Trying to understand American Christianity

posted in: Tony Thompson 0

Many Europeans, including myself, struggle at times to understand American Christianity, it seems so different to our experience.

In a recent article from Tim Keller, an American pastor, he helpfully distinguishes between “fundamentalists” and other evangelical Christians. Whilst they hold to common theological truths, the social outworking of this in both cultural attitudes and practices differ. I found it helpful to understand that not all evangelicals in the States hold fundamentalist views. I found this helpful because I do not hold these views myself! Keller himself says that these distinctions are not well understood or spoken about, however they are clearly very important.

The full article is found here

https://quarterly.gospelinlife.com/the-decline-of-evangelicalism/

The key passage is copied below.

The term “fundamentalism” was one way used in the past to describe those who hold these social traits very strongly. The six social marks are:

  • Moralism vs gracious engagement — Strict conformity to behavioral codes. Secondary doctrines made primary with resulting self-righteousness. Everything is either wholly good or evil, leading to withdrawal from society. A spirit of condemnation. Separatism and sectarianism. No ability to engage opposing views with patience, humility, hope, and tolerance.
  • Individualism vs social reform — Belief that we are wholly the result of our personal choices. Little understanding of how culture forms us, or of systemic or institutional evil forces.
  • Dualism vs a vision for all of life — A pitting of biblical beliefs against culture. Either we seek a hostile takeover or we seal off Christian beliefs from our work and life in society. No thought for how faith shapes the way we work in the secular spheres and how it can serve society.
  • Anti-intellectualism vs scholarship — A distrust of experts, a reverse snobbism against education, and of any result of scholarship or research which is not believed as “common sense” to most people. Distrust of scholarship. Skepticism of science. A refusal to show other viewpoints any respect. A shallow “common sense” approach to biblical interpretation that ignores the biblical author’s intended meaning in the original context and the scholarship that helps us discern it.
  • Anti-institutionalism vs accountability — A distrust of traditional institutions. A use of celebrity-driven, brand-driven platforms and networks which lead to fast growth, but low accountability. A tendency to authoritarianism.
  • Enculturation vs cultural reflection — A wedding of Christianity to popular, traditional U.S. culture. Two features: (a) Gender exaggeration- due to fundamentalism’s tendency to “baptize” American culture, there is a legalistic tendency toward non-biblical gender stereotypes (especially those of the 1950s), a denigration of women, and cover-up of abuse. (b) NationalismA “God and Country” ethos that rejects reflection on the dark sides of U.S. history and society and expresses fear of a multi-ethnic future. (c) Racism- Often overt, but at the very least a racial and cultural insensitivity and cluelessness.

TOUGH LOVE?

By Jonathan Adams

God is immediately speaking to Hope Church as we enter 2022.  His words are motivating and encouraging,  but surprisingly one of His key focus areas for us may feel like tough love.

 

What is God saying?  As a church we have had several words which are aligned. Early in January I preached from Jeremiah 29,  that Gods’ great statements of strength and love (‘I have plans to give you a hope and a future’) are words written to a people in exile.  God is literally telling his people that even though they are cut-off, removed, hurting and isolated,  He is still there, still working and blessing, still planning to bring them back in His timing.  Likewise when our guest speaker Simon spoke to us recently.  Focussing on the life of Joseph as a mirror for our own lives,  he showed us how dreams and destiny are often followed by devastation,  and that God sometimes chooses to lead us through times of difficulty and disappointment until his timing is right.  Adding to all this, Donal recently shared with the Leadership team about God bringing a time of shaking for different people.   So if we put these different words together,  it seems clear that God is openly and intentionally leading many of us through difficult times.  This won’t be relevant for every single person,  but enough for God to put this onto our family radar!!

 

How do we respond to all this?  Tough love from God can be difficult to take.  It is much easier to be led into green pastures and quiet waters,  but these darker valleys can be unsettling, upsetting, and emotionally exhausting. We’ve all experienced that.  Over the past few days as I’ve reflected on this,  several great pieces of wisdom have been shared with me:

  1. Accept what is happening around you. God is still at work!  Just because things are challenging does not mean you are out of his plans and purposes!  This is Joseph’s experience, and the experience of many many Christians through history.  There is a sweetness and lightness when we can accept that God’s presence is with us, and that His active love and grace are fully there, despite our situation.  Oh what reassurance!
  2. There is a choice.  One option is to become disillusioned and cut God off because He doesn’t ‘get’ what we’re going through.  Another option is to try and strive our way out of difficulty. Both of these choices are negative in the end.  But the positive choice is to try and grow in dependence on God. Using this time to pray, read and worship simply because you trust Him,  and because He is worth it.  This might feel unusual, particularly at the start, because your worship is separate from how you might be feeling,  but He is there.
  3. Accept God’s timing.  Hebrews 6:12 and James 5:7-11 encourage us to be strong in patience, as well as strong in faith.

