Writings by Dr. Blair

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 →

Evangelism: Proclaiming God’s Good News—with every bad -ism crossed out

Evangelism: Proclaiming God’s Good News—with every bad -ism crossed out

by Dr. Ralph Blair
This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1994, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Introduction

Have you ever seen the guy who goes to ball games with his John 3:16 sign? I’m sure that at least you lesbians have. You gay men may have been watching a different channel. The John 3:16 guy gets into trouble with sports stadium officials. When they say his evangelism violates “good taste / bad taste policy,” his lawyer gets a judge to say that the policy violates free speech rights. When the Cincinnati Reds then responded by prohibiting all signs that were not related to baseball, he showed up with a sign that said: “Go Reds! John 3:16.” The Reds management then reacted by banning all non-commercial signs, claiming thereby “to protect the family-oriented atmosphere.” The supposedly “family-oriented” beer and cigarette signs remained and the John 3:16 guy has gone elsewhere. According to his lawyer: “It’s unfortunate that the Reds have to take the fun out of baseball.”

Did you ever think of evangelism as fun? To say it’s fun may be to trivialize the gospel, but fun is at least a hint of the joy that is the good news. Too much evangelism is so dreary or full of self-righteous spite and fright that it’s anything but fun—anything but good news. Why shouldn’t it be a real pleasure to proclaim the truly joyous news that “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that no one need be destroyed but, by relying on him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life?”

Last September the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board estimated that 46.1 percent of the folks down in Alabama are going to hell. Now how did that Mission Board know what Paul says all “creation is eagerly waiting to have revealed” only on the last day? (Rom 8:19) Well, the Board did a county by county statistical analysis. They subtracted the Southern Baptists from the population of each county and then estimated the “unsaved” in the remaining churches on the basis of how closely those groups’ beliefs matched Southern Baptist doctrine. Why did they do this? It wasn’t for idle curiosity. It wasn’t only to look good in their own eyes. It wasn’t in order to look bad in the eyes of southern Methodists, Roman Catholics or Crimson Tide secularists over at the University. And it wasn’t in order to be ridiculed by hostile national news media. It was in order to strategize for evangelism.

Last July, strategists from the Southern Baptist Convention, Campus Crusade for Christ, and other rightward religious efforts met in Colorado Springs—the antigay capital of America—to plan what they call “Assessment 2000: A Global Survey of the Unfinished Task” of world evangelization. Read more →

Jesus Who?

Jesus Who?

by Dr. Ralph Blair

This publication is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion86, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, an organization he founded in 1976.

Copyright 1986
(PDF available here.)


“If you could spend an evening with any one person, living, deceased or fictional, whom would you choose and why?” This was a question recently put to prospective students of the University of Pennsylvania. The top three choices of these 8,000 teenagers were God, Jesus, and Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee Iacocca. The inclusions of Iacocca and God may represent, respectively, the short-sightedness and spontaneous presumption of adolescence, but that of Jesus testifies to the persistent popularity of this first century man of the Middle East—even now in the fast lane of a “post Christian” Yuppie youth culture.

Every time we put a date on anything we inadvertently note the most significant single person in the history of the world. People pray in his name and curse in his name; show kindness in his name and kill in his name. The instrument of his own execution emblazons flags of the world, from Greece and Great Britain to Tonga and Tuvalu. His birth is the excuse that keeps “Toys R Us” in the black. Charlie Brown says of himself that he himself is “always sure about things that are a matter of opinion.” Well, opinions about this person have ranged from the idea that he never was at all to the idea that he is all that ever was. Some say that he was only a man. Some say that he was not even a man. Some say that he was a man and more.

