Tag Archives: grace

Political Theology Reconfigured

Vincent Loyd’s work, The Problem With Grace discerns some of the complex interplay between African American theological perspectives and modern political estates. His first aim is to dispel the methodology that relies upon supersessionist foundations to oppose law and grace. He accomplishes this by analyzing specific religious concepts within both the Jewish and Christian faith. He also relies upon heavily sources outside of traditional conception of theology using both theoretical and literary texts. Lloyd questions the notion that the world is composed of some fallen world in need of redemption. This grace and law narrative is allegorized for the African American context through the story of Grace Mulligan on the Manderlay plantation. The story begins in 1933 when Mulligan stumbled upon a plantation in which the African American living there did not know that slavery was abolished. Grace abolished the plantation law that had governed the slave’s lives and instituted a democracy. While initially successful, the community after a period of time delved into a system predicated on rivalry, suspicion and bloodshed. Grace, who had come to replace the law, eventually flees the plantation because of the unintended consequences that she created. According to Lloyd it is supersessionist logic that led to the demise of the community which was most evident when grace replaced the law. Thus he finds it more relevant to examine society relative to social norms as opposed to a society in need of grace to fulfill the law. This examination occurs through a robust description of various religious concepts and theological virtues relevant to the Christianity such as: faith, hope, love, liturgy, prophesy, and tradition. One concept that I found his analysis particularly relevant to was the virtue of faith.

Lloyd states that love is an exercise for navigating the social world. The challenges and frustrations of social and political life are condensed into how we view the love relationship. Simply stated to truly love is difficult and full of uncertainties. For him what forms the basis for love however is faith. Faith gives us the ability not to walk away from loves despite all of the trial and tribulations that accommodate it. Faith entails a commitment to love even when there are good reasons not to. He strays away from the notion of faith that is commonly associated with a belief in something or someone. In his words “faith is about improper beliefs, beliefs that go beyond what ought to be believe.” Most importantly faith runs counter to social norms. This faith accordingly is able to trump all authority that is generated from societal norms. It even calls for reprimand of those societal structures and norms. I find this view of faith helpful especially when addressing the myriad of issues that we face in our contemporary society. It is possible using this view that we can challenge social and systemic structures that oppress a variety of issues.

Faith as a virtue goes beyond a mere belief in a deity or a higher power. True faith is critical of socio-political structures. This virtue has particularly been important for African Americans in the United States. Whether it was Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights struggle or modern Civil Rights leaders who struggle against the militarization of police states, policies that perpetuate racism, classism, sexism, and heteronormativity; faith has played an important role in countering these structures. Faith can promote social action and change. It is the backbone behind the love ethic that is necessary to fight for these changes. Martin Luther King fought for equality and gave his life for the freedom of all people out of love. However, deeply rooted in his love ethic was his faith that love creates the changes necessary to transform society.

Open Theology, Clement, Stoicism, and Prevenient Grace

There are many parallels between Clement of Alexandria’s theology and John Wesley’s. In fact, there was a study that I read and recommend, A Definitive Study of Evidence Concerning John Wesley’s Appropriation of the Thought of Clement of Alexandria by Neil D. Anderson.  Today, I want to briefly look at what John Wesley and Arminian theologians call preparatory, or preventing grace.  Prevenient grace is where “Wesley believed that God places a little spark of divine grace within us that enables us to recognize and accept God’s justifying grace.”  My apologies in advance for the long quotes followed below.  

“So there is no absurdity in philosophy having been given by Divine.  Providence as a preparatory discipline for the perfection which is by Christ; unless philosophy is ashamed at learning from Barbarian knowledge how to advance to truth.”

– The Stromata (Carpets/Miscellanies), Book 6, Chapter 17

This selection is one but many where Clement refers to the philosophies of the Gentiles as objects of preparation. As such, as Clement argues, these ideas and practices are in no way equal to the revelation that the Scriptures passed down to the Church attest to. On the subject of the Stoics, Clement of Alexandria was a bit critical of their doctrine. “Thence also the Stoics have laid down the doctrine, that living agreeably into nature is the end, fitly altering the name of god into nature; since also nature extends to plants, to seeds, to trees, to stones.”- The Stromata, Book 2, Chapter 19.

Now, the subject matter, the literary context where Clement is talking about the Stoics confusing nature for god is what’s crucial. If nature is god (similar to process naturalism), god is an impersonal force. In the paragraph before, Clement is discussing Plato, and how Plato says that happiness is to be in the likeness of God. But Plato, according to Clement’s account, plagiarized Moses, and so it’s really only through the Exodus God that Moses wrote about that we can know personally who to (YHWH) and how (the Ten Commandments) to participate in the life of the Creator. “For the law calls assimilation following; an such a following to the utmost of its power assimilates. ‘Be,’ says the Lord, ‘ merciful and pitiful, as your heavenly Father is pitiful. [CoA citing Luke 6:36]’- ibid.

