Archives For gospel and culture

Here is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing on the spiritual disciplines in the Christian life. I’m exploring how we think of the Christian life–is it a pleasant stroll or an arduous journey? A cruise or a quest? I’d love your thoughts! Please share in the comments below.

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Cruise Ship Christianity

         I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but many friends swear by them. The beauty of a cruise ship—so I’m told—is that the journey and the destination become one. Not in some metaphysical motivational jingo. Rather, the ship will take you to several ports of call—you’ll see icebergs, whales, or tropical islands, depending on where you’re cruising. Other modes of transport—the bus or an airplane, for example—make a pretty stark difference between the destination and the journey, especially if you’re in coach.

In a prior ministry position I was required to travel regularly for work. There is no romance in contemporary airline travel. Gone are the days when people travelled in suits and dresses. Today, it’s sweatpants and hockey shirts. Once upon a time a normal person could feel his extremities while sitting in an airline seat. Today airline seats have managed to become so uncomfortable that they could plausibly be designated instruments of torture in the right context. At times, it’s difficult to comprehend that passengers pay hundreds of dollars to wedge themselves into an awkwardly angled seat—perhaps rack is more accurate—clearly designed as slightly constricting to the average 4’ 11” child. The only people who are actually comfortable in coach are children. I guarantee you that just about everyone on a commercial jet is counting the minutes until their circulation returns to normal and they extricate themselves.

Life is very different on a cruise ship. You could fly to just about anywhere a cruise ship goes. Alaska, Jamaica, the Mediterranean—all accessible by plane. People who take cruises do so because they want the journey they take to their destination to be a pleasant one. They want the journey to meet or exceed the joys of the destination.

Step aboard a cruise ship and you will immediately notice that it is designed to provide you with an entertainment experience. There are restaurants, swimming pools, bars, theatres, shops, you name it.

Cabins range from small to palatial. Each day your cabin is turned by the crew—who, I’m told, are quite adept at folding towels into animals—and a mint placed on your pillow for that delightful instance at which your sun-burned head alights on the down cushion and moments before your eyes close in peaceful slumber.

A cruise is a Las Vegas show, a Broadway extravaganza, a Madison Avenue shopping spree, a cordon bleu feast, that just happens to take place aboard a very large ship that is going somewhere. I’m pretty sure that some of the people on cruises ships neither know nor care where they are going—they’re there for the cruise itself, not the ports of call.

The Quest

         A quest is very different from a cruise. A quest is “a long and arduous search for something.” While some might consider seven days of over-indulgence “arduous,” what we’re talking about really is quite different.

A quest, by nature, is difficult. It is arduous. It requires sacrifice. Its outcome is not guaranteed. There is a price to be paid.

The journey will change the traveller in ways beyond simply providing a tan or, worse, a hangover.

At the end of the quest there is something so valuable that all of the sacrifices, the scars, the wrong turns—all are worth it. Their cost pales in comparison with the great value of the thing quested for.

The Gay Spring

January 10, 2014 — 3 Comments

2013 saw incredible change in the legislative landscape of the United States with respect to marriage–a gay spring, if you will–that sharply divided the country along regional lines. Across the South and Central United States voters protected the traditional understanding of marriage as between a man and a woman and refused to extend that the definition to include same-sex couples. In the West and Northeast the definition was–sometimes against voter intent–expanded to allow for same sex marriages (as in California and Utah).

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This spring and summer–the time when Kings go off to war and denominations do too–Presbyterians will likely redefine marriage to allow for same sex weddings where civil law provides for it. And even where state law doesn’t permit it the option of sanctioning, blessing, consecrating, or otherwise attaching the churches endorsement to same sex unions will likely become an option for teaching elders in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Since I live in North Carolina, this change will have little impact on me personally. Assuming, and it’s far from likely this would happen, that two men wanted me to marry them I could demur to state law without having to cite my own theological understanding of the issue. That’s a convenient position in which to find oneself. Of course, when ministers of the gospel look to the state for theological guidance it’s possible that the battle has already been lost.

Yet, there are many ministers across the country who will have lost the comfortable protection both of the state and the church in this regard. It is, however conceivable that with a change in marriage definition ministers will now be forced to be open about their views on marriage, even if they are not being asked to perform something that the state understands to be a wedding. This is difficult at the best of times, but in the face of opposition from both the state and the church it is onerous.

Mass culture has swung to affirm the GLBTQ community. Many Americans maintain traditional views with regard to sexuality, but it is now unacceptable to voice these in a public forum. I’m not talking about Duck Dynasty or some other pop culture person expressing views that are out of the “mainstream culture” as that culture constructed and communicated across media. I’m talking about a more general and diffuse pressure to join in with the chorus of affirmations of the sovereign right of the individual to discover (or construct?) his or her sexual identity.

I disagree with expanding the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution to encompass the right of same sex couples to marry. I disagree with it for a variety of reasons most of which are rooted in my theological understanding of God, humanity, creation, and the nature of marriage.

Since we don’t live in a Christian state, since what little moral consensus that once existed around this issue has evaporated, and since the line of precedent around this and other issues like it have unalterably led us to this place, I understand why many states are embracing this new reality of marriage.

I respect same sex people who choose to enter into legally-recognized partnerships. All things being equal–which of course they’re not–it’s better for a gay couple to enter into to some form of monogamous partnership or marriage than the alternative.

In the eyes of some states these are marriages, but in reality they are really only approximately equal to marriage. Those elements that are essential to marriage are missing from same sex relationships. As a result, to the church, these are really no marriage at all. On one level I’d prefer to not have to write this, but to do so would betray the Holy Scriptures that were handed to me as well as the churches theological reflection on Christ and the Scriptures for the last millennium.

To my mind, gay marriages are marriages in the same way that a corporation is a person–as a result of a legal fiction. A corporation may have rights like a person–political speech for example–but at the end of the day I think we can all agree that Goldman Sachs isn’t a person in the same way that Aunt Betty is.

So what of those whose views are popularly portrayed as slinking to occupy the hazy background of our current cultural snapshot? It simply remains for us to live peaceably with gentleness and respect.

My Augustinian view of history makes an awful lot of room for our culture to choose poorly, to favor error over truth. It happens in my own denomination and certainly within my country. In the end any law that violates God Law will be proven to be false and in the age that is to come will melt away. That is, of course, an eschatological statement, and we’re not in the eschaton yet. What remains is for those of us who are called and ordained to the work of preaching the Gospel to remain faithful to respect the civil authority while protecting the purity of the church’s teaching, worship, and sacraments. If I have to break civil or ecclesial law to do that, so be it.

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Imagine sitting down with a financial planner and in addition to totaling your bank accounts and mapping your investments, you also mapped your significant relationships and explored your relationship to your home.

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10 Evangelical Distinctives

September 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

I recently wrote a post asking whether–and if so, how–the Presbyterian Church (USA) is evangelical. This generated some interesting conversations about what the word evangelical really means. In light of these conversations, I thought it worth exploring the variety of perspectives on the evangelical movement.

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In his brief anthology of blog posts entitled, There are Two Marriages: A Manifesto on Marriage (2011), Tony Jones argues that the church ought to seek the strict separation of what he calls “legal marriage” and “sacramental marriage.” A result of this change would be the removal of much of the church’s resistance to same sex marriage.

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