Ransoming the Holidays

Easter Bunny at Christmas cartoon 1Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is as much an Easter carol as it is a Christmas carol. Indeed, there would be no Christmas without Easter. Jesus’ humble birth, however miraculous, would have been a forgotten historical anomaly had he not been raised in victory. Wesley’s famous hymn calls to mind Gregory of Nyssa’s infamous fishhook analogy:

[A]s has been said before, it was not in the nature of the opposing power to come in contact with the undiluted presence of God, and to undergo His unclouded manifestation, therefore, in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him who required it, the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, and light shining in darkness, that which is diametrically opposed to light and life might vanish; for it is not in the nature of darkness to remain when light is present, or of death to exist when life is active. (Gregory of Nyssa, Dogmatic Treatises, Etc. XXIV)

This colorful imagery is echoed by Martin Luther:

[H]e suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all. Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by him in a mighty duel; for his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible than hell. (Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty)

In an ultimate act of poetic justice, God deceivers the Deceiver, devours the Devourer; the roaring Lion gets eaten by the bleating Lamb. The Resurrection therefore fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord will “swallow up death forever” (Is 25:8), which serves as the basis of our own hope of resurrection—that “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:4) and that  “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 5:4).

Evangelicals tend not to observe continuity between Christian holidays. The very concept of a liturgical year is foreign to most nondenominational churches, probably due to excessive paranoia of revering lifeless religious traditions (only to replace them with lifeless traditions of their own). It may also be due to the fact that for a liturgical year to be meaningfully implemented, a decent amount of thought and reflection is required (which, coincidentally, have also been replaced by various forms of passive entertainment).

On the ‘War’ on Christmas

war-on-christmasPastors who use the pulpit as a platform to engage petty verbal disputes in the realm of public discourse are not teaching God’s word, and are wasting the time of God’s people.

What do they think their passionate defenses of the quixotic norms of holiday discourse are supposed to accomplish, anyway? Do they think singing only carols that mention Christ instead of Jingle Bells and co., or saying “Merry Christmas” instead if “Happy Holidays” will bring us closer to realizing God’s will on earth? Do they honestly believe that this is how to fight a culture ‘war’? If so, it’s an unsuccessful strategy to win a losing battle that’s completely irrelevant to the actual war.

Or is it possible that they’re actually doing more harm than good, teaching by example that Christians ought to care about something not worth caring about (which, of course, only results in Christians appearing uptight and petty—a stereotype that the writers of The Office capture perfectly in the character of Angela)? Or is it possible that God’s Kingdom is much deeper, much more substantial than this pathetic annual quarrel fueled by a misbegotten form of Christian pride that is actually nothing but religious chauvinism?

Christians who get all plooped about whether the name “Christ” is mentioned enough in an ostensibly ‘Christmas’ song or story, or whether “Merry Christmas” is a politically correct salutation, somehow fail to realize that these things will not change the way anyone already celebrates Christmas, and certainly will not change anyone’s heart, mind, or life in any significant way for the better (it’s comical to imagine a scenario in which they would). And anyone who actually believes that these frivolous disputes are a matter of deep significance needs to heed 2 Tim 2:23 and reassess his or her priorities. Because the battles one chooses to fight reflects how shallow or deep one’s vision of the Kingdom is.

The Tithing Conspiracy

tithingThe authors of this website (from which I’ve culled the picture below), “are convinced that many Christians suffer materially, physically and spiritually because they have been misappropriating that which belongs to God.” By “misappropriating that which belongs to God,” they mean, of course, not tithing. The quote evinces several pagan status quo Christian beliefs that suck the life blood out of the cross. I’ve dealt elsewhere with the question of whether one’s material or physical sufferings can be attributed to divine punishment for sin. But for not tithing!?—that adds a new twist! Continue reading

Apparently, God Does Punish You for Your Sins…

…at least according to this guy. An appeal to exactly two verses in the New Testament Monopoly manare made to justify the pagan practice of interpreting misfortune as divine punishment for your sin. And, not surprisingly, not one verse or scriptural motif that suggests otherwise is mentioned. The two verses are 1 Cor 11:30 and Rev 2:4. While unconvincing, 1 Cor 11:30 makes a better case for the pagan practice than the case of Ananias and Sapphira. Rev 2:4 is obviously talking about punishment that results from failure to repent, not from sin.

The Case of the Corinthians’ Sin

In a previous post, I argued that it is inappropriate—pagan, even—to interpret misfortunes that befall us as God punishing us for some sin. I then argued that the case of Ananias and Sapphira does not negate the point. A much harder passage to square with the point is 1 Cor. 11:30, where Paul seems to attribute the cause of certain afflictions among the Corinthians to God’s judgment for their sinful handling of the Lord’s Supper. The passage reads:

act-of-god27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

Seems clear enough: God judged their sin by punishing many of them with physical afflictions, including death. So is it false one should not view misfortune as divine punishment for one’s sin? Continue reading

I Don’t Have Enough Patience for Your Clichés

Bat SlapDear old man tugging your lapels whilst confidently chuckling when the pastor says “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist” after an abysmal presentation of the design argument (which usually just consists of a few slides picturing deep space objects with a nod to Plaley, or a banana),

I would like to appeal to your good nature and demand this practice be stopped at once.

For starters, the cliché betrays the Biblical concept of faith, catering to the bastardized cultural definition that has something like “belief on the basis of induction,” or worse  “belief without evidence or reason” at its heart. Correctly understood, faith has a spiritual dynamic that cannot characterize unbelief or belief in spiritually-neutral matters. Indeed, in the New Testament, an unbeliever just is someone who does not have faith. So speaking of an atheist as having faith is just a contradiction in NT terms.

For seconders, the Bible and Christian tradition teaches that faith is (among other things) an epistemic virtue had by those who are in some sense in tune with the things of God. Saying such ridiculous things as “it takes more faith to be an atheist” either tacitly admits that believing by faith is an epistemically bad way of believing, or else suggests atheists are more epistemically virtuous about spiritual matters than believers are. Are you recommending we either stop believing things by faith or all become atheists?

For thirders, it is not clever and it is not cute. Actually, dialectically speaking, it commits the tu quoque fallacy. Whenever I hear this cliché applied to atheism or some other non-Christian position, I hear your confident chuckles and resounding baritone amens. But, ironically, this only reveals how unclever and uncute you are. Let the record show: it is not clever, and it is not cute. In the rare event that you heed this sage advice,

Thank you sincerely,

Clichés Christians Should Avoid Using

Christian Piatt has a good post on ten clichés Christians should never use. Be sure to also check out his ten more cliches Christians should never use. Piatt’s theology leaves some things to be desired, but the shallow clichés deserve exposing. Terminological quibble: the “never” is probably too strong. How about “n clichés Christians should avoid using”.