Archives For Jean Bethke Elshtain

If Australia’s Prime Minister is serious about fairness, he’ll preserve the right to a conscientious objection to SSM; the right for people to hold the view, and teach their kids that marriage is between a man and a woman; and that those children have a right to equal access to their biological father and mother.

As I have hopefully made clear in the written contributions I’ve made to this national debate, I see the issues as a matter of social justice. The “no” vote has been about defending truth, liberty, fraternity, science, and even equality, from unbalanced ideological servitude.

The State wants the church to stay out of politics, but the Church is being encroached on by the State. The people want the church to stay out of politics, but it paints their political slogans on church walls, violently interferes with gatherings and misuses the Bible to manipulate or bash Christians into submission. The people want the church to stay out of politics, but they bring politics into the church, demanding a pledge of allegiance to systems that perpetuate hatred and inequality, behind a veil of tolerance, love and equality.

None of this is new, it’s the very same thing that was perpetuated by Nazis and Communists, as French theologian and Marxist scholar, Jacques Ellul noted:

‘But I’ve heard such talk a thousand times, from fascists as well as Stalinists: “You have no right to judge from the outside; first you must join up, sympathize totally with our aims, and then you can talk.” BUT that is just when one can no longer say anything! The experience of those who looked horrified, in hindsight, on Hitler’s or Stalin’s time confirms this: “How could we have taken part in that?” they ask.’
(Ellul, Jesus & Marx 1988:146)[i]

It’s a clear double standard when the LGBTQ and their supporters can freely criticise and push others to refuse service to those who disagree, then turn around and deny those in disagreement, the right to the same free speech and freedom of conscience. That’s not equality.

The line is blurring. Christians who support SSM have confused love of God with love of neighbour, and as such have compromised their neighbour, through a false [Marxist/materialist] claim that says we should place love for neighbour over and above God.

This is what is called horizontal theology. It is grounded in the errors and perversity of natural theology; the implicit claim that by blindly loving  our neighbour we can reach God through our neighbor. This encourages me to treat my neighbor as though that neighbor was a second revelation of God. The kind of ideas that lead to the false worship of Kings, rulers, prophets and objects throughout history. In short, the creature is worshipped in place of the Creator, because the Creator has been confused with His creature.

We are to be Christlike in our treatment of our neighour; have Christ in mind when we go to serve our neighbour, but we are grossly mistaken if we think that Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40 “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”, means that our neighbor replaces Christ.

This misunderstanding leads is to works-righteousness. It leads us away from the righteousness of God that is graciously placed on us by the dynamic love of God. Grace that is active, free and sufficient, in the work carried out by the obedience of Jesus Christ.

We reject grace, when we reject Christ and put our neigbour in His place. This is because we reject God’s invitation to relationship. It denies God’s revelation in Jesus Christ, “who is the way, the truth and the life”[ii] it denies the fact that life with God, begins with, God with us. Christless Christianity is an oxymoron.

Love is not love, God is love. That “they will know us by our love”[iii] is true, but that love involves the freedom to give both a reasoned “yes” and “no”. The alternative view confuses love with niceness, sloth and indifference.

What this does is turn Christianity into a numb universal ethic of niceness – a lukewarm empty shell; a stoic idol built to reflect and cater to the feelings of men and women.

The ethic of universal niceness is false and incompatible with a thinking faith that commands us to have no god before God; to “test all things, and hold fast to the good[iv]”; to discern and ultimately lean not “on our own understanding, but on God.’’ (Proverbs 3:5-7). To lean not on an abstract or vague idea of God, nor on a god created by human imagination, but on the tangible gracious grip of God, as the One who grasps us and testifies to us about Himself, in space and time, through covenant and in Jesus the Christ.

Faith seeks understanding.

Our response to this is found in prayer and gratitude. Actions; grounded in word, deed and attitude that reciprocates God’s selfless movement towards us, in covenant, manger, cross, empty tomb and beyond.

Being super nice has the veneer of Christian love, but it’s moral therapeutic deism at best, practical atheism (Christian in name only) at worst. This is the kind of thing that fed the blood and soil ideology of Nazism, and the Marxist ‘deification of the poor, over against THE POOR One’ (Ellul, 1988), through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not that we should ignore the poor, but that we shouldn’t deify them to further the self-interests of those who take it upon themselves to designate who the oppressed and the oppressors are. For all have fallen short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23).

