I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings to the kids every night for the past several months. Last night, I ran into this wonderful passage where Tolkien describes the land of Ithilien. There is so much wonderful vocabulary packed into one paragraph here! Take a whiff.
Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into untended age mid a riot of careless descendants; and groves and thickets there were of tamarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew in bushes, or with their woody creeping stems mantled in deep tapestries the hidden stones; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green; and marjorams and new-sprouting parsleys, and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden-lore of Sam. The grots and rocky walls were already starred with saxifrages and stonecrops. Primeroles and anemones were awake in the filbert-brakes; and asphodel and many lily-flowers nodded their half-opened heads in the grass: deep green grass beside the pools, where falling streams halted in cool hollows on their journey down to Anduin.
The whistle playing of Brian Finnegan is truly fabulous, and none more so then on the middle tune, ‘Two for Joy’ in this set.
Lewis, in his commentary on the psalms, deals early on with one of most frequent confusions found in scripture and especially in the psalter. That is, the call for “judgement”.
If there is any thought at which a Christian trembles it is the thought of God’s “judgement”. The “Day” of Judgement is “that day of wrath”, that dreadful day”. We pray for God to deliver us “in the hour of death and at the day of judgement”. Christian art and literature for centuries have depicted its terrors. This note in Christianity certainly goes back to the teaching of Our Lord Himself; especially to the terrible parable of the Sheep and the Goats. This can leave no conscience untouched, for in it the “Goats” are condemned entirely for their sins of omission; as if to make us fairly sure that the heaviest charge against each of us turns not upon the things he has done but on those he never did – perhaps never dreamed of doing.
It is therefore with great surprise that I first noticed how the Psalmists talk about the judgements of God. They talk like this: “O let the nations rejoice and be glad, for thou shalt judge the folk righteously”, “Let the field be joyful…all the trees of the wood shall rejoice before the Lord, for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth”. Judgement is apparently an occasion of universal rejoicing. People ask for it.
The solution to this puzzle is not difficult when we consider that the Jewish writers were nearly always speaking about “judgement” as it occurs in a court of law. It was assumed the judgement would be GOOD. The problem was getting INTO the court in the first place. Out in the world, you were subject to abuse by the rich and powerful. But if you could just get your case to be heard – just get your foot in the door of the court – the judge would put everything to right. You WANTED judgement because you weren’t getting it where you were. You were a slave and shouldn’t be – the judge would free you. Your house was stolen by a shyster – the judge would order it be given back. Someone was telling lies about you and there was nothing you could do about it – the judge would have those lies exposed and the speaker’s mouths shut. Everything was screwed up . If only you could get the judge’s attention, things would get straightened out.
Today, someone who “judges” another pronounces some kind of hateful disapproval of another. The condemnation is frequently implied to be unsubstantiated. That is, the judgement is assumed to be without reason, without logic, and sans love. A “righteous” judgement seems like an oxymoron, at least how it used on the street today in the west. The realm of formal law of course keeps the meaning more or less intact, but that is largely roped off from the public square.
When I was a young man, I was invited to a bible study down the hall from where I had just begun to live at the university. I decided to show up and discovered the text for the night was Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, that ye not be judge.”) For the next 45 minutes I listened as the circle of attendees nodded their head and acknowledged that judging people was very, very bad – something one should never do, and something that Jesus thought was definitely not cool. We ended with a prayer asking Jesus to help us not judge other people. I bit my tongue from bringing up the fact that some context was worth considering.
Well, it turns out this particular bible study was run by liberal PCUSA Presbyterians, and what they meant by “don’t judge” was “don’t you dare say anything bad about what I’m doing”. What were they doing? It pretty much boiled down to having sex with a wide variety of different people, some even of the same gender as themselves. This was obviously a favorite passage of theirs. I’m afraid I didn’t visit that gathering again and eventually made other friends. For them, judgement was a thing to be feared and hated, like a volcano erupting in your back yard or an alien invasion. Jesus was good because it didn’t seem like he judged people in the modern sense. At least, he seemed to say nice stuff to people that goody-two-shoes were always looking down on. In a sense, they desired God because he DIDN’T judge them, contra the world who always did.
