Monday, November 28, 2011

New web site

For those of you who have followed this blog, please be informed that my web site has moved. Here is the new address.

Thank you for your support.


Friday, May 27, 2011

An Epistle to Dad

An Epistle to Dad

Hey, dad, it was just forty-eight hours ago, that your youngest son, my brother Lance, sent me a text message, stating, “He’s at home with the Lord.” The Apostle Paul, writing about the moment of death, describes it as an experience of “departing and being with Christ,” and that to be “absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord.” So, my brother’s words were right-on. I can’t tell you how the last two days have been, only that they have not been what I expected. Some of my theological mentors and friends believe that the doctrine of the “communion of the saints” means, in part, that departed saints have some sense of what the not-yet-departed saints are up to. Believing that is probably true at some level, I just thought I’d write and tell you some things. Some of this I have told you before, but not all of it. The last time I saw you I told you “goodbye,” and, though I think you thought I meant, “see you later,” I had a deep sense then that it was really “Goodbye!”

I got that text message from Lance while I was sitting on the beach with Tina. I had only found out that morning that you had been in the hospital for several days, and that the afternoon before you had gone into coronary arrest. Our family did not want to alarm me to what might just be another in a long line of medical episodes spanning over ten years, especially since we were on vacation, a much-needed vacation for both Tina and me. So they had told me nothing till that morning. But coronary arrest is not just “another episode,” is it, dad? They had to bring you back and put you on a ventilator. I also found out from G (you know, your only daughter) that the preliminary tests after the episode did not look good. BP was down, blood sugar elevated, kidneys shut down, all those bad things that they explain in terms of numbers, as if numbers on a chart, read out to us clinically by a man or woman wearing a white smock, really say anything about what we are going through. The words from G were pretty grim.

We understand grim, don’t we, dad? You had your first heart attack at age twenty-four, bypass at forty-five (that has lasted thirty-one years, not bad!), and over the last years, aneurism, blocked carotids, diabetes, and then, to top it all off, dementia. I can’t tell you how much I have hated your dementia. Much of the last five or six years was lost to you, even though there would be moments of clarity and lucidity. (Sorry for that word, dad, I know you always told me to speak plainly so that every-day folk like you could understand. You were right about that, I have tried hard not to parade my PhD. You will be proud to know that I sometimes tell people it only means, “Piled higher and deeper.”) But I hated your dementia. I did not hate you, I hated it. I even invented names for it, but since mom might see what I am writing here, I will keep those to myself. I know you hated it, too. One day a year or so ago, though I am sure you forgot saying it within a few moments, you looked at G and said, “I am losing my mind, aren’t I?” No grammar check here—that was about as plain as you could put it.

So, here we are. I want to say some things to you, and so, in the hope that maybe you will be able to know that, I am going to write them here. Some of this is hard to say, and if you were still in this age, you might get a little angry with me, but now you have changed, since the Book tells us, “When we see Him we shall be like Him for we will see Him as He is.” Wow! That means more to me now than ever! Since you are no longer a man subject to temptation, I am sure you will be nodding your head, saying, “Yes, let’s get it out. Maybe somebody will be helped.”

I love you, dad, and I have always loved you, as long as I can remember. You taught me how to fish and shoot. I remember when you made me practice in the backyard, casting a rubber plug with my cheap Zebco fishing pole until I could make the plug land inside an old tire halfway across the yard before you would take me fishing. I spent an entire afternoon casting that rubber plug until I got it in nearly every time. Even today I am pretty good with a spinning reel and a fly-rod, and I thank you for that. You taught me how to shoot, and though I never got as good as you, I still love to do it. I suppose one of these days my brothers and I will decide who is going to get which of your many weapons that you have left behind. I don’t know that I am ready to do that anytime soon. As far as I am concerned, they are still yours, dad.

As you of course are fully aware, I am your oldest. I made you a teenage dad by just one week, so we were pretty close in age, in comparison to many fathers and sons. Sometimes oldest sons and their fathers have conflict, and that was true of us. I never liked it, but it happened. You expected a lot out of me as the oldest, and sometimes I lived up to your expectations and sometimes I did not. There were times I wished I had been born third in place of Mike, who came along two years after G and often asked me, “Why do you and dad fight so much,” or Lance, born last, and the least serious of all of us when he was a kid. (Sorry, bro, but it’s true, though you have turned out pretty well in your ‘forties and ‘fifties.) But I was first, and I was first in your line of sight. Yeah, that weapon analogy again.

