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Posts Tagged ‘theology’

Sexual Relationships — Theory and Practice

October 17th, 2015 No comments

In view of all the changes to the PC(USA)’s Book of Order, it’s worthwhile to look at what its Book of Confessions says it believes. We wouldn’t want our practice to get ahead of our theology, after all:

d. The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself.

—Confession of 1967, §9.47

That’s pretty good. But it goes on to explain this problem as follows:

Man’s perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day (1) by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, (2) by the pressures of urbanization, (3) by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and (4) by world overpopulation.

—Confession of 1967, §9.47 (Numbers added for reference.)

There’s as much wrong as right with the list of reasons. (1) and (3) are obviously true; (2) has some truth in it, and (4) might be true if it weren’t for people like Norman Borlaug who solve problems instead of whining about nebulous potential dangers whenever the status quo is challenged.

Another problem with this list is that by lumping everything until about WWII together and calling them “perrennial” problems, backward views about sexual relationships like those of Boko Haram and ISIL don’t rate a mention, for all the violence and sorrow they’re causing.

In other words, our confusion about the meaning of sex was reflected in the very documents that tried to address it, almost fifty years ago.

Yet it reads like a breath of fresh air in today’s climate. The last two generations have not fared well (by any metric) as a result of what appears to be not a linear but an exponential accumulation of problems.

In the intervening years, new ways our confusion is aggravated have become apparent. I would include among them, (5) by the welfare state’s need for a broad tax base, which led to the creation of many inducements for women to work outside the home, and (6) by society’s misinterpretation of marriage as being about conferring approbation of and support for sexual rather than parental relationships.

Many of these causes are in fact symptoms of another, deeper, problem: the idea that we are smarter and more enlightened than our ancestors. We have made more progress along some invisible track. This gives us the audacity (or impetuosity) to implement change based simply on theory, rather than promising results from field tests. We impose our theory across all of society rather than using small laboratory environments to discover what works and what doesn’t.

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Grace vs. Consequences

May 20th, 2013 No comments

From the infinitely-rich “God doesn’t give us what we deserve” department, the Anchorage Daily News brings us a cautionary tale:

A Sutton man is being treated for serious head injuries after he was found pinned under his ATV on the Glenn Highway, troopers said Sunday.

Some take-aways:

1. don’t drink and drive

2. not even ATV’s

3. maybe especially not ATV’s

4. and wear a helmet!

Also remember what Matt Groening said so long ago: “At night, the ice weasels come.”

Secular Wisdom ≠ the Prosperity Gospel

April 30th, 2012 No comments

Is this the kind of thinking that gets you a berth at the New York Times? Ross Douthat apparently can’t distinguish between “Prosperity Theology” and the use of secular tools in promoting religious faith:

I should say that I’m an admirer of Rick Warren and I do quote him in the book specifically condemning prosperity theology. But, I think what you see a lot of in American religion, even in areas of American Christianity that don’t go all the way with Osteen to the idea that God wants you to have this big house and so on, the nature of American religion right now, the fact that it is so non-denominational and post-denominational, the most successful churches have to be run more like businesses than ever before. I think that just exposes Christians to a constant temptation to think about the ministry more as a business than they sometimes should.

Of course he’s right to reject prosperity theology. But that doesn’t mean he can’t use secular wisdom to promote his faith. This is an old debate. Tertullian said that Christians had no use for secular ideas (“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”). Augustine, by contrast, argued that Christians should use the (secular) discipline of Rhetoric to persuade their opponents (On Christian Doctrine).

On the one hand, we have the purists, who insist that God will provide us everything we need. On the other hand, those who agree, and say that God, not uncommonly, provides what we need by secular means.

Calvin, who believed the age of extraordinary miracles had ceased, thought that God gave us brains so we wouldn’t need miracles. Instead we had science:

It is also from the true science of astrology that doctors draw their judgments concerning the appropriate time to order blood-lettings, infusions, pills, or other medical necessities. Therefore we must admit that there is some correspondence between the stars and the planets and the dispositions of human bodies. All of this, as I have said, is included in the science of natural astrology.—from his “Warning Against Judicial Astronomy.”

We can smile at the idea of using the moon to time a blood-letting, but the point is legitimate. If you use your brains to develop medicine or provide food for the hungry, can’t you use them to spread your faith? Or does God’s providence only work on the horizontal dimension?

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The Catholic Church (Part 1)

March 7th, 2011 No comments

I’ve mentioned that “Orthodox” is a word I’d like us Mainline Protestants to reclaim. Another word like that is “Catholic.”

The word “catholic” means “universal” or “entire.” It comes from a Greek word that means “according to the whole.” Unlike “orthodox,” this word actually appears in Scripture, where members of the high priest’s party examine the disciples and order them not to testify about Jesus:

So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

The word that eventually became “catholic” is translated here as “at all.” The only place in Scripture where this word occurs is here in Acts 4:18.

If that verse were the only place Christians used the word catholic, it wouldn’t matter. But of course it isn’t. Most of the time, when American Protestants say “catholic” they’re referring to the Roman Catholic Church. This is reasonable, as 95% of “Catholics” are members of the Church of Rome, and only 5% belong to the 22 Eastern Catholic churches.

But at the same time, Protestants assert their own catholicity. Read more…

Straight Teaching

February 21st, 2011 No comments

Imagine an argument where one parent said, “I love our baby,” and the other parent didn’t reply, “Well, so do I!” Even in an amicable separation, that would raise some eyebrows. For the same reason, there are three words I’d like mainline protestant Christians to reclaim. They each represent something too important to walk away from.

One of those words is “orthodox.” We don’t use the word very much, except when we use a capital “O” to refer to “Orthodox Christians,” the eastern branches of Christianity resulting from the Great Schism of 1054.

That’s too bad, because “orthodoxy” should be important to us. Read more…

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Apparently We Don’t Believe Anything

July 15th, 2010 2 comments

Another problem with the new PC(USA) web site: apparently we don’t believe anything anymore. Or, if we do, those beliefs are carefully hidden.

Now, I’m on record as liking the new look of our denomination’s website. And I’ve already commented, negatively, about a particularly smarmy “reasons I’m a Presbyterian” badge posted there.

But I was hoping the PC(USA) web site would at least be better organized. I entertained the hope that it would be easier to find things there now, and it’s not.

Read more…