Culture


“The body is a temple, but the temple is in ruins. The incarnation of Jesus affirms the body’s original goodness. The death of Jesus reminds us of its need for redemption. And the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope for its restoration” (p. 31).

This is the paradox of the body according to Matthew Anderson in his first book Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith. From the curse of the fall in Genesis 3 the human body has been in decay. We live in a body of death both spiritually and physically. Adam brought death to our bodies in a way that God never intended at creation. But Christ has brought redemption to our bodies which began with His resurrection and will be completed when He returns (1 Cor. 15).

You would think that for a religion whose redeemer lived in a body which many at His time deemed to be evil (1 John), Christianity would have a lot more to say, at least positively, about the human body. We exist on this earth in our bodies and thus every function we perform is shaped by our bodies. And yet, much of the evangelical conversation (the little there is) about the body either misses the point, its target or is not shaped by the bodily incarnation of Jesus Christ, the bodies only hope of redemption. Anderson writes, “Whatever attitude evangelicals currently have toward the body, historical evangelicals aren’t as negative toward the body as we’re often told. The evangelical legacy with respect to the body seems to be more on of inattention than outright rejection or even a conscious ambivalence….evangelical attempts at understanding the body’s role in our spiritual lives seem to have been dominantly reactive rather than proactive” (p. 41). His charge to evangelicals to get more serious about a biblical discussion of the body is pointed:

If conservatives evangelicals want to offer careful, gospel-centered responses to these various ‘isms,’ then we must overcome our inattention to the body and engage these communities on this ground in distinctly evangelical ways. It is not enough just to show that how they think about human bodies is wrong. We must also show them a more excellent way of thinking about – and of living in – these human bodies. (p. 45-46)

Earthen Vessels is a mature, informed and gospel saturated exercise in thinking about the human body and the redemption Christ has brought to it. Anderson has his finger on the pulse of culture and how it has shaped the evangelical identity.

Reading Earthen Vessels will make you think you are reading the works of C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton (though Anderson would humbly deny this praise), who he quotes often. His maturity of though is beyond his age and one can only imagine how excellent of a writer he will be in the prime of his writing career.

Anderson is a writer, but as well, freely and vastly as he cites the works of theologians, sociologists, psychologists and the like, you would think he might have minored in each of these areas. The truth of the matter is, Anderson has done his homework and this book shows he has thought long and hard about the subject matter. There is no one or movement that is beyond is critique. He critiques various –ism movements as well as well-meaning evangelical leaders. His aim is not to destroy but to honestly evaluate what he believes to be misguided thinking on the part of popular leaders of our day. Of particular note is Anderson’s careful attention to the text of Scripture. For not being a theologian, his exegesis is on target and he delves deep into the historical background when necessary (see esp. chap. 6 on tattoos).

While there is much to commend to this book, what I find most impressive is how gospel saturated Anderson is in chapter after chapter. He states:

Evangelicals sometimes suffer from an anemic understanding of how the gospel shapes our lives. We alternate between playing the legalist card when people attempt to draw lines about how Christians should or should not act, and playing the libertine card when others sanction their immoral actions with the gospel. A Gospel-ethic, though, is a normative account of how our lives conform to the pattern of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that is discerned and freely enacted through the power of the Spirit’s indwelling presence. (p. 28-29)

Time and time again Anderson reaches back to Jesus and Scripture for the redemptive life they bring to our bodies. Earthen Vessels is not merely thoughts and observations on the body but it is an earnest call for Christians to view their bodies through the lens of Scripture and redemption in Christ and His resurrection rather than through the eyes of a dying world.

I highly recommend this book to anyone between the ages of 18-30 but everyone would do well to read it as an exercise in encouraging this generation of evangelical writers. This is the kind of book that you need to read, think about it and then go back and read it again. Earthen Vessels will make you think and will leave you amazed. I close with Anderson’s own words:

As long as we have bodies, we will remain in the world. But our calling is to discern the ways in which the structures and institutions that make our world are set up against the knowledge of God. The cross is the shape of a life that is in the world, but not of it. And when we know the power of the resurrection, we shall find ourselves wanting to participate in the sufferings of Christ, to manifest the same live that he poured out for us to a world that is desperate for hope and joy. (p. 230)

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In her recent contribution to CNN Belief Blog, Dannah Gresh discusses what all too many people want to ignore when it come to sex and our recent hook-up culture. There has been plenty of research to indicate that sex creates a unique bond between two people, especially for the female. This is why it is easier for men to have multiple partners and be disconnected emotionally from each one and why women cannot.

Gresh confronts the issue of the lasting effects of hooking up with various partners as a Christian and from a scientific standpoint. Whether you call it hooking up, casual sex, one night stands or friends with benefits, the idea of multiple partners is the underlying similarity and they all have the same lasting effects.

