Monthly Archives: September 2016

Mika Edmondson’s Much Needed Perspective on Jesus and Politics

If you aren’t doing it already, you need to be paying attention to what Mika Edmondson is saying during this election season. The pastor of New City Fellowship, an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation in Grand Rapids, and a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary, Edmondson is bringing a fresh, desperately needed voice into Reformed public discourse. He grew up in the black church and wrote his doctoral dissertation (and forthcoming book) on Martin Luther King’s theology of suffering. He brings together Reformed theology and the theology of a suffering, striving minority church in ways that few people are able to do.

Thoughtful Reformed people, indeed, thoughtful Christians, cannot afford to ignore Mika’s voice.

Here is an excellent talk on biblical principles for Christian political engagement given at the Jesus and Politics conference Edmondson hosted at his church:

Mika also recently delivered an excellent speech on Martin Luther King’s concept of the beloved community while serving on a panel on race at Calvin College. I’m still looking for online audio or video for that, but if you can find it, it is well worth your time.

Also, here is a helpful article Mika wrote for the Gospel Coalition comparing Black Lives Matter to the civil rights movement: Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement?

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The Call to Discipleship: Moving Beyond Reactionary Ethics

During the late medieval period there was a significant shift in the nature of Christian moral teaching. Since the time of the apostles moral instruction had centered on the Sermon on the Mount and the writings of the apostles, but in the later part of the middle ages the emphasis shifted to the law, especially the Ten Commandments. I’ve written on the causes of that shift here and here.

The result was that both Catholic and Protestant ethics came to characterize the Christian life as being fundamentally about duty and obligation. Classic Christian teaching on happiness and virtue was left undeveloped, if not ignored entirely. Even the concept of charity, or love, in principle understood to be the essence of Christian morality, was in practice often reduced to a theoretical abstraction whose true content simply consisted in the commandments of the law. And Immanuel Kant’s hugely influential ethics raised the significance of commandment – of the categorical imperative – to a whole new level, while secularizing it at the same time.

Eventually, and inevitably, this led to a reaction. Utilitarianism – with its emphasis on consequences, happiness, and the ends justifying the means – came to dominate western ethics. And Christian ethicists – including both Catholics and liberal Protestants – called for a return to the ethics of love.

Image result for call to discipleship medieval art

In his book The Sources of Christian Ethics Servais Pinckaers describes the way this worked out in Catholic moral theology.

On the one hand, traditional ethicists find it hard to set aside their instinctive mistrust of love and passion … Today an opposite reaction can be observed among ethicists and Christians. There is a strong attraction for love and spontaneity, without due regard for the demands of integrity and truth. For some, love has become the ‘Open, Sesame,’ the cure for all problems. They misapply St. Augustine’s magnificent expression, ‘Love, and do what you will,’ as if warmth of emotion liberates a person from all commandments and restraints. For St. Augustine, however, the greater the love the greater the adherence to commandments, for they are the expression of God’s love. Without the rectitude ensured by the commandments, love will not be true, will not survive.

We are faced, therefore, with a kind of sickness induced by the morality of obligation. The symptom is allergy to all obligation or authority in the name of the primacy of a naive and confused love.

So we have gone from one extreme to the other:

A moral theory of obligation depicts God as an all-powerful legislator issuing his law in the midst of thunder and lightning… The contemporary reaction to such a picture has the advantage of highlighting the goodness of God. Yet there is a risk of devaluation. In removing from God all power of judgment and punishment, and in focusing exclusively on his universal pardon, we are left with a soft and spineless God. Here we encounter one of the major problems of Christian ethics today: how to reconcile God’s love and justice.

The answer, of course, is in the gospel of Christ, and it is only being Christ-centered that Christian ethics can really be truly Christian. This is what far too many traditionalists who imagine that the need of the hour is a return to the law of God fail to understand.

On the other hand, what characterizes modernity’s (and much of contemporary Christianity’s) “naive and confused love” is a failure to grasp “one of the conditions for authentic love”: renunciation and sacrifice. In the gospel, Pinckaers reminds us, “radical self-renunciation is a necessary condition for love of Christ.” And it is that sort of love, a love shaped by cross-bearing discipleship in conformity to the image of Christ, that is so desperately needed today.

If you would be my disciple, Jesus tells us, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23; Mark 8:34). It’s a hard truth, but that is what Christian ethics must be all about.

Good News For the Oppressed: The Legacy of the Black Church

Gary Dorrien’s The New Abolition is a sobering read. The story of the black church and its struggle against oppression is not well-known by most white evangelical Christians. Even fifty years after the high point of the civil rights movement, few are familiar with the storied church histories of their brothers and sisters on the other side of the color line. Even fewer have the faintest familiarity with the roll call of the heroic African-American men and women who devoted their lives to the hard task of bringing the gospel to bear on a society deeply entrenched in racist ignorance and brutality. Dorrien’s book tells the story of those men and women who labored in the dark decades between the Civil War and World War II, in whose work he finds the origins of the black social gospel.

More often than not, the men and women whose stories Dorrien tells failed to accomplish their social objectives. America’s oppression of black people grew worse rather than better in the fifty years after the Civil War. Many of those who were most optimistic during the 1870s and 1880s found themselves in utter despair by the 1920s. Far too often their white “Christian” oppressors were blind to the utter hypocrisy of confessing Christ while exploiting, humiliating, raping, and murdering black people.

Sketching the lives of women activists like Ida B. Wells, who devoted her life to opposing the horrors of the socially sanctioned lynching of thousands of black people, and pastors like Reverdy C. Ransom and Richard R. Wright, Jr., who sought to demonstrate the power of the gospel in delivering the oppressed from the spiritual and social toll of sin and injustice, Dorrien paints the picture of a body of believers (and some of their non-believing sympathizers) who toiled and persevered amidst incredible suffering to make the gospel that Jesus proclaimed as “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18) a reality in the lives of black Americans.

Read the rest of this article at Reformation 21.

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