Saturday, January 31, 2009

some ruminations on something from iMonk, another little break from the series

Okay, in case the two or three of you who read this are wondering how on earth I blathered so much on Wednesday I really did it over several days. Blogger saves from the date a post gets started, you know, and if it takes half a week to collect thoughts on a single post it still reflects the initial creation date. Now, without further ado, yet another post:

4) Is this a window into the personalities of Christians to the extent that we can explain our tolerance of things like abuse, cruelty, dishonesty and lying with the same factors? Is it evidence that we aren’t transformed on even the most basic levels, but are using religion to cover up our sin, rudeness and cruelty?

This is for me the summing up the post and the post iMonk links to. Rather than attempt to backtrack all the way the chain I want to use this question as a springboard because "this" can be anything, the window can be whatever we have in our ownlives. One of the central issues I have struggled with in the last few years is essentially this--what sins do I as a Christian tolerate in myself that I either don't really observe or don't really repent of and why? Beyond that to the equally pressing and more frustrating meta aspect of the question, what sins do we (particularly since I write as a self-identifying evangelical Protestant) evangelical Protestants overlook or justify in terms of flaws in ourselves? What sins do we excuse, downplay, or plead imperfection over for ourselves that we don't similarly plead the shed blood of Jesus for in others?

Why do we finesse when we could tell the truth? Why do we object to dishonesty in others but not ourselves? Why do we choose to believe the worst rather than the best and think that is how to pursue the truth? There are christians who believe that love trumps telling the truth but what I have seen in the last few years is that there are a lot of Christians (and I hate to say it but it has to be said that most of these sorts are Calvinists who are oddly vocal) who believe that if you tell the truth then "love" is going to be the natural by-product even though no love is involved anywhere.

In Christian dsicussion forums or blogs or in person this comes out as "I love you in the Lord." I remember once a person was asking on a forum, "What's with all this `I love you in the Lord' stuff? What are people trying to tell me?" I explained that it meant, "I know you're a Christian but, dude, your' pissing me off and I think your argument is weak." The poor guy didn't feel much better but at least he no longer felt benighted by failing to have the knowledge of one of the great American evangelical Protestant euphemisms for, "Dude, you're pissing me off."

See growing up in a church I began to slowly realize what euphemisms we Christians come up with for our own sins that we don't use for others. One of my favorite stories from my teenage years was hearing a youth pastor explain something roughly like this--Now you see, as a pastor, it's considered unspiritual for me to say that I just don't like someone. Pastors are supposed to love God and that means we're supposed to love our neighbors. So if I said, `Yeah, I don't like that guy.' people would get upset. But I don't want to lie and say I actually like the guy so I have to come up with something that isn't false but doesn't show people I don't like the guy. So you have to say something like, `Hmm, their situation grieves my spirit.' It sounds more spiritual and people don't think you're a jerk because you'd rather say you just don't like someone."

Keep in mind that is a synopsis of something I heard 18 years ago but it has remained one of the most honest and funny statements ever made by a pastor that I have heard with my own ears. It gets to the heart of feeling that you want to avoid being fake but you also realize that if you actually told the truth about where your heart is the peanut gallery would come down on you. In that moment this pastor demythologized a lot of aspects about how human and fallible pastors are.

Another story concerns another pastor who explained rather swiftly and cryptically about he and his wife, "We broke some rules but God is faithful." Not hard to figure out how to read between the liens of THAT pastoral euphemism. In the sequence of time and the revelation of one's heart this is the decidedly lesser entry. Admitting cryptically that yo uand your wife did a bunchof stuff Christians shouldn't do isn't the same as puncturing the euphemisms used to downplay what is in your heart.

I have come over time to reflect upon the difference between hypocrisy and double standards. I know, I know, this seems like a stupid and academic distinction to me, too. But for some reason it feels important to me. To be a hypocrite is to espouse something yet live in another way. You pretend to be soemthing you are not and you can pretend this so well as to not only fool others but to fool yourself.

