The Ethical Capitalist

Zizek on the ethical commitments of the true capitalist:

“Look at an ideal capitalist – ideal type I mean. I know some of them, fanatical businessmen. Well all I can tell you is if ever I encounter a non-hedonist, a non-egotist guy it’s a totally dedicated capitalist. My god a proper capitalist is ready – I don’t know – to ruin his family life, practically not to sleep, work night and day just that there is circulation and expansion of capital. Capitalists are not hedonist egotists they are on the contrary extremely dedicated to some perverted quasi-ethical cause – capital has to circulate.”

The question is whether this ethical frame is or can be squared with Christian ethics. The reflexive answer in North America is “yes” but this description of the life of a true capitalist would seem to raise a challenge to that.

Peter Martyr Vermigli on Final Justification

In the past I have discussed the Reformed tradition’s variety regarding the doctrine of final justification by works. There are at least two, or maybe three, different ways that members of that tradition have formulated the relation between initial justification by faith alone, and the final judgment which in some sense will take works into account. Peter Martyr Vermigli is another example of the stream that was comfortable speaking of two justifications:

A different kind of justification follows this upright life of holiness by which we are clearly praised, approved and declared just. For although good works do not bring that first righteousness which is given freely, yet they point to it and show it is present. Hence Abraham is told in the book of Genesis: “Now I know that you fear God, because you have done this thing and have not spared your own son for my sake.” Surely God was not previously unaware of Abraham’s piety; only then does he testify that it will be apparent to all what Abraham’s faith and religion were like. So too David, because of his upright life, is pronounced as a man after God’s own heart, and Job is called holy and just, as are Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Joseph, the man betrothed to the blessed Virgin. And surely we ourselves are also assured and we realize that we are enriched with good works. Peter urges us to make our righteousness sure by this means. And on this same basis we will be justified by Christ in the last judgment by the remembrance of good works, that is, we will be declared just, on the testimony of mercy shown to our neighbors. Since it has been exhibited by us, it will be an indication that the chief and solid righteousness which we dealt with in the first place was not lacking. [p. 147 from The Peter Martyr Reader; excerpted from In Selectissimam D. Pauli Priorem ad Corinthios Epistolam Commentarij (from Vermigli’s commentary on 1 Corinthians)]

Steven Furtick vs. Slavoj Zizek

Furtick cult

This past week word has permeated the evangelical world that Steven Furtick of Elevation church maybe drifting into cult territory with his church’s aim to indoctrinate both adults and children into following Furtick’s vision to the exclusion of any other possible influence. Many of the responses to the claims that Furtick has made about his unique power to be a visionary leader in the church are generally met with one of two responses: 1) The person who effectively agrees that yes, Furtick is some sort of visionary and we had all better give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s clearly seeing some kind of success thus far, or 2) Furtick is a charlatan because there is no such thing as the role of “visionary” among pastors and therefore this man is little more than a garden variety huckster and or narcissist who is faking it. I think that there is a third option here as well: Furtick may well have some kind of mystical experiences (whether from God, some other spirit or just straight up undiagnosed schizophrenia) but that doesn’t make him a good man or a wise leader. Watch here as Zizek dismantles a couple of notable mystics:

One’s inner life of prayer or meditation or devotion does not make one righteous. We can grant someone the authenticity of their visions while still holding them to account as ordinary human beings.

Beige Like Church: Thoughts On Donald Miller & Churchgoing

Homer Sleeping in Church

Much has been made of this post by Donald Miller concerning his preference for worshiping God in contexts outside of being in a church for a Sunday service. Now, in the age of the “spiritual-but-not-religious” and the rise of the “nones,”  there probably isn’t anything that special for someone to post online that they are spiritual in ways that do not follow traditional (Christian) religious practice. What makes this post different is that Miller is also the author of a little book called Blue Like Jazz, that has become something of touchstone for particularly younger evangelicals in the last decade or so. Now, I’ve scanned a little bit of Blue Like Jazz and I get a sense of why it had the impact it did with its audience (people more or less like me). With that out of the way, here are a couple of excerpts from Miller’s post and how I read them:

“It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.”

It was funny that so many people in the Reformed tradition were critical of Miller’s piece as this bit could have been lifted almost directly from one of Mark Driscoll’s many insistences that church needs more manliness. He seems to be describing the same problem – albeit coming to a different conclusion (or perhaps not, but more on that later).

“Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner. Of course churches have all kinds of ways for you to engage God including many kinesthetic opportunities including mission trips and so forth, but if you want to attend a “service” every Sunday, you best be an auditory learner. There’s not much out there for kinesthetic or visual learners.”

