Thursday, December 04, 2008

Go Away, Rick Warren

Brokeback Mountain, I mean Saddle Back Church pastor Rick Warren appeared on Hannity and (colmes) last night and gave a summary of his view of the purpose of government:
Responding to Hannity’s assertion that “we need to take him [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] out,” Warren agreed, saying that stopping evil “is the legitimate role of government. The Bible says that God puts government on earth to punish evildoers.”

I'm not sure where, exactly, in the Bible Warren gets that particular view. Perhaps from Romans 10, although if so, it is a pretty dumb reading.

While I realize Warren is hot stuff on the evangelical circuit these days, his theology is pretty thin gruel. There are different views of the role of the state in church history, from St. Augustine's to contemporary liberation theologies of various stripes.

One of my favorite takes on the role of the state is spelled out in a long essay by the great Reformed theologian Karl Barth. Entitled "Justification and Justice" (and poorly retitled "Church and State" in its initial English translation), Barth sticks close to his hyper-Christo-centrism and examines the relationship of the Church and State through the prism of Jesus' encounter with Pilate. It is impossible to sum up such a lengthy, nuanced view in a few sentences, but this radical departure from traditional Providential theology does kind of make Warren's view a steaming pile of mule poo. For Barth, the state has power only insofar as this power comes from God. As such, even the power of the sword should be understood as the sword wielded by Christ (the image comes from the Book of Revelation to John, but is certainly applicable). Pilate's power to judge Jesus and order his execution should be understood not as a legitimate act of the state, but rather as a gracious condescension on the part of God incarnate in Jesus allowing such an act, since it is in keeping with the Divine plan.

As far as "defeating evil" is concerned, I do believe Jesus took care of that over a long weekend a couple millennia ago. Since Warren doesn't actually reference the crucifixion and resurrection, I do wonder what he believes about that.

If there is an award for shallow, stupid comments made by people who call themselves Christians and pastors (I know it isn't Brokeback Mountain, but I can't help thinking of that whenever I hear the name of his church), I do believe Warren should get such a prize.

And then remain silent.


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