The Real Purpose of the First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This is the first part of the First Amendment, the part that deals with religious liberty. People often misunderstand its intent, and thus misuse it in public discourse.

The purpose of the amendment is to limit the power of Congress. Congress can make no law that establishes any religious tradition as a federal church, nor can it prohibit people from the free exercise of their faith. That is all.

The amendment does not limit the freedom of churches, nor the freedom of individuals. This has become a relevant issue since three days ago, Peter Manseau, writing in the New York Times editorial section made this claim: “Viewed strictly in terms of sequence, the First Amendement’s ‘first freedom’ might be seen as freedom from rather than freedom of religion.” He then proceeds to offer the historical litany regarding people like Patrick Henry, who wished for state support of churches, of all churches that is, and shows that Madison and Jefferson and others rejected that. Just so. And as a Baptist I am glad they did reject Henry’s proposal. Others have argued for other freedoms as “First Freedom,” with FDR believing it to be freedom of speech and the NRA believing it to be the Second Amendment, since only the right to bear arms protects the other amendments in the Bill of Rights being taken away from us.

We all have our opinions, but my main problem with Manseau’s article is not really with the debate over First Freedom, but with his comment quoted above. The First Amendment has nothing to do with freedom from religion, any more than it has to do with limitations on churches or citizens, but with the limitation placed on Congress with regard to religion. Congress can neither enforce a federal church upon Americans, nor can it rob people of their right to express their religion in any way they choose, or in no way at all. The problem with people like Manseau has to do with their failure to interpret history on its own terms, trying instead to enforce a twenty-first century secular mindset on people who did not share their presuppositions. History has to be read on its own terms.

Chad Owen Brand

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I Am Responsible

A few days ago, President Obama said that he was responsible for the Benghazi situation. It is one thing to say, “I am responsible.” It is another to spell out that responsibility, the kind of specificity that has been lacking for four years.

The president has said over and over again, “We will do a full investigation. When we discover just what happened, we will tell you.” We appreciate that. Of course, the Senate hearings do not start until November 15, nine days after the election. Not much chance that will affect the way the election goes, but would anyone expect less from Harry Reid? “Less,” not “more” is all one can expect from the charismatic senator from Nevada.

But here is what needs no investigation: What Obama did and did not do on the afternoon and evening of September 11. All he needs to do is to say what he himself did. Did he deny requests for additional security for the Benghazi compound? Did he deny requests for real time assistance when Americans were under attack? No investigation would be needed to answer those questions. So, what is it, President Obama? Or are you going to seal the records of what you yourself did?

What commander in chief has ever denied assistance to Americans under fire? Panetta’s response that they did not know the situation well enough smacks of cowardice. This is becoming one of the most shameful moments in all of American history. It does not have to be this way.

Chad Owen Brand

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Clash of Titans: Atlas Shrugged, John Galt, and Jesus Christ

Tom Pratt and I have written a new Kindle book analyzing Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged from a Christian perspective. Rand was an atheist, but she was also a realist about politics and economics, and her views deserve a hearing in light of the drift toward Socialism in America today. We present an analysis that shows where she is right and where she is wrong. Check it out!

http://www.amazon.com/Clash-Titans-Shrugged-Christ-ebook/dp/B009L5QWL6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1349361229&sr=1-1&keywords=Chad+Brand+Atlas+Shrugged

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The Five Political Points of Calvinism

Here is an excerpt from my forthcoming book with Tom Pratt, Seeking the City.

One of the great questions that has been raised by historians is whether or not John Calvin’s views were the basis of later Republicanism, such as that which prevailed in the American experience in the 1770’s and 1780’s. The best answer seems to be that Jefferson and Madison worked out an approach to government that was consistent with some Calvinist ideals, especially in regards to human depravity and the need for limited government, but clearly not identical. Calvin favored the idea of decentralization in governance, an idea consistent with Jeffersonian politics. One scholar has argued that a synthetic reading of Calvin shows that he held to five principles—“fundamental law, natural rights, contract and consent of people, popular sovereignty, resistance to tyranny through responsible representatives”—what this interpreter calls the “five points of political Calvinism” that would later be a description of Republicanism in essence. But he would likely not have favored the exact system we now have in the United States. As one historian has put it, “Modern Democracy is the child of the Reformation, not of the Reformers.” Modern Republicanism is a sort of working out of the basic ideas that come from the Reformation, but it is not found in the Reformers’ teachings explicitly.

Chad Owen Brand

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The Government Belongs to Us

“Government is the only thing that we all belong to. We have different churches, different clubs, but we’re together as a part of our city, or our county, or our state, and our nation.”

So said the host committee of the DNC in a video that was shown at the convention Tuesday.

I have one question. Did any of these people take a high school civics course? Or, maybe they did, and the problem lies with public education today. One thing I know, and that is that we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. There is nothing in that great address or in any of our founding documents that even hints at the idea that the government is something that we belong to. To the contrary, it belongs to us!

President Obama has been saying for months that there are two clear visions for the country represented in this election and that they are diametrically opposed to each other. That is one thing that he has said that I agree with one hundred percent. On the one hand we have a political philosophy that says that the government can handle everything. It can own the automobile industry, it can regulate whole legitimate industries (like coal) right out of business, and it can (and should) take care of many (most) Americans from the cradle to the grave. It can tell us what to eat, what size sodas we can buy, how much corn (ethanol) we have to put in our gas tanks, and what size of cars we should purchase.

Just think of the Julia video produced by the Obama Administration. Julia was helped or completely supported by the federal government at every stage of her life. In 2011 100 million Americans received monthly cash payments from the federal government. That is 100 million! Nearly two-thirds of the US population. The total amount payed out to them was $987 billion dollars. That was almost equal to the total deficit for the year. Now some of those are legitimate. But 100 million? Is that what this nation was built on? Is that what the Puritans came to America for, so that their descendants could find a way to live off of the rest of Americans for a substantial portion of their lives? I don’t think so. Yet the Obama Administration is constantly running ads to see if there are any other Americans out there that we can give money to. Nearly 50 million Americans are on SNAP (food stamps). And Washington is trying to find more people to give them to.

Then there is the other philosophy. It says that people need to find their own way. They need to recognize that God has placed us in a world of wealth, wealth that lies beneath our feet, in the natural world around us, but even more, in the resourcefulness of our own imaginations. Find a way. You can find a way, most of you. Of course there ought to be programs for the truly infirm, for the elderly who have paid in to Social Security and Medicare, and there are ought to be temporary help for those who have the misfortune to lose a job, or who have had some other setback. But other assistance has to be predicated on the willingness of people to find work and to be productive. Bill Clinton worked with a Republican Congress to pass such legislation and the numbers of people on welfare plummeted. But now Obama has repealed that by executive fiat. And I don’t care that Clinton denied that in his convention speech. There is a reason he is known as Slick Willie and there is a reason he lost his license to practice law after he perjured himself in the Lewinsky proceedings. Obama’s policies spell an end to America as a world leader and a country nearly everyone wants to come to. If we keep following his policies, we may no longer have to hold a debate over illegal immigration; it may take care of itself.

There are two visions for America, that is right. Tom Sowell articulated this very issue when he pointed out the difference between the Constrained Vision and the Unconstrained Vision. The Constrained Vision says we can’t do everything, and government ought not to do everything. The Unconstrained Vision says that government ought fundamentally to remake society in the image of someone’s idea of a “just society.” That has been tried. Think of the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution under Mao. Those men (Robespierre, Lenin, Mao) had unconstrained visions of what they wanted their society to be. Contrast that with the American Revolution. Those men (Jefferson, Washington, Madison) called for freedom from tyranny, and for a society that was based on the liberty of the individual. I know, it was only a freedom of white men, but we have corrected that myopia with a Civil War, a suffrage movement, and a passionate push for civil rights. And that very fact shows that the Constrained Vision represented by the American founders was adaptable to adjustment to eliminate any unjustness still in the system. How is that adaptability working for the French or the Soviets these days?

