An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land


I’ve realised the only to read some books is in the third person!  Here’s Richard Beck on Stringfellow’s evaluation of American culture. 

“We have become ‘stupefied as human beings, individually and as a class of persons.’ We have lost our ‘moral sanity’ which ‘results in a strange and terrible quitting as human beings.’”

Chilling – but let’s not be too harsh on our American cousins, we’re not that different in the UK:

Stringfellow’s selects Revelation to be an inspiration and guide. If Revelation is anything it is a prophetic judgment upon Babylon.  Babylon is a demon-infested city, ruled by an ethic of death. Babylon in Revelation is, according to Stringfellow, a moral parable and description of every nation, principality and power.

In what way, Stringfellow asks, does Babylon describe America? It’s not just that wicked men rule in high places (incidentally Richard Nixon was in office when An Ethic was published). The problem is that America is characterized by a generalised moral incapacity–a hardness of heart, a lack of conscience that is rooted in how our moral lives have been taken captive by organisational and institutional idolatry:

God knows America has wicked men in high places…but that is not the issue immediately raised in emphasizing the nation’s moral poverty…

If there be evildoers in the Pentagon or on Wall Street or in prosecutors’ offices or among university trustees and administrators or in the CIA or on Madison Avenue or in the FBI or in the ecclesiastical hierarchies or in the cabinet (it would be utterly astonishing if there where not), that is not as morally significant as the occupation of these same and similar premises by men who have become captive and immobilized as human beings by their habitual obeisance to institutions or other principalities as idols. These are persons who have become so entrapped in tradition, or, often, mere routine, who are so fascinated by institutional machinations, who are so much in bondage to the cause of preserving the principality oblivious to the consequences and cost either for other human beings or themselves that they have been thwarted in their moral development.

What Stringfellow describes here is what Hannah Arendt has called "the banality of evil" in her analysis of the mind of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The evil here is the moral apathy and obviousness–the "thoughtlessness" and "mindlessness" described by Arendt–produced by institutional traditions, policies, procedures, culture, expectations and routines. This is the moral sleepiness induced by "just doing my job." According to Stringfellow, Americans have "become captive and immobilized as human beings" by our  "habitual obeisance to institutions or other principalities as idols."

In the language of Ephesians our battle is not a battle against flesh and blood–against the "wicked men in high places”–but against the moral apathy and oblivion produced by how the America public is enslaved by idolatry to the principalities and powers. As Stringfellow observes, "the American institutional and ideological ethos incubates a profound apathy toward human life." We have become "stupefied as human beings, individually and as a class of persons." We have lost our "moral sanity" which "results in a strange and terrible quitting as human beings."

It should come as no surprise, then, that Stringellow finds moral vitality and freedom among those…

…who are in conflict with the established order–those who are opponents of the status quo, those in rebellion against the system, those who are prisoners, resisters, fugitives, and victims.

Consequently, our movement into freedom and moral vitality involves being set free from idolatrous bondage to the principalities and powers of American life.

Finally, keeping with the theme of a demon-haunted Babylon, Stringfellow describes the idolatry of the principalities and powers as a form of demon possession and moral liberation akin to exorcism:

The failure of conscience in American society among its reputed leaders, the deep-seated contempt for human life among the managers of society, the moral deprivation of so-called middle Americans resembles, as has been observed, the estate described biblically as "hardness of the heart." The same condition, afflicting both individuals and institutions (including nations) is otherwise designated in the Bible as a form of demonic possession…

demonic refers to death comprehended as a moral reality. Hence, for a man to be "possessed of a demon" means concretely that he is a captive of the power of death in one or another of its manifestations which death assumes in history…
…the moral impairment of a person (as where conscience has been retarded or intimidated) is an instance of demonic possession, too. In a somewhat similar way, a nation, or any other principality, may be such a dehumanizing influence with respect to human life in society, may be of such antihuman purpose and policy, may pursue such a course which so demeans human life and so profits death that is must be said, analytically as well as metaphorically, that that nation or other principality is in truth governed by the power of death…

My concern is for the exorcism of that vain spirit.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

In A Charlie Brown Christmas Charlie Brown is struggling to find out why Christmas is so depressing. He seeks advice from this local psychiatrist, Lucy, who gets him to direct the school Christmas play.

