“Chick Tracts” and Fan Service

This is a long post so here is the short version. It is my contention that Chick Tracts (for those familiar with them) are not actually evangelistic tracts. Rather they are fan service created for consumption of and support by their real target– Conservative Evangelical Christians.

One channel I like to watch on the Web is “Comic Tropes.” I used to collect comic books. Even though I stopped years ago, I have fond memories of my collecting and reading days, and film studios turning comic books into motion pictures has kept a lot of those fond memories current.

A Comic Tropes broadcast I recently watched was on “Chick Tracts.”  For those who don’t know, Jack Chick (1924-2016) founded a tract publishing house that still produces mini black and white comic books as evangelistic tracts. The work is very revivalistic and fundamentalist in tone. I was raised in a church that would describe itself as Fundamentalist and Separatist. Chick Tracts were not used in that church, however. But when I went to Cedarville College (now Cedarville University) I attended a church that had a large display of Chick Tracts that one could pick up and share with friends (or enemies I suppose).

At the time I found them interesting, at least as a concept. They were essentially little morality plays in comic form– a bit like the radio plays, “Unshackled.” Unlike “Unshackled,” that tended to be grounded in real stories of people at the Pacific Garden Mission, the Chick Tracts tended to be rather “over-the-top” with stories that were often over-simplified, over-dramatized and unrealistic. However, as one who collected comics, I was well-aware that unrealistic over-dramatization is a pretty common feature in this form of media, and so I did not really let that bother me. I would put a few of them, with some other tracts, in my Bible when I would go over to Ohio Veterans Children’s Home. The kids would rummage through my stuff to read or collect… and some would take the Chick Tracts. Fine.

But I was having some problems with these tracts. One of the ones I had trouble with was the one on Evolution. Reading it, I realized that the primary message to those who believe in Evolution is— insult. <Evolutionists are insane or stupid. You should stop being an insane or stupid evolutionist.> I could not see how the message could possibly be effective to anyone. While I am solidly in the “Design Theory” side of the Cosmogeny spectrum, I could not see any transformative value to insulting people of a different view. I did not see how anyone could possibly read that tract and say, “Wow. I never knew that my beliefs were so messed up. I need to follow God, and stop thinking that my ancestors were monkeys!”  If anything, I suspected that people who were evolutionists would be thoroughly turned off not only by the lack of good argument to change beliefs, but also be turned off by the tone of the comics.

Another one that I had trouble with was one on Catholicism. The tract was essentially the comic adaptation of the teachings of Alberto Rivera (1935-1997). These teachings were quite controversial and polemic in nature. Essentially, according to the tract, pretty much all of evils of the 20th century were directly the result of the intentional machinations of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church (with an added little sideslap at the Orthodox faiths as well). Back then, my experience with Catholicism was pretty limited. Presently living in a country that is over 80% Catholic has increased my education immensely. But as I was reading the tract I quickly noted a trend. The tract would make a lot of outlandish claims that I had not heard before, and then would add a more mundane fact that I knew was actually true. When I started checking the footnotes on the tract— what do you think I found? I suspect you guessed it— the fairly mundane and ambivalent facts were properly footnoted to show veracity to the claims while NO footnotes were given to the more outrageous (and “damning”) claims. Again, I could hardly see who would be swayed by such a comic. I just can’t imagine any thoughtful Catholic thinking, “Oh wow! I have been part of the Whore of Babylon! I must leave it and start attending the church of the fine people who are printing these tracts.” In fact, it had a bit of an opposite effect on me. The poor documentation and deceptive footnoting made me wonder if the Catholic Church might not be so bad of a group after all. In this sense, it is kind of the same as my reaction to the anti-Masonic literature of the 19th century, and the Illuminati conspiracy-mongers of the 20th century. In effect, if a person screams loudly about evil “over there” without justifying the claims, one must wonder if the evil is in the one screaming.

On Comics Tropes, a Chick Tract was presented that I don’t recall reading. Apparently, it is one of only a few that they no longer publish. I can understand why they stopped publishing it. While it was again the typical over-the-top morality play, the underlying plot was absolutely horrible on pretty much every level. The title of the tract is “Lisa.” Lisa is actual the daughter of a man who sexually molests her. Somehow, the secret of this man’s behavior becomes known to people in the neighborhood. A neighbor (a medical doctor I think) says to the man that he knows what the man is doing to his daughter. The doctor goes on to give words of wisdom. The man should seek forgiveness from God and stop behaving this way. The man prays to God and asks forgiveness, and goes home to happily tell his wife and his daughter that he will never be a pedophilic, incestuous rapist ever again.

