Can’t we have Jeremiah Wright instead?
Look at it. Not only is Warren anti-choice and anti-gay, Warren more or less endorsed “taking out” the President of Iran as a Biblical injunction. He’s insulted all of mainstream Protestantism by talking about how it’s “dying” and calling the Social Gospel “Marxism in Christian clothing.” Yes, this is standard-issue white evangelicalism. But it’s also nasty, hateful stuff.
And it reflects (correctly, but lamentably) the imbalance of power. Obama would never consider inviting a liberal preacher who had referred to fundamentalism as “fascism, wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” Yet Rick Warren can spew foolish hatred (“hatred” because most of Warren’s audience think “Stalinist” when they hear “Marxist,” and foolish because the Social Gospel was about as far from Marxism as you could possibly get) at half the white Protestants in the country, and pay no price for doing so.
As to the constant refrain of the Bible-bashers that their churches are growing while “mainstream” churches are shrinking: in the early Fourth Century the (unitarian) Arians could have said the same to the (trinitarian) Athanasians, whose views became the orthodox ones mostly because they had the support of the Emperors.* Theological questions aren’t settled by majority rule, and the commandment to the Apostles was “Feed my sheep,” not “Market my product.”
Update A reader tells me that Rick Warren is “the northern end of a religion headed south.” I wish it were actually headed south, but I take the point.
Reader Kim Batteau writes:
I respectfully disagree with your views. I am a graduate of Harvard, Wesminster Seminary, and the Theologische Universiteit of the Reformed Churches in Kampen, The Netherlands, a pastor of a Reformed Church in The Hague, and have admiration for much (not all) of what Rick Warren says. I hope that civil discourse is possible on volatile issues. I don’t believe that belief in the Trinity or the divinity of Christ were products of political pressure. I read the New Testament in Greek (John 1.1, Matthew 28.19), and find both there, as well as in all the letters of Paul.
To which I responded:
Thanks for your thoughtful note.
I would certainly not presume to dispute Christian theology with you, or to judge between Arius and Athanasius on the merits of the question.
My point was a narrower, historical one: Arianism was the majority view, and dominant among the clergy, until the intervention of the Roman state tipped the scales.** Perhaps that was providential. But Warren’s implicit argument against mainstream Protestantism is that his brand of Christianity is growing while the mainstream denominations are shrinking, and therefore his views must be the right ones. That, it seems to me, is not a claim worthy of respect.
As to civil discourse, I’m all for it. Rick Warren has been notably un-civil to those who favor abortion rights (whom he likens to Nazis), to gay men and women (whom he likens to pedophiles and those who engage in sex with animals), and to adherents of the Social Gospel (whom he calls Marxists in Christian clothing). That’s over and above his endorsement of “taking out” Ahmadi-nejad; it’s not clear whether he meant by assassination or by war, and I’m not sure which would have been worse.
I appreciate the President-Elect’s desire to reach out to his opponents. But surely he could have found one who has been less disrespectful toward Obama’s supporters. A liberal preacher who had been as viciously critical of fundamentalism as Warren has been of liberalism could never have found a place on that podium. Civility, surely, should be a two-way street.
Pastor Batteau promises more thoughts tomorrow. As always in this space, his words appear by his permission.
**Third update Pastor Batteau disputes my account of Church history:
Your historical interpretation is, I believe, selective and not really supported by the facts. Arianism, claiming that the Logos was a created being, and not God Himself (as John 1.1 clearly states), was a novelty. The Nicene Creed of 325, affirming that the Logos is “homoousios” with the Father, that is His full deity, was a needed theological clarification of the faith of the church since the apostles. This was not a “tipping of the scales” by the Roman state, but a church confession, arrived at by deep and sincere theological discussion (from both sides). The triumph of the Nicene Creed in the course of the 4th century was, similarly, not the result of political machinations, but due to the persistence of the orthodox, chief among them Athanasius, in the face of bitter opposition, both from within the church and from various emperors. This is the view of the great majority of church historians, ancient and modern. The Cappadocian Fathers, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nissa “prepared the way for the final victory of orthodoxy under the Emp. Theodosius at the Council of Constantinople in 381” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church). Notice the way this is phrased: the Cappadocians were the key figures, while Theodosius played a significant but not pivotal role.
Of course it is true that in the course of church history state governments have tried to influence how the church should think and act, and we as Christians have, sadly, too often cooperated with state rulers in order to acquire or maintain power. However, at their best Christians have sought to stay true to their Lord and to the cause of religious liberty.
That may well be how things actually happened; Pastor Batteau surely knows more than I on this point. I’d only add that church history, like all history, is written by the winners, and the accounts we have come from orthodox sources rather than from Arian sources.
I did not mean to imply, and I hope that I did not imply, that the triumph of orthodoxy was regrettable or that I thought that majority status, even if it was a fact, “proved” that the Arians were correct. I was intending a reductio ad absurdum of the “We’re growing, you’re shrinking, so we’re right” line of argument. If it hadn’t been for the courage and skill of William the Silent and the heroism of his followers and their descendants – or if the Spanish monarchy had rotted a little more slowly – the Reformed tradition in the Netherlands might have been extirpated. But that wouldn’t have proved that Calvin was wrong, or Torquemada right.