“Government is the only thing that we all belong to.”  Really?  After four years of planning a convention, that is the message you want to send?  What is next?  Sieg Heil?

There are two visions for America. One could very well lead us to tyranny; it will certainly lead us to impoverishment and decline. The other one still holds out hope–unless we have to wait to long to see it implemented again.

Chad Owen Brand

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A Labor Day Theology of Work, and a Slight Historical Revision

This is Labor Day, a day in which we, uh, do no labor (except writing this blog). I have recently written two books that deal with, among other things, a theology of work. One is by Tom Pratt and me, Seeking the City: Christian Faith and Political Economy, A Biblical, Theological, Historical Study. This book will be out in early 2013 from Kregel, and a portion of it will appear as an ebook this Fall under the title, Awaiting the City. The other book is a shorter analysis that deals with political economy in the Baptist tradition (title not yet set), and will be published by the Acton Institute, available in November. In celebration of Labor Day, I want to distill a few ideas from my research on the theology of work, and make a slight correction to a post I published last week.

The Bible presents a thoroughgoing theology of work. Adam was given work to do before he fell into sin. He was told to name the creatures in the world and to exercise dominion over the world, to subdue it! “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it” (Gen. 2:15, NIV). Work is not simply a task for those in a fallen world, though now, because of the Fall, we earn our bread by the “sweat of our brow” (Gen. 3:17-19). In the post-Fallen condition men began to work with tools of bronze and iron, and often used such implements to oppress and kill others (Gen. 4:19-24). Jacob went to work for his uncle Laban, who cheated him on his wages, while Jacob himself returned the favor, extorting from his uncle’s herds (Gen. 30). Proverbs teaches that “The wages of the righteous bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment” (Prov. 10:16).

In the NT Jesus showed the value of work by himself being “The Carpenter” (Mark 6:3). In addition, in his many parables he often taught about the Kingdom of God by depicting people working as laborers. In the NT epistles Paul instructed the Thessalonians to be hard-working people. He makes clear that generosity toward the truly needy is important, but if able-bodied men will not work, they should not be given church welfare. “If anyone won’t work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). This is so that lazy and unproductive people will not be encouraged to “walk in a disorderly manner” (2 Thess. 3:11). When you work, whatever the work is (even the work of slaves), you should do it “unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23). To slaves he wrote that they should obey their masters “like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart” (Eph. 6:3-4). He then enjoins masters to treat their slaves in a just and honorable manner, remembering that “he who is their master and yours is in heaven” and that he sees both masters and slaves in the same way (Eph. 6:4; Philem. 16).

When we turn to the history of the church, we find a robust theology of work. Even monks, who departed from normal life to be secluded unto God, worked with their hands, making the Benedictine monasteries some of the wealthiest institutions in Europe in the Middle Ages. (And that brought its own problems to the monastic movement.) As sociologist Rodney Stark has noted, Catholic monks invented capitalism! One Hungarian monastery in the eighth century had 250,000 acres under plow. Some bred horses and even went into banking.

John Calvin gives us one of the most complete accounts of a theology of work, though we can only touch on the high points here. Building on Luther’s idea that all persons have a calling–not just the clergy–Calvin, who had been brought to Geneva to help reform the churches of that city, taught that all men must work. (Women already worked extremely hard at keeping their homes in that pre-industrialized setting.) Only the very infirm or the very old were exempted. There were no long-term handouts, except for a hand out of town for the lazy! Those who needed training for new employment got it. The very poor who showed up as refugees got temporary assistance from the churches, but no long-term “welfare” was available. And the “successful” were not taxed by the city for redistribution to the “unfortunate.”  The Geneva Reformer integrated his doctrine of sin into his theology of work, in reference both to workers and employers.  Workers should not be paid until a job was completed, so that they would not be slackers; employers must pay the agreed-upon wage, or be barred from the Lord’s Supper.  Calvin believed that God had created a world filled with wealth and that people needed to find a way to make that world work for them.