I never told you this (remember that I said there were some things in my Epistle that you probably didn’t know), but when I was a kid, maybe through Junior High years, when you would get on me about something—whatever it might be, most of the details have escaped my memory by now—I would just take it and be quiet. I would slip off to my room and read, and think about what I would say to you if I had the courage to say it. I thought a lot during those years, because we had a lot of conflicts, you and me. Looking back, I am sure I deserved much of that, but at the time I usually thought that you had gone too far, said too much, expected too highly. So, I just thought about it. “If I had been criticizing me, how would I have done it differently?” “Rather than saying this, I think he should have said that.” Here’s something really interesting, dad. That developed a pattern and a habit in my life of going down deep inside and pondering over almost every issue I faced, “How could I say that differently?” “What is the more correct and communicable way of stating this problem?” As you know, dad, I am a teacher. Many of my students think I am pretty good at it. What I have never told any of them, what I have only shared with the two women most important in my life (and you know who they are) is that my dad made me a good communicator. Well, along with the Lord! You made me go deep inside and to labor for clarity and accuracy in all I say and do. That has never left me in all these years. Maybe the method could have been different, but we all have our ways of learning! Now, here, if you can find a way to read this, I am telling you, “Thank you!” You and the Lord made me what I am in this area, along with some help from my mentor, Tom Pratt.

Oh, yeah, I just mentioned reading in that last paragraph. I know that neither you nor mom made it through the tenth grade, but both of you inspired me to be a reader. Night after night I would watch the two of you read. You read Popular Science magazine and mom read the Bible, that old red leather Scofield Bible that looked like it had been run over by a Mac truck, but only because she wore it out in reading! You read. Of course, through elementary and into Junior High years you read because we rarely had a television that worked. We had one, it just didn’t work. There it sat in the living room with Rabbit Ears on top and a Pepsi bottle perched beside it. But it did not get any TV! You would buy them at second-hand stores and we would be all excited because we were going to be able to watch the whole season of Star Trek or Gilligan’s Island, but then about the seventh or eighth episode I would come home and the TV was out, and then we would not have one for another six months until you found another used one at a garage sale or some other cheap venue. A part me hated that, but what it did was it sent me to Jules Verne and Herman Melville and Zane Grey and Arthur Conan Doyle and Spiderman. (I didn’t say it was all high-culture reading.) And it also sent me to Tolkien when I was fourteen and we were in one of those “The TV is busted” periods. As much as anything besides God’s Word, Tolkien changed my life. Of course, at times you were frustrated with my addiction to reading, as was mom, who might find me in the morning under the covers with a flashlight and extra batteries, having spent the entire night reading through “Mysterious Island.” So, though you put up with a lot of complaining from me and the other three over the TV, and you griped at me often as not for my reading habits, you changed my life again. It happened as an “unintended consequence,” but it happened.

By the time I was in high school and afterwards, I started using some of the speeches toward you that I would work out in my head lying in bed at night. Dad, I guess that we have been “toe-to-toe” at least as often as we saw “eye-to-eye.” We had some doozies! Mom, saint that she is, often would speak to me afterward and say, “Now you just have to understand, your dad grew up in the Depression, and that’s why he is the way he is.” Or, “You know your dad’s father abandoned him and his sister and his mom when your dad was four, and that has left a mark on him.” It was all true. Of course, you were adopted by your maternal grandmother and her second husband when your mother said she could not raise you and your sister. That is why my name is Chad Owen Brand rather than Chad Owen Snyder. (Kind of glad on that one, no bad thoughts toward “Snyders.”) I am glad you were adopted by Charles Oscar Brand. Your birth mother was a real wildcat! When she got mad she would ring the heads off of baby chicks! We did not look forward to going to “Grandma’s house,” and I guess if you inherited some of her temperament, then our battles were understandable. I remember you telling me as a kid that you were your own uncle, and when I figured the whole adoption thing, I guessed you were right. If I had only had some entrepreneurial spirit and better rhyming ability we might have come up with a hit country song, though, “I’m my own Uncle” does not have the same ring to it as “I’m my own Grandpa.”

