So My Book Might Have a Warning Label on It

The good news: I’ve finished writing my book.  Well, pretty much. I still have some holes to fill in and some significant edits to make before sending it to the publisher on April 1, but the bulk of it is done. I'm looking forward to the next step (collaborating with my editor to make it even better) as well as losing the ten pounds I've gained over the last month working until 3 a.m. with only a one-pound bag of animal crackers to keep me company.

The bad news:  Once published, my book may very well end up with a warning label on it.  That’s because LifeWay Christian Stores recently announced a decision to place stickers that say “Read With Discernment” on books from authors like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller.

Apparently, if a book contains anything that LifeWay (part of the Southern Baptist Convention) does not consider "consistent with historical evangelical theology," it gets a label. It also gets a label if it includes any salacious details about sex, (as in Rob Bell’s excellent book, Sex God) or, I don’t know, smoking a pipe and voting for a democrat (as in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz).

Looks to me like they are just going after the Emerging Church. You can read their explanation here.

Thankfully, LifeWay has taken quite a bit of heat from writers and agents in the industry, which is encouraging. I guess we're all just wondering why LifeWay thinks that some books should be readwithout discernment. 

Honestly, if I had the money, I’d go into a LifeWay store right now and buy up all the books that said “Read With Discernment” on them. Seems to me that those are the only ones worth reading!

Anyway, I had to chuckle. Having just finished writing over 50,000 words about my own faith experience, (much of which does not fit the Baptist mold), I can’t help but wonder if I’ll earn the “Read With Discernment” sticker myself. 

Damn, I hope I do.  : )

Transient

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Shamrocks and Sacraments - Your Thoughts on Catholicism

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let’s talk about Catholicism.

I don’t know about you, but growing up as a Protestant, I was under the impression that all Catholics went to hell.Looking back, I feel really ashamed of this assumption.

The most common accusations directed at the Catholic Church were that its adherents were trying to earn their way to heaven through good works, that they worshipped Mary, and that they relied on the Pope/priests for salvation from sins. It took me a long time to realize that not only did these assumptions misrepresented the teachings of the Catholic Church, but they contributed to that common narrative  that plagues much of evangelicalism—that people are damned for having the “wrong” doctrine (and by “wrong,” I mean “not evangelical.”)

However, I get the idea that things have changed dramatically for my generation. Not only do I sense a higher level of respect for Catholics among my evangelical friends, I’ve known some to consider (and even convert) to Catholicism.

Although I still have enough differences with the Catholic Church to remain decidedly Protestant, I now operate under the assumption that Catholics are my brothers and sisters in Christ. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long!

So here’s my question: How have your attitudes toward Catholicism changed over the years? What do you find appealing/not appealing about Catholic tradition?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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Anne Coulter speaks on behalf of Jesus Christ?

Transient

So I gotta call Summit Ministries out on this one. I noticed an interview on the homepage of their Web site in which Anne Coulter was chosen to represent a “decidedly biblical perspective” on David Wheaton’s Christian Worldview RadioProgram. Coulter was described as a favorite guest of the show, which is sponsored by Summit Ministries.

In the interview, entitled “The Victimization of America,” Wheaton describes concern for the hurting and oppressed as an anti-biblical worldview held  by secular humanists and “religious humanists,” and goes on to promote Coulter’s new book Guilty: Liberal ‘Victims’ and Their Assault on America.

Having once worked for Summit Ministries as a counselor, I was disappointed to see this.  I contacted the director about it, but have not heard back.

I feel that the interview represents a broader problem within the conservative evangelical subculture—that there is a high tolerance for un-Christlike behavior/anti-biblical perspectives so long as they are presented by someone representing Republican Party values.

Coulter’s perspective on the self-inflicted “victimization” of the poor and oppressed not only lacks biblical support; it is anti-biblical. The Bible consistently teaches that God’s people are to care for the poor and marginalized, the widows and the orphans, the sick and the oppressed. The law commanded it (Ex. 23:6). The psalmist prioritized it (Psalm 72:1-4). The prophets announced destruction for rulers and nations who withheld it (Amos 5:10-15).  As John F. Alexander has observed, the fatherless, widows, and foreigners each have about forty verses that command justice for them.  And throughout the gospels, Jesus flocked to the poor, and spoke consistently of caring for them.  He even went so far as to say that the nations of the earth will be judged by their treatment of “the least of these.”

I cannot find a passage in the Bible that teaches us to discriminate between the poor who “deserve” our care and the poor who do not. Jesus said, “If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?...Lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Furthermore, I struggle to see how someone like Anne Coulter represents—as the radio show claims— a “decidedly biblical perspective.” In the Bible, James wrote that believers are to care for orphans and widows in their distress. But Coulter, describing widows of the September 11 attacks who were critical of the Bush administration, said publically “I have never seen people enjoying their husband's deaths so much."  Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. But Coulter has said that her only regret with Timothy McVeigh was that he “did not go to the New York Times Building.”  Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. Yet Coulter says of Arab nations, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity."

To invite someone like Anne Coulter to represent the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding the poor is as offensive to me as a Christian as inviting the president of Planned Parenthood to represent the Bible’s teachings on the sanctity of life. What this communicates to the world is that part of having a biblical worldview is saying hateful things about people, celebrating violence, and ridiculing liberals for their concern for the poor.

The same can be said for Rush Limbaugh. I’ve heard the guy quoted by Christians as an authority on family values, despite the fact that he has had multiple wives and a drug problem...not to mention his foul, dirty mouth. They even sell Bibles on his Web site!