In discussion of Jesus today, we dare not assume that we’re all thinking and talking of the same Jesus. This fact is lamented by two of our century’s most gifted writers, Dorothy Sayers and Flannery O’Connor. Each of these women saw the difficulties the modern world has with discussion of him. In 1949 Sayers said: “The brutal fact is that in this Christian country [she was speaking of England] not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about … the person of Jesus Christ.” O’Connor noted something even deeper when she wrote in one of her letters: “One of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, the present reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation … ”

In the first century, Jesus was perceived as an agent of the devil, a blasphemer, and as the very word of God in the flesh. Much later there was the 11th century “Monk Who Rules the World,” the 16th century “Universal Man,” the 18th century “Teacher of Common Sense,” the 19th century Moralizer of Victorian parlors, and the 20th century “Liberator” of South American fruit-pickers and North American “fruits.” There’s the “Superstar” Jesus of Broadway and the skate-boarding Jesus of Vacation Bible School. There’s Jesus Falwell, Jesus Cardinal O’Connor, Jesus Baker Eddy, and Jesus Myung Moon. There’s Jesus the household god of suburban American nuclear families and Jesus the boyfriend of the “beloved disciple” in gay religionism. There’s the Jeffrey Hunter Jesus and the Max von Sydow Jesus. There’s the Mormon Jesus, the Unitarian Jesus, and the avatar Jesus of Vishnu. There’s the joyless Jesus of Fulton Oursler and Kazantzakis, the journalist’s Jesus of Jim Bishop and the “Positive Thinker” of Norman Vincent Peale. There’s the “swooning” Jesus of The Passover Plot and the UFO Jesus of Globe and The Star. There’s the blue-eyed blond Jesus of Neo-Nazis, son of Mary and a fair-skinned Aryan soldier in outpost Palestine . (Didn’t Goebbels himself say: “Christ cannot possibly have been a Jew. I don’t have to prove it scientifically. It’s a fact”?) Read more →

Homophobia in the Churches

The following text, HOMOPHOBIA IN THE CHURCHES, was a keynote address delivered by Dr. Blair at the Strategy Conference on Homophobia in the Churches on May 5, 1979. Two other keynote addresses were given during the weekend conference by Joan Clark (a staff person in the Dallas office of the Women’s Division, Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, who was fired recently because she is a lesbian) and by Rosemary Radford Ruether (Georgia Harkness Professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary).
This historic first meeting of gay and non-gay representatives of 16 Christian denominations began a process of developing strategies for dealing with homophobia in the churches. The meeting, held in Potomac, Maryland, brought together 60 representatives of national staffs, boards and agencies of many denominations, members of gay caucuses of the church groups, and other organizations concerned about homophobia in the churches.
Attending the conference were representatives of the American Baptist Church, the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, the Church of the Brethren, the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the Mennonites, the Reformed Church in America, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in U.S., the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the United Methodist Church, the Seventh-Day Adventists, the Unitarian-Universalist Association, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the United Church of Christ, the United Church of Canada, Evangelicals Concerned, Lutherans Concerned, Affirmation, Dignity, Integrity, Presbyterians for Gay Concerns, the National Organization for Women, the National Gay Task Force, the Quixote Center, the New Ways Ministry, the Commission on Women in Ministry of the National Council of Churches, Men Allied Nationally for the ERA, and Clergy and Laity Concerned.
Copyright 1979 by Ralph Blair All rights reserved
(PDF available here.)
(Original booklet PDF available here.)

by Dr. Ralph Blair

As a preface to this evening’s considerations, I’d like to call our attention to a summary of a life lived in preparation for our meeting here this weekend. The summary was written by David Augsburger (1) of the pastoral care faculty of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries:

Look at Jesus Christ.

He was born in the most rigidly ethnic culture of all time; born in a fiercely nationalistic nation; born in Galilee, the most bigoted backwoods of that nation; born into a family of snobbish royal lineage; born in a time when revolutionary fanaticism fired every heart with hatred for the Roman oppressors; born in a country practicing the apartheid of rigid segregation between Jews and Samaritans.

Jesus Christ was born in a world peopled with prejudiced, partisan, fanatical, intolerant, ob- stinate, opinionated, bigoted, dogmatic zealots — Roman, Samaritan, and Jewish.

Yet He showed not a trace of it.