Of course I believe that we need to defend sex within marriage only and can do so from Scripture. But this is not the only line of argumentation we have to use nor should it be the only one. All truth is God’s truth. God both inspired the Bible and created our bodies to work in certain ways.

We can look at sex (along with many other issues) from a number of angles such as biblical, cultural and social, just to name a few. To just focus on the scientific is not an abandonment of what Scriptures say on the subject. Rather, it is a testimony to the fact that God designed our bodies to work a certain way when is comes to sex and this fits harmoniously with what Scripture says about it. A scientific understanding of sex and it’s effects on the human person is not an abandonment of the Bible’s understanding. Science is a way of discovering how God made things to work. It is a window into God’s creativity and it tells us something about God and how he made us.

To that end here are some pertinent remarks Gresh makes:

Holding hands, embracing, a gentle massage and, most powerfully, the act of sexual intercourse work together to create a cocktail of chemicals that records such experiences deep into the emotional center of your brain.

It’s why we remember sexual experiences and images so clearly.

The bottom line is that you get “addicted” and “bonded” to the people you have sex with, even if they are “just friends.”

Here’s where the hookup culture starts to be a problem. What happens if you get caught up in the friends-with-benefits-game and have multiple partners? What happens when the partners you’ve become addicted and bonded to are gone?

You experience withdrawal symptoms in the emotional center of the brain.

Young women, especially, are likely to spiral into a depression when the source of their addiction isn’t interested in another hookup.

Casual sex is happening. We shouldn’t ignore it. That’s especially true of the faith community. But when we talk about it, we should use science. There’s nothing biologically brief about a hookup.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Sword of the Lord publication was founded by John R. Rice and has been around for over 80 years. John R. Rice has been a staple name among fundamentalists as a result of his evangelistic preaching and proliferation of books and other various publications. Rice has a long family history stretching all the way back to before the Civil War. Rice moved among the great evangelists and fundamentalists of his day including Bob Jones Sr., William Bell Riley, Stephen Paine and J. Frank Norris.

Most, if not all, of the Rice family members followed the family tradition of ministry save one – Andrew Himes. Andrew is the self proclaimed black sheep of the Rice family. Though he grew up with his grandfather John R. Rice and the other Rice family members, Andrew left the family fold when he went to college in an effort to find what he felt he had never found in the God of his family.

Since the funeral of John r. Rice in 1980, Andrew has been on a thirty year journey “back” to God. In an effort to understand his family heritage better Himes began to dig deep. The result is his new book The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family. His digging took him all the way back to before the Civil War with the migration of the Scots-Irish immigrants during the early half of the 18th century. Himes felt that in order to better understand the fundamentalist roots of his family he had to go all the way back to the beginning. He states:

My intention is to explore the roots of Fundamentalism in America in a critical, thoughtful, and honest way, using the history of my own family of Baptist fundamentalists as a rich source of insight (p. v).

In the second part of the book Himes painstakingly documents minute details about the early American history of the Rice family. Throughout the book Himes beautifully weaves his own history in the Rice family with that of the entire Rice family. Reaching all the way back to the transition from the 16th to 17th century, Himes gives a short history of how the Rice family wove their way through some of the most major historical movements in American history and how they played a role in some of the most influential events that shaped the American religious, social and political landscape.

Historically, Himes points out that the Rice family came from what might have otherwise been thought of as an unlikely mix. He states:

The children of the English Puritans and the children of the Scots-Irish Presbyterians in the south found common ground in the struggle to create a new democratic republic and oppose a monarchy that was working at cross-purposes to the evident will of God. The roots of the 20th century American fundamentalism can be discerned in the confluence of these two streams of immigration, culture, and history. A unique American expression of evangelical Christianity emerged – profoundly democratic, anti-royalist and anti-clerical, militant and missional, convinced that Gods was on the side of Americans (p. 29).

Of particular interest to readers, especially contemporary self-identified Fundamentalist, is the deep seeded involvement of the Rice family (and pre-fundamentalists for that matter) in the slave trade of the 1700′s. The Rice family moved from anti-slavery Tennessee to Missouri in order to live out their pro-slavery mindset and theology (p. 37). Eventually by the late 1800′s it seems the Rice’s removed themselves from the slave trade only because of the results of the Civil War (p. 78). However, while the Rice family may have been out of the slave trade, the racism that supported it would follow them for years to come.

Part three of the book deals with the pre-history of the Fundamentalism and role the Rice family played in shaping it. Himes traces a number of theological factors that he feels played a role in founding and moving early Fundamentalism forward amidst the rise of modernism.

