Saturday, July 16, 2011

Carl Trueman compares hacking incidents and explores a UK's paper self-serving double standard

http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2011/07/which-morality-whose-hypocrisy.php

Now, I am not known to be fan of Rupert Murdoch. For me, Fox News is comedy and The Sun is soft porn. But there is an irony that he has been forced to publish an apology in the British newspaper, The Guardian, for his companies' phone hacking activities.

Strange that. I thought the The Grauniad (sic) thought that illegal hacking and publishing private and confidential documents was absolutely vital to free society. After all, Julian Assange, of wikileaks fame, is Hero Numero Uno in The Guardian Hall of Martyrs. This is the man who made his name hacking other people's computers, writing a book to tell others how to do it, and growing famous on precisely the kind of behaviour for which Murdoch is now pilloried (and for which he probably has no personal responsibility).


It is interesting. It has seemed that journalists in big papers can decide that one ethical failure is much more excusable than another if the ethical lapse is convenient enough for them. The Guardian wasn't the only high level media outlet arguing that the ethics of Assange didn't matter so long as the story was important. Thematically this can be connected to something else Trueman notes, a new turn in Donatism. This can go in any number of ways. If secular journalists think Murdoch should take a fall for being in charge of an organization that did things for which others are praised what's the basis for saying that what the one did was wrong while what the other did was right? Is there some kind of sacrament involved in a secular free press? I would sugget that perhaps there is a sacrament of sorts for an ostensibly secular free press-breaking a story.

Long ago when I was, er, a journalism student, my professor touched on the subject of anonymous sources and undercover journalism. She said that both of these things developed a mystique around them thanks to Watergate but that it was not wise for journalists to put too much stock in either anonymous sources or in using undercover work as a way to justify breaking a story. Anonymous sources can appear to be insiders who the inside track but you can't discern that they don't have their own agenda. A person who at first seems like someone breaking a big story on government corruption may be speaking anonymously because they were sacked for personal corruption and are finding a way to get revenge on their former employer. A journalist who goes undercover to "discover the truth" will go through so many activities that amount to fraud it raises the unavoidable question of why you would justify so much lying on your part to "get at the truth".

Speaking on and off the record does depend on being willing to say what the facts are and what the truth is with the understanding that this is important. In other words, the mystique of the anonymous news source and the undercover journalist are ways we can sucker ourselves into endorsingg things that are ultimately at least as unethical as the things about which we were tempted to entertain anonymous leads or doing undercover work. As we have since discovered regarding Watergate, Deep Throat provided information that was available to be studied through on record sources. Deep Throat tied things together, sure, but not necessarily in a way that couldn't have been discerned through more tedious and comprehensive foot work on a news beat. As some editors put it, the humbling discovery about the revelation of Deep Throat's identity is that after all these decades of the free press telling itself it took down the Nixon administration it turned out that it was the Nixon administration that took down the Nixon administration. Thank God for bitter resentful careerists who held grudges against Nixon, eh?

Carl Trueman on the return of the Donatist heresy

http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2011/07/cassandra-says-beware-the-new.php

Of course it's not like heresies such as Donatism ever really went any where but some times some mistakes become more popular again after a brief hiatus in which Christians imagine that those errors were somehow stamped out ... or so we often like to tell ourselves.

The current resurgence of interest in expository preaching and reformed theology (in the broadest sense - forgive me, Gabe) is a great thing; but there is a worrying focus within the various movements associated with this revival of theology on particular strong personalities.

I gotta say that if this pun hidden within this statement isn't intentional then it just becomes an even more brilliant pun. If you didn't spot the pun/reference (intentional or otherwise) I won't go spelling it out for you.

... I have been chided, explicitly and implicitly, by friends and foes for referring to these personalities as celebrities. I think the word is appropriate but I am not going to go to the stake for it, if you will pardon the expression. Whatever word we use, the focus on personalities is undeniable: it is why the same half dozen to a dozen names appear as keynote speakers at the conferences and on the videos which are central to this movement. Call them `leaders' rather than `celebrities' but you still have a personality driven movement. And a movement built on big events which, presumably, have at least to break even, must use big names to sell tickets. To use my favourite classroom phrase, `Certain social and economic conditions must apply.'

Yet the problems this potentially generates are serious. First, it can lead too many to put their trust functionally in the men, not the message. Again, this can be denied; but the passions particular men evoke in their followers would seem to indicate that this is the case. Secondly, it can lead the leaders to take themselves too seriously. I do not necessarily mean that it makes them self-important or pompous or proud. What I mean is that it can perhaps unconsciously lead men to think that the movement depends somehow on their perfection, or near perfection. Paul's qualifications for eldership require not perfection but a high standard of credible public profession of faith, the ability to teach, and a good reputation with those outside the church. No perfection necessary. [emphasis added]

Here I cannot resist adding a centuries old observation by the pastor John Donne referring to some patristic authors, impute a fault to the man and you will refuse to accept his preaching no matter how brilliant it is. This is the flip side of what Donatism was about.

Now I would say that the celebrity driven dynamic in some church settings actually does make some leaders self-important, pompous and proud. It is at this point that a man (and in non-Reformed Protestant circles some women) in a spiritual leadership position must remember that the nature of the organization into which he has been placed by providence is one that, in the grand scheme of things for God's people, does not particularly need him. You should live a life of Christian virtue so as to be as fit as the Lord's mercies permit you to be to serve as you can; but with the realization that the Lord's people do not necessarily need you to be the one to do this.

To tie this back to Roy Baumeister's observation about the paradoxical value of men to societies because of disposability, the pastor is a servant of Christ who is made fit for the work by virtue of a calling and life of self-discipline that makes him the servant of all rather than because he has gifts that the Spirit cannot providentially confer on just about anyone else, including some women (yeah, I went there, what else did you expect?) Ironically an emphasis on the church needing real men is that these "real men" will recognize that their lives will be poured out as drink offerings to the Lord and that they must become less and less as Christ becomes greater. Plenty of people who theoretically get this don't seem to live with celebrity status that directly indicates this realization--then they become celebrities and forget.

Now how might an application of a Donatist view of a preacher work itself out? It probably won't work itself out in any consistently observable fashion because if it did then the error would be much easier to spot. I would suggest that in most cases Christians are only going to think a pastor has done something worthy of getting kicked out of the pulpit not for real sins so much as for sins that eventually attracted public or legal action. The most important thing is if one gets caught by someone else in an infraction.