The heirs to Calvin’s theology were the Puritans, especially the ones who came to America. In America they would find no impediments to entrepreneurship such as existed back in England. There, trade guilds, the unavailability of cheap land, and governmental restrictions in England (and Europe) kept people in the same class of social standing from generation to generation, with virtually no possibility of upward mobility. In America things would be different. New England seemed the least likely place to carve out new financial empires since it was nothing like the fertile Chesapeake Bay area where tobacco and other cash crops could be grown. But New England quickly outstripped Virginia in productivity due to the theology of the Puritans that legitimized hard work, making money, and raising large families. For them, work was one of the means to fulfill one’s calling (and all kinds of work, at that), not simply an act of necessary drudgery.

Over the next three centuries America would become the shining city on a hill in terms of productivity. In 1776, the same year as the Declaration of Independence, a Scot named Adam Smith would publish The Wealth of Nations, the first book in human history that addressed what consumed the majority of most people’s waking hours–making a living. Smith argued that the wealth of a nation consisted not in how much gold it had in its vaults, but in how productive its people were. He contended that the division of labor, the use of technology, and low government interference in the economy would make businesses far more productive and thus increase the wealth of any nation. America has proven him right–until now.

In our current situation government interference in the economy, coupled with massive amounts being spent on welfare programs threaten America’s productivity. Regulation, subsidies, and increased taxation on businesses over the last three Presidential administrations have caused a remarkable slowdown in American productivity. According to the Heritage Foundation, 100 million Americans receive payments from the government that amounted to 987 billion dollars in 2011. Over 50 million families are on SNAP (food stamps).

What can change all of that? In part, a reexamination of the biblical theology of work. A new Administration would also help.

Food for thought this Labor Day.

Chad Owen Brand

PS Last week I posted a short piece on Martin Luther King, Jr. that contained what I have now discovered to be an error, and it is directly related to the subject of today’s blog. Here is the quote from my blog: “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” This was supposedly said by King at a rally in New York on March 10, 1968. But a question from my editor Stephen Grabill sent me scurrying to do more research. The quote is in several secondary works and is one of the most viral King quotes on the Internet, but an examination of the transcript of that speech demonstrates that the great man did say, “All labor has dignity,” but the rest of the statement is not in the transcript (not manuscript). On March 18 he said in another speech in Memphis, “”But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the purpose of building humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.” This illustrates, at the very least, that quotes floating around cyberspace even of great people like King can get distorted. But he is right–labor has dignity and worth!

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Martin Luther King and Baptist Flourishing

[The following is a brief excerpt from the forthcoming book on Baptists and Political Economy (still untitled) that I have written for the Acton Institute. The book will be available in November.]

One of the most influential Baptist ministers of the twentieth century was Martin Luther King, Jr. King was educated in the liberalizing (or neo-orthodox) theology that was prominent in the 1940s, studying under stellar scholars such as Reinhold Niebuhr. Though Niebuhr was no conservative, yet his mature theology took full account of human sin and the need for redemption, both personal and societal. King appreciated the Social Gospel theology of Rauschenbusch, but at the end of the day, rejected it. He believed that the idea that government and churches could somehow come together to improve the lot of humans was an illusion, and he likewise held out no hope, as Fosdick had, that some coalition of church, labor unions, and Progressive politics could solve the racial problems in this country.

