OD Today: 20 January 2009 (bonus edition)

January 20, 2009

So many links. So little time. I wasn’t online the last time a Democrat became President, so I have nothing to compare today to.

  1. Ingrid Schlueter comments on a World Net Daily story about the new Administration’s agenda regarding hate crimes. “I believe it’s time to inject a little cold reality into some minds. Change is underway, and it will cost all of us who believe what the Bible says about homosexuality.” This article caught on like wildfire today and ended up in so many places I lost track (whitehouse.gov).
  2. Thomas Heringer weighs in, promises to resist. “Problem is I doubt that the present idiot in the WH feels the same, in fact I think he wants us all to follow like a blind heard of sheep. … My first grievance is how he took the nomination and used tactics reminiscent of the Nazi’s. I pray that he fails in everything he tries to do and for what it is worth that America falls even deeper into the mess we have created for ourselves and I ask God in heaven to judge America starting with Obama.”
  3. Michael Davis calls Obama “a new President to pray for.”
  4. Brian Thornton echoes Albert Mohler‘s prayer for Barack Obama. “Father, lead him to see abortion, not as a matter of misconstrued rights, but as a murderous violation of the right to life. May he come to see every aborted life as a violation of human dignity and every abortion as an abhorrent blight upon this nation’s moral witness.”
  5. Jennifer O’Hara gives Obama a failing grade for today’s speech.
  6. Timmy Brister shares the text of Rick Warren’s prayer, with video (YouTube).
  7. John Baker finds Islamic themes in Warren’s prayer. “The meaning of the phrase: “Allah is compassionate and merciful” has a completely different meaning within the context of Islam and the Qur’an than the phrase: “God is compassionate and merciful” would have within the context of Christianity and The Bible. Finally with Rick Warren’s history he has made it pretty clear that he conisders “Allah” as one and the same as The God of the Bible.”
  8. Miriam Franklin is troubled by the use of the phrases “new age” and “new era” in Obama’s inaugural address.
  9. Bill Wilson focuses on Eugene Robinson, says he’s evidence of national heresy. “What has occurred is the cursing of our nation and its leadership with heresy.”
  10. Christian Worldview/David Wheaton shares the full text of Albert Mohler’s prayer for Obama.
  11. Daniel Pulliam mentions Sharon Watkins’s prayer at the inauguration, and includes a link to an inaugural prayer summary article by Rachel Zoll. Names, names, names. Zoll hits all the facts really quickly, and I defy anybody to find a mistake in anything she writes.
  12. Orrin Judd picks up an article from Daniel Finklestein of the Times of London, on the “no we can’t” Obama we didn’t see on the campaign trail. “He described a nation at war, an economy badly weakened, a collective failure to make hard choices. And while the new President promised to face these difficulties, he was extremely careful not to promise to eliminate them.”
  13. Job at Jesus Christology gives a contrary opinion regarding Joseph Farah’s “Pray Obama Fails” campaign. “So the difference between Caesar when Paul was writing Romans and Obama right now is what exactly? … Well Joe Farah, I say the same about you. The reason is that you are willfully creating confusion between using spiritual warfare, evangelism, foretelling and forthtelling, etc. to oppose evil rulers and their policies, and between being a sinful seditionist.”
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OD Today: 20 January 2009 (late edition)

January 20, 2009

Same day, same issues, more or less: lots of reaction to the Obama inaugural. I’m facing a long night, so I’m posting a short update here.

