This month, as classes started back up after the Christmas Break, my first class meeting was sabotaged by sickness. In lieu of our class we were sent a number of links to watch through in order and then to give our particular responses to them in an online forum. As a way of processing these pieces for consideration I am going to provide them here for anyone to watch through and read, and then I will provide my responses.
The links we were to process through:
- An article about the threat of Christian nationalism as represented by the construction of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.
- A video assessing anti-intellectualism in the USA as anti-higher education or anti-seminary education in churches.
- The video of Oprah’s Golden Globes award.
- Not one, but two editorial responses to Oprah from the New York Times.
- An article about living a Christian life that is intentionally reflective on the Trinitarian life.
- A post on Dr. McKnight’s blog about a preacher confronted with his deep dislike of those who would be considered Republican-Conservative-Evangelical-Fundamentalist-etc.
My responses will be a bit more edited, polished, restated as it were. Since the forum is a much “closer” space with other students I trust to divulge a bit more personal information. Here, I just want to reproduce my more general points to the questions (which were reorganized by a fellow student for clarity).
Respond to the good and bad “soteriology” running through these pieces.
I could respond to these pieces in nodding approval, as many undoubtedly will, but my agreement to slight portions in them gives them no moral merit to me. I come from the land of those who love the Creation Museum and the Museum of the Bible (heck, our church paid for tickets for people go to both exhibitions when they came only an hour away!). Movies and Hollywood mean nothing. Most towns don’t have a theater, and those few theaters only play the most entertaining movies in order to bring in as many people as possible, but people frequent a movie theater rarely. As an example, my hometown had a theater and a Drive-in. In fact, I lived only half a block away from it for a few years, but still our family only ever went to the movies maybe half-a-dozen times when I was growing up. The point being Hollywood, both the people and productions, are held to be of no significance to life. The meaninglessness of opinions or speeches from those connected to the entertainment industry cannot be overstated.
As my ten year reunion approaches this summer I have been reflecting on the life of many my age from the Ozarks. Of those who I grew up with only a few have left our hometown, and even fewer have left the region. Marriage is clearly a life flavor preference, but having children outside of it is much less. While there are a considerable number of single moms they are rarely outside of some relationship spurred on by their loneliness and allure of someone soothing their insecurities. Single mothers are never considered weak. In the ethos of the Ozarks they are strong, overcoming all odds to have a relatively good life. Everyone is just struggling to survive, to live. Life is the struggle to find meaning in some desired pleasure called “happiness”. So often this happiness, this necessity for life, is found in playing video games, smoking pot, getting drunk, sex, and creating fake family-units with live-in “partners” and “step” kids.
There is a deep contempt for those who would tell them how they ought to live or seem to know better since this message could challenge their life (pleasure) choices. The two structures that offer such advice in the Ozarks are churches and the welfare system, both frequently used for various reasons to make life palatable whether in dealing with suffering or poverty. As these structures seek to guide people they are hated for any demands. I point out this way of life because I believe it shows that the rural lands do not have an upper hand on offering salvation to society. But this doesn’t mean progressives in Hollywood or elsewhere are in a superior position to offer salvation to America either.
These pieces only reveal a growing religious fervor of moralism in those outside the rural lands who say in a faraway voice, “Isn’t it sad how stupid they are?” or “Surely Hollywood has said something of substance!” or “If you only understood more you would know God isn’t on your side.” If this is how I heard it (and I was always seen as a too educated liberal) then how meaningless are these ideas outside their circle of agreement in the cities or on the coasts? The anti-intellectualism of many in America is rooted, not in a dislike for education, but in the rejection of those who believe themselves educated. The self-deemed educated have allowed their own character to become so tarnished they’re unable to give honor and dignity to those they so easily deem uneducated.