But to have a double standard is different. A person who has double standards may not, in fact, be a hypocrite. A Republican who bewails the spending habits of Democrats who votes for billions to be used to bail out an industry may be a hypocrite for saying he opposes government intervention in the economy but he exercises a DOUBLE STANDARD in damning the Democrat for wishing to do what he would say he does reluctantly for the good of the economy. By his own assessment of things he is simply not a hypocrite because if he does X against his preference to accomplish Y then he isn't a Democrat, at least. And so the Pharisee thanks God that he is not a tax collector ... .

When we as Christians rebuke and punish more sternly in others what we observe in ourselves that's sinful. Could we agree on that? The simplest way anyone could articulate this point would be the way Mark Driscoll has done it--when we are sinned against we want justice and when we sin against others we want mercy. Yep, and because we are all sinners we all get this way. It almost defeats the purpose of asking ourselves why because the heart is deceitful above all things and who can possibly understand it? As Bonhoeffer once wrote, if we knew all the reasons why Adamsinned we wouldn't be here having a conversation about what caused him to sin against God. Some people say that's not true but I think that even as a rhetorical point it has a great deal of validity simply because the older I get the more seriously I take what Paul called "the mystery of lawlessness".

As a Christian I can find it easy to find someone wanting, and do so brutally, on a matter that I myself don't measure up in. What seems most common is not so much hypocrisy as a doublestandard. Others need to speak the truth in love but if I simply speak the truth as I understand it have I not ALREADY spoken the truth in love just by speaking at all? Ergo tens of thousands of posts on Mars Hill discussion forums I saw over the years. We were often a bunch of assholes, me particularly.

I don't think it would suffice to say it was all very gnostic. Evangelicals with a fondness for theology are too often lazy fools about using "gnostic" for any kind of dualism that isn't healthy. Let's be less "spiritual" and more practical, the real problem wasn't a gnostic sense of dualism in which the flesh is bad and the soul is good and special knowledge is needed to be truly righteous ... it was often a simple case of using a double standard! I get to be an asshole for Jesus because, hey, that's the part of the body of Christ I think I am.

Driscoll once joked that he was the colon of the local body of Christ and that through him crappy people who showed up at Mars Hill were inspired to leave. Talk about sanctifying your lesser character traits! But there is more than a kernel or two of truth to that, I suppose. Before Driscoll said that I had not thought that the voice of a church's leadership from the pulpit would also profess to being the colon but I suppose if the body of Christ is a flatworm than that would make sense. As curious observational humor goes no one could have set that up better.

And as you can see it's not as though I am not capable of employing cold-blooded acerbic humor. So in saying what I said earlier it's not as though I don't realize two of us don't have a weakness for saying brutal, off-the-cuff things that we probably really shouldn't have said.

Over the years I noticed it was common for people to get upset about things in others that they might excuse in themselves. I recall a fellow I once met who declared that no one who had the Holy Spirit could possibly be edified by watching the show Alias who loved watching the Simpsons. The pot couldn't help calling the kettle black. I recall some happy beer-loving Calvinists attending a Wesleyan church owned Christian camp ground and taking alcohol with them. When the managers discovered the infraction they asked the happy Calvinists to not come back. A few of the Calvinists said the camp ground should have been more clear. That wasn't too persuasive to me. Camp grounds have rules and if you take alcohol onto a dry camp you're proving yourself an asshole.

As I observe myself and other Christians I believe that the double standard is probably as or more pernicious than simple hypocrisy. If a person fails to live up to the standards they say everyone should follow then perhaps they are simply sinners. If a person avoids condemning sin in others because he struggles with that sin then he's not doing very well in his struggle with sin but he manages to not be a hypcorite and not have a double standard. Seriously, though, it's not as though those two things are all that big a deal. If you're not a hypocrite and don't have double standards you can still be an unbeliever or a Christian who is failing in his struggle against sin!

The best way for me to articulate this is to say that we as Christians have a terrible tendency--we are apt to say that if I sin against you then you need to recognize that Jesus died for me, forgive me, and move on already but if you sin against me then you are in rebellion against God and are unrepentant and justice needs to be accomplished. The truth is that there is no one who is righteous, not even one. In the realm of cosmic cowboys only the Father, Son, and Spirit are truly entitled to wear the white hates with their hosts, and everyone else wears black hats until Christ redeems them. I have noticed this a lot at Mars Hill in the last nine years and I have noticed it in myself. I have been symptomatic of what might be some of the better and decidedly lesser qualities in people at the church.

