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Looking at God's World

Challenging the idolatry of power

Readings for a second day in a row confront me with notions of present day idolatry right here among seemingly Bible-believing Christians. Today’s reading comes from Walter Brueggemann in his book, Old Testament Theology: An Introduction. It is somewhat risky to pull out one paragraph from a lengthy, in-depth book, but it is worth the risk because it may stimulate thought.

Near the end of the book, Brueggemann is discussing hope as revealed in the apocalyptic book of the Old Testament, Daniel. Apocalyptic is described by Brueggemann as “the extreme conviction that God will make all things new.” (p. 364) This idea is all over the Hebrew Bible, but it takes a different form in Daniel, which I will not get into.

Brueggemann says one of the spinoffs from biblical apocalyptic (New Testament included) is in U.S. religion, which has a “great attraction”  to such modes of thought and speech. Now let me turn Brueggemann loose. (All quotes, pages 364-365.)

“That way of hope, however, has been cast into modernist modes of dispensationalism that for the most part contradicts the theological force of hope in God.”

A brief stop here. Yes, dispensationalism is a modern invention, and Brueggemann seems right — there is a real sense in which dispensationalism becomes a god in and of itself, thus distracting from the true God who is to be worshiped and trusted.

“Much of that current thought, prominently in the Left Behind Series, has an odd and disastrous alliance with right-wing politics that characteristically supports and celebrates U.S. military adventurism. This odd and widely embraced juxtaposition of apocalyptic imagery and superpower self-aggrandizement demonstrates in an unmistakable way how such daring imagery is easily pressed into the service of idolatry. The outcome of such an alliance is that the rhetoric of hope is matched to a politics of despair that intends at all cost to preserve the status quo of privilege, entitlement, and self-propelled security.”

In essence, Brueggemann here has offered an indictment of American Christianity. He seems to be saying that we Americans have taken the apocalyptic notions derived from Scripture and married them to a distinctly American religion that is more about us than about God. This alliance is formed to preserve three things that are not of Jesus, it would seem — privilege, entitlement, and self-propelled security. Jesus clearly stood for the under-privileged, spoke of responsibility not entitlement, and offered security through God not ourselves.

And lest my left-wing friends take too much joy in the above, let me say that they have their own odd and disastrous alliances.

I’ll let Brueggemann continue:

“Such a utilization of apocalyptic hope is a disastrous idolatry because the God to which apocalyptic hope attests stands precisely against such craven hungers of present arrangements of power and security. Hope stands as a contradiction of all such idolatries. Indeed the very superpower status of the United States, so valued in many forms of contemporary apocalyptic rhetoric, more likely stands, in the tradition of Daniel, as one of the empires that will fall rather than as an icon of the new rule of God. In the contemporary U.S. religious scene, such an idolatrous alliance of future hope and current power employs the rhetoric of hope precisely in the practice of hopelessness, bespeaking not eager trust but immense fear.”

It seems to me that since World War II, the United States has developed an out-sized trust in its own power — economic and military. During the war itself, I do not think that was so much the case, especially among the regular folk. This growing trust in worldly power is a back story to our declining trust in Yahweh, the God of the Bible.

I need not say more; there is enough here to ponder.

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This entry was posted on December 27, 2011 by in Christian Living and tagged , , , , .
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