Friday, January 25, 2008

A Footnote

On my last post, I made the statement, "We must face facts. We will never impose the Kingdom of God on this world by force, and if it ever happens that we could actually do it by the democratic process and majority vote, we would find that we hardly needed to." I am concerned that the phrase, "We will never impose the Kingdom of God on this world by force," could be taken to mean, "I wish that we could impose the Kingdom of God by force, but alas, that is an unfortunate impossibility." That desire is certainly attributed to Evangelical Christians by many (Margaret Atwood is a prime example). Not only do I repudiate that idea, but I think that it is incomprehensible if one has a proper understanding of the Kingdom.

I'll leave a thoroughgoing analysis of the Kingdom to Scot McKnight. The most important thing is that God's Kingdom is not a set of laws or social conditions that could ever be imposed. The Kingdom is composed of people who freely receive Jesus' grace and are transformed by it. While it is true that a mass of people who were transformed by Jesus' grace would have profound effects on the society of which they were a part (witness the Christianizing of the Roman Empire), the reverse attempt to transform society by fiat, without the inward work of Jesus' grace on individuals, would merely create a cruel facade resembling only slightly the effects that true inward transformation of people would produce (uh, witness the Christianizing of the Roman Empire). Indeed, the world described by Atwood would be as horrifying to most Evangelicals--more so, in some ways--as it would to non-Christians.

So not only cannot the Kingdom be imposed by force; the Kingdom by its very nature is antithetical to the idea of imposition by force. The King, after all, had force imposed on Him, with tragic, if temporary, results. Our job is not to emulate the crucifiers, but rather the Crucified.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Let's Stop Looking for a Political Messiah

There was only one Messiah, and He will never be elected to the White House.

At the time He came, there were certain social problems going on, mostly related to pagans dominating the governmental and social spheres of life, lording it over God's chosen people, imposing hated taxation on them, offending their sense of decency and moral values, and threatening their unique way of life with a ubiquitous cultural diversity. They were longing for someone to break the hold of the hated pagan government and to reestablish their own separate identity; to stand against the moral filth that society was bringing to their doorstep; someone to put power in the hands of the righteous once again. And when the Messiah came, He did miracles and healings and called people to repentance, and so some were wondering if He was the one they had been hoping for. But He seemed more interested in criticizing the religious establishment than in opposing the pagan rulers, and eventually they decided that He was not the one they had been hoping for after all, and had him executed. His interrogator asked Him straight out if He were a King, and He replied that He was, but not over a this-worldly kingdom. The people had been looking for a political messiah, and He was not what they were expecting, so they rejected Him.

We may scoff at their blindness. But the lure of a political messiah is strangely attractive. Believers of both the Left and the Right (yes, Virginia, the other side does exist) have too often been enticed into believing that a politician, or a political movement, or a political stance, will accomplish the will of God on earth. The painful, slow way of reaching people's hearts, seeing them change from the inside out; we just get impatient, weary of it. The babies are being killed! the poor are being oppressed! We need to change things now!

But it's a trap. C.S. Lewis has Screwtape articulate the devil's strategy, advising Wormwood to guide his newly-Christian "patient" into one political avenue or another--it doesn't really matter which:
Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the "cause", in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more "religious" (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here. The Screwtape Letters, No. 8
We must face facts. We will never impose the Kingdom of God on this world by force, and if it ever happens that we could actually do it by the democratic process and majority vote, we would find that we hardly needed to. Outlawing abortion or racial discrimination would not be necessary if people simply quit committing these sins. Change the hearts of people and their behavior will change. To the moral, no laws are necessary; to the reprobate, no laws will suffice. Jesus provided for us the model that we find so, so difficult to implement. Strength in weakness. Change society through its most powerless members. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

The real issue is faith. Is our faith centered on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or on Golgotha?

HT: Largely inspired by a good piece by Bob Mitton on making voting a spiritual discipline, casting votes based on careful consideration of the issues, and without regard to the "electability" of the candidate, because when all is said and done, God is still on the throne.

Note: I have published a footnote to this post, in order to correct a possible misunderstanding.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

David Fitch and Confessions of a Missional Pastor

David Fitch writes an interesting piece called Confessions of a Missional Pastor. I appreciate his honesty in describing how difficult it is to attain a missional ideal. My own observation is that it is much more difficult to attain a missional ideal than it is to rail against "the institutional church." (This is no swipe against David; it's just an observation borne of seeing that sort of thing in many circumstances.) To generalize, it's much harder to attain any sort of ideal than it is to rail against the perceived reason for falling short.