My concern is that, for Summit (and many evangelical organizations like Summit), it no longer matters whether or not a person has a truly “biblical worldview;” as long as he or she is a Republican, evangelicals will provide a platform. 

Which begs the question—Has evangelicalism turned into nothing more than a political party?

UPDATE:

The audio link no longer works from the Summit site; here's a link directly to the radio show's website if you would like to hear the entire audio broadcast (thank you Micah)

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Guest Post: Mason on "Don't Stop Believing"

Thanks to Mason for contributing this book review on Michael Wittmer's Don't Stop Believing. Mason's got some great ideas and a fantastic blog at http://newwaystheology.blogspot.com. If you're interested in contribuing a book review of your own during the month of March, please contact me.

Believing & Doing, Doing & Believing

by Mason

Ever feel like you don't fit in with either 'side' in todays Christian controversies?

Do your conservitive freinds think you might be teetering on the edge of liberalism, while your liberal friends think you are way too sympathetic to the concerns of conservatives?

Ever feel that you are just as disgusted by postmodernism at certain times as you are by modernism at other times, albeit for different reasons?

Well if those sentiments resonate for you, as they do for me, Michael Wittmer can relate, and is trying to work out a deep, Biblically grounded, culturally aware third way forward which embraces the good of each side while critiquing their shortcomings. 

To articulate this way forward Wittmer (professor of historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and author of Heaven is a Place on Earth  a brilliant examination of the new creation) has recently written a second book, Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough. 

In his newest work Wittmer eruditely works through some of the most controversial issues in Christian thought today, such as whether or not we need to believe specific things to be saved, if people are basically good, the ethical issues of homosexuality, the controversies of whether penal substitution is divine child abuse, and whether it is even possible to know God or his word in any real sense.

In examining each of these issues (and more) Wittmer steers a path between the extremes of both sides, as he puts it "conservatives fear that postmoderns don't care enough about doctrine, and postmoderns think that conservatives don't care enough about people. Conservatives say we must believe in Jesus, while postmoderns say it matters most that we live like him. This book attempts to bring both sides together, eliminating the extreme views of both parties and uniting them around a biblical center." (pg. 13)

Though the title focus more on some of the more radical elements of the Emergent church who he fears (and demonstrates) are drifting far from biblical orthodoxy, Wittmer to his credit takes conservative Christians to task just as much and just as seriously. One example I found very powerful came at the end of a discussion about how  homosexuality violates the holiness of God and his image in us, and then discussing a loving Christian approach to sexual ethics, Wittmer states in conclusion,

"Homosexuals are guilty of illicit sex. We [Christians] often are guilty of not caring about them or their plight. Our sin is greater, and it isn't even close" (pg. 82) Wow.

Sadly both sides have pushed each other to extremes. The church gets too focused on doctrine and then the pendulum swings dramatically away to good works, the church ignores doctrine for social action and so the pendulum swings dramatically back toward an inward looking intellectualized faith. What we need is both faith and action, both beliefs and love, both deep theological articulations and passionate commitment to social justice. Wittmers book provides a vision for exactly that.

In the graciousness of the book (something often lacking when people engage Emergent, no names but ...), in its passionate for  the Scriptures, in its understanding that true faith shows itself in  love, in its acceptance of the many things postmodernism has going for it without capitulating to todays culture, and especially in the willingness to both take on and unite both sides, Wittmer has written something here to be commended for, and something that all believers no matter what side they lean toward would do well to read. 

Here is hoping (and praying) we can move past the divisions of today toward a richer faith tomorrow...

***

My name is Mason. I'm looking to eventually teach theology, but in between my personal studies, an obsessive reading habit, and spending far too much money on coffee, I started a blog called New Ways Forward as an outlet for some of my random thoughts and a way to interact with others who share a passion for theology, Biblical studies, and social justice.

I hail from a pretty conservative protestant background, but now find my theology to be an amalgamation of Evangelicalism, Anglicanism, the Ana-Baptist tradition, and what Vanhoozer calls Post-Conservatism... How does that go, "you might be emergent if it takes you more than one breath to name your theological tradition?"

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Stem Cells, In-Vitro, and Octomom

President Obama is poised to issue an executive order this week reversing Bush administration limits on federal financing for embryonic stem-cell research. A lot of pro-life conservatives, as well as evangelical leaders like James Dobson, adamantly oppose such a move.

I understand why people are against stem cell research, but here’s what I don’t understand: Why don’t more politicians/evangelicals speak out against in-vitro fertilization?  Hundreds of thousands of “leftover” embryos have been created through in-vitro fertilization, and will only be destroyed if not used for research.  To be intellectually/morally consistent, shouldn’t those against stem cell research be against in-vitro fertilization? I’ve heard many a sermon against stem cell research and abortion, but  not a single one against in-vitro.

In some ways, I think that the crazy “Octomom” story that’s been getting so much press recently sheds some light on this issue. In several interviews, Nadya Suleman, who received in-vitro fertilization and gave birth to octuplets, said that the reason she chose to have eight embryos implanted (despite already having six children) was because she believed that each of those embryos represented a life.  Those who agree with her should either support her decision, or take a stand against the whole in-vitro fertilization process.

So what do you think about embryonic stem cell research? What do you think about in-vitro fertilization? Why do you think politicians/religious leaders shy away from taking a stand against in-vitro and yet adamantly oppose stem cell research?  Should the religious community rally around Octomom?

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