Miller says he’s studied psychology and education, but this is such a gross oversimplification of the theories surrounding different types of learning that I fear that he’d have done better just leaving this little bit out. That said, for what it’s worth, I can’t help but remind myself here that evangelical Protestants are about the worst when it comes to this. Traditional liturgies involve a lot more movement and many other Christian traditions incorporate all manner of iconography into their places of worship. Evangelicals are uniquely skilled in making church seem like a large-scale office meeting with the appropriately bland walls, pseudo-comfy seating, and fake plants. [I had to pause after I wrote that, I think I just described hell.]

I think Miller has a point, and one that is not particularly new or different, but I don’t know if he’s articulated it well or really sought to explore how he can best connect with God other than by looking at vegetation or something.

Natural Moral Thought

My friend Ryan Hosleton has a piece at the Andrew Fuller Center blog where he summarizes Norman Fiering’s taxonomy of natural moral thought in the history of Christian thought. Fiering breaks it down, basically, into four categories: 1) Christian hegemony; 2) Common grace; 3) Prisca theologica; 4) Disparity.

Check the whole post out at “How Natural is Your Morality?

Resurrection

I’m sometimes fascinated by the idea of resurrection as captured in our broader culture. In case you missed this video, the skydiver in it is knocked unconscious by another diver hitting him on the head:

 

Inerrancy and Young Earth Creationism

Evangelical philosopher Norman Geisler has an essay on the relationship between the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and Young Earth Creation. He explores whether an affirmation of Old Earth Creation necessarily entails a denial of inerrancy. Here is his conclusion:

After seriously pondering these questions for over a half century, my conclusions are: (1) The Young Earth view is not one of the Fundamentals of the Faith. (2) It is not a test for orthodoxy.  (3)  It is not a condition of salvation.  (4)  It is not a test of Christian fellowship. (5) It is not an issue over which the body of Christ should divide. (6) It is not a hill on which we should die. (7) The fact of creation is more important than the time of creation. (8) There are more important doctrines on which we should focus (like the inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, and the death and resurrection of Christ, and His literal Second Coming.  As Repertus Meldenius (d. 1651) put it: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things charity.” And by all counts, the age of the earth is not one of the essentials of the Christian Faith.

Exciting Radio Station Idea

Here it is:

“If I had a Christian radio station, I think it would be mostly silence. People who tuned in would listen to dead air, would wait quietly with all the other people listening, sitting in the presence of God. Every once in a while we might play an older hymn, or read a Psalm. Come Vespers we’d pipe in a feed from a Trappist monastery somewhere, and listen to the old brothers chant and sing and the organ echo in the high vaults. And Friday and Saturday night we’d take a few hours to play some of the best [Christian rock] stuff, so people could dance. Dancing is important. I’m pretty sure it makes you a better person.

But mostly it would be silence.

I suspect no one would listen.”

Hat tip.

Henry, the Third Man

Gregory Alan Thornbury writes in his Recovering Classic Evangelicalism (p. 156):

As I see it, Carl F. H. Henry would have been the ideal third party to the Zizek-Milbank debate. Like Zizek, he was intimately concerned with the plight of the globe and suffering peoples. Like Milbank, he resolutely defended the right of theologians to maintain divine prerogatives in theological expression. But unlike the contemporary pair, he was no idealist or mystic—he was a realist and sought for biblical authority to be defended on proper grounds. Henry would not have condoned either a conceptual or actual collapsing of theological verities into a Hegelian scheme.

An provocative proposal.

Night At The (Creation) Museum

This was one of those events that was over before it began. I do not think that anyone was surprised by what either Bill Nye or Ken Ham had to say about whether or not creationism (of a young-Earth variety) is a viable model for understanding the universe. Check the video out if you don’t believe me:

Now that you may or may not have just blown over two hours hearing arguments that you have likely already heard I will further disappoint you by saying that almost everyone’s reaction to this was predictable. Those who subscribe to some form of evolution (be it atheistic, theistic, or agnostic) thought that Bill Nye carried the day (if they weren’t annoyed that he was debating a creationist at all in the first place). Those that believe in young-Earth creationism no doubt felt that Ham had carried the day. A number of groups that held what I might call some kind of alternate position that did not align with either of the two poles of this debate (anything from Intelligent Design, to Roman Catholic teachings that harmonize Christianity with evolutionary biology) remarked on how the debate was a missed opportunity to bring up their own particular views. Again, this is not at all surprising.

As for my own take, like I said, this is all old hat to me. The one thing that did strike me was how Ham continued to claim that nothing could really be known about the age of the earth since we weren’t there to observe the events that formed the Grand Canyon or layers of polar ice, but then elsewhere in the debate stated that reliable laws governing nature and logic were evidence for God. And yet it is wrong for scientists to extrapolate from those same laws back into prehistory, because who knows what went on there. So the laws are also unreliable when Ken Ham needs God to bend the rules?