This is completely and utterly backwards from everything found in scripture, from the law to the prophets, to the gospels and the epistles. God judges the freaking heck out of the earth. In John’s revelation, his judgement is utter and total and powerful and crushing and indescribable. Sometimes He withholds judgement for a while, but it’s just pent up waiting to explode. “The day of the Lord great and very terrible. Who can endure it?” (Joel 2:11). The catch is, the judgement is GOOD, and the stuff you are subject to now – without a judge at hand? BAD.
For the one who hates or fears judgement, what you have now is the best things can get and your life goal, your striving, your activism, is to minimize judgement. You are glad to get a raise because now you can buy some nicer clothes and not have people give you strange looks at the office. You rejoice when the supreme court says it’s OK for you and your lesbian lover to get married. You throw a big party! One less person judging you. You are incrementally freer now! Relief. Love. Peace here and now.
For the one who loves judgement and yearns for the Lord’s coming, everything around them is transient and passing away – their chronic back pain, their dead-end job, their broken marriage. Maybe the scope is larger in some people’s minds. Everything is wrong. Heck, maybe even the entire nation is wrong – run by lying money grubbers. Maybe all the Earth and the environment is being trashed. Who will deliver us? A righteous judge who will come down from heaven and kick evil’s ass so hard it will never show it’s face in town again. That’s who. That is where our hope lies.
For one, the second advent of the Lord is an end of judging. A flooding over of all existing hate. Love wins. For the other, the second advent of the Lord is the zenith of judgement, the conquering of all evil so that only love remains permanently. A great white table, and a great white throne.
These are both, in their own way, comforting and hopeful images of God and the eschaton. The problem is, only one of them is found in scripture, and it’s remarkably consistent. The other idea comes from somewhere else entirely and has had mild success in the last century in appropriating some of the words of Christ toward it’s end. But in the heaven, we find a great white throne, not a great white table. And he who sits on the throne is our bread of life, given freely to even the beggars with not a single good thing to their name. Would that he come and make us rightful sons and daughters again.
It’s not his idea, but in a recent lecture I heard N.T. Wright allude to the notion that the human mind is a like a time machine. I believe this is true and would like to reflect on that.
We do not just inhabit the immediate present, but our memory allows us to travel back and relive events from our past. We do not just store scraps of information for retrieval later, but rather our memories take the shape of our own selves and bodies and when we recall them it is like stepping into something gone that still lives inside us.
On the other side, we have imaginations that continuously conjure up the future – both in the realm of the mundane and the fantastic. In fact, I think we so readily come up and rehearse so many possible scenarios, that it’s not unusual for the future of some particular to turn out exactly as we have envisioned it. We might call this a premonition if we want to speak of things slightly spooky. The scientist imagines what it would be like to be God, but having the imagination of a man, he creates a man-shaped God. The result? A multi-verse, where mathematical decision branches create an infinite number of worlds, but each with a long chain of DNA that could be traced back and explained.
In a way, our memories and imaginations are part of our imago dei – it is a way in which we are like God. He is infinite and all the past and future is contained in him. We are finite and yet we strrrreeeetch ourselves to cover ages before and after us – reliving, pondering, creating, and trying out new stories. The first thing we are told about God in Genesis is that he creates things, and we do the same – not just in the here and now or with our hands, but in the past and future, with our thoughts. In this regard, the difference is less one of quality and kind, but one of power and reach.
Attributing the uncanniness of our memories or imaginations as the result of reincarnation is not, I believe, a far-fetched idea. Flawed and contrary to revelation of course, but not an unreasonable conclusion. Contemplating the subject will lead nearly anyone to suspect something more is going on than simply the presence of a stimuli-response machine alone in our cranium. The very fact that our imaginings are often more vivid than our immediate surroundings is disconcerting enough to make one wonder if we are inhabiting improperly limited bodies in a fallen realm. Our hope is in a resurrection and a new life, but we need someone to give it to us.
Speaking of memories, Thomas Merton writes:
The “remembering” of God, of which we sing in the Psalms, is simply the rediscovery, in deep compunction of heart, that God remembers us. In a sense, God cannot be remembered. He can only be discovered.