For those who voted “no” in 2017, there will be a need to take time to carefully consider the way forward.

If we are to be true to this “no” and the love behind it, this will involve having to rise and once again say to the world that we refuse to surrender or kneel before anyone but God, and His revelation in Jesus Christ.

To once again say to the world that love of neighbour is not love of God, nor should we confuse the two. For to do so is to make a god of our neighbour, and make love for neighbour, the means of salvation. Love of neighbour is grounded on and in our love of God, without the latter we are not free and therefore, we cannot truly do the former. We will be doomed to serving our own selfish interests.

Jesus is the way, tolerance isn’t. Jesus is the way, love is love isn’t. Jesus is the way, means that no man or woman, good work or intention, super niceness, or feeling is or can be. The true path to freedom, the only path to salvation is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This cannot be reversed. It is decisive. The path is set.  #bewaretheauctioneers

In light of the changes to come, Christians are to do what they are called to do, centre everything in Jesus Christ. To lay every issue before the cross, following Paul’s words in Romans 12, clinging especially to those which encourage us to ‘…rejoice in hope, be patient in trial, be constant in prayer.’

This is bolstered by Karl Barth’s reminder:

‘The Church is either a missionary Church or it is no church at all. Christians are either messengers of God [with or without words] to both Jew and Gentile, or else they are not Christians at all.’ [v]

Far too many churches, ministers and Christian scholars are staying silent, waiting to see who wins what society calls “the culture wars”, so that they can back the winner. That’s a coward’s gamble. It’s an action that they may one day come to regret. Now is the time. Speak life. Speak truth in love. Set your eyes towards Christ, because inhaled grace ignites.

Kyrie Eleison.


References:

[i] Ellul, J. 1988 Jesus & Marx: From Gospel to Ideology Wipf and Stock Publishers

[ii] John 14:6, ESV

[iii] John 13:35 & Matthew 7:16 ESV

[iv] 1 Thess. 5:21, 1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 John 4:1 ESV

[v] Barth, K. Church Dogmatics 3.3, The Divine Preserving (p.64)

(Updated and edited from an article posted in November, 2017, called, To Everything There Is a Season: Deifying Our Neighbour Isn’t One of Them. Also published on The Caldron Pool, 20th November, 2018.

Photo Credit: Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018.

caroline-attwood-301747-unsplash.jpgI have long been a subscriber to the idea that hate is not a sin. However, I need to qualify this statement by firstly saying that: a) my alignment with this theory is a work in progress and b) my current theological understanding is that unless hatred is answered through confession with reconciliation as its goal, it will lead to sin.

For example: 1 Jn.3:15 in context would read ‘wherever hatred is, there is an inclination to do mischief’ (John Calvin, Institutes VIII:347).

Reconciliation and forgiveness are the primary spheres in which transformation is achieved, and it begins with the process of confession.

Ambrose of Milan stated that: ‘if you have confessed at the call of Christ the bars will be broken, and every chain loosed’ (Ambrose of Milan).

In a similar theological vein Karl Barth viewed confession as a referral and submission ‘to a higher tribunal confronting both partners with concrete authority’ (‘Church Dogmatics a selection’, Helmut Gollwitzer).

Unconfessed hatred is counter-productive. It leaves us like a ship lost at sea, left with only the stars to navigate by. Only then to find frustration with clouds that are constantly obscuring our efforts.

The outcomes of unresolved and concealed hate are inevitably confusion, anxiety, fear and rage – dysfunctional relationships.

Consequently we become desperate for direction as our judgement increasingly becomes shrouded in fog.

We then abdicate our responsibility to speak the truth. We compromise on our Christian commitment to hope because our moral compass is exchanged for self-preservation. We abandon the north star, and find ourselves drifting deeper into a sea of brokenness and despair.

The counter to this is entering into a confession-that-seeks-truth.

If I say or act in love towards you, yet harbor hatred in my heart I conceal the truth. I am forced to lie in order to keep-the-peace. The problem with this approach is that appeasement tends to only ever benefit those who are appeased [1].

The strength in confession is this: when we confess our hatred, we can immediately be released from the burden the precarious nature of hatred brings; one which hangs around our neck like a rotting albatross. Confessing hate allows us to process and communicate reasons for why we feel that way.