Read and reread the documents of His life. There is absolutely nothing that you can find to indicate feelings of racial superiority, national prejudice, or personal discrimination.

Those who stand on the side of Jesus Christ reject prejudice whenever, however, and wherever they find it. In themselves first of all; then, and only then, in the world about them.

As true as this summary is of Jesus, it is not often true of those of us who say we follow Jesus.

Definition of Terms

Our three key terms are: “strategy,” “homophobia,” and “churches.”

If at times this weekend’s deliberations seem to have an air of an armed camp, perhaps we should not be surprised. We are here to map strategy. “Strategy” is a military term (from the Greek for “military general” or “army”). We’re dealing with plans for action and we can easily fall into plans for the waging of a war. Some “liberation” rhetoric and activity can become quite militaristic. There is talk of “our enemies.” We can get stuck into “we” and “they” or “us” and “them.” Perhaps it would be better for us, as Christians, to think in terms of tactics (from the Latin for “touch”). In being in touch, our point of contact will more likely be an embrace than an assault. Our perspective and procedure will determine whether we will be more apt to slap a cheek in revenge or slap the palm of a hand in friendship. It would be well to pray that that with which we leave this working conference enable us to touch our homophobic sisters and brothers rather than to fight at them. After all, the modus operandi of a Christian can be real love, even for an enemy. We must learn how to be in touch with our beloved enemies.

The second of our key terms is “homophobia.” We have heard the effect of homophobia in the slur of a single syllable and in the diatribe of a dozen sermons. We have seen it in a glance and in a stare. We have experienced it in the maneuverings of smoke-filled bishops’ chambers. We have read it in what is not written and in what is written over and over for hundreds of pages. We have felt it in the pit of our stomachs and in the split of a skull. It’s easier to recognize than to define. But, if we must define it, let’s say that homophobia is an expression of fear of homosexuality. We’ll leave for just a moment or two, an analysis of the meaning of that fear. Read more →

Evangelicals(?!) Concerned

Evangelicals(?!) Concerned

by Dr. Ralph Blair

EVANGELICALS(?!) CONCERNED is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address delivered at both eastern and western connECtion82 summer conferences, July 1982, in Pennsylvania and California.

(PDF version available here)


Have you ever noticed that Grape-Nuts is neither? To evangelicals, Christian Science is neither. To most gay people, the Moral Majority is neither. But gay evangelicals are not like Grape-Nuts. Gays for Jesus are as unwelcome in evangelical churches as Jews for Jesus are unwelcome in synagogues, but in the gays’ case they’re excluded because their profession of faith in Jesus is doubted, and in the Jews’ case they’re excluded because their profession of faith in Jesus is believed. In both cases, half of who they are is believed and that makes the other half of who they are unbelievable.

For most evangelicals, it’s easy to believe that we’re gay; much harder to believe that we’re their siblings in faith. We who are both gay and evangelical can well understand this. After all, didn’t we ourselves find it easier to believe that we were gay than to continue to believe we were evangelical Christians as well? Some of you delayed corning to Christ, assuming you were not welcome just as you were. Some of you have stayed away until now—and some are still not here today—because you and they have been believing that vicious homophobes speak for Jesus. Some of us drifted away for a while, finding it possible to abandon, however reluctantly, a faith we had chosen, and impossible to leave behind sexual desires we did not choose.

But God chose us, as the Bible says, while we all were sinners Christ died for us all. Though we turned away from God, and we continually turn away, God never turns away from us. Paul wrote that nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Neither homosexuality nor homophobia, neither life nor death, neither good times nor bad times, neither the everyday grind nor a rare form of cancer; neither ecclesiastical executives nor TV preachers nor band-wagon politicians; nor whatever may come our way. Nothing can separate us from the overwhelming and undergirding love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord—because God is God. Though so many establishment evangelicals fail to recognize gay Christians, Jesus Christ, whose we are, recognizes his own, just as he alone befriended the despised Samaritans, prostitutes, and tax collectors when the organized religious leaders of another day had no time for them. He lets us be his—today and in all eternity.