Well, this doesn’t go very well. Eventually, Charlie Brown is rejected as director and asked instead to go buy a Christmas tree for the play. Out of all the shiny, bright artificial trees Charlie Brown picks a real but forlorn little tree that isn’t much more than a branch.

Charlie Brown takes this tree/branch back to the cast and they laugh at both him and the tree. This ridicule pushes Charlie Brown over the edge and he finally screams, "Would someone please tell me the true meaning of Christmas!!!!!" At which point Linus steps forward.

But before we hear Linus’s answer, let’s reflect on the symbol of the forlorn little Christmas tree. It’s a humble little tree, not much to look at. And it’s rejected and despised by men. And yet, it is real. All those flashy other trees are dead, cold, and fake. They are empty and hollow. But this fragile little tree is REAL. It’s fragile, but real.

Whatever Christmas is about, it is about something that is humble, about something fragile and weak, about something that is despised, marginalised, and overlooked. But at least it’s about real life.

And this is what Linus tells Charlie Brown, enjoy:

What’s a new creation?

I follow Dave Winscott’s prolific blog, holy heteroclite. Dave is a “pastor/goatherder of a missional church plant called third day fresno”. Recently he wrote on the theme "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" KJV  (:

From the black lagoon?

It’s all based on misleading translation of the original Greek of 2 Cor 5:17 , which literally says:

ωστε ει τις εν χριστω καινη κτισις τα αρχαια παρηλθεν:
"If anyone is in Christ, new creation!"

Of course the TNIV nailed it: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come"

The new 2011 NIV: "Since (even) one person is (already) in Christ, the NEW CREATION has (already) arrived"

That helps restore the thought.

The New Creation– God’s heavenly realm and  cosmic "kingdom come," which has already started coming– is a bit bigger than me.

And it is NOT me…"New Creation" has a lot more to do with Revelation’s "new heavens and new earth" in all its glory than this individual little creature from the black lagoon getting saved.

Paul also never uses the noun “creation” (ktisis) to refer to an individual person (see Rom 1:2, 25; 8:19–22, 39), and the concept of a new creation appears prominently in Jewish apocalyptic texts that picture the new age as inaugurating something far more sweeping than individual transformation—a new heaven and a new earth. The translation “there is a new creation” would mean that the new creation does not merely involve the personal transformation of individuals but encompasses the eschatological act of recreating humans and nature in Christ. It would also include the new community, which has done away with the artificial barriers of circumcision and uncircumcision (Gal 6:15–16; see Eph 2:14–16) as part of this new creation.
(David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, The New American Commentary, 286-87)  link

Paul is talking of a “new act of creation,” not an individual’s renovation as a proselyte or a forgiven sinner in the Day of Atonement service. There is even an ontological dimension to Paul’s thought.. suggesting that with Christ’s coming a new chapter in cosmic relations to God opened and reversed the catastrophic effect of Adam’s fall which began the old creation (Kümmel, 205). To conclude: en Christo, kaine ktisis in this context relates to the new eschatological situation which has emerged from Christ’s advent .
-Ralph P. Martin, 2 Corinthians, Word Biblical Commentary, 152)link

Sure, in a wonderful way, in microcosm, my status as a recreated truster of Jesus mirrors the New Creation. But I’m just a little critter/creature.

