Saturday, May 14, 2011

American spirituality pretends to be about mission while pursuing one or another social gospels

In which I lead with a polemical title that appears to have nothing to do with what I'm linking to:
A good deal of what Fitch has to say could be said about all of American Christianity. I find that the propensity for American Christianity to transform itself into some kind of social engineering activist mode hard to ignore. "Mission" whatever it means, is a slippery term. Lots of people imagine "mission" to be something but it is often something added onto the great commission that is seen as the ultimate fulfillment of it in some form or another. What I mean by that is that liberal and conservative American spiritualities inevitably want to transform the declaration of the kingship of Jesus Christ into some kind of social gospel movement. Conservatives gripe about how liberals do this while turning a decidedly blind eye to how they hawk a social gospel all their own often, pardon the pun, with some hawkish tendencies. I'm not really anything close to a peacenik myself, even though I live in Seattle, but I am not convinced that the neo-Reformed are, at the end of the day less "on mission" than any other form of American Christian spirituality.
Remember a while back when I suggested that the popularity of the neo-Reformed movement had little to do with theological rigor and more to do with the promise implicit within its subculture to young men that it was possible to drink, smoke, and get laid while still being a Christian? Well, whatever "missional" is tends to have a comparable promise regardless of which variation of supposedly new and relevant missional this or that is afoot.
There are branches of American spirituality that use "missional" as a way to promise that you can still vote for Democrats or Republicans or what have you. There are branches of theology and spiritual tradition that let you decide that America totally sucks and you should wish you lived somewhere else just as there are corresponding branches that let you talk about the sincerely trinitarian beliefs of founding fathers. In either case my skepticism about mission is less about the great commission and more about whatever mission is grafted onto the commands of the Lord. We're very good at selling ourselves on the idea that WE are faithful and those other people are Samaritan traitors. It doesn't seem like the neo-Reformed movement is any less about mission than any other branch of Christianity in America. It's probably more mission focused than some but that doesn't mean we're clear about "mission" means. I'd need to read a lot more Fitch to know better what he means by "mission" but as an overly jaded 37-year old who has begun to suspect most Christians are doomed to reinvent the wheel any time they try to come up with something "biblical" or "missional" color my pessimistic about the actual newness of what is discussed.

link: xkcd "Chain of Command"

check out, as ever, the scrollover comment.

Friday, May 13, 2011

curious writing over at Priestly Rants

This blog entry reflects briefly on comparisons and contrasts between the Great Commission and the sending of enlightened monks referenced in a Buddhist text. The occasion, if you will, of this comparison is to consider how whites and non-whites may interpret particular biblical texts with respect to culture. Even exegesis has certain cultural foundations which can assist in the influence of understanding the text.

... (A) First the orientation of the command is different. In Matthew the command rest solely in the authority of Jesus, but in the Mahavagga the command rests on the liberation of Buddha (1.11) and on the liberation of the monks (“You, O Bhikkus are also delivered…divine”). It is because these monks have gained enlightenment from the Buddha, that they can no go out and proclaim out of their own experience, the dhamma.

In Matthew there is no explicitly stated need for this “enlightenment,” or as we would say “conversion.” “As a result, the mission command has often been taken as heteronomous [sic.] decree…which imposes the ‘duty’ of proclaiming Christ on all true followers of Jesus. Reluctant Christians are whipped through guilt into a frenzy for mission” (340). Soares-Prabhu argues that if we look at the “intertext” the realization is that the disciples, like the monks, are “enlightened” by the life experiences they have shared with Christ, and that as salt and light they are to make disciples not strictly by teaching and baptizing, “…but by the infectious witness of a genuine Christian life (Matt. 5.13-16); and that mission proceeds from a transforming encounter with the Risen Lord, expressed as but not really amounting to a command” (340).

(B) Both commands aim at the ultimate liberation of man, though the expression is different. The command for the bhikkus is for the benefit of man and of the world. This is not the case in Matthew, or is at least less clear. There is no mention for instance of the welfare of the nations to which the disciples are sent. They are, quite simply, the objects of mission, and this is why, argues Soares-Prabhu, the command to baptize is included: “…that is, to bring the ‘converts’ through a rite of initiation into a distinct social group. Such ‘baptism’ implies, of course, the welfare, indeed the supreme welfare, of the people baptized. But this is not explicit in the text and can easily be forgotten” (341).

The part here that I find intriguing is the observation that in comparing the Buddhist and Christian text that it is less immediately apparent that the sending of Christ's disciples is for the ultimate benefit of humanity. The Great Commission in response to the resurrection of Christ is an announcement for the ultimate benefit of humnaity but this can be easily missed if the commands are seen only as commands and not as an extension of the good news. Christ, as risen Lord, certainly gets to issue commands but properly understood, understanding the significance of the risen Christ (like this is practically entirely possible) brings with it a motive to share the news.

Having seen the risen Christ the apostles are most certainly enlightened. If their success in being sent earlier was cause for excitement on Christ's part when they did not even really believe Jesus was the Son, then there is excitement to an even greater degree now that they are being sent out having mostly believed. Yet Matthe 28:17 mentions "though some doubted". That is a revelation of baffling and vital content, that apostles who saw the risen Christ before their very eyes could still, somehow, have some doubts even as their fellow believers were worshipping Christ. I don't have more to write about this thing because real world concerns like food present themselves. Let's just say that this week was a bit lean in the cuisine department.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Link: Orthocuban: Spotting Military Fakes

As a follow up to his recent post about fraudulent claims of military service Orthocuban provides a resource for spotting military fakers and fraudulent claims of military service.

As you may have guessed by now, it is often not that hard to begin figuring out who is faking. The rule of thumb is rather simple. The more elite the military group and the more daring the exploits, the LESS likely that the person will say anything at all about that group or about that exploit. The more secret the mission, the LESS likely you will hear about it unless you have a need to know. The more often a veteran has seen combat, the LESS likely they will give you the gory details. Even veterans who are diagnoses with PTSD do not tend to talk about their experiences. They may act out in any of various ways, but the last thing they want to open up about is what drove them into PTSD.

Conversely, the more that a person speaks about the details of their combat experience, the more likely that the experience was false and that they were a cook. ( ) Now, I phrased it that way, “about the details,” because I needed to allow for two groups that will publicly mention parts of their military service. One of them is politicians. If a politician has served, even if only Stateside and for one hitch, the brochure will say that the person served proudly in defense of his country. That is, of course, absolutely true, but the impression is often given that there is more behind it than there was. If the politician has actually served in a combat theater, the brochure will go into more detail. But, note that the rule is still followed that little detail of the actual combat experience is actually given. The other group that will do that, as yesterday’s story pointed out, are pastors. Again, provided that both groups do not exaggerate, there is nothing wrong with that mention.

Nevertheless, watch out for story-tellers. After all, it is Scripture that says that Satan is a father of lies. He has many sons and daughters wandering around.

It's sad that two groups likely to dissemble about actual military service are politicians and pastors but it's a useful warning.