That reminds me, I probably have you to thank for my love for Western films and Country music. When we did have a TV, it was usually on a channel showing a Western film, or Gunsmoke, or Bonanza. I grew up loving the Duke, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams (the real one), and still rank Shane as one of my top-five favorite films. I remember the night you introduced me to that movie, claiming it was one of your all-time favorites. I also remember that I felt closer to you that night than I ever had before. When I started having kids, introducing them to my favorite movies was one of my favorite things to do, and now they are passing on that heritage to their own children, Tashia with Katelynn, Madison, and Cora, Owen with Buck, and Cassie with Keira and Kameron. Thanks for that, dad.

One of the things that I think about with pride toward you is that you were not unwilling to change. Notice how I put that. I did not say you were “willing to change,” only that you were “not unwilling to change.” The thing that comes first to mind is the race issue. You grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line, and when I was a teenager, that was obvious. I remember the debate at the dinner table that day in April, 1968, after MLK was assassinated. I defended the great man, and you denigrated him. We fought that battle for a long time, and not just that night. I grew up, left home, and raised my own family. Then one day about eight or ten years ago, my daughter Cassie told me she was going on a date. When the young man came to pick her up, I discovered that it was a young black man that she was going out with. I had to look myself in the mirror after they left and ask myself, “Did I mean all that stuff that I used to say to my dad when I was a kid?” I decided that I did, and before the second date, I had a long and direct conversation with him about my daughter and my expectations of him, but it was the same conversation I had had with the young men who had dated my older daughter Tashia several years before. I did not change it because he was a young black man. But here is the point, dad. Two years ago I brought my daughter and her black husband and children to meet you, and you treated him the same as you treated any of the spouses of my kids. That’s not necessarily a compliment, you understand! But you were not the Edd Brand of 1968, and I knew that the Lord was real!

But I realize now that I kind of moved too quickly away from the issue of conflict. I have to come back to that, dad, because there was one awful day, and it was not when I was a kid. It was when I was a man, a professor of theology, and a pastor. It was about seven years ago, and, though I am sure you had forgotten about it some time in the last few years, you will recall it if you see these words, since now you are healed of all hurts and sins. It was a day when we were at your house, helping you with some things that needed to be done. In the middle of it, you became very angry with me. We knew that you were changing at the time, but did not know how deep the dementia was working in your mind. But you became angry with me. You said some of the most hurtful things to me that you had ever said. Years of frustration welled up in me, and after listening to you speak, I looked at you and said, “I will never forgive you, and I will never speak to you again.” Mom came up to me and said, “You don’t mean that.” “Yes I do, I replied.” And I left.

I flew back to Kentucky, and over the next days, and even weeks, I thought about what I had said, what I had done. I read the words of Jesus, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive you.” I brooded and waited, and delayed responding to what I knew was the right thing to do. Then one day I looked at myself in the mirror, literally, and the Spirit of God spoke to me and said, “If you do not reconcile with your father, you can never teach another class, you can never preach another sermon, because you are living a lie!”

I know you remember this now. I called you and between sobs and cries I asked you to forgive me for what I had said, to forgive me for my unforgiving spirit. You cried also and begged me to forgive you for what you had said to me that day. Maybe I just have bad memory, but I thought at the time that it was the first time you had ever asked me to forgive you. The next time I saw you, some months later, I think you had forgotten all about that exchange, since the dementia was working its effect on you. But I did not forget, and I will never forget the incredible healing power of repentance and forgiveness. If anyone should have known that, it should have been me. It is ever before me now, and I can’t help but be moved by it in these short two days since you have been gone.

