Joyless Christians and The Lord of the Rings
When you get tired of trying to defend yourself from those you know are right, there's nothing like changing the subject and bringing up the real or supposed faults of those who are against you. At least, that's what Bolz-Weber does in this little piece at Sojo. Outside of the rather bizarre nature of the first paragraph (btw the one part of the piece that mentions LotR), we quickly come to the really issue here. Emphases mine.
So this week I kept thinking about joy and what role joy has in our faith. Sure, we talk about prayer and sin and creeds and liturgy and discipleship and advocacy as being part of our Christian faith. But what of joy? It sadly never seems to be on the top of the list of what it means to be God’s people. And it’s definitely not what Christians are known for. Any guess on what is the top adjective used to describe Christians? Judgmental. I think maybe that’s because human religion so easily becomes more about knowing right from wrong than knowing God.
Not sure where she got that claim. There is no source mentioned, and if it is taken from a poll, then that would likely raise other questions.
But let's just assume that her claim is true--that most people in the US think that Christians are judgmental. So what?
First, what does that mean? If I can someone judgmental, it probably means that that person disapproves of something that I do. It could be something trivial, such as that they think that I spend too much time reading, or maybe they think I spend too much time reading trivial things like science fiction and fantasy. I disagree, but so long as they don't try to take away my library card or throw away my book collection, I'm probably not very worked up about their opinions.
But it may be about things that aren't so trivial. Let's take the example of a couple of roommates in college. One is a fairly solid Christian, and while he isn't perfect, his does try to live by the moral and ethical standards of the Bible, which means he isn't sleeping around with any girls. His roommate is quite the player, he sees the girls he meets as potential sex partners, and is not shy about his conquests.
Would the sexually unrestrained rooommate not consider it judgmental if the Christian roommate did not approve of his sexual practices? Would he not consider himself to be judged by that roommate, even if the Christian only has the best interest and well-being of his roommate at heart?
We could go on to things that could be considered even more serious. Does the fact that Christians disapprove of theft mean they are judgmental towards thieves? Does having a moral code that said "You shall not murder" mean they are judgmental toward murderers?
Frankly, I'm not sold on Bolz-Weber's contention that the church being known as judgmental is a bad thing. It may be saying more about the people who say that church is that way, such as Bolz-Weber, than about the church itself.
And, yes, I suspect I know where Bolz-Weber is going with that statement. She is one whose church accepts practicing homosexuals, and who does not call them to repent of that sinful practice, and instead wants them to be accepted by the church. As such, those who disapprove of those she approves are to her mind judgmental. And since the church is well-known for being against those practices, and she cannot biblically defend them, it is so much easier to accuse those people who do not accept her of something else. In this case, of being joyless.
Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this. He suggests that the original sin was choosing the knowledge of good and evil over the knowledge of God. See, there were two trees in the Garden of Eden, and the snake said, If you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will be like God. But there was another tree. The tree of life. Yet we chose the knowledge of good and evil over knowledge of God. Bonhoeffer calls this the “fall upward.”
I'm not aware of the context of Bonhoeffer's statement, but I'd be rather surprised if he didn't think that knowing what is good from what is evil would be unimportant. If I remember right, he lived in Germany during the time of Hitler coming to power. I think he also participated in an attempt to kill Hitler. He had a pretty good front row seat to how important knowing good from evil was, especially when evil was trying so hard to disguise itself as good.
We chose to move God out of the center and put ourselves there, and ever since then, human religion tends to be about the knowledge of good and evil, and not the knowledge of life — or the knowledge of God. This is demonstrated in how we read the parable of the sower. I think we naturally tend to read this parable not as the parable of the sower, but as the parable of the judgment of the soil. To focus on the worthiness of the soil is to read the parable in judgment. When we approach this text, or our lives with only the knowing and judging of good and evil, we miss out on the knowing of God. But to focus on the lush and ludicrous image of how God extravagantly, wastefully, wantonly sows the Word of the kingdom is to read the parable in joy.
Now, this is a parable which Jesus Himself gave an interpretation.
18Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
19When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
20But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
22He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
23But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
I find it interesting that Jesus interpreted this parable in the way the Bolz-Weber considered judgmental and perhaps by extension joyless. Jesus makes it a parable of judgment on the types of soils.
I find it even more interesting that He makes mention of joy in the interpretation. Those who are like the stony places received the word with joy, but they do not take root, and when things like troubles and persecutions come because of the Word of God, they get offended.
Does that not, in a nutshell, describe the emergents like Bolz-Weber? They claim to have come to God in joy at the first, but when the Word of God is questioned and they are put to the test because of it, they are so quick to get offended. And so they try to explain away what the Bible says, and in effect make a gospel of their own works, which is no gospel at all.
And isn’t life just too short, too sacred, and too important to skimp on joy? Yet joy can often be the thing we give up when being right seems more important. It’s like that cliché: Would you rather be right or be happy? I’ve focused on being right a lot in my life. First, in the conservative Christianity of my youth, and then in the leftist politics of my young adulthood. They aren’t always mutually exclusive, but if given the choice, I want to choose to be happy instead. And leave being right to God and God alone.
And here we have it. Not that she's the first to choose what seems to make her happy over what is right.
1Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
In fact, this whole mess we find ourselves in can be said to be the product of this happy-over-right type of thinking. Eve saw that the fruit was pleasant, and she chose the pleasant over what was right.
In the book of Judges, there is a phrase that is used whenever Israel leaves God and turns to idols and plummets into sin, "Every man did what was right in his own eyes". Is that not what Bolz-Weber is telling us to do?
Joy is important, but happiness is not the measure.
Chesterton on evil and skinning a cat
If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat
Whether or not Bolz-Weber denies the cat, I don't know, but if happiness to her is more important than being right, then upon what basis can she tell the cat-skinner to stop? Or will she leave the question of right or wrong concerning cat-skinning to God and God alone?
EDIT: A commentor has corrected me on something. My info that Bolz-Weber is herself a practicing homosexual seems to be wrong. I have corrected the post, and apologize for not making sure that my information was correct the first time.