Saturday, April 28, 2012

Nathan Colquhoun: People Don't Just Change [and sermons don't change them]

http://www.nathancolquhoun.com/2012/04/14/people-dont-just-change-the-purpose-of-sermons

One of things that I have grown to realize about people, is that they don’t change. One of the things that I have grown to realize about myself is that I don’t change either. Another thing I have grown to realize about myself is that I want other people to change.

There is a plethora of reasons as to why we don’t change. It ranges from apathy to ignorance to arrogance to rebellion. We don’t like it. We don’t create spaces in our lives so change happens. We strive passionately for the mundane and familiar as if our sanity rests in them.

While preparing my message on Saul on the Road to Damascus this weekend I began to see the story in an entirely new way. Saul does nothing. In fact, he was doing the opposite of good. Saul didn’t change. He saw Jesus and then he didn’t really have a choice to start living differently.

The problem is, with stories like this, is that they are so opposite to how we actually see the world. We think that a good sermon (and trust me I give great sermons) will change people. We think that when people recognize the destructive ways of their actions they will change. We think that we can manipulate people into changing. We think that a persuasive argument will change people. We think that when someone has a child it will change them. We think that we can just decide to change when we want. It’s just not true. This rarely happens.

This seems particularly true to me, that we can have an expectation that a sermon can and should be a life-changing experience. A kind of apocalyptic catalyst that shakes us to the core and makes things "real". This is ideally part of what can happen but the sermon should not be what accomplishes this, what should accomplish this is not the sermon itself at all as a delivery method but the content and substance to which it points.  To play with my previously used illustration of icons on a desktop the sermon should be the icon that leads to the right program.  The sermon is not itself the anti-malware application that cleans up your infected computer, the work and teaching of Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit does that. The sermon can be the icon you could click on that will let you understand where the download is.  Now don't get me wrong I am not even remotely advocating a synergistic soteriology here, I'm discussing a distinctly post-conversion life for this post. 

Many an American Christian will understand the point of the service to be hearing the sermon. Obviously, though, there are many Christians for whom this is not the real point of the service because the real point of the service culminates in communion.

I’ve been going to the local Anglican church on Sunday mornings before theStory service. They do an ancient liturgy that has lots of call and response, no songs, a short sermon and then ends in Eucharist. One Sunday this older couple was late, as they forgot about the time change. When they got there the priest reassured them that there was still time for them to partake in the Eucharist. He then stopped the liturgy and then distributed the sacrament to them. Then we continued on with the last part of the liturgy.

In any of my past churches, the minister would have been upset that the couple missed his sermon.

The sermon is an important thing but it is not necessarily a sacrament. Yet it can seem as though evangelical Americans can view the sermon rather than communion or even baptism as the most important sacrament without even thinking of the sermon in any formally sacramental terms at all.  It is the sermon wwe anticipate will sanctify and challenge us.  In slightly less pious jargon we can find many a guy saying "The sermon really kicked my ass this week" and be excited about that.  Why? Because it's a given that the sermon made me feel a certain way.  But this feeling a certain way may not in itself mean anything other than that my ears were tickled.

When I was a teenager I started attending a Pentecostal church I hadn't visited before and visited the Wednesday night youth group service.  I had been Pentecostal for the better chunk of my life and so I would go to Wednesday night services sometimes.  It might, in hindsight, have also served as a convenient opportunity for my parents to have a date night if the kids were left fo r afew hours at a Pentecostal youth group.  :-)  Well, I felt nervous at this youth group because the youth pastor preached dense topical sermons. By dense I mean he might unleash somewhere between twenty to even forty biblical texts discussing a topic about Christian life and discipline and he expected teenagers (like me) to simply keep up.  For longtime readers this was the Pentecostal youth pastor who read Gordon Fee, Kierkegaard, and shared his thoughts about them with me. 

I felt nervous in this church setting because I was hearing a lot of scripture and it inspired me and challenged me. I realized in a dim way that I did not know or understand the Bible as well as I thought and that the teachings of Jesus would require some struggle and engagement. I realized I knew even less than I thought I did and yet I was excited by an opportunity to learn. The sermons were opportunities to learn and though important in themselves were simply catalysts for a greater, broader realization that was an invitation.  It was through those sorts of sermons that the words of Christ and His apostles beckoned with Jesus' words "Follow me."

A sermon can do this without leaving you with this feeling that your life has been radically or shockingly changed. The observation that if any one is in Christ--new creation is offset by the observation that we should no longer be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Thus sanctification is the long and slow and often boring process of, as some put it, matching your practice to your position in Christ.

The sermon, meanwhile, can be a kind of idol if you come to it expecting it to shock or change you.  Merely hearing words said to you may not change your life.  You may hear the words "You're hired" and that will change your life but that means you're starting a new job. The words indicate a catalyst, a process has begun.  A sermon can and should challenge but it will also invite. It may also seem to have no observable effect. It does not need to have an observable effect because there's a difference between teaching that elicits a Pavlovian response and teaching that cultivates the formation of a person.The more Pavlovian a response to a "good" sermon the more serious the risk is that the sermon is leveraged on forms of emotional manipulation rather than a responsible exposition of a scriptural text.

People don’t change. I do think however that people can be formed. We can be formed through disciplines, rituals, repetition and traditions over time. This is part of the reason I like what the Anglicans do on a Sunday morning. It’s almost as if they have this recognition and understanding that they aren’t going to change because of a convincing sermon. Rather, they realize that they are formed through these rituals and through the body and blood of Christ by doing it over and over again week after week, year after year.

This is why I’m becoming less and less inclined to try to write convincing sermons in order to cast vision or spark change within our community. Sermons don’t change people. It just doesn’t work. I feel like sermons rather just create a guise of change. Just talking about change somehow makes people feel like they have changed.
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All liturgy can become dead liturgy and in the last twenty years I have come to the conclusion that while low liturgical churches where the focal point is a guy preaching for an hour or more may not seem like "dead liturgy" to people who think of high liturgical customs when they think of dead liturgy the hour-plus long sermon can be its own form of dead liturgy, too. There are a lot of people who may not realize that every gathering of Christians has some kind of liturgy (i.e. the things people do) and that every thing that can be done in any gathering of Christians can be dead, and often will be dead.  Behold we are dying and yet we live.  Make no mistake, go to a Pentecostal church and write down what gets done.  A few songs, some announcements, sermon, offering, more songs (that will tend to be slower in many cases, and more reverent) and then maybe some faster stuff again and a prayer. Many people who think what their church does isn't liturgy are trapped, as it were, in the liturgical closet. They are, in a paradoxical way, liturgically raging closet cases who don't know what they do in church settings is actually liturgy.  It's not the high church Julian calendar type, maybe, but it's still a liturgy.