  1. Ingrid Schlueter quotes Albert Mohler on American religion, meaning (more or less) Christianity as it is filtered through American values. “As much as Christians in this blessed nation should respect and cherish our democratic ideals and system of government, we must keep ever in mind that the Kingdom of God is ruled by a higher and infinitely more perfect law and system of governance. Be warned: God is not running for office, and heaven is not a democracy.”
  2. Tim Challies offers links a la carte as he does most every day; a couple of them are “1.20.09” related, including John Piper‘s advice on being pro-life under a pro-choice president (circa 1992).
  3. Lighthouse Trails excerpts an article by Berit Kjos warning against creeping Socialism. Kjos connects a number of dots (Hitler, Stalin, Rick Warren, and Barack Obama), but mostly warns against (if I am reading her correctly) the quest for solidarity and common ground as ingredients in a recipe for totalitarianism.
  4. Terry Mattingly parses some numbers regarding the popularity of Barack Obama’s decision to invite Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration. “By the way, did I read that right? Did a higher percentage of DEMOCRATS favor the Warren choice than Republicans?”
  5. Confessing Lutheran Mollie Hemingway offers yet another take on more or less the same story we’ve seen in the 2004 Cathleen Falsani interview with Barack Obama and related articles. “The ultimate civil religion president, perhaps?”
  6. Desert Pastor recaps, comments on Rick Warren’s prayer. “Good ending by concluding in the name of Jesus (and the inclusion of the Muslim, Spanish, and Hebrew variations of Jesus). I am just afraid that this man has chosen to misrepresent the true nature of God and His Only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ!”
  7. Ken Silva puts Queermergent into context within his ongoing study of Phyllis Tickle and the Emergent Church, also mentions Peter Rollins and Adele Sakler.
  8. John Sexton excerpts Barack Obama’s inaugural address. “Will he deliver [safety] or will he make the same mistakes previous Democratic Presidents have made? With Gaza in flames and Iran on the verge of constructing its first nukes, I think we’ll know soon enough.”
  9. Terry Mattingly catches ABC News fumbling a Rick Warren reference to a “great cloud of witnesses” as being a reference to Martin Luther King Jr.
  10. Rich at Take Up Your Cross offers a term for a religion with Barack Obama as its Messiah: “Obamianity.” “In the minds of many people, our new President has been elevated to an almost Messiah-like status.”
  11. Christine at Talk Wisdom takes up the question of Bible Codes referring to the new President. I’d completely forgotten about Bible Codes. Completely.

Why didn’t somebody at one of the the various conservative news sources dig up the Falsani interview in (say) September 2008?

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OD Today: 20 January 2009 (early edition)

January 20, 2009

We’re expecting lots of inauguration-related links; we saw overnight more than we’re sharing now.

  1. Darryl Foster calls out the Church of God in Christ regarding elder Ronald Kimbrew and his relationship to an online gay clergy group. “Is COGIC going to be silent while an organized culture of homosexual ministers and bishops populate its pulpits?”
  2. Chris Rosebrough mentions Queermergent. Rosebrough is working on an “emergent church is postmodern liberal (as opposed to modern liberal)” theme going at his various outlets. “Even though Emergents try to navigate a middle road between liberalism and conservatism, then end up supporting the same agenda as their Modern Liberal cousins.”
  3. Henry Neufield reflects on the meaning of race within the Obama inauguration story. “As a Christian I believe we do owe one another allegiance, and that we do have a duty to help free the oppressed, to care for the poor and needy. I think there is a moral duty to do such things not because they are good for me, but because they are good. At the same time, I think God has so ordered the universe that it seems that I can do good for myself by doing good for others, that I will live in a richer and better society if I am willing to sacrifice for others and fight for their rights.”
  4. Jonathan Dodson ponders the pros and cons of churches partnering with non-profit groups. “So the question is not should we partner with non-profits, but when and where should we partner with them. Sometimes it will be best to not partner and other times it will be best.”
  5. John Baker copies Joseph Farah‘s call for Christians to pray that Barack Obama fails.
  6. Chris Rosebrough offers his take on Gene Robinson’s prayer. “This ‘god’ is an idol and a demon. This ‘god’ is powerless to answer and save and worshiping and following this demon ‘god’ will land people in hell.” (YouTube)
  7. Ralph Petersen offers comments of Ron Livesay, a recently-retired principal from a Christian school, suggests that evangelicals voted for Barack Obama because they went to public schools. “What caused the children of the so-called “religious right,” to change their moral imperatives so dramatically? In this article, Phyllis Schlafly suggests that most likely it’s the humanistic attitudes and decision-making they learned in the public schools, which 89 percent of U.S. students attend.” Warning: some readers may be offended by a drawing of an anatomically correct somewhat humaniform rhinoceros.
  8. Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs on whether he’d pray at the Obama inauguration if given the chance: he’d decline “because Obama’s own stated intention is to make his inauguration “the most inclusive, open, accessible inauguration in American history,” and I would not want to affirm that goal, even tacitly.” This is part of a series, and it starts here.
  9. Ken Silva continues his series on Ravi Zacharias and Henri Nouwen. “In the first place, it needs to be understood here that as a Roman Catholic monk Nouwen not only rejected Sola Scriptura but also the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even so, RZIM recommends we read the Roman Catholic Nouwen and then make up our minds “as to Christian commitment.” But the question that needs to be asked here is: Why would supposedly Protestant evangelical RZIM even want to recommend that we read for our Christian edification writings from someone who denied Christ’s Gospel in the first place?” For the record I think this is a fair question, and I feel compelled to point out that Nouwen was a priest and not a monk.
  10. Miriam Franklin shares an anonymous story with a warning about laying on of hands/impartation. “A week or so after this “laying of hands” and “impartation,” I began to have this intense almost uncontrollable lust and desire for the senior pastor’s wife who I worked with.”
  11. Christine at Talk Wisdom is concerned by how chummy the outgoing President is with the incoming President.
  12. Terry Mattingly, at GetReligion, pushes a book about how the press doesn’t get religion, and also brushes up against the question of American civil religion and the “Orthodoxy of No Orthodoxy.” “The apparent orthodoxy of forbidding all orthodoxies is a philosophical puzzle in liberalism since John Locke. Journalists cannot be expected to solve it.”
  13. Jeremy at Renewing Our Minds posts a link to a sermon claiming that Billy Graham is going to hell. I haven’t seen it yet and can’t summarize.
  14. Mike Ratliff stakes out the most conservative position on abortion: “Rape, incest, and birth defects do not justify taking the life of a child.” Well, the second-most, I guess, since he doesn’t broach the question of the life of the mother.
  15. Job at Jesus Christology comes full circle in his exploration of Israel/Hamas: “Despite my sympathy for the Palestinians and many disagreements with Israeli policies, I have always maintained that ultimately Israel has not only the right but the responsibility to defend itself when faced with a population that throws rocks at Israeli tanks trying to avoid civilian casualties rather than at the terrorists using them as human shields.”
  16. Ingrid Schlueter copies a press release regarding the Freedom of Choice Act. It looks like it originates with American Right to Life. I believe this is the first time Schlueter has referred to Barack Obama as “America’s New Messiah.” The same press release is also here, and doesn’t include the term “New Messiah.”
  17. Chris Rosebrough delves deep into Barack Obama’s religious beliefs. I hope to get to this episode of Fighting for the Faith Today, but it’s a full two hours. Update: The Obama/Cathleen Falsani interview starts at about ninety minutes, and the article Rosebrough reads can be found here. I can’t do this justice; I’d encourage anyone and everyone to read the interview and listen to Rosebrough’s analysis. He says Obama “sounds like a postmodern/emergent” because he prefers the “subjective voice” to the “objective Word of God.” The payoff comes at about 1:52-55 or so; Rosebrough changes his call on Obama’s salvation, if I understand him correctly. Note also Obama’s specific reference to civic religion: “Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am a big believer in our constitutional structure. I mean, I’m a law professor at the University of Chicago teaching constitutional law. I am a great admirer of our founding charter, and its resolve to prevent theocracies from forming, and its resolve to prevent disruptive strains of fundamentalism from taking root in this country.”
  18. I’m Speaking Truth picks up John Piper’s comments on Barack Obama’s aims for the American church. This is pretty heavy stuff, but I’m guessing most if not all of my readers have already seen the phrase “a minister of condemnation,” and I’m not going to try to unwind all this theology here. I think Piper’s argument is that by including Gene Robinson in the inauguration Obama is making the American church itself a minister of sin and damnation.
  19. Defending Contending also comments on the Obama inauguration. “People, your king is here; may God have mercy on us.”
  20. Mollie Hemingway at GetReligion offers an inauguration link-fest, and raises the spectre of Rick Warren praying “in Jesus’s name.” “We’ll be sure to have more on coverage of the inaugural prayers. Will Warren be chastised for praying as a Christian (or, as Amy Sullivan at Time calls it, “if Rick Warren gets preachy when he prays,” God forbid).”

OD Today: 19 January 2009 (late edition)

January 19, 2009

I waited too late in the day to finish the first update today, so the second update is kind of short and kind of thin. It’s mostly the usual suspects today.

  1. Associates of Tony Alamo are being arrested, including one woman who is arrested for failing to turn her daughters over to protective services. “The Human Services Department says the children are endangered by practices that include beatings for violations of church rules. Some children are also alleged to have been sexually abused.”
  2. Jennifer O’Hara is the first I’ve seen to notice that the outgoing President has commuted the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. I have to admit that I do not understand why this story was popular among ODM types, apart from the fact that e.g. Phyllis Schlafly pushed it and other conservative Christians followed suit. I’d be grateful if someone could help me understand what if anything this has to do with the Gospel.
  3. Defending Contending reminds us that Margaret Sanger didn’t especially like black people.
  4. Mike Wittmer refers us to Marvin Olansky, who reminds us that conservative Christians didn’t always rely on politicians to solve the abortion problem. “The number one cause for the decrease in abortions was churches and Christian organizations who educated and cared for pregnant women and their babies.”
  5. Howard Fisher adopts a wait and see attitude regarding the Lincolnesque dimensions of Barack Obama. “Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Barack will be a President as great as Lincoln. For the moment I only see an image with no substance.”
  6. Ingrid Schlueter calls out Tony Jones for linking to Queermergent. “You were warned a long time ago, friends, that this was where it was all headed. It doesn’t take a seminary degree to understand that once you abandon the authority of the Word of God and deal in shadows and narratives instead, moral corruption is the natural consequence.”
  7. Wilson Hines loses a Bible, then makes an interesting case for “KJV First,” as opposed to “KJV Only.” “the more and more I study the text of the Bible and textual criticism the less and less I understand why anybody even pays the KJV any attention anymore … The reason I read an Authorized Version (KJV) to my children and want them to use a KJV in school is because it is better for their reading skills.”

As an aside, I’d be interested in reading comments from interested parties as to why homosexuals merit particular attention from people who take doctrine very seriously, as opposed to thieves, greedy people, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers. Especially in these times when thieves, greedy people, and swindlers are causing so much trouble.


Rick Warren’s tax deductions

January 19, 2009
Saddleback Chur...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

This article surfaced during the links overnight, and I listed it in this morning’s OD Today, but I’d like to return to it now that I’ve had time to look at it a bit more carefully. Jon Wiener reports in The Nation that in 1993 Rick Warren was claiming that his entire salary ($77,663) from Saddleback Church was exempt due to the “parsonage exemption,” which makes a pastor’s housing allowance exempt from income taxes. Never mind

  • The general question of whether income taxes (and income tax exemptions) are moral or ethical
  • The amount Warren was being paid (does your pastor make the equivalent to $77,663 in 1993 dollars?)
  • Any establishment clause issues (Wiener deals with these in the main article)

Claiming a tax exemption for an entire salary stinks. It’s corrupt on its very face, and any pastor who claims his salary is exempt because he’s allowed to exempt his housing allowance should be ashamed of himself. Especially if, as Wiener alleges, Warren’s housing costs were covered by Saddleback Church.

Wiener goes on to say (and this is the main point of his article) that the United States Congress stepped in to give Warren a pass, by passing a law exempting him from back taxes while clarifying that the parsonage exemption should apply only to the fair value of the parsonage in equivalent rent.

The Clergy Housing Allowance Clarification Act of 2002 was approved unanimously by Congress, then signed into law by George W. Bush on May 20, 2002, rendering the IRS case against Warren moot. “I have filed hundreds of briefs in federal courts,” Chemerinsky told me, “and this is the only time that Congress passed a law to make a specific pending case moot.” He added, “It is very rare for Congress to pass a law to make a pending case moot before there was a decision.”