I hope I don’t need to tell you what is wrong with this story. It is actually what has been wrong with, oh so many, churches in the 20th century. Someone does something horrible in church (or out of church and then comes into the church with a story of God’s forgiveness). The church then asks the person to confess, ask forgiveness from God, and then covers things up. In this tract, the doctor:

  • Did not call the police
  • Did not help the man get counseling or even group support (or even get accountability structures in place).
  • Did not ensure that the daughter is protected from the man’s relapse
  • Did not (as far as the story shows at least) indicate that there was any follow-up and ensuring of honest remorse and determination to change.

Maybe 50 years ago someone could read that tract and see a positive message. Maybe. but I know that I saw problems with a number of the Chick Tracts 35 years ago, and I was an insider (semi-Fundamentalist Evangelical Christian). Today, I am not sure that anyone could read “Lisa” without picking up the message of the church as a place to cover-up evil under the cloud of false repentance and remorse. When I think of this story, I am reminded of so many preachers, priests, and missionaries, who knew how to play the game so as to continue doing evil away from police scrutiny. I am reminded of a few years back when Pat Robertson was trying to build support to get a woman on deathrow for murder to have her sentence commuted because she had prayed to receive Christ (as if, again, seeking forgiveness from God should remove one from punishment from civil authorities). Sheer madness.

Anyway, maybe you can see the video from Comic Tropes.

The host describes himself as a person who is “basically good” without being religious. Before one starts quoting Romans 3, note that he is not saying that he is sinless. He is just saying that he has many qualities that religious and secular ethicists would describe as commendable. I don’t have any reason to dispute this claim. As such, he would appear to be exactly the type of person that the tract “Lisa” was written for. That is because the tract doesn’t actually focus on the pedophilia, the incest, and the rape. The doctor makes it clear that the type of sin is not the key, but just that each person has some sort of sin. And the man in the tract emphasizes that he has been “basically a good person” at least until stressors in his life led to him falling to temptation in one specific area. So the host on this Youtube Channel is a great person to test the tract out… to see if the message resonates with a “basically good but imperfect” person.

The reaction was pretty much the opposite of what the tracts purport to seek— repentance and revival. But I think that this is not really the purpose of the tract. I think it is fan service:

“Fan service, fanservice, or service cut is material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience.”

Think about it for a moment. The audience are conservative Protestant Christians. They are the ones that actually gets the tracts from the publisher and the ones that actually provide funding to keep the presses rolling.

  • Insulting Evolutionists would normally do little to change the mind of evolutionists, but it provides a certain comfort to Creationist Christians who have felt marginalized in schools and academia.
  • Throwing around poorly justified accusations at Catholics is unlikely to be very persuasive to Catholics, but helps non-Catholic Christians fell good that their denominations broke away from one of the major ancient branches of Christianity.

Getting back to the tract “Lisa,” this seems to me to be very much about fan service. After all, the pedophilia and such was pretty tangential to the story. The man’s doctor friend could have said, “I am aware that you misrepresent your income in your federal tax report” or “I see that you fail to keep your lawn trimmed according to local zoning laws.” But by having a non-Christian who rapes his own daughter allows the primary audience (Conservative Evangelical Protestants) to say, “Well it is so good that we are Christians unlike those perverts— those non-Christian incestuous pedophiles.” Unfortunately however, since the writer did not take into account that the seriousness of the sin necessitates a change to the overall plot (it can no longer simply be a simplified story of conversion), the message becomes extremely confused.

There is a place for fan service I suppose. But Chick Tracts are promoted as evangelistic tools… and I have personally seen no evidence that they serve that purpose. I expect that there have been a few people who may have responded positively to their message, but I believe that many have also been turned off to that message. One can’t simply say, “Oh, we just give the message, it is the Holy Spirit who changes the heart.” While salvation is a work of God and not man, our role is not simply neutral, or neutral and positive. We can give the message of God in a way that makes Christianity seem odious to outsiders.