The sermon as part of a larger liturgy makes sense. The sermon as the central role for forming and shaping a community needs to stop. So maybe we should stop putting all our eggs into the sermon basket? Imagine if we spent half the time writing liturgies as we did writing sermons? I think it would be annoying at first, and probably wouldn’t notice much different. I think however, in the long run, we would start to see communities reordering their lives to better participate in the Mission of God.

Definitely, the sermon as part of a larger liturgy is crucial. It is valuable.  I agree that the sermon as the central role for forming and shaping a community needs to stop. In fact that is arguably how a majority of personality cults in American religion take shape, the very simple reason that when one person's preaching takes on the central rolefor forming and shaping a community by being the majority content in any given church service (i.e. the longest part by far) that indicates that the sermon is playing too big a role and is expected to do too much. It's possible to forget, if one has made so crucial the sermon as a life-changer that Paul himself could say God was pleased to use the foolishness of preaching.

Obviously I also agree about the part where we need to stop putting all our eggs into the sermon basket.  I would not go so far as to say liturgy changes people, which of course is not what Colquhoun is suggesting, either. But something I have come to appreciate at my church is that the work of the people (i.e. liturgy) includes both individual and corporate confession.  This was not practically a reality in the church I used to be at.  One of the perennial weaknesses of Christian communities I've observed, at least in evangelical Protestant American ones, is that there is an emphasis on individual sin that often trumps any consideration of corporate sin.  Further, there is often a problem that emerges even within this domain because sin is generally described and discussed as done knowingly.  Many sins are inadvertant and corporate rather than simply individual and done knowingly.

I'll close with this proposal and observation--go to a church and consider all the songs, consider the length of the sermon in proportion to all other parts of the service.  If the sermon is half or more of a service and the central and dominant portion (i.e. the middle 50% bookended by 25% stuff on either side) you "might" have a case where the sermon is considered too important. Or things might be just fine.  This isn't really a litmus test I'm proposing here. What I'm trying to propose is that every church has a liturgy and each liturgy will include not just what we as Christians do to worship the Lord by what we say and do, the liturgies we practice speak of what we acknowledge God has done and what we invite God to do.

So where ever you may be at for your "church home" consider what you and your fellow Christians say and do in a gathering. What do people say and share about who God is, who the Father, Son and Spirit are? What do people confess? What do people proclaim? What do people speak about God's work and what do people invite God to do? These things may not always be obvious or easy to observe.  What part of the gathering do you most look forward to and why? If your favorite part is the sermon when was the last time you heard a sermon that changed your life?  Have you heard a sermon that changed your life besides the one you may have heard where you decided to become a Christian (if that's even how you decided to become a Christian)?

Kevin White at Mere Orthodoxy touches on a meta-idolatry of denouncing idolatry

There are other interesting ideas White discusses at this entry but I want to highlight one or two in particular that intrigue me.

http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/skeleton-inner-man/

I think that is also the grain of truth in often problematic discussions of “head knowledge” vs “heart knowledge.” One should not pit reasoning against emoting. They are different activities, but each makes a bad mess when practiced without the other. You either end up with Spock minus the charm, or Anakin Skywalker minus the writer’s fiat that makes him a protagonist. (Episode II, I’m looking at you…)

So perhaps it is the same error to let doctrinal learning outpace sanctification as it is to try to be conformed to the image of a hazy, indistinct Jesus. Either way, the outcome will look more like a tacky plaster statue than like the Man Himself.

If one's grasp of doctrine outpaces one's sanctification that sounds dangerous (and it is) but it would certainly require a variety of other discussions to demonstrate and explain how and why it is dangerous for one's grasp of "head knowledge" to outpace one's personal sanctification. One of the challenges in this is that the apostle Paul does urge us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, which some could take as a sign that coming to a new understanding informed by the teachings of Christ and Christ's accomplishments is vital for the beginning of sanctification.

Could this not mean that in some sense all sanctification is predicated on a proper doctrinal understanding? If so, and that's a very big "if", then there may come times in the life of a Christian where this happens, that one might be advised to lay off on reading and reflection on Christian doctrines in some academic sense while one finds ways to live life informed by those points of doctrinal understanding. The first step toward speaking the truth in love to your neighbor is not lying before you figure out how to speak the truth and then from there figure out how to speak the truth in love.

But what of those who make idols out of doctrine, or of doctrinal systems? Many respectable people these days tell me that’s a big problem. I don’t deny that idolatry is a serious matter, or that we are prone to turn all kinds of good things into idols. Calvin was right to call the human heart “a perpetual idol workshop.” (Or however you prefer to render fabricam idolorum from Institutes I.11.8) A sufficiently meta person can even make an idol out of denouncing idolatry.

The golden calf in Exodus may be instructive here. When the calf was made it was presented to Israel as the God who delivered them out of Egypt. As I have considered earlier this year Adolf Schlatter observed that one of the absurdities of idolatry that was pointed out by Paul in Romans 1 is that humans exchanged the knowledge of God for venerating images in the likeness of animals and birds and men.  These images were not even the things themselves but the outline of their forms, like icons on a desktop that theoretically could be shortcuts to programs.  But the idols are icons on a desktop that, to extend Paul's analogy, lead to programs that are dead at best and at worst are malware that will ultimately destroy the computer of your self. Yeah, stretching that a bit, I know.  I'll stop mixing that metaphor.

A sufficiently meta person can even make an idol out of denouncing idolatry and a sufficiently meta culture can do the same. Do you have problems smoking? You could have made smoking an idol.  Do you have trouble with being depressed when it's so overcast in the Puget Sound area?  Well, you could have made your own happiness an idol.  Or ... you "could" have a seasonal affective disorder (for real) that has meant that being in a place where the sun doesn't shine brightly free of cloud cover gets you down.  I'm a native of the Pacific Northwest so I hate it when the temperature gets above 80 or so because I like it here when it's cloudy and a bit overcast and mellow. 

I suspect the temptation to make an idol is more a problem for the Doctrine Tower than it is for a doctrinal ribcage. Doctrine Tower, standing tall and disconnected from individual and church practice, or from practical working principles, is doctrine that is not serving its purpose. Its right use neglected, it is easier to set it up in the place where it should not be.

But taken internally, so that the teachings shape mental habits and give form and direction to piety, doctrine is much harder to abuse. Rather, it becomes a valuable protection against idolatry. False images of God and misguided forms of devotion will stop fitting right. The eye gains the skill of spotting excellence and becomes harder to fool with fakery. It is easier to have the right posture before God when the spiritual backbone is the right shape.

The temptation to denounce idolatry as one of those meta-idolatries comes from recognizing that you should recognize that your own heart is an idol factory before you consider discussing the idols you suspect others are making. If you find it easier to assess what idols someone else may have and, worse yet, actually feel comfortable telling them what you think the idolatry is or find it easier to tell other people they have pride or trust issues without considering your own character then you "might" have this meta-idolatry of denouncing idolatry.