Let's be blunt. The failures of the church are not the Pope's fault.
They are not Luther's fault.
They are not Calvin's fault.
They are not Wesley's fault.
They are not Edwards's fault.
They are not Finney's fault.
They are not liberalism's fault.
They are not Evangelicalism's fault.
They are not Modernism's fault.
They are not Postmodernism's fault.
They are not megachurches's fault.
They are not the United States's fault.
They are not those-other-kinds-of-Christians's fault.

They are the fault of human nature. Fallen nature. Sin nature. What we say we believe in, what most of us acknowledge that we have not fully overcome, but then think we can overcome by breaking away from some organization and "starting fresh."

The failure is not in the organization. The failure is in the fact that all organizations are populated by people. The small organization that one forms when "starting fresh" is still populated by people, and sooner or later, it will be beset by the same problems that beset larger organizations.

I think the goals that David sets out are noble. I think I agree with just about all of them. I hope he understands that these struggles are simply the result of working with, and being, people. Because the alternative is to get disenchanted, leave, go somewhere else with another smaller group, and "start fresh." And perhaps, never accomplish anything at all.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Iowa and New Hampshire in the US Presidential Election Process

The primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire in the US Presidential election process has got to come to an end. The way the media report the election as a horse race, they have half the candidates weeded out before 98 percent of eligible US voters have had the chance to cast a vote. One could hope for the media to report differently, but since that isn't likely, it seems that some alternative to the present system needs to be found. After all, there is nothing in the Constitution giving Iowa and New Hampshire privileged status in the election process.

Their primacy is based on nothing but tradition, and relatively modern tradition at that: New Hampshire has had the first primary in the nation since 1920, and codified that place into its own laws in 1977. (This is a little weird; what if some other state also decided to pass laws guaranteeing itself the first primary in the country? I suggest we try it, hammer it out in the courts, and get New Hampshire's law declared unconstitutional once and for all.) The Iowa Caucus has only been first in the nation since 1972. So it's not like we'd be subverting some great principle from the Magna Carta by changing things.

I suggest an alternate scenario: a ten-week primary and caucus season, with five occurring on a single day each week from the beginning to the end of the season. The order of the states would be chosen by lottery two years before each general election. This would have the following effects:
  1. Each election season would have its own order, thus changing the dynamic each time;

  2. Politicking and jockeying for position among states would be eliminated by a random drawing;

  3. The first news reports of actual voting would not be a single state's results, but rather the results of five separate contests. Since the results would most likely differ from state to state, there would be a better chance of more candidates remaining in the race for longer (they wouldn't be "eliminated" by a bad showing in a single state);

  4. There would be no "Super Tuesdays," in which nobody but those who have built up crushing war chests could compete;

  5. Neither would there be any weeks (or days) in which the outcome in a single state would dominate the news cycle.
In fact, the only downside to this process would be if several very populous states were to have early primaries, and a single candidate won them all, the election could be sewn up mathematically before most of the races had taken place. But this would be preferable to the present system, in which the illusion of inevitability is created by a mathematically insignificant portion of the populace, and gives inordinate power to the states that have chosen themselves as the bellweathers. If you doubt this, consider: only twice since 1972 has a candidate lost both Iowa and New Hampshire and gone on to win the nomination of a major party (George McGovern, in 1972, and Bill Clinton, in 1992). It's time for something different.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007 on The Schooley Files

Thought I'd share a few stats about this blog, give some thanks to those who threw traffic my way, and let you know which pages you've made the most popular this year.

According to Google Analytics, I had 6447 visits with 10,625 page views. So if I keep this up for ten years, I'll have had as much traffic as one really bad day on Instapundit. 33.5% were return visitors--thanks for coming back!

Thanks to my top referring sites (not counting search engines):
  1. SBC Tomorrow (Peter Lumpkins) Peter's been a good blogging buddy since pretty soon after I got started. Even though he blogs mostly on Southern Baptist issues, we intersect on the issue of Armi uh, nonCalvinism. My promise to Peter this year: I'll stop hassling him about the use of the word, "mystery."

  2. iMonk (Michael Spencer) Michael writes as the always-intriguing Internet Monk. I admire his honesty and courage. He gave me one link this year, applauding me for standing up to John Piper's theology, perhaps not recognizing that I'm in a denomination where it would be more dangerous to stand up for John Piper's theology. At any rate, he gave me a mini-version of an instalanche, and I'm grateful.

