Haunted House or War Zone: Does God Test Our Faith?

Now that we are saved, why aren’t things awesome all the time?  Why isn’t life one continuous ascent into the perfect life with God?

And why are we told that God is testing us?

As 1 Peter 1:6 says,

In this [salvation] you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Why would God test faith like that?

Answering this question properly all depends on how we image these tests. It depends on whether we think of life as in a haunted house or a war zone.

Is God Scaring us or Leading Us?

Ready to Jump Out

Our youngest son loves to scare people when they enter the house.  He will hide behind a doorway or some furniture, lying in wait.  And then he pounces. Sometimes he scares us. Sometimes not. Sometimes we see him getting into place. Sometimes we don’t.

It’s in all good fun.

Except when we think of God acting like this?

Sometimes we image our Christian lives as if God is lying in wait, ready to spring out and test us. We think that God is actively testing us, laying out traps to see if we will fall away or lose our faith.

Sometimes we think God is testing us to see if we really, Really, REALLY believe.  And if we fail the test then God is going to…well, who knows what will happen.

The Haunted House of Faith

Sometimes we can image our life of faith like a haunted house.  God is actively trying to scare us, jumping out unexpectedly and tripping us up.

But—as the idea goes—if we can get through without freaking out too much then we will be saved.   If we prove to God that we won’t doubt or run away then we will be saved.

But his image of God actively testing us is horrible—and inaccurate. This view of God lurking behind doors to test us distorts who really God is and how God is accomplishing salvation for us.

Ready to Rescue

Life is not an artificially created haunted house where we need to steel our nerves against any surprises.

Rather, life is better thought as a war zone.

We live in a war zone full of hazards and dangers.  And it is filled roaming spiritual forces seeking to destroy us.

But God, in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, has promised to rescue us from this war zone.  Not only is this promised, but God IS rescuing us and saving us as the one who has come to us and is leading us to safety.

And the only way out of this war zone is to stay close to Jesus, to stay on the straight and narrow path that will leads to life.

The Loyalty in the War Zone

And the question is this, Will you give your trust, your allegiance, your loyalty to Jesus who is rescuing us, who leading us through this war zone?

Or will you, when trials and suffering and sorrows come, will you abandon him for something else? Will you put your trust and loyalty somewhere else when the attack comes?

In this war zone of life, the genuineness of our faith will be tested. But not because God is creating ways to scare us. But because this war zone is already scary enough, and we have continual opportunities to break loyalty with Jesus.

Jesus has the power to save and rescue us. And Jesus is willing to protect us. Jesus is leading us to life.  Will we trust him? Will we place our faith in him?

The Testing of Faith

God is not testing our faith.
But our faith will be tested.

Our faith–allegiance in Jesus is the beginning of our rescue. And our faith–allegiance to Jesus will lead us safely home.

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“Theology on Mission” Podcast, and other things

Theology on
So I’ve been really busy teaching and grading, and haven’t done much writing her.  But I have been writing and stuff.

And Fitch and I have been busy creating a new “Theology on Mission” podcast (which has been really fun and recieve really well so far).  Please check it out, and if you listen through iTunes, please give us a review.


Also, you can engage the podcast on our “Theology on Mission” on Facebook.

My Recent Writings:
The Risk of Doing the Small, Ordinary Thing ~ The High Calling
Is Babel Reversed at Pentecost? ~ Northern Seminary
The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Human Origins? ~Northern Seminary

Lastly, as I’m sure you all know, I’ve been busy starting up Northern Seminary’s exciting new Master of Arts in Theology and Mission, made especially for those desiring theological education but already have a really full life. If you know of anyone who might benefit from it please let them (or me) know.

Deeper Than We Thought (2): The Colorblind Racism

 

Those brought forcibly to America for slavery are now forcibly carried away through imprisonment.

