Salvation as a Human Right? (pt 3 of 3)

(Continued from Part 2)       (Or you can start with Part 1)

If looking at salvation as a human right can be seen as valid, then the question is whether it is useful. What, if anything, can be gained from this perspective. Here are a few VERY TENTATIVE suggestions.

  1. It firmly places salvation within a community. It has been common for Christians, especially Evangelical Protestant Christians to focus on the individualistic aspect of salvation. That is quite valid, but the Bible expresses salvation in both individualistic and communitarian terms. In this sense it is more like the public health perspective. Lostness in an individual is a social ill, a failure for the individual members to flourish to their potentials.

  2. Lostness would be seen as a problem. If condemnation is getting what one deserves, then one might argue that condemnation is not really a problem. If salvation is a human right, then lostness is a problem that must be addressed.

  3. It does condemn community complicity in lostness. The public health perspective, or the disease model, is often seen avoiding judgment. This is especially true in the United States, but also true in places like here in the Philippines. When we label a social ill as a disease, many people decry that saying that pulls it out of ethical scrutiny. There is nothing inherent to that, of course. To call addiction a disease does not remove moral issues or judgment from it. Still, the public health perspective does tend to downplay the ethical. Identifying hunger as a public health problem certainly does get people thinking about what can be done to solve the problem. However, if one says that it is a human right for each person to have enough food daily to live, then there is a more clear condemnation of any society that accepts the condition where some people in the society do not have enough food to eat, while there is overall enough food to go around. Likewise, if salvation is a “public health” problem, then it is a problem that must be rooted out and addressed. On the other hand, if salvation is a basic human right, then the community that makes salvation unavailable, through inaction or through making salvation appear undesirable, is held accountable for this. It other words, embracing an ancient metaphor, if the church holds the “keys to the kingdom,” then if people find the door locked, then the church is culpable.

  4. Seeing salvation as a human rights issue balances the focus between God and Mankind. In the criminal justice perspective, God is the standard, the judge, the mediator, and the provider of salvation. This is not wrong. With the public health perspective, salvation is seen as a more human activity. It is a disease that must be rooted out, from causes, the hindrances, to opportunities, and then to holistic transformation and flourishing. God is there, but the human aspect is given greater attention. This is not inappropriate. However, the human rights perspective draws from both. It takes seriously our humanity and communal responsibility for making salvation available, and living out our salvation. However, salvation as a human right only has real meaning if understood as instituted by God.

So is one perspective right and the others wrong? There is great benefit to intersubjectivity or multi-perspectival understanding. Each overcomes the weakness of the other, giving a fuller understanding of what is real– God’s activity for us.

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Salvation as a Human Right? (pt 2 of 3)

(Continuation from Part One)

In Evangelical circles, at least, salvation has been classically framed in a CRIMINAL JUSTICE model. We are all sinners, guilty before God, the judge. Salvation is only available through the payment of the judgment against us… that price was paid by Jesus. This is a perfectly fine way of looking at salvation, but of course, it is just a way of looking at it. It is a perspective that does not actually change salvation, just how it is acted upon. This view comes off more individualistic. Also, from a community perspective, the responsibility appears a bit muted since it is seen as primarily a contract between the person and God. Ultimately, however, if someone dies unsaved, it can be interpreted as “getting what he deserved.”

Another perspective a consideration of salvation is through the lens of PUBLIC HEALTH. This main seem odd at first, and yet not only is this perspective with us, it is quite strong. An early adopter of this view in the 20th century was Medical Ambassadors with the development of CHE or Community Health Evangelism. The view is that evangelism needs to have a perspective that is broader than simply a “get out of jail free card.” In fact, a more holistic approach is needed, with the understanding that salvation is meant to be transformative. The concept of Shalom as a condition of spiritual, physical, mental, and social well-being is emphasized.

But what about salvation as a HUMAN RIGHT? From the criminal justice perspective, or metaphor, such a statement appears to be ridiculous. After all, would it not be accurate to say that all humans are deserving of condemnation rather than salvation. This is the basic message of the first two verses of the Romans Road (Romans 3:23; 6:23). However, a perspective is merely that— a way of viewing something. This does not affect the thing itself. As such, all that is really needed is to establish that the perspective has validity, and that it is useful.

Could it be valid to say that salvation is a human right? Since salvation is from God, the concept of a “human right” in this case must clearly come from God. So what might God have revealed that would support the idea that salvation is a human right?

  • Much of Biblical Anthropology is established in the first three chapters of Genesis. According to this section, mankind (male and female) were created by God in His image. There has been a lot of ink used to argue what to make of mankind being created in God’s image, some of which is non-sensical. However, less controversial would be that mankind was a good and intentioal creation of God, that mankind was intended to have a unique yet harmonious position in the created realm, and mankind was meant to have a unique and harmonius relationship with God. In other words, mankind was created to live in a state of salvation— or in a sense to never need saving because the relationship was not broken in the first place.

  • The rest of the Bible maintains the intertwined threads of righteousness (right relationship with God) and salvation (the process to have that right relationship). One can go to one of the most oft memorized verses in the Bible, John 3:16, to see the follow-on to Genesis (and foreshadowed in Genesis 3:15). God’s love of the cosmos (mankind) compels Him to act so that salvation, restoration of harmony, between God, mankind, and the rest of creation can be available to all.

Now if you bring these together, the result is that God created mankind (each person) to live in a “saved state” and with mankind’s failure/fall, has acted for all, to make that state possible.

I think that it would make it valid to say that salvation (or living in a state of “savedness”) is a human right. For one not to be saved is genuine failure to possess whatever is actually their right. This doesn’t cancel out the criminal justice or public health perspectives, but provides another complementary view.

(I am well aware that there are those of the Limited Atonement camp that would argue against both of my above points. In the end for them, God has created some for salvation and some for condemnation. As such, one could neither view salvation as a human right, nor Christ’s sacrifice as their gift of love from God. However, the Biblical and Theological challenges with that perspective appear to me to outweight the interpretive ease it provides for a relatively few verses. For me I have to view it as a sub-biblical perspective.)

(Continued in Part 3)

Salvation as a Human Right? (pt 1 of 3)

I have been reading the essay, “Women Confronting State-Instigated Violence” by Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana. This is not normally the type of writing I would be reading, but it was part of a book that was gifted to me by Father Terry from Aglipay Central Theological Seminary. The book is a collection of essays and poems of female theologians in the Philippines. So far it is an interesting read. The writer of this particular essay noted three fairly rapid transitions that have occurred in looking at an addressing Violence Against Women (VAW).

One phase goes back a few decades, particularly the 1970s, where VAW was seen in terms of CRIMINAL JUSTICE. To address concerns regarding violence against women, laws had to be changed, and the way existing laws are interpreted or applied also had to change. In the early 1990s there was a transition towards seeing things as a PUBLIC HEALTH issue. Violence is a symptom of an overall sociological sickness that needs to be addressed much like many other illnesses. One can’t simply punish or quarantine those who act violently, one must root what causes violence and creates the environment where such violence flourishes. In other words, one must discover and cause of the contagion, and eradicate the supporting environment and carriers.

By the mid-1990s, things had changed further and there was a growth of seeing violence in terms of HUMAN RIGHTS. The way women are to be treated is not simply a matter of legal violation, culturo-social malady, but is a supracultural violation of what should be expected based on, well, being human.

I have known some Christians who balk at this term “human rights,” noting that such rights are generally agreed upon by mutual consent, rather than based on anything indubitable. In a sense this is obvious, but such a statement is not particularly useful. Of course— we are born without warning labels, warrantees, or operating manuals. As such, we have three choices. One choice is to say that since we come with no contractual obligations, we can act however we want. People can be bought and sold as chattel, tortured or blessed at the whim of those who who have the power to have their wills acted out. If that choice is undesirable (and I certainly think it is) another option would be as a people to agree that there are certain inalienable rights. Perhaps these can be seen as derived from natural law, or perhaps they can be seen as drawn from cultural values. Either way, it is a human-based agreement. A third option is to see human rights coming from God. With this view, human rights exist because God seesthem existing supraculturally, and has then made them known to us through divine or special revelation.

For Christians, such revelation would be seen, primarily, as the Bible. The Bible says that certain behaviors are right and certain are wrong. They can be seen in terms of Law— matter of keeping the law or breaking it. Another way would be to look at them as sociologically healthy (“It is not just the law, it is a good idea,” societally.) But it can also be seen a a statement of basic rights. We have a basic right to not be murdered, to not be stolen from, to be trained up in a nurturing family and community. Anything less than this is a violation of the rights that we have as revealed by God.

These three perspectives do not change reality. Rather they change perception. VAW exists and that existence is unaffected by how it is viewed. However, a different view can lead to a different response.

So I was thinking about these three views as it relates to Salvation— a strange thing to think about, I grant you. I wondered how salvation may be seen in terms of Criminal Jusitice, Public Health, and Human Rights.

Continued in the next post

Unexpected Break

I like to put up a post around once every three days. However, we had a major typhoon blow overhead this last weekend. The day before the storm a tree next to us fell over knocking out power lines and narrowly missing the spot where we normally park our car (I had moved it to a safer spot a couple hours before to weather the storm). We lost power for around 3 hours at that time. Then the storm hit and we lost power for 63 hours. We are still without Internet except for going on cellular internet for brief periods to type stuff on my cellphone… like now. So I guess that means I should take a bit of a break.

What our family has are just minor annoyances. Say a pray for those not far from us (especially in Itogon, Benguet) who have suffered much greater losses due to flooding and landslides. We MAY be asked to help with post-disaster response— especially defusing. We shall see.

Imagine a World With Limits

Picture two artists tasked to create works of art.

mending the hurts
“Mending the Hurts” by Rebekah Munson 2011.  Charcoal and Colored Pencils
 

Artist A is given limitations. He is told that it must be a painting on a 1 meter by 1 meter canvas. He is also given time constraints– perhaps 4 weeks. Further he may be given subject constraints— perhaps the one who commissioned it is a wealthy person who wants the painting to express hope in overcoming cancer.

Artist B is given essentially no limitations. There are no guidance as to the size, or even type of art. There are no time constraints— take as long as is needed.  And there are no subject constraints— just make the artwork “awesome!”

Who is likely to create the better piece of art? Most likely it will be Artist A. That is because most of us tend not to do well with no constraints. Most of us lack the discipline to keep working as hard when no one is holding a clock to ensure that we are making progress as agreed upon. Most of us would struggle to be creative when there are no limitations in media. For example, consider the massive creativity involved to apply paint to a limited size 2-dimension surface to show great vistas of outdoor scenery, or abstract imaginings? This requires a great deal of creativity.

Essentially, creativity is the act of overcoming the limitations of media or time. How does one create a moving 2-D image on a screen, with sound) that tells a story of huge battles in outer space? Or record a chariot race in a hippodrome in a setting that had disappeared 2 millennia before the film was produced? How can words on paper or sounds in a radio play draw one into the story so effectively, that years later one cannot recall whether one read it, heard it, or watched it as a movie.

I am presently reading “The Golden Bough” by James G. Frazer. The edition I am reading is almost 800 pages long. It is a LONG book… a compendium of minutiae. On a certain level I appreciate the bits of cultural trivia that are brought together to explain culturally the somewhat obscure ritual of the Arician Grove. While I may appreciate the book, I must also believe that the book would have been stronger as a creative construct if it was about 1/3 the length. There is far too much of — Group G has this practice… and Group H has a pretty similar practice… and so does Groups I, J, and K, although contrasting somewhat with Groups L and M. The book would certainly be easier to appreciate if it was shorter. Perhaps Fraser would have said, or did say, that it needed to be that long to cover the topic fully. I have heard some preachers make the argument that they have to preach for ______ minutes because they have to say what God told them to say. But it is quite likely that they would tell what God told them to say better and more effectively if they recognized that they were limited in time and in the attention span of the recipients. Preachers would most likely be better at preaching if churches put limits on their oratory.

Now suppose, surprise surprise, that Artist B produces a better work than Artist A. Is that possible? Certainly. There is no guarantee. But Artist A is LIKELY to do better because we thrive with REASONABLE limits.  An artist who gets paid minimally for making 2 minute caricatures of people at a carnival may have too many limiters to grow beyond a certain limit. But at the same time, the limitations of that situation may still motivate the artist to hunger (literally and figuratively) for bigger things    Too great of limitations MAY crush the creative spirit, but it can also act as a fire the drives growth.

But suppose that Artist B (without limitations) does do a better job than Artist A (with limitations) at that time.  What if the situation repeats itself? Who will improve the most? Almost certainly Artist A. Pushing against the limitations of media, subject, and time, exercises the creative “muscles.” Artist A is likely to grow as an artist through the discipline provided. It is likely that A will overtake B, all else being equal.

Sometimes there seems to be exceptions to this. The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, designed by Anton Gaudi, seems like an exception– an extravagant piece of art with very little constraints. Almost a century later, the building still is not complete. The Taj Mahal, and the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel seem to point to greatness coming from no limitations. But my argument is that creativity grows through constraints. The artist grows through limitations… and in this culture of limitations and discipline, growth occurs. That creative growth and discipline provides the environment for an artist to shine if many of the limitations are removed. (I would still argue that time constraints are still needed… the Sagrada Familia’s century of build is hard to justify as a design project.)

Ministry is creative as well. And in a similar manner we need limitations.

It is good to have time and money limitations. I have seen ministry projects where money and time were not key constraints. The results were wasteful and sloppy. It is also good to have people who provide limitations through guidance and accountability. We simply do better with those things.

But suppose you are one of those unfortunate people in ministry that does not have a lot of accountability or constraints… what can you do? Well, you can create constraints.

  • If asked to speak/preach somewhere, ask for the topic. If they say to speak on whatever you would prefer, seek preferences or find out what are the concerns. It is comfortable, and lazy, to fall back into one’s own favorite topics.
  • If others don’t place limits on you, such as for preaching, set them for yourself. Maybe aim for a 20 minute or 30 minute sermon. While there are some cultures that appreciate longer sermons (especially where oratory is more of a performance art, rather than an act of prophetic ministry), most groups lose attention soon past 30 minutes. Don’t fall in love with your voice so much that you think the longer you speak the more effective you are.
  • If you head an organization, place people over you. Billy Graham established a board over him who guided him and even determined his pay. In the mission field, missionaries sometimes are in a position where no one (at least no one within a few thousand miles) has oversight. If you have none, find some.
  • Develop accountability partners. Today, some pastors serve in churches where there is no one they are accountable to. The same is true of missionaries— especially now that we are in an era where some missionaries are self-sent.
  • Tighten the limitations. If one has 10,000 dollars to accomplish something, establish a budget of $7,000. That not only gives you $3,000 for emergency, but it also pushes you to find creative solutions.
Of course, every time one gives advice, one risks someone (strangely) taking the advice too much to heart. I have known medical missions here in the Philippines that are very wasteful… depending on foreign medicines and foreign professionals, to say nothing are burning money wherever they go. Yet there are other ones that cut TOO many corners. They use expired medicines or doctors samples, and use underqualified medical professionals. Creativity is driven by oversight that sets limitations, but also maintains quality control.

I hope you will look for opportunities to be limited in your ministry!

   

Misinformation in the 2nd Century

Three things are alleged against us: atheism, Thyestean feasts, Image result for athenagoras 2nd century

Œdipodean intercourse. But if these charges are true, spare no class: proceed at once against our crimes; destroy us root and branch, with our wives and children, if any Christian is found to live like the brutes. And yet even the brutes do not touch the flesh of their own kind; and they pair by a law of nature, and only at the regular season, not from simple wantonness; they also recognise those from whom they receive benefits. If any one, therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can endure shall be deemed adequate to such offences? But, if these things are only idle tales and empty slanders, originating in the fact that virtue is opposed by its very nature to vice, and that contraries war against one another by a divine law (and you are yourselves witnesses that no such iniquities are committed by us, for you forbid informations to be laid against us), it remains for you to make inquiry concerning our life, our opinions, our loyalty and obedience to you and your house and government, and thus at length to grant to us the same rights (we ask nothing more) as to those who persecute us. For we shall then conquer them, unhesitatingly surrendering, as we now do, our very lives for the truth’s sake.

Œdipodean intercourse. But if these charges are true, spare no class: proceed at once against our crimes; destroy us root and branch, with our wives and children, if any Christian is found to live like the brutes. And yet even the brutes do not touch the flesh of their own kind; and they pair by a law of nature, and only at the regular season, not from simple wantonness; they also recognise those from whom they receive benefits. If any one, therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can endure shall be deemed adequate to such offences? But, if these things are only idle tales and empty slanders, originating in the fact that virtue is opposed by its very nature to vice, and that contraries war against one another by a divine law (and you are yourselves witnesses that no such iniquities are committed by us, for you forbid informations to be laid against us), it remains for you to make inquiry concerning our life, our opinions, our loyalty and obedience to you and your house and government, and thus at length to grant to us the same rights (we ask nothing more) as to those who persecute us. For we shall then conquer them, unhesitatingly surrendering, as we now do, our very lives for the truth’s sake.

Œdipodean intercourse. But if these charges are true, spare no class: proceed at once against our crimes; destroy us root and branch, with our wives and children, if any Christian is found to live like the brutes. And yet even the brutes do not touch the flesh of their own kind; and they pair by a law of nature, and only at the regular season, not from simple wantonness; they also recognise those from whom they receive benefits. If any one, therefore, is more savage than the brutes, what punishment that he can endure shall be deemed adequate to such offences? But, if these things are only idle tales and empty slanders, originating in the fact that virtue is opposed by its very nature to vice, and that contraries war against one another by a divine law (and you are yourselves witnesses that no such iniquities are committed by us, for you forbid informations to be laid against us), it remains for you to make inquiry concerning our life, our opinions, our loyalty and obedience to you and your house and government, and thus at length to grant to us the same rights (we ask nothing more) as to those who persecute us. For we shall then conquer them, unhesitatingly surrendering, as we now do, our very lives for the truth’s sake.

-Athenagoras (ca 177) “A Plea for the Christians” chapter 3

Athenagoras refers to three charges against Christians: Atheism, Thyestean feasts, Œdipodean intercourse—- that is Atheism, Cannibalism, and Incest. As ridiculous as these charges sound, each one had a very understandable, even reasonable source (at least reasonable in a context of limited communication).

  • Atheism. Christians rejected idol worship, the Greek and Roman gods, and pretty much all of the trappings of theism in the 2nd century. The God they worshipped was identifiable primarily in Negativa. It is quite understandable that they would, in their rejection of all the gods of the time, be seen as Atheists.
  • Cannibalism. The Eucharist uses metaphoric language– the blood and bady of Christ– in its description of the wine and bread. Thankfully, in the 2nd century the reification of the metaphoric language had not yet developed, so Athenagorus did not have to address that awkwardness. Despite the language, Christians were not cannibals.
  • Incest. Christians commonly used, as many still use today, close familial language for fellow believers in Christ. If Christians describe each other as brothers and sisters while also being married and producing children, the confusion is understandable.

That is the value of people like Athenagoras, who was willing to bridge the gap between US and THEM. He was able to clarify and dispel confusion.

I know many today who like to go on about “FAKE NEWS.” Ignoring the laziness of the terminology, this sort of misinformation has been with us for centuries. I have friends who are unhappy with sources I use to get information, because they say they are sources of “fake news.” Sadly, those people actually perpetuate such problems by discouraging communicatuon, or even awareness, between groups. In the 2nd century, Non-Christians knew little about Christians— just enough to be very confused about them. Part of these was due to Christians trying shield themselves from legal and moral dangrs. This action of separating oneself off from others’ views, boycotting people who you find (for some reason) distasteful, not only makes the problem worse, it essentially creates the problem.

Misunderstandings and stereotyping come from a failure of dialogue. Additionally, misunderstandings and stereotyping are likely to increase as lack of dialogue causes each group to become more extremist in their thinking.

Here Athenagoras says that if there are such charges against Christians, it is the responsibility of non-Christians to investigate, bring forward evidence and judge rightly. I can hardly disagree with that. However, we don’t have really have the ability to require others to do what they should do, we only have the ability to do what we should do. That is why Athenagoras does not leave the situation dumped on the the non-Christians to investigate. He spends many more chapters presenting a case to correct misunderstandings.

What Athenagoras was doing was breaking down barriers to conversion. While ostensibly about reduce persecution of Christians, he was also seeking to show Christians as commendable, virtuous based on the writings of great Greek and Roman poets, philosophers, and orators. Clearly a person at that time would be more interested in beliefs of a virtuous sect, than a sect of godless incestuous cannibals.

If non-Christians in the 2nd century thought that Christians were godlessuch s incestuous cannibals, the failure is at least as much on the Christians, as it was the “news media” of the Roman Empire. Christians are supposed to reveal Christ in word and deed. It is their responsibility— NOT the responsibility of non-Christians to investigate and “get it right.”