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How are we supposed to think biblicaly about the Coronavirus crisis? Is it a sign of the end of the world? Is it a call for repentance? Is God judging the world? What should be our approach drawing on Scripture, Christian history, and the way of living, thinking, and praying revealed to us by Jesus?
Bible Gateway interviewed N.T. Wright (@profntwright) about his book, God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath (Zondervan, 2020). (Some answers below are reflective of his interview provided by the Jesus Creed blog.)
You wrote a short article on COVID-19 for TIME magazine, the title of which was “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.”
N.T. Wright: That was the TIME editor’s title. It wasn’t inaccurate, in that I was saying that Christianity does NOT say ‘This proves the Rapture is imminent’ or ‘this shows that we need to repent of [fill in your pet peeve]. Those were the ‘answers’ people were offering, and I was saying ‘no, we don’t get that kind of thing.’ But clearly the editor was being provocative.
Your call to lament was not one untethered to hope, but rather to guard against hoping for the wrong sort of things. Is that accurate?
N.T. Wright: To guard against hoping for the wrong sort of things, yes: and to guard against a knee-jerk reaction as to ‘what God must be doing/saying in all this.’ Actually, I think it’s a modern rationalistic thing to suppose that we ought to be able to decode ‘what God is saying’ in any and all circumstances: the over-confident modernist western assumption that we should be able to ‘explain’ everything, especially if we believe in God. The trouble is . . . which God do we believe in? Jesus’ closest followers were ‘hoping for the wrong thing’—witness the two on the road to Emmaus. Perhaps we will often be in that position.
Your closing words in your TIME article are: “In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.” Explain the idea of having a biblically grounded hope.
N.T. Wright: What I was doing, of course, was drawing attention to that remarkable passage in Romans 8—which I expound in detail in God and the Pandemic—where Paul talks about lament and sees that as the very moment when the Spirit is lamenting within us—and we’re fulfilling a key aspect of our vocation.
What are a few of the most egregious errors you hear people making when it comes to this present pandemic crisis?
N.T. Wright: (a) This is a sign of the second coming. Answer: no it isn’t: Jesus pointed out that there would be wars, famines, earthquakes, etc., and ‘the end is not yet,’ but that the eventual end would come ‘like a thief in the night,’ in ordinary times, with no great ‘signs.’
(b) This is a call to repent. Answer: that’s the stock pagan response to ‘bad things happening.’ In the Old Testament it’s a very specific point in relation to God’s covenant with Israel; but that’s tempered with the Psalms of lament where the sufferer is innocent (I’m thinking of Psalms 22, 42, 43, 44, 88 and others) and of course with the book of Job, where it’s Job’s pseudo-comforters who say ‘Ah, this shows you’ve been secretly sinning all along.’
(c) This is a great opportunity for evangelism. Answer: well, good luck with that one. If non-Christians think you’re just using the pandemic as a stick to beat them with (‘Hey! Wake up! You might die!’) it may be counter-productive. Sensible people know they might die any day. If we wait for a pandemic to have an excuse to evangelize, we were obviously asleep on the job.
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You write that Jesus weeping at Lazarus’s tomb “could be the clue to a great deal of wisdom.” What do you mean?
N.T. Wright: Some theologians have sometimes seen Jesus’ ‘miracles’ as the sign of his ‘divinity’ and his tears, and his death, as the signs of his humanity. That’s shallow and crass. John doesn’t divide Jesus up. It’s God incarnate who weeps at the tomb of his friend.
What does it mean that ‘God is in control’ or that ‘God’s kingdom is breaking in’? It means, as Jesus explains to James and John in Mark 10 (and as Paul sees so clearly in 2 Corinthians), that God’s power works through weakness and suffering.
Back to Romans 8 again: God works all things together for good with and through those who love him, who are called for his purpose—the purpose, as in the previous verses, of being the place where God the Spirit is lamenting too deeply for words at the heart of the world’s pain. Thus, if we don’t see lament—sharing the tears of Jesus—as a central part of our vocation in the world the way it is, we’re failing in our discipleship. Of course, sometimes we only realize in retrospect that the bitter lament we were expressing has in fact been taken up into the lament of God himself.
How well prepared is the church, especially in Western cultures, for addressing the new landscape of a post-COVID-19 world?
N.T. Wright: Western churches for the last few generations have been failing in living and announcing God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven. The churches of late western modernity—including ‘conservative’ late western modernity—have been captive to a Platonic gospel of ‘going to heaven when you die’ which the younger generation has seen right through as the escapist nonsense it is. Fortunately the Bible offers something far more robust.
