Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving


With grandchildren and great grandchildren in mind, but everyone please enjoy and many blessings on your day. (This is a Beanscot video)





Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board: is evangelicalism acceptable for Asians?


This posting grew out of the actions of the Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Missions Agency Board regarding the incorporation of a group outside of the oversight of the PMA. But it is not about that group, or the issues surrounding it. I have already written about several of the 1001 Worshiping Communities which I believe were formed with a disregard for biblical Christianity. On the other hand the men whose actions, regarding new worshiping communities, are being investigated, seem to me to be faithful Christians. I cannot say more than that because I have no knowledge of the events.  On the other hand I was first surprised and then troubled when I saw one name on the list of members of the Executive Committee, that is Mihee Kim-Kort a Presbyterian Teaching Elder.

Kim-Kort is familiar to me because she started following me on Twitter. I did not know who she was, except she seemed nice as well as progressive. I followed her back which is usually (not always) my normal reaction. But with her name appearing on the Executive Committee list I started reading some of her material. She does bring to the PMA a particular view about racism but she seems to equate evangelicalism and biblical evangelism with racism and colonialism. I believe she has an extremely contemptuous and demeaning view of Asian evangelicals. And here I am using the definition of Asian evangelicals as those who hold to an orthodox view of the Christian faith.

In an article, “Killjoy Prophets, Asian America, Evangelicalism (Part 2),” written by Mihee Kim-Kort, Suey Park, and Emily Rice, Asian evangelicals are seen as being used by white evangelicals to further their own culture and privileges. Kim-Kort and other two authors write:

“The double-pronged missionary work abroad and in the US reinforced this evangelical culture – the music, the Jesus-language and just-prayers, and narrow theological view of humanity and God. In the US the impact of evangelicalism on Asian Americans served to essentially “white-wash” the communities so that their ministries mimicked white evangelical communities to a tee. This forces us to question whether or not becoming Christian is synonymous to becoming white.” (Italics mine.)

While there is and has been racism among both liberal and conservative Christians, it is not the driving force of evangelism, rather the call of Christ on the community and individual to go to the nations proclaiming Christ Jesus is the impetus. The complaint in the essay seems to be that too many Asians have become evangelicals. The writers hold up the statistics offered by Erica Liu who quotes Chang and states, “On many campuses, Asian Christian gatherings have even become a standard part of the undergraduate social experience. Not only have evangelical groups succeeded in bringing Asian Americans in their fold, but they have made them into one of their strongest groups of evangelizers.”

The number of Asians attending Urbana (a missionary gathering that many young people attend) and the number of Christian Asian groups on the Berkeley campus are part of the statistics used. The writers bluntly state “In other words, conversion is a tool of exceptionalism,” and go on to state, “Whether the conversion happens here or abroad it is analogous to (religious) colonization.”

Kim-Kort and the other authors suggest that the solution to Asians being assimilated into white Christian Evangelism is something called “Hybridity.” Quoting Kim Grace Ji-Sun, they write, “The way hybridity operates is by shifting “the conceptualization of identity because identity is no longer a stable reference point. It creates a new paradigm in which liminality, instability, impurity, movement, and fluidity inform the formation of identities ….”

Yes, there is racism among those in the white evangelical community, and it is a racism that needs to be addressed with repentance, but that is seemingly, not the focus of the essay. Kim-Kort and the other writers are in fact singling out a particular group, Asian evangelicals. Their Christianity, their love for Jesus is being questioned. Their view of God, is seen as too narrow. Their motivation is questioned as is their intentions. The writers are themselves intolerant of the faith of others. They are intolerant of Asian evangelical Christians.

So I was troubled when I saw Kim-Kort’s name among the list of the members of the Executive Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board. There are rules broken that have ethical and institutional consequences, there are also attitudes that have eternal consequences. Intolerance towards those who are brothers and sisters of Jesus pokes holes in both unity and mission.