We know Him because He knows us. We know Him when we discover that He knows us. Our knowledge of Him is the effect of His knowledge of us. The experience is always one of new wonder that He is mindful of us. “What is man that Thou are mindful of him? Or the son of man that Thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:5)
Throughout the Old Testament, God tells Israel to remember His work in the past. This is not a command for them to keep certain pieces of learned information close at hand for recital, but rather an invitation to travel back in time and see the foreshadowing of their coming salvation, that their imaginations might not be darkened but sparked with hope. Many of the prophets “yearned to see what you are seeing” Jesus told the apostles (Matthew 13:17). That is, they probed the future with their imaginations, anticipating, painting possible images, filling in the sketchy details, fabricating possibilities, sometimes despairing, but then again driven to hope. They took their time machine minds to a future they could not know for certain. It is our lot to do the same for Christ’s second advent. We have been given all the right tools. Let us not lay them down in idleness with the nihilists and materialists. He has put eternity in our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
As Rene Girard points out in the first chapter of his masterful ‘I See Satan Fall Like Lighting’, the 10th commandment is often given short shrift in comparison to the others – a blanket afterthought to the clearly more terrible sins listed earlier (murder, idolatry, etc.).
But don’t we know that often the last word of a written work is the most important? Commandments 6-9 are very to-the-point and require no commentary. They descend in severity of violence from murder, to adultery, to theft, and then lying. And foreshadowing Jesus and the sermon on the mount, (“Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer.”), the final commandment prohibits not an act, but a desire.
Envy is shown to largely be the root of all that preceded it in the list. Desiring leads to lying and taking, and even killing to take. Blessed is the man who is content with what he has and does not want what the other guy has. Or, more to the point, blessed is the man who is content in who he IS and does not want to BE the other guy.
I believe Girard is completely right here. Unfortunately, I am troubled by how I see this insight sometimes applied in the modern west by Christians aiming to defend a certain theory of capitalism at all costs.
So the story goes, the poor have little and the rich have plenty and the poor are envious of the rich and wish to “stick it to those fat cats” and get some cheddar for themselves. From political revolutions to the robbing of Peter to pay Paul via socialist welfare programs, this is supposedly the underlying narrative for virtually all, nay, ALL efforts to “redistribute wealth”. What does God want apparently under the ideal model? For the poor to shut their mouths and be happy and for the rich to have a change of heart (exclusively by the Holy Spirit of course) and to overflow with tangible generosity. Justice in questions of worldly possessions is supposed to be, exclusively be, an outworking of the Gospel in the long run. Any effort by the king or the electorate step in and yank some of this wealth around by force is the fruit of sinful thinking and can only ever lead to more trouble. The invisible hand of the free market, redeemed along with the rest of creation on Easter morning, is apparently our new rest until Christ returns. The millennial rule of the Church is mostly indistinguishable from Reagan-era economic policies, only with less sinning and greed.
Yes of course I’m overstating things and painting with a broad brush, but perhaps you recognize some of this caricature as being close enough to the mark to be unsettling. This rhetoric of “That must be rooted in envy! Screw it!” seems to come up a lot whenever any forced (ie. government enacted) redistribution of wealth is proposed. The liberals of course want to rob from the rich until there is nothing left, resulting in a short term gain that is utterly unsustainable. This is the thing bubbles are made of. The communists had their own theory about how to jiggle all the property around. It turned out to be an unmitigated slaughterous disaster. The form that still lives on in China has had to reinvent itself as mostly capitalism with a heavy-handed ruling elite. The distributivists with their commentaries by Belloc and Chesterton are shouting to be at least considered. “Here is a way of shifting the wealth around that really could be helpful to everyone involved! No we’re not kidding and it’s very Christian too. More than you realize!” But of course nobody in western orthodox circles is listening to them. “Smells like envy! Who’s going to do this ‘distributing’, hmmmmm? Hands off my stuff!” as they back the closest Laissez-faire candidate they can find.
In 1 Samuel 8, Israel is warned that a king will take all our best stuff (including our sons and daughters) and do something else with them – so don’t say I didn’t warn you! We read scripture so the same warning has been given to us. But they wanted a king regardless and so do we, so we get one and all the baggage that goes with one. No point in complaining about the mechanics.
