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Showing posts from November, 2019

The real prosperity gospel

Hundreds of thousands of American Christians believe in the prosperity gospel. One prosperity gospel preacher, Mac Hammond, memorably teaches that “God wants you to be a winner in every area of life” and emphasizes biblical principles to help you win financially. He regards wealth as “both a tool for wielding righteous influence and a reward for righteous living.”[1] In its crudest version, the prosperity gospel says that God blesses Christians with wealth proportionate to the seed they plant, that is, to their financial gift to the preacher’s ministry. Don’t worry. Although Holy Nativity’s stewardship campaign is currently underway, my message this morning is not that God will bless you in proportion to your pledge.

Haggai is one of the twelve minor prophets, minor connoting the length of the Old Testament books (two chapters in the case of Haggai) and not the importance of their message. All we know about Haggai is that he prophesied for three months in 520 B.C.E., the second year of…

Religion and the lack of civility

Nicholas Wade in his book, The Faith Instinct: How religion evolved and why it endures (New York: Penguin, 2009), argues that one evolutionary function of a religion is to bind a community together through common rituals and beliefs. In support of that claim, he points to Judaism which preserved Jewish identity even though the Jews lacked a nation state from the time of the Roman conquest until 1947.

Wade argues that Protestant Christianity performed a similar community creating and preservation role in the United States, causing adaptations in Roman Catholicism and Judaism that enabled those religions to fit within the American context without disrupting community identity. Ethical standards were enforced through incentivizing ethical conformance with the promise or threat of eternal reward or punishment. God was imagined to behave like the Santa Claus of song, keeping a detailed list of who has been naughty and nice.

In time, the dominant Christian ethos birthed American civil reli…

Becoming a saint

A family had sold everything possible to pay bills and to buy food. Nevertheless, a burglar broke in one night when the family was gone. The family returned and found the door knocked off its hinges.

"What did the burglar get?" the police investigator inquired.

The head of the household just shook his head. "Practice," he said.

The New Testament’s authors define a saint as any Christian,[1] the word’s meaning in today’s epistle reading.[2] But during Christianity’s first centuries, saint morphed to connote heroes of the faith, men and women whose embodiment of Christianity played large on history’s stage. Still popular among these heroes are Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, and the twelve Apostles, which is why they are known as St. Matthew, St. Luke, etc.

We Anglicans follow a flexible method for determining who to include in the roster of Saints with a capital “S”. We dub an individual Saint to recognize a person who lived the Christian faith writ large. The Boo…