In the last nine years I have come to be convicted the the best way we can justify being assholes to each other is to 1) invoke the name of Jesus 2) invoke the need to defend a) the truth or b) God's people/family/personal honor 3) to tell ourselves that we would want people to do the same to us when the truth is we wouldn't because we don't think we need to be confronted. In other words we can justify sinning in all sorts of ways if our goal is, in our own minds, defending the truth.

But most of the time we are not defending the truth so much as our own petty agendas and our own methods rather than the principles we can often tell ourselves we care about. I am not sure that this is a uniquely evangelical Protestant failing ... but we have given popular entertainers a lot more ammunition than most through all of this. We are both more venal and cynical than we often realize. I have come to the unfortunately cynical conclusion that many an evangelical overlooks the abuse of power, the abuse of Scripture, frankly dishonest argumentation, self-serving legalism, and any number of other flaws simply because it hasn't bitten "me" where it hurts. No sooner than it does and my moral outrage at cruelty kicks in when I myself happily went along with condoning or encouraging or cheering on such venality and cruelty simply because it seemed to be for the right cause and I wasn't on the receiving end of the cruelty. Simply let the other shoe drop and see how the perspective changes.

I have heard it said by Christians at this point that no one is perfect and everyone is a sinner. Yes, and that is why anything can be justified so long as it doesn't effect us personally? From where I have been I admit that I struggle to understand why some Christians believe anything bad about a Democrat and nothing bad about a Republican. For a decade I heard Christians saying Clinton was going to suspend the Constitution, enact martial law, and declare himself dictator for life so that elections couldn't happen in 2000. Then the Democratic/leftist lunatic partisans did the same thing, declaring that Bush was going to declare a national state of emergency, suspend the Constitution, abolish the Bill of Rights, appoint himself dictator for life, and thus halt any elections in 2008. Yes, my friends, the paranoia runs on both sides and neither side looks all that interested in actually having meaningful checks and balances when its' their dog and pony show at center stage.

If we as professing evangelical Christians weren't so apt to be swayed by charismatic personalities and by justifying things if they get us what we want then perhaps we'd have more ground to stand on in objecting to how people let themselves be swayed by this or that "silver tongued" liar? Nah, not likely. God appoints all sorts of rulers throughout the ages both wicked and good. We can see in Scripture that some began good and became wicked while others began wicked and eventually repented while others reigned well throughout and others did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. I note with a great deal of resignation that there will be plenty of evangelical Christians referring to the President as "the Obamanation" and perhaps they can simply add "of desolation" while they are at it. And liberals were referring to Bush 2 as the Antichrist for a while, especially where I live since Seattle is not exactly a red state town by any means.

These days I am strangely less likely to be angry about simple hypocrisy than I am about double standards. Any sinning fool can end up being a hypocrite without realizing it but a double standard ... that's special, and that is what iMonk's post gets me thinking about. It is the mentality of believing that I can break the rules because I'm a special case but that if other people break the rules they have to be punished that I have most seen in the particular church environ I've been in the last nine years and it bugs me not just because I see it in others but also because I don't see that I have really been any different.

And so it is a matter I pray about. I and my brothers and sisters in Christ need to be reminded that Pharisees and Sadducees compromised all the wrong virtues because they thought it would lead to the right social and material victories. Compromise with Rome and the Herodian dynasty? Sure, if it gets us the kind of public accepted worship we think fulfills the Mosaic law. Return to all the ethical behaviors that define God's people and overthrow local rulers even though it means we are no longer God's ambassadors to the nations? Sure so long as we get back to the Bible and get God back in America again.

Don't tip at a restaurant? Okay, just as long as you tell people up front that there's nothing they can do to earn your tip because you're working on Sunday. :) After all, YOU'RE not working on Sunday by cooking so you have the grounds to say you're not a self-righteous hypocrite or a person who is wrong to take that approach. For them it totally makes sense and is "biblical".

