Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon argue in Resident Aliens that the opening of the movie theater in their hometown on Sundays represented the end of Christendom, and the beginning of an opportunity for “real” Christianity to emerge from the shadow of Constantinianism. This insight is important, and there can be no doubt that the end of “blue laws” at least embodies the shift in epoch experienced as these United States transitioned from a society structured around the edifice of the religion called “Christianity” to a secular, market-driven social structure. Is this a good thing, though?
As one of the newer online faculty at Austin Grad, I do not come with a lack of experience in online courses. I have taught and continue to teach online courses for two other seminaries. What is distinctive and thoroughly delightful about teaching online here is 1) the size of the classes and 2) the extreme relevance of the material.
First, my classes here have always been small. The advantages of this are obvious. Not only does this afford more time to thoroughly grade all assignments (the students may not see this as a plus), but all of us come to know each other as friends and are able to share our struggles as well as joys of life.
In August I had the pleasure of visiting Brazil. Although it was my fourth time in Brazil, it was my first time to be invited for what amounted to a book tour. Here’s how it happened.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of Arminianism in Brazil. Wait. Let me back up a bit. For the past few years, there has been a resurgence of Calvinism in evangelicalism. (This is something I intend to discuss in later posts.) This resurgence of Calvinism has reached Latin America, including Brazil. And wherever “five-point Calvinism” goes, resistance to it follows close behind. Thus, the resurgence of Arminianism, as a form of anti-Calvinism, in Brazil.
When Christianity appeared on the scene in the ancient Mediterranean world, its pagan residents were suspicious about this new faith. Of their many concerns, perhaps the deepest fear was that Christians were socially subversive, that they were, as the Thessalonian mob put it, “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Good social order, from the family unit all the way up to the Empire itself, was felt to be threatened by a group of people who marginalized physical family and king in favor of spiritual family and King.
This is why the New Testament and early Christian apologetic writings go out of the way to show that Christians are law-abiding citizens. For instance, in the book of Acts, it is usually the persecutors, and never the Christians, who are disobeying Roman law. The “household codes” in the New Testament epistles urge mutual love, respect, and submission—good order, not chaos—within the nuclear family. The principle of submission to proper authorities is reflected in the fifth commandment’s injunction to honor father and mother. It is extended by Paul in Romans 13 when he commands submission to the governing authorities, as to God. The New Testament is clear: it is the Christian’s duty to obey the law of the land.
But is Christian civil disobedience ever justified? Is it morally permissible for a Christian to disobey the civil government? If so, then under what circumstances?
At the beginning of each semester, I like to start my church history survey course by asking the students what they hope to learn in this course. What burning questions are they wanting to answer? Besides the obvious goal of fulfilling a degree requirement, what motivates them in their study of church history? Perhaps the most common answer I get in response is the following query: “Why are there so many different Christian denominations?” People want to know how we got from the apparently unified church of the first century to the present situation of hundreds of denominations.
The short answer to this question may be, “An inability to get along.” But generally students are looking for something more substantive. They want to know how and when the different Christian denominations originated, as well as which theological issues have divided, and continue to divide, Christians.