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Posted 5/23/13 at 5:24 PM | Paul Louis Metzger
We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.
The Apostle Paul was a very nuanced Christian thinker. He understood the world of ancient Paganism and respected the Romans and Greco-Roman culture enough to understand carefully what they practiced and believed. As Paganism lost ground in the ancient world with the rise of Christianity, a sophisticated understanding of pre-Christian or pagan religions also lost ground. Unlike many Christians throughout the ages, Paul understood that idols were not to be identified at every turn with pagan deities. In Acts 17:16-34, we see that he (like many ancient Pagans) understands that the statue to the unknown God is not a god, but that it represents or can represent God beyond the idol. The same goes for Paul’s reflection on idolatry in 1 Corinthians 10. The idols to which food was sacrificed were nothing, even though in his estimation, the idols were associated with demons (1 Corinthians 10:14-22). In other words, Paul was able to distinguish the material object from what he understood to be a demonic presence. FULL POST
Posted 5/23/13 at 5:21 PM | Paul Louis Metzger |
Paul was a world Christian. He not only traveled the known world of his day to places such as Corinth, Athens, and Rome, but also lived in the world, even though he was not of it. As a world Christian Paul did not go around his Christian convictions to engage those outside the church. Nor did he stop short at his convictions. Rather, he went through his convictions to engage those outside the faith.
In contrast to world Christians like Paul, worldly Christians are in the world and of it. As such, they lose sight of their distinctive identity in Christ and their distinctive Christian truth claims. Often their rationale is that they do not want to be a stumbling block to people, but in leaving their truth claims at the door, they keep Jesus from becoming the stumbling block so others can’t repent of their autonomy and respond to his loving call for relationship with them.
There is one other group—otherworldly Christians. These Christians are not really in the world. They stop short at their convictions and fail to connect with the people around them. These Christians will only engage those outside the faith if the latter are willing to change their views and accept Christ. FULL POST
Posted 5/17/13 at 12:54 PM | Paul Louis Metzger |
Have you ever seen those old Charmin bathroom tissue commercials, where shoppers get addicted to squeezing the Charmin because it’s irresistibly soft? The shopkeeper tells them: “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin!” The point of the commercials is to get people to buy Charmin because it’s softer than any other bathroom tissue brand.
Whether or not you have seen those commercials, you may be wondering what all this has to do with comparing religions. We tend to compare religions as if they are different brands of bathroom tissue: which is the softest?
All too often we load the discussion on comparing religions based on what facet or feature we find most endearing, such as softness, while ignoring the “selling points” of other traditions. But who said “softness” is the essential quality? I can think of bathroom tissues that may be soft, but not durable. Durability is also a quality to consider, as are economy and disposability (it won’t clog the toilet). There are all kinds of bathroom tissues that can get the job done. FULL POST
Posted 5/17/13 at 12:48 PM | Paul Louis Metzger
Now that the venerable holiday—Mother’s Day—has passed, I would like to reflect upon what I will call the Holy Mother’s Day. Typically, Mary, the mother of the Lord, is honored at Annunciation, which occurred this year on Monday, April 8, 2013. There is a sense in which every day should be this holy mother’s day, since she manifested the kind of radical obedience to God in honoring Christ that should be true of every Christian every day of the year.
Scripture records that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would be the mother of the Lord, Mary responded: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV). Every Christian—myself included—should respond in the same manner. Just imagine how unimaginable the call of the Lord was upon her life. No doubt, she was aware of the fact that her fiancé would be greatly troubled by the news that she was expecting a child and he wasn’t the father! No doubt, she was aware of the fact that people would gossip about her state long after the baby was born. No doubt, she doubted that she was up to the task of being the mother of the Lord, even as she marveled at the thought (Luke 1:46-49). Who wouldn’t doubt, given what she sensed? She is blessed among women, just as the fruit of her womb is blessed (Luke 1:42), and every generation will consider her blessed (Luke 1:48). How weighty and monumental! FULL POST
Posted 5/17/13 at 12:39 PM | Paul Louis Metzger
Fundamentalism comes in all shapes and sizes. Liberals can be fundamentalists, too. I am not talking about doctrine, but an inflexible posture that makes dialogue impossible.
Tom Krattenmaker’s Huffington Post piece titled, “A Progressive's Confessional Journey to Focus on the Family,” is a shining example of a secular progressive who is progressive on dialogue. I wish I could say the same for some of the respondents at the close of the article.
Of course, we Evangelicals are well-known for our fundamentalist ways. Perhaps we Evangelicals can learn a thing or two from Krattenmaker. He is willing to risk and see the good in the other and tell it the way he sees it, even if it will cost him in terms of how his secular-progressive camp views him. I have heard him say that his liberal constituents are going to kill him for certain constructive claims he makes about the enemy. How challenging: how many Evangelicals are willing to cross party lines to connect with people no matter their ideological stripe? FULL POST
Posted 5/9/13 at 1:51 PM | Paul Louis Metzger
What is it about Charles Ramsey, the hero in the Cleveland kidnapping saga, that takes America’s imagination captive? Whether or not his appeal lasts a short or long period of time, his words and deeds have gone viral.
