Canonical fidelity vs. empirical integrity (feminist theology and other challenges)

I just read a chapter in Adam Kotsko’s Politics of Redemption which engages feminist critiques of the cross. One aspect of the feminist theology I have encountered that makes me squirm as an evangelical is its willingness to toss out pieces of the Biblical canon if they seem to promote misogyny. I am willing to read the Bible with the same liberationist agenda that Jesus and Paul both had, but I consider myself bound to the epistemic foundation of canonical fidelity, meaning that I don’t throw anything out, even when God tells Joshua to slaughter all the women and children of some Canaanite city or when the Levite in Judges 19 pulls a Jeffrey Dahmer on his concubine. Biblical authority is a line in the sand for me, but given that, to what degree am I accountable to what I would call empirical integrity? Do I owe any responsibility to the reality that I share with people who aren’t interpreting it through my canonical filter? Continue reading

Lincoln: the authority of integrity vs. position-taking

I tend to be nonplussed as a matter of principle about patriotic piety over dead white guys who define our country’s history like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. But I watched the movie Lincoln this past week and my heart was won over by Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrayed the president. Obviously there is no way to distinguish between the legend and the historical figure, but the legend is compelling. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what made Lincoln seem like an extraordinary person. Just to take a stab at it, I’m going to call it the authority of integrity. Continue reading

Two opposite ways to “delight in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11)

Those of you who have been following my journey know that I keep on stumbling into Biblical passages that talk about the “fear of the Lord.” It actually started this summer with a sermon I preached in the Dominican Republic on the fear of the Lord in Isaiah 6, even though the phrase didn’t actually appear in the text. Then, in the fall, I came across Acts 9:31: “Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, [the church] increased in numbers.” Then I encountered Psalm 19:2: “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever,” which prompted a longer meditation contrasting the fear that leads to wisdom with the fear that has to do with punishment. More recently I discovered in Psalm 25 the strange statement that God offers “friendship to those who fear Him.” My latest milestone in this journey came this past weekend preaching on Isaiah 11, in which verse 3 says that the messiah will “delight in the fear of the Lord.” I think there are two ways to understand this statement: one is perverse and the other beautiful.

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Integrity, zeal, and patience (Psalm 25:21)

Sometimes God impregnates a single verse with rich and explosive meaning that is completely applicable to my life circumstances at that point. On Monday, I read through all the weekly lectionary passages and then the Daily Office without finding a word from the Lord until I hit Psalm 25:2. Those five Hebrew words have been blowing my mind as I’ve been turning them around in my head ever since then. They describe for me the tense relationship between integrity, zeal, and patience: “May integrity and uprightness guard me as I wait for you.”
תם-וישר יצרוני כי קויתיך Continue reading

Strength vs. integrity: a Biblical response to the presidential debate

What I learned from last night’s final presidential debate (which was the first one I watched) is that the way you “win” mostly has to do with how long you can talk without taking a breath or how willing you are to yell “Liar, liar, pants on fire” while the other guy is in the middle of what he’s saying. The fundamental thing Romney and Obama agreed on is the importance of projecting strength in US foreign policy. “Strength” seems to be defined as not apologizing for anything the US has done in the past and making sure that other nations understand that the US knows what’s best for them. I realize we live in a secular nation-state, but I am really bothered by how thoroughly un-Biblical that way of thinking is. Whether or not it’s effective foreign policy from a realpolitik perspective, the Bible calls us to integrity, not strength.

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Integrity in a post-truth world

I’m worried about our country. A few years ago, I read a book  called The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt that described the century of ideological groundwork which set the stage for the Third Reich in Germany. If it’s silly to compare our country today to Germany in the 1920’s, that’s because we don’t have millions of displaced Eastern European refugees and the 30% unemployment rate that created enough desperation and messianic need to clear the way for Hitler’s rise to power. But what scares me is that our national political discourse over the past two decades has developed the same contempt for integrity and embrace of hyperbole and paranoia that Hitler exploited. The more we acclimate to thinking that our political opponents are not just wrong but are servants of Satan and that the race or religion of our enemies is sub-human, the easier it will be to accept a totalitarian fuhrer one day if our economic conditions ever get desperate enough to justify “extreme measures” like the abandonment of democracy. Continue reading