I suppose all I can say at this point is to invoke some lines from a favoite poem .... when Thou has done Thou has not done for I have more ... . If you've never read John Donne go check out A Hymn to God the Father. Awesome poem and one that sticks with me now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"The New Evangelical Scandal" same as the Old Evangelical scandal, PART 6


This is one of the deep ironies of the young evangelical ethos. While vehemently rejecting the consumerism of 20th century evangelicalism, young evangelicals have adopted a new consumerist mindset under the guise of engagement with culture—a mindset that earns them access into the social standing they desire. The consumerism that has infected the core of evangelicalism has not been eradicated in the younger generations—it has simply been subsumed under a new teaching.

Here I believe Matthew Lee Anderson also couldn't be more right and unlike my earlier agreement this isn't going to come off as daming with faint praise because I don't think he went far enough on a certain point or was just mistaken, as I understand things, in how he reasons through a position.

Much of what passes for "engaging culture" is simply consumerism that is sanctified wth words like "relevant" or uses a term "redeem" in context to culture. Now certainly Paul was what we might call opportunistic in how he appropriated the altar to the unknown God, opportunistic in the best possible way. There is a time and place and setting in which using knowledge of a culture as a way to share the good news of Christ with someone is utterly fitting. I have friends who came to Christ precisely through this means of witnessing about Jesus.

But ... one can be a witness to Christ without taking this path of engaging culture. Ten years ago I met people at Mars Hill who described The Matrix as an allegory about spirituality. It wasn't an allegory about anything I would consider a remotely Christian spirituality (Wendy, if you're reading this I know we'll just agree to disagree about this, I promise!) Nevertheless, if something is popular enough with Christians it will be appropriated so that someone can be described as a Christ figure or so that someone can be described as pointing to a particular spiritual motiff. The problem is not necessarily that this ever gets done, the problem is that so many evangelical Christians jump to this too quickly. There is a time and place to announce that Jesus is Lord and God without having to use a segue-way.

Relevance is a single rather than a double-edged blade. It only cuts one way, forward in time up to the point the blade loses its edge and then it is either resharpened through circumstantial renewal or the blade loses any ability to cut. The sword of the spirit, Scripture,is a double edged blade that cuts whatever you apply it to and can cut you as well. This doesn't mean that "all" answers to "all" life's questions are in the Bible because that's a sort of biblicism that misunderstands the scope of Scripture. Jesus tells us we should pay taxes and doesn't address whether or not our taxes should be lower (Republicans) or higher (Democrats). There is a lot of room left for argument.

Let me indulge your time by noting that in terms of "relevance" Driscoll has become increasingly irrelevant in terms of what people might call "cultural engagement". He's a husband and father of five who mostly works form his office so he can help raise his family. Veggietales and Christian schooling and research for books and sermons and speaking engagements means that there's less stuff about Jack Bauer and 24 and sometimes stuff about Ultimate Fighting. There's a lot less about contemporary film or connections made from sermons to bits of a Dave Matthews song.

There is addressing culture by negative example by saying Jesus didn't have Mariah Carey on his iPod but Jesus obviously didn't have an iPod so the joke is just a joke. Jesus knew Mariah Carey's music would come about before time began and in His greatness and mercy chose for her music to exist. It is a mystery and I do not understand it but who am I to question the wisdom and sovereignty of the Lord who let Mariah Carey's music come into being and end up on the radio?

And by way of that joke, that's the best point Matthew Lee Anderson makes. Engaging culture is about an evangelical desire to be respectable and to demonstrate a relevance to the culture of the time. If we use our propensity to use the things we want and watch the movies and TVs we want and then attempt to turn that toward a presentation of the Gospel what is happening? Are we really turning all that we do toward Christ as an act of worship or are we sublimating what our real attraction is so that we can better indulge in it? The church in Corinth was fascinated by the spiritual gifts but badly misunderstanding the purpose from and in which they were to be used and misunderstanding the eschatological signifiance of having spiritual gifts. So it can be with cultural engagement, we can be so busy "engaging culture" or attempting to "redeem culture" we forget that the first goal is to love God and our neighbor, not to necessarily reshape either into what makes us feel like we are leaving a legacy. Not that legacies are bad but since Christ is our legacy we in Christ have an imperishable legacy already while everything we do will fade away. Again, as the Preacher put it in Ecclesiates so glumly, there is no remembrance of the past.