The major periodical of the American evangelical establishment, Christianity Today, has called us “self-styled Christian homosexuals.” (Feb 6, 1981) George Sweeting, president of Moody Bible Institute, complains that “some who say they are Christians” are among those who “accept homosexuality as a legitimate alternative life-style.” (Special Sermons on Special Issues, p. 66) In introducing a report on a meeting of 80 evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders, the editor of the charismatic Pastoral Renewal magazine decries the fact that “Some evangelicals have begun to defend homosexual behavior.” Missing the point, he thinks that this is evidence that, as he puts it, “the secular gay liberation movement has developed a wing within evangelicalism.” (Peter Williamson, “Introduction,” Christianity Confronts Modernity, p. 12) Sojourners publisher Joe Roos says that Christians who differ with his harsh anti-homosexuality are “simply accepting the verdict of a liberal culture.” (Jul/Aug 1982, p. 6) Read more →

Doubtful Christians Make Queer Saints!

Doubtful Christians Make Queer Saints!

by Dr. Ralph Blair

A shorter version of this text was presented by Dr. Blair at connECtion83 during July, 1983, at San Juan Bautista in California and at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania.

(PDF version available here)


Introduction

Doubtful Christians make queer saints. Do “queer” Christians make doubtful saints? To too many of us, Christians who are full of doubt certainly do seem to be queer candidates for sainthood. And, no doubt, so do “queer” Christians about whom so many conventional Christians are full of doubt.

At the beginning of the Darwinian controversy,—a time that was as disruptive to the 19th century evangelical world as the gay controversy is to the evangelical world of our own day—Christian geologist and evolutionist Henry Drummond took note that “all religious truths are doubtable.” [1] As a scientist, he also knew that all scientific truths are doubtable. Less than a century later, a writer for Science 200 confesses that the “sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance [is what] represents the most significant contribution of 20th century science. … We are at last,” he says, “facing up to it. In earlier times, we either pretended to understand how things worked or ignored the problem, or simply made up stories to fill the gaps.” [2] Science was late to copy religion in this respect.

There is not very much evidence that people in either religion or science these days have become as frank about their ignorance as the writers just quoted. Cocksure fundamentalist absolutists still abound in both religion and science, as well as on the general secular scene, and this has been nowhere better illustrated than in the matter of homosexuality and Christian faith. As Lutheran historian Martin E. Marty appraises the current picture, “the fundamentalist worlds are still overconfident about their absolute hold on absolutes, too pouncing and predatory in eagerness to press their advantage in the name of a very belligerent cocksureness-producing God. They grow by attracting the nostalgic, the frightened, the misled, the besieged.” [3] Religious liberals or “mainliners” offer no better reality since, as Marty says, many of them “still waver in conviction, are apathetic about belief, or are ‘merely’ tolerant as they settle for passionless decline.” [4] No better reality is offered in this regard by those whose commitment to scientism judges evangelical Christian faith to be a most unsophisticated heresy.

Drummond recognized that some doubts are simply intellectual problems and, as such, he said that “It would be a pity if all these problems could be solved. The joy of the intellectual life would be largely gone.” [5] Some doubts are honest difficulties, what Drummond called “can’t believe.” But other doubts are really unbelief or what Drummond called “won’t believe.” He saw the former “doubt [as] honesty” but, he said, “unbelief is obstinacy.” [6] He recognized that in both religion and in science, “Heresy is truth in the making, and [honest] doubt is the prelude of knowledge.” [7] Honest doubt is natural, inevitable and can be productive. As Drummond observed, “We are born questioners. … The child’s great word when it begins to speak is, ‘Why?'” He said that “That is the incipient doubt” in our very nature. “Respect doubt for its origin. It is an inevitable thing. It is not a thing to be crushed.” [8]

Evangelist D. L. Moody spoke of Drummond as “the most Christ-like man I ever knew” but Moody had to fight off the criticism of less gracious Christians who constantly objected to Moody’s repeatedly offering the Northfield platform to this queer Christian evolutionist and proponent of higher criticism of the Bible. Apparently Christ-like people can be seen as mighty queer Christians.