The pastor who said the words that brought me to Christ (he didn’t know it) was intolerant of Asians. That was a long time ago and I pray he repented. One of the strong mentors in my life as a teenage Christian was an Asian Christian. He held a Navigators study in his home. That was so long ago, I don’t remember his name, but I do remember his kind face and his love for others and for the word of God.  If we are in Christ we have an identity-Christ is our identity—for those who belong to Jesus there is nothing more—we are hidden in Him.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Reconciling Paul," Jesus Christ lord, the only way


Jesus warns his disciples that some are only hired hands working for wages while they watch the Master’s sheep. But Jesus is the good shepherd, the one who lays his life down for the sheep. The hired hand is not the owner of the sheep and he leaves the sheep to be torn by wolves (John 10:11-12). Paul in the book of Acts warns of the “savage wolves” among the under-shepherds who will not spare the sheep but scatter them.

 Presbyterian Women through Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, the author of their latest Horizon’s Bible study, “Reconciling Paul,” are claiming that other religions reveal the fullness of God. Hinson-Hasty, in her blog posting on the third lesson, continues to push the idea that there are other viable paths to salvation.

While I have already written about the third lesson with my posting “The 2014-2015 Horizon's Bible Study "Reconciling Paul" - a continuing review # 3,” I want to once again address this issue since Hinson-Hasty continues to deny the foundational truth of Christianity that Jesus is the only way to God. She attacks this essential Christian truth in several ways. One way is by using a question asked by a woman who attended one of the Horizon Bible study workshops. She writes:

“One friend who I met at a workshop in North Carolina asked, “How would my faith look and be practiced differently if my belief in Jesus as the only path to salvation changed?”  Her thoughtful and serious question is worthy of attention.” 

Hinson-Hasty wants to use Paul’s writings to affirm her own position and in doing so to lay out a way to live the Christian faith while still believing that other faiths are equally the way to God. Strangely she sees Paul’s insistence that although he is a Jew, Gentiles can also be Christians, as an example of how one could see the fullness of God in other religions. Hinson-Hasty writes:

“Paul, representing a more progressive Jewish voice in his time, errs on the side of inclusion. Why? He writes “all of us … are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another ...” (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Paul enlarged his understanding of the community of faith by crossing well-defined boundaries of religion, race, and ethnicity.  That was certainly surprising for his time.”

Well first of all, Paul was not a progressive Jew, he was a Jew, who like the Pharisees, which he had been, believed in the bodily resurrection, believed in the returning Messiah, believed in the supernatural.  And secondly, he saw all of this fulfilled in Jesus his Lord. And that is the crux of the matter, Jesus the final revelation of God. Paul crossed the boundaries because of Jesus, God’s only revelation.

Hinson-Hasty attempts to use God’s covenant and the cross as Paul sees it as a way of affirming pluralism. She writes:

“Ultimately, I think that what Paul is preaching among the Corinthians and to us is Jesus’ message of the cross; of the vulnerability of love and priority of reconciliation. For Paul, the crucified Jesus reveals God’s nature and the fullness of human nature that all are called to be. To say this, however, does not have to create a point of division among faiths.  We can draw upon Paul’s writings to affirm God’s nature of loving kindness and openness to vulnerability while affirming the fullness of God in other religions.  The way Paul wrestled with and affirmed different ways of practicing one’s faith in the ancient world can invite us to cross well-established boundaries of creed and clan.”

If one examines Hinson-Hasty's statement, Jesus dying on the cross is only held to be an example, not a sacrifice for sin. Bodily resurrection is unimportant and the uniqueness of the Incarnation means nothing. But the question must be asked, without Jesus, without a personal God, without the Trinity how could the fullness of God be possible? Paul writes in Colossians that in Jesus was the fullness of God. “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.”  

And how is the woman’s question answered? How would her faith look if she no longer believed that Jesus was the only path to salvation? Quoting Fr. John Pozhathuparambil of India, Hinson-Hasty writes:

“If you are Christian, be a good Christian.  If you are Jewish, be a good Jew.  If you are Hindu, be a good Hindu.  If you are Muslim, be a good Muslim.”