So for instance, a pastor who gets caught having the affair is considered less fit for ministry than someone who may actually be having one but has successfully kept it a secret. The reasons are obvious. But even at a smaller level you as a pastor will come under, in some ways, more suspicion if you get a traffic ticket you don't pay for whatever reason than if you treat people poorly. If you end up getting traffic tickets for having a busted tail light, for instance, then the fact that a cop wrote you a ticket means you've suddenly become less qualified to be a pastor under a Donatist praxis than if you didn't get caught stealing equipment from your church for the sake of a personal mission.

If you get in trouble by landing in a court hearing then that makes you less qualified to be a pastor than someone systematically stealing things like cable or electrical services in housing compound because you weren't caught. A pastor who fails to keep up with the utility costs of living in his home will be considered unfit for ministry when word gets out about that than a pastor who belittles people and uses his authority as God's appointed lauthority to stamp out even perceived dissent.

And God help you if you somehow spend a night in jail and you're a pastor. You could get considered totally unfit for ministry by the newest form of Donatist, couldn't you?
If spending a night in jail is a priori worse than just ticking off bloggers where a pastor is concerned then, my, I guess we'll just have to say that Martin Luther King was unfit to be a pastor because he ended up writing a letter from a jail in Birmingham. Not everyone who ends up in jail even in the United States does so because of his own moral failures, sometimes a pastor ends up in jail because of the sins of others, others who would rather let that man go to jail than to own up to the sins in their own hearts.

As any number of bloggers have been saying for years, there are some pastors whose false doctrines and greed ought to be imprisonable offenses and in some cases pastors have been guilty, perhaps, of theft and deceit and blackmail and other sins that won't get as much attention because so long as the pastor isn't having sex with someone he isn't married to and is of the opposite sex it's all good, right? Well ... no ... but for a lot of Christians in America things have gotten middling enough that if we have a pastor who isn't sexually immoral and isn't obviously ripping off congregants we don't care what other character flaws he or she might have.

In some ways a return of Donatism may be the flip side of what has happened for decades in which pragmatism and ideological goals have permitted Christians to overlook the flaws and egotism of various Christian leaders. It's not that we didn't know certain preachers said and did crazy things but things like our pre-committments to the culture war would let us overlook this pastor's eschatological madness, and that pastor's love child; this pastor's weirdly racist remarks, and that pastor's conspiratorial views about Jewish bankers; this pastor's paleo-Confederate ideas, and that pastor's stumping for politicians; this pastor's absurdly legalistic ideas about gender roles, and that pastor's obsession with sex.

Of course a Donatist would probably say all the above are infractions for which one shouldn't be allowed to be a pastor, I suppose, but it's still more likely that one will be declared unfit to pastor for things for which one has a public record in legal precedent than for things that one can simply state as having been in the past and as not typical of the present.

Link via meta-link, update on Benny Hinn divorce

http://reformationanglicanism.blogspot.com/2011/05/update-on-benny-hinn-divorce-from.html

It's kind of old (last year) but there's not a ton of stuff written about this subject

Friday, July 15, 2011

Link; Christianity Today--is church growth about having a heart for Christ or a temptation to be an American success story?

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/mostriskyprofession.html

In all sorts of ways this goes back to revivalism and the Great Awakenings. American Christians and American Christianity have been dealing with the mixed legacy of these movements ever since.

One of the things I have shared with some Christians who are at a megachurch and who are quite happy to be there is that they may be happy because they and that church seem to be on an upward trajectory. Your social capital is rising, you have more friends at the church and the church is growing. I can think of any number of people who once were at a big megachurch whose social trajectories hit a plateau. Then the plateau turned into a slight dip and before long there was a dive into a flatline.

What makes the pastor's job even more spiritually vulnerable is the expectation that he also be the cathartic head of the church—someone with whom members can identify and live through vicariously. Someone who articulates their fears and hopes, someone to whom they can relate—at a distance. This is key, because the pastor has time to relate to very, very few members. Thus it is all the more important that he be able to communicate in public settings the personable, humble, vulnerable, and likable human being he is.

Thus, preaching in the modern church has devolved into the pastor telling stories from his own life. The sermon is still grounded in some biblical text, and there is an attempt to articulate what that text means today. But more and more, pastors begin their sermons and illustrate their points repeatedly from their own lives. Next time you listen to your pastor, count the number of illustrations that come from his life, and you'll see what I mean. The idea is to show how this biblical truth meets daily life, and that the pastor has a daily life. All well and good. But when personal illustrations become as ubiquitous as they have, and when they are crafted with pathos and humor as they so often are, they naturally become the emotional cornerstone of the sermon. The pastor's life, and not the biblical teaching, is what becomes memorable week after week. [emphasis added]



Fascinating, see this is one of the things I have written about here in the past. Pastors such as David Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Donne do not pepper their sermons with stories about the wife and kids or stories about incidents in grocery stores that reveal the meant and potatoes application of some text in the Bible. In media theory this is what has been called a constructed mediated reality. It's not exactly that it's not real it's that it's mediated.

Now Galli suggests this is a habit not because pastors are egotistical but because we expect personal anecdotes from our pastors. Well, personally, I don't and the fewer personal anecdotes that don't directly address the text the better. Get ready for another excerpt with emphasis added bold:

The inadvertent effect of all this is that most pastors have become heads of personality cults. Churches become identified more with the pastor—this is Such-and-Such's church—than with anything larger. When that pastor leaves, or is forced to leave, it's devastating. It feels a like a divorce, or a death in the family, so symbiotic is today's relationship between pastor and people.

No wonder pastors complain about how lonely and isolated they feel. The success and health of a very demanding institution have been put squarely on their shoulders. They love the adrenaline rush of success—who doesn't? But they also live in dread that they may fail. Wise pastors recognize that unique temptations will assault them, and some set up accountability structures to guard their moral and spiritual lives. They try to have people around them who can speak truth to their power. But in reality, since this is an accountability structure that they have set up and whose membership they determine, in the end it can only have limited effectiveness.

And so we have a system in which pride and hypocrisy are inevitable.
The situation for the pastor is impossible. He retains his biblical vision, but the system he finds himself in makes him waver between humility and arrogance, hope and cynicism, patience and anger, love and hate. The pastor has to increasingly downplay these tensions or any serious shortcomings, moral or administrative, to play the part that is expected of him. He must learn to doubt his moral instincts, so he starts believing that efficiently running a large, bureaucratic institution is "ministry" or "service" rather than what it often is: mostly managing and controlling people. He and his congregation justify his heavy-handed leadership and his lack of time for individuals—the very antithesis of his title, pastor or shepherd. His sermons are increasingly peppered with himself as much as the gospel, and even his self-deprecating humor turns against him. Now people praise him for his humility, which only goes to his head, as it does for any human being.

The morally serious pastor will be aware of much of this—even if he can't admit it to anyone—and he will strive to keep himself in check. But he will find that his left hand always—always—knows what his right hand is doing. He has become incapable of carrying out his ministry in simple freedom and trust in God's grace. He began running the race of ministry with holy ambition, but he now finds himself on a treadmill of "various expressions of pride."


Yeah, that looks about right. Galli closes with an admonition that when pastors are caught in pride and abusive patterns we should not merely condemn the. That dovetails conveniently with my references this week to Adolf Schlatter's observation that our share in evil is not removed by our condemnation of evil in others. This does not mean we never confront problems in churches or leaders. It does mean that we try as often as the grace of the Lord may avail us as we cooperate with Him that we do not make a case that amounts to "I'm not perfect but I'm still better than you."

And while we're at it, don't feel like the pastor is impersonal for spending more time talking about God's word than sharing stories about the wife and kids and pets and so forth. I know it may take getting used to but there is (I hope) nothing wrong with expressing a desire to hear the scriptures preached in a way that focuses on what we may learn from them and not about the preacher. Many pastors have unknowingly transformed their sermons into stand-up routines and social commentaries that masquerade as expository preaching. My hope is that faux-expository preaching will wane and that the actual stuff happens. That said I think some preachers need to get off their high horse about expository preaching being the big deal because they have unconsciously turned those sermons of theirs into something else. But I digress and at the first sign of digression I feel like taking a little nap.

Two more fugues and one prelude to go

I finished my prelude and fugue in D flat major for solo guitar about a month ago. It took years of testing and rejecting a lot of ideas. It also took years of testing and rejecting countersubjects even after I thought I had found some decent subjects. Eventually I scrapped everything about three or four times before I finally came up with two different subjects that I liked. In fact I liked them both so much I resolved to use them both.
The countersubjects that worked for the subjects were, honestly, not particularly compelling and generally countersubject 2 in either exposition was just sort of there (though CS2 for subject 2 is vaguely winsome). This led me to the conclusion that I might have to write two fugues and rebuild things from scratch.
But then I made a discovery, by modifying just a few notes in the second subject I discovered I could get the four measure subject 2 to work as a counterpart to the three measure subject 1. And thus my problems were solved! I was going to write a double fugue in D flat major with a three-voiced exposition for solo guitar. Don't believe me? Well, it's done. And if you are a guitarist you will not be surprised to read me say the following: if you plan on writing a three-voiced fugue in D flat major for solo guitar staccato is your friend and staccato phrasing is not really cheating if you keep your subject and countersubjects clear.
In fact it's not even cheating, really, to have the countersubjects tethered together so long as they serve as a useful contrast to the subject. This I learned studying the D major fugue from book one of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The ideal of counterpoint is that your two to five melodies all form a wonderful melodic/harmonic confection in which all the flavors can be readily discerned but as with cooking some flavors must inevitably dominate or you get a meal that lacks a truly distinct flavor in trying to be all tastes to one pallete. Many fugue expositions reveal that their subsequent fugues are going to be about as memorable as white noise.
Hate to say it but a lot of Shostakovich fugues fall into this category. He seemed to have a tragically unerring sensibility for going for one voice more than his contrapuntal texture warranted. He had too pianistic an approach to counterpoint. I know that sounds like madness considering the complexity of Bach's keyboard music and yet I'm willing to say it. Beethoven had a very pianistic (duh) approach to counterpoint but in the closing fugue of the Hammerklavier sonata he keeps his textures lean, supple, and vibrant. His Grand Fugue in his B flat major string quartet was "almost" too busy but ultimately not too busy to keep you from absorbing all of the cool ideas and the epic scale is measured in what are eventually discernible movements within movements. Shostakovich, by contrast, tries to shove too many ingredients into the dish without seeming to have considered why those ingredients ought to be there. In forms that derive from the Classic era this approach works brilliantly but not in something as flexibly conceived as a fugue.
I have been learning slowly and steadily that George Oldroyd was right (surprise) and that every fugue must emerge in terms of its form and content from the nature of the subject itself. I find it is best to go for countersubjects as steadily as possible. It's not that one has to have countersubjects it's more that if you go to the trouble of making a true countersubject you have more truly useful material. Free material you throw in during the exposition may sound cool but you may find that it's not so useful in episodes and, believe it or not, the new free material you introduce in middle entries can at times actually distract a listener's attention from your subject. That's just a personal impression I have. I can't rationally back it up. It's just a strong impression I have.
From Bach's works I have also learned that total independence of contrapunal lines is important but not as important as the cumulative effect of the lines together. Whether or not I have successfully learned from decades of studying Bach, Hindemith, Haydn, Durufle, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Bartok, Palestrina, Byrd, Brahms, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Shostakovich remains to be seen, and it even remains to be seen, at several levels, if this even remains to be seen!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Did Dan Savage inadvertantly sound like Mark Driscoll?

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2011/07/14/dan_savage_suggests_marcus_bachmann_is_gay_.html

NO, really, I mean that. June Thomas calls Dan Savage (of The Stranger fame/infamy) for making fun of Marcus Bachmann as having gay mannerisms.

In other words, the man who launched the “It Gets Better Project,” an effort to stop the bullying of gay teens, was acting like a big bully. As Savage always notes, the kind of smear-the-queer taunts that can cause so much pain to young people aren’t aimed only at kids who are gay, they’re often aimed at boys who don’t live up to some mythical standard of masculinity and girls who just aren’t girly enough. I can only imagine how listeners who happen to have the kind of lisping, effeminate speech and affect that Savage was ridiculing felt upon hearing the attack. [emphasis added]

Weird, I was just writing this week about Driscoll pinging the world for stories about effeminate worship leaders and then today I read about June Thomas fisking Dan Savage, of all people, for employing gaydar on Michelle Bachmann's husband! This is trippy. Did Dan Savage inadvertantly take a play from Driscoll this week without planning to? I don't listen to Dan Savage's podcasts and don't read The Stranger with any consistency now that Chris DeLaurenti isn't writing about the concert scene anymore, but there's a surreal irony if what June Thomas wrote is true. It's like everybody in Seattle is trying to figure out who's not macho-manly enough here in the Emerald City. This is a most peculiar week!

Was King David a super soldier or a whiny emo boy talking about his feelings?

Appropos of a recent pastor's discussion about effeminate worship leaders this raises the question of how we may, as Christians, discuss a man referred to as one of the great musicians and song-writers of the faith. David was, as some put it, a man's man; a man who learned how to kill from childhood. Now killing lions and tigers and bears to protect your dad's flock isn't the same as learning how to kill military adversaries but I suppose we can go with the idea that one pastor has proposed that David was a dude who learned early on how to kill and kick ass.

Except that this is the same King David who another pastor from the same church described as constantly seeming in the Psalms as a whiny emo kid who kept talking about his feelings. Huh, wonder what is up with that? How can the same King David whom one pastor at a church describes as a dude's dude can be described, by the worship pastor at the same church no less, as seeming like a self-absorbed whiny emo kid? Kind of forces you to think that one through a little bit, doesn't it? The scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit so if the Psalms of David present him, we may say, as a self-absorbed whiny emo boy is that because he really was one? Is that because we get to stand in judgment of the scriptures inspired by the Spirit and make them a measure by which we can pass judgment on the character of a man who was both a king and a prophet?

Surely if the man had both kingly and prophetic gifts and was annointed by the Lord through the prophet Samuel we might cautiously broach the subject of whether David was either a man's man (who loved Jonathan more than he loved women as he recounted it in the book of Samuel) or that whiny emo boy (who in those whiny emo songs thanks the Lord for giving him the strength to bend a bow of bronze and the ability to kill his adversaries in battle). Obviously neither the dude of dudes nor the whiny emo boy depictions offered do justice to who King David was even via the necessarily incomplete account of his life we get from the scriptures.

The dude of dudes David was a negligent and spoiling parent who did not take any action at all to right the wrong of his son raping his daughter. He also lamented the death of his son Absalom in such a shamefully public fashion Joab warned him that if this persisted the army that just saved his kingdom would desert him and the people would refuse to follow him. He also urged his son Solomon to kill political liabilities whom he collaborated with during his own life. Yet we are told David was a man after God's own heart. And he was, it's just that this didn't keep him from being a nasty piece of work all the same.

The whiny emo boy David was a brilliant tactician and a savvy politician. He was able to forge military alliances and set up politically expedient marriages (not that all evangelicals will be happy to preach that part of David's life for some understandable reasons). He was also shrewd at deception to save his own life. He was pragmatic enough to not try to conquer all the places that would have been part of the promised land so as to create military buffer states and maintain alliances with naval empires. He was able to keep the region of Israel stable enough to allow a lot of trade to happen. This was, among many other things, what made him a good king. He was able to be a servant to the people by not merely fighting battles that gave him glory and made him look good but fighting battles that actually benefited God's people.

Unlike his predecessor Saul, David was willing to fight battles that served the people as much or more as himself. Unlike Saul, when challenged about wrong-doing he was actually capable of not only admitting he was wrong but doing things differently after confrontation. So if those kinds of things made King David a whiny emo boy then may we all who name the name of Christ be more like that whiny emo boy.

Mark Driscoll, William Wallace II, and Pussified Nation Part 268

http://theresurgence.com/2011/07/13/the-issue-under-a-lot-of-issues

Gender. Is it a socially constructed reality or a God-given identity?

That’s a significant question, and how you answer it has massive implications. The question of gender underlies many current cultural conflicts and theological controversies that go beyond even the long standing debates about whether or not a woman can be a pastor and whether or not a man is to function as the head of his home.


So the title of this entry linked above is "The Issue Under a Lot of Issues". That sure is handy. Perhaps with a little judicious editing of fonts this could be recast as ...

The Issue Under a Lot of Issues

That looks a bit more like it in Driscoll land. And for what it's worth I'm totally convinced that Driscoll has convinced himself and all his executive elder buddies probably also think that that's how this works.

But the blogosphere response to Driscoll's request for stories about pussified worship leaders has been to say Driscoll is making stupid frat boy locker room jokes, which he invited. Mark may seriously think "the" issue under a lot of issues is whether gender is socially constructed or a God-given reality but the issue is not as purely binary as that. The issue is also whether or not Mark Driscoll's remarkably binary and reductionist exposition on gender in public settings can be considered viable even as a conservative evangelical discourse on what masculinity and femininity are.

So, we are working on a new website where I can speak to these real issues in a fuller context. Lord willing, sometime in September, after my trip to Europe with my family and a lot of other people, and then some recovery time, we will launch a new website.

In the past, I’ve not had a regular place to work out personal commentary on social issues, and so I’ve erred in sometimes doing so in places like Facebook, Twitter, and the media, where you can have a good fight but don’t have the room to make a good case

Oh, in the past Mark hasn't had a regular place to work out personal commentary on social issues? Dude, so you have never made personal commentary on social issues through podcasts and blog entries on Resurgence and Acts 29 conferences and Mars Hill boot camps and Mars Hill discussion forums or The City or, dare I say it, your own pulpit at the church you founded because God told you to start a church that you've been using as a platform within which to, incidentally, make personal commentary on social issues for the last, oh, fifteen years? And here I thought after ten years of your sermons that you thought you had a pretty good avenue within your own pulpit for making tons of personal commentary on social issues.

In fact your freedom to make personal commentary on social issues rather than exegeting biblical texts is one small reason I'm no longer attending Mars Hill (and I doubt you want to know the actually big ones though I've explained those here). Now personal commentary on social issues is fine as long as it is not conflated with a so-called exegesis of a biblical text. But the Nehemiah sermons were a tipping point in which there was virtually no exegesis and a lot of personal commentary on social issues related to surprisingly local ecclesiology.

Mark, I spent many years at Mars Hill. I helped get a few ministries off the ground at the church. I served faithfully for quite a few years and gave a little bit of money. Not a lot of money because I've never been a fat cat but enough money to have been disappointed at how that capital campaign from 2005 worked out. But people make dumb mistakes in church leadership and so I kept giving to local projects because I believed in what was going on there. I also served in a ministry where people who had theological questions could ask a Mars Hill pastor and got, um, me. And I was okay with that when the questions were from church members and not Driscoll fans in other states who could go look up answers to questions about biblical texts on-line.

Which is to say that if Mark Driscoll thinks that this is about "the" issue under a lot of issues he's spinning this so that he can define the terms of what the issues are, which is precisely the wrong thing to do. It's one of the things his critics from both liberal and conservative circles have been trying to tell him for years. He's basically said that in pastoral terms pastoral love on his part means never having to say he's sorry to anyone in public about any issue. Even back when he wrote the retraction for the response to Brian McLaren that ended with "In conclusion this is all gay" it was not especially apologetic. It was more a case of "My fellow pastors told me I shouldn't have said what I said in the way that I said it and for that I'm sorry." It's sort of like a high school jock saying, "Hey, bra, I'm totally sorry I called you a pussy faggot. I'll call you queer instead because that's less demeaning." Yeah, okay, sure, that's better. Just wait a week before you call me a pussy faggot and it's all good.

Now I'm not saying the scriptures say that homosexual activity is okay. They don't (last I checked) and it takes a lot of finessing of the text to say they do--but then I'm also not suggesting that just because a straight guy has ever had a boner seeing a woman that this mean the guy "must" be married, which is not far off from Driscoll's theology about masculinity so far as it can be understood. I'm also not saying that the scriptures have nothing to say about how men and women should relate to each other. They do.

But the real issue under a lot of issues is that Driscoll, when challenged about both the style and substance of what he says in the public sphere, insists on being the one to define what the style and substance of the "real" issue is. He casts things as though he were being misrepresented or misunderstood and lacks the opportunity to say what he really means when the response of even fellow Christians who are doctrinally conservative is to point out that this is precisely not the problem. He can even convince himself that some of the problem is that he actually, God only knows why, doesn't have enough opportunities to make personal commentary on social issues and that somehow this is where some of the problem is.

He's had more than a decade in which to make personal commentary on social issues from the pulpit like pretty much any other conservative evangelical or fundamentalist or liberal or liberation theology pastor has. As far back as "I'm not some pansy-ass therapist" he's been selling this shtick. To even suggest otherwise, let alone say that he has not actually had a regular place to work out personal commentary on social issues is the highest level of self-delusion possible in a public figure. It's either that or so patently dishonest I don't know how the guy can go to sleep at night or tuck his kids in to sleep thinking he has never once said in a sermon something that could be construed as personal commentary on social issues. If forced to decide whether this is dishonesty or self-delusion I take the more generous option of interpreting this as self-delusion.

When Driscoll write a blog entry called "The Issue Under a Lot of Issues" he's still spinning all of this stuff he's doing as, fundamentlaly, saying that "Pussified Nation" is ultimately the right way to address all these issues. It's still basically saying that ultimately he's got nothing to say he's sorry about. He even frames it all in terms of saying that we're supposed to magically believe that up until NOW he has not had a venue in which "to speak to these real issues in a fuller context." What exactly were we supposed to imagine four months of Peasant Princess was? "Just preaching the Bible?" No personal commentary on social issues? What exactly were we supposed to think was going on in Nehemiah? No personal commentary on church ecclesiology?

Now the other thing about this situation is that what Mark did was invite people to share about chickafied worship leaders. Those who would defend Driscoll say he's making a valid point. Well, let me see if I can try to roll with that. Let's assume that Mark's inflammatory style is justified because he's challenging people about sin in the church. Has Driscoll's invitation to people to share stories about effeminate worship leaders been an invitation to challenge actual sin in the body of Christ or merely a transgression of certain aesthetics? If Driscoll were confronting actual sins he might have some room to take a confrontational approach.

Even if, for the sake of argument, I assume Driscoll gets to invite people to share stories about failings of church musicians in masculinity is that inviting people to share stories about actual sins in the church that need to be confronted? No. This wouldn't be a case where Driscoll has been challenging people to confront actual sins committed by church musicians, it's a case of inviting people to publicly ridicule brothers in Christ. Driscoll apparently can't or won't apologize for openly soliciting people to share stories belittling brothers in Christ for things that are not actually sins, and has to reframe the issue as being really about whether or not gender is socially constructed or God-given.

You see even if we assume that Driscoll would be entitled to invite people on Facebook to share stories about effeminate anatomically male worship leaders on the basis of confronting sin he can't even prove that he's asking people to speak up about actual sin. And per all that Matthew 18 stuff that the neo-Reformed like to allude to, but only when their pet preachers and teachers are being criticized, shouldn't all these people Mark invited to sound off on Facebook have privately gone to the effeminate musicians to confront them about their sin? Then if the effeminate musicians didn't repent of their sins shouldn't these Facebook people have then gone to their local church leaders? Should they have then only felt at liberty to post stories about the sinfulness of effeminiate male musicians on Driscoll's Facebook page after those effeminate musicians just refused to repent?

Oh, well, seeing as it's hard to make a case that merely being "effeminate" as a worship leader is actually a sin maybe there's no basis for people venting about chickafied worship leaders by the neo-Reformed metric of Matthew 18. The hypocrisy within the double standard here isn't difficult to point out but it's worth pointing out because a non-apology on something like this says more through what it doesn't say than what it, uh, didn't say. This non-apology within the context of the neo-Reformed and in the context of Driscoll's ministry is a gift that may keep on giving. The reality is that he invited fellow Christians to belittle fellow Christians not for any actual sin but for aesthetic differences that are considered to reflect on masculinity. Then when challenged from various directions he just decides to say the "real" issue is whether gender is socially constructed or God-given.

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks and it would appear out the abundance of Driscoll's heart he can't resist the temptation to ask people to share stories about effeminate worship leaders. This new non-apology is just Pussified Nation Part 268. It's like I was saying earlier this week, I was afraid this was pretty much where Driscoll was going to go and unfortunately Driscoll didn't prove me wrong. "I am sorry" is not in Driscoll's vocabulary for stuff he says as a pastor much of the time.

Dude, even Benny Hinn can publicly admit that his marriage fell apart because he didn't do what he should have as a husband and father but you can't say "I'm sorry" when Christians say it's getting old inviting people to mock chickafied worship leaders who are brothers in Christ? I can't believe I'm about to write this in a blog but, Mark, you need to learn from Benny Hinn's example in humility, man. There's nothing wrong with actually saying "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I shouldn't have done that." If even Benny Hinn can issue a public apology why can't you? Whatever happened to the stuff you said years ago in which a person can "win the battle but lose the war?"

Oh, but since Driscoll's been getting "discipled" by C. J. Mahaney and is totally humble if you really get to know him (whatever being "discipled" by pastors on the other side of the country who have admitted they have some problems with pride themselves means) we should just let all of this go and let Driscoll say what "the" issue is under a lot of issues. We have freedom of press and, certainly, if Driscoll absolutely insists on buying his own hype he can keep doing that. I don't doubt his sincerity about what he's saying. Somebody has to believe he hasn't had enough venues for making personal commentary about social issues. It might as well be him.

But since freedom of the press means nobodies can speak about public figures and Driscoll is an internationally known megachurch pastor I have the freedom to say I'm disappointed in him and I'm not buying what he's selling himself. A guy who has Driscoll's public presence and history as a pastor who can actually believe he has not had a venue in which to work out personal commentary on social issues when a good deal of his preaching has been personal commentary on social issues has finally tipped his hand. The self-delusion is just too much to ignore and, unfortunately, some fifteen years of preaching up to yesterday's non-apology makes the point louder than anything I could blog. What is more the double standard of the fan base around the man becomes difficult to ignore.