Only then can the movement towards resolution begin. Of course any confession requires being wise in how and who we express that confession to. Confrontation, context, tone and timing are also important considerations.

It is true that hate is a strong word, loaded with emotion. Hate is defined as being an ’emotion of intense dislike so strong that it demands action’. Goodrick & Kohlenberger write that the Hebrew word for hate is:  שׂנא ‘sane’ which means to be unloved, shunned, disliked, an adversary.

A few years back an estranged relative asked me the question ‘how can you be a minister with so much hate?’ Since then my response has been: “please don’t confuse telling-the-truth with hatred, tolerance with silence and silence with love.”

The act of confession is a compassionate and humble act towards others in grateful response to Father, Son and Spirit.

In ‘open confession’ (Ambrose) and humility, truth speaks through the community. For example Barth writes that `theology is impossible without humility because the truth at issue is a person who says : ”I am the truth” (Jn. 14); (Church Dogmatics, a selection).

Therefore confess hate, speak truth and drop the eggs, watch the lies disintegrate. It may hurt. You may lose. If so, lose boldly, with the hope that those who reject truth return to truth refined, renewed and rescued. Refuse to walk on egg shells, lovingly invite others to do the same.

The truth is much more precious and valuable than any sugar-coated version of it. IMG_20130627_191543There maybe two sides to a story, but there is only one truth to a story.

To love is not only to understand that Christians are called to speak truth-in-love but to also understand that love-speaks-truthfully.

For the biblical authors the existence of falsehoods demand action.

Ps.119: 104 ‘Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

Pr. 26:24-26 ‘People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils. While their hatred may be concealed by trickery, their wrongdoing will be exposed in public’ (NLT)

Pr.8:13 ‘The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate’.

Pr.13:5 ‘The righteous hates falsehood’

Eccl.3:8 ‘a time to love, and a time to hate’

Eph.4:26-27 ‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil’.

As the words attributed to Solomon so wisely put it:

 ‘Open rebuke is better than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (Proverbs 27:5-6 ESV)

It is the equivalent of heartbreak warfare. Loving ourselves is hard, loving our enemies? Even harder. (Lk.6:20-45)


Sources:

Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Repentance Kindle Edition.

Barth, K. Church Dogmatics: A Selection With Introduction by Helmut Gollwitzer (Kindle Locations 1050-1051). Kindle Edition.

Calvin, J Institutes of the Christian Religion Eerdmans

Goodrick, E.W & Kohlenberger, J.R 1991 NIVAC: Strongest NIV exhaustive concordance Zondervan

Meier, P. & Wise R. 2003 Crazy Makers: getting along with the difficult people in your life (particularly chapter twelve) Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville

[1] Historically speaking, nowhere is this more evident than in British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s ‘’gift’’ of Czechoslovakia to Adolf Hitler in the 1938 Munich agreement.

©Rod Lampard, 2018

Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

(Originally published in 2013)

Elshtain on ideology, human frailty and fairness…

Elshtain on the necessity of maintaining distinctions…

Elshtain on the importance of the ‘transcendent other’ in creating heaven on earth…

Aussie flag at half mast Getty ImagesToday, two innocent civilians lost their lives because of the actions of an Islamic terrorist on Australian soil. Others were wounded.

It begs belief then that a good portion of the focus in the past 48hrs has been on the social media hashtag “movement” #illridewithyou.

What should we expect though?

Seeming to be doing and doing what feels-good has become the measure of right response today.

Such armchair activism is a gloomy sign of the flimsy ethics and shallow sentiment that afflicts our post-Christian society.

“illridewithyou” is a nice gesture. But. Outside raising an often short lived awareness of issues, sentimental hashtag movements are historically noted for achieving very little.

Who remembers the ‘hashtag diplomacy’[i] of #bringbackourgirls, #kony2012 or has heard of any genuine change brought about by it?

Call me callous. Throw all the passive aggressive rants on Facebook and 140 bit tantrums on twitter that you like.

It doesn’t change the facts.

In this case it’s tantamount to having a few drunken mates tell you, over and over again, in words devoid of any real meaning how much you mean to them.

Do our Muslim neighbours (moderate or radical) want such attention or even need such protection?