 

Join me in prayer at this time.  God has been gracious enough to reveal the work He is doing in us. Let us gratefully and joyfully take time to meet Him in prayer.   Pray that as a body we will grow in humility and dependence on God,  and that this would be a time of deep, profound, faith-building in all of us.  ‘Faith so grounded and solid that nothing can shake it.’   Please oh Jesus, do that in us we pray.  Amen.

Further thoughts about Jesus’ mission and therefore ours.

posted in: Bible 0

In previous blogs and sermons, I have talked about the emphasis this Luke places on the mission and Jesus and therefore our mission. This blog flows on from the blog on Luke 10 v1-24 on how Satan was seeking to thwart that mission.

http://www.hopechurch.co.uk/reflections-on-the-battle-with-satan-as-revealed-in-lukes-gospel/

In the rest of the chapter Luke reminds us again what the mission was that Satan was trying to stop.

It starts with a parable in answer to the question, who is my neighbour? The hero of the parable, which I am sure doesn’t need to be repeated, is a Samaritan, who is the last person the Jewish reader expected, a Samaritan. Someone not considered to be part of the people of God. The Samaritan, who makes great sacrifices to help the man who is beaten up, represents Jesus in the parable. Jesus reaches out to all who are in need, which is everyone, we should do the same. Everyone is our neighbour.

This is followed up by the incident where Martha is doing the cultural appropriate role for a woman or serving in the kitchen, Mary is with the men listening to the teaching of Jesus which was not appropriate. Martha calls Mary out on this but Jesus supports Mary. Not only is everyone our neighbour, but everyone can sit at Jesus feet and learn from him.

As Paul later picks up in some of his letters, we are all united in Christ, whatever ethnicity, social class, or gender. The mission of Jesus is to make disciples of all, to be found by him and then taught by him. That is the mission we have too.

Modern Day Pharisees.

posted in: Bible 5

The pharisees and teachers of the law appear in opposition to Jesus in all of the four gospels. It is not just that they oppose Jesus, Jesus himself says some harsh words to them. E.g., the woes he declares in Luke 11v42 to 54. It begs the question, who are the modern day equivalent to pharisees?

Tom Wright in his commentary on Luke, which I have been reading recently, makes some very interesting suggestions. Pages 144-145.

He starts by saying that as a young man he was taught that modern pharisees were religious teachers who insist on all kinds of religious observances. E.g., those who said you had to fast on Fridays, or kneel and stand at certain points in church services or cross yourself. He was taught it applied to those who said you couldn’t play cards; go the theatre or wear make-up. The modern equivalent of the pharisees is therefore anyone who teaches that we should focus on other things rather than calling us simply to believe and trust God for our salvation.

He suggests this cannot be right for two reasons. Firstly, the real Pharisees we meet in the Bible are nothing like that. They were people who held strong political opinions, and this is what lay behind the religious sanctions; their rules were designed to make people keep the Jewish law as best they could, so that Israel would be made holy, and then God would bring in his kingdom. Secondly, the Pharisees were a pressure group working in both the social and political sphere, not just religious teachers.

He then makes his interesting suggestions of what modern Pharisees might look like. He suggests they are groups in society that urge people to take on particular codes; like those, for instance, who insist on “green” policies for the disposal of garbage, people insisting on certain duties and not simply religious duties in the old sense. He goes on to say that there are also western newspapers, as well as individual journalists, who take it upon themselves to be the guardians of public morality. They will shriek in mock horror at all kinds of offenses and take delight in pointing the finger at the rich and respectable. But at the same time many of the journalists who make a living by doing all this are by no means shining examples of moral virtue. In some cases, they are the ones who load heavy burdens on people’s backs but don’t themselves lift a finger to move them.

As I say, worth pondering on. Pharisees are still alive and kicking and Jesus had harsh things to say to them!

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