Category: Kingdom of God

Have we domesticated discipleship?

File:Brooklyn Museum - The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (La pêche miraculeuse) - James Tissot - overall.jpg

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10)

By Alan Bean

This week we consider Jesus’ calling of the first disciples. In Mark’s gospel, the subject is covered in five short verses; Luke’s account is twice as long and doubly detailed. The evangelists (a fancy word for the men who write the four gospels) inherited scores of traditional stories about the life and work of Jesus and used this material with great freedom.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus appears to two groups of fisherman busy casting their nets into the sea. “Follow me,” he says, “and I will make you fish for people.” Without a word, the men drop their nets and follow.

In Luke, the action if far more complex. Right at the end of John’s gospel, we find a story about a miraculous catch of fish. Luke gives us the same story, but he places it in a very different setting. In John, the risen Christ appears to his disheartened disciples and asks them to let down their nets for a catch. In Luke, this request is extended right at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching ministry.

As a teenager growing up in McLaurin Baptist Church in Edmonton, Canada, I discussed Mark’s story with Sadie Beggs, an Irish Baptist. “Jesus just walks up and tells these guys to follow, and they do,” I said. “I wonder what was going through their heads.”

Sadie told me she had always been mystified by the disciples’ willingness to follow a perfect stranger. “It must have been a miracle,” she said.

In Luke, the decision to follow Jesus is more understandable. Jesus heals the mother-in-law of a soon-to-be disciple named Simon just shortly before the two men meet by the sea of Galilee. The call to discipleship doesn’t come from a complete stranger, in other words, Simon has already seen Jesus at work. (more…)

Dominionism sparks a nasty food fight

Jim Wallis with his conservative friends

A war of words has erupted on the web featuring self-described “secular liberal” Mark Pinsky and progressive evangelical Jim Wallis, on one side, and the consortium of scholars and columnists who write for Talk to Action on the other. 

Pinsky believes that critics of Dominionism and the New Apostolic Reformation have created the false impression that most evangelicals are dangerous theocrats. 

Next, Jim Wallis poured gasoline on the fire by claiming in a HuffPost piece, that “some liberal writers seem hell-bent on portraying religious people as intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.”

Are Pinsky and Wallis making legitimate claims, or is something more sinister afoot?

Anyone familiar with the good folks at Talk to Action knows how carefully they distinguish Dominionism and mainstream evangelicalism.  Rachel Tabachnick, the most high-profile critic of the New Apostolic Reformation, grew up Southern Baptist and is well acquainted with the wild diversity within evangelicalism.  She is all about nuance.  She is saying that Dominionism has a long history (see my piece on the evolution and meaning of the movement), that it is a minority movement within evangelicalism that is growing rapidly and, most importantly, gaining the support of prominent politicians like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry.

Pinsky and Wallis refuse to engage this argument, preferring to publicly cudgel a silly straw man into submission.

How do we explain this unseemly assault on the Talk to Action people? (more…)

Dreaming a Christian aristocracy: The evolution and meaning of Dominionism

By Alan Bean

Our twenty-four hour news cycle doesn’t lend itself to careful analysis of complex social movements.  Rick Perry, the pugnacious presidential hopeful, raised eyebrows when he used a loose network of organizations associated with the New Apostolic Reformation to organize a big religious-political rally in Houston.  Interest quickened when the mainstream media learned that some of Perry’s friends were “Dominionists,” folks who want to bring secular politics (and everything else) under the dominion of God.

The questions couldn’t be avoided.  If elected, will Rick Perry pack his cabinet with Christian preachers?  Since that didn’t sound likely, the pundits too-easily assumed that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann are just standard-issue conservatives with close ties to the religious right.  (more…)

Mustard seed conspiracy?

