2.) No, Jesus didn’t say ‘create social welfare programs.’ He also didn’t say not to. He did not provide the architecture of entire governments, just a moral guideline for just action. Social welfare programs fit just fine in a Christian ethical scheme of politics. Vicari addresses no such arguments, though, and in fact goes on to argue in favor of taxation so long as it supports Israel: “As American Christians we have a part in the Abrahamic covenant too. God said in Genesis 12:3 that He would treat nations according to the way they treat Israel.” He also said however you treat the poor is how you treat Him. But while taxing to militarily support an entirely different country doesn’t violate Vicari’s sense of “government overreach” versus “Christian outreach” (after all, you could argue Christians should simply voluntarily pool their money and donate it to Israel), taxing to support the poor does violate that sensibility. Clearly she is not concerned with the ethics of taxing or the question of ‘big government’; she’s just a Republican with the same schizophrenia they all have when it comes to the size of government.

Point of order: I felt inclined to look at this book because it claims it is about the “new Christian left.” It is actually about three separate but similar contingencies, though it is not aware of the divisions between them. It is about new Christian movements in LGBTQ venues; it is about people who are vaguely affiliated with the political left who consider themselves Christian but do not necessarily see their leftism as directly motivated by their Christianity; and it is about young Christians who are disenchanted with Boomer-style Christian conservatism on climate change, war, etc. All this is to say: this book is emphatically not about any kind of sophisticated ‘Christian leftism’, e.g. a political leftism that claims its roots in Christian ethics. This book is totally ahistorical. It does not remotely realize entire parliaments in European and Latin American countries are wholly dominated by straight up Christian socialists. It thinks in terms of contemporary American political binaries — abortion-bad-free-market-good versus abortion-good-free-market-bad, basically — and cannot fathom anything much more nuanced than that. It conflates ‘socialism’ with ‘welfare programs’ in that callow, almost nose-thumbing way Sean Hannity does. So if you’re looking for any kind of dense, serious consideration of Christian leftism in its most robust formulations, you’re not going to find it here.

To be on the clients’ side you need to be comfortable enough in your own skin to realize you actually know a few things, and comfortable enough to admit the things you don’t know (which will always be the longer list).

I think one of the turning points is to realize that clients were just as nervous as I was. The don’t do this design stuff every day. And they hire us to guide them through it and to make decisions for them. And our role is to help them achieve a goal.

To understand that part of the story, we need to turn to religious historians like Randall Balmer, who tirelessly explains how anti-abortionism became the surrogate expression of anti-integrationism. And we need to turn to political historians like Rick Perlstein, who can help us to understand how the Dixiecrats turned into the Reagan Democrats before ultimately settling in as teavangelicals. Because, really, if you want to understand white evangelicalism ca. 2014, you don’t need to study the religious career of Billy Graham, you need to study the political career of Strom Thurmond.

Sadly, American consumer Christianity specializes in offering gimmicks that promise to eradicate suffering and theologies that claim to eliminate paradox. In our current religious and political climate a following is most easily amassed by capitalizing on the polarizing approach that frames everything according to a dualistic “us versus them” paradigm. This conspires to keep Christians immature and Christianity ugly. We have been trained to be reactive, not contemplative. The reactive is extolled while the contemplative is suspect. In such an environment reactive faith is viewed as “strong faith,” when it’s actually immature.

During the culture war era Christian leaders have been rewarded for forming people according to the reactive life. Christian television and radio thrives on reactive ideologies. In A Sunlit Absence Martin Laird says, “The reactive life is strengthened by these sudden spasms of talking, talking, talking, talking, to ourselves about life and love and how everybody ought to behave and vote.”

We desperately need more mature pastors who can lead their churches beyond the narrow confines of dualism and dogmatism and into the wide vistas of contemplation and compassion. It’s hard for me to imagine a more critical need for the American church right now than this.

In his forthcoming book, A More Christlike God, Canadian theologian Brad Jersak comments on Fowler’s stages of faith and the current plight of evangelicalism making this stinging observation: “Entire streams of Christendom are not only stuck at stage-two faith, but actually train and require their ministers to interpret the Bible through the mythic-literal eyes of school children. Growing up and moving forward is rebranded as backsliding; maturing is perceived as falling away.”

If we are required to abide within a stage of spiritual development that believes giving correct answers to a theological quiz is the essence of spiritual maturity and that being good guarantees freedom from suffering, we are stuck in elementary school. We can preach the certitude of Proverbs, but not the paradox of Job; we can make sense of the maxims of Deuteronomy, but not the mystery of John. To become spiritually mature we have to recognize that suffering cannot be avoided and paradox is part of the program.

You see, when we look at the heart of our Left Behind theology – escapism, destruction, and vengeance – our obsession with the end times reveals a deep love for self, a profound disinterest in affairs of the world, and fundamental and intractable hate for our enemies..

This sort of attitude is, of course, profoundly anti-biblical, to say nothing of being anti-Christ. For the Bible is the story of a selfless God who is deeply interested in world of the here and now, so much so that God puts on flesh and dies so that this world, the world of God’s enemies can be made new.

Interestingly, the biblical definition of antichrist isn’t always singular. Sometimes, like in 1 John 2, we are warned that many antichrists have already come in the form of those who stand opposed to the truth of the gospel and the Jesus it proclaims.

Which means if we refuse to give up our Left Behind theology and continue to insist on discerning the signs of the times, then perhaps our apocalyptic work is actually a little easier than we realized.

For, instead of scanning newspaper headlines for clues about the identity of the antichrist, we may just need to look in the mirror.

The message of the new righteousness which eschatological faith brings into the world says that in fact the executioners will not finally triumph over their victims. It also says that in the end the victims will not triumph over their executioners. The one will triumph who first died for the victims and then also for the executioners, and in so doing revealed a new righteousness which breaks through the vicious circles of hate and vengeance and which from the lost victims and executioners creates a new mankind with a new humanity. Only where righteousness becomes creative and creates right both for the lawless and for those outside the law, only where creative love changes what is hateful and deserving of hate, only where the new man is born who is neither oppressed nor oppresses others, can one speak of the true revolution of righteousness and of the righteousness of God. – The Crucified God, pg. 178

We may never think about it that way and we would certainly never articulate it quite like that, but our obsession with everything end times reveals a theology in which our version of Revelation trumps everything else. In our Left Behind world it’s as if the gospel Jesus does all the hard stuff so we don’t have to. All we need do is await the arrival of Revelation Jesus who will make all of our wildest fantasies come true.

And if we’re being really, really honest, I think most of us look forward to the Second Coming because we want Revelation Jesus to finally release the valve on all our pent up vengeance and exact brutal revenge against our enemies.