King believed that a new generation was dawning. For him, the answer to the problem of racism lay in personal salvation and in appealing to the Christian consciousness of a nation by displaying the injustice of racism. His hope was that a younger generation of Americans would do better than their fathers had. In his 1963 Birmingham campaign he stated, “The purpose of . . . direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.” King was no Socialist, nor was he an advocate of Liberation Theology, nor did he ask for special treatment for blacks. He just wanted blacks to have the same opportunities as whites. In keeping with his Baptist heritage, he believed in the importance of work, writing, “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” King’s concern was that black people in America had been cut out of the “American Dream,” and he wanted them to have an equal opportunity as whites to the table of flourishing in this great country. He was not looking for handouts for blacks in America. His understanding of human sin was as profound as that found in Augustine or Calvin. King also rejected any kind of strategy of coercion. What anchored Martin Luther King more than anything else was not his liberal theological education, but his deep roots in Baptist piety and ecclesiology, and the spiritual conversion that he experienced one night when his home was attacked with his daughter inside. King’s approach to justice was color-blind, unlike some of his successors today (Jeremiah Wright and Jesse Jackson), it was not a plea for the Administrative State to come to the rescue. While some of us would find some fault in some of the positions he took, we applaud him as a man who stood for biblical principles and for the Baptist heritage in the courageous way that he fought racism and injustice. I, for one, was deeply moved when he was assassinated (I was thirteen), and see him as one of the heroes of the faith.

Chad Owen Brand

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Most Influential Books in My Life

I saw that another SBTS faculty member posted a list of spiritual classics. I have been often asked by students and church members about the books that have most influenced my life. I am going to do a Top Ten with some annotations, and then I will list some “honorable mention” books. Except for the first one, they are in no necessary order, and if I wrote this a year from now the list might change a little, but not much. So, here goes . . .

The Bible. I say this not to be “spiritual,” or as a necessary and perfunctory comment, but because it is true. Literally true. I learned from my mentor early on, “Read the Bible every day to find God’s will for your life and do it every time you find it.” I have tried to do that. My early reading was from the KJV, so many passages are etched in my memory from that “most influential book in the world,” as it has been called. But I have also read it through in many other translations. A friend once said in a sermon, “We ought to know the Bible so well that our blood runs bibline.” I agree with that, and with Schaeffer’s famous dictum that nothing can so change a person’s life like reading the Bible every day for fifty years.

Augustus Strong, Systematic Theology. This may come as a surprise, what with all the newer theologies out there: Garrett, Grudem, Erickson, and with some of the great older ones now available to us like Bavinck. But they say you always remember your first kiss, and this was my first Systematic. I read it through in a one-semester theology class I took when I was nineteen. I though I was going t die in the first hundred pages, but by the time I was in the last hundred I heard the voice of the Spirit whispering (no, it was not a revelation, DB), “This is for you.” I do not use it as a textbook–I get enough complaints about Erickson and the fine print in Strong is a little daunting. But it was the book that sank in the hook. It still rests within arm reach of my desk.

D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression. Some of my friends reading this are probably saying, “That makes sense.” I read this when I was twenty (a theme?), and it began a revolution in my understanding of sanctification. I spent my teen years immersed in Keswick Higher-Life teaching. I had read every book with titles like “Keys to the Deeper Life,” “Life on the Highest Plane,” and with key words in their titles life “victory,” “secret,” “path,” “overcoming,” and so on. Now those books are often helpful, and now in my later years I see how some of them were actually close to the mark–some of them. But Lloyd-Jones introduced me to the Puritans and to a Reformed spirituality that was closer to a biblical model than that of Watchman Nee or Hannah Whitall Smith. I will always be grateful to him for that and plan to tell him one day.

J. I. Packer, Knowing God. I read this in my early twenties and in many ways it drove home much of the good that “The Doctor” had begun. I have re-read it several times and have always found new refreshment in its pages. If I had a top-hundred list, both Packer and Lloyd-Jones would have multiple entries.

I. Howard Marshall, I Believe in the Historical Jesus. This one may seem surprising since it is no longer even in print. This book introduced me to how to employ the historical method in doing biblical and theological analysis, and how to do it right! That is a challenge, but it is necessary. (I think of Grant Wacker’s book on Augustus Strong entitled, Augustus Strong and the Dilemma of Historical Consciousness, also a good book, but not on my top ten list.) Marshall is not where we are on every thing, but he is always helpful, even when he is wrong.

Augustine, Confessions. I have read this little book many times, and its humble, self-deprecatory flavor has left a mark on my soul. If I were ever to write my memoirs (and no, honey, don’t worry), it would look something like this. Refreshing to hear a bishop of the church “confess” his sins, “confess” Christ, and “confess” this theology in such a way (even though his theology was to grow remarkably in the next several decades).

