Tag Archives: theology

Does military nation building work?

Yesterday the US Army held a press conference  regarding its new field manual, The Stability Operations Field Manual, which essentially amplifies the new philosophy of military occupation as successful nation building. It’s not simply the Army’s job to forcefully enter a country and beat the bad guys, it is its job to create a new country in the shell of the old and see that it becomes a democracy. Well, James L. Payne, a political scientist and research fellow at the Independent Institute, says it’s not that simple. 

“Pundits and presidents talk about nation building as if it were a settle technology, like building bridges or removing gall bladders. Huge amounts of government and foundation money have been poured into the topic of democracy building, and academics and bureaucrats have produced reams of verbose commentary. But still there is no concrete, usable body of knowledge.”
In his article for the American Conservative, “Deconstructing Nation Building,” he identifies 51 attempts at nation building by Britain and the USA and assesses whether they succeeded or failed. His research shines a light on what’s really involved every time nations send in a military to make peace follow corruption. Does coercion make stability? Not so fast. Payne points out that a military has to actually leave the country for democracy to be deemed successful. So how does the military build the nation and leave at the same time? Not very easily. The US is eager to prove its work in Iraq a success, but at the same time can’t quite say it’s so successful that troops can leave. Is this nation building or military occupation?
As I was looking around on this topic, I learned that South African theologian Charles Villa-Vincencio (author of Between Christ and Caesar: Classic and Contemporary Texts on Church and State) did a landmark study on theology and nation building in his 1992 book, A Theology of Reconstruction: Nation Building and Human Rights. Citizenship has deeply theological implications, and to think that any country can alter the lives of millions of other individuals with a military and then somehow not effect that country catastrophically on a spiritual level is myopic. Christians in America have got to look seriously at how our nation’s global military actions are effecting the work of the Church universally. 
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Am I still a theoblogger?

I’m taking a hard look these days at the theoblogging world. It’s growing in leaps and bounds. In my experience, theobloggers are made up largely of grad students and some profs doing thesis work. They use their blogs as ways to stimulate thought and finish and publish papers. In 2003 I started a personal blog and became attracted to the theoblogging realm because I was firmly entrenched in reading Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and I wanted to see what others had to say about their own reading. I’ve learned in large part that the internet is a lousy place to get meaningful reading done, and secondly that blogging relationships could hardly be called, well, relationships. That last statement really sounds messy, I’m not blaming anyone else, I know that I’m lousy at emailing or letter writing as forms of communication, and maybe I haven’t made the most of things.

I have hung on to the theoblogging realm because there are a few folks that I really enjoy reading. My list of blogs has not grown with changing times. On a few occasions I’ve gotten quite impatient and irate at the passive-voiced, detached, and largely impractical way of doing theology that I’m reading. In the case of Bonhoeffer and Barth, what draws me to these theologians is their pastoral and preaching interests. The way I’m seeing them used of late has nothing to do with pastoring, preaching, or humans for that matter! I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that reading these theologians with nary an interest in their work as a vocation or their lives(!) is a disservice to all of us. Using a theologian to further our own little agendas seems to be the way theology is just done, especially here in the United States. That being the case, who the hell would want to be a theologian? In fifty years (with any success) you’d get to look forward to people dropping your name here or there in order to sound intelligent and further their own work. Rather than serving the Church, or loving God and neighbor with our work, theologians have the dubious honor of continuing a legacy of academic science, because, well, it’s a job. They put a lot of work into that Phd. Now they get to work to keep their tenure by publishing, because, “it’s publish or perish!”

Yes, I’ve learned a fair bit about theoblogging over the last five years, but my education has not made me want to grab the first person I meet on the street and tell them about it. Far from it. I almost want to shield people from 90% of what I see. I’m almost embarrassed to tell people that theology is what I read on the internet. Please people! Let’s endeavor to use theology for the Church and for human beings rather than reference systems. On his journey toward pastoring a church, after writing Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being, Bonhoeffer remarked that unless he could make what he had to say interesting for children, like describing a luscious apple held before them, he didn’t feel he was really being of service. There are those who will despise such sentiments. For my part, I’ve come to despise theological language that is not itself an embodiment of Bonhoeffer’s “Being for Others.” Far from obeying Christ in laying our lives down, theology in such circumstances is a way of deflecting others who “just wouldn’t understand” in order to pursue our own valuable head space.

I’m not sure I’m still a theoblogger. I don’t know what will change, but because I’m not a grad student, or a prof., or trying to get published theologically, because I just read theology, I feel less and less a part of it all.

