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Mark Steyn was attempting to wake us all up about a year ago when he wrote;

Most Americans don’t yet grasp the scale of the Obama project. The naysayers complain, Oh, it’s another Jimmy Carter, or It’s the new New Deal, or It’s LBJ’s Great Society applied to health care. You should be so lucky. It’s all those multiplied a gazillionfold and nuclearized — or Europeanized, which is less dramatic but ultimately more lethal. (National Review 2009.03.23)

The personally invasive changes of Barak Obama’s administration have caused many to forecast a socialist overhaul in our executive and legislative branches. That may be true.

I think the most frustrating element of all this fervor is the feeling that those of us who know better were too busy pampering ourselves to notice that hurting people were seeking radical change. Morning after morning, we watched perky financial advisers on Fox and Friends tell us if we just cut back on five dollar caramel macchiatos from Starbuck’s we could make up for some of the hit we took on our 401K.The single mother of two, serving us at Starbuck’s needed real change. Please don’t assume I think she got meaningful assistance or sustainable reform from this regime. My only goal with this diversion is to re-frame your thinking enough to be objective about how we end up creating environments where destructive social and political change appears credible to the majority.

Let this next quote sink in for a minute or two,

The highest expression of love is the free surrender of what is truly our own, life, property, and rights. A much lower but perhaps more decisive expression of love is the surrender of any opportunity to exploit men. No social group or organization can claim to be clearly within the Kingdom of God which drains others for its own ease, and resists the effort to abate this fundamental evil.

This excerpt from A Theology for the Social Gospel by Walter Rauschenbusch could be quickly tied to the current administration’s political realities. Except for the fact that this particular book is considered the confession of the Social Gospel Movement and was written in 1922. Another quote from the book reflected upon a significant legislative change from the end on the nineteenth century. “This involves the redemption of society from private property in the natural resources of the earth, and from any condition in industry which makes monopoly profits possible.”

The Sherman Antitrust Act was passed in 1890. Teddy Roosevelt put teeth in the act when he took over the U.S. Presidency in 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley. He launched a series of lawsuits against what were deemed offensive business combinations. Such giants as J.P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Trust  and James B. Duke’s tobacco trust were targets of the government’s attorneys. Is this bringing on an overwhelming sense of deja vu?

The Social Gospel Movement marked a dramatic shift in Christian philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century. Not unlike the political shift we are experiencing today. The North had won the civil war, freed slaves, and began reconstruction. The new “negros” were poor immigrants from Europe coming to America for a perceived opportunity of a success that seemed inconceivable in their homeland. The industrialized Northeast churned through this hopefuls and their children. There is certainly no argument regarding the abuses they endured. Many of the labor laws and regulations in place today remain as a result of the attempt to legislate a minimum standard of ethics in the workplace. The minimum wage has its roots in these reforms. Northern Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans, began to unite over these social injustices as well.

In this socially conscious environment a real Christian would not and could not tolerate this evil. Moreover any true Christian must make it their mission to end these heinous oppressions. To that end prominent Christians began to work through the political engine to accomplish social reform. Inevitably that resulted in some deterioration of the separation of Church and State; an acceptable concession at the time. The Scriptural basis for the movement is anchored in the Beatitudes.

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)

There are also obvious ties to deistic patriotism. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (U.S. Declaration of Independence).” The real philosophical shift here is from an emphasis on individual sin and personal evangelism to a battle over societal sin and cultural reform. One of the observations of the Social Gospel Movement was that other churches had become too Pauline, and they were not preaching enough Jesus, or discipling toward Christlikeness regarding social justice.

My interest in this topic was generated in the Church History class I’m taking to wrap up my undergraduate degree in a couple weeks. Then I will have time to share with you my personal wrestling with the question generated by the liberal protestants of the Social Gospel Movement. Is there such a thing as too much Paul and not enough Jesus? If anyone has created a “Too Tall Paul” in his ministry and approach to discipleship it is me. I regularly elevate and illuminate the Pauline epistles. I know the “Emerging/Emergent/Simple/Organic” church exists because of the “Country Club” congregations of the last fifty years. I believe the church has a role in social justice. Am I missing something? Is there such a thing as a “too Tall Paul?” Please sound off.

An old Selmer tenor sax cuts the thick air along the river behind Cafe DuMonde with a melody from deep in the heart of Coleman Hawkins. The Canal Street Ferry blows a low tone as she returns from Algiers, and the big engines of the river boats fill out the bottom of the harmony that is the French Quarter. The rhythm is tapped out by the metal shoes of the carriage horses that escort visitors down Toulouse past Royal and Bourbon Street. The Quarter has a song unique in all the world.

