Fundamentalist Iconography — Friday Challenge:

Saint Ted Cruz Iconography, God's Own Politician
When God wants you ‘in,’ but you’re the least popular guy in Washington

Cruz ‘n Iconography

Christian iconography belongs to Eastern/Orthodox Church tradition. I’m no scholar of art [or anything else], but I believe this is a fairly common format. I’ve seen the Evangelist John portrayed this way. Sometimes, the book displays the words of John 1:1 in English, Greek or perhaps Russian.

The rules for making icons are rigorous; but if obviously satire/ridicule, Ted Cruz’ image enough conforms to iconic tradition to suggest that the creator of this [undoubtedly computer] ‘icon’ may have meant more than a joke. If it is a joke, then it is a serious one. Perhaps the incongruity of angry protestors and the ‘iconic’ serenity of the saints is the punchline.

Why, Pray Tell

What motivates someone to put in this thought/work to create a Ted Cruz ‘icon?’ The problem is that with so many ridiculous assertions to endear him to his Fundy followers, it’s hard to say. Consider these gems:

‘If the slaves were never freed in the Civil War, you have to wonder, where would Obama be today? Certainly not the White House, not in the capacity he’s in. And you have some in America that think that might not be a bad thing.’

‘There is no place for gays or atheists in my America. None. Our constitution makes that clear.’

Or perhaps it was this brilliant use of taxpayer money…

Google ‘controversial Cruz quotes,’ ‘crazy Cruz quotes,’ ‘dumbest Ted Cruz quotes’ or Ted Cruz pretty much anything and you’ll get a gazillion ‘hits.’

Friday Challenge

Which brings us to today’s Friday Challenge: What are the best Ted Cruz quotes you can find to explain why someone may have created that icon.

Have fun! Oh, and remember that although Ted Cruz will undoubtedly be in Cleveland next week, he isn’t going to be nominated for anything. Perhaps at the end of the day, Ted Cruz isn’t sufficiently crazy.

When Rapture Doesn’t Cut It — Options?

Harry Ironside, on Revelation
Charts. Can you be an Independent, Fundamental Baptist without them?

OR…

revelation-jesus-wins-the-end-banner

A reader question concerning the book of Revelation prompts this post. Likely, it will turn into several posts. But then, many IFB churches have multiple sermons on ‘last things’ at least twice a year.

The Rapture of it All

The top chart sums the only way most IFBs read the Revelation. There are many variations, but that chart and others like it are generally true to the interpretive system known as dispensational pre-millennialism. If you were raised or have spent any time in the Fundamentalist sect, you are aware of this system. To those steeped in it, the second graphic, Jesus wins, seems not at all like an interpretation of the Revelation.

I claim no special expertise here. There are many things I don’t know. I do have my own thoughts on some things. I have seen amazement, outright anger and everything between them when pet views were questioned. I have also seen those responses because people found it outrageous that for being in church all their lives, no one told them that the Revelation can be read very differently and still be faithful to Jesus. Enough prolegomena.


As a young man [about 20], I found a one page magazine article for which I no longer remember the author, title or magazine. What I do remember is how the writer approached the book of Revelation. The more I learned over the years, the more impressed I became with that article.

It said we all read the Revelation through one of four, interpretative systems. All four systems finds some evidence from the text itself. Each system has strengths and weaknesses. No system accounts for all the Biblical data. More recently, some internet articles explore the option of taking some features from several interpretative systems. I don’t doubt that this can be helpful. Yet I still find one that works best for me.

‘Time’ to Meet our Options

The four interpretative systems by which we read Revelation are:

  • Preterism
  • Futurism
  • Continuo-Historical
  • Ideal

One way of thinking about them is with reference to ‘time.’

Preterism

Preterism — past time: The preterist system sees the Revelation the way we read Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Ezra and the Kings. Preterists find the letters to the churches and say, ‘hey — we know those churches from church history!’ They conclude that this is primarily a book about history. That shapes the way they approach this whole book.