I said earlier in my little note to you that these hours of reflection are not what I had thought they might be. I haven’t been able to remember anything that I am mad at you about. I know they are there, but they don’t matter anymore. I have watched your grandchildren, who virtually worship the ground you walked on, grieve for you in incredible ways. Maybe that’s another sign of redemption, since your grandkids gave you another shot at parenting, and the Lord knows we all fail at that task at some level. You should look at the pictures Cassie posted of you and your grandkids on Facebook. You should have been at Tashia’s this afternoon and listened to what everyone said about you. Remember that Tashia called you “Butterfly” when she first met you, and yesterday her six-year-old Madison was walking around the farm looking for “hurt butterflies” so she could “help fix them.” And she did not even know that her mom called you, “Butterfly.” I walked with my son, Owen, this afternoon on the grounds of the farm in Tennessee, and said, “You know, life is complicated and is mixed with good and bad, but right now all that matters to me is the good.” I also told him that a day would come when he would walk the same ground and talk with his kids about me. It makes me want to be as good of a “Poppi” as you were a “Grandpa.”

Well, dad, it has been forty-eight hours since you left, no, now it has been about forty-nine. You are in heaven with the Lord, and if you get to read these words, know that I love you and am happy for you. I will join you one day, but even that will not be the end of it. Scripture tells us that one day there will be a shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet of God will blow. Then the graves will open and the dead in Christ will rise. You will rise from Denver, I will probably rise from Kentucky. But let’s make a deal, right now. When that day comes, you lean East and I will lean West, and when you see me, grab my hand. With tears in your eyes, you will probably say, “I should have said I am sorry more often.” I will say, “I should have been a more dutiful son.” And then, we will forget all of that because we will have all eternity to enjoy sweet fellowship together in the Lord. “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”

Chad Owen Brand

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Excerpt From Chapter on Civil War

Here is an excerpt from the end of our discussion on the Civil War. If you interested, email me and I will send you the whole discussion (about 28 pages in Word). I will not send you the whole book. You will have to buy that.

One theological issue American Christians faced in the war was how to continue to construe their doctrine of the providence of God. The people prayed for the battles—one group of Americans praying for Confederate victory and another for Union victory on the field of battle. Most of the battles were won by one side or the other. Confederates scored the first victory, then had some setbacks, then regained ground and it was back and forth through 1862, with victories for the South at Seven Days, loss at Stones River, and strategic loss at Antietam. The Confederates did well in 1863 at Chickamauga and Chancellorsville, but also lost major battles at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga. Then the tide turned against the Confederacy in 1864 with inconclusive larger battles, but with a loss of the means to continue the war. Both sides invoked the same God, asking him to help their cause and at the end of the day recognizing, whatever the outcome, that his will was done. Over and over they did this. John Adger, Southern Presbyterian, once the war was over, went to great lengths to insist on “the justice of the Southern cause,” but also conceded that “there was one error . . . into which we acknowledge that some Southern ministers sometimes fell.” That error was to believe that God must surely bless the right. What the Southerners had learn through the disposition of the war was that often let :the righteous . . . be overthrown.” Godly ministers may pray, but the outcome is left with God. His conclusion was, “Yes! The hand of God, gracious though heavy, is upon the South for her discipline.” It was not simply faith in the Bible that was at stake for war America, but faith in God himself.
A related issue had to do with military protocol in relation to civilians. The army leaders on both sides had been trained at West Point, believed the same doctrines of war, understood the same tactics and strategies in battle. One of their deepest held convictions was that war was for soldiers, not for civilians. This conviction held for the first year-and-a-half. In October 1862 William Tecumseh Sherman, attempting to hold on to his victory in Memphis sustained a series of guerilla attacks from Confederate fighters. In response he destroyed the town of Randolph, Tennessee. When the next attack came he destroyed all homes, farms and crops along a fifteen-mile stretch south of Memphis. “When a Memphis woman objected, Sherman replied that God Himself had destroyed entire populations for far lesser crimes.” This would be especially the lesson learned late in the war through Sherman’s march to the sea, exercising a final “vengeance upon South Carolina” for starting this whole mess.
One more thing needs to be said before we make a few notes about the economic impact of the war and then move on. The Civil War was, as we indicated earlier, the second defining moment in America’s history, which is why we have given it so much attention in our narrative. A third will come in the next century, and we will also give it a close look. A newcomer to the United States may have made the most telling comment on the nature of slavery and the war. His name was Philip Schaff, and he was a native Swiss who had studied in German, then accepted a call to teach at the German Reformed seminary in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. In 1861 he penned a review article in the Mercersburg Review in which he called for the gradual, voluntary end to slavery, but noted also that, “The negro question lies far deeper than the slavery question.” Schaff, it turns out, was quite prescient. The Civil War did solve the slavery issue, once and for all, but neither the war, nor twelve years of “Reconstruction,” that is, oversight from the Federal government over the governing policies of the eleven rebel states, nor decades of Jim Crow and prejudice solved the “negro problem.” We will have to see whether that does get some kind of solution later in our story.