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a response to “An Evangelical Manifesto”

Those of you who know my blog know that in the past I have blogged quite a bit on the nature of Evangelicalism, and I think I’ve made it clear that I have no problem calling myself an Evangelical. At the same time, I hope I’ve made it equally clear that in calling myself an Evangelical I do not align myself with institutions that claim to speak for Evangelicals, for instance, the National Association of Evangelicals and the institution that is Christianity Today International. I laud and appreciate the work of many persons within these institutions, but as with anything else, commending and criticizing these persons and institutions does not mean that I feel they somehow speak for me.

I begin this way because CTi and the NAE are important institutions behind the recently penned work, “An Evangelical Manifesto.” The work confronts many issues I’ve brought up on my blog, (I’m sure not in answer to me personally) like whether to capitalize the “E” in Evangelical! So I feel indebted to answering the Manifesto. First, I think it is a mistake to use the word Manifesto instead of Credo. This manifesto begins by describing Evangelicalism theologically rather than culturally or politically, and yet it is a manifesto and not a credo. Francis Schaeffer did this in his “Christian Manifesto” as a response to the “Humanist Manifesto.” I for one find this decidedly mistaken.

Secondly, I disagree that anyone can claim that Evangelicalism is creedal and theological but not social. What this does in essence is seek to strip the Evangelical movement of responsibility historically and socially. And to me, that is impossible. We could really learn from Catholics in this regard. The Manifesto claims further that Evangelicalism predates Protestantism in its concerns. This just doesn’t work. To claim to transcend the interests of the Protestant movement, embracing an ecumenical agenda that is at once both based on sola scriptura and catholic in its scope is just plain silly. As a theological statement this is naive. I’m not saying many people aren’t doing it, I’m simply saying you can’t be both theologically Catholic and Protestant at the same time.

Now for what I like about the document. There is a lot of repentance in this work. There’s a lot of pride and repentance at the same time. For that reason I like it. It’s a very human document. I like that it wants to embrace the social concerns for the poor and human life that it does. I like that it wants the movement not to be hierarchal. (But I think honesty demands that we say that Evangelicals are not known for their love for the poor or their egalitarian posture. You can put in on paper and have all the PhDs you like sign it, but it won’t magically make it so.)

My final issue with the document is that at least a few of the names I see appearing (Kay Arthur, Jack Hayford) are unapologetically engaged in an enterprise known as Christian Zionism that blatantly ignores so many of the tenets of this document. Their welcome signatures displays what the manifesto won’t do, namely hold signatories accountable.

I’ve said some harsh things here. I should temper them by saying that I love the signatories as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m personally grateful for the legacy so many of them leave. I cannot however sign on to this document any more than The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy or any number of other NAE public statements. While noting and dialoging with their concerns, I cannot publicly sign on.

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The Scandal of Evangelical Politics by Ronald J. Sider

The Scandal of Evangelical Politics by Ronald J. Sider
Baker Books, 275 pages, 2008. Reviewed by Chris L. Rice.

This is an exciting time to be an Evangelical with an active interest in politics. In the early part of the twentieth century Evangelicals were known to be withdrawn, and then, in the early 1990s we rushed headlong into a single partisan agenda. One leader within the movement at this time (Ed Dobson) typified the approach as “ready, fire, aim.” The movement lacked careful reflection and a wholistic Biblical ethic that focused on the whole person. In his latest book, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics: Why Are Christians Missing the Chance to Really Change the World?, Ron Sider lays out a new framework for political engagement that draws on his many years of learning, teaching, and practicing mainstream political diplomacy. The work is stunningly ecumenical, drawing on what Sider sees as the need for consensus among several streams of Church history and tradition. Sider draws on Jurgen Moltmonn, Reinhold Neibuhr, Abraham Kuyper, Karl Barth, John Howard Yoder, and alludes to the important work of Lutherans such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Dr. Sider successfully shows us that we need a methodology that carefully and prayerfully engages politically, but that does not neglect the important role of the Church as an equally important and uniquely separate realm from the State. This simple point is a minefield for theorists. How much, if at all, can the State be trusted? How much can fellow Christians be trusted when we disagree on so much? In his own irenic manner, Sider concentrates on the Scriptures and the issues on which Evangelicals have had success, and looks forward to a better future despite the many setbacks. Sider knows that politics, like life itself, is full of tragic failure.

Over the last twenty five years Evangelicals have pursued a path that neglected the Church’s true riches and instead sought power for its own sake. Sider seems sure that that era is waning. He continually draws our attention to the document “For the Health of the Nation,” which he helped draft for the board of the National Association of Evangelicals.