So just be good.

But you cannot be a good Christian unless you love Jesus above all ‘so-called lords.’ You are called to leave all other lords, to see them as false gods, and proclaim Jesus the Savior and lord of life. In the midst of pluralism, called to follow Jesus, you are to worship only the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Monday, November 10, 2014

ACSWP & radical feminism: turning to pantheism


picture by Stephen Larson
Within the limitations of pantheism there is no need for Jesus. If God did not create ex-nihilo, but out of God’s being, humanity shares divinity. And the evil that is in the world either resides in God as well as humanity or it is an illusion. Elizabeth Bettenhausen gave an address to the Re-imagining Conference in 1993 that has now been adapted for Unbound’s November issue; it is entitled “Re-Imagining Creation: Gathering at the Table of Necessity.” 

While the address begins with a beautiful poem that does not necessarily need to be seen as upholding pantheism, Bettenhausen interprets and uses the poem in that manner. After suggesting that the traditional view of God creating out of nothing is impressive, complex and too hard to understand, she writes:

“So, to re-imagine the doctrine of creation is to re-imagine how much more difficult it is to create life out of what’s at hand, out of the worn-outness of our lives, the good for nothing rags of injustice and threadbare hope. To make something out of that—that’s impressive.”

Well, it is impressive but Bettenhausen goes on. She blames the traditional view of creation for what she considers the ills of the world. Some are evil, some are not. For instance racism is evil, private ownership is often a blessing—that is why Habitat for Humanity is such a great organization. That is why many church groups, including my church, go to Mexico to build houses.

Bettenhausen’s theology is thorny:

“We need to re-imagine the doctrine of creation because, if you create out of nothing, the something is always a problem. We get theological investigations of the relationship between the Creator and the creation. Are they connected after all? Is God wholly transcendent or is God partially immanent? Is pantheism pagan or is pantheism a defensible Lutheran position? It all boils down to the burning question that is the real question if you start from creation literally out of nothing: What do God and the world have to do with each other anyhow? They have been construed as so different that you really must struggle to get them reconnected again.”

Yes, God is transcendent, God is also immanent, but that doesn’t mean that God is a part of creation. Instead it means that God is everywhere present. It also means that God is concerned with creation. And the struggle to connect has already occurred and the struggler won—on the cross—the battle is finished.

Bettenhausen, after dismissing God’s creation out of nothing, states that she believes one finds God in a group of women braiding rugs from worn cloths and clothes. She finds God in the midst of a struggle for justice. Perhaps, but it is when we are gathered in his name, the name of Jesus, that God is found. The gathered may be seeking justice against racism, against human trafficking, against the killing of unborn babies, against the killing of Christians and other minorities, the list is long. But it is Jesus, fully God, Fully human, who connects us to the Father.

That Presbyterian leadership is allowing the old material from the Re-imagining Conference, which created so much havoc and sorrow among God’s people, to reappear is surely an omen of how badly the denomination will be falling into the darkness of paganism.

 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to himself, having made peace through the blood of his cross; through him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet he has now reconciled you in his fleshly body through death, in order to present you before him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven …” (Col. 1: 19-23b)


Friday, November 7, 2014

ACSWP & radical feminism: going beyond the boundaries of Scripture and confession


The Presbyterian Church (USA) through the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and their journal Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, has stepped beyond the boundaries of Scripture and confession. The being of God and the person of Jesus are deeply effected in their November edition, “Gender Justice 2014: “Hearing the Voices of Peoples Long Silenced,” which in the first part focuses mainly on women’s issues.

