William Wilberforce: Anti-Hero of Conservative Christians?

I just recently rewatched Amazing Grace and (among many other more profound and emotional thoughts) was struck by the fact that the life of William Wilberforce is a stark antithesis to the model held up by the Conservative Church.*

Okay, so it is, admittedly, a bit more nuanced than the above statement, but true none-the-less...

Here is the nuance:

Conservative Christians have been enthralled by the movie depicting Wilberforce's crusade against the slave-trade in the British Empire, and have been precisely because Wilberforce explicitly expresses that crusade as emanating from his conversion to a personal faith in Christ.

However, whenever contemporary Christians proclaim that our faith in Christ should, as a matter of course, result in similar crusading for justice on the earth, they are responded to by our Conservative brethren with the bitter refrain, "social gospel, it's the social gospel!" It frustrates me...

...especially when the life of Christ Himself seems to be such a commanding anthem for justice on the earth!


It seems to me that the emphasis on personal faith should naturally and easily result in justice, moreover, it seems these two should never be held as somehow antithetical to each other, but rather to flow in seemless unity out of the Gospel proclamation of the Kingdom of God; "Jesus is Lord." If our faith is in the One who Rules the earth, then we will be doing our King's bidding here in His kingdom.

Or am I missing something?


Okay, more nuance...

I know that Conservative Christians will be the first to teach and preach morality in their Churches, however, it is always with the caveat that "you can separate morality from salvation." We hear talk of justice,** but it seems completely severed from the salvation-life we receive from Jesus.


*I, in many ways, consider myself to be a 'Conservative Christian.' (Although not in all ways, obviously...) And hope that my words are seen as critique, yes; but, critique from within, not attack from without...

**I must also point out that Conservative Christians tend to be Conservative politically as well, and so, tend to see 'justice' in terms of maintaining personal morality, admonishing personal responsibility, and advocating for private property rights of the citizens of democratic nations; but rarely if ever in terms of reversing systematic oppression, setting free those in captivity, or undoing the global trend towards building market economies on the overwhelming debt of third-world countries.


The Theology of GWB

Many of us are familiar with Bush Doctrine, namely, that a country is within it's rights to take preemptive military action in the event of intelligence against another country indicating a serious, immanent threat. Now of course there are critics of this thinking who would say that such action is the cause of conflict, not the interruption of conflict. But my agenda here is to neither defend, nor critique such a policy (we'll do that some other day...), rather to use this idea of 'preemption' as a jumping off point to discuss something more significant than global warfare and massive socio-political upheaval.

Agape is one of the 1st Century Greek words translated into English as the word 'love.'

It is distinct from other Greek words also translated into English as 'love.' Loosely translated:

Phileo - the love expressed in the bond of friendship
Storge - the love expressed in kind affection
Eros - the love expressed in romance

Agape is expressed in a number of significant ways:

1) Creation - as parents choose to bring a child into existence out of love (the love coming before the child and bringing it into existence), not out of any sense of what the child can do for them, but out of a desire to provide something for the child. In fact the mother's love causes her to provide for the child, and to bring the child itself into existence in order to provide for it, just so God's love has burst forth into words of creative power, bringing into existence all that we see.

2) Election - God chose Abram. The calling and the naming of Abram (Abraham) are significant in that Abraham had done nothing to earn this blessing, in point of fact, God chose Abraham in order to bless him. God called him 'Father of Nations' when he and his wife were extremely old, and were childless. Through God's calling, naming, blessing, and choosing Abram, he became Abraham, Father of Nations, elect of God.

3) Incarnation - God personally and intimately involved Himself in the human condition. He shared in our humanity, frailty, and vulnerability. He invited broken people to share in His fellowship, not requiring purity and righteousness as a prerequisite for that fellowship, but rather creating purity and righteousness out of fellowship with Him! He did this not out of any sense of what we could do for Him, but out of a desire to do something for us.

4) Atonement - ultimately agape is expressed in a human being hanging from a cross. This man, who was more than a man, was the precise way in which God took all of human suffering, evil, chaos, and death upon Himself. Again, God did this not because we were somehow deserving of it, but precisely in order to make us into a people who were no longer warped and broken by suffering, evil, chaos and death.

Agape is preemptive love! It is love that strikes first; not because that love is deserved, but rather because in giving love to what is undeserving of love, agape can make what is unlovely and unlovable into something lovely and lovable!


God is Green

Green SUVs, green stock-portfolios, green music videos...
green products permeate pop-culture. Should the Church
join this craze?

How does God feel about the environment?

Why has God given it to us?

How would He want His Church to act towards it?

Join us as we search the Scriptures to discover His heart
on environmental issues


Theological Neophilia

One of the side-effects of our cultural default to suspicion is a love of new theories that undermine established ones.

We are predisposed to believe new ideas in contrast to old ones.

This, of course, doesn't make sense intellectually, but it is an observable reality; I constantly meet people whose framework for understanding history is someone in Idaho, locked in their attic, furiously blogging, spewing conspiracy theories about the 'real' history of ____________ (fill in the blank with their particular axe to grind).

I can't tell you how many people I meet who are willing to assert the most bizarre hypothesis; Jesus was a woman, Jesus never existed, Jesus was Hindu (often the same person will wheel out several opposing hypotheses without concern for their contradiction!).

But this doesn't mean that we should take the opposite approach either!

We must continually look with fresh eyes upon the evidence we have before us. I find it laughable that intelligent people would question the existence of Jesus as a historical figure; not because I hold firm to the doctrines of faith, but precisely because the historical record demands the presence of Jesus!