In other words doctrine is harder to abuse if from it you learn how better to love your neighbor and your enemy than if you use it chiefly to demonstrate doctrinal knowledge to prove you know it, or still more to use your knowledge of the Bible and doctrine to "make a point" (or even, really, "make a difference").  Most cult leaders wanted to make a difference, ended up making a point, and have arguably made a difference that many people wish hadn't been made.

Not all idolatry will be that of making something besides God the Father, Son and Spirit your "functional savior". In fact if some Christians are to be believed Christians have all sorts of idols that must be the cause of problems.  This may be so ... but the idolatry would come in the form of doing what Adolf Schlatter described as the process of making a god in one's own image and making one's own lust to be that god's will. Bending and twisting biblical texts to show that what you want for yourself or others is commanded by Jesus or an apostle may not indicate what that person's idol is but that you may have an idol about your ability to discern the idols of others. I have been around, and have been myself, such a person.

I'll use a deliberately controversial analogy, there are plenty of unmarried people I've known who want to be married. It could be easy to say they have made marriage an idol.  Well ... it depends on why they want to be married. If they want to be married so they can have sex that's the worst possible reason to marry. If they want to marry so they may have emotional intimacy that's also a terrible reason because your ability or inability to be intimate with people will be what you bring into a marriage and not something you find in it. You don't even have to have been "in a relationship" (to borrow a not necessarily Christianese term for this) to have observed this. I know plenty of married people and love them a great deal and I notice that they value their concrete marriages and not simply some abstraction.  One of my married friends went so far as to say he has no support to give to marriage as an abstraction or a concept but he's all for his actual marriage to his wife.  When two become one, it seems, it's only possible for a flesh and blood two to become the abstracted one flesh Christians talk about in marriage chats. If you're a single person and you can imagine married life that is more about the good times than paying bills or dealing with sick children or conflicts with in-laws that come up once in a while then you may have an image of marriage, an outline of its form, that does not correspond to the real thing.  You "may" have an idol.

Or, let's be cautious here, you may just have been given unrealistic expectations and ideas about marriage and the idolatry problem isn't necessarily all you.  It could be the idolatry is of the Christian or non-Christian subculture you're in that paints out marriage or "relationship" to be the thing that truly defines human experience. The better litmus test for idolatry would be if not having the thing or not seeking the thing is considered the reason for being somehow less than fully human.

Consider that the nature of an idol is that it is the outline of the form of something, the idea or ideal which points to something else. The golden calf was a stand-in for Yahweh. The most pernicious forms of idolatry are not worshipping other gods besides Yahweh revealed as Father, Son and Spirit in Christian teaching, though those idolatries are bad. The worst idolatry is refashioning Christ into your own image and making your own desires the things Jesus and the apostles taught as the best way to be fully and truly human.

In the lexicon of ways to have idols denouncing the idols you think other confessing Christians have (or maybe even deciding they can't really be Christians because you'r disappointed with them about something) may be one of the sneakiest idols of all. If you idolize a church you idolize your ideal of what it is supposed to be. If you idolize marriage you idolize what you hope to get from it. If you idolize a job you idolize whatever you hope to get from that job. But if you value your ability to discern the idols of others or are in a church culture that prizes being able to identify the idols of others then what might you value about yourself as an individual or the group you're in that you believe is adept at identifying the idols of others?

For a person who has been baptised and has confessed Christ is it really all that sensible to frame everything in terms of idolatry? Are Christians forever doomed to be practical henotheists at every stage of life because they have this or that sin they continually struggle with, for instance?  Someone send a memo to David that he's not on the team because he never managed to be a better father or husband before his death.  If David needed to display a really transformed life where he didn't have eight wives he married for political convenience and didn't have concubines; if David needed to show forth his faith by being a father less prone to play favorites and be neglectful; and if David needed to do all these things before the Holy Spirit could rest upon him so that he could be regarded as a prophet in Acts or even a "Christian" then, well, it would seem like David can't be on the same team. David was, obviously "not perfect" but if a person were to look at David's life and say that David's problem was idolatry would that idolatry have made David unqualified to be a prophet?

Were David's problems explicable by idolatry? Perhaps a contrast with Saul is in order for that--David's sin with Bathsheba included adultery, probable rape, deceit, and murder.  But what did Nathan confront David about as his most problematic sin amidst all this?  It was that he used the royal office to please himself rather than serve the people.  David was struck to core by this because, if I may be so bold as to suggest this point in light of Saul's attitude about kingly rule, David was confronted with a reality that he was beginning to have a "what do I get from this job" approach to kingly rule that was characteristic of how Saul had approached the royal office. David could be said to be a man after God's own heart because David's heart regarding the role and responsibility of the royal office was after God's heart for what the king was supposed to do and not like Saul's. This was why David, even when deposed in a coup staged by one of his own sons, could entreat the Lord that the throne be given back to him for the benefit of God's people and yet simultaneously affirm that if he lost the throne it was the Lord's doing. David could be king in part because he realized that God was king and that if he lost his job for a while (or permanently) God would not stop being the real king.  This did not, however, keep David from giving some bloodthirsty and arguably dangerous advice to Solomon at the end of his life.  Even at the end it can be seen that David waivered within his faithfulness. In all these failures it might be hard to make the case that the Bible tells us David's problem was that he was an idolator. But I suppose that's become another topic to get a separate treatment.




















Thursday, April 26, 2012

Excerpts from two Seattle P-I articles on former MH pastor James Noriega

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Mission-s-free-legal-clinic-grows-helping-1146192.php

By DEBERA CARLTON HARRELL, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Updated 10:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 1, 2004 dated 10:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 1, 2004


James Noriega didn't know he'd sold drugs to an undercover police officer until the day he was baptized.

Recognized by a member of the congregation who happened to be a an officer, Noriega was escorted from the church, his face still dripping.

It wasn't a setup, Noriega said, unless you appreciate the Almighty's sense of humor. It was karmic payback, his life catching up with him -- and his own yearning to put despair behind him.

Like many of the homeless and formerly homeless men who come to Seattle's Union Gospel Mission legal clinic, Noriega had been seeking legal advice, but hoped for transformation. Like many others, he has found both.

"Meth made me someone I wasn't," says Noriega, 37, who went to prison for a year, instead of the five years he might have served, helped by Union Gospel Mission's legal clinic and a substance-abuse program run by the faith-based mission.

...
When she got the children, he [Noriega] discovered drugs. Then he discovered unemployment. He hit the streets, still masking pain with meth.

