Is America 53% Pelagian?

As the pastor of a politically “purple” congregation, I need to tread lightly on the controversy surrounding Mitt Romney’s remarks about 47% of Americans not paying income tax. I am trying my best to transcend the superficial “issue” level of our increasingly absurd political conversation so that I can yank out the theological roots of the bad weeds that we find in our commonly held assumptions. I really believe that America’s problem is fundamentally theological (and it’s utterly bipartisan). One dimension of it is the impoverished understanding of “individual rights” that Ross Douthat and others have linked to the corrosive impact of secularism (which John Milbank correctly categorizes in Theology and Social Thought as a self-disavowing sect of Christian-rooted thought that has gone atheist). Paul Ryan was right to observe that our “rights” have become dangerously stripped of their bark if there is no longer an assumption that we are “endowed by our Creator” with them (and not by whichever majority of Americans happens to be in power). But the irony is that many of the very people who cheer when they hear lines like, “Our rights come from God and nature, not from government,” actually embrace secularism when the question is framed differently. To say that we are a society of “makers” and “takers” is a profession of disbelief in the relevance of the one true Maker. If I believe that everything I have and everything I have used to gain what I have is a gift from God, then He is the only Maker and we are all takers with one Father who commands us to care for each other as brothers and sisters. Continue reading

Thoughts on the alleged demise of liberal Christianity

I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Ever since the Episcopal convention last week, all the Christians bloggers are talking about whether or not the liberal church will survive. The conversation thread that I’ve followed has included John Meunier, Ross Douthat, Diana Butler Bass, and Rachel Held Evans. I spent my twenties in struggling mainline liberal churches that were very active in social justice causes in their community and painfully empty on Sunday mornings. Since I feel like my own observations and convictions are inadequate to explain the sociological shifts that are occurring in American Christianity, I’m not going to present this as any sort of coherent theory, but rather a series of points that respond to what I’ve read in no particular order.

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Opinion and relationship: the two American evangelical idolatries

Everyone else is writing about the “crisis” of American Christianity so I figured I’d add my own two cents. Andrew Sullivan wants us to cut up our Bibles and follow “Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a simpler, purer, apolitical Christianity.” Ross Douthat writes that the problem is we’ve been overrun by heresies. Christian Piatt claims that young adults are “leaving the church to follow Jesus.” I think that underneath the prosperity gospel, the ideological echo chamber, and the shallow, therapeutic Jesus-as-boyfriend theology considered by all three of these writers are two basic idolatries  — opinion and relationship — which have filled the gap created by the loss of a sacramental understanding of Christ’s body within popular American evangelical Christianity. Continue reading