Fan service has its place, but not so much for evangelism to those who are not fans. So if you, as a Christian, want to see “God’s Not Dead,” based on a Christian urban legend I recall hearing back over 35 years ago, that is fine. But don’t bring any non-Christian who has taken an actual philosophy class and knows what philosophy professors really claim and not claim.

Three Dimensions of Despair

DESPAIR

I was reading a dissertation I happen to like (“Pastoral Variables In Psychotherapy:
Aa Instrument For Assessment” by David C. Stancil), I found some research he had done on the issue of despair and the related issue of hopelessness.  I want to hit on a few things from that work.

Stancil refers to Irving Yalom who describes how despair relates to three temporal dimensions (past, present, and future).

Despair affecting the Past:     Isolation

Despair affecting the Present:     Meaninglessness

Despair affecting the Future:      Death

Despair relates to the Past in terms of Isolation. The following is a quote from Stancil’s dissertation on Isolation:

Yalom suggested that, even from birth, “our existence begins with a solitary, lonely cry, anxiously awaiting a response,” a cry which is far deeper than that of a startle response or of hunger. This cry is one of isolation, which is met by what Yalom calls the silence of “cosmic indifference.” Human isolation, which begins at birth and remains a constant companion throughout life, has the three-fold qualities of being interpersonal (loneliness), intrapersonal (dissociation), and transpersonal (existential). This isolation is the same as that lamented by Sartre and Camus, and has the same result: meaninglessness.  <Dissertation. Chapter 3, page 12>

Despair relates to the Present in terms of Meaninglessness. We cannot survive without some form of meaning. It seems (quite literally perhaps) to be “part of our DNA.” We need purpose and meaning in our lives. We want to know “Why am I here?” The answer that “I am an accident that converts complex organic substances into other complex organic substances in a Universe headed inexhorably toward thermal death” is not very satisfying, to say the least. We thirst for something more.

Despair relates to the Future in terms of Death. Of course, death is our allotted future— every one of us. However, in a state of despair, death moves into the present and haunts and posons the mind. Death is the ultimate fear— non-existence? the void? the great unknown? Death levels the playing field bringing king and slave together… and making anything that we do potentially seem futile. It may be quite healthy to recognize our own mortality. But in despair, death compounds isolation and meaninglessness. Quoting Lily Tomlin, “We are all in this alone.” But death seems to bring us to that ultimate meaningless isolation from all that could bring purpose and connection.

Considering these aspects of Despair, in Christian ministry/missions we need to deal, at the very least, with all of these dimensions.

  1.  Death. In missions, this is the one that we deal with most directly.  Salvation is often presented (marketed?) in terms of freedom from death. It is a “get out of jail” free card from ultimate destruction. This is a very important aspect for addressing despair. But do Christians who have assurance of salvation still struggle with despair? Absolutely. So we need to consider the other two.
  2. Meaninglessness. Salvation must be more than simply a victory over death. It must also give meaning. It should do more than suggest that “we as Christians have a purpose.” It should go further to “I have a reason for which I have been created, and in fulfiling that reason, given by God, I have meaning.” If meaning is grounded in God, then part of purpose in ministry is to connect people to God in terms of this purpose and pilgrimmage.  But can Christians recognize victory over death, and have a sense of purpose, still feel despair? I believe so. There is one more dimension.
  3. Isolation. Salvation must always be tied to relationship. Part of that relationship is with God. We can now consider God as our (very good) Father, Christ as our loving shepherd, and the Spirit as our Comforter.  But God created us as a social species. We need human connections as well. The church is meant to be a family, augmenting the biological family. It is meant to create a community of faith that also has purpose as a group and as individual members within the group.

I would argue that any presentation of Christian salvation that focuses only on Death (or perhaps Death and Suffering) is woefully sub-Biblical.

I think it would be worthwhile to also list Pastoral Theologian Andrew Lester‟s Characteristics and Dynamics of Hope and Hopelessness. These provide another way to look at Despair (or hopelessness) and how the Christian message must address these different aspects. <One could also add Jones’ Theological Worlds as giving guidance on five dimensions that must be addressed, but I will not address this here.