‘Institutional Christianity’ means very different things. As soon as you say ‘institutional,’ some of today’s generation will be put off—until they grow up a bit and realize that institutions are necessary for real life (and of course that they constantly need reforming and refreshing). Some younger people are drawn back to more traditional types of ‘institutional Christianity’—like meditative liturgical music, or Cathedral-style worship—because it gives the worshipers space to ponder and grow, without thrusting obvious and one-dimensional teachings at them all the time.
My anxiety then is that there may be a time-lag before our churches wake up to the truly biblical message, which is not that God wants us to go and live with him but that he wants to come and live with us, transforming, healing, and renewing the whole creation—and that he has decisively begun that in Jesus and is implementing it by his Spirit until Jesus comes again to complete the work. In that time-lag a generation may be lost.
In particular, the western churches have cheerfully colluded with multiple divisions, so that Paul’s constant insistence on church unity is not even noticed, let alone preached on, let alone acted upon. If our churches even tried to be a bit more multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-generational, multi-colored, then more young people might just glimpse that this was always God’s intention for the church—to be a small working model of what God wants to do for the whole creation.
This, by the way, is simply an exposition of Ephesians 1—3. If the church had majored on Ephesians rather than Romans and Galatians (both of which of course I love to bits, and both of which do in fact say the same) we might not have had this problem in the first place.
How can the book of Psalms help us through the COVID-19 pandemic?
N.T. Wright: By providing both the model and some actual starting points for serious lament, whether personal or liturgical.
How should this pandemic be viewed in light of Jesus’ second coming?
N.T. Wright: Jesus commented that with great ‘disasters’ ‘the end is not yet.’ There have been many epidemics and the like throughout history.
How should Christians talk about God in all of the world’s current sufferings and uncertainties?
N.T. Wright: We should always go back to the cross: the fact of the cross as God himself coming to be at the heart of the world’s suffering and to take the full weight of it upon himself. The question about ‘God and suffering/evil’ only became the kind of question we now perceive it to be in the 18th century, when people had split ‘God’ off from ‘Jesus’ and had split ‘natural evil’ off from ‘moral evil’ as though ‘God’ had to deal with the first and Jesus with the second. (See my book Evil and the Justice of God, and, more fully, History and Eschatology.)
God and the Pandemic is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: N.T. Wright, one of the world’s leading Bible scholars, is the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. Featured on ABC News, The Colbert Report, Dateline, and Fresh Air, he is the award-winning bestselling author of many books, including Simply Good News, Simply Jesus, Simply Christian, Surprised By Hope, How God Became King, Scripture and the Authority of God, Surprised by Scripture, and The Case for the Psalms, as well as the translation of the New Testament The Kingdom New Testament (read it on Bible Gateway) and the much heralded series Christian Origins and the Question of God.
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The post God and the Pandemic: An Interview with N.T. Wright appeared first on Bible Gateway Blog.
Update: Could a Montana school choice case be the end of Blaine amendments?
Update (June 30): Montana violated the First Amendment when it barred religious schools from a state scholarship program, the US Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, in a case school choice advocates hope will open the door for more education voucher programs.
The state’s “no aid provision,” categorically banning any type of aid to religious schools, represents an overly sweeping effort at church-state separation that results in religious discrimination against religious schools and adherents, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the 5–4 Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue decision.
“The prohibition before us today burdens not only religious schools but also the families whose children attend or hope to attend them,” the opinion read. “They are ‘member[s] of the community too,’ and their exclusion from the scholarship program here is ‘odious to our Constitution’ and ‘cannot stand.’”
Roberts said that states do not need to subsidize private education, but if they do, they cannot disqualify some private schools just for being religious.
“For many families, Espinoza not only provides the potential for expanded opportunities for them to educate their children, including the choice of religious education, but also the right to decide what they believe is the most effective way to do so,” said Jeanne Allen, the founder of the Center for Education Reform.
When a Montana tax credit program for private school scholarships was accused of being discriminatory because religious schools were not eligible, the state eliminated the program outright rather than fight the case.
But now, the state has ended up at the US Supreme Court anyway, with …
Despite the ongoing debates over gender roles, surveys show significant agreement in favor of female Sunday school teachers, worship leaders, speakers, and preachers.
In evangelical discourse, there are several issues that you can count on to stir up a heated debate. One is the role of women in the life of the church.
Take last year’s spat over Beth Moore speaking at a church on Mother’s Day, which came up again months later with John MacArthur’s viral “go home” line. Or the more recent discussion around author Aimee Byrd and Reformed complementarians’ pushback on social media.
Yet for all the debates around gender and leadership roles, for years researchers have found less of a divide on the topic among the people in the pews. The results of a recent survey once again indicate that most evangelical Protestants are in favor of seeing women take on more prominent positions in the church.
In a survey I fielded along with political scientists Paul Djupe and Hannah Smothers back in March, 8 in 10 self-identified evangelicals said they agree with women teaching Sunday school, leading worship at church services, and preaching during women’s conferences or retreats.