Following Clement’s argument, CoA is arguing that to partake in the Triune God’s life is to obey and be on one accord with the One True God of the Exodus. In his commentary on the Decalogue, on the first commandment, Clement explains there is but one God who revealed Godself to humanity in the deliverance of the Hebrews from Pharaoh.  YHWH freely defines Godself as a Loving and Just Divinity by showing pathetic acts of mercy.  It is in this self-revelation of the divine that humanity knows God in God’s pathos, the self-humiliating journey from the throne of heaven to the world.

Not only is the Exodus Creator God willing to demonstrate God’s holiness through acts of self-giving and self-revealing acts, God is awesomely generous.  God’s grace, as the Gospels say, is like the Sun, that shines on the just and  unjust.  For Clement, Truth has revealed himself in the Logos.  Speaking to the “Greek preparatory culture” since Clement was located in Alexandria, the Greek speaking city of Roman Egypt, Clement compares the salvific work of the Good Shepherd who not only takes “care of sheep, but the care of herds, and breeding of horses, and dogs, and bee-craft.”  While all of these philosophies differ, they can be useful for life. Now, question is how does Clement define “philosophy.”  They are in his words “whatever has been well said by each of those sects, which teach righteousness along with a science pervaded by piety,” and more importantly, Clement stresses, “But such conclusions of human reasonings as men have cut away and falsified, I would never call divine.”

Two important notes: first, Clement says that what ever is beneficial to Christian holy praxis, these philosophies are worthy.  However, these truths and practices are not to be understood as universal or binding, never to be called divine, or ever on par with Scripture.  These philosophies are glimpses of indirect contact with God,”in the way showers fall on the good land, and on the dunghill.” (above quotes taken from,The Stromata/The Carpets Book 1, Chapter 7).  The difference between the God as self-revealed, personal, and covenantal living with God’s people in the Promised and Athenian sophists speculating on a dungheap is great.  For example, take Clement’s critical appropriation of the Stoics, once more, “Now the Stoics say that God, like the soul, is essentially body and spirit.  You will find explicitly in all their writings.  Do not consider at present their allegories as the gnostic [Christian mystical] truth. presents them; whether they show one thing, and mean another, like dexterous athletes.  Well, they say that God pervades all being; while we [Christians] call Him solely Maker, and Maker by the Word,  They [the Stoics] were misled by what is said in the book of Wisdom: ‘ He pervades and passes through all by reason of His purity,’ since they did not understand that this was said of Wisdom, which was the first of the creation of God.” (Stromata/Carpets, Book 5, Chapter 14).

So Clement continues the line that the Greeks, even the Stoics, badly plagiarized concepts from Scriptures.  While the Stoics saw an impersonal force of nature throughout everything, Clement argues to say that it is the work of the Logos, the Wisdom of God.  An impersonal force cannot share life or any of its attributes with creation.  This ancient version of what we now call  process naturalism. This is why Clement, like a few other Church Fathers had to radically redefine ideas like impassibility.  God is covenantally and dynamically sovereign over Godself and the world, is in control of God’s emotions, but God also chooses to use passions to accomplish God’s mission in the world: salvation.  I will save Clement’s thoughts on grace, wrath and atonement for another post.  On God’s happiness, Clement says,

“And for this reason we rightly do not sacrifice to God, who, needing nothing supplies all men with all things; but we glorify Him who gave Himself in sacrifice for us, we also sacrificing ourselves; from that which needs nothing to that which needs nothing, and to that which is impassible from that which is impassible.  For in our salvation alone God delights.  We do not therefore, and with reason too, offer sacrifice to Him who is not overcome by pleasures […] The Deity neither is, then, in want of aught, nor loves pleasure, or gain, or money being full, and supplying all thing to everything that has received being and has wants.And neither by sacrifices nor offerings, nor on the other hand by glory and honor, is the Deity won over; nor is He influenced by any such things but He appears only to excellent and good men, who will never betray justice for threatened fear, nor by the promise of considerable gifts.”-

 

Stromata/Carpets, Book 7, Chapter 3

The Triune God is not some self-glorifying Johnny Bravo as Piper and the New Calvinism teaches, neither is God the recipient of all of human experiences as forms of process theism teach.  Rather God freely determines Godself, whose freedom and covenantal natural when God reveals Godself to us, operates as the source of what Clement calls “the self-determination of the soul.” Because “believing and obeying are in” our [the Christian mystics’] power, works always out of neighborly love, so that their neighbors may experience goodness, and become good themselves.  The person who is justified in Christ first rules over herself, and by partaking in the true, shared life of the Trinity, becomes a most moved mover and shaker co-creating a more just society with the God of the Exodus [Clement gives the example of Moses, specifically in politics] (ibid).  In conclusion, in order to understand what true justice is, and the purpose of social justice, humanity must have Justice revealed to them

#DuckDynasty, Grace, and White Supremacist Gods #fleshYGod

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

[…..]

of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”- John 1:14, 16-17, NIV

I didn’t mumble a single word when the truth about Paula Deen’s white supremacist desires were made public, and BIG SURPRISE, she’s making a comeback. Real. Shocker. I really don’t bother with private individual’s racism because these conversations ultimately derail conversations about the history of white supremacy as a worldwide system. Color me shocked once more when GQ Magazine asks a 67 year old conservative patriarch what he thought was sinful. Really? Is GQ Magazine replacing Christianity Today? Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if this whole controversy was cooked up to get even higher ratings for A&E as well as further entrench the white conservative evangelical base as a means of profit. Disaster is always bound to happen when religious movements are strictly viewed as people groups to be marketed to.