HOPE                                        HOPELESSNESS
Future Oriented         Past Oriented or Present Bound
Realistic                                         Unrealistic
Possibilities                               Impossibilities
Communal/Relational        Isolationist/Separatist
Personal Power                 Helplessness/Powerlessness
Positive God-Images              Negative God Image

(Stancil’s Dissertation, Chapter 3, page 7.)

If you want to read this dissertation, it is available online.

http://www.dcstancil.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Complete_Dissertation.139183700.pdf

The Fish Model of Project Design

The following was a diagram that I had in my book, CHRISTIAN MEDICAL MISSIONS: Principles and Practices in the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond. However, it is quite useful in Project Design for ministry, with special focus on the transitioning from a short-term event or project to a long-term program or ministry. The diagram looks a bit like a fish. Starting at the left side, moving to the right is the passage of time. The gap between the lower and upper lines involves the number of people involved.

ichthus

Point A: Initiation:  The idea for an event or prject comes from one person or a small group, and there is the decision to attempt to move forward with the idea.  (Those involves:  Perhaps 1 or 2)

Point B: Team-building:   This is the team-building phase. Buy-in is developed within the community and with outside help. Partnerships are developed and plans are worked out.(Perhaps the team involves 20 or 30).

Point C:  Seed Sowing:   Participants, the target group, are invited to participate in the event or project.  (The number targeted may vary wildly depending on the project. For a hands-on training, maybe 50 would be invited. For a medical mission, maybe 1000. For a city-wide evangelistic event, maybe tens of thousands.)

Point D: Event.  This is where the project/event is implemented. Most likely less will show up than was invited. (Perhaps 40% of those invited actually participate). During the event, there is intentional activity done to gather names, contact information, and such for those desiring to participate in activities that involve more commitment.

Points E and F.Filtering.  These are attempts to filter the initial participants to identify those who desire to be involved in a long-term program. 

Example #1.  For an evangelistic rally, one may gather names of those who walked forward to give their lives to Christ, or to dedicate themselves to Christ. Additionally, these people may be asked if they wish to join a church family or a home Bible study. After the event, follow-up will begin. Focus will be on those who expressed the most commitment (being part of a home Bible study), with secondary focus on those who desire a church family, next to those who expressed a desire to follow Christ, and last to those who simply attended without an expression of any commitment.

Exmaple #2.  A Children’s one-time event may be held. At that event, parents and children can be invited to a weeklong “Vacation Bible School.” Those who join the VBS can be invited to join a afternoon Bible club, or a church Sunday School.

Point G. Commitment Point. After the filtering proces, one reaches a small group that is ready to be committed to a long-term program. That program could be home Bible studies, a church, a community development program, or others. Although small in number, these have found value in what is being done, and are committed to be part of it over time.

Point H. Expansion. This where the committed group reaches out to others and begins to grow. Much of the growth would probably come from those who had initially expressed a lesser amount of commitment before, but now want to join with greater commitment.

Key Points

1.  There needs to be intentionality from no later than the team-building stage to do the project in a manner that allows it to support a long-term program. If that is not done, what often is left is a positive event and a prayer that “something good will come of this.” Prayer is important but when the event is designed in a manner that works against the prayer— well, there is a problem isn’t there?

2.  There needs to be follow-on activities that people are actively invited to commit to. One should not just assume “Oh, they know what they should do.” They don’t know what they should do if they are not invited.

3.  The invitations should be for things that are longer-term and involving a greater amount of commitment than the initial event.

4.  Embrace the idea that some will be lost on the way. This doesn’t mean they will be lost forever. Not everyone is prepared to commit long-term. You want to first find those who will… and then gradually expand to others.

Listening at the Mosque

Each year in my Dialogue with Asian Relgions class, I have my students visit a local mosque. I also have them visit the Sikh temple and the Budhist temple. And sometimes other places are visited. The Sikh temple has been the favorite so far. But I especially want them to visit the mosque and the Buddhist temple since those are the places of worship of the two groups that my students are most likely to interact with with regards to other world religions.

The experience at the mosque is always different. I tell my students, however, that they are not to proselytize. They are to listen and to learn.

Each year there is some small attempt by those at the mosque to try to persuade my students that they really should join their religion. I am glad they do this because I want my students to learn the art of listening. If they learn the art of listening, they learn a skill that few if any have mastered.