Chad Owen Brand

Saturday, May 7, 2011

OPS (Other Peoples' Sins)

Sometimes the sins of others have a sanctifying effect on us. You can see hatred manifested in a dramatically horrible way, and it can so impact you that the next time you are tempted to lash out, you feel the twinge of pain that you felt when you observed that other act of hatred. It brings revulsion and repentance to your soul, and you simply say, “God help me, but I cannot go there, even though my heart sometimes wants to take me there.” It is both a sad and a glorious thing.

In 1 Corinthians we find the story of a church that was filled with various kinds of sins: sins of immorality, sins of dis-fellowship, sins of pride and arrogance, sins of theological defection, and more besides. Paul wrote this letter and in the providence of God it has been preserved for our edification and instruction. What do we get from it? Many things. But one thing we certainly get from the letter is that the sins of others are displayed so that we might learn from them not to do them. The sins of the Corinthians can have a sanctifying impact on us.

The same is true in our contemporary fellowship with believers and in our relationships with non-believers, both within and outside the church. You observe someone’s flash of anger in church and realize how much pain that has caused to a child observing it, and it makes you aware of how your own anger can be destructive. Someone you know asserts himself with arrogance and pride and that assertion brings disrepute to the cause of Christ in a community, and that makes you recognize that your own pride can do the very same thing. You are stunned to find that someone in your circle of friends has fallen prey to sins of sensuality, and at first it makes you want to be critical, and that is probably something that is appropriate, but it also reminds you that we are all vulnerable and that we can all fall prey to temptation. So, we humble ourselves before God and ask for grace and mercy.

We need to pray for one another that we will find sanctification, “without which no one shall see God” (Hebrews 12:14). We need to seek the holiness of the Lord in our own lives. At the same time, we can learn much from the sins of others. In playing pool, you often “go to school on the other guy’s shot.” We can do the same in life.

Chad Owen Brand

Monday, May 2, 2011

Justice and Retribution: Bin Laden

Shakespeare's Fool in Hamlet famously stated that "History is like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." September 11, 2001 seemed to bear that sentiment out. What has just happened to us, and why? But last night, about 10:45 PM, the "sound and fury" resolved themselves into a major chord of resolution, as we heard the news that justice had finally been done.

Usama Bin Laden has made a career of terrorism. Wandering from one patron to another, often duping those who thought he was serving their purposes, he ultimately was serving his own purpose, the purpose of destroying the non-Islamic world, but not merely that. His terrorism spent itself also in the destruction of Muslims, Muslims who did not support his brand of Islamic fanaticism.

That career is now over. Undoubtedly, some Christians (and others) will begin to second guess whether this act of justice was, well, just. After all, he had been marginalized and forced to live on the run, hiding in the mountains and in compounds where his quality of life was likely very meager. Perhaps that ought to be seen as punishment enough. And what about "Thou shalt not kill"? It is not as though he was in our country and could have been abducted by the police and put on trial. He was only apprehended by a nearly ten-year-long mission to find him and take him down, a mission that has cost American tax-payers billions of dollars. Why not just leave him to the Lord, and let God sort it out?

The answer is that God has ordained that justice in this age, for the matters of this life, in so far as justice can possibly be meted out in this age, should be carried out by governments. That is Paul's whole point in Romans 13:4. The government has been given the power of the sword and is a "minister" of God to the end of justice in this age. In other words, for governments not to carry out that role would be an abandonment of their calling. The US military forces that killed Bin Laden were doing their God-ordained duty, even if they did not see it in just those terms. Just yesterday I had a conversation with a 94-year old man who spent three years fighting the Nazis in France and Belgium. As he put it to me, "We were doing the Lord's work." Indeed they were, and I told him so! The men who lifted their weapons yesterday and drew down on this terrorist were doing the Lord's will every bit as much as pastors, standing in the pulpit, bringing the Word to his people yesterday, were doing the Lord's will.