However, if we are to look at what the historical record indicates, then we must be willing to make hamburgers of some sacred cows...

What if it turns out that the comforts and meanings that we derive from our faith in Christ (as we received it) stand in antithesis to the aims of Christ as we discover them in pursuit of truth? Surely we must recognize this a legitimate possibility, after all we must see that the reality of God must be orders of magnitude beyond our concept of God. Will you let go of your concept of Christ, in order to embrace Christ Himself?



"Part of the problem, particularly in the United States, is that cultures become so polarized that it is often assumed that if you tick one box you’re going to tick a dozen other boxes down the same side of the page – without realising that the page itself is highly arbitrary and culture-bound. We have to claim the freedom, in Christ and in our various cultures, to name and call issues one by one with wisdom and clarity, without assuming that a decision on one point commits us to a decision on others."

N T Wright

As a follower of the Resurrected Lord, the Crucified King Jesus, I am compelled to concerns and positions on many issues that seem schizophrenic in light of our current political spectrum...

Radically anti-abortion, and yet firmly anti-capital punishment; this seems to me a consistent ethic of the sanctity of human life, and yet it makes little sense in the political realm of the American electorate.

Many other issues could be brought up in light of Wright's words above...

Poverty, family, health, education, international aid, foreign peacekeeping, illicit drug trafficking, internet pornography, etc.

I find myself all over the political map, driven by my faith to positions that seem contradictory to those who's politics are motivated instead by adherence to the platform of a particular party.

A Conversation with Friends...

I had a conversation with some new friends the other night and one of them used a phrase that did a wonderful job of communicating one of my personal values:

We try to get behind people, as opposed to getting behind projects.

The temptation is to make a plan and then look for people to fill the slots...

But what if the plan is to get behind people?

What if people are the project? (Don't read that in a cynical way!)

What if the very 'task' we are trying to accomplish is encouraging people to step into the destiny that God has for them, to become the unique reflection of God that only they can be? (The biblical term for this would be 'making disciples.')


Heaven Help Us!

"...the scripture always bends towards the oppressed and the marginalized. Beginning in the Torah—take care of the widow, the orphan, the stranger among you. The story is written by oppressed minorities. And it continues, no room in the inn, they follow Jesus because they are hungry. The story always goes towards the underside of the Empire. I think it is sometimes hard for the American church to understand the Bible because we are the Empire. We are the ones in power, the ones with wealth. I think in some settings that's why the Bible has such little power."

Rob Bell (emphasis mine)


A Climatology Parable

John and Bob walked into the garage, turned the car on, and closed the garage door...

Hours later...

John, "Hey Bob, do you think its getting warm in here?"

Bob, "Maybe."

John, "No maybe about it Bob, it sure is warmer! In fact, I think the fumes from the car exhaust are causing some sort of 'effect' that is raising the temperature!"

Bob, "Okay John, you're right, it is getting warmer, but it has nothing to do with the fumes from the car. It's just the sun beating down on the roof like normal. The garage always goes through cycles of heating and cooling."

John, (cough) "I think we should turn the car off and then it will cool down."

Bob, (cough, cough) "John, I just told you, these poisonous fumes aren't causing it to heat up in here, it's just the noon-day sun!!!"

Hours later...

Bob, (barely conscious) "See John, (cough, wheeze, cough) I told you these poisonous fumes wouldn't increase the temperature that much... (hacking up blood) trust me John, we aren't going to die of heat stroke."


John, "It could keep heating up... we could die of heat stroke! We've gotta turn this car off!"

Bob, (cough, hack, cough) "You are plain silly! It is just the sun, it will never get hot enough to be (wheeze, hack) dangerous, and even if it does, that won't be until long after we've left the garage!"


I gotta admit, the science behind Climate Change is opaque to me. I have no idea how to evaluate whether humans are the cause of global warming. I have a BS in Social Studies! But it does seem a little silly to be arguing over climate change when surely we can all agree that emitting toxins into our air and water supply is a bad idea?



I had a couple of amazing moments today... (yeah Sean, I teared up both times!)

The first this morning reading through Philippians:

The famous poem in Chapter 2, where Jesus service, suffering, crucifixion, and death are the expression of deity!

How mind-boggling? When I hear the phrase 'Lord of the Earth' I hear echoes of the marching legions of Rome, or the thundering of the herds of Genghis Khan... or the recoil of tanks firing, or jets roaring overhead...

Power and glory, strength and honor, majesty, deity itself, sits not on a throne, but rather hangs from a cross...

...dripping with blood and gore.

How truly amazing is Jesus.


And then just now reading through an NT Wright essay:

He talked of the work of the church in terms of a chalice, or a violin. Both beautiful in and of themselves as works of craftsmanship, but beautiful even more so because of what happens when the winemaker, or the musician arrives...

The mission of the Church is to become a well-crafted, beautifully made, violin. Lovingly put together with lines strong and graceful...

...and then the Master Musician will come!

He will pick up the violin and begin to play it!

And the wedding feast of the Lamb will begin!

The Wright Stuff

"Somehow, God's dimension and our dimension, heaven and earth, overlap and interlock. All the questions we want to ask - How does this happen, who does it happen to, when, where, why, under what conditions, what does it look like when it does - all these remain partly mysterious, and will do until creation is finally renewed and the two spheres, the two dimensions, joined into one as they were designed to be (and as Christians pray daily that they will be). But the point of talking about the Spirit in this framework ought by now to be clear. If it wasn't, St Paul would rub our noses in it: those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God's renewed Temple. They are, individually and corporately, locations where heaven and earth meet."