“The Bible makes it clear that God cares a great deal about the well-being of marriage, the family, the sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, care for creation, peace, freedom, and racial justice.” (pg. 233)

On the personal side, I’m excited by Ron Sider’s treatise (for that’s really what this is) and especially his desire that Evangelical politics be communal in nature, that instead of separate camps we have open think tanks. I’d just love to see that in action. Are Richard Land and James Dobson going to faithfully attend open dialogues on Peacemaking and Creation Care? Will they be endorsers of Dr. Sider’s idea (pg. 205) that churches invest millions on CPT styled peacemaking delegations to the front lines in Iraq, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe? Will Land and Dobson change their minds on the Global Warming and the earth’s oil supply?

See what I’m getting at? Evangelicals have sharp differences on peacemaking and the environment, and let’s not forget economics! It was only one year ago now that these same leaders who signed the NAE document sought Richard Czik’s ouster for supporting it! With this in mind is consensus really possible? If we’re looking at real numbers, most Evangelicals are Southern Baptists! Hello! I hope to God Dallas Theological Seminary adopts Ron Sider’s book into its classes. But I’m not holding my breath.

I believe in what Ron Sider is doing in this book. I’m not always satisfied with his approach in particular chapters. Having cut my own teeth on Bonhoeffer and Barth, Sider is certainly no dialectician. He can’t seem to speak backwards and forwards at the same time. At times he seems to fear postmodernism, and sounds downright pollyanish about democracy in another place, but then the further I read, I realize he’s not speaking of any particular democracy on earth but the idea of democracy within his own model. He believes in democracy in so far as it has checks and balances, fair courts, and ability to fairly distribute wealth. But then again, what is American democracy really like?

At any rate, this book really inspired me, educated me, taught me that there’s so much more to be learned about political diplomacy. James Skillen of the Center for Public Justice is prominent in this book along with many other policy analysts such as Stephen Monsma, and Stephen Carter. (Buy the book for the bibliography alone.) If you’ve ever felt alone or unique in your political vantage point as an Evangelical, pick up this book. Its one of those that you have to bookmark in front and back, reading the text and the notes together very carefully. I’ve spent a month of in depth reading with it, and quite honestly I could go through it again. Most importantly, this book fosters intelligent conversations. Its real heart is to create honest dialogue in our churches. Lord knows we need more of that.

BTW, Palmer Seminary’s conference is coming up March 28-30. Find a schedule here.

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defending capitalism

I’m debating whether or not the following statement I made in my paper “Who is Christ for us Today?” is correct.

For example, in testing the spirits we can discern that Late Capitalism is a monetary system that denies the Incarnation (1 John 4: 1-4) by denying any greater power than itself and claiming complete control over our bodies. Rather than being sons and daughters of God, (John 1: 11-14) a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), it claims that from the day we are born until we die we will be in debt, forced to work it off and then keep it off. Late Capitalism enthrones mammon as the only god worth serving, disciplining our desires so that we conform to its values of lack, envy, and greed. Jesus gave us a clear choice between God and mammon, (Matt. 6: 24) describing us as slaves of one or the other.

This morning I read Dan Bell’s paper “What is Wrong with Capitalism? The Problem with the Problem with Capitalism” and was a little better guided in my thinking. Where would the spirit of antichrist be in Late Capitalism? Is it correct to assign spiritual properties to a fluctuating economic system? So I thought I’d offer a quote from one of the Defenders of Capitalism:

“Capitalism is the only moral social system because it is the only system that respects the freedom of the producers to think and the right of the individual to set his own goals and pursue his own happiness.”

by Robert W. Tracinski

Only moral system. Hmmm. Wow. Not just a little overreaching are we?

I’m amazed by anyone who can really believe this. My thought is that we don’t have to really believe in capitalism for it to dominate our lives. Its defenders see it as an ideal, even a religion, and that America has not reached that ideal because we aren’t yet disciplined and formed by true capitalism enough. I think the ideal is a farce. Look at Ayn Rand. A female hierarchalist, in love with an ideal form of manhood that to her dying day, she never found. Buried with a six foot floral arrangement of a dollar sign. Sad really.

Update 12.13.07:

I didn’t realize the term “Late Capitalism” was so loaded and Marxist laden.  I guess I was just thinking of the term in a popular sense. Truthfully, I realize I’m way over my head in this conversation and I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I’m not so adept in economic theory. Since no one has commented I guess that’s okay.

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