With all this in mind Francis Schaeffer embodied what I consider to be a noble quest, to understand the culture and the arts in a way that allowed him to address how Christians might see the thought forms of the world. I hesitate to use "worldview" because that is too much of a buzzword. I would prefer to say that as best I understand Schaeffer's own writing and his son's account of the man Francis Schaeffer engaged culture not merely to demonstrate his relevance or cultural hipness (though that may have been part of what was going on) it seemed he also did it out of love for his neighbor.

The reason I am now so critical of a lot of "cultural engagement" is because it can be so easy to not love one's neighbor through it. As an old Michael Card song puts it, He hopes that we'll realize that we love our neighbor by all that we own and that's not the way He is shown. The impulse to cultural engagement not only can conceal our own essentially consumeristic hearts it can also blind us to who our neighbor is.

Obviously there is nothing necessarily wrong with enjoying and loving things in culture but these goods must not supplant Christ as the highest joy in our lives. Very often I admit this is something I struggle with and I don't go out of my way to watch movies a lot of the time. I own a TV to watch DVDs and rarely watch television more than a handful of times a year. I dont' listen to the radio and tend to spend little time in "cultural outreach" of the sort that tries to use any pop culture trend as a path to talking about Jesus. I tend to either talk directly about how my faith guides me or I don't talk about it much at all.

Conversely, as you may surmise, the internet is a big source of me killing huge amounts of time. So while I don't understand why guys devote hours of their time to football, let alone the Superbowl, and I don't know why people spend time playing board games I realize that someone could look at the time I spend on music or blogging on the internet and ask why I waste so much of my life in these things. Good question. Our pop culture idols that we think can be avenues for bearing a Christian witness may all look and sound and smell and taste and feel different but our struggles often end up being the same.

I believe that admitting that I like to buy this or that or like to spend my time on this or that and not attempting to sanctify it is the best way to go. I don't think it's entirely honest (though it's hardly deceptive in any intentional way) to read the Gospel into things we already like. God has used pop culture to profoundly confront ways in which I have not trusted Him and problems in my life either that I have caused myself or that others have caused for me. Surely God can use anything.

After eight or nine years at Mars Hill I think the specific concern I have had vis a vis Matthew Lee Anderson's comments is that there is more that can go wrong with cultural engagement than consumerism. We can become people who have a one-size-fits-all approach to the culture we absorb. We can be so busy looking for an avenue to explain the Gospel to OTHER PEOPLE we aren't listening and watching and thinking carefully enough to recognize how God can use pop culture to correct OUR understanding of Christ and the good news. We as evangelicals may not realize that we are Abraham givign away his wife to the Egyptians and that the apparently godless Egyptians are about to reveal to us our own failures to be God's chosen people or to exemplify the character of God in our own lives.

In the long run the proclamation of Christ's kingdom does not depend on popular culture or art culture but on the proclamation itself. A guy like Macarthur may bungle a lot (and I most assuredly think he does) but in his criticism of Driscoll I don't think he's wrong if he points out that the proclamation of Christ's kingship does not on cultural engagement so much that we can't simply make the proclamation. I think Macarthur is wrong in how he understands his own criticism to apply to Driscoll specifically, but I think that there is a core element of the criticism that we all need to take to heart. None of us is likely to be culturally relevant at sixty-five and people could look at Driscoll's fondness for 24 or my fondness for Powerpuff Girls and ask, "What does that have to do with Jesus?" I think that in fairness to us both we could say, "Well, hey, I liked the show."

For me, not having any strong evangelistic gifts or anything like that I think I'll just thank the Lord that He has given me life in a world where I can enjoy little things, fleeting things, like Powerpuff Girls episodes on DVD. Driscoll can enjoy Blues Clues with his kids. Engaging culture doesn't just mean engaging stuff you like to make yourself cool, it means engaging culture for the sake of loving your neighbor. Anderson is right to be critical but I believe we should remember that if the motive for "cultural engagement" is genuine love of your neighbor that's okay. It's the engaging culture to have notches in your belt as an evangelical culture warrior who is fighting the forces of evil that stops being about love of neighbor. Just because liberals and social gospel advocates often mess this up doesn't mean we make things better by going the other way.