A few years ago, the presentation the imam used to try to gently suggest that the students should become Muslim was pretty abysmal. The argument boiled down to something like “Islam is not a religion but an ideology. It has adherents in every country on earth and is the fastest growing.” If one was of a mind to argue one might respond with “#1. There is no clear line separating ideology and religion, and since Islam has chosen to embrace most of the trappings of a traditional religion, calling it an ideology does nothing to enlighten. #2.  Christianity has adherents in every country on earth as well. It would be pretty likely that this would be true of Hinduism and Buddhism as well. Hardly an interesting bit of trivia. #3. In sheer numbers Islam is growing faster than Christianity right now, but both religions have gone back and forth over the centuries in who is winning the adherent race. Not very persuasive, and even less so in that many religions have a growth rate (including Evangelical Christianity) that far outstrips Islam. And finally, the ideology of secularism right now is almost certainly growing in numbers faster than either Christianity of Islam.”  Sorry, did not mean to turn it into an argument. But you can see that the presentation was really poor.

Last year one of the young men at the tawhid school there tentatively tried to start a debate. My students told him that they were not there to argue but to listen and learn. (I love it when my students listen to my instructions. Some years they do not.)

This year, my students described the presentation my the mosque leadership as “persuasive.” That is quite different from what has come back to me in the past. Therefore, I asked them to talk about the presentation. A few key points came up:

First, The presenters first noted the many things in common between Christianity and Islam. We worship the same God (well… sort of). They (Muslims) see the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as written by God, and they also see Jesus as a prophet of God and a miracle worker.

Second, They noted differences after first noting the similarities. They see the Bible as having become distorted due to copy errors and translation, thus explaining why it disagrees with the Quran, Hadith, and Islamic theology. They also noted that they do not see Jesus as being one with God.

So why did my students find this presentation to be more persuasive than that from previous years? Clearly, there were problems with their presenation. The part where they say that Jesus is not part of the Godhead is hardly new. Most people are well aware that Muslims see God as having oneness without discernible divisions. They also balk at most anything that presents God in terms of immanence (with the exception of some Sufist groups). The part where they suggest that the Bible would agree with the Quran and Islamic beliefs if it weren’t copy and translation errors… well as seminary students they knew that this is highly dubious. We have the Bible available in the original languages so there is no errors from that. As far as copy errors, perhaps 300 years ago that argument may have sounded plausible. But in the last couple of centuries there have been great strides in textual criticism. It is pretty clear that there are substantive differences between the message of the original autographs of the Bible and the message of the founder of Islam (as it was compiled a few decades after his death at least).

Since the second part of the presentation wasn’t very compelling, presumably what made it compelling would be the first pat. This was the part where the presenter pointed out all the things that Muslims and Christians can agree with. Of course, these agreements were a bit deceptive. To say that Muslims agree that the Bible was from God, but since they teach that it is reliable only to the extent that it was correctly transmitted– and correct transmission is only recognized if it doesn’t disagree with the Quran— the Bible is given NO AUTHORITY by the followers of Islamic teaching. However, that is not whay my students heard. They did not hear the presenters say that Muslims give the Bible no authority. What they heard was that Muslims believe they Bible was given by God.

This is classic marketing, right out of Dale Carnegie. Carnegie noted that to influence another person, get them as soon as possible to say “Yes” to you or “I agree.” Additionally, to get them to agree with you, you agree with them as much as you possibly can. A lot of Christian evangelists and evangelistic presentations seem more focused on disagreeing with or discounting others beliefs.

Interestingly, Paul focused on agreement in his presentation to the Athenians. He agreed with the philosophers on many many things, before finally bringing up the divisive point of the resurrection of Christ.

What the presenters at the mosque did was actually what we as Christians should be doing. Start with finding common ground and agrement, before bringing up differences. Although their argument was, to be honest here, a bit weak, it sounded strogner because they started with building agreement from the beginning.

In sharing our faith, we should START WITH AGREEMENT, NOT ATTACK AND NOT ARGUMENT!

