About a month ago, I finished reading through Greg Boyd’s recent (well, somewhat recent) book Benefit of the Doubt and I think that it is an important text for many who have serious, nagging doubts about the Christian faith. Characteristic of Boyd’s oeuvre, the text moves in several different directions, but never loses its point; to give an alternate understanding of the center of the Christian faith. This I think is Boyd’s central thesis; that most of the issue with faith and doubt comes from a misunderstanding of the foundation of the Christian faith. Since that is the case, I think this is a great book for a certain set of people. Actually, a large set of people, but for many I think parts of it will be lacking. What I am attempting to do is blog through the books major themes, points, movements and respond to them, all in an effort to support and critique the text. So, to start with I want to go over the introduction for the text.
I grew in a Southern Baptist affiliated church in the 1990’s, which essentially means that I had no connection to the historic, liturgical expressions of faith. As I’ve migrated in and out of Christianity through my twenties, I’ve found that I desire some connection to that historical, liturgical framework. I think it’s incredibly important to remember, regardless of what your religious expression is, that you are one among many voices; present, past and future. So, in that spirit, here is the ending prayer from the Palm Sunday reading from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the
human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take
upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross,
giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant
that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share
in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
I’ve been reading through Greg Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt recently and these quotes from chapter 10, “Substantial Hope,” really got to me this morning. Once I finish the book, I plan to have an extended discussion on it here, but for now, here are a few very hopeful quotes.
“You need not be certain that a belief is true or that something you believe to be God’s will is going to come to pass in order to have faith. You merely need to be confident enough to commit to a course of action.” (216)
“Faith is the substantiating of things hoped for and the conviction of things not yet seen.” (216)
“People may consciously affirm all true beliefs while unconsciously exercising a faith that is largely conformed to the ‘pattern of the world’ (Rom. 12:2) and that is therefore pulling them in a direction that is contrary to their beliefs. This is why so many people are puzzled about the perpetual stark mismatch between their beliefs and their actual life. According to our faith, Jesus said, not our beliefs, it is done.” (217)
I don’t know if that encourages anyone else, but it’s nice to hear someone articulate a way to approach faith that isn’t linked to ideological certainty (which is pretty much the whole point of the book).
Do you find these ideas encouraging? Why or why not?
It’s been quite awhile since I last posted. Basically, I started teaching again last Fall and in conjunction with my other full-time job, I ran out of time to do almost anything besides what is necessary. That said, I’ve been missing writing. A lot. So, I made a resolution to try and write some more. Not a New Year’s resolution, just a resolution. This will be difficult because I am still just as busy, as I try and balance a full-time job with part-time teaching and the rest of what life throws at me. That said, I plan to write more and specifically here for this blog.
How that will look, I am not sure. Sometime late last year I realized that I wasn’t interested in talking about the things I had been writing about. I didn’t feel as if I had anything to add to the conversation of post-Evangelical Christianity that I was trying to be apart of. Also, I feel I’ve neglected the writing aspect this blog started with, where I talked about the process and issues in writing. I still care about all that, I’m just not sure where it will fit. That said, I plan to post here. It will be occasional and whenever I get the chance. It will most likely be about whatever I happen to feel like writing about. This is probably the wrong way to have a successful blog in 2014, but at this time it’s all about the writing and doing it again.
So, here’s to 2014 and a renewed desire to write!
As a Christian, there is a particular vision of the future that I hold too. Generally speaking, this eschatological view is not one of escapism, but rather of restoration. This sort of vision has developed from numerous sources and I can’t say it’s totally original to me. However, the point is this; instead of the goal being to get to heaven and escape this world and then watch as God destroys it and replaces it with another, God is actively involved in restoring and redeeming this world and that the new one will be birthed from it. This “new world” may not necessarily be a new physical creation, but it will be one without the violence and death that is present here and now. This can be a hard version to have and there is a lot to work out with it, but this progressive vision of the future sees us as humans actively involved. We are God’s agents in renewing and restoring the world. Because I hold to this vision of the future, I am particularly affected when I see some sort of injustice, especially a systemic one, befall somebody.