Cimagesolorblind Racism

Two weeks ago I talked about how in my journey of sanctification I seem to be really working only on two or so deeply ingrained sins that seem to keep popping up in different ways. Just when I think I have gotten over it I find it sprouting up again: instead of the fruit of the Spirit, these are the weeds of the flesh, and they are hard to pull out.

Similarly is our societal problem of racism: just when we free those imported here from Africa from slavery then up comes Jim Crow laws; and just when that oppressive system is struck down through the Civil Rights Movement comes a new form of “colorblind” racism.

Just what this “colorblind” racism is and how it has come about is the subject of Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her conviction is that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it” (2).

Today I’m going to look at her compelling narrative (chapter 1) about the three stages or systems of racism in the US: Slavery, Jim Crow, and Mass Incarceration.

The reality that demands explanation by citizen of the US is “the stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to actual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history” (8).

My brief summary here does not do justice to Alexander’s detailed and persuasive argument (I would let you know if I’m not persuaded).

Slavery

In colonial America, laborers were needed to farm the land, and while we often think of the idyllic farmer and his wife tending their own plot on the frontier, most often it was indentured servants who worked for wealth landowners, especially in the southern colonies. These landed elite needed cheap labor to make their “New World” venture profitable back home.

The economic need of the elite eventually settled on the solution of slavery of Africans (because Native Americans were too wild (they tried) and the idea of enslaving fellow Europeans was not entertained). Racism (the pseudo-scientific and social belief that Africans were inferior humans) was utilized to justify slavery in light of what seemed to be a contradiction of the American claim of the freedom and equality for all (i.e. freedom and equality did not conflict with slavery because these enslaved people were not really equal and could not actually handle freedom). The social and psychological benefits of racism split the poor white workers from the enslaved black workers, ensuring that both groups would never unite and rebel against the economic elites. Racist ideology therefore did double duty in justifying the institution of slavery and in creating distance between poor white works and enslaved black workers who material lives were almost indistinguishable (classic move to divide and conquer the working class by the economic elites…something that is happening to this day, as we will see).

The economic needs of slavery created the psychological and social reality of “racism”. But the twist of history is that the “fiction” of racism as proved more durable than the “reality” of slavery, which did eventually come to an end in the US.

Jim Crow

After the Civil War Reconstruction came the KKK Redemption campaign (historical term for reclaiming the South for whites) that effectively instituted post-slavery racial inferiority for African Americans. Vagrancy laws forced recently freed slaves to work their masters again (basically it was a crime not to have a job every day), and petty crime such as “mischief” and “insulting gestures” were harshly enforced against African Americans.

During this time, political conservatives, liberals, and radical populists sought out poor white swing votes by pandering to racist fears (again effectively splitting the poor working class so as to keep poor whites and blacks in their place, but now convincing the poor white class to do the dirty work of race policing). As William Julius Wilson notes, “As long as poor whites directed their hatred and frustration against the black competitor, the planters were relieved of class hostility directed against them” (34) Again, those who would most benefit their own economic destinies by working together (poor whites/blacks) are split by racism, a perception of racial inferiority created to explain and sustain the economics of slavery.

And so Alexander says, “History seemed to repeat itself. Just as the white elite had successfully driven a wedge between poor whites and blacks following Bacon’s Rebellion [a multi-racial rebellion against the plantation elites in 1675] by creating the institution of black slavery, another racial caste system was emerging nearly two centuries later, in part due to the efforts by white elites to decimate a multiracial alliance of poor people” (34).

Mass Incarceration

After the Civil Rights Movement, overtly racist ideology could not be utilized within economic and political discourses to motivate policy. But this does not mean the sentiments disappeared from individuals nor that politicians stopped playing off racist fears for swing votes. Rather, through a linguistic mutation centering around the themes of law and order a new racist discourse developed: this was the “colorblind” emphasis on “crime” and “criminals”.