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I did not say these were all theology books, though this one might qualify. Next to the Bible, these writings have shaped me most. They gave me an appreciation for narrative, for the struggle between what is genuinely evil on the one hand and that which is good (even if tainted at times) on the other. I have read it thirty times (and no, just so you will know that I am not an idolater, I have read the Bible through many more times than that).

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is truly a monumental production. Here, biblical exegesis (and no, I do not agree with all of his exegesis), spiritual truths, pastoral advice, and theological wrangling are all wrapped together. You don’t have to be a “Calvinist” to like this (whatever your definition of that term might be). If nothing else, just read the first twenty pages and you will find your soul enriched.

John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress. One of the greatest sellers in history, Bunyan’s allegory also will enrapture your soul. Many characters from this remarkable book pepper my lectures and sermons. And don’t read the modern version! Take the trouble (and a dictionary) and read the original.

B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. I know this is old, I know that some of his arguments have been debated. But this was the book that nailed it down for me when I was struggling with biblical authority in my twenties. Few Americans write with such elegance–or such detail!

OK. There’s my Top Ten. Honorable mentions would go to Donald Bloesch, A Theology of Word and Spirit; Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers; A. Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes; Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom; John Warwick Montgomery, The Suicide of Christian Theology; Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism; J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism; C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (ask me some time); Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship; Carl Henry, Confessions of a Theologian; Isaac Asimov, Foundation (trilogy); Jules Verne, Mysterious Island; Richard Sibbes, A Bruised Reed; John Owen, Communion with God; Jonathan Edwards, The Freedom of the Will. That’s all the time I have since I have four grandkids upstairs. Send me your list. Let’s have coffee and talk about books.

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Mountain Madness

Here is a guest blog from my good friend, Tom Pratt, who lives in the Greater Denver area.