The king (or the conglomerate pseudo-representative king of the republic) gets to take money from the people and do stuff with it. And the good king does this in a wise and careful way, the bad king in a ruinous way. Throughout the proverbs, we are told that the people rejoice and are refreshed when the king is good and groan when he screws everything up. What if God were running the nation though? I wonder what kind of laws about money and property He would make. He would do it up right for sure. That might be really helpful and informative to know so that maybe we could rule a little more justly like God. Well, it’s not a thought experiment. It’s all right there in Leviticus.
The different tribes of Israel were allotted land they didn’t deserve up front and they weren’t allowed to sell it outside of the family. Someone from Judah couldn’t sell the family farm to someone from Benjamin. Inheritances were not liquid assets, but locked-in, temporary holdings.
The 50-year Jubilee is often brought up – as it should be. I’ve head people say we shouldn’t take it seriously as a model because it was probably not ever enforced. Who cares! It was SUPPOSED to be enforced. Slaves go free, people’s crushing debts cancelled. Who had the debts? Besides some who were just unlucky, there had to be many who just flat out made bad decisions. Who cancelled them? The rich people. What were they after the debts were cancelled? A lot less rich. What did the wealthy land owner have after he was compelled by law to let his indentured workers return to their homes? A heck a lot less wealth. And the poor had joy. By whose hand was this? The worthless politician only good at spending other people’s money? No, but by the dictate of our creator – who knows a thing or two about what it takes for us humans, his precious children, to get along with each other.
What does he know? That envy is toxic. That’s why he put it right there at the end of the summary of the law, in the place you won’t forget. What exacerbates envy? Yes, I know the root of it is lying right there in our own hearts without any outside help, but what makes it a lot worse? Inequality.
When your boss makes twice as much as you – that’s one thing. When he makes quite literally a hundred times more than you – that is quite plainly harder to ignore. Something feels wrong. You and your six kids live in a dumpy trailer park and your boss lives in a modest house in the suburbs. You can probably handle that. You can be friends. You can hang out together – chat at church, have your kids on the same baseball team, etc. But what if you still live in the trailer but he lives in a 15,000 square foot mansion up on the hill and spends the weekends on his yacht? Your kids don’t play on the same baseball team of course because his attend an expensive private school and you’ve never talked to the guy at church because he sits in the front surrounded by important people and elders and doesn’t mix with the riff-raff in the back.
But you don’t really know that guy do you? The CEO of your company may make 100x more than you, but your immediate supervisor doesn’t. What is protecting you? Proximity. Distance. Girard tells us that rivalry is caused by proximity and similarity. This is why, when you were on the high school basketball team, you could have a bitter rivalry with your classmate or perhaps with the team on the other side of town, but you didn’t have one with Michael Jordan. He was too distant. Your relationship with him was safe. You didn’t “envy” his skills in the same way you envy the success of the guy you knew first hand. You could look up to him without hating him. In contrast, this is also why feuds are often the most bitter between brothers – they are the most alike and live together. Along the same lines, throughout history it’s been OK for the king to be rich. He wasn’t just some guy you knew on the street or sat next to at Starbucks. He was far away and you maybe only had a vague idea of what he even looked like.
So what in our modern age has broken down this effective and protective layer of distance from the rich and the poor? Mass digital media of course. We now see Larry Elison tweeting selfies on his yacht right next to that picture from your coworker’s BBQ. (Hint: Unfollow Oracle.) The 24-hour news cycle is filled with in-your-face talk from these billionaire Wall Street moguls who you never would have ever met or thought about otherwise. Your plain-looking local high-school crush seems dreamy until you turn on the TV and are assaulted by a barely-clothed Beyonce or Scarlett Johansen or whoever. Ah, but they are probably still distant enough to be of little consequence.
Much more potent is that coworker (who actually makes the same amount of money that you do) but whose Facebook profile is carefully curated with professional photos and only staged snapshots of fun activities – no blemishes or bad news. On the flip side, it’s one thing to know there are “starving children in Africa” – it’s another to travel there and meet them (modern airfare), or see them close-up (modern video journalism) or even develop a relationships with one through exchanging letters through a sponsorship program. On both sides of the equation, we are more potently aware of economic inequality. We are hedged in on both sides by the extreme poor and the ridiculously wealthy in a more far-reaching way than for any people in history.