"She couldn't -- and didn't -- claim domestic violence or anything like that," Noriega said. "It came down to the fact she didn't love me anymore. I loved my kids. My heart was broken. I quit going to work ... I didn't have anything, yet I was supposed to pay $900 a month in child support."
The legal clinic has helped Noriega, now a counselor with the mission, repay child support, get out of debt and start anew.

On New Year's Eve last year, he married a woman he met through a Christian dating service and "has a chance to be a dad again" to her 10-year-old daughter.

"God works through the cracks of our lives," Noriega said. "I've learned not to be afraid of cracks."

The above article mentions James Noriega's baptism in June 2004. The following article indicates Noriega was newly ordained in November 2004.

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Path-through-despair-and-redemption-led-to-1160587.php
By DEBORAH BACH, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
Published 10:00 p.m., Thursday, November 25, 2004


Years in and out of jail, shuffling through foster homes and living on the street made the thought of marriage incomprehensible to Brian Ostertag.

He couldn't find his own way, let alone finding that kind of connection with someone else.
James Noriega had found it once, before divorce sent him into a drug-fueled tailspin that ended in a Pioneer Square park one cold December night.

Back then, neither could have imagined the path of despair and redemption, of faith and friendship, that would bring them together in a downtown Seattle church yesterday.

It was a first for both -- Ostertag's first marriage, and newly ordained pastor Noriega's first wedding ceremony -- but they seemed calm

... The chain of events that landed Noriega at the same shelter was set in motion in 1996, when his high school sweetheart and the mother of his two children divorced him. His whole identity was wrapped up in being a husband and a father, and when that disintegrated, Noriega lost his grip.
"I just never really got over the divorce," the 38-year-old said.

Drugs became a salve, and Noriega was soon in the throes of a serious methamphetamine addiction. At its peak, he was using about $100 worth of drugs daily. He lost his job at a Puget Sound shipyard. The felonies followed, and the former family man, who'd never had so much as a parking ticket in his life, ended up in prison.

After being released, Noriega turned to family members and friends. But he was a liability, and no one would take him in. One chilly night in December 1999, he found himself sitting on a bench in Occidental Park -- the same bench he'd walked by years earlier on his way to a football game with friends. A homeless man was there at the time, praising the Lord. What a pathetic sap, Noriega thought to himself.


http://marshill.com/media/rebels-guide-to-joy/the-rebels-guide-to-joy-in-humility

I’ll give you an example. In the middle of our reorganization as a church – we go to multiple campuses – we’ve just reconstituted what we’re calling a Board of Directors. It is sort of a senior level of eldership that oversees a lot of the policies and procedures for the whole church, and I was meditating on it this week. And I could tell you about all the men on the board. I’ll just tell you of a few. These are new men that were recently added to this board, and the one common thread which I see weaves all their stories together is this, humility. Not that they are humble, but they are pursuing humility by God’s grace.

...

The last one is James. He was running a drug and alcohol treatment center, I think for the Union Gospel Mission. He was an elder at Doxa Church in West Seattle. He and Pastor Bill were there and I approached them and said, “I think we should partner together,” and turned that building into Mars Hill West Seattle. I don’t know what the building’s worth – $4 million, whatever. He said, “Well what’s the deal?” I said, “Give us the building, resign as elders, work through the membership process, work through the eldership process. I guarantee you nothing – no power, no job, no eldership. If you meet the qualifications and the men vote you in, we’ll make you an elder, but I guarantee you no job. Nothing. If you believe it’s right for Jesus, give us the building, resign, give up all power of authority, give up your position. Walk away from it all for the cause of Jesus.”

He said, “Okay, I think it’s best for Jesus.” He resigned, voted to hand us the building and the people. Humbly went through the eldership process. After he finished the membership process, oversees our drug and alcohol addiction recovery. We just voted him onto the Board of Directors. Why? Because God opposes the proud and he gives grace to the humble.


What's the baseline for "pursuing humility" here? If you go read the sermon transcript the base-line for seeking humility seems to be, by Driscoll's stories about these men, that they agreed to quit their old jobs and go work for Driscoll. In some cases Driscoll told them he thought that was what was best for Jesus.  So Noriega (and Tim Beltz and Zack Hubert and Steve Tompkins, also mentioned in the sermon) quit his job at Doxa and went through the eldership process at Mars Hill. Apparently Noriega met the qualifications and got voted on to the Board of Directors and placed in charge of addiction and recovery despite having, it seems, only been a believer for a few years.

Noriega's story is inspiring but it also suggested a man who was not yet ready to get any elder job if we take 1 Timothy to heart.  Didn't Driscoll preach from these text in 2004?

1 Timothy 3:1-7 (NIV)
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.  Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.  He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.


1 Timothy 5:22 (NAS)
Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.

Now maybe it's just me but couldn't six months between a reported baptism and a reported ordination seem like a remarkably fast track to eldership? Maybe even a disastrously fast track?  I'd like to think that Mars Hill wouldn't have fast-tracked anyone that way.  Noriega wasn't, so far as I can tell, ordained by Mars Hill but Doxa, which was an Acts 29 church plant, right?

And yet Noriega was not only accepted into eldership despite this background, he got voted on to the Board of Directors and put in charage of drug and alcohol recovery groups.  I'm glad if he's not an amphetamine junky any more, really, but giving a new Christian that much power and influence that quickly seems like it would have been a recipe for disaster.  Giving someone that new to the faith status on the Board of Directors in what functionally amounts to a denomination looks like a slowed down promotion track but increases influence. Giving that person a role contributing to what is now Redemption Groups expands the potential influence even further.

As I've noted earlier this week:
http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2012/04/mike-wilkeson-and-james-noriega-on.html

Mike Wilkerson credited Noriega with coming up with the mixed group model redemption group prototypes that became important to the Redemption Groups content Mars Hill has been using and promoting over the last few years.

But during the process when this development was taking place (it seems around 2007 into 2008) Noriega had been a baptised Christian since ... June 2004? Would someone who had been baptised as a Christian in 2004 and was on the Board of Directors of one of the fastest growing churches in America co-leading a ministry to the most broken and wounded Christians in the local church have been jet-setted a little too quickly into a position with a large amount of influence and power? All the above is simply publicly accessible content but what's not publicly accessible is this, what were the reasons men affiliated with Doxa and Mars Hill had for fast-tracking Noriega into such high levels of leadership so quickly? 

If Noriega's rise to pastoral leadership in an Acts 29 church and later within Mars Hill was meteoric it would appear that the same has been true about his disappearance and/or fall. This seems sad to me because it would seem as though anyone who had actually bothered to read the Bible and took seriously what it said about the qualifications and installation of elders would not have rushed the project so swifly in the first four years so that the next four years would not have to have come to a point where Mark Driscoll isn't even mentioning James Noriega's name in public discussions of Redemption Groups and Noriega has vanished from the elder listings. 