MOUNTAIN MADNESS

In the wake of yet another mass murder event in Colorado (Columbine High School well-remembered and the Chucky Cheese Pizza saga not so well and more recently the killings at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, curtailed by a female armed security person) some mile high city residents and others perhaps across the country wonder if there isn’t something about the thin air that brings on a “rocky mountain high” of somber proportions.
Buffalo Springfield was famous for reflecting on other violent events in the 60s with the refrain, “somethin’s happenin’ here; what it is ain’t exactly clear.” The popular culture regularly takes to the air waves and the internet to prove this adage with speculations and pop-religio-psycho-politico babble when these moments seem to transcend everyday life, even the presidential political campaign. Early on, ABC News (Brian Ross and George Stephanopolous on Good Morning America) attempted to tie Aurora shooter James Holmes to the Tea Party, making it clear that class is in short supply in the media (the Tea Party participant of the same name received death threats after the reportage by ABC). And apparently Michael Grunwald of Time Magazine wants there to be less. He’s penned an op ed entitled “Sometimes There’s Nothing Wrong With Politicizing a Tragedy,” in which he defends the idea that politicians ought to use this particular tragedy for their own political gain. He confesses to his readers, “I feel terrible about what happened in that movie theater, and I’m agnostic about gun control, but there is nothing wrong with politicizing tragedy.” Just think with Buffalo Springfield, “a thousand people in the street, singing songs and carrying signs; mostly say, hooray for our side.”
More sober cogitation comes from the academic community (sometimes) as the local newspaper reports:
“I think it’s a tough but valid question,” said Del Elliott, founding director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “These events are disturbing to me, but they look like an anomaly — terrible but within the realm of random events.” Elliott said that nationwide, Colorado is in the bottom third statistically for gun violence. “But the particular form of this violence — shooting with massive amounts of death — we do seem to have more of that,” he added.
Elliott noted that the state narrowly avoided a similar disaster in 2006, when law officers killed Duane Morrison, who had taken students hostage at Platte Canyon High School. One student, Emily Keyes, was killed by the gunman.
“I’ve heard arguments about the number of guns in Colorado and the perspective we have on them,” Elliott said. “But these events seem very carefully planned, so that the availability of guns is almost irrelevant. Anyone with that level of intent is going to find weapons, legally or illegally.”
Others entered the fray in Congress, the mayors of New York City and Boston, and the inevitable and redoubtable Jesse Jackson, to name just a few. Roger Ebert averred that this was an “insane” act, but that American gun laws are “insane” as well. Mr. Ebert lives in a city (Chicago) that is deemed “safe” from the legal possession of firearms by citizens, but has seen 27 murders by gunfire already this year, none perpetrated by people with legal permits. The twitter-sphere was alive with blame toward Rush Limbaugh, Mitt Romney, the Tea Party, and “conservatives” in general, but especially the National Rifle Association. One response to all this is an e-mail making the rounds that says, “After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it.”
More sober thoughts and actions have come from Christian people in the metropolitan Denver area, as prayer vigils and counseling ministries along with extraordinary pastoral care and concern are reaching out to victims and their families and friends and the thousands of others who are deeply troubled by this event. This is how the Christian church has “exploited” tragic situations from the first century on, sometimes at great risk to the lives of those who put themselves in harm’s way for the innocent (think here about ministries in the times of famine, plague, war, and natural disaster, and always in this generation the innocent life growing in a mother’s womb or wasting away in old age). This is a biblical “exploitation” that takes every tragedy as a reminder of the solemn paradox of life: Perfect health is the slowest possible rate at which one can die (see Wiley’s Dictionary in Hart’s B. C. comic strip).
“Somethin’” IS happening here! What it is is biblically clear. “There’s a man with a gun over there.” The Bible teaches we “better beware.” “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the LORD search the heart to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds’” (Jer. 17:9, 10). A brilliant young man enrolled (until he recently withdrew) in a prestigious neuroscience Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado somehow was not able to find his way through the labyrinthine quagmire that was his own mind and heart. In the end he blamed others for his own failures and took it out at random on dozens of innocent victims. The society did not “fail” him so as to be culpable for his sin. His parents did not turn him into a murderer. His classmates did not taunt him into the killings. He alone planned for months, acquired guns and ammunition and explosives to booby-trap his apartment. He alone equipped himself with “body armor” and gas mask. He alone propped open an unguarded exit door and entered a crowded theater to wreak mayhem. And he alone will face the courts and his own guilt in the months and years ahead. Meanwhile, the blame game will target whoever happens to come within range.
The Christian response to this is the ONLY redemptive one. For if this young man can be made to see himself as he is in the sight of a holy, righteous, and merciful God—a moral agent responsible in eternity for his own sins—he, like all sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone, may one day join those in heavenly chorus singing the praises of the Lamb slain for the enemies of God. Russell Moore recently reflected on the possibility (brought to his attention by Carl Henry several years ago) that someone sleeping off a DWI in a holding cell might be the next great evangelist to catch the ear of the world. How about a mass murderer? Or, a wife-beater? Or, a …? If we believe what the Bible teaches about our sinful hearts and our hateful deeds, then the “answer” to all the tragic massacres of history lies not in public policy but in personal conversion through the Holy Spirit made possible by the redeeming sacrifice of the Son of God, “who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Let us not “nullify the grace of God,” as Paul goes on to say (ESV) by supposing that political gambits and a hand-wringing societal guilt trip will suffice to somehow make right or ameliorate a terrible wrong. And, most of all, let not those of us who claim the assurance of eternal life for ourselves doubt that the same blood that covers our wicked hearts and deeds, even when we were “dead in sin,” can cleanse the heart of a mass killer to the glory of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Messiah!

Read more: In the wake of another mass shooting, a question: Why Colorado? – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/lifestyles/ci_21129878/wake-another-mass-shooting-question-why-colorado#ixzz21Lbs6qNQ
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A Theology of Vacation

This is not a blog about Vacation Bible School.  It is a Theology of Vacation.  That’s right!  You heard me.  Maybe you are thinking, “There’s no such thing as a theology of vacation.”  Well, now there is.  Tina and I just returned from five days out of town in Branson, MO, and other parts, and it occurred to me while away that I had never read anyone writing on this topic, so I thought I would put in my two cents.  You can decide whether or not to give me any change back.

