Monday, April 27, 2015

Nepal Area Earthquake

Lutheran Disaster Response

Nepal Area Earthquake

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

We have seen the devastating images and stories coming out of Nepal. Sections of Kathmandu, the nation’s capital, and surrounding areas lie in rubble. More than 3,000 people have lost their lives, and the number continues to rise as officials make their way through rural communities. Historic buildings and houses have been leveled; roads are destroyed. The injured and their families line the streets in front of hospitals and caregivers. The need for food, water, medical care, blankets and shelter is great.

Please help now with a gift.

Nepal Earthquake

Lutheran Disaster Response is actively networking with partners such as The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Lutheran World Relief and the ACT Alliance who are already on the ground. LWF’s office in Kathmandu escaped the worst of the impact of the quake and has already launched a large-scale emergency response.

Our church is committed to walking with the people of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh as they navigate every part of this disaster relief and recovery process – even long after the dust settles and media attention fades.

Your gifts are needed now. Every gift designated to the "Nepal Area Earthquake" through Lutheran Disaster Response will be used entirely – 100 percent – to help those impacted by the quake rebuild their lives and livelihoods. You can help provide comfort, healing and hope in the midst of destruction.

Thank you for your gifts, your prayers and your partnership.

In service to Christ,


Rev. Daniel Rift
Director, ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

P.S. Please give generously and continue to pray for those who have been affected by the earthquake. Use this bulletin insert to share this information with your congregation.
 Merciful God,

Hear our cry for mercy in the wake of the earthquake. Reveal your presence in the midst of our suffering. Help us to trust in your promises of hope and life so that desperation and grief will not overtake us. Come quickly to our aid that we may know peace and joy again. Strengthen us in this time of trial with the assurance of hope we know in the death and resurrection of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ways to Give

Checks or money orders should be sent to:
Lutheran Disaster Response
P.O. Box 1809
Merrifield, VA 22116-8009

Write "Nepal Area Earthquake" on your check memo line.-----------------------
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Rapture of the Millennials

Used to be, people published articles about the Millennials and church. Then people started publishing articles about the fact that there are so many hand-wringing articles about Millennials and church. At this point, for all I know, there is a whole generation of folks we could simply class as "people who have written stuff about Millennials and Church."

Barna or Pew should do a research study about them.

In the meantime, we do have some statistics from Pew Forum on the future of religious affiliation in the United States and in the world. They're pretty interesting, some of the most salient news being that Islam will, by 2050, nearly equal Christianity in total numbers, and may surpass Christianity later in the century.

Interestingly, however, agnostics, atheists, and unaffiliateds will actually decline worldwide over this time period, meaning there will be more religious people in 2050 than presently. The only global religion that will see a slight decline during this period is Buddhism.

Religious communities will, of course,  decline somewhat in Western countries. The United States will decline from about 3/4s Christian in 2010 to 2/3rds Christian by 2050.


Clearly (!!!!!!!) we need to write more articles about Millennials  (!!!!) so this doesn't happen!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, having gotten that off my chest, let's return to the numbers themselves. There will be more unaffiliated folks in the next few decades, although the analysis of why people in that category are willing to self-describe as unaffiliated is complex. There might be more unaffiliated folk. Or it could be that healthy secularization has allowed more folks to simply name who they are, rather than wearing a Christian label to fit in with the dominant (77%!) culture of Christians.

What I think many prognosticators are overlooking about Millennials and the church, however, are the real reason why Millennials are leaving the church. They are slowly being raptured.

They aren't leaving to join pagan cults or start house churches. They are leaving because God has decided to descend and swoop them up and take them to himself gathered around Christ in His glory. This is so obvious. And the reason is simple. The next millennium has to be presided over not by Millennials (the beloved of God) but Gen Xers, who carry on them in their very generation the mark of the beast (X).

Also, if this weren't proof enough, notice how close the word Millennial is to millennialism. We all know that millennialism is a deeply Christian belief (albeit one borrowed from Zoroastrianism) that history is broken up into 1000 year periods. Millenialism is a specific doctrine within millenarianism, which also sounds like Millennial, just a little more militaristic.

You see where I'm going with this, right? Clearly, if we are going to do God's will, and aid the Millenials along the path to rapture, we need to stop all of our hand-wringing attempts to bring the Millennials back to church, and instead we need to chase them away in droves. We need to adopt church strategies that scare them away.

Many people have written handbooks on this already, so I encourage you to read them. Rachel Held Evans wrote a wonderful piece a couple of years ago for CNN that can be very helpful in scaring Millennials away from the church and towards the rapture they so genuinely deserve.

We have our work cut out for us. According to Barna, 68% of Millennials are still actually connected to a religious community. That's a huge number of people, more than a 2/3rds majority, so to bring about the rapture of this community, we are going to really have to work to disabuse them of their zealous religiosity and connection to faith communities. But it can and should be done, because the Millennials need us. They can't do this by themselves.

Just like it is Barack Obama's top agenda to get nuclear weapons into the hands of the Iranians, the church needs to send Millennials out (think missional, folks!) for their pre-tribulationist role within the economy of salvation history.

Post-tribulationists are going to take issue with me on this point, but since they are amillenialists anyway, I don't think their arguments hold any missional water.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Am I a liberal?

I get accused of this often. Or commended for it. So I wonder, am I one? Am I a liberal? And what is a liberal anyway?

Let's start with theological liberalism. Liberal theology (or liberal Christianity) at its most basic is a movement, informed by the Enlightenment, that employs modern philosophical and scientific perspectives to the interpretation of Scripture.

