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This Month's Scripture Verse:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
2 Timothy 3:1-5


Friday, June 2, 2017

Is Conservative Christian Piety Poisoness?

The criticism springing up about political conservatives is that today's conservatives have made selfishness fashionable. Today's conservative selfishness is based on Ayn Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged. The basic ethic that Rand taught was the same ethic implied by Cain's rhetorical question to God when God inquired about Abel. Cain replied 'Am I my brother's keeper'? And in an interesting but unfortunate example of karma, the attitudes middle class conservatives were displaying toward the poor are now the same attitudes being exhibited by the upper class toward both the poor and the middle class.

Why should I mention that here? It is because the base of American conservatism and the Republican Party consist of evangelicals. And what follows the conjunction of conservative selfishness and evangelicals serving as conservatism's base is the possibility that evangelicals are deeply involved in this drive toward selfishness. And if evangelicals are so involved, then they are either following the lead of nonChristians and/or leading others in that pursuit of selfishness.

Some might reply with a 'So what'? People are selfish, why should evangelicals be any different? It is because selfishness is not part and parcel of the Christian life. In fact, it is the opposite of the Christian life if we are to imitate Jesus's love for us when caring for others. And quite often, we, and that includes myself, do not reflect the love God has shown to us in how we treat others.

Some conservative Christians I know will also respond to this concern about selfishness with a 'So what'? As long as we are less selfish than we would have been without being saved, what more can we expect? This is where the subject of our review comes into play. When we read the 2nd section of part two of Frederick Dale Bruner's book (click here for a bio), A Theology Of The Holy Spirit, we might find a more disturbing answer to many of us Christians (click here for a link to the book). On the personal side, this book is one of my all time favorite books. It helped clear up some questions I had about the theology employed by the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement. For I read this book during a time just after I had been involved in that movement and had graduated from Oral Roberts University.

In comparing the Pentecostal Movement with what Bruner calls the New Testament witness (this starts on page 225 of the book), he describes characteristics of the personal piety or spiritual life of many in that movement that would lead its followers to canonize some sort of spiritual selfishness. In this section of the book, Bruner talks about where the Spirit leads us according to the New Testament. It certainly leads us to faith in Christ. But it also leads us to becoming outward-oriented in loving others instead of  being inward-oriented in seeking ecstatic spiritual experiences and proving our spiritual selves by defeating personal sin so that we could merit such experiences. One of the most telling quotes regarding the relationship between this particular flavor of personal piety and a spiritual selfishness comes after showing the similarities between gnosticism and the spiritual side of the Pentacostal/Charismatic movement and is as follows (quote comes from page 275 of the book):
In all types of Gnosticism, the  highest goal of the spiritual life is the obtaining of divine substance for oneself. The Christian faith distinguishes itself from this seemingly devout but actually selfish piety by locating the focus of the Christian life not in accumulating spirituality or spirit for oneself, but more mundanely, in giving oneself to the neighbor.

This isn't to say that selfishness sums up the personality of some or all in the Pentecostal Movement. All that is being said here is that there is a kind of selfishness that might be coming from Christians being too inner-directed in their spiritual lives. And though those in the Pentecostal Movement have been targeted because of the subject of the the book being partially reviewed here, other Christians could receive the same judgment to the extent that their spiritual life revolves around proving their spirituality in order to obtain spiritual experiences or levels.

Certainly a thorough reading of this section of his book is necessary before trying to draw similarities between the selfishness of today's conservative movement and what Bruner saw in the piety described in Pentecostal writings, In fact, a thorough reading of this section of the book is necessary just to fact check the description given of the book in this blogpost. But the point remains that in Christianity, some kinds of spiritual journeys and and kinds of personal piety could be exercises in selfishness. And if that is the case, then we should examine whether we are contributing to the selfishness we see in the world around us in general and in conservative political policies in particular.


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