By Charles Kiker

Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds but when it is grown it becomes the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

One necessary preliminary observation regarding “the kingdom of heaven” in this—and other—parables of the kingdom: this same parable as reported in Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19 has “kingdom of God” rather than “kingdom of heaven.” It is customary for Matthew to refer to the kingdom of heaven and for Mark and Luke to refer to the kingdom of God. At any rate, Jesus in this parable and other parables is not referring to heaven as a place where good people go when they die (or people who have prayed the right prayer and/or believed the right things). It is about the kingdom of God which is coming on earth. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is about the kingdom coming on earth, and the will of God being done on earth where the will and ways of humankind have sway, as well as in the heavens where God and only God has sway. (more…)

An informed conversation about the religious right, politics and dominionism

By Alan Bean

Sarah Posner and Anthea Butler understand the religious right because they attend actual religious gatherings and talk to people.  When they sit down for a conversation about dominionism, the New Apostolic Reformation and politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann you get the straight goods.

Dominionists aren’t poised to take over America.  The religious right is an exceedingly complex social phenomenon.  Most of the folks in Houston’s Reliant Stadium for Rick Perry’s The Response had never heard of dominionism.  All of this is true, but that doesn’t mean something big isn’t afoot in the world of conservative evangelicalism.  Something big is afoot and it is already impacting the political process and the way social issues are debated in the public arena.

When I was attending university in the mid-1970s, my parents, Gordon and Muriel Bean, were suddenly wrapped up in the charismatic movement.  They continued to attend McLaurin Baptist Church (then a very non-demonstrative congregation), but they were much more excited about groups like the Full Gospel Business Men International and Women Aglow (of which my mother eventually became Alberta president).  Like the dutiful son I am, I attended these meetings but was never tempted to get involved.  I saw the usual “signs and wonders”:  folks speak in tongues as if it was the most natural thing in the world, worshipers healed of chronic ailments (usually having one leg longer than the other), worshippers  “slain in the spirit” (that is, lying in ecstasy on the floor as their bodies twitched with Holy Spirit electricity).

Like I say, it wasn’t my cup of tea.  But I learned that this kind of religion can be extraordinarily powerful for those on the inside.  As Posner and Butler point out below, it is the ordinary people who attend religious conferences and buy books and DVDs that drive the movement.  The names of the preachers change from generation to generation; the spiritual hunger driving the movement abides forever.

The GOP has learned to tap into that hunger; Democrats lose elections, especially in the South, because they haven’t.

This is a long piece, but I offer this little clip as an indication of the fresh insight you will discover throughout a fascinating conversation.  This is Anthea Butler:

For the last 30 years, journalists have had an easy time reporting on the religious right, because all they did was pay attention to to white male leaders of big organizations like Focus on the Family, National Association of Evangelicals, or Family Research Council. The days when a nice soundbite from Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, or Ted Haggard would suffice are over. If journalists and others want to understand the last 10 years of the religious right movement, they will need to pay attention to the theological, religious, and ethnic diversity among evangelicals, Pentecostals, and non-denominational churches. They will at least need to recognize the old and new leaders of the religious right, and the complex network of leaders, conferences, and teachings if they want a reductionist argument they can spin out in 800 words. As someone who has studied and written about Pentecostalism for over 15 years, their lack of basic knowledge is staggering, and although I don’t expect people to get it like I do, I do expect reporters and journalists to do their homework! (more…)

My Kind of Patriotic Sermon

Brent Beasley
Brent Beasley

I didn’t go to church this July 4th weekend.  I couldn’t bear the thought of singing odes to American Exceptionalism.   America is exceptional, of course, but our national history is such a mix of glory and gloom, triumph and tragedy, that flag waving triumphalism is rarely appropriate–especially in a Christian sanctuary.

Mercifully, not all patriotic sermons are created equal.  Brent Beasley, pastor of Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church, loves America.  He doesn’t love everything the American people have done or everything we presently represent in the eyes of the world; but he loves our better angels; he loves our dreams.  

In this sermon, Dr. Beasley contemplates the familiar words “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, and is reminded of the words of our Savior, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

It doesn’t always get ugly when patriotic longing and religious aspiration join hands; sometimes it can be beautiful.