I don't technically need to blog about this because Driscoll's life and preaching and blogging ultimately testifies against itself. Yet because at one point I sincerely believed he was going to get over these character flaws I feel obliged to blog about this because after more than a decade I wanted to be able to say that he'd gotten better. I can't say that. I can't say that what just transpired yesterday isn't Pussified Nation Part 268. Driscoll can blog what he insists the issue under a lot of issues is but that's the point, people have been saying what the issue under a lot of issues is. The issue is that Driscoll says inflammatory things; invites inflammatory stories about guys who prove that this is a pussified nation; and then, when challenged to find ways to not merely "speak the truth" but also "speak the truth in love", he keeps blogging as though he ultimately never has to say he's sorry. For that I'm really sorry.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

As if on cue. Psyblog writes on why people avoid the truth about themselves

http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/07/why-people-avoid-the-truth-about-themselves.php

Mark Driscoll, William Wallace II, and Pussified Nation part 267

http://rachelheldevans.com/mark-driscoll-bully

http://twitter.com/#!/PastorMark/statuses/90907044000968704


Rachel Held Evans has sounded off on her conviction that Mark Driscoll is a bully. So has Scott Bailey at Scotteriology. So have a number of people. Those who would defend Driscoll have taken pains to say that he and Mars Hill have done more for abused women than bloggers. They can't actually prove this and if it were provable it is not germane to the nature of the complaints about Driscoll's way with public screeds.

That Driscoll invited people to share stories about anatomically male but effeminate worship leaders should not be seen as acceptable to his fans but it should not be seen as scandalous to his critics. The reason I say this should not be construed as scandalous to his critics has nothing to do with the recency of the Facebook post (apparently now deleted) and a great deal to do with my having seen "Pussified Nation" some ten years ago on the completely unmoderated Mars Hill Midrash php discussion forums. I don't have the capacity for sustained outrage at Driscoll making fun of men he considers pussies because he's been doing this for a decade. What, exactly, is supposed to be new about this?

Sure, I may be one of a very few people on earth who actually remember anything about "Pussified Nation" but God providentially permitted Al Gore to invent the internet so that Mark can go to bed each night knowing that there are still people out there who saw that. If all you ever read about William Wallace II was what Mark wrote in Reformission Rev you might as well have never heard about it at all. As Mark told it he wasn't posting as William Wallace II because he seemed to be a fight-hungry butt-monkey. Nah, he was just rightly challenging all the pussies who refused to man up to go man up. It just stopped being fun when someone escalated the febrile rhetoric into challenging Driscoll to a fight at around 2 in the morning. This, too, Mark spun as someone else's problem. Was he not joking?

Ah, but that was more than a decade ago so things change. What has changed since then? Well, Mark is now past 40 is at least one new thing in the scope of history. He can't plead being young and inexperienced after some fifteen years of being a preacher. His fans can't plead this case for him either. His fans also cannot plea the case that if you just knew Driscoll's heart you'd see that he's only making fun of people who deserve it because they don't believe the real Gospel. Making fun of effeminate church musicians makes that a hard sell because while I imagine there are professional musicians in church settings who aren't Christians they are frequently not leading worship as such or playing liturgical roles. So in many cases the church musicians Driscoll is inviting people to share stories about regarding said musicians' ponce-like ways are brothers in Christ.

Now making fun of apostates and people who claim Christianity but empty of its power are easy marks and I feel no regret in belittling someone like Bishop Spong who, as Fearsome Tycoon put it, ingeniously figured out how to deny every core teaching of the Anglican church while still contriving an excuse to still get paid by it.

Driscoll is the guy who joked that he didn't know how single people made it through the day. He also said during a mens' retreat that if he didn't get any sex for a period of longer than three days he got "wiggy". Whatever that means. A guy who can expound in multiple sermons how Song of Songs refers not to an allegory of Christ's love for the church but wifely stripteases and holy blow jobs is the kind of man who, for whatever reason, might find it challenging to go without for a few days. Aw, I feel super bad for him as a single man who is 37 and has never even had a girlfriend, let alone fornicate with one as Driscoll did with his. I'm afraid I haven't been manly enough for that.

Of course I have legions of character problems so my sarcasm is not intended to suggest that I think I would be a good boyfriend or husband. I just wrote moments ago about how one of the core problems we have as Christians is that we find it easy to condemn evil in others thinking this means we have no evil in ourselves. Some of the vitriol I've seen levelled at Driscoll proves this point. People who rip on Driscoll as a misogynistic homophobe who are waiting for a scandal to erupt in which Driscoll has hired some rent boy or gets caught doing meth with a male prostitute are falling into the same trap where they think Driscoll has happily pitched his tent. These bloggers are eager to denounce the evil they see in Driscoll but do not see it in themselves, most of them.

Case in point, irony level 10 is Scotteriology. Now I enjoy reading Scotteriology but as far as guys who belittle people they disagree with as mental failures for failing to deal with "reality" go Scotteriology and Driscoll are arguably on equal terms. Doesn't mean I dislike either guy. I like reading Scott's entries on intertestamental literature and stuff like that. I found his take down of Driscoll's patently dishonest use of Targum Neofiti helpful. I'm just saying that while Scott's got his moral outrage going about a guy like Driscoll making fun of effeminate men Scott's got plenty to answer for in making fun of plenty of people, too. Both men will rationalize their ridicule of others on the basis of saying "I'm making fun of these idiots because they don't want to acknowledge the truth." Scott, in his own way, is simply the other side of the Driscoll coin. Don't get me wrong, Scott, I still love reading your blog!

Trouble is that a good deal of the people who don't like Driscoll mocking people aren't afraid to mock. They may mask this in amused condescension but the heart is not so very different. In fact I'd say it's pretty much the same as what they see in Driscoll, they just couch it in more righteous sounding terms so they can be indignant about it.

As a never married guy who has never actually been on anything I'd even call a date and am also a sometime church musician I don't know if I'd be "effeminate" but I had plenty of occasions where guys in gym class (joks) assumed I was gay. I got told any number of times that I must be in a gay relationship with my brother because my brother and I hung out together. If you'd moved as much as our family moved you might tend to stick close to family, too, but in high school land that's a way to get labeled queer. I'll cheerfully concede I went and saw House of Flying Daggers because I think Ziyi Zhang is hot ... but by the metrics of high school jocks I was considered pretty gay.

Couldn't help but post the twitter remark. Doesn't caring the slightest bit about fashion make you just the teensiest bit effeminate?