I am not glorifying death. I am not in any way a hater of Muslims, though I reject Islam as a false gospel. I am not a hawk, calling for more war and death and destruction. I love peace, and I would wish that no other person, American or otherwise, would have to die for his country in war. But what I am saying is that the American government had a God-ordained duty to bring this man to justice, dead or alive. It has done so, and our attitude ought to be one of gratitude, of solemn recognition that our sins will find us out, and of knowing that every person will one day stand before God to be judged according to the deeds done in the body. We may take a moment to rejoice, but we also need to look to ourselves to be sure that our hearts are right before God.

Justice cannot always be meted out in this age. Adolf Hitler had to face the Lord without temporal justice being passed on him. On May 1st, 1945, it was announced to the world that Hitler was dead; exactly sixty-six years later, May 1st, 2011, it was announced that Bin Laden was dead. Our government has done the right thing. I am grateful to the President, to the American military, to the Pakistani government, and to Bible teachers and readers who still believe that justice is important in this age, as well as in the age to come.

Chad Owen Brand

Friday, March 11, 2011

Trinitarian Monotheism, Economics, and the American Revolution

[The following is the first few paragraphs of a paper I delivered at the "Hobbs's Lecture" on March 9, at Oklahoma Baptist university. Read on down and see if you would like to have the rest.]

Trinitarian Monotheism, Economics, and the American Revolution
Chad Owen Brand

In his essay, “Good Infection,” C. S. Lewis talks about two basic things—that being Triune is intrinsic to who God is, thus enabling him to be love since the Father and the Son have existed in a relation of love for eternity—and that we can draw benefit from what it means for God to be Triune by being infected with the impact of God’s Triune nature by the work of the Spirit who applies the benefits of our salvation to us.
The early Christians had a great challenge, the challenge to re-envision the nature of the monotheistic God of Judaism now that they understood that the Son was divine and that the Spirit, poured out on them at Pentecost, was also divine, and to understand all of that in the context of the Old Testament faith that there is only one God. They worked on the language for decades, trying to get it right, since they rightly believed that if they did not get this right, they would probably be off everywhere. And the language that they were eventually satisfied with was the language of the Nicene Creed, along with the additions to that Creed made at the Council of Constantinople. But that alone was not enough.
They also knew that they had to conceptualize God’s relationship to the world in just the right way (a task partly solved by the language of the Creed), and that they had rightly to construe the nature of their ongoing conversations about all things theological (a task that certainly was part of what they were doing at the Council). They probably did not say all of that in just the way that I have said it, but this was part of their intent. One of the reasons for these two tasks was that those two questions had been faced and dealt with by the broad variety of religious traditions that stretched back into antiquity.
Let’s take the first question: what is God’s relationship to this world? There are three possible answers. The first is that God is remote from this world. Some religions argued that God made the world, but that having made it, he wanted nothing more to do with it. Others argued that he did not even make the world in the first place, and in that case he certainly wanted nothing to do with it. Another possibility is that God is completely immanent in the world, that he is virtually identified with the world, and that it is impossible to separate the identity of the world from the identity of God. If the first option could be analogous to God as some distant star right on the very edge of sight, the second would be analogous to the idea that God is like the dew that one finds on wet grass every morning. It is just there. But there is a third option, and that is that God is transcendent, that he is above us, but not far above us. He is above us, but he is reachable, not reachable by our stretching up to him, but by his reaching down to us. God may be variously pictured here as a lightning bolt that stabs out of the heavens, or as a gentle rain that refreshes our souls. This is of course the Christian view and it is enshrined in the Creed that states the maker of heaven and earth sent his son to die in our stead and then sent his Spirit to indwell us and to bring his spiritual presence into our very hearts. That makes Christianity unique among the religions of the world in the approachableness of God by his grace.
Then there was the second question, almost a background question. Just how do we talk about God? This was a serious matter at that first ecumenical council, for the Arians, those who were proposing to reject the deity of the Son, wanted only to quote verses from the Bible. But the other party, the party that won the debate, argued that we ought to be able to use human speech, rational speech, to talk about God, in ways that were consistent with Scripture but that extrapolated from Scripture and went beyond it. How could they defend such an argument? They argued that God had made us rational creatures in his own image, and based on that conviction, that our theology can and ought to be more that simply parroting Bible verses. In that moment, at that auspicious occasion, rational theology was born, and with the birth of rational theology, came, eventually, the rise of reason, the rise of innovation in commerce, the rise of science, and eventually, the iPhone. In other words, the notion of progress is an inherently Christian notion. All because of some cantankerous bishops debating the nature of God in western Turkey in 325 AD. Well, not just because of that.
It may seem odd to us, but the notion of reason and rational speech had never been applied to theological questions before. That is not to say that people had not talked about religion or theology. They had. But the idea that a discourse could lead to progress in understanding and that such progress could then be applied to other disciplines beyond theology so that they all contributed one to another had not. Not till Christianity, and not even to all Christianity, but only to western European Christianity, and that is because of western Christian ways of thinking biblically. The Chinese have had a longer cultural awareness than the west, but science did not originate there. Rodney Stark says that was because for them the universe simply is, and has always been that way. There is no reason to think that it functions according to some natural laws. Chinese intellectuals pursued enlightenment, not explanations. The Greeks did not invent science, though if anyone could, it would have been them. But their gods are inferior creatures and they saw nature as just endless cycles. Even Plato could not get there since his creator Demiurge was not even God, and Plato’s entire approach was to see this world as inferior to the real world of the heavenly forms. That just does not fire up the scientific imagination. But in western Christianity a series of episodes, some of them not even connected to one another directly led to a belief in progress, in science, and in human freedom. We will take the next few minutes to sketch some of the high (and low) points of just how that happened.