The articles have all been published elsewhere but they come together in the journal to form a stew of twisted Scripture and bad theology. Marci Auld Glass’ “The Cry of Tamar” adds words to the biblical text in several places, yet her thesis that women are more than their sexuality could have been wonderfully bolstered by leaving the biblical story intact. But the major problem with all of the articles is their disregard for the first commandment of the Decalogue: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

No they are not advocating as some have for “the Queen of Heaven, “referred to in Jeremiah nor do they lift up the supposedly ancient goddesses. And while the words are deceptively beautiful and the stories sad and needy, their tenor and words deface the holy God of Scripture. For instance, Rita Nakashima Brock’s article, “Re-Imagining God: Reflections on Mirrors, Motheroot, and Memory is filled with her bent toward panentheism which tends to destroy the majesty and beauty of God while diffusing the Incarnation into a simple idea of God’s being evolving through creation.

Brock quotes and affirms the words of Nancy Mairs:

God is here. And here, and here, and here. Not an immutable entity detached from time, but a continual calling and coming into being. Not transcendence, that orgy of self-alienation beloved of the fathers, but immanence: God working out Godself in everything… the holy as verb”

Brock uses three words to express her view of what will aid the re-imagining of God, Incarnation, Emanuel and Ecclesia. But to each of these she gives a human centered picture. The Incarnation, God taking on flesh and dwelling among us as the unique person of Jesus is shattered and creation and community takes his place. He is even maligned. Speaking of the Syrophoenician woman, Brock writes:

“When Jesus is oppressed by the principalities and powers of the world, he reveals the incarnate power of God, as he does through much of his life and at his death. But when Jesus has structural power over another—marginalizes her—divine power confronts Jesus from those margins. In other words, she is the incarnation of God to Jesus. Jesus acknowledges this revelation when it happens with the words, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And this is how the transformative power of God is revealed, the power of motheroot.”

Awful power, not sacred power is placed in the hands of humanity. Human brokenness, rather than a redemptive savior, is lifted up.

Sylvia Thorson-Smith’s offering is the tired old mix of Sophia and sex. The article is her speech at the Presbyterian Voices for Justice at the 2012 PCUSA General Assembly, Re-Imagining “Re-Imagining” and the Next 20 Years. She rehearses the events of the Re-imagining conference held in 1993.  Thorson-Smith even refers to the “womanist theologian Delores Williams’ dramatic reimagining of the Atonement, denouncing the idea that Jesus was a substitutionary “surrogate” who had to die for our sins in order to satisfy the demands of a patriarchal Father God.” And it was a bit more than that something about not needing any bloody crosses.

One of the postings is part of a script written by Rachel Shepherd and Miriam Foltz. Daughters of Eve, (not yet formerly published), is a supposed take on biblical stories of women through the lens of the infamous play The Vagina Monologues. The article itself is entitled, Daughters of Eve: Biblical Women Take Back the Microphone

While these biblical stories of women are so important for women, they are trivialized with such words as, “But even in my darkest moments, God was there; God had not written off my vagina yet,” (Sarah speaking) or “Finally my vagina is a welcome and friendly part of me, not an erratic stranger I have to harbor. I can trust our rhythm, count the days until bleeding begins and ends, and see it for what it is: a source of joy and life that connects me to my God,” (the woman with an issue of blood which Jesus heals).

And the Levite’s concubine who was horribly raped, “Now I am Israel, I am twelve, I am no more and I am always. My vagina was the first part of me to be broken, and the rest followed. My vagina is priceless and worthless, vulnerable and meaningful. My vagina is a vanguard.”

This last story is so horrific. It is the story of a people who constantly betray their God, and as the text states, do what is right in their own eyes. It is also the story of a woman who suffers the terrors that too often befall innocent victims in the midst of an ungodly people. The story as told by the play begins well but the ending is awful since it focuses on the woman’s poor misused vagina—one wants to vomit. Take a soft warm blanket and cover the abused body. Do not be like the husband cutting the body apart, showing it to everyone, but rather react as the Lord does who has pity and redeems.

This material, found in the Unbound journal, as I have said is old and tired material. It is also ugly and chases away those who would be faithful. We turn our eyes away and instead set them on beauty.