First, premilliennialism was the eschatological view that shaped the way fundamentalist Christians engaged within the cultural evils of their day. Himes labors to show how historically new premillennial eschatology was compared to more historically received views like amillennialism. Himes fells that this kind of eschatology necessarily downplays the involvement of Christians in and concern for societal and cultural reform. He states,

Darby’s followers assumed that any attempt to reform society according to Christian principles was both fruitless and heretical. They believed the Kingdom of Heaven to be a literal place where God reigned on a literal golden throne and where Christians went to live for eternity after death (p. 106).

Therefore, according to Himes, this new eschatological view turned Christians away from seeking to bring cultural renewal through the gospel to focusing primarily on the fate of one’s soul. Himes attempts to note what he might call a fair distinction among premillennialists in this regard:

For many premillennialists, God was both an angry God and a God of love, a God intolerant of sin and eager to forgive. They believed Christians should be concerned both with social reform on earth and the fate of one’s soul in the afterlife. For the most extreme premillennialists, however, no other problem on earth truly mattered compared to saving souls from a literal and eternal hell – not poverty, injustice, hunger, inequality, ignorance, disease, slavery or war (p. 108).

Another notable foundational shaping factor to early fundamentalism was the rise of modernism and theological liberalism. While the fruit of the 16th and 17th century scientific revolution had produced great economic, social and cultural progress, it also had effects on Christianity and the interpretation of the Bible. Himes feels that the higher critical method of interpretation was actually a “broadening” of Biblical understanding (p. 115). This higher critical method influenced many Christians who were “more willing to accept new ideas that had emerged” from it and “tended to be more politically progressive, more attuned to the ‘social gospel,’ and more intent on the message of social justice they discern in the teaching and life of Jesus (p. 117).”

Perhaps the event that had the most notable negative impact on Christianity at this time was the Scopes Money Trial of 1925. The unfortunate results of this trial had a devastating blow on conservative Christianity. Himes notes:

Over the next several years many in the fundamentalist movement in America embarked on a sorrowful and indignant, half-century-long retreat from public life. Within a few years after the death of William Jennings Bryan, the view among fundamentalists had become more consolidated (173).

Part four addresses the beginning of Fundamentalism. With all of the blows conservative Christianity was dealt, it is from this that Fundamentalism as a movement emerged. It is within Fundamentalism that the Rice family is most remembered. It is on the heels of the Scopes Monkey Trial that “John R. Rice began his full-time career as a revival evangelist in 1926 (p. 174).” It was from his first church in Dallas, Texas that Rice rose to fame and eight years later, in 1934, founded The Sword of the Lord publication. While Rice was close friends with J. Frank Norris, noted famous fundamentalist preacher of the Southern states, it was the success Rice received from his new publication that eventually drove them to part ways (p. 194).

Interestingly enough, in the early days of Rice and The Sword of the Lord publication, Rice was close friends and ministry partners with Billy Graham. Rice and Graham met each other in 1940 at Wheaton and Rice became Graham’s mentor (p. 202). Though these two men enjoyed great success together, they eventually were driven apart as Graham would later join forces with what was known as the ‘new evangelicals’ and men like Carl F. Henry and Harold Ockenga through Graham’s new publication Christianity Today (p. 229-30). Despite much pleading with Rice, Graham was unable to convince him to remain ministry partners. That Graham was a public figure, his separation from Rice dealt a devastating blow to Fundamentalism and Rice’s famous publication, The Sword of the Lord. The fall out resulted in the subscription of The Sword to plunge from 106,000 to 66,000 (p. 230). “Fundamentalists themselves were back in the wilderness (p. 230).”

Over time though, The Sword was able to regain their support and by 1970 they had over 130,000 subscribers (p. 257) and would later reach over 300,00 (p. 259). Rice was back in business. Despite fall out with Bob Jones Sr. (p. 260), Rice was able to make alliances with Jerry Falwell and became a shaping force behind the founding of the Moral Majority (p. 266).

At the end of Rice’s career he seemed to be torn over the mass separation that Fundamentalism had produced. During his last message in 1980, Rice preached from John 10:16 in which he reminded The Sword of the Lord conference listeners that Jesus had other sheep from other folds. Rice said,

The truth is there are a lot of other people who are God’s people and they’re my people too…..What about all those others, the people you don’t like very much? Do you love the people of God who don’t see things like you do? How about Billy Graham? I pray for him every day (p. 270).

As Himes has shown us, the Rice family has a long and deeply American history which touches some of America’s greatest political, social and religious aspects.

There are a few concluding thoughts I have on the book and Himes presentation of his family and Fundamentalism.

First, while some of the facts that Himes presents may not sit well with some ardent Fundamentalist supporters, they are true. They did own slaves and were supporters of segregation. No one is free of things they or their family has done and neither is Fundamentalism or the Rice family. Himes tries to bring both the bad and the good to light as it pertains to his family.