I’ve made every effort to be charitable to Rick Warren on this weblog, especially when ODMs say things I think are unfair or mean-spirited. I still find this troubling.


OD Today: 19 January 2009 (early edition)

January 19, 2009

Many many links and we try to catch up from a week off. The anti-Obama crowd is stepping up rhetoric ahead of tomorrow’s inauguration (see also the Gene Robinson stories), and accusations against Sovereign Grace Ministries are not going away. Other than that? Emergents and Nazis, but not in the same story.

  1. Religious Right Watch alerts on Blogs for Life, also notes an article about Rick Warren at The Nation accusing him of tax fraud. “The facts were simple: in 1993 Warren deducted $77,663, his entire Saddleback Church salary that year, as a housing expense–and paid no taxes at all on that salary.”
  2. Chris Rosebrough connects the Emerging Church to John Shelby Spong. Rosebrough spent most of last week and a couple of days before that on this topic, both at his weblog and on his podcast. I will put together a summary if I have time. “The Emergents claim that they are a ‘third way’ or a synthesis and middle ground between liberalism and conservatism. Yet, they are coming to the same conclusions as “modern” liberals. The Emergent movement is nothing more than a Post-Modern form of Liberalism.”
  3. Chris Rosebrough calls out Rick Warren for making a passing reference to Hitler Youth (and devotees of Mao Zedong) as an example of dedication to a cause. I can’t agree with Rosebrough’s parsing of Jesus’s message (I don’t see the dichotomy between meeting felt needs and making disciples that Rosebrough sees), and I don’t agree with Rosebrough’s parsing of what Warren says, but I have to agree that modern Christians need to get as far away from Nazi narratives and imagery as possible. Not only that, but it reminds me of repeated references to exactly the same language used by e.g. Doug Coe (of The Family) fame, as cited by Jeff Sharlet in his book The Family. Note that Warren does not actually praise the Nazis (YouTube). “Lifting up Nazi passion and commitment and asking Christians to have that same passion and commitment is not just tacky, it is out right creepy. Is Warren building an army?”
  4. Robin Brace takes on the question of whether Christians need to observe the Sabbath. “The common Seventh Day Adventist error is in failing to notice the difference between the original institution of something and the point at which a particular divine prescription comes into effect.”
  5. Thomas Heringer interpolates some comments from Barack Obama, returns to the common theme that Obama is preparing the United States for a place in a global government. “If what is meant in the bold type, that Obama means for those of us who still believe the Bible should give it up to a global ideal, then I have a problem with it.” There are really two strands here that are fairly common among conservative Christians with an ODM bent: Christianity as a religion among other religions, and global government. These are related ideas but they’re not really the same.
  6. Russell Moore hates Sanctity of Life Sunday. “I hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I’m reminded that we have to say things to one another that human beings shouldn’t have to say. Mothers shouldn’t kill their children. Fathers shouldn’t abandon their babies. No human life is worthless, regardless of skin color, age, disability, economic status. The very fact that these things must be proclaimed is a reminder of the horrors of this present darkness. … I’m reminded that there are children, maybe even blocks from my pulpit, who’ll be slapped, punched, and burned with cigarettes before nightfall. I’m reminded that there are elderly men and women languishing away in loneliness, their lives pronounced to be a waste.”
  7. Kris at Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivors picks up the question of whether SGM pastors bug their offices and meeting rooms. “And then someone sent me a snippet of an email that had been received from someone … who reported positively ”knowing” that some of the things shared here on this site were inaccurate, because he’d had access to the “transcripts of conversations” between the SGM member and his/her SGM pastors, and the SGM member sharing his/her story on this blog had relayed false information, based upon a comparison with the “transcript” to which this SGM staff person had access.”