There are no doubt numerous reasons for Ramsey as a web phenomenon. One is how unbelievable the story is of his (and quite possibly others) freeing three women and a child brutally imprisoned for ten years in Ramsey’s neighbor’s house. It has all the makings of a horror/hero adventure film.
One also has to account for how unscripted and yet penetrating Ramsey’s words are. For example, the way in which he addresses America’s racial fears of black men surprises and challenges us: “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway … Either she’s homeless or she’s got problems. That’s the only reason she run to a black man …” (Take note of the reactions of those around him, including the reporter interviewing him, when he says these words.) FULL POST
Posted 5/7/13 at 5:26 PM | Paul Louis Metzger
A friend of Hispanic descent shared with me after New Wine, New Wineskins’ recent conference on immigration reform that someone seated near her said, “I hate parasites.” My friend said that the person in question—presumably a Christian given the Christian setting of the conference—was questioning the value of undocumented people living here in the U.S. I have a hard time not devaluing the statement and perspective of the unidentified person to whom my friend referred. There are several reasons why I find the statement troubling and worthy of critique.
Certainly, undocumented people benefit in a wide variety of ways from living in America. But as they pay a variety of taxes, they are benefiting our system, even as they may not benefit from those tax dollars to the extent that we do. In some ways, citizens and other documented people may be benefiting disproportionately from the undocumented, as with such tax dollars and in the purchasing of produce that would quite possibly be priced higher if citizens and other documented people were working the fields where such produce is harvested by those without legal status. By the way, if Americans benefit from lower prices for food products harvested by the undocumented, does that not make American consumers accomplices in illegal activity, knowingly or unknowingly? (By the way, New Wine will address this subject at our spring 2014 conference on the multi-faceted phenomenon of food). Regardless of one’s response to that question, America benefits from the work, purchasing power, and taxes paid by the undocumented. FULL POST
Posted 5/6/13 at 2:50 PM | Paul Louis Metzger |
Have you ever had a salesperson try and get you to buy something you did not want, and the person could not take “No” for an answer? The salesperson came across as a consumer predator.
Many salespeople are aware of the negative associations people have concerning their trade. So, they engage in soft sale tactics to avoid the perception that they are engaged in predatory proselytism. You may be as amused as we are when we get Christmas and birthday cards from former realtors. How much they care for us!
Like the realtors noted above, Evangelicals today are often aware of the negative associations people have of proselytism (including that the term “proselytism” is now often associated with unethical forms of evangelism). But are we sensitive enough?
In April, a lecture was given at Grand Valley State University in Michigan that featured Padma Kuppa, a Hindu interfaith activist with the Hindu American Foundation. She was sharing the results of her research into “predatory proselytization,” which she defines as unethical conversion strategies. Kuppa offered examples of how this phenomenon takes place in her home country in India. One example was that Christians used public obituary information in order to send sympathy cards to the relatives of deceased Hindus, only to include evangelistic elements, involving not only the citation of biblical verses, but also mention of eternal punishment. The response of these Hindu families should give Christians pause for reflection: “While unhappy, they seemed resigned, treating it as one of those unwelcome features of life in a religiously diverse society that one learns to accept and tolerate. ‘This is what Christians do.’” FULL POST
Posted 5/2/13 at 1:15 PM | Paul Louis Metzger
The Trayvon Martin case is back in the national news. The other night, an African American pastor posed the question to a group of people: why has the Trayvon Martin case captured the American public’s eye? Tragedies like this happen all the time. Why did this one shoot America in the face on the evening news?
In reflecting upon his question, I thought back on other high profile cases that raised questions about race: celebrity trials involving OJ Simpson and Kobe Bryant respectively and the late Rodney King. No doubt, each case was different, but each case attracted national attention. One of the striking features of this case is that an African American youth was shot to death by a Hispanic American man, who claimed he shot him in self-defense. In the Rodney King beating, captured live on camera, there was no way in the world that the police officers beat him to a pulp in self-defense. For some at least, this case is not so clear cut. And yet, why did Zimmerman—a community watch volunteer—pursue Martin, even when the 911 operator told him to stop? Was he racially profiling Martin? FULL POST
Posted 5/2/13 at 12:42 PM | Paul Louis Metzger
The Jets released Tim Tebow this week. Now the debate is on as to what team, if any, should sign him. Great athlete. Great person. But does he have the makings to be a good NFL quarterback who can win with his arm, not just his legs? I wonder if at some point he will abort an NFL career for another career path.
Yesterday, in an ethics class, my students and I discussed various models of ethics. As we discussed outcome-based ethics, we turned to consider the subject of abortion. We reflected upon the argument that is sometimes made that people shouldn’t abort based on the possibility that their children might grow up to be someone special. I was reminded of Focus on the Family’s 2010 Super Bowl commercial featuring a mother talking about how difficult it was giving birth to one of her children, and how he almost didn’t make it. It is only at the end of the commercial that you realize that she is Tim Tebow’s mom and is talking about him. While it is not explicitly stated, the message appears to be: it is worth fighting for life in a culture of risk and death because the child at risk may become a Heisman Trophy winner. FULL POST