What has this done? Exacerbated envy. It’s also made us angry. Is this completely OK? It sure the heck doesn’t feel OK. So if I’m a follower of Christ, what am I supposed to do? Just take my complaints to God and keep my mouth shut? You don’t have to be a genius to come to the conclusion that some of this mess is fueled by our corrupt rulers – in bed with lobbyists and lawyers from corporations (no-people) run by shadowy and abstract “shareholders” who do not fear God in the least. Perhaps if better laws were put in place, some of this wouldn’t be so ridiculously bad. So let’s talk about policies or taxes. “No no!”, the shepherd tells us. Just vote libertarian and tithe more. What would Jesus do?
What would Jesus have us do? Like friends given crowns, I think he would have us wisen up, learn from the past, and rule as best we can. And maybe, just maybe, that might look like shuffling some money around so just like back in theocratic Israel, every once in a while, the wealthy had their slaves torn from them by fiat and sent back home. No it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t ‘smart’, but it was good.
This is only a suggestion of course. I have no serious theories or ideas worked out toward this end like the world’s hairdressers, cab drivers, and pastors do. But I think they are worth thinking through carefully. I am disheartened when I see good people trying to honestly work them out (with the Kingdom of God in their sights) only to have them quickly dismissed.
“When the king is concerned with justice, the nation will be strong, but when he is only concerned with money, he will ruin his country.”
- Proverbs 29:4 (Good News Translation)
I can’t help but feel the hard line distinction between personal and professional is contrived and oppressive – as if they are sealed off from each other and we must have split personalities (and even multiple phone numbers, email addresses, clothes, jargon, etc. to operate in them.) In visiting Africa what I found was that nearly everyone I met ‘worked’ ~16 hours a day, every day of the week, but that the distinction between work and home life was often blurred beyond recognition. Mothers had their kids with them, from nursing babies to pre-teens, on the job. People constantly took breaks, sometimes for several hours at a time, to have coffee with friends. At a glance they might look like slackers, drifting down the slow river of Africa Time and going nowhere. But I didn’t meet a single person on my trip who wasn’t hard working, and many as competent and kind (or more) than any I’ve encountered in the West. I suspect one could squeeze a bit more GDP out of them by chaining them to a clock and punching in and out, but only at terrible cost.
This cost has been with us sharply for a good century like a cilice that’s been strapped on so long, we no longer feel the spikes. People from nearly every quarter have realized this is a problem and talk of “work-life balance” is frequent now. The problem with much of this talk is first, that it assumes the two things are finite and distinct, and second, that one has the ability to ‘balance’ these by an exertion of will. Probably the only thing that can abolish this toxic relationship between servant and master is trust – trust that can grow into friendship. This is still possible on a small scale today, but quickly become impossible when the masters are beholden to shadowy ‘shareholders’.
I could develop this some more, but I don’t have a particular place to go with it at the moment. I guess it will have to stand as an anecdote.
No, I’m not going to try to answer that one tonight. For an earlier attempt see here.
However, a really good place to start (or end!) could be this ancient Gaelic poem, translated here:
What is Love?
A love much-enduring through a year is my love,
It is grief in the heart,
It is stretching of strength beyond its bounds,
It is the four quarters of the world,
It is the highest height of heaven,
It is breaking of the neck,
It is battle with a spectre,
it is drowning with water,
It is a race against heaven,
It is champion-deeds beneath the sea,
It is wooing the echo
So is my love, and my passion
And my devotion to her to whom I gave them.
About five years ago, Michael Spencer wrote a piece titled The Coming Evangelical Collapse that received national attention. In it he, articulated how the health of the evangelical church in America is utterly unsustainable and that its winter will quickly be upon us. Around the same time, he was also saying things like, “Come on evangelical Anglicans and Lutherans! This is your time to shine! You actually have a lot of what will fix all this right under your nose!” It was him who turned me on to Robert Webber, and N.T. Wright, but most of all to his own writings longing for an end to ‘circus’ ecclesiology, ‘wretched urgency revivalism’, and a connection to the worldwide historical church.