  8. Christine at Talk Wisdom picks up the “Obama is a one-worlder” theme again.
  9. Miriam Franklin offers a recap post on Chuck Pierce and his complete line of Christian charm bracelets, complete with pictures. “It ain’t just the merchandising and false prophecy that is wrong in this case. This is pretty blatant stuff – are “Christians” really so naive as to be taken in by it? And are they really so superstitious?  I guess so, as Chuck’s ministry has brought out more than one range of this type of jewellery.”
  10. Phil Perkins announces a series in which he will be taking on Frank Turk regarding usage of gender in Bible translations.
  11. Miriam Franklin parses an upcoming New Ecstatics meeting including John Crowder. “John Crowder is also known to dress sometimes in brown monk’s habits, use the Latin Vulgate, quote Catholic mystics and heretics, and use Gregorian monk chants as background music to his videos. As well as to heavily promote ecumenicism.”
  12. Timmy Brister parses Gene Robinson’s theology. “nothing is said of the nature of this god, and nothing is asked in reference of him doing what only a god could do.  The prayer is fundamentally ethical, not theological.”
  13. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway offers an omnibus post on press coverage of tomorrow’s inauguration. Have I said lately how much I love MZH? Catch her also, occasionally, on Issues, etc.
  14. Rick Frueh warns against interpreting contemporary events in the light of eschatology. “Let me say that any nation has the right and responsibility to protect its citizens, however that is not the concern of the church neither is it our message.”
  15. Ingrid Schlueter comments on Gene Robinson. “Fox Religion Correspondent, Lauren Green, has a column on sodomite rebel, Rev. Gene Robinson, who is scheduled to pray at an Inaugural prayer event. Robinson, who lives with his gay lover, is just “horrified” over aggressively Christian prayers. Yeah, Gene, well, some of us are “horrified” at what passes for Christian clergy these days.”
  16. Sharon Lindbloom parses a recent sermon by Thomas Monson. “Amazingly, Thomas Monson took the clear and powerful Word of God — a revelation wherein God declared His divine initiative in blessing His people — and misapplied it to teach his followers that God’s blessings are bestowed according to human attainment.”
  17. Ingrid Schlueter takes up the story of Edward Purvis, who defrauded Christian investors in Arizona and twelve other states by promising them big bucks for funding a ministry. “It takes two sides to make a fraudulent financial scheme work—a criminal or criminals on the one side and greedy, simple-minded people on the other.” I for one applaud Schlueter’s focus on profiteering in Christianity, and look forward to her bringing up the topic the next time she welcomes an author who visits Crosstalk to push a book.
  18. Stephen Shields at Next Wave gives a history of the Emerging/Emergent Church, with quotes from all the usual suspects. Thanks to Jonathan Dodson.
  19. Ingrid Schlueter pulls an Obama two-fer: following Concerned Women for America in calling Barack Obama the most virulent pro-abortion President, and joining Joseph Farah in praying Obama fails. “Joseph Farah, I, and millions of other believers are praying for the failure of Barack Obama in his attempts to widen access to child-killing in abortion clinics, grant full legitimacy to homosexual relationships through civil unions, and establish a socialist economic system in this country.”
  20. Michael Newnham calls out C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries, particularly for suggesting that he/they are apostles. “we can assume that the “apostles” are going to stonewall the situation unless forced by bad publicity to do otherwise. Side note here…when your church is run by men who call themselves “apostles”…run.”