According to George MacDonald, another queer 19th century Scottish Christian—booted out of the established church because his doubts were unacceptable: “Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood. … Doubt must precede every deeper assurance.” [9] C. S. Lewis considered MacDonald to be his “master.” Lewis attributed the conversion or baptism of his own imagination, as he put it, to the “holiness” of MacDonald’s “greatest genius” for troubling “oldest certainties till all questions [were] reopened” for his pilgrimage to Christ. [10]

Well why do so many of us seem so afraid to exercise doubt of this healthy, even “holy,” variety? Fundamentalists of all stripes try to dispel all doubt. They try to do this by changing the spelling from D-O-U-B-T to D-O-G-M-A. It spells doubt just the same. Intellectuals can especially weary of doubt. Out of his Sturm und Drang, Goethe somewhere insisted: “Tell me of your certainties, I have doubts enough of my own.” Out of his Roman Catholicism, G. K. Chesterton complained that “Moderns permit any writer to emphasize doubts but let no man emphasize dogmas.” [11] Agnostic restriction in the name of doubt can spell dogma just the same. Read more →

Christian Tolerance & Totalitarianism

Christian Tolerance & Totalitarianism

by Dr. Ralph Blair

Christian Tolerance & Totalitarianism was Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion84, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned.

(PDF version available here)


The Christian’s way is always a pilgrim’s way. It’s a life on the road. It’s the adventure of a pioneer. The Christian’s vision is always the vision of a pilgrim and pioneer. It is a moving through the world by neither sight nor hindsight. It is always a faithing through darkness. Whenever Christians have lost sight of this and have pretended to see what cannot be seen, we have lost our way. By faithing our way along from “faith to faith” we move closer to the day we’ll see “face to face.” There’s no other way to get there.

Introduction

Two hundred years ago, an English Methodist pilgrim named Francis Asbury pioneered the American vision of John Wesley’s practical approach in Christian faith. His pioneering pilgrimage was not unlike ours here and now. We, too, are pilgrims pioneering the vision of a practical approach in Christian faith.

Asbury, according to one of his biographers: “follow[ ed] truth whether manifested in subjective convictions or in arguments read from the force and facts of life about him.” We, too, are doing that, and we’re ridiculed for it just as he was. This often enfeebled pioneer nonetheless traveled hundreds of thousands of miles on horseback “over the long road,” preaching the gospel for more than forty years over the Appalachian range, by way of the Delaware Water Gap, and westward through the Cumberland Basin to Kentucky, Ohio and the Indiana territory.

He never married. But in his journeys, he had the close company of “faithful traveling companion[ s ]”—first, as one biographer describes him, the “strong-bodied, consecrated itinerant” Henry Boehm, and later, the “congenial companionship” and “faithful and tender ministry” of John Wesley Bond. Asbury died in the spring of 1816. “Of kindred in blood, there was none to mourne; but Henry Boehm and John Wesley Bond, his ‘sons’ in long and dutiful ministries, stood by the coffinas chief mourners, while thousands of hearts besides in silence reverenced with mingled sorrow and gladness the memory of the illustrious dead.”

Purposes of eulogy don’t list what might be thought to be the less “illustrious” aspects of a life, but if we go to Asbury’s own journals we find one of the most sober self-assessments ever written. Asbury confessed: “I have said more than was for the glory of God.” This is a profound repentance. Each of us would do well to apply it to ourselves: “I have said more than was for the glory of God.”

What did Asbury have in mind when he wrote this? He probably wasn’t recalling merely idle chatter; Asbury was not, by nature, given to idle chatter. He was no doubt recalling the “strong words” he had used to denounce those with whom he had disagreed theologically and those who had “reviled Mr. Wesley … and poor me. O that I could trust the Lord more than I do and leave his cause wholly in his own hands!” Ironically, it was in his effort to declare and protect the glory of God that he had “said more than was for the glory of God.” This is a common sin among Christian crusaders of all stripes—including our own. You’ll remember from last summer’s talk on Luther that he had prayed a prayer he based on the Old Covenant stipulation against witnessing falsely about neighbors: I “confess hav[ing] spent my life so sinfully and ungratefully with lies and evil talk against my neighbors.” And there, too, the “neighbors” were theological foes.