The interview and the consequences of Phil Robertson’s comments are not the product of a First Amendment debate; this is a battle created for and by the Free Market. Social conservatives love free market capitalism except when things don’t go their way, sorta like “Christian movies.” What I find appalling is that white evangelical Christians want to claim all of these celebrities out in the “secular” for themselves, the Sarah Palin’s, Phil Robertson’s and Paula Deen’s, but they do not want to take ownership of these celebrity’s racist comments. I can understand why persons come to reject Christianity in this age, (let’s put aside sexual ethics for a second), when all of these outspoken representatives of KKKristianity continue to perpetuate the white supremacist mythology. KKKristianity in the eyes of outsiders seems less like a group of followers of Jesus who love our neighbors as ourselves as they are more in love with the idea of swimming in cultural ignorance.

There is absolutely no excuse that appeals to folksy political incorrectness and whitewashed distortions of history should be tolerated. Contrary to popular defenses of him, Phil Robertson is not some country bumpkin who happened to make it rich like The Beverly Hillbillies. To denigrate Robertson’s intelligence in assuming the worst, is to essentialize not only poor white persons who live in the swamplands, but also to ignore the fact that he has his Master’s in Education from Louisiana Tech. Educated, well-meaning people from all different backgrounds are capable of holding onto white supremacist religions and tellings of history. One example of this is Patheos religious blogging site. Supposedly the concept is to be progressive, with a site “Hosting the Conversation” but, they have TWO (YES TWO YA’LL) channels for white Conservative Christians (Family and Evangelical), and there are barely any bloggers of Color; one could probably count that number on one hand [see FOOTNOTE 1]. See, the myth is that Blacks have nothing value to contribute to culture because we are lazy and dependent by nature.

image from the Christian Post

Going back to Phil Robertson’s quote:

“I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

PRE-ENTITLEMENT AND PRE-WELFARE. Okay a little bit of a history and politics lessons, sir, “entitlements” have been around since the beginning of the Republic. Ever heard of the 3/5th Compromise? Secondly, during Jim and Jane Crow segregation, whites stole money from black people in the form of Social Security (among other things), taking our tax dollars and benefitting from “separate but equal.” The idea that blacks are lazy is once again preached by a white Christian celebrity from his bully pulpit. Nothing new to see here. EXCEPT, he also had to add during Jim and Jane Crow segregation, Black people were happy and no one was singing the blues. EXCEPT for the fact that black people invented the blues during the time of legal segregation because life was miserable. Blacks haven’t done anything for American society EXCEPT build it with their bare hands and scarred backs.[see FOOTNOTE 2].

The notion that black people are not people to be valued is a deeply held belief in a graceless, white supremacist society. The God of pop culture Kkkristianity is a White Supremacist. People of Color, in general, are not shown the same grace that they are expected to give others. Anti-Blackness, however, is the very air we breathe. Black people are viewed as being on the bottom rung of our culture, depraved, going without intelligence or will-power. What is grace in a world where white Christians STAN for Saint George Zimmerman while villifying Trayvon Martin as a thug? What is grace where Renisha McBride is derided as a drunk? What is grace in a world where rape and murder victim Dion Payne has his humanity called into question because he made a few bad decisions while he was young?

But meanwhile, there are calls for grace for Hugo Schwyzer and CJ Mahaney for preying on women and children. But what is grace in a White Supremacist society? In the Christian tradition, grace is the “unmerited [unearned] favor of God” given to us, but grace in the DisUnited States of Amerikkka means for people to stop criticizing persons in prominent roles, and allow these persons in power to continue to be in positions of power after they have said, “I’m Sorry.” Apologies replace genuine repentance. White supremacist, colonial lies remain in the stead of truth.

English: CJ Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grac...

English: CJ Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

White Supremacist Gods have cheap grace and oppression as their telos. As a Christian anti-Racist, I look to Scripture where God elects to exist in the meatsuit of a human being in the first century. An anti-racist Incarnational theology means a complete rejection of white supremacy’s cheap grace. In the Gospel of John, as I cited, there is not severance of truth from grace. As such, Truth and Grace remain an integral part of each other. Truthfulness is lifted up along with Grace. In practical terms, grace for an anti-racist praxis means everyone regardless of race, nationality, or ethnic background is given the freedom to express who they are as infinitely valuable planetary creatures. Truth as an anti-racist practice means persons are free to tell the truth in community, as well as resist and debunk white supremacist lies like the ones Phil Robertson is spreading.

FOOTNOTE 1: Let’s not forget about Patheos’ gender problem as well. A good friend of mine was placed in the Patheos Spirituality channel although she is a Christian. The reason? She’s not a DudeBro.

FOOTNOTE 2: If you do not like the fact your country was built by black people, I suggest you leave. That’s my answer to anti-black racism.