I read some excellent posts yesterday. Here are three that stood out to me:
1. Polycarp reviews Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God in Review: The Case for God (1). I enjoyed the following:
This book was simply not written to me, for me or about me. Instead, the author has written a compelling argument to those unbelievers who see religion only through the eyes of fundamentalism. Currently, the most militant and loudest atheists, while they don’t believe, see religion, especially Christianity, as one does who believes, and stands in 19th century rural America. Everything is extremely literal, with no room for progression in Scripture. No, we no longer kill unruly children. Why? Because in Scripture we have moved past that. Yet, believers and nonbelievers still will focus on the Levitical Law as something which should still be enforced, much to the detriment of the Christian message.
I liked the part about “we have moved past that.” It’s blunt, and it makes a degree of sense: Christians are at a maturer stage of religion than were the people under the Old Testament law. I guess I tend to go with something I heard R.J. Rushdoony say when he was interviewed by Bill Moyers: the passage about stoning a son concerns how to deal with a young man who is a perpetual hell-raiser (see Deuteronomy 21:18-20), meaning it’s not about a kid who happens to mouth off to his mom a few times (not that kids should do that). But it’s obvious that certain authors in the New Testament don’t think that we should go with everything in the Old Testament law: we’re no longer under a schoolmaster (Galatians 4), and Hebrews says we don’t have to offer animal sacrifices anymore. But what about the parts of the OT law about swift justice? Should we go with those, or should we take a more merciful approach, imitating the God who puts up with the wicked and hopes they will repent? But suppose we shouldn’t practice the “swift justice” approach nowadays: why did God command it at a specific point in time? Was he trying to teach people the seriousness of sin? Or were there few alternative means to deal with a perpetual hell-raiser who wouldn’t accept correction from his parents?
2. From James McGrath’s reading list, I encountered a post by Wes Ellis entitled The Irony of Dispensationalism. Wes and a commenter said that they were raised on the Left Behind series, which took me aback, since, from my perspective, the series is rather recent. But I guess they’re ten years old, so people now in their early twenties conceivably could have been raised on them!
Wes says the following about the portrayal of the Antichrist by Joel Rosenberg and Tim Lahaye:
For example, when they talked about the Antichrist (by the way, they never mentioned that such a word does not show up at all in the text of Revelation) they portrayed him as someone who will be “such a lover of peace” (which hurt my heart because that made people like John Dear, Desmond Tutu, and all of our Mennonite brothers and sisters sound like candidates for the position) that people will want to follow them. They never bothered to mention that Caesar, in the original context of the scripture, was all about Pax Romana which means the Peace of Rome… They didn’t even consider that the beast of Revelation could have something to do with Caesar or someone like him–someone who promotes peace but conducts war and conquest.
Why do we have to see the Antichrist as someone who will promote peace? Whenever someone expresses a desire for peace, proposes cooperation or diplomacy among nations, or seeks to address world hunger and environmental degradation, some think that red flags should go up: “Oh, this will lead to a one-world government, the Antichrist!”
But why should we see it that way? Indeed, there are passages that say the mantra of “peace and safety” will precede sudden destruction (I Thessalonians 5:3), and the KJV of Daniel 11:21 says a vile man will come in peace and “obtain the kingdom by flatteries.” But there are also passages that present the Beast as a man of war. Daniel was originally referring to Antiochus Epiphanes, who was a military conqueror. And Revelation may have been talking about Rome, an empire that secured peace through imperialism and military might. The very image of “beast” suggests a violent animal who conquers.
Granted, Lahaye doesn’t exactly dismiss that, for he presents the Antichrist (Nicolae Carpathia) as gaining control of the world through an appeal to peace, after which he gets the nuclear weapons of the world and uses them against all who oppose him. For Lahaye, the Antichrist may appear peaceful at first, but his true colors will soon come out! But I’m concerned about how this kind of apocalypticism casts suspicion on those who try to help people, who suggest that we actually should be concerned about world hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, and war.
3. Michael Westmoreland-White continues his series on pacifism with A Biblical Case for Christian Pacifism: The Sermon on the Mount II. I like this post for two reasons. First of all, Michael shows that the Sermon on the Mount is practical and reasonable. I’ve always had a dislike for the Sermon on the Mount, for I thought that it was imposing unreasonable demands on me. “Don’t hate, don’t lust, be perfect” was how I saw it. But, actually, the Sermon offers practical steps on how to deal with our flaws: try to be reconciled with your brother, remove causes of temptation, etc. I’m uncomfortable doing that stuff, to tell you the truth, but it makes some sense to me!
Second, Michael argues that the Sermon on the Mount is not about people becoming a doormat so people can walk all over them. Rather, it’s about peaceful resistance to evil, one that affirms the dignity of the victim while also shaming the persecutor. You’ll have to read the post to see how that principle underlies specific parts of the sermon!
Thanks for the shout out. Nothing I wrote in this section was original with me, however. I am channeling Glen Stassen and Walter Wink. As I move to the next section, I have more original thoughts. 🙂
I have a few Walter Wink books, but I’ve not read them yet. I’ll have to take a look at them.
The easiest place to see Wink’s views on Matt. 5:39 is in his book, Nonviolence: Jesus’ Third Way.
Stassen’s most complete work on the Sermon on the Mount is found in Living the Sermon on the Mount.