Of  course, it might also be a case of BOTH/AND…

I was glad to find this just now from Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics:

The apocalyptic scope of 2 Corinthians 5 was obscured by older translations that rendered the crucial phrase in verse 17 as “he is a new creation” (RSV) or — worse yet — “he is a new creature” (KJV). Such translations seriously distort Paul’s meaning by making it appear that he is describing only the personal transformation of the individual through conversion experience. The sentence in Greek, however, lacks both subject and verb; a very literal translation might treat the words “new creation” as an exclamatory interjection: “If anyone is in Christ — new creation!”

The NRSV has rectified matters by rendering the passage, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.” Paul is not merely talking about an individual’s subjective experience of renewal through conversion; rather, for Paul, “creation” refers to the whole create order (Rom. 8:18–25). He is proclaiming the apocalyptic message that through the cross God has nullified the kosmos of sin and death and brought a new kosmos into being. That is why Paul can describe himself and his readers as those “on whom the ends of the ages has met” (1 Cor. 10:11). The old age is passing away (cf. 1 Cor. 7:31b), the new age has appeared in Christ, and the church stands at the juncture between them. link, p. 20

Vernard Eller, in his amazing  chapter 8  of "War and Peace" ("Noting The Absence of What Wasn’t There" it here) helpfully bases his comments on the delightful translation of the NEB:

Becoming a Christian eschatologist does not mean being lifted out of this world into some  transcendent realm…Paul stated our idea rather precisely: "When anyone is united to Christ, there is a new world; the old order has gone, and a new order has already begin (2 Cor 5.17).  Obviously, Paul does not mean..that, at the moment one accepts Christ, he is transported from this world to another one...but..The old secular, flatlander interpretation is gone; and the new, true eschatological significance has already begun  (p. 200)

The NEB has since been replaced with the REB , which reads: "For anyone united to Christ, there is a new creation.." Nice!  (and see helpful comments by John Howard Yoder here

Note: this "new creation" principle carries over into a lesser-known, not on any bumper sticker, verse:

"Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation’  (Galatians 6:15, NIV)

Great translation score there. Some translations style the above as "what counts is A new creation"   Uh, no.

An intriguing parallel reminds us of what the New Creation life, here in the midst of the old creation, is to be known by:

"Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:6)

Divinely Mad

Alice: But I don’t want to go among mad people.

The Cat: Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.

How do you know I’m mad?

The Cat:
You must be. Or you wouldn’t have come here.

And how do you know that you’re mad?

The Cat:
To begin with, a dog’s not mad. You grant that?

I suppose so.

The Cat:
Well, then, you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.

1 Corinthians 1:20, 25, 27
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

”The kingdom is as mad as any hatter’s party, but it is divinely mad”.  — John Caputo

The curious tale of Mrs Soile Lautsi

The Theos team have pointed me to the curious story of the the atheist Finn, Mrs Soile Lautsi.

Mrs Lautsi moved to Italy over a decade ago, took objection to the crucifix on the wall in her child’s classroom and took the school to court. Improbably, the case not only found its way all the way to the European Court of Human Rights but the court found in favour of Mrs Lautsi, on the grounds that the crucifix was of religious as well as of cultural significance and “what may be encouraging for some religious pupils may be emotionally disturbing for pupils of other religions or those who profess no religion.” (See here, para. 55)

So there it was. One atheist, migrating to a new and somewhat foreign country and culture, used her prejudice against Christianity, combined it with a dash of human rights law, a helping of secularism, and an almighty dollop of moral indignation to bring to an end to a tradition that is 1,500 years old, give or take a century or so.

As The Guardian’s Michael White put it, “Crucifixes? Italy? Where did Soile Lautsi think she was moving to live? Thailand? What will she campaign to ban next? Pizza, the Mafia, bling, cheating at football?”

Sanity was eventually restored when Mrs Lautsi’s case went, on appeal, to the Grand Chamber. The earlier decision was overturned by fifteen votes to two, on the basis that the matter was, in principle, for the Italian Government to determine rather than the Court.

– See more at:

Page 1 of 6612345...102030...Last »