In the years since he was writing like this, before he tragically succumbed to cancer, I’ve seen many people walk these existing pathways out of the hyped-up American wasteland. We’ve seen a lot of people ‘swim the Tiber’ (a metaphor that is getting tired) and join the Roman Catholic church to find some rest. How many people? Enough that it is now a frequent concern on the minds of many Protestant pastors these days. Nobody saw that coming in the 1990s. Michael’s own wife was even compelled to do this. I’ve had friends ‘swim the Bosphorus’ (an even worse metaphor) to throw their lot in with Orthodoxy. I can’t blame them. They’re trying to find a way out of a form of Christian practice that is terminally ill.
A bit more visible has been the rise of the Neo-reformed. The same time Justin Timberlake was bringing Sexy back, Justin Taylor, Justin Holcomb, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll and friends were bringing heavy theology back to light-weight non-denoms. Now we have John Piper pushing Calvinism in-between sets at Passion music events. Whodathunk? The way I see it, this has patched up one major problem, but left others (liturgy, cult of personality, parish stability) largely untouched.
I’m still waiting for the evangelical Lutherans to get their act together. I hear they have in a few isolated cities. But who really DOES have a healthy and balanced church tradition, preaching Jesus clearly and presenting Word and Sacrament every week, right on the dot? The Anglicans. No, not your grandma’s Episcopal Church folks – stop and listen for a sec. This is the theologically orthodox, conservative, sometimes charismatic, evangelical, Anglican church. Never heard of them? Well there are over 50 million of them in Africa. In fact, some of them came over hear to help a new province get started. Since then the Anglican Church in North America has been successful in uniting a number of disparate Anglican denominations all over the U.S. and Canada under one banner. In addition to the ones they already had, they’ve planted over 700 (mostly small) churches in just the past few years.
Might you be interested in this movement, their orthodox yet Reformed theology, their ancient yet contemporary form of worship, and their charismatic fervor yet stable organization and leadership? Well, until now if you wanted to read something substantial on the topic, you’ve pretty much been out of luck. The handful of introductory books out there were often written to an audience of ex-Episcopalians or other people already largely familiar with the wider state of global Christianity. Someone coming from a Baptist church or Assemblies of God would just have to be thrown in the deep end or forget it. But now there is a much more excellent way.
My friend Thomas McKenzie has written a wonderful introductory guidebook to evangelical Anglicanism. It’s concise, easy to read, full of good examples, and aimed at an American audience that doesn’t need to know all the jargon. It’s also gracious and includes virtually no polemics while at the same time never being mushy about important contemporary issues. He makes it clear what the stance is on the historic resurrection of Christ, as well as the unacceptability of homosexual behavior. But when is the last time you read a book where the authors says, “Hey, if there isn’t an Anglican church where you live, go try out the Reformed or the Catholic church instead”? Who is deeply committed to their tradition but also ecumenical enough to say that? Not many, but Father Thomas is.
What’s all in here? Well rather than try and give a summary, I’ll copy down the table of contents:
- Welcome to the Anglican Way
- A Brief History of the Anglican Church
- The Compass Rose
- Anglicans are Evangelical
- Anglicans are Catholic
- Anglicans are Charismatic
- Anglicans are Orthodox
- Anglicans are Activist
- Anglicans are Contemplative
- Anglicans are Conservative and Liberal (old meaning of these words, not current loaded political definitions)
- Anglicans are on a Mission
- Walking the Anglican Way
- The Four Hours
- The Daily Office
- The Anglican Home
- Saturday Evening
- Liturgies for the Four Hours
- The Church Calendar
- The Anglican Church
- The Theology of the Church
- The Sacraments
- Sacramental Acts
- Introducing the Eucharist
- The Liturgy of the Word
- The Liturgy of Communion
- Organizing and Leading the Church
- Who is a Priest?
- Anglican Help Desk
- Timeline of the Anglican Church
- Anglican or Episcopal?