Preterism is held in two forms: one form, ‘full’ or ‘consistent’ preterism is deemed heretical in many parts of the church. ‘Partial’ preterism has been held by those whose faith commitment is not questioned, except perhaps by IFBs who sometimes extend little hope of grace outside IFBdom.

Futurism

Futurism — future time: The futurist system looks at the Revelation and shakes its head at preterism. ‘There’s a boatload of stuff here that we’ve never seen at any time.’ And the book calls itself a prophecy, and speaks to us of things that must yet be. This book is like Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Amos, Micah, Malachi and others. This shapes how they read Revelation.

Continuo-Historical

Continuo-Historical — time overview: This view has definite similarities to dispensationalism, which is a Futurist system. But it reads Revelation more as an overview of time between the first and second advents. So the name explains the idea well. Here, the letters to the seven churches are said to refer to specific periods in church history. We are now said to be in the Laodician age, marked by laxity/compromise/cultural_conformity, etc.

church-age-timeline, Continuo-Historical View

It is probably fair to say that many dispensationalists hold a hybrid of Futurism and Continuo-Historical thought. I have also heard this system taught by an old Wesleyan pastor who made the point that the letters seem to serve as an introduction, since we keep meeting the same issues in the main body of the Revelation that we see in these letters.

This approach to Revelation attempts to apply the contents of the book across the ‘church age.’ This is better than relegating the book mainly to the past, or projecting it into the future. A downside to this view is that it is necessary to make church history ‘fit’ the pre-defined church eras. As time continues, boundaries where eras end or begin may need change.

Ideal

Ideal — time-less: This interpretive system relates not to time so much as theme. Here, all the material John used was rooted in the then known world. But the meaning/message that material and images convey are not limited to that time or to any time. The message transcends time and is in a sense, time-less. It is not a book of ‘principles’ by which to live; but it does help us understand our place in and interpret our relationship with/to the world. It also redirects our imaginative response to the world around us from the perspective of God’s throne room.

From what I’ve said in the past, it should be evident that I see myself in the ‘Ideal’ school of thought on the book of Revelation. More can be said, but that must wait for another time. This time, I wanted only to set out the basic options. When questions arise in the future, I can refer to it.

What’s Compromised, We Rebuke

Christianity Looking for And Excuse to Rebuke. Or else, just delivering rebuke.

Today’s post is a different. It’s something of a rant that replies to a post on another forum. But I decided to publish it here rather than elsewhere.

We Rebuke Compromise

Compromise. It’s the fast track to vilifying rebukes from Independent, Fundamental Baptists. Few things make any IFB uglier and happier at the same time than an excuse to ambush another congregation for its many sins. Likely, Fundamentalism’s most cherished slur is, ‘weak on sin’ followed closely by ‘worldly.’ Hence the words on today’s photo.

But those words may be a little too true, particularly if one digs into what ‘worldliness’ entails. Because brother-sister, it ain’t about hair styles or wearing blue on boys and pink on girls. Beware the political overtones.

Where We’ve Been

I’m astonished.

As part of an Indo-China military buildup to base 60% of US warships and aircraft in that region by 2020, the US Mitchell Institute just provided details on fifth-generation stealth aircraft to be used in any future war with China. This, followed by the freshly issued Chilcot inquiry which offers devastating confirmation of the Blair-Bush crimes of war against the Iraqi people, for which as many as 1 million perished at our hands.

Where We’re At

At home, we face a Presidential election proffering a choice between one candidate with openly fascistic tendencies, and another that is a war criminal. Militarized police arrest hundreds nationwide. A police assassin is killed by a drone [essentially] on US soil. As tensions escalate, relations erode and an exhausted public is increasingly alienated from their own processes of state, the ruling class loads their Winchesters for the social upheaval it knows its policies will evoke.