Second, while Rice does attempt to offer a balanced view of his family history, there is clearly a race agenda for Himes. In fact, the race issue appears in almost every chapter in the book. I assume that it would have been almost impossible for Himes not to do this because he was/is a strong defender of racial equality which began when he was 14 and has been a driving issue in his life (p. 40-41; 155-56). Himes fight for racial equality is definitely good but his families opposing view on it dominates his account of their history (p. 35-68; 156-62).

Third, while at times I was literally laughing at the descriptions of Fundamentalism as Himes experienced it (p. 8-15 – especially since much of it was true in my experience), at other times I was in total disagreement and even shocked at the inaccuracies. This inaccuracy is most clearly seen in the chapters called “Billy Sunday and the Premillennials” and “The Fundamentals“. In these two chapters Himes gives his summary of the modernist and conservative view of theology especially as it pertains to the doctrine of Scripture. Himes says,

The final list of canonical books was still being sharply disputed in the 16th century during the Reformation, and to this day Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox theologians disagree about the list. Most of the manuscripts that formed the basis of the Bible we have today date from the Middle Ages, and almost none of these were fully identical (p. 115).

That the books of the canon were still being “sharply disputed” during the Reformation is grossly exaggerated if not totally false. Sure, Luther thought the book of James was not inspired and other fringe groups/people disputed the authenticity of other books of the Bible. But the majority of the church recognized the 66 books of the Bible as inspired and authentic by the end of the 4th century as any Orthodox Church historian will attest to. There are other places within the pages of “The Fundamentals” that characteristics of both conservatives and liberals are inaccurately mixed and confused. In light of how well much of the research is done for most of the book this part is severely lacking. However, the way some things are worded causes me to think Himes has sympathies for modernists and liberals. Presenting facts is one thing, but how you present them can show your hand which I think is what Himes does.

Fourth, akin to Himes emphasis on the race issue, Himes greatly emphasizes the social involvement and non-involvement of the Rice family and Fundamentalism. Again, this coincides with Himes personal life journey of seeking to bring social reform where needed. Social reform is good but readers need to pay attention to Himes own life as a backdrop to how some of the Rice family history is presented.

Overall I enjoyed the book and learned a number of things about the Rice family, The Sword and Fundamentalism that I never knew. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of their Fundamentalist roots from one who both lived on the inside of the story but clearly writes as one on the outside looking in. This is not a primer on Fundamentalist history but rather a unique view on a unique family and movement from a genuinely unique person.

Thank you Andrew Himes for opening us to a part of Fundamentalist and American history that is perhaps sadly unknown to many within the movement and yet needs to be remembered and learned from.

You can purchase this book from Amazon or Himes site.

NOTE: This book was provided for free and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

I remember the first time I drove down the streets of Chicago. I was on a trip with the youth group I did a summer internship with. We drove a school bus and I had my window down. It was all I could do to keep my head in the window and my mouth shut. I was so stunned by the beauty and tall buildings that my mouth was hanging wide open. I kept saying, “Wow. Wow. Wow.”

I realize that cities have their downfalls such as being hotbeds for all kinds of sin. However, we cannot let what the world has done to culture, or to our cities, control our view of it. From Genesis 1:26-29 we see that God intended for cultural development to occur and that He commanded man to make it happen as part of his imaging God to the world.

Fast forward to Revelation 21:9-27 and the New Jerusalem. The picture we get here is simply stunning. Previously in verses 1-8 we see the return of heaven on earth. Then in verse 10 we see “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” But the text does not stop there. What comes next is a beautiful description, as best as John can convey it, of what this new city of Jerusalem is like – the city of all cities:

[11] having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. [12] It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—[13] on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. [14] And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
[15] And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. [16] The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. [17] He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. [18] The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. [19] The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, [20] the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. [21] And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.
But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Isn’t that just beautiful! But notice something else that people tend to miss. Jumping from Gen. 1 to Rev. 21 we go from a garden to a city. The next few verses tell us something about what is in this city:

[22] And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. [23] And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. [24] By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, [25] and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. [26] They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.

Verse 24 and 26 tell us that “the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” and “they will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” This bringing in of glory by kings and the nations happens after the renewal of all things. Culture has been renewed and the kings and nations will bring into the new city the glory of their work.

Cities are the pinnacle of cultural development and grandeur. For all of their faults, they will be renewed and their redeemed glory will enter the new city of Jerusalem.

I say all of this to show you the video below. I am not trying to interpret Rev. 21 literalistically or make exact one-to-one comparisons. What I do want to do is read Rev. 21 and look at our cities today and allow them to give us a hint at the future glory of what redeemed man will bring from his redeemed cities into the city – the new Jerusalem. There is something about our cities here and now that will be brought into the new city there and then – the new Jerusalem.