During the Civil Rights Movement political activists were cast as common criminals violating proper law and order. Segregation was cast as reasonable for sustaining law and order, a system now thrown into chaos.. Those opposed to the Civil Rights Movement attempted to criminalize those advocating for equal rights and equal access.

While the attempt to criminalize Civil Rights activists as a way of saving Jim Crow segregation ultimately failed, the focus only “law and order” by getting “tough on crime” became the blueprint for the next iteration of racial oppression.

In Congress and on the street, those who had previously cast a ballot for segregation (of housing, education, employment) would uniformly vote for strict crime policies that implicitly targeted black and brown populations.

Indeed, as has happened before, the poor white voter was split from the poor black voter under the guise of “getting tough on crime.” While conservative politicians are traditionally aligned with corporate interests and business elites, these conservative politicians could grab poor white votes by playing up racial violence and the need for getting tough on crime. A “colorblind” rhetoric aimed against crime (and those on welfare) was clearly understood to be directed at garnering white votes but impossible to prove as overly racist.

This “getting tough on crime” instituted through the “War on Drugs” (begun in the ‘80’s) is the reason the US incarcerates the highest percentage (by far) of its population of all countries, and why in the last 30 years our prison system has grown by 350%.

Once in place, “The system functioned relatively automatically, and the prevailing system of racial meanings, identities, and ideologies already seemed natural. Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were black and Latino, yet the mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neural terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate. The New Jim Crow was born” (58).

The actual mechanics of such a system of mass incarceration will be the themes of the next couple of chapters looking at the process of being arrested, the judicial process, and life after release.  These will be the themes of later posts.

ATV-prison-massWhat do you think?

In my last post I asked these questions:

  • Or, why does America have the largest incarceration rate of the “free world?
  • Why is that when people of all racial backgrounds use and sell illegals drugs at a similar rate, that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes?
  • Why does America imprison a larger percentage of its black population the South Africa did at the height of apartheid?

Do you have other answers than the one that Alexander is aiming at?

Deeper than We Thought (1): Our Society’s Sin

The Journey of Redemption 0e1140859_blog-racial-reconciliation

I’ve found in my journey of redemption that I don’t necessary sin egregiously in every category. Rather I’ve found I often keep struggling with the same two or three sins that seem to go all the way down to my core.

Every time I think I’m done with that sin God will gently tear off the Band-Aid and reveal just how bad the infection is. Over and over again this process goes on.

On a different level, this is true of our American society when it comes to race.

The Reality of Race

It seems that majority (white) people are often tired of talking about race (just like we are tired of dealing with that pesky sin of ours).  This is especially true of white evangelicals, where 69% think that the best way to improve race relations is to stop talking about race! It is as if we as a society think that because we acknowledge racism that we can now move on to our other sins.

But I would say this is probably one of the two core sins of our American society, and there is not easy movement beyond it.

And are we really working on it anyway? Or just managing it, like we manage having a short temper or indulging in too much dessert?

Aren’t we just managing “racism” when every so often we acknowledge the need for a “national debate”, or that those “real racists” need to be punished, or that perhaps the police are a little harsh on minorities, but never diving in to see how deep the sin goes?

These questions and concerns have directed me toward a book by Michelle Alexander called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

This book rips off the Band-Aid and shows how and why the problem of racism persists in a post-Civil Rights era of colorblindness.

The Questions

As any good pastor would, this books asks deeper and different questions about our sin, overlooking the “obvious” as it searches for the true causes.

For instance,

  • Why did the “War on Drugs” begin in 1982 (by Reagan) when drug use was on the decline, not considered a national problem, and a good 2-3 years before crack cocaine became broadly available in major US cities?

(Anybody remember this add?)

 

incarceration_1-800x510

 

And more specifically,

  • Why is that when people of all racial backgrounds use and sell illegals drugs at a similar rate, that people of color are disproportionately imprisoned for drug crimes?
  • Why does America imprison a larger percentage of its black population the South Africa did at the height of apartheid?