The piercing cry of a baby, curled up hungry and alone, lofts above the roar of the bus that takes her young mother to work. The audible and enveloping drone of hopelessness moves through the Desire Street Projects. The rhythm cuts deep as the rapid report of a Glock 9mm drops another grandson to the blood stained ground of the 5-4. The Lower 9th Ward has a song unique in all the world.

New Orleans is a bitter sweet symphony where carefree and hopelessness awaits a tragic crescendo. Katrina, long anticipated, always feared, shattered this tension filled orchestration. Her deafening wail so out of tune. When her excruciating solo was over the band was gone and a global audience sat numb and confused. New Orleans had a silence unique in all the world.

The distinct tone that is New Orleans has resonated across the land. A season has passed and the chorus builds one voice at a time. The horns are muted, the baby’s cry faint, but the silence is broken. The leader of the band stands ready to arrange, to harmonize. The Great I am is our Conductor. While the Composer sits in a place of silence, He is the one who forms a collection of monotone elements into a masterpiece of meter and harmony.

New Orleans we must trust our song to the skillful hand of the Almighty Maestro.

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his Temple; praise him in his mighty heaven. Praise him for his strength; praise him for his greatness. Praise him with trumpet blasts; praise him with harps and lyres. Praise him with tambourines and dancing; praise him with stringed instruments and flutes. Praise him with loud cymbals; praise him with crashing cymbals. Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. (Psalm 150)

King Solomon, son of David, was often praised for his wisdom. As the inspired author of Ecclesiastes the reality he reveals is

That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB95)

And so it is with “A New Earth.” Original sin and salvation from the spiritual death it brings has been on the hearts and minds of man since Adam and Eve sought to be like God.
The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5 NASB95)

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 NASB95)

Over time there have been thinkers who have impacted our perspective with their ability to effectively communicate this mental wrestling match with those of their day. Most have been led of the Holy Spirit to interpret and apply God’s Word to those who seek spiritual life through Jesus Christ. A growing roster of those who seek salvation in themselves are being taken seriously. A look at how we got to this point includes well meaning men who over time lost contact with Jesus Christ as Savior. Jesus became a historical figure worth quoting. A thank you to Dr. Scott Drumm – New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as the following chronology is drawn from my class notes in Contemporary Theological Issues.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
-instilled a negative view of man within the church
“With love for mankind and hatred of sins “
“God will not suffer man to have knowledge of things to come; for if he had prescience of his prosperity, he would be careless; and understanding of his adversity, he would be senseless.”
Anslem of Canterbury (1033-1109)
-faith over reason“I believe that I might understand”
“God could do it, it was appropriate, therefore he did it”

Peter Abelard (1079-1142)
-reason over faith“I understand that I might believe”

Thomas Aquinas (1225-74)
-Deductive Reasoning
-start with a general statement and then make
conclusions based upon that general statement

“Reason in man is rather like God in the world.”

John Duns Scotus (1265-1308)
-denied that reason alone can understand God
-existence of God must be based on faith alone”The divine will is the cause of good, and so a thing is good precisely in virtue of the fact that he wills it.”

William of Occam (1288-1347)
-human reason cannot understand God
-foundation of Nominalism
-knowable reality is ultimately material
-provable/empirical facts
– Occam’s razor presumes the following:
“The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.”

Thomas More (1478-1535)
-denied Augustine’s negative view of man
-in his Utopia he portrayed man as essentially good
-this fundamental shift in the way man was viewed spurred new theological ideas”Our emotional symptoms are precious sources of life and individuality.” (Key to Tolle’s philosophy)

Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
-Descartes described the self as a thinking substance
– I know I exist because I can reason and can understand

“Cogito ergo sum” “I think therefore I am”
(Key to Tolle’s philosophy)

John Locke (1632-1704)
-Deism held that a God had created the world and instilled within it laws to govern it. However, that God is utterly unknowable and is not engaged in the matters of the world. Man, thorough his reason, can determine what the natural laws are and then can live within them to attain utter happiness.

“Any one reflecting upon the thought he has of the delight, which any present or absent thing is apt to produce in him, has the idea we call love.”

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
-denied the provable existence of God through propositions
-God cannot be known because all knowledge of God is based upon symbolism and analogy
-denied the existence of general revelation for it relies upon a rational interpretation of the world and thus is rooted in man’s interpretation rather than the world itself

“All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
-Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883)
-In the work he declared that “God is Dead”
– When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that God is dead!” . . .
-He also questioned the validity of religion (and metaphysics)

“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values.”