A strange irony afoot in talking about church musicians who aren't manly enough is the whole history of Mars Hill music. The most popular band at Mars Hill for several years was fronted by a man who Driscoll described as looking and sounding like a 12 year old boy. I can speak as someone who repeatedly tried pointing out that if a church has a bunch of musicians who are performing music that only makes sense for the "twelve year old boy" that the church is having a bunch of liturgically useless music foisted on it and then being blamed by the pastors for a lack of participation. A lot of Mars Hill music was stuff written by emo/indie rockers that revelled in a kind of performance art that practically forbade congregational participation. I tolerated a whole bunch of songs written by bands that like Radiohead and U2 and other bands fronted by whiny emo metrosexuals. Driscoll once said his favorite band was the Smiths and ... Morrisey? He's not exactly the most masculine singer now, is he? A good deal of the problem with worship leaders who are chickified dudes is that they have spent decades collectively trying to make worship music more relevant, missional, and contemporary. Screw that. Messiaen's organ work Mass for Pentecost is more masculine than that. :)

Now say what you will about the chickified hippy sorts but at least some of them manage to create music that people can actually sing along with. And in the grand scheme of masculinity (if there is such a thing) how does a guy with a 12-year old boy's voice qualify as less of a failure than the "chickified" dude? Just because you've met his wife and kids?

Now if forty is by Mark's account too old to plead youthful ignorance or indiscretion maybe forty is also too old to be recycling locker room put-downs about guys who seem queer. Didn't Mark used to pay some visits to a church member who has been very plainspoken about his struggles with same-sex attraction? Not sure if Mark hangs with that guy or visits him anymore. I hear Mark pulled down the Facebook post and if so, well maybe Pussified Nation may eventually stop being part of the comedian's routine. That would be the preferable trajectory.

What I fear is more likely is that it has been pulled for more editing and workshopping amongst fellow comedians and will come back later. What I worry may happen is that Mark will just make a few stray remarks and say "people blog" and then his fan base will be animated to defend what they would consider juvenile coming from anyone else and scandalous being directed toward one of their favorite preachers. I've already seen a few years of anti-Driscolls hoping he gets caught molesting a kid. This is just as bad as anything they hope Driscoll will be guilty of.

As I was just writing earlier tonight one does not remove one's share of evil by condemning evil in others. Should we agree that Driscoll is capable of great evil (and I don't think anyone in their right mind, Christian or otherwise, should dispute that this is at least true of Driscoll as it would be of any public figure) we should also agree that like in response to like is not going to make things better. If I wanted to I could have compiled more evidence for Driscoll's pastoral stupidity than most. I have restricted myself to things Driscoll himself has put in the public sphere because public stuff merits public response.

If "Pussified Nation" had not at one point been available for anyone on-line to read I wouldn't consider it a landmark in Driscoll's public screeds on gender and males. I've met people who considered what he said and how he acted in that thread to be heroic and prophetic. Well, they did consider him those things at one point for that but I wonder how many of those people who no longer agree with either the "what" that he said therein or how. I never agreed very much with either the "what" and found the "how" relentlessly self-incriminating. I was not dissuaded by the "If you knew who was saying this stuff you'd agree with it." I was not so incensed I felt like leaving, as some did, when the real identity of William Wallace II finally got revealed, but it left me with the unforgettable impression that there are people who are very happy to condemn in others what they are sure does not reside in themselves.

But, and I keep saying this, some of the most embittered ex Mars folks I have met are the folks who went along with that mentality and rationalized it in pretty much any instance until it came home to roost. Then they did yet another 180 and chose to condemn not only what they saw done to themselves but the whole thing without copping to the reality of their roles. In a way the people who can get most worked up about the injustice of it all are those who, when the chips are down and things are in their favor, are most willing themselves to throw the first stone. We should be cautious in our criticism of those who we believe display a lack of principle that we do not betray those principles we hold as most valuable.

That process of self-betrayal in the name of promoting one's principles is very frequently what I see happening when people decide they have to go try to smack some cyber-sense into Driscoll. They all too often fail to confront weaknesses in his ideas in a persuasive way. They also tend to respond to dopey jokes rather than getting into core theological weaknesses. On his better days Scotteriology has approached engaging Driscoll's pastoral weaknesses by directly talking about his failure to handle a particular text or Targum. But jumping on the bandwagon of Evans' post is not necessarily an effective way to do it, especially since Scotteriology himself is so frequently apt to employ the methodology of Driscoll in his own blogging. Now others don't but I'm not necessarily blogging about them. And, just to repeat myself, Scott, still love reading your blog. I trust you know that.

Anyway, if Driscoll wants to keep seeing himself as Dr. Perry Cox to the collectively metrosexual John Dorian of all "effeminate" Christian musicians I obviously can't stop him. I can't speak on behalf of church musicians amateur and professional who might come under scrutiny of the most nominal and rudimentary sort. I can't speak for whomever people posted stories about for Driscoll to use in a sermon where he makes sport, yet again, of chickified dudes who have product in their hair, listen to Mariah Carey, and drive yellow Cabreolets. I can try, and have tried, but there's a decent chance after fifteen years that the leopard can't change his spots. To expect a change of heart in him now is to expect something as improbable as someone rising from the dead.

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Our own share of evil is not removed by condemning evil in others."