Notice the drift of these questions?

This is about our criminal justice system, not the proclivity of racial stereotyping by people or racial slurs spoken in the parlors.

Alexander’s questions seek to reveal the links between a new form of racism and our criminal justice institutions, forged through what has become known as the War on Drugs (all that is for the next post).

The Plan

So I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks reading through Michelle Alexander’s book and posting about it (mostly for myself but also in the hopes it will provoke some conversation among those who have and haven’t read it yet…acknowledging I’m a late comer to the party as the book came out four years ago).

In the next post we’ll look at her what she means when she says,

“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

God With Us, #1: From Garden to Garden.

New Jerusalem, by Gustave Doré
New Jerusalem, by Gustave Doré

The season of Advent prompts me to think on the coming of Christ, of Immanuel, God with us.  It makes me think of the deep mysteries of the Incarnation and the doctrine of Christology (that Christ is both God and human). 

And yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the day in which we remember that not only did Christ come to set his people free in the past, but that that he will come again (how many of your preach the Second Coming at least once a year?).

God’s New Dwelling Place

Think of John apocalyptic vision: With the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth this is what John proclaims:

“Behold! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev. 21:3)

When Christ comes again and establishes his kingdom it will mean that God is again dwelling among his people.  God will live with his people.

This “dwelling place” in some translations is more accurately termed “tabernacle” (sk?n?), reminding us of God’s first portable temple.  It also reminds us of other time God’s “tabernacle” was among the people when the Word “took on flesh and made his dwelling (sk?no?) among us” (John 1:14).

God’s Old Dwelling Place

And was not the Garden of Eden meant to be a place for God to dwell with God’s people?

After that fateful fruit episode in the Garden we hear of God walking in the Garden looking for Adam and Eve.  Do we think this happened only because God was stalking Adam and Eve after their transgression, but pretty much ignored them beforehand? No.  God delighted to dwell with them in the Garden and regularly joined them there

God wanted to be with us.

God With Us, Now

It is safe to say this has always been God’s plan: that God would dwell with his people, from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of the New City.  It may have even been the entire purpose of creation was that God would dwell with his people.

But this “God with Us” is not only something in the past now lost, or something in the future to be gained.  Rather it is something that happens even now.

As we look into the reality of “God With Us” this Advent I hope that we come to realize that God is always with us, even to the end of the age.

More Than Splitting the Difference: Missio Dei (a)

CHT174193

So often we want to jump right into joining God’s mission because we feel we already know what God’s mission is.  But before even asking, “What is God’s mission?” we need to ask, “Who is this God on mission?” and “How does God go about this mission?”

Is God distant? Is God everywhere? These are the questions for us in this third video of our “More than Splitting the Difference” series as we explore why it is so hard to push beyond this right-left polarity and a “best of both worlds” approach. The hope is to offer a more than “third way” for mission among evangelicals and beyond (and check out Prodigal Christianity for a bit more on what I’m talking about here).

To keep the videos short I split this one up, with the second part coming on Monday (although something happened to speed up the first 10 seconds. Sorry).

And please consider subscribing to the post on the right, or following me on these other streams.

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“We Have Theology, the Rest of You are Just Visiting…”

I think that much of theology works with the assumptions expressed by Matt Damon’s character in “The Good Shepherd” (about the CIA).  When asked about what “you people have?” he answers, “We have America. The rest of you are just visiting.” (FYI, racial slurs in the dialogue) (My thoughts below).

I think many pop theologians (especially Evangelicals) have the general assumption that it is well and nice that Latin America theology brings liberation, and Black theology brings justice, and Feminist theology brings gender, and African Theology brings the ancestors, and Pentecostal theology brings the Spirit, etc.  But real theology (i.e. white, upper-class) is just theology itself (without an adjective), and the rest of you are just visiting.

Sadly, I worry this represents the state of much of  what goes around as ‘missional’ theology.