Would, for example, a Muslim man consider it appropriate if his wife did actually end up riding with a non-Muslim for the sake of that non-Muslim proving that they are not anti-Muslim? … {insert a ton of other practical reasons}

One could draw on the argument that often comes from our well-meaning-left-leaning brothers and sisters, who sometimes point out, rather loudly, that it is racist and intolerant to impose anything on anyone.

Ergo, employing this logic #illridewithyou becomes yet another example of “Western (white) moralist superiority and imperialism”.(Granted this is overly simplified. It is so, for the sake of brevity)

The danger of hashtag movements should be clear to all of us.

It is the one that “illridewithyou” highlights well, evidenced by the overbearing suspicion that somehow you’re racist if you don’t agree or publically brandish such a hashtag via retweet, share, comment or post.

You would be right to wonder if any ‘chasm existed between perception, reality, right interpretation, intention and action.[ii]’ Here appearances override substance and perception distracts us from reality.

Engage, by all means! But we need to acknowledge that wisdom and sensitivity must dictate our approach. Acting on rash sentiment tends to only cause division and resentment, rather than create unity.

Critiquing the #illridewithyou hashtag raises questions about fear, ignorance and a lack of respect for Islamic history and culture that might actually lie hidden behind such sentimentalism. Even if the intentions are innocent enough. Ironically, #illridewithyou might actually be Islamophobic in and of itself.

Today, as in all terrorist attacks on civilian targets the innocent suffer.

We should mourn their loss deeply and then ask ourselves seriously, why was it that our first point of solidarity was with our Muslim neighbours and their perceived trauma, and not with the twelve victims, their families and the actual trauma?

Folks, we cannot make peace, or reach heaven through a hashtag. We cannot convince those ‘committed to violence without limits’[iii] to change.

As Jean Bethke Elshtain observed:

‘Whatever sins and shortcomings that exist in the West, Islamist fundamentalism requires none of these to turn people into ideological fundamentalists with whom dialogue is impossible—as a matter of principle, not merely prudence—and who are not content to “live and let live.[iv]

Certainly, a just war against terror isn’t simple, but it is real.

It is one we share with our moderate Muslim and Jewish neighbours who cherish the same rights as Christians and atheists do; friends who deserve our careful thought and responsible action, not just potentially empty sentiments; the bane of all mutually beneficial relationships and effective diplomacy.

 


Sources:

[i] Bauer, G. Hashtag diplomacy won’t save lives, 7th August 2014 sourced: 16th December 2014

[ii] Jennings, W.J. 2010 The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Loc. 426). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Ibid, p. 23.

[iv] Elshtain, J. 2008 Just War Against Terror: The Burden Of American Power In A Violent World Basic Books. Kindle Ed. (p. 45).

IMG_20131015_091324

I read Janice Rees’ interesting, September 1st blog post @ WIT (WomeninTheology.org):

 ‘On Not Reading Barth: my measly resistance’

Janice raised some good points, for example: Barthian scholarship does tend to attract elitists. Coming from a white underprivileged background, where I was pushed to the margins of the church, I empathize to some degree with some of Janice’s concerns. This is something that predisposes my own theology more towards liberation theology than it does Karl Barth’s.

However, I see Barth’s theology, and those who choose to become dialogue partners in the field, as a counter weight. This ironically helps to liberate me from the self-imposed limitations that can feed dysfunctional paradigms [1]. This can tend to keep people, such as liberation theologians, in a constant circular movement motivated more by emotion than reason (i.e.: chasing ones tail to the point where they compromise the purpose and intent of their manifesto, creed and ergo their entire existence) [2].

Kait Dugan (theologian and feminist) recently responded to Janice here.

Worth noting is Kait’s lament:

…”Now I don’t measure up to what it takes to be in the girls club. And you can’t even begin to imagine the insecurity and isolation that occurs when you feel excluded from the “new feminist orthodoxy” as a woman and Barthian theologian”…(Dugan, 2013)

In some respects I have witnessed the reverse to Rees’ ‘mens club’. In Australian theological academia, at least, there seems to be a  lot of ”tip toeing” and ”egg shell walking” when it comes to women in theology. I think this approach shows as much contempt for feminism as misogyny does. I agree with Jean Bethke Elshtain who suggests in ‘Public man, Private Woman, 1981 (post scripted 1991)’ – that this special treatment towards feminism in some ways negates the ideas within feminist liberation theory of gender equality. This is something Kait Dugan also points too albeit from a different context.