In my ruminations I have come to see four elements in a theology of vacation.  The first has to do with the family component of a theology of vacation.  Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5) and to raise children in the nurture of the Lord and without exasperating them (Eph 6).  My wife puts up with a lot from me, with a very busy time during the months when school is on.  I have some very long days, since I teach late one night per week, and since a lot of my time (even at home) is taken up with remaining current on theological issues.  When school is out in the summer and over the Christmas/New Year break I am usually engaged in research and writing (I will have three new books published in the next 6-to-8 months, and have been involved one way or another in the publication of fourteen or fifteen in the past ten years).  I am usually serving as a pastor/interim pastor, which means time spent preparing on Saturdays and usually late nights on Wednesdays.  Even when I am home, I am not “home,” but often have my head engaged in some kind of project (like this blog).  Part of my stewardship as a husband and father/grandfather is to give myself to and for my family, and that means sustained times of doing nothing but being with and doing things with them.  I read about a man who read his father’s diary after the older man died.  One entry said, “Just went fishing with my son.  Wasted day.”  How terrible!  I need to give my wife a couple of weeks a year just to “vacate,” along with shorter amounts of time with my children and grandchildren.  You don’t stop being a dad (or a mom) just because your children grow up, move away, and become parents themselves.

Secondly, there is stewardship of your soul component of a theology of vacation.  It is good to work hard, and in two of my forthcoming books (one of them written with Tom Pratt) I explore the theology of work.  If there is a theology of work, there is also a theology of breaking from work for a time.  The Bible speaks much about the Sabbath.  Pastors often do not experience the Sabbath (Sunday for us) in the way others do, and there needs to be those times when we, literally, take a break.  It is necessary to disengage from work so that, when we return, we can re-engage with freshness and vigor.  (I do have to confess to spending an hour writing last week while in a hotel.)  Our soul needs that.

Thirdly, there is a creation theology component to a theology of vacation.  We know God made the world, but there are parts of it that we do not use except when on vacation, unless you work at a resort, I suppose.  It really does not matter where you go: New York City, Hawaii, or in our case, the “Baptist Las Vegas” in southwestern Missouri.  ( I discovered that there were some Presbyterians there, as well!)  You have to get your head out of the books, off of the spread sheet, and away from the other duties that consume so much of our energy in labor, and really appreciate the beautiful world that God has given us.  Wordsworth said, “The world is too much with us, late and soon; Getting and spending we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.”  Now, I am not advocating some return to Romanticism, and my next quote will not come from Jack Kerouac, but there is something to be said for just lying on a beach for a few hours or going on a nature hike.  Appreciate parts of God’s handiwork that you do not normally enjoy.

Finally, there is the worship element of a theology of vacation.  ”The heavens tell of the glory of God” (Ps 19:1).  There are elements of worship that often do not occur to us when we are at home or even in our home church that do come to us in vacation.  Yeah, I know, that husband absent from church every Sunday in the summer tells you that he can worship God in his bass boat just as well as at church, but we also know that the only prayers offered in that boat are for “a big one on this cast.”  But the other night, standing on the upper deck of a paddle boat (ship!) on a dinner cruise, we were treated to a moonrise over the Ozarks that made we think what a great God we serve.  I would never have seen that moonrise from my pulpit (but I will be back in it this Sunday!).  There are some worship moments best had when you are not watching your cell phone for the next text message from your boss or your secretary.

As we drove home Friday my wife and I both commented how tired we were, and we said the typical, “Now we need a vacation from the vacation” stuff.  But you know what?  You ought to be tired after a vacation.  You should be so exhausted that you can barely drag yourself in the door!  If you are not, then it was all about you, and not about the other people in your family you are supposed to be serving!  Which brings me back to my first point . . .

Chad Owen Brand

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