Slightly fewer endorsed women preaching during church services, but 7 in 10 were in favor, according to the research, conducted by a team of political scientists in March 2020.
This new research follows an analysis of 2011 survey data I published last year, which showed that significant majorities of major Christian traditions—including Southern Baptists—would support women as pastors.
Some commentators pushed back saying both that the 2011 data was dated and that the questions weren’t explicit enough about the types of roles for women in the church. The March 2020 survey was designed to allow respondents to indicate what kinds of leadership roles they are comfortable with women …
President of CNEF and COVID-19 survivor explains his renewed confidence to defend the faith and French evangelical churches, as well as why his mother now calls him “Lazarus.”
After spending three weeks in intensive care, Christian Blanc, president of the National Council of French Evangelicals (CNEF), shared his testimony of healing from COVID-19 in a cover story for French magazine La Vie.
CT interviewed Blanc on how the experience has “incarnated” the Bible’s teachings in his life and his advice for how churches can better serve the sick.
Summarize your medical journey, including why your mother renamed you “Lazarus.”
During February and March, my responsibilities as CNEF president meant I had to make several trips to Paris by train and plane and used public transit to move around, and it was during one of these trips that I contracted the COVID-19 virus. When the first symptoms appeared (dry cough and fever), I stayed home thinking that my condition would improve quickly. But it got so bad that I was in respiratory distress and had to be hospitalized. I ended up in the intensive care unit, where everything got so complicated in the following days that the medical staff were rather pessimistic about my future. A doctor even phoned my wife and told her that I was probably going to die during the night.
However, the very next day he called to say that everything was starting to work again, so there was hope. From then on, my recovery began and continued during the weeks that followed. When I came out of the ICU, I phoned my mother—also an evangelical—who was 300 miles away and thinking she would never see me again. When she heard my voice, she thought someone was playing a bad joke on her. I had to insist that I was indeed her son, Christian, whose health was improving. She replied: “I will no longer call you Christian but Lazarus. It’s as if …
GOD TV argues application for new Shelanu channel in Hebrew was forthright, decries decision as political.
Israeli regulators on Sunday announced they ordered a US-based evangelical broadcaster taken off the air, saying the channel hid its missionary agenda when it applied for a license.
In his decision, Asher Biton, chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, said he had informed GOD TV on Thursday last week that it had seven days to stop broadcasting its new Shelanu channel.
“The channel appeals to Jews with Christian content,” he wrote. “Its original request,” he said, stated that it was a “station targeting the Christian population.”
The decision was first reported by the Haaretz daily.
In a statement, Shelanu said it was stunned by what it called Biton’s “unprofessional decision.”
It said its existing license “stated unequivocally” that it would broadcast its content in Hebrew to the Israeli public. Most Christians in the Holy Land speak Arabic.
“Therefore it is not at all clear what was wrong beyond political considerations,” it said.
Ron Cantor, Shelanu’s Israeli spokesman, initially said the station would reapply for a license. But in a press release today, noted:
“Last night we learned that HOT Cable company has chosen not to reapply for a license for Shelanu TV, which effectively ends Shelanu TV’s era on the HOT cable network. We, HOT and Shelanu, both knew that in a free and democratic society, we would have received approval for our new license. And if not, we would have won in court. The only thing that could have stopped our channel from being aired was if HOT broke our relationship.”
According to a copy of its original application and approval, obtained by CT, Shelanu identified itself as “a Christian …
It’s now been nearly seven months since I was kissed. It was a first-date kiss with someone I’d met on the subway during rush hour the day prior. It was a good first kiss, better than I’d expected it to be. He had moves. Mid-goodnight kiss, he gently bit my top lip, playfully tugging on it between his teeth just enough for it to be sexy and exciting, not cannibalistic. It’s a classic kissing move that I expressly remember reading about in some women’s mag article when I was young enough that I’d not yet felt another human’s tongue touching my own tongue. I wonder if, at some point in our adolescence, we read the same magazine.
Despite the promising meet-cute and our well-matched smooching styles, that whole thing went nowhere rather quickly. But the memory of a good kiss can often become valuable collateral for an experience that doesn’t exactly live up to it. Now I can just play the hits in the movie theater in my mind, as I’ve just done again.
For the past three or four months now, the COVID-19 pandemic has forbidden any mouth-to-mouth closeness, let alone contact. (The city of New York has even issued a government-sanctioned guide to COVID intimacy in the interest of harm reduction, knowing full well that its 8 million or so inhabitants are not likely to practice total abstinence.) The mouth and nose must be covered when in proximity to other noses and mouths, so you can’t even really admiringly gaze at another set of lips either (restraint stoke thy desire).