God is not an evolving being filling out creation as He grows and changes. God who is transcendent comes to us in Jesus, very God of very God—the begotten God in the bosom of the Father. Jesus comes with all of the redemptive, transforming power that we need to live in community as daughters and sons of the Father. Jesus, He is of our flesh and of the Father. Through the Holy Spirit we are united to him and so are lifted up and “seated in heavenly places.”

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Rainbows, promises and mutton busting



That place in Panoche
 
Several Saturdays ago my husband Brad and I went to Panoche with our daughter Jenny. It was the first time we had visited our granddaughter Melissa, her husband Spencer and their three daughters since they moved to Panoche. We also visited their three calves, two kids (goats) and several dozen chickens. The beginnings of a farm to be. Spencer works at the Claravale Dairy there, a raw milk dairy which is rare even in California. Of course they showed us all around the dairy including the milking cows.

It was one of the first days of autumn rain and it poured just as we reached the dairy.  As the rain dwindled to a drizzle we went to see the milking cows. They all gathered at their fence where they eat hay. But in this case they wanted to visit with the people who had come to visit them! My husband was enchanted with them. He got as close as possible petting them, talking to them and feeding them handfuls of hay.  As the clouds begin to clear a beautiful picture appeared.


My husband stood there leaning across the fence and above his silver white hair, far above, but actually meeting the ground in a far pasture, was a beautiful rainbow. God’s promise of mercy and grace.


I earlier posted about the two areas of my life that was changing in my posting Turning toward home. I said that my husband had some tests overseen by a neurologist, for what we believed was dementia. Now we know it isn’t dementia but what is called mild cognitive impairment. It has the potential of becoming (a 15 to 20 percent chance) Alzheimer’s so we stand with hopefulness holding to God’s faithfulness. As the hymn states our times are in his hands.

So just to give you something fun to read and see, great granddaughter Molly the oldest of Melissa and Spencer’s girls, on her sixth birthday won the mutton busting event at the Fresno State Fair. So what is mutton busting you ask? The kids ride sheep and the one that stays on the longest wins. And not to worry an adult stays with them the whole way.
 

 


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

First Creek, Mercy Junction, Kindred Spirits Retreats-where is redemption?


In a rather embellished story, two of the first Moravian missionaries on their way to live among and preach the gospel to the slaves of St. Thomas Island, cried out to those watching their ship leave, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!" The two missionaries and those who followed left vibrant churches in their wake. The desire to reach peoples, cities and nations for Christ is the Church’s story and history. It was and is often the story of men and women dying to natural human desires as they bring the word of God and the message of redemption. But sometimes, too often, Christians have melded their own lifestyles into a witness that becomes no more than cultural accommodation. A witness that fails to lift up the living, dying, resurrected Lord.
I have already written about two of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Mercy Junction and Kindred Spirits Retreats. Both of those communities are involved in cultural accommodation, one by actions which infer that Jesus is not the only way to a relationship with God, the other by lifting up unbiblical sexuality and self-awareness as true spirituality.

The Presbytery of East Tennessee is responsible for Mercy Junction, and they are now considering another community, First Creek, which will be birthed with the same spiritual outlook. This one will be in Knoxville.  As teaching elder Kally Elliott, who will lead this community, states: 

At first glance downtown Knoxville seems saturated by churches. There are several large mainline churches, including First Presbyterian Church. There are also many new church developments meeting in various places such as Cafe 4, The Bijou Theater, Remedy Coffee, and the Convention Center. All of these churches are doing good work and serving a need in the community. However, there are more needs not being met. Most of the churches in downtown Knoxville have a specific identity and/or theology. The mainline churches usually center around a traditional worship service and way of doing/being Church. While their worship styles vary, the new church developments in downtown tend to be more conservative and evangelistic in their theology.”