Asbury was well aware of the source of this sin. It was in a lack of faithing, a lack of trusting God: “O that I could trust the Lord more than I do and leave his cause wholly in his own hands!” Crusaders get it into our heads that God needs us more than God does—so we begin to justify any means in terms of ends. Or, in our doubts about being right ourselves, we defensively try to convince ourselves by forcing everyone else to agree with us instead of just throwing ourselves and our ignorance onto the mercy of God. We babble where God has not spoken, using God’s name profanely, fruitlessly trying to advantage ourselves. But we call it all “for the glory of God.” And while babbling where God has been silent, we’re silent when we should speak up with God’s clear word.

In attempting to understand this common tendency toward intolerance and totalitarianism and in order to know how to respond to our own intolerance toward others and their intolerance toward us, let’s look at something of the history of totalitarian “heresy” hunting and its biblical solution in the patient practice of Christian tolerance. And, in this summer of 1984, let’s use as a springboard to get further into our subject, the device of the fantasy novel, Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell (Eric Blair’s pen name). The year of the book’s title has been embedded in our culture as a prime symbol of intolerance and totalitarianism. Read more →

A Time and Place For Us

A Time and Place for Us

by Dr. Ralph Blair

A Time and Place for Us is an expanded version of the Keynote address given by Dr. Blair at the Eastern and Western connECtions2001.

(PDF version available here)


Frasier has dragged Niles and their father to a basketball game for “a good night of male-bonding” as only Frasier could fantasize. He’s trying his best to whip up their interest but dad is preoccupied with an old unsolved murder case and Niles is preoccupied with the music in his headset. A burly fan arrives late, plops down next to Niles and grunts: “What’s the score?” Niles lifts his headset and pronounces: “West Side Story.”

What’s the score? That depends. What’s the question?

One of the numbers from West Side Story promises “a time and place for us.” “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there; hold my hand and we’re half-way there.” That may work for infatuation—at least on Broadway, but let’s frame the question more broadly than Broadway. Not the narrow and harried world of lovers or the iso1ation of Frasier, Niles and their dad—all at the same game but each in his own world and each in his own time zone. Instead, let’s think of a time and place for us all in the deepest and widest of worlds.

We’re all enmeshed in time. It “weighs us down, every moment,” as Baudelaire complained about tick-tock time. When we’re younger or bored, time drags; when we’re older or having fun, time flies. There’s the life-giving time of pulse and brain waves and the life-stealing time of aging. In “Queer as Folk,” the narcissistic Brian rejects time with his sperm-donated son, complaining that a baby is just a “wrinkled little time clock ticking away reminding you you’re getting older by the minute, by the second.” Time is a mystery, always on the move in all directions at once. It’s what one scientist calls “the deepest of all enigmas in physics” [Malcolm W. Browne], what a classicist calls “the most nostalgic of elements.” [Robert Eisner] To ask: “What’s the time?” is like asking “What’s the score?” It all depends on what we mean. For some purposes we think of eons and light-years. For other purposes it’s enough to know what year it is or what day or what hour. At other times we must know the time down to billionths of a second. It’s the same if we ask “Where are we?” “Are we there yet?” That depends on what we mean. What are our expectations? What’s the question? Where was Niles? Was he at the basketball game or on a fire escape of a tenement in Hell’s Kitchen? Or was he sailing on a sphere called Earth, somewhere in the Milky Way?

God’s Time and Space

Many of you think you’re too old. But you’re even older than that. You did not begin on the day you were born. Biologically speaking, each of us began life at conception. All the raw material that we would ever be was there then. But we’re not simply nine months older than we thought we were. We’re much older than that. All the stuff that the universe would ever be was there in that split-second called the Big Bang. Each of us was there then—in all that everything—some 14 billion years ago. But we’re much older than that. We go back, not just to the beginning of time and space but, as Scripture reveals, we spring from the eternal purposes of God from “before the creation of the world.” No wonder we’re feeling our age!