  3. Everything That's On My Mind (Red Oaks Assembly of God blog by Pastor Bob Mitton) My pastor, blogging on my church's blog. Bob comments as "Bob2" (long story) and has been a good friend, along with his wife Lori. He got me started--click on "Why this blog?" in the categories section to see how.

  4. Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight) Scot writes the most consistently high-quality blog I've seen. The traffic from this blog comes from my own comments being clicked on, but hey, I appreciate it.

  5. Lone Prairie (Julie R. Neidlinger) Julie has become a new blogging buddy this year. She writes with sometimes painful candor, and our exchange over relationship stuff pulled me back into blogging when I was about ready to call it quits. I'm not sure whether to thank her or to blame her. Maybe both.

  6. A Church in Fort Collins I received some kind comments and emails from Nick Liquori, who was designing his church's website at the time, and chose to link to a few of my posts on divine election. Many thanks.

  7. JollyBlogger (David Wayne) David's a joy to read, despite the fact that we come from largely different perspectives. But he's got a great heart. If I were a Calvinist, I'd be a David Wayne kind of Calvinist. Perhaps someday, God will sovereignly ordain that I become one. Once again, links from my own comments drove the traffic here.

  8. Y Safle (Stephen Kingston) Stephen is a Welsh blogger, and saw my stuff early on. Too bad he has slowed down considerably in recent months. Always an interesting perspective. Might have been the first person to blogroll me.

  9. Word to the Wise (Albino Hayford) Albino's another guy who opposes Calvinism but doesn't like the name "Arminian." Fair enough. He was also kind enough to blogroll me, and has my appreciation.

Here are the most-viewed pages on The Schooley Files, according to Google Analytics:
  1. Johnny Lingo and the Ten-Cow Wife
    By far, this gets more hits than anything else; of course, it's something I didn't write, and I'm probably violating copyright law to have it on my site. But until someone hassles me about it, I still think it's a great parable for how husbands and wives ought to treat each other.

  2. Olson on Piper on God
    What can I say? Controversy sells. This is the one that iMonk linked to.

  3. An Arminian Perspective on Election, God's Foreknowledge, and Free Will
    My attempt to explain how I believe these three elements all work together.

  4. Does Your Theology Honor God?
    A moment of reflection on a correspondence I had with a convinced Calvinist. Sometimes why we believe what we believe is more important than the specifics of the hairs we're splitting. Thanks to Peter for a link to this one.

  5. Divine Election in John 3
    John 3 is typically used by Calvinists to support the position of unconditional election; I think that considered in context, it far better supports election as a divine response to trust in Christ.

  6. Tim Challies on Roger E. Olson's Arminian Theology
    Controversy again.

  7. The New Perspective and Ephesians
    This is one of the posts I'm most proud of. Part of my "New Perspective" series, it's a close examination of one of the key passages in Calvinistic interpretation. The key to understanding Ephesians 1 and 2 is to trace out and identify who are the "you" and who are the "we" and "us" referred to by Paul, and place this in the context of the integration of the Jewish and Gentile branches of the church, which forms the heart of the letter.

  8. Bono and Bill Hybels on RedBlueChristian
    For some reason, people search for this almost every day. I should put the names of famous people in the titles of my posts more often.

  9. So When Did the Wise Men Get There, Anyway?
    Seems to be a holiday favorite. Not bad, considering it doesn't even answer the question.

  10. An Alternative to Calvinism and Arminianism?
    Short answer: there isn't one. For some reason, people always want to "split the difference" between Calvinism and Arminianism--and end up with a moderate Arminian position, even though they're scared of the name.

  11. The Successes and Failures of the Reformation
    This also gets searched for a lot--I'm guessing, by Roman Catholics.

  12. The New Perspective and Romans 9: Introduction
    First of a several-part series dealing with the intricate argument Paul makes regarding election in Romans 9. My contention: if you look at all the Old Testament passages Paul cites, and understand them in context as Paul would have, you cannot come to the Calvinist position on this chapter.

  13. All the Lonely People
    Part of mine and Julie's relationship go-round. "Mr. Darcy" is evidently the "42" of relationship questions.

  14. Why I Am Not a Calvinist (With Apologies to Bertrand Russell) Part 1
    First of a two-parter, in which the intrepid blogger attempts to make a positive case for an Arminian view of election.

Anyway, thanks for reading, thanks for linking, God bless you all. I'll most likely delete it all in the morning.