This is an observation written by German biblical scholar Adolf Schlatter who was one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's teachers. Ironically Schlatter himself would eventually go on to bitterly disappoint Bonhoeffer by showing sympathy to the National Socialist party (Bethge p. 54, you probably know the book)
I doubt I could ask for a more useful case study in which a New Testament scholar, who demonstrated keen insight into the scriptures and influenced one of the most important Protestant theologians of the twentieth century, could nevertheless end up exemplifying one of the paradoxical problems in Christians ... and in people generally. Yet this capacity is not strictly the domain of the religious. It is possible to speak up against evil we perceive in someone else while being oblivious to our own evil. We may think we are alert to the failings of others while being unaware of the malice in our own heart. We all have a capacity, a deadly capacity to believe that if we condemn evil in others this is a sign that we have removed evil from ourselves.
The whole idea that condeming evil in others means that you have no evil in your heart is the quintessence of blogging. If a New Testament scholar who taught no less a theologian than Bonhoeffer could still end up being sympathetic to the National Socialists that should give us pause. Let's ask ourselves what the formal platform of the National Socialists was? Didn't it include discussion about how society had been ruined by various moral failings in leadership? Did not Hitler make appeals to the effect of "We just want our country back from the decadent people who ruined it?" The trouble with cries of "consumerism" left and right, theological or political, is that "consumerism" might as well be the new "communist". And "communist" hasn't really gone away either.
It will frequently be considered good enough for a blogger to say "I'm not perfect but ... " which essentially boils down to "I'm not perfect but at least I'm not as bad as this other person." For the sake of particular example, I can read about Scott Bailey over at Scotteriology ripping on Driscoll for being an idiot who rips on other people about things and belittling them for having ideas he thinks are stupid. Okay ... what does Scott do again? Oh ... yeah ... that's right, he makes fun of people who hold to ideas he considers stupid and exploitive, too. The trick becomes discerning the distinction between when it's okay to belittle someone else and when it's not or when to question if belittling itself is also the problem. For the record this hardly means I'm going to stop reading Scotteriology because I've found some of his writings on intertestamental and Old Testament literature fascinating. See, if ALL he ever did was make fun of people he thinks are stupid I wouldn't have a reason to read the blog.
Now I plan to write a bit more here and there about Schlatter's commentary on Romans because it's fascinating but the first thing I feel obliged to blog about Schlatter is to point out that a capable biblical scholar who, so far as I can tell, has keen insight into the scriptures, can still end up in the course of history saying and making some big mistakes. Even sympathizing with National Socialism can be considered a big mistake. That would seem like an easy thing. But what is not so easy is that in many cases we do not realize that our own share of evil is not removed by condemning evil in others because we engage in the ethical rhetoric of relative privation.
Evil as privation of good goes at least as far back as Augustine and I don't wish to dive into that here. I merely mention for sake of observation that the embrace of evil in the history of humanity has never been of the Stan Lee "Brotherhood of Evil Mutants" variety (as Roy Baumeister so amusingly discussed in his book on evil). For the sake of keeping with things X-Men, Magneto doesn't consider himself evil and yet he's a villain through and through. He eventually comes to agree with the racist and supremacist notions of the Nazis he despised because at the end of the day he subscribes to the idea that mutants are entitled to look down upon and act against humans. Magneto is a compelling villain because his embrace of what we would call villainy is done for precisely the reasons we would consider heroic if we were in his shoes.
Those who do the most harm frequently think they are doing the most good. Those who do the most harm may see themselves as imperfect but they believe the evil they condemn in others is ultimately so much greater than the evil they see in themselves that they feel obliged to speak up. Of course I'm not saying don't write a blog unless you are without sin. That would be impossible. I'm also not saying that if you write a blog you have no basis from which to speak about what you consider to be sins in the church but if you find it easier to blog about the sins of others (or preach about them) beware the health of your mind, heart and soul.
It wasn't that difficult for Pharisees to point out the sinful failings of others and arguably many of those people who think they are speaking up against the Pharisaical tendencies of others are just as much Pharisees themselves. If you believe there is no evil in your own heart then you're a liar and a liar who is incapable of telling the truth to others. We frequently find it easy to condemn other people for sins we can't even imagine ourselves committing or we condemn them for the sins we privately realize are our most besetting sins.
It is not simple to explain the impulse as merely being one or the other. We can claim to know this for ourselves and, worse yet, for others, but only God knows for sure which is which within us. If you condemn those who lie to others but you lie to yourself then you may sincerely believe you are confronting sin in another person that you don't struggle with. You imagine you are a spiritual one who is being careful not to fall prey to the same temptation without realizing you have lost to that temptation yourself. Anyone can say that haters will hate while hating people in their heart. A man may complain about how "people will blog" while himself blogging all sorts of incendiary things and pleading that he's speaking the truth in love when it remains to be seen whether he blogged either the truth or did it in love.
I suppose the easy path to take here would be that any time you look at a blogger or pastor or public figure who denounces sin to assume that he or she is privately guilty of that. I don't subscribe to that view. It's simply too easy to assume that behind every public proclamation by a Ted Haggard about homosexuality there is a scandal about meth and a male prostitute waiting to happen. There are pastors about whom some people wait with baited breath to discover have been involved in this or that a scandal.
Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees did not consist chiefly in their sexual immorality. In fact Jesus went so far as to say that the disciples should do everything the Pharisees told them to do but to not follow their example? Why? Their attitudes toward money and power were what Jesus frequently condemned. The adulteress and the prostitute met with more of Jesus' mercy than the wealthy spiritual leaders of the day for their jockeying for greater prestige and influence, and for more money. It wasn't that Jesus accepted sexual sin, He still told the woman "go and sin no more." Christ welcomed sinners who knew they were sinners while spurning those who thought themselves blameless.
Were the Pharisees really sinless? No, and yet they thought they were, in many cases, okay. Perhaps they believed, as we Christians are so often apt to believe, that if we simply condemn evil in others we are somehow by proxy condemning evil in ourselves? "I used to be that way and that's why after I found Jesus I get to condemn the things in others that they do now that I used to do", maybe? There are a lot of Christians who seem to believe and live as though the great challenge for them as Christians is to confront other people about their sins, whatever they believe those sins may be. Or a person, as I wrote earlier, may believe that the crux of confronting and challenging sin is in confronting the sins that he or she can't imagine any appeal to.
There may be a single man who is argumentative, resentful and bitter that he's not married and revels in arguing with people about any given point about theology or politics. Yet in his mind the big sin to be on the look out for is homosexuality and he gets upset that other Christians do not condemn homosexuality enough. Yet the homosexual can be said to seek meaning and solace in a sexual relationship and sees his or her sexual disposition as God-ordained. Ironically the bitter single man who complains that the Christians in his life aren't doing enough to speak against homosexuality is as besotted with the idea of a sexual relationship giving his life meaning as the homosexual he thinks must be confronted by Christians for embracing a sinful lifestyle and value system.
When I left the last church I was at I came to the conclusion that there were problems in the theol0gy and spiritual formation of that church. But I also came to the conclusion that I had substantial problems in my own spiritual life. The problem I faced was not as simple as "I'm in a bad church". I could say that for various reasons and those would not necessarily be be wrong reasons. I still stand by the reasons I did not renew my membership for a fourth time. But my real point is that I came to see the spiritual problems in my old church as emblematic of spiritual problems I myself had. It was not that I was better than the people at the church I left. In many respects I was one of the worst people there in how I dealt with people on subjects like theology or intellectual debate. I could be extremely belittling of people and cruel.
The problem wasn't merely out there, it was also in here. I came to realize that the reason I needed to stop being at that spiritual community was not just because of the real problems inherent in that community it was also because those problems ensured that my own recurring sins were a good fit for that community! The more I thought about it the more I became convicted that my criticisms of the community were ultimately self-criticisms of patterns of relating to people I had not truly recognized. There's a great deal more that could be said that I won't say. I've been building up to sharing how in my own life I came to realize that condemning evil in others actually revealed my own participation in evil. This is the essence of what Adolf Schlatter was writing about in his commentary on Romans. It is also a sad irony that having written these words Schlatter was able to sympathize with National Socialism. Bonhoeffer was bitterly disappointed with this, more than you or I could possibly be.
There's somewhere else I want to run with this idea but in order to do that I need to write another entry.