back on the beat

January 19, 2009

I’m back online after more than a week away. I came back to more than a thousand articles and a bunch (twenty? thirty?) podcast episodes that accumulated while I was doing my so-called day job. Look for a couple of updates today; I’m probably going to have to dump most of what accumulated while I was away and start fresh.


brief hiatus

January 10, 2009

I have to be out of town and in meetings all of next week, and I’ve all but run out of time today, so its unlikely I’ll be able to do many updates for the next eight to ten days.


Jeff Sharlet: The Family

January 10, 2009

I am always on the lookout for journalists in mainstream media who understand contemporary Christianity, who speak passable Christianese and are capable and willing to translate into Americanese, or journalese, or whatever (say) Newsweek or The New Republic or the Wall Street Journal are written in. Sharlet occasionally shows signs of being one of those people, and his articles in Harper’s are typically worth reading.

Sharlet is the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism At The Heart of American Power. I had been looking forward to this book ever since I stumbled across his earlier article in Harper’s (Jesus Plus Nothing (2003)). It forms the first chapter or so of the book, and is nearly sufficient as a substitute for busy readers. It’s about Abraham Vereide, Doug Coe, and what is by turns called The Family or The Fellowship, the people behind the National Prayer Breakfast.

Sharlet visits Ivanwald, a Family retreat in the Washington DC area, and documents what he saw and heard there. And this is the part of the book that should interest the Online Discernment community, because he presents a Christianity at the heart of The Family that is surprisingly heterodox. Surprising because Sharlet calls it fundamentalist, but heterodox because the Jesus that is at the center of it isn’t a Jesus most Christians would recognize: this Jesus doesn’t die for anybody’s sins. He endorses powerful people and their aggregation and use of power. 

Sharlet even offers this quote from a Family planning document: “Anything can happen,” according to an internal planning document, “the Koran could even be read, but JESUS is there! He is infiltrating the world.” This Jesus who is infiltrating the world through the Family is one of the themes of the book, and he doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Jesus of the Bible.

Sharlet goes back to Jonathan Edwards and Charles Grandison Finney to discuss the history of revivalism in America, wanders briefly through the nineteenth century, and then takes up the history of The Family’s founder, Abraham Vereide, on American shores. The idea at the heart of the story: that Jesus works to exercise dominion over the world primarily through powerful people, unfolds through Vereide’s story.

Sharlet clearly sides with labor unions and socialists, and this occasionally causes the story to bog down: he’s not upset with Vereide for selling something not entirely unlike prosperity theology (“Jesus wants you to be more powerful!” rather than “God wants you to be rich!” or whatever), but for selling out strike-breakers. He’s not wrong, he just portrays the struggle as a bit black and white: the union’s rank and file are never wrong, and corrupt union bosses’ flaws are glossed over. He runs into the same problem when the history reaches World War II; Sharlet is full of righteous indignation that the United States sided with West Germany against the Soviet Union after the war, and he portrays many postwar Christians as secret Nazis or worse.

The chapters on the role of The Family in working to project American power overseas using prayer groups for powerful people are probably the most damning; Sharlet portrays The Family as making common cause with Third World dictators, most of whom are not Christian in any way shape or form (e.g. Suharto of Indonesia) for the benefit of nobody in particular: it isn’t even clear how American interests are being served in some cases.

Then Sharlet inexplicably turns his attention toward American Christianity at home, and the book sort of falls apart: he wades into a pre-2006 discussion of Ted Haggard and draws unwarranted comparisons between The Family’s “prayer cells” and New Life Church’s “small groups.” He picks up a theme he’s been developing all along, that The Family is the brain behind more mainstream groups (Campus Crusade, The Navigators), but he makes the mistake conspiracy theorists typically make of mistaking a financial contribution or leadership involvement in third organizations as signs of control. He picks up on war metaphors in small (and probably fringe) Christian groups but doesn’t parse them sensibly. He notes a use of the phrase “armor of God” but doesn’t mention that it comes from Ephesians. He describes an America with New York at one pole and Colorado Springs at the other, but stumbles when it appears that it’s vitally important that the world be made safe for film critics.

There’s a lot more, too, but his ear for contemporary Christian culture is off and the final section of the book doesn’t work. He makes an attempt at drawing the book to a close with a call to arms of sorts, but it’s mostly about liberals and moderates telling a different story about a different America, but there’s nothing stirring about it: he really seems to have bitten off more than he can chew, and by the end he’s just going through the motions.

All that being said I strongly recommend this book (well, up through the first two sections/284 pages) for any conservative Christian who e.g. voted for George W. Bush because he was pro-life and found themselves defending the Iraq War. It’s not a cure for the post-Bush hangover, but it’s helpful for figuring out how things went so wrong. Bush doesn’t figure in the book, but the culture of American civil religion as a co-opted version of Christianity focused on secular power made him possible if not inevitable.

Update: Harper’s offers a follow-up interview with Sharlet (2008). It’s a pretty good view of the whole story from 30,000 feet or so.


OD Today: 9 January 2009 (late edition)

January 9, 2009

Today we’ve got a bumper crop of links. Marcus Borg appears out of nowhere and everybody’s interested in him. Go figure.