“In the beginning of time, the Word already was.” “And all things came into being by that Word.” The Word came to expression in all worlds. The Concept created the cosmos. “In the beginning of time, the Word already was, … and the Word became flesh” in Jesus Christ, and “apart from Him, nothing has come into being that has come into being.” [John 1: 1-3 and 14.; cf Gen 1:1 and I John 1:1]

As Christians, we believe that God, in Christ, made time and space. And we believe that God made a visit as a man in time and space—2,000 years ago. Says a Bible translator: Christianity’s “starting point is the most important event in the whole of human history. The Christian religion asserts that … two thousand years ago, God, whose vast and complex wisdom science is daily uncovering, visited this small planet of ours in Person. … This is the heart and center of the Christian faith.” He goes on to say that “Nothing must be allowed to distract us from considering with adult minds and hearts whether this is true history or a beautiful myth. The decision is so important that it must not, indeed cannot, be avoided. Yet,” he observes, “this is the point at which so many people take evasive action.” [J. B. Phillips] Read more →

REVIEW: Winter 2016

“A Denomination Hungry for Reconciliation: Grace, Race and the PCA” by Sean Michael Lucas, byFaith, October 19, 2015; “Tied in Knots: Americans Try to Redefine Marriage” by Alan Dowd, byFaith, October 12, 2015. 

by Dr. Ralph Blair

(PDF version available here.)

Even after the Civil War, in 1867, R. L. Dabney, a major Presbyterian theologian of the Old South, now considered a forebear of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), ended his 356-page “biblical” defense of slavery and attack on abolition by asserting: “Our people are now oppressed with present sufferings and a prospective destiny more cruel and disastrous than has been visited on any civilized people of modern ages. [But,] let the arrogant and successful wrongdoers flout our defence [sic] with disdain: we will meet them with it again, when it will be heard; in the day of their calamity in the pages of impartial history and in the Day of Judgment.” Evangelical historian Mark Noll notes: The slavery conflict “pushed theologians down the roads on which they were already traveling rather than compelling them to go in new, creative directions.” How typical!

Lucas, a PCA minister and Dabney scholar, reports that in 2002, PCA’s 30th General Assembly “named our sins from 1861-65 [but] not our more recent sins from 1961-65”. So, he calls the PCA to “confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights era”. He argues: “Those recent sins of commission and omission – preventing blacks from worship in our congregations, … ‘biblical’ defenses for segregation, defending White Citizens’ Councils … need to be confessed and repented [so we can] see more clearly our own present-day failures to love our black brothers and sisters well and to use our positions and power to benefit them more than ourselves.” That, “too many (white) people ask, ‘Haven’t we confessed enough?’ and ‘Shouldn’t they confess too?’ demonstrates,” he says, “a general lack of understanding, imagination, and compassion”. Lucas admits: “It was disappointing to hear my fathers and brothers make arguments against the resolution. Not to know our history on these issues [is] not to be quick to recognize how they continue.” So, just how “hungry for reconciliation” is the PCA?

Outlawing slaves’ marriage and interracial marriage, and, even after Loving v Virginia (1967), ranting over race “mongrelizing”, now link to antigay rants propped up with other Bible verses. Lucas simply fails to note this link, but to Dowd, it’s not possible to connect these dots since he blasts marriage for same-sex couples. Once again, the roots are culture-based and stem from a self-righteous refusal to live Jesus’ Golden Rule.

Dabney’s views now disgust his Presbyterian heirs in the “pages of impartial history” he failed to foresee. Dowd’s views disgust many of his own evangelical contemporaries. All of this disgust reflects empathy freed from ignorance and outworn political agendas. Read more →

All Content Copyright © 1997 - 2013 Dr. Ralph Blair | Site by Webtegrity