Whatever the reasons Noriega is no longer an elder at Mars Hill now, given what the Scriptures teach about elder qualification and installation, it's a shame to think that whatever did happen might have been avoided if people in Doxa and Mars Hill had not been so quick to lay on hands and then promote through the ranks of power. Whatever "pursuing humility" was now in hindsight looks like little more than agreeing to do what Mark Driscoll asked. Futhermore, the very point in 2007 at which Driscoll announced Noriega was voted to the Board of Directors and put in charge of alcohol and drug addiction recovery should have been the point at which Driscoll and the other Mars Hill elders should have put on the brakes and assessed whether the jump from baptised Christian to elder wasn't a little too quick, let alone promotion to the Board of Directors or having influence of ministries to the most broken and wounded (and often new) Christians. A four year old Christian (if Noriega was baptised soon after his conversion, which maybe isn't what happened) doesn't seem ready to be put in charge of tending to bruised reeds when he may still be a bruised reed himself and not yet ready for ministry.

It's too bad.  I may not know all of what happened but considering what is publicly available and what it indicates about a preciptious set of moves that seemed to be done in willful ignorance of scriptural instruction it still seems too bad.

Slate's Simon Doonan on a demise in celebrity: we used to admire Mahalia Jackson and now we talk about Kardashian (at all)

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/doonan/2012/04/kim_kardashian_why_does_she_fascinate_us_we_used_to_revere_scientists_and_surgeons_.single.html

Mahalia Jackson was superior too. She was the best gospel singer in the world, tearing into every song as if her life depended on it, and everyone on earth knew her name. She was not conventionally pretty, but nobody cared. Back then, talent trumped looks. Back then fashion models were not deified; gifted people were.

I'm selectively excerpting and considering these thoughts because I was a teenager when I first heard and loved Mahalia Jackson's music.  That was twenty years ago and I had college friends who knew her work and found Mariah Carey substantially wanting in everything in comparison.  These days?  I don't know how many people under 35 have any idea who Mahalia Jackson is.  Music critics, sure, and some of those (like jokers at Rolling Stone) have in the last twenty years decided that somehow Mahalia Jackson was some kind of also-ran compared to Billy Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, which is so unfair at multiple levels it was one of thousands of little reasons I stopped taking Rolling Stone seriously about anything by the time I was about, uh, 20.

I realize that there are generational touchstones.  My generation, I hope, will not be the last one in which someone gets stoked on principle by just the idea of a recording of Duke Ellington's orchestra playing a jazz suite in which the climactive segment is a solo sung by Mahalia Jackson.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

XKCD: Skynet

http://xkcd.com/1046/

Duuude ...

HT Phoenix Preacher: Trevin Wax on when you should flee

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/04/24/when-you-should-not-submit/

Treven Wax corrects some misunderstanding about earlier statements he made that were taken as saying people should not leave churches.  There are, he notes, times when you should flee.  He refers to a book by Jonathan Leeman called Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. Now I don't really mean to plug for such a book and though I'm a church member I would not insist that anyone has to be a formal church member.  On the other hand, Leeman's checklist of reasons to flee a church are things worth passing on.

...abusive churches and Christian leaders characteristically
  • Make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent.
  • Rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions, or threats rather than on God’s Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4).
  • Play favorites.
  • Punish those who disagree.
  • Employ extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment).
  • Recommend courses of action that always, somehow, improve the leader’s own situation, even at the expense of others.
  • Speak often and quickly.
  • Seldom do good deeds in secret.
  • Seldom encourage.
  • Seldom give the benefit of the doubt.
  • Emphasize outward conformity, rather than repentance of heart.
  • Preach, counsel, disciple, and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the gospel and to give glory to God.
These are all points I can agree with.

HT Brian D at Phoenix Preacher: Mars Hill Portland vandalized

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/04/vandals_break_windows_at_south.html
http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/04/vandals_break_windows_at_south.html
http://chuckcurrie.blogs.com/chuck_currie/2012/04/vandalism-at-mars-halls-church-must-be-condemned-pastormark-marshill.html

Today's news that vandals - calling themselves "Angry Queers" - broke windows in the church is deeply upsetting. There is no excuse for this act of violence and it must be condemned. I call on the Portland Police to treat this as a hate crime against all people of faith, regardless of religious tradition or belief.

Portland is a better city than this. If Mars Hills Church represents the worst of Christianity, and I believe it sadly does, those responsible for this attack represent the worst of Portland.

People can look up for themselves what criticisms Chuck Currie has made of Mars Hill in the past. That he can still be critical of Mars Hill Church and consider the vandalism a hate crime makes sense to anyone who ever grew up in Western Oregon.  The region of the state is pretty progressive (i.e. liberal). If memory serves Oregon was the first state in the United States to pass a law making doctor-assisted euthanasia legal, though someone can correct me on that if I've misremembered things.

Of note is a comment from "Connie" on Currie's blog post, noting that those who take credit for vandalism are not always the vandals and that a group that takes credit for the vandalism calling themselves "Angry Queers" may be neither. 

Back around 2006 there was an incident in which someone fired a pellet gun into the front windows of Mars Hill Ballard.  This is the first time anyone I know of in Mars Hill leadership has decided to publicly indicate that vandalism has occurred.  The previous policy seemed to be to avoid publicly discussing damage to Mars Hill property.  Burglaries were privately heard about among the church but not publicized.  So this is an unusual situation not so much for vandalism itself (which may have happened a few times since 2006) but because it was something Mars Hill was willing to publicly discuss. 

At this point no actual formal police statement has been made and the content we do know about appears to be sourced from Mars Hill PR staff Justin Dean.  Given the lack of accuracy from Mars Hill public statements about Andrew's disciplinary case and related and then unrelated firings of staff we can be disapproving of property destruction and hate crimes while still being cautious to wait for an actual formal police statement about the vandalism.

Proverbs 18:17 does say the first person who speaks seem to be right until the cross-examination.  This is just as true in cases discussion publicly reported crimes as privately leaked church disciplinary cases that don't involve police departments. In this case though it may be Mars Hill has issued a public statement first it will be good to wait for an actual police report (should one emerge) before jumping to too many conclusions about this situation. Meanwhile, it's still lame the vandalism happened.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chandler on Mars Hill, "A29 was so kind of meshed into Mars Hill that right now we are just trying to untangle where one begins and the other ends"

http://www.christianpost.com/news/no-vision-shift-after-mark-driscoll-leaves-acts-29-leadership-73047/
By Alex Murashko

April 11, 2012

Mars Hill Church Pastor Mark Driscoll announced that he was stepping down from the reins of Acts 29 late last month to make room for Chandler, the lead pastor at The Village Church in Highland Village in Texas. Driscoll remains on the organization's current three-member board which also includes The Journey's (St. Louis, Mo.) lead pastor, Darrin Patrick. The group's headquarters will move from Seattle to Dallas.

