluralist government should also allow for a pluralism of religious belief. It is not the role of the state to determine what is right and true, but to allow for a pluralism of viewpoints. God, not even believers, will determine who are His (Mt. 13.36-43).

Political Principles
What does this look like, finally? Smidt gives several principles after making it clear that the Bible does speak to politics on some levels, but on other levels it just doesn’t speak to politics. So here are some key principles he sees for a principled pluralist church and state relationship:

1. The vital role of communities: People are social beings and communities and societies are essential features of societies. These relationships are fundamental and prior to the state and form a shield against the encroachment of the state upon individual rights while not advocating a radical individualism that is contra Scripture.

This is such a huge reality in our culture. Relationships are vital and drive much of what drives ministry to younger generations. We’ll get to more principles tomorrow.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Principled Pluralist Perspective (Corwin Smidt) #2: The Theological Basis for Principled Pluralism

The theological basis for principled pluralism is the narrative that God created everything good and sin has corrupted it all. Therefore, Jesus must redeem it. The narrative structure forms the basis of how God’s sovereignty is properly exercised for the good of a fallen creation.

Creation: the cultural mandate
Creation was the initial work of God in Genesis 1-2, but the cultural mandate of “subduing the earth and filling it” (Gen. 1.28) is more than procreation. It is the cultivation of culture. Under this cultural mandate, government would be a likely development even if Adam had never sinned.

Fall: common grace
The Fall resulted in the corruption of all of creation. Total depravity in the Reformed tradition speaks to the “breadth rather than the depth” of depravity. The fall has separated all from God’s saving grace, though it is available to those who are chosen. However, God exercises “common grace” on all people (see Mt. 5.45). Government should be an operation of “common grace,” but it, too, is tainted by sin and will fall short of ideal “common grace,” but this does not mean it should be abandoned.

Redemption: cosmic in scope
Christ comes to offer redemption, not just to people, but to the created order (Rom. 8.18-23). Believers will not “save,” in a redemptive sense, the culture, but it can be transformed to what it is intended to be. This isn’t a return to Eden since the biblical witness ends with a glorious city (Revelation). Believers need to facilitate this redemption as their able.

What does this mean for the church and state? It is a two powers view, but unlike Luther, the Reformed position has the two working together. The state protects the church and the church serves as a prophetic witness to the state by calling it to “common grace” righteousness.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Principled Pluralist Perspective (Corwin Smidt) #1: Introduction

Corwin Smidt articulates the Principled Pluralist Perspective that is, according to Cochran, similar to the Catholic position (see previous posts), but this comes from a Reformed/Calvinist perspective and is particularly indebted to Abraham Kuyper, 19th century Dutch statesman and theologian. The basic gist of this perspective is that there are multiple spheres of life and God has ordained different authorities within those structures that should not encroach on the others. For instance, the state should not exercise too much authority in the family because it has a sphere of sovereignty that is largely separate from the state. However, the state should intervene when a particular “sphere” is malfunctioning, such as a case of abuse within a family, or something of that nature.

This seems like a pretty reasonable position from the basic starting point – there are some thing that are out of government’s sphere, but there’s a role for government. I guess where those lines are drawn have something to do with what we expect from our government and how we vote. Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Financial Crisis, Catalyst, and Dave Ramsey

A timely Catalyst interview regarding the financial crisis with Dave Ramsey. I'm no financial guru, but his challenge to not live out of fear was helpful. Check it out.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Children of the World were fantastic!

We had World Help's International Children's Choir yesterday for the kickoff of our missions week. They were a hit. And the OC Register covered their visit. Follow the link for some great pictures and a brief description of the morning.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

New Blog

One of my missionary friends in Germany has a blog of his sketches. Pretty cool stuff. Sketches of Kandern, Germany and other nearby cities: