Keynote Addresses

Immortal Intimacy: Where, When, Who, Why & What of Heaven

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1991, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge and at the University of Denver.

Copyright ©1991. Ralph Blair, 311 E. 72nd St New York, New York 10021


Peggy Lee sings of going to “the greatest show on earth” when she was twelve years old. She remembers:

“There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.”

And she recalls that:

“As I sat there watching the marvellous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, ‘Is that all there is to the circus?’
Then I fell in love
With the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks down by the river
Or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
And then one day he went away
And I thought I’d die, but I didn’t.
And when I didn’t
I said to myself,
‘Is that all there is to love?’”

Have you ever thought like this? Remember your disappointment when the cartoon show flashed those three unwanted words: “That’s All, Folks!” Remember the emptiness late on Christmas Day, after all the presents had been opened and abandoned, and all the excitement that had raised expectations for weeks was gone? I’ve heard it for years in therapy: Is that all there is—to sex? to love? to career? to success? to rational living? to life? And if we don’t go deeper with such questions, we settle for superficial solutions. We sing along with Peggy Lee:

“Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing.
Let’s break out the booze
And have a ball,
If that’s all there is.”

She goes on:

“I know you must be saying to yourselves
If that’s the way she feels about it
Why doesn’t she just end it all.
Oh no. Not me.
I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment,
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you
When that final moment comes
And I’m breathing my last breath
I’ll be saying to myself
Is that all there is?”

Peggy Lee and The Preacher of Ecclesiastes agree: all is vanity. But one responds with calls to reverence God and the other calls for a ball and booze. But the ball ends. Lust doesn’t last. Does anything? Well, after the hangovers we still fear the futility of life we sought to escape. Said Malcolm Muggeridge: “It would be a terrible prospect, wouldn’t it, to just go on and on and on. Everything is bearable because we die.” Yet who wants to die? We die against our will. We may pretend it’s “death with dignity.” There’s a nice lie: Dignified death—“Cold Obstruction’s apathy!” [Byron]. Read more →

Empathways

by Ralph Blair

Empathways is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address at connECtions98 in the summer of 1998.


INTRODUCTION

“Can I see another’s woe, / And not be in sorrow, too? / Can I see another’s grief, / And not seek for kind relief?”

What William Blake here had in mind was empathy as we usually think of it—in connection with another person’s misfortune. But empathy can also connect with another person’s good fortune. In his prayer-poem, “The Celestial Surgeon,” Robert Louis Stevenson reproaches himself at the thought that “beams from happy human eyes / Have moved me not.”

Someone tells of a man who came by to meet his friend and saw her talking with a shabbily-dressed woman with a small child at her side. As he approached, he saw his friend give money to the stranger who then, with her child in tow, quickly moved on. When he reached his friend she told him that that little child had leukemia. He said: “Nonsense. That kid’s not sick. It’s a scam!” His friend said: “You mean that child doesn’t have leukemia?” “Of course not,” he insisted. “Oh,” she replied, “That’s a relief!”’

Who do you think was practicing empathy here? The woman who gave money to that mother or the man who said the mother was lying? Maybe both? Maybe both. You might be as surprised about that as you were with the woman’s expression of relief. We’re going to think about empathy so we might do empathy better.

Some people insist on distinguishing empathy from sympathy. These purists want us to say we empathize with people in the same boat and sympathize with people in a different boat. To them, “I feel your pain” is empathy but “I can imagine your pain” is sympathy. Fair enough. We don’t want to be so insensitive as to tell people we “know exactly” what they’re going through when we’ve never gone through exactly what they’re going through. But fussing over rigid distinctions might mean we’ll miss the boat on empathy—no matter what we call it. Besides, are we not all in the same boat? Some may be in First Class and some may be in steerage, but we’re all on the “Titanic.”

In addition to empathy as this ability to feel for or identify with another in his or her situation, there’s another dimension to empathy. The emphasis here is on accurate prediction. Empathy can be the ability to predict accurately the thinking, feeling and behavior of others.

Back when I was in grad school I studied a psychometric instrument called The Empathy Test. Its validity was established on the basis of how well car salesmen (they were all men in those days) could predict the difference between those who were serious about buying a car and those who dropped by only to take a ride. Obviously, an ability to predict which were serious buyers and which were not could save lots of time and money for the dealer. He didn’t want to be taken for a ride. Here, empathy wasn’t about warm fuzzies; it was about cold cash. So empathy isn’t just hand-holding. The better we are at empathic accuracy, the more successful we’ll be in all sorts of relationships with other people. Read more →

Anger!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is an expanded version of his address on anger at connECtion95, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge and Mills College, June and July, 1995.

©1995. Ralph Blair, 311 East 72nd Street, New York, New York 10021


INTRODUCTION

In a promo for New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center, cartoonist Howard Cruse depicts a gay guy asking his lesbian friend: “Where’s the meeting for people who’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore?” She consults the Center’s schedule and replies: “Hm—Depends on what night of the week it is.” Gay columnist Bruce Bawer rightly objects to the fact that “many gay leaders and commentators persist in encouraging us to celebrate rage.” Of course, lesbians and gay men are not the only people who are feeling angry these days.

According to the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Southern [Baptist] Seminary: “The whole Christian Right movement feeds off of a ‘theology of resentment.’“ [Ken Chafin] A prominent evangelical journalist reports that “Moods of … anger dominate the conservative evangelical subculture.” [Rodney Clapp] Evangelist Luis Palau warns: “I fear the Age of the Angry Evangelical is upon us. That we are getting to be an angry bunch isn’t merely a caricature created by the so-called ‘secular humanist media elite.’ Evangelicals are getting far too angry about far too many things, … we American evangelicals are now known nationally (and internationally) by our anger.”

And how did the angry evangelicals react to Palau’s concerns? Harping on the so-called “gay agenda,” one asked: “Has [Palau] never heard of prayers for God’s judgment on the wicked?” Said another: “Clinton is vile … Yes, I pray for our president … but most of those prayers are imprecatory.” A U.S. News poll finds that most people who say they hate President Clinton call themselves “born again” Christians. Just before last fall’s elections, the Capitol Hill Prayer Alert urged voters to pray down evil upon the Democrats on the group’s so-called Philistine List, “enemies of Christianity and/or biblical morality.” The prayer warriors were told: “Don’t hesitate to pray imprecatory Psalms over them!” This kind of “make-my-day religion” gives rise to placards proclaiming: “God hates fags” and “Thank God for AIDS,” the popularity of Frank Peretti’s novels of politico-spiritual warfare, the fundamentalist flavor of apocalyptic rhetoric in the self-styled militia movement, hateful messages on the Internet, and the increasing incidence of religiously-motivated hate crimes. Read more →

[The] Overcoming Outrage!

by Ralph Blair

[The] Overcoming Outrage is Dr. Ralph Blair’s keynote at the 2009 Evangelicals Concerned summer connECtions held at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at the Holiday Inn in Palm Springs, California.

[The] Overcoming Outrage © 2009 by Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)


Have you noticed any rampant outrage these days? Lots of people are “outraged.” That’s what they claim. They’re “OUTRAGED!”—in big, bold italic caps and punctuated by exclamation points with none of the expletives deleted. Are they merely vocabulary-challenged?

And folks try to enlist others in their outrage, hoping that a chorus of outrage outdoes outrage on one’s own.

But is it all a bit overdone? Is it prompting only exasperated eyeball-rolls of, “Puh-leeze!” and angry shout-backs of, “Well, we’re outraged at your outrage! So there!”

Some outrage is sheathed in some seeming civility, but it’s still a seething resentment and passive aggression.

Outrage is over-the-top anger. When, as it feels, we’re attacked by unwanted emotions—say, fear, hurt, frustration, irritation—we try to get on top of the feelings by venting outrage as “righteous” indignation.

Outrage can be spontaneous—as in losing our temper. But lots of outrage is strictly for show—as in temper-tantrums.

And have you noticed that most of us are what so many are outraged at, i.e., LGBTs and Christians? And if we’re both, we get outrage from both. When we get outrage from them, do we get outraged at them? If so, do we get more outraged at the Christians or at the LGBTs?

Do we get outraged at ourselves? Google’s count is 17 million results for “outrage” but only 117 for “outrage at ourselves”—an unfortunate ratio. It can be useful to be outraged at ourselves since we can get our hands on it and maybe do something about it. We can’t get our hands on other’s outrage, though we might be tempted to get our hands around their necks. But that should remind us of our own outrageousness and turn us from griping to getting a grip. And, getting rid of our outrage might preempt outrage against us. But waiting for others to get over themselves is frustrating, even futile. Getting over ourselves instead of having to wait around for them to get over themselves is efficient.

And whether we’re outraged at others, or others are outraged at us, or we’re outraged at ourselves, a sober perspective can help. Read more →

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

The 2016 Evangelicals Concerned

Ocean Grove Preaching Festival

Columbus Day Weekend

October 7-9, 2016

“Five Centuries of Reformation Proclamation”

“1516, 1616, 1716, 1816, 1916”

John Foxe   John Owen   John Berridge   Francis Asbury   J. C. Ryle   Eugenia Price

 Including Three Sermons by Dr. Ralph Blair
“Our Sufficiency in The All-Sufficient One”, “Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us” and “Participating in His Providence”

Dr. Ralph Blair, Speaker

(PDF version here)

Next year is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On the last day of October, 1517, a 33-year-old Wittenberg University theologian, Martin Luther, took his courageous public stand for the Gospel. He posted ninety-five arguments against what he contended were Rome’s unbiblical teachings, such as the papal “indulgences” that he saw as simply scams for enriching the church hierarcy through fiancial payments for the forgiveness of sin. He argued that these shameful shakedowns mocked our “treasury of merit” in Christ alone.

Having long agonized over his own sins, and having finally found full relief in God’s unmerited mercy in Christ, he committed himself to confront the ecclesiastical establishment and comfort the ecclesiastically exploited.

In his liberating discovery of God’s grace in Christ alone, clearly revealed in the Bible, he was moved to provoke a return to the Christian witness of the early apostles and to move that witness forward into the future.

As we look forward to the Luther Quintcentenary in 2017, we pause here in 2016, to gratefully reflect on that 16th-century revival’s fruit in continued preaching of God’s Good News through each generation since Luther’s day.

Tonight, we’ll glimpse the ministries of six faithful Christians whose work sprang from the influence of that historically biblical Reformation. These faithful Christians were born or died in 1516, 1616, 1716, 1816 or 1916.

 

John Foxe (1516 – April 18, 1587)

In Germany, in the year before Luther posted his call for Gospel purity, there was a call for purity of another staple on Luther’s table. He’d quipped: “Whoever drinks beer is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, doesn’t sin; whoever doesn’t sin, enters Heaven! So, let’s drink beer!” Germany’s Beer Purity Law, Das Reinheitsgebot was adopted in 1516. It became the world’s longest lasting food quality control for more than four and a half centuries – until 1987, when it was ditched by some bureaucrats in the European Union.

Over in England in that same year of 1516, a boy named John Foxe was born. It was the year that England’s Master of the Posts, predecessor of the Royal Mail, was set up and the year that Thomas More finished Utopia, his fictional “nowhere”, so often mistaken as a “good place”. Over at Basel, Erasmus was publishing his Greek New Testament, Hieronymus Bosch, the artist of intoxicating triptychs, died, and the cleric and cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced the latest of his world maps. His 1507 version had depicted a newly discovered continent that he designated, Americi.

In Venice, Jews were being forced to reside inside a district called the “Venetian Ghetto”, ever after lending its name to all restrained residential neighborhoods. The Ottoman Empire declared war on other Muslims in Egypt and Syria and defeated the Muslim owned slave-soldiers of Gaza.

Luther died when Foxe was 30 years old, so, Foxe’s more immediate contemporaries among the Protestant Reformers were really Calvin, Beza and Bullinger.

We honor Foxe for his life’s consuming work, Actes and Monuments. It’s a multivolume history of centuries of persecuted Christians. First published in Latin at Basel in 1554, and reprinted for centuries since, it’s known today as, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. For many years, among the poor, it was the one book they owned besides the Bible. A century later, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress would become the third volume in those little libraries.   Read more →

Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us

“Affirming The All-Merciful’s Affirmation of Us”

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version here)

Along with Philippians 4:13, Tim Tebow’s favored eyeblack is John 3:16, the second most tweeted Bible verse and the most searched verse at BibleGateway.com.

On Sunday, January 8, 2012, in the NFL AFC playoff game in Denver, Tebow led the Broncos to an overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He did it with an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime. Time magazine said it “left the Steelers and the watching world simply stunned”.  But the reporter could not resist labeling this “out” Christian quarterback, “polarizing”.  Of course, had Tebow been an “out” gay player, “polarizing” would not have been the politically correct adjective.

Tebow had set an NFL playoff record by throwing three hundred sixteen yards, 31.6 yards per completion.  316?  31.6? John 3:16! And wait, there’s more!  The CBS rating peaked at 31.6.  31.6? John 3:16! Wait, there’s more!  CNN noted that Tebow had “John 3:16” painted under his eyes when, three years to the day before this Denver play, he led the Florida Gators to their national championship.

Well, Bible numerologists were off and running. And alongside them, it’s not surprising that, the next day, Google Trends’ top three searches were: “John 3:16”, “Tebow” and “Tim Tebow”.

But, as you know, neither John nor any of the original writers of the Bible divided their texts into numbered verses.  These numbers were first inserted in 1551 by the meticulous printer, Robert Stephanus.  So, even Luther would have been stumped had he been asked to quote “John 3:16”.  He’d died five years before.  And, of course, “John 3:16” wouldn’t have rung a bell for John himself.  We shouldn’t read into strings of 3-1-6 what’s not in the text.

But, what’s been in John’s Gospel from the beginning, is so infinitely more significant than all the sports trivia and supposed numerical codes that get fussed over by folks with too much time on their hands, is this utterly earthshaking – indeed, Heaven’s shaking earth awake: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever trusts in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

No sentence in the whole Bible better sums up the basic message of the whole Bible than John 3:16.  The world has never received better news than this Good News encapsulated in the words of John 3:16.

Trivialized, even mocked, by those who may seem to have no clue as to its true meaning, but then, possibly may suspect something of its true meaning, they reject it with defensive fury.  Meanwhile, its eternal truth has been and is still received with eternal awe and eternal praise by all who know even a bit more than something of its amazing grace, even while in this world.

Popular black contemporary gospel singer Kirk Franklin has been apologizing to gay people for antigay attitudes in black churches.  He says: “More than anything, I’m trying to peel back those layers [that] keep people away from God and keep people away from experiencing the love of God and knowing God’s love as a father.  I’m trying through [my recent] album to erase the dogma and the ideology that gets in the way of the true essence of one of the most simplest things we could ever say to somebody: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.  Whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’.” Read more →

Participating in His Providence

“Participating in His Providence”

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.”  

Jeremiah 29:11

(PDF version here)

Each of the three top-tweeted Bible verses reveals that God initiates our relationship with Him and invites and empowers our response to Him.

Yesterday, we looked into our sufficiency in the all-sufficiency of God in Christ. (Phil 4:13)  We also looked into our affirming God’s affirmation of us in Christ. (John 3:16)  This morning we look into our participation in God’s providence, assured that His love in Christ reaches out to us, even from everlasting to everlasting.

In this morning’s text, Jeremiah the prophet conveys God’s providential words to Israelites in Babylonian captivity.  There’s good news: “ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  Well, it’s easy to see why folks today are so favorably disposed to use this text – without its context – and frame it to footnote all their fondest fantasies.

But there’s good reason Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet”.  He deeply experienced the pain of fellow Israelites in captivity for their sins.  And he suffered pain in their pushing back against his preaching the truth.  And, as far as it’s even humanly possible, he identified with and anguished over God’s grief over this wayward people.  Jeremiah’s head was so clogged with tears that he wished his eyes were great fountains to relieve such great grief.

As we attempt to look into this text from Jeremiah’s prophecy, we’d be wise to begin our thoughts on God’s providence by recalling the sage advice of John Owen: “There is and always was, much about God’s providential management of this world, that even the most improved reason of mere men cannot reach into.”

In attempting to look into God’s providence, humility is surely the only appropriate starting point. And humility is surely the only appropriate way to wend our way through such inquiry. Finally, humility is surely the only appropriate way to conclude our inquiry – humility under the everlasting sovereign grace of the God of all providence.

These words of caution are especially important if we’re stuck in a systematic theology of whatever stripe, for in such cramped and crowded quarters, we easily mistake that trap for the whole truth or fruit of the Spirit. Read more →

THY Kingdom Come”

“THY Kingdom Come”
by Dr. Ralph Blair
Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 2016, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains.

(PDF version here)


Have you noticed how “un-Presidential” presidential campaigns can get? Instead of what we might assume befits a wannabe president, we get mere precedent and more prestidigitation. Huh? Dirty card tricks of class, sex, gender, faith, ethnicity and race!

Political “establishments” are accused of offering “been there, done that” that doesn’t do it. So, there’s an opting for outliers as if they’re from a whole different realm. Dah!

But, whether “establishment” or “outlier”, voters fall for the idiocy of idolatry – worshipping at shrines of two ancient temptresses, Nostalgia and Fantasy. Nostalgia’s stuck in her delusions of the past, swamped as ever, in her historical illiteracy and self-serving selective recall. And habitually blindsided Fantasy, too, is stuck in her delusions – her expectations of all she blindly predicts and then projects, though it’s nothing but figments of her delusional daydreams or nightmares. So, whether wistful, wishful or worried, voters flock in lockstep, following in the faltering footsteps of Nostalgia or Fantasy, while getting hung up on politicians’ plans and promises.

Well, what else do most folks know to do? What is there to do, if politicians’ plans and promises are the only options? Indeed, these are the only options, if there’s insufficient or no awareness of the Hope that’s ours in the Reign of God, already here, with so much more on the way.

In Christ’s return to reign, Bob Dylan is mindful of what so many resist. As he puts it: “Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned. He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne when He returns.”

Keep this in mind. Before we conclude, we’ll return to this blessed Hope of Christ’s return to reign, while others are adrift, unanchored and awash in nostalgia and fantasy of mere political hope. In the prayer Jesus authorized for us, we petition: “Thy Kingdom come!” Bring Your Reign! And we have his assurance that we’re asking by his authority, and so, it will come to pass. (John 14:13) Read more →

ENTHUSIASM

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This booklet is based on material presented by Dr. Blair at the two 1997 summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned held in Pennsylvania and California.
Copyright 1997 Evangelicals Concerned, Inc.

INTRODUCTION

There’s way too much enthusiasm. And there’s also way too little. That’s because there’s enthusiasm and enthusiasm. So we’d better not be too quick to enthuse over just any enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is supposed to be enlivening, but much of it is rather short-lived. Remember these words? “Get other names at 100,000 or more, 50,000 or more… . Ready to start overnights right away.” That’s from the White House memo launching Bill Clinton’s bed and breakfast deal. The New York Times headlined: “His Enthusiasm is Made Clear in a Memo.” But his enthusiasm didn’t last. It was dashed by the press’s enthusiasm for scandal — real or imagined. But even the enthusiasm of self-righteous journalists can be sustained by any particular scandal for only so long. Here’s another Times headline of erstwhile enthusiasm: “Addition of Kemp Offers Strength to Dole, Foremost on Tax Policy and Enthusiasm.” The publisher of a talk-radio digest enthused: “For the first time, there’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm about Dole-Kemp.” He might just as well have said it was for the last time. The enthusiasm didn’t last.

So enthusiasm can be fleeting. It can also be forced and false. A British prime minister once said that “It’s unfortunate … that so few enthusiasts can be trusted to speak the truth.” [Arthur James Balfour] Is this a clue that much enthusiasm depends on something less than the truth, something not quite the fuller story? When a private Old South military school was forced by the Supreme Court to drop its long-standing “men only” policy, it wasn’t only feminists who voiced enthusiasm. The Citadel itself announced it would “enthusiastically accept” women. But soon after the school year began, two of the female cadets were set on fire.

Enthusiasm can run hot and cold. It can be contradictory and confusing. Andrew Sullivan says Newt Gingrich “burst[s] with messianic enthusiasm that alternately inspires and bewilders.” Some enthusiasm makes no sense and apparently doesn’t even have to make any sense. If those of us who aren’t lesbians can’t comprehend the baseballese that fans throw at us, we’re told we should just interject an occasional comment that’s “thoughtful, enthusiastic and content free.” [John Leo]

There’s enthusiasm that’s merely hype. A New Age learning center in New York City promises evenings with assorted gurus that will be “amazing … electrifying … explosive … exhilarating … sensational … extraordinary … and [as it’s stated repeatedly] much more!” Prospective students are promised “enhanced energy” and even “boundless energy, … incredible power” and even “unlimited power”—though I do notice that there will be only “limited seating” for the session on “unlimited power!” They’re told that they’ll learn “techniques to maximize spiritual quotient, … heighten psychic abilities … ignite inner potential … [and] learn how to achieve, have and do all [they] want and desire.” They’ll learn the “secrets of a detailed plan for meeting and marrying money” and they’ll even be shown “how to attract every man in a room” and become a “man-magnet!” Read more →

Paul Who?

Paul Who?

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion87, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned. The section on homosexuality was also presented at the 199th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1987.

(PDF version available here)


He was not the first Jew for Jesus. He would not be the last. But more than any other Jew or Gentile in nearly 2,000 years, and time and again, he has jolted his readers back to a Jesus that neither he nor they, by orthodox religious tradition or wild wishful thinking, were ever prepared to recognize.

A very few years after Jesus’ execution, he was offending fellow Pharisees with a shocking law-free proclamation of good news: Jesus’ death and resurrection opened God’s kingdom to everyone everywhere — without their having to become Jews or obey commandments in the Hebrew Bible. Some 15 years later, this rebel rabbi dictated a letter to faithing assemblies in Galatia. He warned them not to let legalistic religionist “trouble-makers” load them up with rules and rituals and thereby deprive them of their freedom in Jesus Christ.

Twenty centuries later and half a world away, the most powerful leader on earth was copying one of these sentences, inscribing it into a book already containing several of the rabbi’s letters.

The first century rabbi was Paul. The twentieth century leader was Ronald Reagan. The book? A Bible purchased by Ollie North and autographed in the Oval Office in October, 1986. It was intended for Iranian officials ruling ancient Persian territory some 900 miles east of where Paul’s Galatians had lived. The inscription was this: “And the Scripture, farseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blest in you.'” It isn’t clear why the President chose these words to bless the secret sale of weapons from what they call “the Great Satan” to what he called “loony tunes” of an “international version of Murder Incorporated.” It’s been suggested that it was to confirm some sort of brotherhood between Moslems, Jews, and Christians. Church Lady would snap: “Well, isn’t that special.” It’s enigmatic how weapons meant to kill Iraqis (half way back to old Galatia) are expressions of the good news of God’s grace and peace, justification by faith, and blessings to all nations. Actually, maybe it wasn’t even meant to be read for it wasn’t in Persian or Kurdish or Farsi. This Bible was in English.

But we shouldn’t be too hard on the President for not quite getting Paul’s point, even in translation. After all, Paul’s contemporaries didn’t always get it. His own dear “foolish Galatians” were confused. And II Peter warns that Paul’s letters “contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort.” There have always been people who never take the trouble to understand. People who like what they say Paul says and people who hate what they say Paul says maybe don’t much know what Paul says. And maybe they don’t much want to know. They invent appalling pop Pauls. Such pseudo Pauls are anti-sex, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-everything someone might innocently value. It’s hard to believe that the earliest pop Paul was an “anything goes” antinomian. That would surprise Dudley Moore who fictionalized Paul writing: “Ah, dear Ephiscans, … stop enjoying yourself … stop having a good time, resign yourself not to have a picnic, cover yourself with ashes and start flailing yourselves.” Read more →

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