The American Dream is Dangerous

I heard this morning that the United States is now the third largest mission field in the world. How did this happen? Amazingly to most of us, the Torah anticipated just such a scenario:

[T]he author [of Deuteronomy] was writing to well-to-do landowners. He was concerned that they remember from whence they came and on whom they needed to rely. He treated their economic prosperity as a threat to their required humility before God. He sought to counter this tendency to self-sufficiency by reminding them of their past slavery; and of their dependence on God for a bountiful harvest. He limited their ambitions by emphasizing the need for sabbath rest, and sabbath years. The requirement to rejoice and hold feasts also served to restrict their utilitarianism. He believed that they themselves were not ultimately responsible for their prosperity, and that they would be in the position of the widow, fatherless and alien if tragedy befell them.[1]

Something about the way I’m wired means that everywhere I look I see the consequences of bad theology. To me it’s like looking at heat under infrared, the connections are so glaring and direct. America was settled on the basis of a dangerous and diabolic theology called Manifest Destiny (more on that in another post), and when the impetus of that cooled a new twist was thrown into our lives during the 1950s. Having driven men to misinterpret the Torah, the Adversary now drove them to ignore it. Loosed from our moorings, without an eternal standard of morality, we lost any ability to accurately recognize injustice, and lost the benefit of the practical life instruction God had included for His people.

These days, gratitude is a thing of the past; I see more athletes pound their own chest after a great play than point a finger toward heaven. I hear even pastors talk about how they were a “champion for Jesus” and you can be one too, if you’ll just pull yourself up by your own boot straps and take the initiative like they did.

Today overwhelming percentages even of the well-to-do can be described as fatherless, and waves and waves of people feel lost and alien in their own culture. We have lost our way and substituted the American Dream for the biblical prescriptions; often by reinterpreting biblical language to support our misguided priorities.

[1]Christiana van Houten, The Alien in Israelite Law (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 106.

The Consequences of Theology

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. can really get my blood pumping! What I’m going to quote below is an excellent example of why. The context is this, Douglas Moo, a respected theologian who fervently believes in Jesus, has just finished articulating an understanding of discontinuity between the old and new testaments and the firm replacement of the Law of Moses by the Law of Christ. Kaiser concludes his response to Moo in the following paragraph, and provides an excellent example of the dire necessity of reforming the too often errant theology of the contemporary Church on this issue of the relationship between law and grace or law and gospel.

Moo concludes that the Mosaic law “is not a direct [or] immediate source of guidance to the new covenant believer.” However, he suggests that there is an “essential ‘moral’ content of the Mosaic law [that] is … applicable to believers.” But this confuses me still more, for now the moral aspect of the unified law can be ascertained and is applicable, but not in any direct or immediate way. Moo concludes, “I am no Marcionite.” For this I am glad; but please tell me how his disciples are going to be able to resist Marcionitism, given the force, direction, and logic of his position? Ultimately, Moo is bound only by what is clearly repeated within the New Testament teaching. What advice will he give on marriage to close relatives (cf. Lev. 18), involvement with forms of witchcraft and various forms of the occult (cf. Lev. 19), the case for capital punishment (cf. Gen. 9), or the proscription against abortion (cf. Ex. 21)? Did Americans not learn in 1973 that a New Testament exclusivistic ethic landed us squarely in one of the largest legalized murdering ventures in recent times—now exceeding Hitler’s six million Jews sent up a chimney by four times over with some twenty-four million babies going in a bucket? What will it take to wake us up to the narrowness of our views? If this is not a Marcionite view, it is at least semi-Marcionite—and the disciples of our teaching will soon prove what direction it was that we were heading in if we refuse to fully follow the implications of our own thought.[1] [emphasis mine]

[1]Greg L. Bahnsen, Walter C. Kaiser, Douglas J. Moo et al., Five Views on Law and Gospel, Zondervan Counterpoints Collection (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 393.

John Wimber on Demonstrations of the Spirit

Peter Jenkins: Are you utterly, totally convinced that it always is the Holy Spirit?

John Wimber: No, I’m largely convinced it is the Spirit. But, I believe it is a mixture of humanity and Spirit.

Peter Jenkins: So you do think that there are instances where behavior in the church is too extreme?"

John Wimber: "Yes. Remember, not everybody that walks into our building’s real healthy, Peter. Some people have gone through some pretty tough things in life. They’ve been beaten, they’ve been abused, they’ve been sexually molested, they’ve gone through long difficult histories with addiction. And so, the Spirit of God touches them and they do things that you and I wouldn’t probably do, and we don’t want to endorse or encourage.

– "In the Name of God" ABC, 1995