(If you would like to read the rest of the essay, email me at and I will email you a copy.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Christian Political Theology

In an excellent book published in 2007, The Stillborn God, Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla lays out an excellent analysis of what he calls the demise of Christian political theology. He argues that political theology arose in Greece, was transferred to Rome when that power overwhelmed the Mediterranean world, and after Constantine, it arose in the newly Christianized Roman context, but now as a "Christian political theology." That political theology was developed first by thinkers such as Eusebius, Athanasius, and the Cappadocian Fathers, but in spades by Augustine, especially in his City of God. Thomas further explicated how this could work, using especially Aristotelian categories, and Calvin finished the exposition, using biblical models for understanding exactly how such a culture should be molded.

This Christian political theology was not specific about just exactly what kind of rule was best (monarchy, empire, aristocracy, or polity), so that there was a great fluidity in Christian politics. But at some level the king was seen as the body of society and the church as its soul, or in some situations the king was seen as having "two bodies,"one physical and the other spiritual, or society was pictured as having two swords. In this trinitarian, incarnational theology of a God who was transcendent, yet not remote, lay the notion that God was close enough that he could come to us or that we could come to him, and that part of the governing structure of the body politic was to maintain that connection or nexus, however conceived.

Lilla argues that the beginnings of the end of this synthesis came with the English civil war. That war, waged largely between two varying interpretations of Anglicanism, brought an immediate, though not final, end to Anglican episcopacy. Lilla argues, though, that it had a larger impact. That impact can be seen especially in the work of Thomas Hobbes, and to a lesser degree, in the writings of John Locke. Hobbes's Leviathan spelled the end of Christian political theology, at least in the sense that he demonstrated it was no longer necessary, and that eventually it would fade from view. In the centuries that followed, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Marx and others would add their voices to the mix, and the result is what we see in European societies today, and, in an increasing obvious manner, in America.

The analysis is brief, though trenchant. One does not have to agree with all of Lilla's assumptions or conclusions to recognize that this is an important book. What surprises me is that I have missed the book for over two years though I have been working in this area. I recommend this as an important read for those interested in history, politics, or theology. Or all three!

Chad Owen Brand