The World Wide (Religious) Web for Friday, June 3, 2011

Michael Potemra provides a glowing review to Rejoice and Shout, a documentary about the African-American tradition of Gospel music. I love the Andraé Crouch quote that Potemra opens the review with: “If we really heard the voice of God, we would be reduced to juice. The vibration of His voice would reduce us to liquid. . . . So He has to use other people to speak His word.” I look forward to seeing the documentary, though I’ll probably have to wait till it comes out on DVD.


As you may know, residents of San Francisco will vote in November on an initiative to ban circumcision, with no religious exemptions. Wesley J. Smith points out that the author of the initiative is a notorious anti-Semite. Smith’s wife, Debra J. Saunders, points out that San Francisco pols have a tendency toward busy-body-dom, having earlier banned McDonald’s Happy Meals. Alluding to Martin Niemoller’s famous words, Saunders concludes: “First they came for the Chicken McNuggets, then they came for my son’s …” We live in interesting times.


Stephen Schneck provides a useful outline of Catholic social teaching on subsdiarity, that is, “the appropriate balancing of responsibilities and functions among the parts of a social order.” I particularly liked this statement:

Subsidiarius, thus, hints at the moral issue at the heart of any correct understanding of subsidiarity, especially in application to questions about the proper role of government in executing public policies.  Subsidiarity requires that policies be performed by the most appropriate level of the social order to achieve results without too much overage or too much underage in the application of power or resources. Overage creates unwanted dependency. Underage fails to fully satisfy needs relative to the common good.

Subsidiarity is a Catholic social teaching. The Dutch Reformed tradition has a similar concept, sphere sovereignty. As our nation debates changes to our welfare state, I think all of us can learn from both concepts. The question is not whether we help the poor and disenfranchised, only how.


Greg Garrett does not like Joel Osteen.

You and other Prosperity Gospel preachers advance a vision of God that is transactional: if you do this, then God will do that. He has to, in fact. Because a verse here or there in the Bible says so, however little it reflects God’s actual redemptive work in the world.

And I’m here to tell you, Sir, in the same language I use with anyone who imagines we can be in a transactional relationship with God, that this isn’t what Christian faith is. Praying the right prayer often enough to get what you want, believing really hard in Jesus to get what you want are not true to the Christian story, or to logic. To imagine that you, or your followers, or the person out in the bookstore or TV land who is exposed to your message somehow influences the God of the Universe, the Creator of All That Is, by his or her personal actions is not belief in God.

It’s belief in magic. Put your hands together, say a few faithful words, and the Universe will give you what you ask.

In the process of delivering his soul against Osteen, Garrett, a Mainline Protestant, takes a crack at “the always-dying and ever-angry Christ of conservative evangelicals,” and this crack rings false. But overall, the jeremiad is both timely and true. Bonus angle: Garrett’s grandmother attended an Assemblies of God church.


David Harsanyi begins “There’s Something about Marriage” with this awesome quote: “When an actress—no, an artist—the caliber of Cameron Diaz weighs in on the future of social institutions, America has an obligation to listen.” Diaz evidently thinks marriage is a dying institution. (You would too if you got dumped by Justin Timberlake.) Harsanyi disagrees.


Questions (almost) no one is asking: “What Rowan Williams really dislikes about Freemasonry.” Actually, the article is pretty good.


“[Romney’s] Mormon faith still seen as hurdle.” The article focuses on evangelical opposition to a Mormon being president. My guess is that, in a general election, evangelicals would more readily vote for a Mormon who is politically conservative than a Protestant who is politically liberal. We may get to test whether my guess is accurate in 2012. Oh, and if Romney does become the GOP presidential candidate, I wonder whether The Washington Times will run a news story on liberal opposition to a Mormon being president. My guess is no. And the Times is a “conservative” paper. But I could be wrong.


“Religious groups have too much freedom to discriminate.” The country is England, the groups are religious charities, and the root issue is homosexuality. I expect to see more of this kind of argument on our side of the pond in the years to come.


William Doino Jr. reviews Michael Burleigh’s new book, Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II, in two parts: here and here. Doino’s conclusion?

If Moral Combat proves anything, it is that the voice of conscience did survive the Second World War, in spite of all its outrages and ethical compromises. There were civilians and resistance fighters and clergymen and politicians, and yes, even military men, who did, in fact, uphold the moral law, and protested to their leaders when they violated it, even at the risk of being called traitors or worse. They were not seduced by the “lust for war,” and they didn’t countenance its abuses. Whether conscious of it or not, they were following the noble precepts of the Just War tradition, which went into abeyance for a time but, thankfully, have been revived.” Let’s hope so.


The always interesting David Bentley Hart opines on “the similarities between the language of Christianity in the early centuries and that of many of the pagan devotions of late antiquity”:

The gospel entered the ancient world at a time of tremendous religious plurality and spiritual ferment: an age of religious anxiety, when mystery religions, Orphic cults, Gnosticisms, and innumerable devotional sects multiplied uncontrollably and continuously throughout the empire. And I suppose one can look at the issue from either direction. One can gaze backward and conclude that the rise of Christianity was simply the accidental evolutionary consequence of the cultural forces of a certain period and nothing else.
But one might also conclude that Christianity endured, spread, and ultimately succeeded in large part because it provided an answer to seemingly unanswerable cultural and spiritual dilemmas, and addressed certain perennial human yearnings with perhaps unrivalled power. What one thinks that says about the gospel, however, is all very much a matter of what one understands nature, culture, and history to be.



Nancy Guthrie offers her perspective on the question, “What Do You Mean When You Talk about Christ in the Old Testament?” Preachers should read this.

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