Which is all why I found the Trayvon Martin case so frustrating. Not only was this a sign of the sort of reactionary “me first” revenge violence we always see, but it was also wrapped up with issues of systemic prejudice. The responses to the verdict hammered this home even more. I was shocked to see so many people claim that African Americans, in particular President Obama, were the real racists in this case. It all brought the notion of white privilege to bear on the situation.
For a while now, sociologists and other cultural researchers have pointed to the increase in non-white groups in the United States. This is a good thing, in my opinion, as it only increases the diversity and complexity of the U.S. If the country is truly going to be a melting pot, then it needs to continually be welcoming in those who are “other.” Too often though, especially among the Conservative crowd, the reaction is that something is being lost, rather than gained. With this latest element of reverse racism, they are right that something is being lost; the privileged status of white individuals (especially men). This doesn’t mean anyone is being racist against them. On the contrary, it’s simply us as a country finally seeing the cracks in the systemic racism that has created white privilege. There is still a long way to go, as the Martin/Zimmerman case so clearly shows.
Here is the connection I am making; privilege is against the new world that Christians are called to create. Systemic privilege, in this case white privilege, is antithetical towards the justice that will come in the new creation. It is antithetical towards the universal reconciliation that Christ’s death and resurrection heralded. It is antithetical towards the “first shall be last and the last shall be first.” It will not exist in the new creation and we need to be working towards ending it. The first step is confronting it and with the reactions to the Martin case, it seems too many still haven’t done this. That will change. It must. It has too. I have hope that it will. As of now, it is still an issue and one we must confront and dismantle. Inequality is sin and it does not belong in God’s new world.
Credit for giving me the direction for this post, after many drafts of what to say about white privilege, goes to the sermon Andy Lucas of Emmaus Road gave a couple weeks ago. You can listen here.
 For the most part, the popular and well known version of the end of the world/afterlife is going to heaven and leaving this world behind. I fall in line with N.T. Wright (and others) who view the “end” and “heaven” as restoring this world, not leaving it behind. Wright’s Surprised by Hope outlines this view well.
 I also don’t hold to the Calvinistic idea that only “some” are saved, but rather that Christ’s death gave salvation to all. How this works out functionally is another post for another day.
 Matthew 20:16- The parable that precedes this famous verse is taking about role reversal in the hopes of showing the original audience, and anyone else, that in God’s kingdom there are no authority structures as are seen in our culture (and the ancient culture).
It’s one of the most ideological phrases we use. “Regular people.” You hear it all the time, with statements like “I prefer (insert town) over (insert other town) because it’s full of regular people. It’s not uppity.” The problem is that this assumes a couple things, chief among them is the assumption that there are such creatures known as “regular people.” This itself presupposes that there are “irregular” people to contrast with the regular people.
When individuals use this phrase, it’s usually tied into a classist assumption, like the phrase above, that those who have more are not “regular people.” They, in fact, don’t understand the plight of the “working man.” Nor do they understand what it means to live day to day, pay check to pay check. These aren’t the kind of people who will sit on the porch and drink a Bud Light. The working man’s beer. No, they have to have wine. Or microbrews. However, this assumption does more damage to the “regular people” it is trying to bolster than they realize. In actuality, they are reinforcing the structure they find themselves, by taking pride in not being the well off Other, they are asserting that this is the structure they prefer to reside in, and so nothing changes. Likewise, it marks out the more affluent as un-human.
There are no regular people though. Apart from the classist bent, the phrase also presupposes that there is some definition of “regular” that everyone can agree upon, but just as there are no two snowflakes the same, so no two people are. Scratch the suffer of someone’s “normal” life and you’ll find a multitude of unique experiences that have shaped and molded them. Even similar experiences are uniquely different, as the perception of the event varies between people. As much as normative structures may call us to some sort of homogenous identity, and they do a good job of it, it will still fall short.
In short, stop using the phrase “normal people.” We all deserve to be treated better than “normal.”
The above video is from Peter Rollins where he talks about what change should be in the Christian church. Take the ten minutes to watch the video before you read what I have to say. It’s the perfect lead into I want to talk about; what does it look like to have real change?