What this means in practice is that liberal Christians approach the interpretation of Scripture much like they approach the interpretation of other texts. They begin with things like historical context, or literary style, or cultural criticism, and bring these interpretive frameworks to bear on their reading of the text. Authorship matters. The fact that the text was written at a specific time matters, so liberal theologians take into account the gender, race, and social and political situation of the authors who wrote the texts.

The alternative is a more propositional approach to interpretation, that the text should be read in light of certain doctrinal or creedal assumptions. In a sense, non-liberal reading of Scripture believes the text just "is" and all our experiences and other modern interpretive models have to take a back seat to the authority of the biblical text itself.

So, if this is liberal, then I would say I'm about half liberal. I do believe the historical and cultural context of the Scriptures matters for our contemporary reading of the text. I am most interested, when reading Scripture, in what the text may have originally meant to those hearing or writing it. That's liberal.

But I'm interested in understanding Scripture in this liberal way in order to stand under it, to recognize its appropriate authority in my own life, and to gather or gain doctrinal or propositional or narrative truths from it precisely by reading it in a liberal way. I guess this second move is what you'd call conservative. So I'm a liberal in service to another kind of conservatism.

Ultimately, as a preacher, I want to approach the Scriptures in a generous manner. My goal is to assume I stand under rather than over them, that my life is shaped by them rather than my worldview shaping my read of them.

So here's where things get interesting again. Some people (conservatives?) like to accuse people like me (liberals?) of conforming our faith to the culture and the ways of this world. But is that actually an fair accusation? So, for example, the most prominent one, if I support marriage equality, am I just abandoning Christian faith and conforming Christianity to the culture?

The assumption by those who criticize my position is that their position (let's call it a traditional view of marriage) is "against" the culture and not at all conformed to the ways of this world.

That's the part I disagree with. Traditional views are just as conformed to the culture as are contemporary or liberal ones. So again, as a liberal, I guess I do agree with the notion that we are all shaped by our context and culture, without exception. And the fact is, the traditional view of things is often still the dominant one. So who is conforming to who and to what?

Weighing in the balance here is the authority of Scripture over the authority of experience. To what degree does personal experience have some kind of authority in the life of faith, over against  the norm of Scripture? I'm not sure where this puts me on the liberal-orthodox spectrum, but I think the answer is, we can't really say. The two are mutually intertwined, and the truth is, although I stand under Scripture and consider it an authority in the life of faith, I also trust the experience of others as they articulate it to me, and accept the authority of my and others' personal experiences.

I am also "confessional." I have committed to interpreting Scripture in light of the Lutheran confessional texts. In this sense, I am not a liberal. I am confessional, catholic, orthodox, Lutheran. However, I believe the Lutheran confessions were shaped by the culture, piety, and historical context of its authors, so I can't help but be confessional in a liberal way. So here I again I guess I'm a liberal, modern, ecumenical.

All of this is likely connected to my commitment to the liberal arts. I went to a liberal arts college, am a member of Phi Beta Kappa, one of the nation's oldest liberal arts societies, and in general believe it is a good idea for people to be formed in ways that prepare them to function as free people in a civic society.

I find the notion, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it," itself unsettling because I don't believe such a phrase is even consonant with the logic and sense of Scripture itself. The Scripture itself is a kind of school, a library for the liberal arts, open to readers not in order to be closed and dogmatic, but to stand comfortably as those set free by God for life in the world.

Is that liberal? Well, in the classical sense, it is, kind of. Classical liberalism emphasizes freedom of speech, freedom of religion, democratic society, secular government, and international cooperation. This is why Republicans are actually liberals.

So also free markets. They're very liberal. I'm a pretty big fan of almost all of the liberal things, although as the kind of socialist liberal that I am, I'm somewhat uncomfortable with the impact of free markets on civic society. On the other hand, I benefit so much from free markets I probably can't critique them too much.

Anyway, pretty much everyone, Republican or Democrat, is a liberal (and most Republicans neo-liberal) according to the classical definition. Unless you aren't, but then you probably also weave your own clothes and live off the grid or something.

There are other marks of a liberal. There's the popular use of the term in politics. A liberal is someone who votes Democrat, and holds to a certain political platform. Here again, I guess I'd beg my way out of the liberal label. In terms of political views and social justice commitments, I'm much more of a socialist. In terms of social values, I'm aligned, with a few exceptions, with the Roman Catholic Conference of Bishops more than I am with the Democrats. I'm pro-life (broadly speaking), pro-immigrant, and so on. I've voted for Green party candidates, and progressives, and sometimes for Republicans.

If anyone matches my social political perspective, it's probably Jim Wallis of Sojourners. But only to a point. I am a humble Lutheran, after all, not a liberal evangelical.

In the end, the problematic caricature of liberal pastors like me is that we don't take the Bible seriously, or even read it at all. It's regularly assumed you can't find one in our offices, and they don't inform our preaching.

But people listen to my sermons with some regularity, and although they find all kinds of things that could be improved in my preaching, one thing nobody criticizes is a lack of Scripture. It's all the way in and through it. I try to live and breathe it. You might disagree with my interpretation of Scripture, but that's quite a ways from assuming I've abandoned it.

So I'd argue that I'm not a liberal, I'm orthodox. In a liberal way.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Humanity of Posts

Whereas humanism prioritizes human experiences over things, some posthumanist theory prioritizes things themselves. Thus the question of the humanity of posts (the wooden ones). What is the identity or experience of a post, and how shall we account for it in a posthumanist manner that informs theological commitments?

Check out the full article at Word & World