Driscoll seemed to have left the door open about the possibility he would remove himself from the board if needed for the greater good of the group, he implied in his statement last month about his decision.

"I want him on the board. He's a great advantage to the men, the movement, and the network as a whole," Chandler told CP when asked about Driscoll. "I think culturally and theologically he has some spectacular gifts. Driscoll will absolutely remain on the board. He would gladly step off if he thought that was best for the network. I don't think anybody believes that's best for the network."

... Acts 29 will not only be moving its Seattle-based headquarters to Dallas, but deciding how to continue with its connection to Mars Hill Church, also based in Seattle.

"A29 was so kind of meshed into Mars Hill that right now we are just trying to untangle where one begins and the other ends. We are gathering information right now. Our hope is that A29 is completely in Dallas by September," Chandler said.

"Acts 29 has been primarily funded by and run by Mars Hill," he noted. Chandler estimates that about 80 percent of the organization was funded by the church and it is a matter of deciding on the operational priorities moving forward, including which employee positions to keep.
"Those are some of the questions we are trying to answer even now," he said.

So Matt Chandler has discussed that Acts 29 was so "kind of meshed into Mars Hill" that right now they're trying to untangle where one begins and the other ends.  Chandler told the Christian Post that Mars Hill has been primarily funded by and run by Mars Hill and that 80 percent of the organization was funded by Mars Hill.  Chandler's statements about gathering information might suggest that Acts 29 is trying to figure out just how meshed Mars Hill has been into Acts 29.  At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Chandler's just told us that Mars Hill has pretty much been Acts 29 at the most important leadership levels.  This is easy to verify by consulting the Acts 29 Network website.

Now obviously in light of the April 11, 2012 article in the Christian post the following listings are no longer accurate but they are worth considering because as of today (April 24, 2012) this is the current information that helps illustrate what Chandler was talking about when he said "we are just trying to untangle where one begins and the other ends."

Even if it's not up to date it's something I couldn't ignore or avoid passing on.
From Acts 29 Leadership
1. Mark Driscoll, Founder and President
current executive Elder at Mars Hill
2. Darrin Patrick, Board Member
3. Matt Chandler, Board Member
recently made President of Acts 29 by the other board members and Driscoll
 
4. Dave Bruskas, Board Member
current executive Elder at Mars Hill)
5. Sutton Turner, Board Member
current executive elder at Mars Hill
6. Scott Thomas, Board Member
Former exeuctive elder at Mars Hill, former President of Acts 29 now no longer listed as an elder or even on staff at either organization.  Documentation at Joyful Exiles establish that Jamie Munson announced to Mars Hill elders in 2007 that Scott Thomas was the head of the Elder Investigative Taskforce that established whether Jamie Munson's allegations against Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were credible.
On March 20, 2012 Joyful Exiles went up.
 
On March 28, 2012 Scott Thomas announced he was stepping away from Acts 29.
 
But I wasn’t planning to stay forever. I was anticipating a change for my ministry in the future, and the move to Dallas makes it a perfect time to allow new leadership to emerge.
 
If you attempt to find a current listing of Mars Hill elders you may find the current ministry direction Scott Thomas seems to be in is not being in any ministry at all.  He's not listed as a pastor in any capacity at any Mars Hill website I can find.  The Christian Post article from April 11, 2012 has made it pretty clear Scott Thomas is not on the Acts 29 Board, either. The last name in the six men above is probably the most interesting because he was involved in every stage of the firings of Petry and Meyer.  He has recently written he was anticipating a change for his ministry in the future and, so far, that change has been not being on staff at either Mars Hill or Acts 29 from the look of things. 
Now of these six names listed four of them are men who have been or are executive elders at Mars Hill. That means that at one point two thirds of the Acts 29 Board was chaired by either current or former Mars Hill executive elders.  The meshed nature has not merely covered the Acts 29 board.
From Network Leadership there's a listing for the Acts 29 Northwest Regional Leader, Bill Clem, who is a pastor at Mars Hill Ballard. 
 
For Acts 29 Central
Tyler Powell, listed as Assessment Director for Acts 29 is also listed as Church Planting Pastor for Mars Hill
 
Ryan Kearns, Assessment Coordinator for Acts 29, is listed as a Deacon at Mars Hill, listed contact email is
Matt Aiken, Operations Manager for Acts 29, is listed as a deacon at Mars Hill
 
 Sara Britt, Executive Assistant to Tyler Powell, is listed as a deacon at Mars Hill Church

So not only has it been the case that the Acts 29 Board has been lately dominated by the entire executive elder board of Mars Hill it even included a former Executive Elder who was formerly President of Acts 29.  If four of five board members heading Acts 29 have been present or former executive elders at Mars Hill this does make it easy to understand why Matt Chandler told the Christian Post it was a challenge to figure out where Acts 29 ended and Mars Hill began, or vice versa.

For a sampling of a few captures from the WayBack Machine to help establish at least a little of this history of enmeshment survey the following:


Listings from crawls of the WayBack Machine for
http://www.acts29network.org/about/leadership/
http://web.archive.org/web/20101202231052/http://www.acts29network.org/about/leadership/

December 2, 2010
Leadership

Mark Driscoll | Founder & Lead Visionary of Acts 29
Lead Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
 
Scott Thomas | President & Director of Acts 29
Global Church Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
 
Darrin Patrick | 1st Vice President of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at The Journey in St. Louis, MO
 
Jeff Vanderstelt | 2nd Vice President of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at Soma Communities in Tacoma, WA


Chan Kilgore | Secretary/Treasurer of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at Crosspointe Church in Orlando, FL
 
Matt Chandler | Board Member of Acts 29
Lead Pastor of The Village Church, Highland Village, TX
"Why I'm Acts 29"

Eric Mason | Board Member of Acts 29
Lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship, Philadelphia, PA
 
Tyler Powell | Church Planting Strategist of Acts 29
Church Planting Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
 
Elliot Grudem | Network Coordinator of Acts 29
Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

 
December 26, 2010
http://web.archive.org/web/20101226075244/http://www.acts29network.org/about/leadership/

Leadership

Mark Driscoll | Founder & Lead Visionary of Acts 29
Lead Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


Scott Thomas | President & Director of Acts 29
Global Church Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
 
Darrin Patrick | 1st Vice President of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at The Journey in St. Louis, MO
 
Jeff Vanderstelt | 2nd Vice President of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at Soma Communities in Tacoma, WA
 
Chan Kilgore | Secretary/Treasurer of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at Crosspointe Church in Orlando, FL

Matt Chandler | Board Member of Acts 29
Lead Pastor of The Village Church, Highland Village, TX
"Why I'm Acts 29"
 
Eric Mason | Board Member of Acts 29
Lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship, Philadelphia, PA
 