- Finding a Church
- Women in Clergy
- The Catechism of the Anglican Church
- A Glossary of Anglican Terms
So if you are from a non-denominational, baptist, or pentecostal tradition and are curious what this older and more traditional way of “doing church” and the Christian walk might look like, this book is for you. Alternately, if you grew up Roman Catholic but am feeling led by the Lord in a more evangelical direction, but you can’t stomach the worship rock band down the street, the guidebook might strike the right note with you. If you have been hanging with the neo-Reformed for the past decade but would like to be a part of something a bit more (but not too much of course) open-ended and ecumenical, then take a look. Also if you are a brand new believer but are wary of the bait-and-switch tactics frequently found in American churches – get the straight dope about this tradition up front. It’s a good one with a lot of potential and a lot of Jesus.
The book is available on Amazon and elsewhere, but the PDF version (under 300 pages) is available entirely for free online. Go here for a variety of options.
Disclaimer: I financially supported Thomas’s campaign to get this published.
As I drew attention to in this previous post, early on in the gospels and in Acts, we see barriers to the spread of salvation demolished in Christ and the apostles. The bloodline of Abraham is made irrelevant (God can raise them up out of rocks lying around.) The laws of the Torah are cast aside, making all food clean. Pentecost shows that no special language exists as the gospel crosses cultural and linguistic boundaries in many tongues at the drop of a hat. Even circumcision is rendered irrelevant. Along with this, we see the fear of the ocean taken away, opening up a straight highway and pushing the boundaries of the new Jerusalem to encompass all the earth.
In considering all this, it seems to me that Islam is largely a reversal of this at almost every point.
- Islam claims a decendency from Abraham through Ishmael. Even if Muslims understand they may not technically be the genetic children of Ishmael, they are ‘adopted’ or ‘grafted’ into the family. In this way it is like Christianity, but the focus is on bringing men in, rather than spreading out.
- The old food and worship laws are still very important. The details are debatable of course, but the underlying force is one of conformity to the rule, not freedom.
- In high contrast to Pentecost and to the massive worldwide translation of the canon of scripture, the Koran is ONLY valid in old Arabic. Translations exist of course, but they are invalid for use in worship.
- Circumcision is still a must and fully intact nethers are entirely unacceptable – even for women in some places.
- A special geographic place, Mecca, is still at the heart of worship. Everyone must travel there if at all possible. It is the focal point and the House of Islam gathers people to its center, rather than send to the outer edges to stay.
- Not a long-range sea-faring type, it has failed to ever spread far from it’s homeland in the near east. Muslim Indonesia could arguably be an exception to this, but after 1400 years, there is still no stronghold in the new world. It’s dynamic is wholly different.
Here, Leithart legitimately wonders, “Where are the fish cherubim?”. Israel is a nation of land-lubbers and later the gospel goes to the sea-based gentiles. As the day of the Lord draws near though, we see reversals. Behold my amateur ad hoc attempt to interact with this idea:
Jesus walks on the water as if it were ground, and Peter yearns to do so too, though he falters. Jesus also causes fish to all but leap into Peter’s boat, bring them onto his “floating land-gardens”. A storm shipwrecks Paul – seemingly certain death, but instead not one sailor or passenger is lost. For old Israel, the depths of the ocean are to be feared (see many of the psalms), but for Jesus and the new Christians, they are a highway to be tread for the spread of the gospel, rather than a deadly barrier. Over the Atlantic it comes to Ireland before any could walk across France.
On all the seas, what more is to be feared than old Leviathan? Yet we are told his head is crushed and his body given to be food for the land-dwellers (Psalm 74:14). We could not draw him out with a hook (Job 41:1), but it turns out we don’t need to because our Lord has subdued him and calmed our anxieties. So much so that Saint Brendan even camped out on something like the old monster, now a toothless servant to it’s maker.
It seems that perhaps the waters were another constraint that had to be cast down to bring salvation to all mankind. Jesus demolished the requirement for the chosen people to be of the blood of Abraham. Then Peter is shown that “unclean” food is no obstacle, as well as circumcision. Pentecost blows any claim to a special language out of the water. Then the subjection of the sea is brought out of our fears and into our imaginations. Even though the motivations of Columbus were greatly tainted, he was nonetheless following in a long tradition of spreading the Word outward from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth in an adventuresome fashion.