Where We’re Going

So what’s next? Will it be disappearances? Or bullet-riddled bodies found on roadsides at dawn? Or the proliferation of Chicago-type Homan Black sites? Will torture and execution at police stations become routine policy? Or more forced feeding of inmates as seems to be Wisconsin’s policy? Will hitherto rotating martial law become the rule everywhere?

What We’re Doing

Studiously excluded from discussion are enormous crises including our inexorable march toward WW III and thermonuclear war. We talk endlessly of the heinousness of abortion [which is true] neither knowing of nor caring to acknowledge that the US-backed Iraqi regime has trapped some 50,000 in Fallujah, without food or water. We prattle over Planned Parenthood, discuss others’ inward state of grace [or the lack of it], yet routinely reduce this to sectarian partisanship. It’s astonishing.

Rather than offering a robust ‘kingdom of God’ critique of the powers and principalities of this age [which is what the Revelation does], we align with this or that earthly/secular/heretical power. Twice a year, we give lip-service to God and proclaim Jesus the prince of peace [Advent] and the victor over the powers of death [Easter]. The rest of the year, we are virtually indistinguishable from the world. Then we wonder why the world doesn’t take us seriously. I’m astonished.

What We Should Be Doing

Imagine if the church everywhere preached ‘give us this day our daily bread’ before the blockade of Fallujah. Imagine the Christmas/Easter message proclaimed each Lord’s Day in the face of every attempt at usurpation of social justice. Imagine proclaiming the prince of peace every time the call to rearm was issued. Imagine reconciliation in God preached every time the state bore down on the lowly in the interests of the great.

When Rebuke Boomerangs

Ironically, the IFB movement does not object to all this. It rallies beside earthly powers and vindicates them in God’s name under the banner of ‘conservatism.’ In so doing, the IFB movement brings on its own head the indictment of the words on the photo.

On a superficial level, the IFB would cheer those words. But as soon as it is clear what those words mean in light of God’s kingdom, Fundamentalists decry kingdom interests as insidious attacks on the left on godliness and the nation. Thus Fundamentalism stands with both feet planted firmly in ‘the world,’ cheering for the principalities and powers of this age.

The Greatest Hypocrisy

Accusations of hypocrisy are heard among believers and they cut deeply. In truth, all of us do it some degree. We do better to admit this than not.

But the greatest hypocrisy may be to pretend that Christ is for us when in fact Christ is for the world. And as Christ offered himself for the life of the world, we are called to do the same. Then again, we know what the world did to him. That’s the rub. We’re reluctant to follow.

Yet he bids us follow. That should be all the rationale we need.

Sanhedrin Envy

Envy -- it isn't just for the first century anymore.
President Bush, accompanied by Chabad Rabbis, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 15, 2008 (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert).

Competing Visions

Political narratives and Jesus’ life run in opposite directions. Political narratives peddle language of revival — revival in economic, military, social and national power. Jesus’ practice was about relinquishing power, position and wealth. He spoke in terms of humility, patience, charity, grace and more. The first is about earthly greatness and glory. The other is about finding glory in weakness, humiliation and enduring suffering.

These two world could not be more different. Earthly political aspirations and God’s kingdom run in opposite directions. And no where is this more true or more evident in Jesus’ crucifixion. Unless I’m misreading many things, the United States is very ready to sacrifice other nations. Few of our cultural icons are committed to the idea of self-sacrifice.

Remaking God in our Image

That said, one might wonder how the ‘Christian nation’ premise stuck. It must be one of the great cons of modern history. And that point is not lost on Tony Campolo. Writing for Red Letter Christians, he says:

‘The god for many Christians may not be the god revealed in Jesus Christ.

Campolo’s piece doesn’t mention idolatry, but the premise is there. He writes:

Emile Durkheim, one of the key figures among sociologists, in his book, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, pointed out that every society had a tendency to create images of God that incarnate their own collective traits and values. America is no exception –

He continues saying:

‘…many Americans worship a socially created deity who embodies wealth, power and prestige.’