What to Do with the Unresponsive?

unresponsiveOne of my students is writing on the mission work of Paul as it may provide insight to his ministerial context. Describing the targets of Paul’s work, my student described three groups. First, he noted that Paul reached out to Jews. He would go to the synagogue and share Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Savior. Paul would present Jesus through the Hebrew Bible. Second, Paul would reach out to Gentiles. These would include both the God-fearers, who he may find in the synagogues, and others that might be labeled as pagans. The presentation of the Gospel for the Gentiles starts out from Creation and a benevolent God, rather than Hebrew Scripture, and Israel’s redemptive history.

But then my student added a third group. That was the Responsive. I felt that was redundant. If one wanted to speak of three groups, one could choose Jews, God-fearers, and Pagans. But as I read, I could see why it made sense. My student was following the thought of Roland Allen, that a key to Paul was not just in who he targeted, but also who he did not target. Paul did not focus on those who were not (fairly quickly found) responsive. Not everyone would feel that way. One of the books we read for Evangelism class was nice in many ways, but the writer promoted a “don’t take NO as an answer” attitude.

My student quoted a passage from Roland Allen’s classic “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?” (p. 75 of the 1962 printing by Eerdmans)”:

The possibility of rejection was ever present. St. Paul did not establish himself in a place  and go on preaching for years to men who refused to act on his teaching. When once he had brought them to a point where decision was clear, he demanded that they should make their choice. If they rejected him, he rejected them. The ‘shaking of the lap,’ the ‘shaking of the dust from the feet,’ the refusal to teach those who refused to act on the teaching, was a vital part of the Pauline presentation of the Gospel. He did not simply go away,’ he openly rejected those who showed themselves unworthy of his teaching. It was part of the Gospel that men might ‘judge themselves unworthy of eternal life.’ It is a question which needs serious consideration whether the Gospel can be truly presented if this element is left out. Can there be a true teaching which does not involve the refusal to go on teaching? The teaching of the Gospel is not a mere intellectual instruction: it is a moral process, and involves a moral response. If then we go on teaching where that moral response is refused, we cease to preach the Gospel; we make the teaching a mere education of the intellect.

I wouldn’t say it is strongly as Allen, and I am not sure that Paul would either. Most adults who convert to Christianity, in the US at least, do not do so on the initial presentation. Still, there is an underlying truth that is worth dwelling on.

There is a similarity between Paul’s strategy and Jesus’ strategy in Luke 10. Jesus sent out his disciples to different villages 2 by 2. They would minister in different villages. If people were responsive, Jesus would come there for more ministry. If the people were not responsive, the disciples were to shake the dust of the village from their feet (taking nothing, not even dust). They would then go onto the next village. The 12 were sent out on one occasion and they were to focus on Jewish villages. On a different occasion 70 (or 72) were sent out with no constraints. As far as we know, they went to all — Jewish, Samaritan, and Pagan villages. We know that Jesus prioritized Jews, and yet reached out to Samaritan and Gentile communities as well.

In missions there has been an argument as to who should be targeted.  Should one target the hardest soils or the easiest soils? Some would say that one should reach the easiest soils. If people are coming to Christ, if the Spirit appears to be working in a place, then we should be putting our efforts there. Others would say that we need to target the hardest soils, the UPGs (unreached people groups). We need to reach everyone and especially those who have not been reached because they are difficult.

Perhaps with Jesus and Paul, we see a FAIRLY OBVIOUS synthesis:

  • Share the message with everyone
  • Focus on those who respond

One could argue that is a reasonable lesson from the Parable of the Four Soils. Some soil is going to be productive, while some soils mostly won’t. But the sower doesn’t decide that. He spreads the seeds everywhere and then tends what grows.

The Secret is…

Image result for shhh!!!

The Secret is… there is no secret.   Many Christians throughout history have doubted this, however.

  • Starting in the first two centuries of the church, the Gnostic sects taught that they had special, secret, knowledge that people needed to have access to God. Irenaeus argued against the Gnostics that God’s revelation is found in Holy Scripture, the words of the initial apostles, and the words of those who were trained by the apostles. In other words, God is not into secrets… at least not secrets we need for abundant living. God’s revelation was given Holy Scripture and it was meant to be available to all… not to the few. Then if Christ did indeed have secrets, who would He have shared it with— His disciples who were to share them to all people, or to some individuals who kept secrets for a select few?  That tactic has popped up on occasion in recent centuries as well. Perhaps this was most famously done with “United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing” (Shakers) with Ann Lee being considered the female counterpart to Christ, or of Mormonism’s teaching of a 2nd (and secret) revelation of Christ.
  • Over centuries groups claimed to have a certain special secret. Sometimes it was a new revelation, second blessing, modern innovation, or restoration of some ancient practice (like embracing superficial Jewish practices, or primitive church alleged practices). Of course, traditionalists sometimes react by saying that their traditions are “the secret.’