"The New Evangelical Scandal" same as the Old Evangelical scandal part 5


The new movement to become culture creators is driven largely by the rejection of the evangelical artistic sub-culture. For young evangelicals, Thomas Kinkade, DC Talk, and the Left Behind books and movies are embarrassing lightning rods for criticisms that Christians have abandoned the arts. In this way, Francis Schaeffer circa-1970 has won—young evangelicals are quick to defend artistic engagement as a valid expression of our humanity and Christian faith.

Thankfully, the new movement has promise. Evangelicals would do well to raise the level of their artistic and cultural productions. But young evangelicals’ language about engaging the arts suggests that their new pursuit has little to do with excellence for its own sake—rather, artistic engagement is frequently subsumed under the hope and promise of cultural influence. The popularity of worldview oriented training programs indicates a deepening dissatisfaction for the fragmentation and privatization of Christianity, and a new drive toward excellence in all realms of life. The arts and the classics are to be engaged for the sake of promoting the Christian worldview, and for building Christianity’s reputation to the world.

Here Anderson is very much on the mark. When younger Christians (say, mid 30s and younger) consider the options available in the Christian pop culture ghetto it's no wonder the more appealing options are to stick with "secular" arts. When I was in my 20s I was told by some very well-meaning Christians I should stop reading trashy novels by Kafka, Dostoevsky, Melville, Conrad or the like and read some "good Christian literature" by Frank Peretti or others. I found this prospect beyond any serious consideration but I found it intriguing that there were some Christians who believed firmly that Dostoevsky's novels were trashy.

If Christians abandoned the arts they abandoned them long before DC Talk, Left Behind novels, or Thomas Kinkade appeared. Surely we could agree on that for the sake of discussion. I think that is not just a good place to start but I will get to something Anderson doesn't seem to catch on about that I think has to be said, and I'll say it by the time I get to the end of this long post.

Evangelical Christians are in some circles quick to defend artistic engagement as a valid expression of our humanity and Christian faith. Sort of. To say that Francis Schaeffer circa 1970 has won is a bit strong because Francis is dead, to be overly literal, and because I would argue that Schaeffer's victory is not necessarily one that allows later generations to ride on his coattails. Each generation's engagement with culture or failure is its own defeat. As God said through the prophet it can no longer be said that the father eats sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge.

And on that subject I would say that a common problem I have seen both with "young" evangelicals and "old" evangelicalls is that we have four paths that may be followed, three of which have some significant problems and the fourth merely having problems. We live in a world marred by sin, after all, so there is no path we can walk on this that won't be full of risk or temptation.

The first path is to sanctify our own tastes as "engaging culture" when it is simply us buying what we want but I"m saving that for part six. Since Anderson singles out that risky path I think it's best to save my ruminations on that for later.

The second path is to simply take the fundamentalist route of not engaging any "secular" culture and living in the Christian cultural ghetto. CLearly Anderson doesn't see this is as a good thing but we should be fair in considering that there has constantly been a stream of Christian thought that has asked rhetorically what Athens or Rome have to do with Jerusalem. Since these sorts of people won't go away whether they are Macarthur types or hermits we might simply not that some people really do seem to be called to withdraw from the world's culture. Cultural engagement is not for everyone in terms of what we in the West often define culture. The older you get, the closer you get to death, the more kids you have the less likely it is that "cultural engagement" really matters.

Before we dismiss path two unfairly as categorically we should recognize that the body of Christ is a body. The eye is not an ear, the ear is not a tooth, the tooth is not a toe. We must all consider our own conscience before ourselves but most of all the Lord. There is a lot in culture we need feel no obligation to ever "engage" or "redeem". I admit to having settled on this a long time ago. Despite being in a church for years that is interested in cultural engagement and the like there are all sorts of things I don't care about, bands I don't care if I know about or bands that i just don't really like. I don't care if Radiohead puts out more albums. I don't much care about the spiritual themes in Fight Club or Braveheart or films like that (hints anyone?).