Michael Foucault (1926-1984)
-denied the validity of the “thinking self”
-the multiplicity and utter uniqueness of each individual violates the idea of a universal “human nature” shared by every individual
-self and identity are individual constructs used to shape our reality
-Knowledge is a struggle for power
-Truth does not exist- it is a fabrication aimed at consolidating the power which accompanies knowledge
-Knowledge, ultimately, is violence

“As the archeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end.”
(Key to Tolle’s philosophy of man’s evolution to a spiritual being)

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
-all language is symbolic (of objects which themselves are symbolic of the multiplicity of forms of that object)
-all language uses signifiers (words) to express ideas (source of meaning)- thus a separation exists between the meaning and the vehicle which is supposed to carry it
-meaning is based not upon what an object is, but what it isn’t

“No one gets angry at a mathematician or a physicist whom he or she doesn’t understand, or at someone who speaks a foreign language, but rather at someone who tampers with your own language. ”

“I became the stage for the great argument between Nietzsche and Rousseau. I was the extra ready to take on all the roles. ”

Derrida sets the stage for Tolle’s lengthy oration on labels, which I find both interesting and applicable. Most of the teaching in “A New Earth” most closely resembles Bramin caste Hinduism with an emphasis on clairvoyance. Tolle’s philosophy is far from the “reason over faith” proponent’s above. “A New Earth” moves on to a purely metaphysical existence through an evolutionary leap of inner consciousness. Future posts will focus on my observations of Tolle’s specific teachings. The intention here is to add Tolle to the philosophic chronology.

Eckhart Tolle (1948 – )
– Humans are on the edge of an evolutionary leap that will transcend physical boundaries
– There is no tangible difference between the divine and the human
– All matter is life form – mineral, vegetable, animal and human
– You are God!

“Any life-form in any realm – mineral, vegetable, animal or human – can be said to undergo ‘enlightenment’.” (page 3)

“Can human beings lose the density of their conditioned mind structures and become like crystals or precious stones, so to speak, transparent to the light of consciousness?” (page 5)

A new heaven is the emergence of a transformed state of human consciousness, and a new earth is it’s reflection in the physical realm.” (page 23)

“The ultimate truth of who you are is not I am this or I am that, but I Am.” (page 57)

It is out there. Just as bold as Nietzsche proclaiming God is dead, Tolle teaches you are God.

Solomon goes on to say

What I’ve finally concluded is that so-called wisdom and knowledge are mindless and witless – nothing but spitting into the wind. Much learning earns you much trouble. The more you know, the more you hurt. (Ecclesiastes 1:17-18 The Message)

And Jesus said . . .

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:6 NASB95)

 

Oprah Winfrey’s latest overnight success is Eckhart Tolle. Tolle is a contemporary spiritual teacher and the author of the record setting bestseller “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” Almost four million copies of the manifesto have been sold on Amazon alone, following its celebrated adoption into the Oprah Book Club. Two million seekers from all over the globe login each Monday night for a ninety minute webinar featuring Tolle and Winfrey (mostly Winfrey) discussing, and attempting to clarify, the books principles of awakening to a new state of inner consciousness – Heaven.

I have read the book. I am not basing my opinions on You Tube video clips. I have also endured the first four Monday night webinars. My exposure to Tolle’s teachings is not inappreciable. This series of blogs will be difficult for me because it is against my philosophy as a Christ follower to spend any time at all ranting about what I am against. It happens, and it is inevitable in this case, but I’d much rather tell you what I love about Jesus. That said, I believe this book and the substantial attention it is garnering is a stunning indictment of the western church. Tolle’s success would not be probable if humanity’s pain had a vibrant, culturally relevant, loving healer in the western church.

Has the state of western Christianity become so compromised that fringe ideologies can not only profit the promoter, but sweep through the field of shallow believers like a wildfire? Before I point out the speck in someone else’s eye, I want to examine the plank in my own. We have finally reached the point where the living organism that is the True Church has been all but replaced in western culture with a behavioral management institution with the same moniker. The environment created by this epidemic of hypocrisy has left three distinct types of people in need of intensive care.

First there are the purveyors of moralism. They are the modern day Pharisees. They usually have considerable Bible knowledge and hold important titles in the institution. They work hard and everyone is well aware of their works. They are quick to inform you of the infirmities of our society. They see the message of the cross as a behavior management program. They have put a stern, judgmental face on the church.

Next are the shallow believers, hurting souls who turned to the institution for help managing their behavior. The early, emotional success has passed and they don’t want to admit that they have failed at the Pharisee’s system. They don’t have a craving for the things of God like prayer, reading Scripture, and loving their neighbor. They wouldn’t have time anyway; they are too busy keeping track of their trespasses and sins. They put a confused, defeated face on the church.

Last is the hurting soul who has no relationship with Jesus Christ. His pain is real. His longing to fill the spiritual emptiness he was born with is overwhelming. The world is closing in on him and he turns and looks into the face of the church, where he sees judgment, confusion and defeat. A quest is born. Where will he go now?

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron
(1 Timothy 4:1-2 NASB95)