I have been to a few trainings in my time. The more aggressive ones tend to be built around some sort of “core secret.” In one, the “secret” is FASTING. You want to twist God’s arm to do what you want Him to do rather than what He wants to do? You just need to fast. <Considering how ambivalent the Bible is regarding fasting, it would certainly be a pretty big secret if this was true.> I also recall going to a training which was a pretty mundane form of discipleship training. The one innovation that was supposed to turn it from mundane to awesome was the secret of “generational bondage.” In that, If you are a Christian but have an ancestor who committed some sort of sin, then God either gives you a curse or allows a curse to be placed upon you (not sure which, really). He doesn’t tell you this, and doesn’t really forgive it unless you say a prayer worded in a specific way. This seems based on nothing more than a passage in the Torah that is open to a wide variety of interpretations, and completely ignores a chapter in Ezekiel that appears to completely undermine the logic.

This desire for secrets in our faith perhaps says something very real about our spirituality, something a wee bit negative about ourselves, and something quite negative about our view of God.

Very Real About our Spirituality. We often feel like our lives are not embracing that “Abundant Life” that Jesus spoke of. We feel unsatisfied and so we look for secrets or “spiritual life hacks.” I would argue, however, that we spend more time avoiding the guidance of Christ than we do actually obeying Him. It is like the quote from Chesterton, ” The Christian Ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and left untried.” Our quest for secrets ultimately comes out of our own spiritual laziness.

A Wee Bit Negative About Ourselves. Let’s be honest, we like to know secrets… but a secret is not really a secret if it is freely available to everyone. We like to know secrets and know that others don’t know them. We want to go to seminars where the Secrets of __________ are revealed. We open Clickbait webpages with titles that utilize tactics that draw on this ugly part of ourselves.

Something Really Negative About Our View of God. Think about it for a moment. Consider the Generational Bondage example above. For it to be true, God would have to have a curse on us for something we did not do, and perhaps did not even know about. He would have to make sure that we have a miserable life without telling us why for something we did not do. He would also not remove that misery until we say a specific incantation that has no really support in God’s public revelation to us.

Is that a god we really want to worship? Taking it further, do we really want to worship a God whose revelation is only truly available to the cogniscenti… scholars? Do we want God’s revelation that can bridge languages and cultures, or do we want it to only be understood by scholars of 6th century BC Hebrew, 1st Century Koine Greek, 4th century AD Latin, 16th century English, or (perhaps) 7th century Arabic. Is that the God we really want? Do we want a God who tells one story publically to witnesses who feel compelled to share freely to all, but then tells certain critical “facts” to a few specially selected people who are good at keeping these facts from the majority?

In Clickbait articles, there is often the backstory that there is a secret that a select group has and is now being revealed to the consternation of those special ones. Some articles claim there is a great cancer cure that medical doctors don’t want us to know.  Or there is a secret way to wealth that millionares or billionares know, and that they desperately don’t want us to get because then we would join their elite group. I suppose it is okay that we have such hateful attitudes about doctors, or dentists, or stock traders, or the rich (or others). Sometimes it may even be true.

But why would we want to apply such thinking in our opinion of God… that God has special secrets that He doesn’t really want us to know… but would be hugely valuable for us to know. Sure, we don’t know exactly when Christ is returning (despite groups that claim to have such secret knowlege). But why would we think we would benefit from that knowledge? The faithful servant in Jesus’ parable was rewarded in being ready every day for his master’s return. The foolish servant apparently thought he could figure out the time of his master’s return and thus could be lazy and abusive. Presumably, if God doesn’t tell us something, we probably benefit from that ignorance. It seems to me that in Christ, we have God who shared freely with His disciples and told them to share freely with everyone, “even to the ends of hte world.”

The secret is that there is no secret. We should be thankful to God that there is no secret.

 

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.