  1. Daniel Pulliam discusses a Tribune article on Trinity United Church of Christ now that the Obamas have left. “I knew we would come out better and stronger for enduring the attack. Now we can accomplish what Rev. Wright wants. We can accomplish what Rev. Moss wants. We can accomplish what God wants.”
  2. Stuff Christians Like post 469, about being pastor or staff: “Can you keep complex counts in multiples of 2s, 3s, and 4s but can’t remember how many times in a row you’ve sung a song?” (Then you might be a worship leader.)
  3. Yomi at Theology Today calls out false prophets. “Now think clearly about it: every Chris, Enoch, Matthew, and David are claiming to be anointed ones all over the place. Such a claim was not made by even those specially chosen by Jesus to lay the foundation of the Church. None of the apostles claimed to be “anointed ones”, though they had more right to the claim than anyone else!” (I had originally accused Yomi of not naming names here; these are apparently the first names of prominent people in Nigeria. Please see the comments.)
  4. David Reagan offers part four of his series on whether the Antichrist is Muslim. “Another misleading aspect of Richardson’s presentation is his constant talk about the “amazing parallels” and “startling similarities” between Islamic and biblical end time prophecies. Actually, there is nothing startling or amazing when you consider the fact that Mohammed borrowed nearly all his key ideas from Bible stories he heard from both Jews and Christians, stories he often got thoroughly confused.”
  5. Religion News Blog is still on the Jett Travolta/Scientology story. Why don’t any ODMs pick this up?
  6. Underdog Theology shares an illustration from John MacArthur, taken from a story by Anton Chekov. Why must The Truth be illustrated by fiction?
  7. Herescope sees planned African food voucher programs as creeping Communitarianism and an attempt to undermine local churches in Africa.
  8. Kris at Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivors says Sovereign Grace Ministries have called in a third party (Ken Sande’s Peacemakers) to arrange reconciliation with the Noel/Grizzly situation. Kris asks a bunch of rhetorical questions I won’t repeat here. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that SGM finally got around to taking an action – involving Sande and his organization – that apparently acknowledges that they may not have handled Noel’s situation appropriately. But so many questions remain.”
  9. Jeremy Nelson jumps on the Billy Graham clip Ken Silva commented on earlier in the day, says “Not a surprise from a Freemason.”
  10. Jonathan Dodson picks up the New Atheist British ad campaign.
  11. John Chishem offers the latest installment of his review of Jesus Wants To Save Christians. Unlike most ODMs he allows comments on his site, and he’s drawn some attention from Emergent types.
  12. Chris Lyons offers random thoughts on Israel. “Thus, when someone says “can you give me the short answer”, my answer is “I don’t think there is one”…”
  13. Darryl Foster opens for comments on megachurches in general. “I dont think the “megachurch” model currently reigning as the desired after church standard is biblical. I think after a while it will run its course and become a religious dinosaur. I think all those who have built their careers on megachurch mentality will be in a spiritual soupline. What do you think?”
  14. Chris Rosebrough shares a clip featuring Marcus Borg (YouTube).
  15. Scott McClare collects links, including Albert Mohler on the atheist ad campaign.
  16. Terry Mattingly (not an ODM) on the treatment of facts and opinions, particularly editorial shortcomings when hard facts are abundant. This sort of speaks to what I’m trying to get at in item 6 above.
  17. Dave Marriott begins a review of a book by Marcus Borg. “Borg holds that Jesus is the decisive revelation of God (even “more decisive than the Bible”), but yet he admits that a human body cannot display omnipotence or omniscience, characteristics he knows to be true concerning God. Where did he get this conception of God if not from the Jesus?”
  18. Phil Perkins issues apologies and corrections. “some have asked if I believe that anything but a word-for-word translation is a sin or incorrect. No, I don’t. In fact, some of my readers are multi-lingual, so I know that they know there is not such thing as a word-for-word translation unless the document is very short. No two languages have vocabulary with a one-to-one correlation and no two languages have identical grammar and syntax. Literal, word-for-word translation is preferred, but never possible in all situations.”
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