Some would call this a precautionary cruelty. I consider it a challenge for the most amorous worms in my brain to concoct a reverie to rival the most gratuitous of romance genres—K-dramas, southern vampires, and white-collar BDSM notwithstanding. If you’re single, like moi, we are finding ourselves at a unique cultural tipping point to premeditate our very own first post-COVID kiss.
I’ve had my share of forgettable kisses in the past. They’ve made me appreciate how a really good kiss with someone I’m totally into can be way more intimate than sex. I’m pretty sure my lips have more prurient muscle memory than my vagina does. In all my days of kissing, I find that there are often two sides: fondly remembering good kisses (as mentioned above) and fantasizing about future kisses and their subsequent future kissees.
Like all first kisses, I imagine that “the new kissing” will come with its own share of neurosis. But instead of hoping that my breath is inoffensive and making sure that we don’t bump teeth, I’ll likely be mentally calculating the potential for either spreading or contracting a particularly deadly virus. The notion of “risking it all” is now entirely too literal.
For those practicing enough due diligence, that may not be a dire concern, especially if you’ve been “seeing” someone exclusively for long enough that your pre-first-base precautions become a worthwhile wait for carefree kissing—with the kind of sincerity that follows the sharing of some key intimate knowledge to inspire an emotional trust that wouldn’t necessarily precede a fun club-night pash with a stranger. Those kinds of exciting first kisses would sometimes spin me out of the moment and into dissociative fretting about where this kiss is leading.
Now that summer, the magical long-lit season of romance, is upon us, I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit, as I imagine many of us are—so much so, that I wonder if fantasizing alone can short circuit my brain into releasing the same tantalizing amounts of dopamine and serotonin as kissing itself. In my brain’s most indulgent kissing chronicles, I am confident and unhurried, I never feel pressured, and I am able to gracefully vibe with any suitor’s smooch style, like the professional dancer counterpart to some Dancing With the Stars duo. I imagine that some non-corny romantic music is playing at a subdued volume, as someone holds my round little face in their hands and kisses the living daylights out of me. And only when we part for a necessary breath, will I then gaze into the eyes of my post-pandemic paramour and say, “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
The post In a Post-COVID Era, We All Get Another First Kiss appeared first on Man Repeller.
The missiological strategies developed a generation ago should now be acted on if they still apply, updated if they do not, or put away if they are hindering mission in our time.
Back in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was just underway in North America, some warned us to expect it to be around longer than we initially thought and that we were entering into a season that was more like a winter, and less like a blizzard. Four months later, it appears that we have entered a little ice age as the pandemic does not seem to be going away quickly.
The most important structures of our lives are being challenged, and in some cases even questioned, including our way of doing church and mission.
And while the why of mission remains the same, the what and how of mission seems much more fluid these days, especially as it pertains to leading and launching new churches. The pauses and the causes we are seeing arise in the midst of 2020 have forced a disruption that may either slow down our missional engagement, especially if we only white-knuckle our way through it, or accelerate it if we pay attention to what is really happening.
The pandemic has brought great tragedy, including a climbing death toll and an economy struggling to stabilize. Amid everything, we are seeing racial tensions in America escalate, with both the political and theological polarities widening.
The combination of these challenges create a unique circumstance we have never seen before in our lifetime. And while this is not a time to exploit the vulnerability and fragility of our culture, it is indeed the right time to think about how the gospel is still the power of God that brings salvation to everyone, and how Christians can better partner with the ways in which his Spirit is at work at this exact moment in history.
The missiological strategies developed a generation ago should now be acted on if they still apply, updated if they do not, or …
The president’s executive order elevates its priority in US foreign policy. Nine experts assess the strategy’s longevity.
On June 2, as protests over the death of George Floyd raged across the United States, President Donald Trump elevated the stature of religious freedom within the State Department.
“Religious freedom for all people worldwide is a foreign policy priority,” read the executive order (EO) he signed, “and the United States will respect and vigorously promote this freedom.”
It received almost no media attention.
The provisions—long called for by many advocates of international religious freedom (IRF)—could overhaul a US foreign policy that has historically sidelined support for America’s “first freedom.”
That is, if the order survives a potential Joe Biden administration.
It is common for a new president to reverse EOs issued by their predecessor. In his eight years in office, President Obama issued 30 to amend or rescind Bush-era policies. In his first year in office, Trump issued 17 directed at Obama-era policies.
While IRF has typically enjoyed bipartisan support, current political polarization leaves few sacred cows.
Trump signed the EO after a visit to the Pope John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC. It was previously scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the Polish-born pope’s 1979 return to his home nation, which set off a political and spiritual revolution that defied the Soviet Union and eventually ended the Cold War.
However, Washington’s Catholic archbishop called it “baffling and reprehensible” the facility would allow itself to be manipulated one day after Trump lifted a Bible in front of St. John’s Anglican Church across from the White House in the wake of the aggressive dispersal of protesters opposing police brutality and …