The political implications of this message are obvious and unstated–that too is a splendid combination. AGB (more…)

The freedom riders triumphed through non-violence

By Alan Bean

Leonard Pitts puts his finger on the key organizing principle of the freedom rider movement:

Everybody thinks they could get on that bus. It’s an easy thing to say. Then you remember the savagery, the violent attacks from people mortally outraged that these young men and women traveled in integrated groups and ignored segregation signs in bus-station restrooms and coffee shops. And you remember that the rules of engagement required pacifism: a willingness to get hit, and not hit back.

It required enormous courage to take the words of Jesus at face value:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile . . . You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

The implication is clear: if we hate our enemies, if we demand a tooth for a tooth, we cannot be children of our Father in heaven. (more…)

Freedom ride anniversary sparks questions about today’s young people

By Alan Bean

Last week, Oprah Winfrey shared her stage with 178 veterans of the 1961 Freedom Rides.   There they stood, black and white, mostly in their 70s, looking proud and maybe just a little embarrassed. 

The fiftieth anniversary of the freedom rides has sparked more retrospection than introspection.  Last summer, I discussed the freedom rides in detail on the eve of the trial of Curtis Flowers.  How much had changed, I asked, since thousands of heroic young people flocked to the South to challenge segregation laws and, more often than not, pay a visit to Mississippi’s notorious Parchman prison (where, incidentally, Curtis Flowers now resides).  The post has received 4,000 hits (that’s a lot by the modest standards of this blog), suggesting that interest in the freedom riders remains high.

An article in the Washington Post poses the obvious question: If all these young people were willing to place their lives on the line in 1961, why aren’t today’s young people demonstrating a similar dedication to justice?  Few real answers emerge.  American schools have essentially resegregated and nobody seems to care.  Jackson, Mississippi was the primary destination of the freedom riders.  In 1961, the Post article reports, Jackson was only one-third black, now, largely thanks to white flight, the school system is overwhelmingly black.  (more…)

Rethinking Hell

By Alan Bean

Hell has always been a hot topic in America.  Rob Bell’s Love Wins created such a pre-publication stir that the book debuted at number 2 on the New York Times best-seller list and remains on Amazon’s top 10. 

Bell’s take on heaven and hell rests on the recent scholarship of folks like NT Wright (on the evangelical side) and Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (writing from a more liberal perspective).  (Brian McLaren offers a slightly more cerebral, and original, popularization of this new scholarship.)  The big idea is that salvation isn’t about going to heaven (or hell) when you die; eternal life (for better or worse) begins now. 

In a recent chat with Welton Gaddy, Rob Bell offered this typically folksy summary of his perspective.

I start with the first century world of Jesus. Jesus spoke very clearly and forthrightly about this world: that the scriptural story and the Jewish story that he was living in was about the reclaiming of this world, the restoration and the renewal of this world. So, Jesus comes, He teaches his disciples to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The action for Jesus was here on earth, about renewing this earth, about standing in solidarity with those who are suffering in this world. And he spoke of a kingdom of God, which is here and now: upon you, among you, around you, within you.

So in the book, I talk about this urgent, immediate invitation of Jesus to trust him, that God is good, that God is generous, that God is loving, that God is forgiving… And to enter into a new kind of quality of life with God right here, right now. So let’s bring some heaven to earth, let’s work to get rid of the hells on earth right now, let’s become the kind of people who love our neighbor… And that, for Him, it was immediate and urgent about this world. What happens when you die? He talks a little bit about that, but He’s mostly talking about this world. I think, for a lot of people, the Christian faith doesn’t have, for them, much to say about this world; that it seems to be all about what happens when you die. And so, the book, in some ways, flips it around and says: “I think this is actually what Jesus was doing.” (My emphasis, along with a few quick edits) (more…)

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

This article requires no introduction or explanation, so I’ll shut up and let you read.  Comments welcome.  AGB

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

Phil Zuckerman. Professor of Sociology, Pitzer College in Claremont, CA.  Dan Cady, assistant professor of history at California State University, Fresno.

The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ( reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message. (more…)