Sanhedrin Envy

The Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day had little clout. Judea was under Roman occupation. Council members tended routine affairs. Generally they could use their position to fatten themselves. But if weighty issues arose as was the case with a political criminal named Jesus, they had to negotiate with Rome’s representative. And they hated it.

On one hand they relied on their cooperation with Rome to retain their position in their society. But on the other, they loathed the reminder that they were Caesar’s little toadies. Caught between desire for the position they had, but craving so much more — Sanhedrin Envy.

Except it isn’t limited to the Sanhedrin or that place. And it certainly isn’t limited to the faith they had. James Dobson alone establishes that. And he is far from alone. Envy is a powerful, corrupting motivation.

Contemporary Idolatry

Lead figures of many religious persuasions wealth, power and prestige. And strange alliances [forbidden to God’s ancient people] are formed to get it. Along the way, God tends to get caricatured to facilitate the process. It’s still old-fashioned religion. And it is still idolatrous. And just so as they don’t complain, IFBs are hardly the only ones to do it.

We come by idols naturally. But by God’s grace, we may perhaps admit this and turn from them.

Bloodlust and God as a Cosmic Cop

God as a Cosmic Cop
‘Toxic authority, police brutality…’ Click image for Morgan Guyton’s article.

Our Cosmic Cop

God sees and knows all our thoughts and deeds. And in IFB culture, he also judges them. Every moment. Like the stars in the night sky that God showed Abraham, sermons on that theme are beyond number.

Morgan Guyton often addresses public spirituality. But his recent piece on a string of police killings holds insights that are singularly brilliant. He postulates that there is a strain of Christianity which:

has a toxic conception of authority that shapes how we respond to incidents in which authority figures do evil.

Beginning with the cross, Mr. Guyton asks exactly where God’s authority lies in Jesus’ crucifixion. Then he offers this:

How we answer that question determines where we see God in these police shootings and how we understand the way forward.

After making observations about Peter’s Pentecost Day sermon, Morgan notes two responses to the proclamation of Jesus. One was from Jews in the Temple on Pentecost. The other was the Sanhedrin’s response to Stephen’s address. In that order, we read:

‘Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do”‘ [Acts 2:37]?

‘But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them’ [Acts 5:33].

So Jesus’ blood proclaimed either dissolves our resistance or hardens it.

Morton says the church must consider whether it today responds as did the 3000 in the temple, or as did the Sanhedrin. In other words he asks:

‘Are we softened or hardened by Jesus’ blood?’

Bloodlust or Gospel

Here, Guyton gives the church a great gift. Police kill daily, and courts grant them immunity to do so. As we face the fact Violence as Normalthat this more and more will be the norm, Guyton gives us words and imagery to preach the gospel in today’s context. He writes:

‘It makes sense that Christians have been unable to let a crucified man be our God. It’s far too disruptive to the logic of our worldly systems of power to kneel before a bloody, convicted criminal who couldn’t breathe.’

This aligns a ‘bloodthirsty God hellbent on self-vindication’ theology with the same worldly systems of power that crucified Jesus. It sees Jesus in lifeless, unarmed bodies of the poor, gunned down by the same worldly systems of power which also convicted and crucified Jesus.

Shaping the Gospel for Today

Morton’s alignment of an angry, IFB god with earthly systems of power, and his identification of Jesus with poor and helpless people killed by militarized police is a profound contradiction established theology and social policy. It is a radical proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the church frames and preaches Jesus Christ in such terms in this present context, the upheaval in faith and socio-political discourse could be unlike anything seen since the Revolutionary War.

The truth is, the gospel of Jesus Christ is always revolutionary and radical because it always stands in utter contradiction of the principalities and powers of this age. But not every generation perceives HOW to shape the timeless, changeless gospel such scandalous ways that it becomes truly good and truly news in that time and place.

So long as Fundamentalism retains the theology of God as a cosmic cop, it cannot preach the gospel. Nor can it in any way be ‘separated,’ because it remains thoroughly aligned with the principalities and powers of this age.