…’Women should be encouraged and free to engage anyone they want within theology and other academic disciplines including the male-dominated field of Barth studies. And women should feel free to follow Janice in not reading Barth if they don’t want to as one form of powerful resistance. After all, isn’t that freedom for women to be exactly who they are and study whatever they want the true ethos of feminism?‘.. (Dugan, 2013)

My concern rests in the overly sensitive treatment from men towards women in this area. It has negative implications for free speech and other key areas which should encourage, rather than supress respectful dialogue. Having said this I understand those sensitivities. I simply question whether such actions are theological responses informed by feminist context, or whether such actions are drawn from a sycophantic – people pleasing – agenda. In this sense such a response could be regarded as a self-imposed limitation feeding a dysfunctional paradigm. This is because it comes from a broken context and in turn becomes hostile to the very thing it appears so innocently to promote (self-defeating is a word that might more appropriately fit here, if I had the time to unpack this further).

Let me just highlight a parting word from Elshtain in her book ‘Public Man, Private Woman’:

…’movements and theories which insist on the centrality of a style of action, a refusal to question ourselves (or others) in order to complete one’s agenda, leads to the repudiation of the very existence of those with whom one disagrees’

(J. B. Elshtain PMPW, 1981:365, emphasis paraphrased)

Axe meet the proverbial grind!

A self-limitation might well be the refusal to question our own predispositions because of a fear that doing so might offend ivory tower sensibilities.

That is why I believe free speech is important. The ability to have a variety of creative discussion and reverent expression (like I hope this blog you are now reading is developing into). One which allows for the tension between embedded and deliberative theological reflection to move forward, correcting our alignment and further pointing us towards the proclamation of the Gospel.

Source:

Elshtain, J.B 1981 Public Man, Private Woman: Women in social and political thought, Princeton University Press

[1] I am presupposing a distinction between the terms limitation and limits. I use the word limitation here to indicate negative outcomes to a decision. Limits such as those encouraged by English common law for example, have proven to be beneficial. So depending on the context self-imposed limitations like personal boundaries can be a good or a bad thing. I think what this may really suggest is the fear associated with questioning ourselves, testing our positions whether they be political, theological or otherwise.
[2] I am not intending to imply that Janice or Kait are doing this or allowing it. Here I am reflecting on my own personal/academic journey thus far in conversation with both Janice and Kait’s articles.

Once again

August 24, 2013 — Leave a comment

Theological thoughts and some exegetical notes from this morning’s timeout.

Psalm 103:1-6

Bless my soul

1. Forget not all
2. His benefits

B1: forgives all iniquity
B2: Redeems life
B3: Heals all
B4: redeems life – from the pit (of despair?, hades?, overt uneasiness?, uncertainty?, hopelessness?, the seduction of cynicism?)
B5:  heals all
B6: satisfies (purpose) with good (instrument of possibility)
B7: youth renewed (cause & effect)
B8: Lord works

3. righteousness and justice
4. for all who are oppressed.

Conclusion:

We have His permission to fly like an eagle, what may be pinning us to the ground is our resistance, our cynicism and our despair.

What might be helpful is if we allowed God His freedom. If we could only just sit in that moment of time where we allow God to realize in us our true freedom. A freedom that exists in limitation (Karl Barth) but rests on the tension between His words ”yes you can and no you must not”.

It is here that humanity may finally be able to see that a life rested in Father, Son and Spirit proves to be one that has so much more to it than could ever have imagined.

The quest for absolute certainty, as Jean Bethke Elshtain puts it (1981, Public man Private woman), is only a quest to satisfy our ego. This is a journey towards absolute arrogance, one absent of faith and gratitude. A pathway that is inevitability self-defeating because it is drains us of that hoped for encounter with truth and light.

As it turns out this road, in truth, is paved with oppression as our own pride brings us to a counter-to-Christ point of impact, where the seduction of ignorance, spite, resentment and hate are all too easily consumed and reproduced. Consequently our wings are clipped – our creativity stifled – our energy, and passion for others, for life – becomes almost non-existent.

Father, may we fly as you have decreed it. May we see what you see, as you see fit to show us. May we rest in the knowledge that hope is within our grasp because by your Spirit and through your son, you are its anchor, its author and once again, we, I,  acknowledge your gift of life. 

May it be so.