Tyler Powell | Church Planting Strategist of Acts 29
Church Planting Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
 
Elliot Grudem | Network Coordinator of Acts 29
Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


Jul 21, 2011
http://web.archive.org/web/20110721085150/http://www.acts29network.org/about/leadership/

Acts 29 Leadership
 
Mark Driscoll | Founder & Lead Visionary of Acts 29
Lead Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
Bio, Speaking Engagements and Requests
 
Scott Thomas | President of Acts 29
Global Church Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
 
Darrin Patrick | 1st Vice President of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at The Journey in St. Louis, MO
 
Jeff Vanderstelt | 2nd Vice President of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at Soma Communities in Tacoma, WA
 
Chan Kilgore | Secretary/Treasurer of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at Crosspointe Church in Orlando, FL
 
Matt Chandler | Board Member of Acts 29
Lead Pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, TX
"Why I'm Acts 29"
 
Eric Mason | Board Member of Acts 29
Lead Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA
 
 Tyler Powell | Church Planting Strategist of Acts 29
Church Planting Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
 
Elliot Grudem | Director of Acts 29
Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


Administrative Support Staff

The administrative staff of the Acts 29 Network are based in Seattle,

Washington. Please visit our FAQ page and our General Contact page for
answers to questions and for office contact information.

Jeremy Pace | Training Coordinator
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

Matt Aiken | Executive Assistant to Scott Thomas
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

Spencer Abbott | Executive Assistant to Elliot Grudem
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

Sara Britt | Executive Assistant to Tyler Powell
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

Derrin Thomas | Communications Director
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

Adriel Ifland | Managing Editor - Online Content
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


http://web.archive.org/web/20110724223816/http://www.acts29network.org/about/leadership/

July 24, 2011
http://web.archive.org/web/20110724223816/http://www.acts29network.org/about/leadership/


Leadership & Staff
Acts 29 Regional Leadership
Acts 29 Administrative Support Staff

Acts 29 Leadership

Mark Driscoll | Founder & Lead Visionary of Acts 29
Lead Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA
Bio, Speaking Engagements and Requests


Scott Thomas | President of Acts 29
Global Church Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


Darrin Patrick | 1st Vice President of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at The Journey in St. Louis, MO
 
Jeff Vanderstelt | 2nd Vice President of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at Soma Communities in Tacoma, WA
 
Chan Kilgore | Secretary/Treasurer of Acts 29
Lead Pastor at Crosspointe Church in Orlando, FL


Matt Chandler | Board Member of Acts 29
Lead Pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, TX
"Why I'm Acts 29"
 
Eric Mason | Board Member of Acts 29
Lead Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA


Tyler Powell | Church Planting Strategist of Acts 29
Church Planting Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

Elliot Grudem | Director of Acts 29
Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

Administrative Support Staff

The administrative staff of the Acts 29 Network are based in Seattle,

Washington. Please visit our FAQ page and our General Contact page for
answers to questions and for office contact information.

Jeremy Pace | Training Coordinator
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


Matt Aiken | Executive Assistant to Scott Thomas
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


Spencer Abbott | Executive Assistant to Elliot Grudem
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


Sara Britt | Executive Assistant to Tyler Powell
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


Derrin Thomas | Communications Director
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA

Adriel Ifland | Managing Editor - Online Content
Deacon at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA


So this month Matt Chandler told The Christian Post, "A29 was so kind of meshed into Mars Hill that right now we are just trying to untangle where one begins and the other ends." This year the Board for Acts 29 came to include every current executive elder from Mars Hill and even a former one.  It's certainly understandable why it would be difficult to figure out where Acts 29 really begins and Mars Hill ends because it could look as though Acts 29, however it began, became functionally inseparable from Mars Hill. 

Chandler said 80 percent of the funding for Acts 29 has come from Mars Hill and earlier this year four out of six members of the Acts 29 Network board of directors were current or former executive elders at Mars Hill; Those executive elders held the roles of President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Network Director on the Acts 29 board. If 80 percent of the funding and two thirds of the board of directors are all from Mars Hill it's understandable why Chandler would have told the Christian Post it was tough to know where one organization ended and the other began. 

You Are Not So Smart: The Invisible Gorilla Episode

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2012/04/24/yanss-podcast-episode-one/#more-1859

The first post at You Are Not So Smart was about inattentional blindness. I had seen the selective attention test and the Test Your Awareness videos that were making the rounds on YouTube, and I knew inattentional blindness would make a great first topic. It is astounding to realize you’ve been lying to yourself about what gets into your brain through your eyeballs.

What is inattentional blindness? It’s missing something right in front of your eyes because you are paying attention to something else. What makes that a great topic for You Are Not So Smart is that this blindness is always part of experience, but you can spend a lifetime without ever knowing it happens. You tend to have an intuition and a belief that you see everything you are facing, and if something out of the ordinary was to happen, it would instantly grab your attention. Not so. Science has revealed you are basically blind to that which you are not attentive, yet your conscious experience and your memories don’t reflect this. That’s the epiphany that slams into your brain when you watch the original invisible gorilla video.

I cannot overstate this point enough, particularly for reasons regular readers may already find obvious.  Your capacity to focus your attention is what literally blinds you to all the things that may be going on in a given situation.  To invoke a summary made by psychologist Daniel Kahneman the most basic problem you are likely to have is you mistakenly think that what you see is all there is.  What you see will be predicated on attention and your attentional powers are limited.  Your attentional powers also limit what you will perceive and remember.  If you're looking for X you will not notice Y and even if you managed to notice both X and Y there's still a very high likelihood you didn't notice Z.  And if by some chance you considered L or W or A then noticing X and Y might not have happened if you're a little ADHD. 

This is true about everyone.  You may be sure your focus means you see things clearly but the very clarity and focus of your attention will paradoxically blind you. It's something to be mindful of. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mike Wilkerson and James Noriega on Redemption Groups


One of the things I have discussed in the last half year is the absence of James Noriega from any leadership capacity. He was formerly co-leader of Redemption Groups. I would like to set aside some time to refer to statements he has made and some by Mike Wilkerson about the history and nature of the Redemption Groups. Taken together comments from Wilkerson and Noriega may prove very informative about the impetus behind the development of the content.

Here is a short excerpt from an interview between Mark Driscoll and Mike Wilkerson from January 2011 in which Wilkerson mentions Noriega and Clem (the two men who were pastors at Doxa Driscoll referred to in his 2007 sermon "The Rebel's Guide to Joy in Humility":

http://theresurgence.com/2011/01/29/mark-driscoll-interviews-mike-wilkerson-on-his-new-book

MW: My fellow pastors James Noriega and Bill Clem were there from the beginning, influencing the initial concepts about the ministry and curriculum that would eventually give rise to the book

Furthermore, Wilkerson credits Noriega with coming up with the prototype group on which Redemption Groups were based in his book.

Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We CarryCopyright 2011 by Mike Wilkerson
Crossway

On pages 16-18 in the book Wilkerson explained that a lot of groups existed at Mars Hill and that there were concerns about them prior to developing Redemption Groups. Different groups might have "gospel-based" practices while others would be considered to have too much mixing of secular worldviews, psychological procedures and methods with Christian "principles". Wilkerson explained that many ideas across the different recovery groups were imcompatible with each other and that in some cases the ideas in some of the recovery groups were imcompatible with what was taught from the pulpit. The idea was to curb those kinds of influences and, ultimately, to ensure that all recovery groups were grounded on the same gospel message that was being preached from the pulpit week after week.

This set of statements by Wilkerson early in his book is fascinating. So ... that means one of the primary goals of revamping all the recovery groups was to make sure the message in the recovery groups didn't, at any point, conflict with what Driscoll was preaching week in and week out. In the foreward to the book none other than Mark Driscoll himself explained that Wilkerson wrote the book because Driscoll asked him to. So if Wilkerson lets people know early in the book that Redemption Groups came about to ensure that all recovery and addiction groups were intended to express a theology that fit consistently with preaching from the pulpit, and we all know Mark Driscoll does the lion's share of preaching, then Wilkerson has spelled out for us that the RG program was developed to ensure all groups within MH got the same "gospel" in groups that fit what Mark was preaching every Sunday. Mark Driscoll even did us all the favor of explaining that Wilkerson wrote Redemption because Driscoll asked him to. Mark has been surprisingly plainspoken both in his own words that he wanted Wilkerson to write Redemption and Wilkerson seems very candid about saying that a key goal in streamlining and even eliminating earlier recovery groups was to ensure that there were no recovery or Christian counseling groups that had "secular" ideas and, still less, had some theological ideas or definitions of "gospel" that did not fit what was taught from the pulpit.

Wilkerson, in Redemption, described Noriega's innovation as including mixed-group redemption groups. This meant that someone with eating disorders would be given the same gospel message to deal with their situation that a porn addict or an alcoholic would be getting.

Wilkerson has mentioned an indebtedness to CCEF ideas and concepts and it would be no feat of baseless inference to suggest Noriega, too, has read a book or two by Ed Welch. As I documented earlier this year, what was once available of Noriega's thoughts on psychology and insight into the human condition displayed a pronounced fondness for Jonathan Edwards as superior to psychology.

Having established a bit of Wilkerson's take on the origin and goals about Redemption Groups I return to things I have blogged about earlier. Now I'll discuss James Noriega's goals and interests during the period in which Redemption Groups were being developed and provide some short quotes from him.

As I've already blogged, the link I referred to on 2/27/2012 turned up dead just a week after my initial blog observation about the abrupt rise and disappearance of Noriega from Mars Hill eldership. So I'll have to summarize what I read and simply note that the link is toast. Noriega described Jonathan Edwards as a man who understood the human heart when there was no psychology. He leans on the Puritans a bit such as Edwards and Owen. I don't know if he read Richard Sibbes. Ed Welch's Blame it On the Brain gets a nod and Welch is described as doing a good job of distinguishing between chemical imbalance and sin. For those who never tried reading Blame it on the Brain the title of the book could broadly be described as a rhetorical question insisting on a negative answer. I will touch on the obvious point that not all Christians think nouthetic counseling is all that later. Let's get to some of Noriega's own words.
http://ballard.marshill.com/2009/03/17/meet-the-staff-pastor-james-noriega/

Q: What are you looking forward to seeing God do in this ministry?
A: Uncovering more of the enemies schemes, that the church actually becomes a real healing ministry, that we do not have to rely on outside sources to help our people, and that the church is seen by the secular world as a place where real change that glorifies God is going on.

Note, particularly, that Noriega said one of the goals was "that we do not have to rely on outside sources to help our people". The positive formulation of this goal is to say they wanted to ensure that all materials used to help people were intra-Martian and consistent with what was taught from the pulpit. They might start with works by CCEF, Dan Allender, Ed Welch, or whomever but the goal as Noriega described it above was at least partly to get to a point where Mars Hill would be beholden to absolutely no outside materials to help people and be seen by the secular world as a place where real changing that glorifies God would be going on.

So if Wilkerson stated the goal in negative terms and said it was important that across the board Mars Hill recovery and addiction groups not espouse a theology that ever contradicted the theology of the pulpit Noriega's statement presents the goal in positive terms, and we're told the goal is that Mars Hill would never need to use outside ideas or concepts in recovery and addiction counseling. And, of course, everyone would agree that things need to be derived not from "secular" psychology or a worldview (D. G. Hart would here spell that as w----v--- as though it were scandalous). The insularity implied in the stated goal speaks for itself to me but you, dear reader, are not necessarily me.

Noriega was eager that Mars Hill would be seen by the secular world as a place where real change that glorifies God is going on ... but Andrewgate has not inspired the secular world to come to that conclusion, has it?

If someone were to sum up the content of the Redemption Groups at Mars Hill in a single catchphrase (and, believe me, this was done!) then the catchphrase is this--you worshipped your way into your mess and you're going to worship your way out. Wilkerson let us know the RG content was developed with an eye for making sure the content did not contradict the pulpit theology and Noriega explained that the content was also to ensure Mars Hill would never have to rely on non-Martian concepts or materials. Maybe Mars Hill pastors thought they paid CCEF too much money for the 2006 How People Change conference. Now if we take Wilkerson's comments and Noriega's comments together it becomes clear that a foundational concern (if not the primary concern) of developing Redemption Group content was that whatever they came up with needed to be intra-Martian and agree with (i.e. not differ from) Mark Driscoll's weekly preaching.  Let's not kid around about whose weekly pulpit preaching Redemption Groups were\expected to mesh with.

Internet Monk: Leaving Revivalism behind

http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/leaving-revivalism-behind

Decades ago when I was growing up in Pentecostal circles I began to get his strong impression that Carman's music was a joke.  I also recall these strange and bloated stories and one story-musical excerpt had some demonic peon telling Satan in a frantic voice, "They're praying for revival!"  Cue the big choir and Carman bellowing out "Revival is coming to our land!" I was in my late teens and I began to doubt whether "revival" in any meaningful spiritual sense was what a lot of people really wanted.  The desire to get God back in America again seemed more about America than about God. 

I eventually came to learn a bit more about revivalism in American Christianity and I came to learn that some people liked to pin a lot of blame on the Second Great Awakening.  I also came to learn that some people considered even the First Great Awakening to have some significantly problematic theology and methods to it.  Now, I admit, when I hear or read anyone even use the word "revival" I consider any statement in which that word gets positively used with a great deal of caution, even skepticism.