Too many Christians in America continue to use churches as places to escape the reality of suffering and hardship through existential “Spirit” encounters or as echo chambers for political banter. The churches, on both sides of nearly any issue, see themselves as bastions of morality in an ocean of societal evil. These pieces do not speak of a positive moral or religious “awaking” in America because Hollywood/intellectuals/elite/liberals/progressives/etc. are all just playing into the same religio-political game that has ravaged the Right in America for decades—the delusion that those who seem more moral are the true Christians. My horrified awakening is that both sides believe good citizenship, nationalism on one side and codified/government-enforced societal acceptance on the other, is the ultimate expression of Christian faith in the American context. While I understand, and feel, the abhorrence to the claim that God is working through nationalism as displayed in the Museum of the Bible, I feel the same abhorrence to seeing spiritual significance given to a Hollywood award show for public displays of progressive Pharisee-ism.
By and large the idea of salvation as transformative and participatory does not exist for Christians in American, whether they are educated or not. Since both sides have accepted the premise that God unquestioningly accepts the person claiming to be a Christian and truly wants the person’s pleasure in life, transformation is reserved for others. Transformation is for someone else because God accepts me and desires what I believe is good. God will eventually transform them to become like me. The only salvation offered by American Christians is approval by my chosen religio-political group by believing and acting in society in certain ways because this group of opinionated religious people fighting in society is where God’s blessing rests. Truly, we are on right side of (eschatological) history.
How does this discussion challenge your own language for salvation/atonement?
There is no question in my mind and heart that the form of what people on both sides of the divide are saying is true; a person must choose to live within a socio-political reality that manifests the life of God. I do believe there is a correct “side” of eschatological history in which salvation has and is breaking into human perception. But when I talk about salvation manifesting in history it is only appropriated to the individual through the community of faith by discipleship. If creation, and its history, has been shaped by, in, and through the person of King Jesus then reality is fully embedded in the presence of the Spirit as manifested within and through his body. By King Jesus’ “body” I mean his historical incarnation and his continued presence as enfleshed by his kingdom in the Spirit. Christian life becomes an embodiment of the atonement found in King Jesus because Christians are formed to re-live his life of sacrificial love and obedience in our context, and in this a person actually participates in the very life of God.
How do our approaches to evangelism (and the underlying atonement theories) invite people ‘home’ to life with God, and his people in Christ?
I think the only way to “gospel” (evangelize) someone is to allow the Spirit to work through our bodies to comfort and serve others, especially in their sufferings. If King Jesus by the Spirit is truly embodied in the people of God as they go to the nations then humanity is interacting with God through Christians. Therefore, Christians are able to bring the presence of God into moments of desolation and offer light and hope in the darkness of daily life. As we prepare people for sufferings through teachings and relationships, when those sufferings appear we are able to redeem them as participation within King Jesus’ cross bringing about new life where death appears.
Those struggling and suffering in this life deeply fixate on pleasure because they believe it invests their life with meaning and purpose, at least subjectively. If they look too far outside their self-focused reasoning they feel and recognize the torrential chaos beyond their subjectivity, this is what most of humanity recoils. Christianity recognizes this fear as the fear of death. Christians, by being conduits of the life of God into Creation, are able to offer meaning and purpose to life without the need to dodge or deny suffering or death. Instead, Christians are able to disciple the nations to redeem Creation even by means of suffering and death, and in this the atonement of King Jesus lives on continually to redeem all things through his people.
How does the language you use to describe the ‘on-ramp’ to the Way shape how people view that Way…and him who is that Way, Truth, and Life?
Our language of salvation should be honest and clear that a person must give themselves wholly and continually to the process of transformation. This self-giving is not an isolated act but is done through a dedicated, faithful, and obedient life lived with the community. Our families, finances, behaviors, and beliefs must be shaped by the redemptive working of the Spirit through the community into the image of King Jesus. Salvation cannot be grasped by those content with the options the world offers and it requires daily dying to all commitments, identity, and relationships founded or based on concepts found in the world.
In such a salvation Jesus is cast as a King who has saved his kingdom from the death and sin of the world. He is eternally with his people by his empowering Spirit, transforming Christians and calling them to participate in his purification of all Creation. The way of Christian life is the manifesting of the atonement in the community of faith. The cross, therefore, becomes the way of life for Christians and in it Christians find that Jesus himself, as King leading his kingdom, is himself the life of God itself in us.