 Elliott goes further,

 “There is a need to serve those in downtown (and other parts of Knoxville) who have ties to the traditional mainline church (i.e. were raised in the mainline church or have experience with the worship style) but who yearn for more connection, conversation, and authenticity during meeting times. This is not to say that worship or other activities in the mainline Church do not breed authenticity and connection, however, we need to be open to trying new things to reach more people. There is also a need to serve those who, while they enjoy the openness, creativity and informality of some of the new church developments, might find their theology too conservative and desire something more progressive.”[1]

 So the intention of this particular call for a new worshiping community is not that the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus can be made known to those who are without the hope of the good news, but that those who are unsatisfied with any of the existing churches, including the Presbyterian ones, can find a more progressive theology in the midst of a new kind of community.

 And then there is the confession that not only are there diverse shops, artistic attractions and diverse people in downtown Knoxville, it is also Elliott’s home, her place of familiarity. It is also the place of familiarity of those members of the team working to build the new community. Kally writes:

 “We have lived in Knoxville for many years and find ourselves working and hanging out in downtown over any other place in Knoxville. Downtown Knoxville is our community. It is the natural place we would plant a church because we already feel at home here. We know the place and the people. To plant a church somewhere else in Knoxville would feel inauthentic to us. We care about downtown Knoxville and want to see the community grow and flourish.” (Italics mine)

 While there is a great deal of good in loving your place, in caring about neighbors and neighborhoods, in attending worship in your neighborhood, none of Elliott’s reasons for a ‘new’ worshiping community have the authentic, (if I may use that word), ring of a biblical call. Elliott and her team want to introduce people who are similar to them to a Jesus who bears their image. Missing is the longing to introduce the people of downtown Knoxville to the one who loved them enough to tent in their neighborhood[2], walk among them and shed his blood for their salvation. The heavy cost of grace, to paraphrase Bonhoeffer, is missing.

 The community will:

 

1.       Provide progressive answers to theological questions about faith.

2.      Be a part of the atmosphere of a postmodern community with coffee shops, cafes, artistic venues, farmer’s markets, etc.

3.      Plant a garden, clean a creek, offer theological conversations with dinners, and eventually offer various forms of liturgy.[3]

4.      The people who are part of the community will create the liturgy.

5.      Help the homeless.

 
There is a lot of good constructive ideas in the intentions of those planning the new community. But basically, because most of the churches in the downtown area are already committed to the community, and committed to the poor, and because of the absolute slant toward progressivism, the purpose of the new community, First Creek, is, seemingly, to solidify and satisfy post moderns with their own particular ideas about worship and theology.  

 An inoffensive Presbyterianism meets in these communities. The Reformed faith will shape First creek, so states the proposal, and yet it will be changed by the community so states the proposal. The Reformed faith is needed for the Southside of Chattanooga, says the proposal for Mercy Junction, because they, the authors, are “proud of our Reformed heritage that reminds us that to know God, we must first know ourselves.” The proposal also points to “faith in mercy, justice and relationship with our Creator …” And even Presbyterian “discipline and structured accountability” of the tradition is lifted up.  And, of course. Presbyterian polity.

 But what of faith in mercy and justice?  Poor cheated sinners, where is Jesus who gives mercy because of his cross. Where is Jesus who procures justice by way of his cross? Know ourselves? In Christ we are known and loved by the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.


"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace which he lavished on us. (Eph. 1:7)"




 




[1] This sentence has all of the earmarks of what is called sheep stealing. That is not the proper kind of new church building.
[2] I am thinking here of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
[3] The proposal states: - All will be invited to participate in worship. Each week those from the community will be equipped and encouraged to help write the liturgy. They will also be encouraged to share their gifts during worship. The liturgy will be set out and as people enter for worship if someone wants to help lead worship he or she can take the piece of the liturgy he or she would like to lead. Worship will be messy. It will not be polished but will be authentic to the people gathered.” Given the push for progressive theology and the lack of care about biblical Christianity, some in the PET are concerned that the sacramental part of worship will  fail to uphold not only the reformed faith but Christianity itself.