I think we should stop a moment and make sure that we dont' slight path two unfairly. It is possible to not "engage culture" in some activist way but to also recognize there are things you just won't expose yourself to. For instance, I met a few guys at Mars Hill who said they have no problem watching violent films but have big, big problems watching films with sexual content. Then there are more liberal types who have no problem with lots of nudity or sex but dislike violence in films to the point of shrieking as much about violence as other people shriek about sex. There are people who genuinely don't enjoy EITHER loads of violence OR loads of sexual content in films. If you stop and compare "adult entertainment" to childrens' entertainment and watch both CLOSELY you may find that grown-up entertainment and kid entertainment can have common ground on violence and that sexuality or sexual content may not be as unique as sometimes advertised. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking Sin City is worth anyone's time. The comic book was tedious and the movie was tedious, to say nothing of what any number of Christians might find deeply problematic in content. Save yourself the trouble and basically avoid anything with Frank Miller's name on it from the last two decades.

Another matter concerning some values in a version of path 2--as you get older the arts matter less and less and the basic things of living matter more and more. When your doctor tells you you could have a stroke or heart failure or high blood pressure or your body starts to show the signs of mortality and you're not in your twenties any more you begin to realize that those new rock bands aren't going to be that new in the end. I came to that sort of conclusion about culture in my twenties so I don't go out of my way to "engage culture" by paying attention to tons of contemporary movements in the arts. I'm not ignorant of them but the Preacher rightly said there's nothing new under the sun. New country is old rock and old country is older folk music and blues.

But the third path is the one that I find frustrating and that is cultural awareness by osmosis. Essentially this is where Christians let someone else do the heavy lifting for them and this is most frustrating to me because it is the most common and most ssceptible to fads. I met a lot of Christians in the last fifteen years who let Francis Schaeffer engage the culture of forty years ago so they wouldn't have to. There's a variation of this third path that basically looks like path 1. If you pastor or favorite Christian teacher engages culture you're afraid to engage yourself then you let them take the shortcut. This is a sense in which I think Schaeffer has been domesticated by evangelicals who have no interest in actually grappling with the philosophical currents of culture that they could deal with and so fall back on to things that are simpler and easier.

The fourth path is to "engage culture", to think "Christianly" about the culture and arts. This is much tougher to do than to talk about. It is often transformed into one of the other three paths while being called something else. And if you have read this far you will notice what is conspicuously absent from any of these paths regarding culture. No one is necessarily actually IN the arts doing anything. Engaging the arts and participating in the arts are simply not the same and all this is my consideration of the first of two quoted paragraphs by Anderson.

So now I finally get to the second paragraph. Anderson is right, most of the rhetoric about being culture shapers from young evangelicals sounds like just that, rhetoric. There is no indication that culture-shaping is actually taking place. In fact by the time young evangelicals (however we define them) will have risen to the point of being culture-shapers they will arguably be ne3ither young nor (depending on how much they study Scripture and where they land on some of the issues Anderson touches on) even "evangelical".

Now I once talked with a fellow who explained the way Christians engage the art of music, particularly popular music, in the following way. He metaphorically laid out a tree of black American music of all kinds and showed every branch and lim and the trunk of this great musical legacy and then drew a vertical line parallel to the tree. He then explained that "contemporary Christian music" consisted of any given point on the tree minus two decades. The great South Park episode "Christian Rock Hard" reframed the problem in a different way--tae any has-been top 40 song and anywhere it says "baby" you just replace it with "Jesus". Suffice it to say Cartman's album goes platinum, if that weren't a worldly measure of success.

So here we get to what I consider the problem of "engaging culture" and becoming culture creators, the whole enterprise is based on not being two decades behind and staying current. It means catching up to whatever the market has just touched or just left. In this evangelicals are, in my very blunt opinion, hosed. Evangelicals don't seem to demonstrate the sort of robust theology of the created world as a real and literally material good they once had; evangelicals in America also have such a blunted sense of history that their idea of deep roots music might go back to the 1930s or, at best, to 19th century hymns that are famous in American history and popular usage.

Evangelicals have been working to catch up when cultural creators have other things to do. The first and foremost thing is that if you set out to matter as a culture shaper that's a pretty good sign you're not going to be one except by the measures of whatever the evangelical equivalent of socialist realism is. Ersatz pap.

I agree with Anderson that it seems young evangelicals want to be culture shapers but mainly so as to have influence in the culture more than to influence culture as a secondary result. Anderson doesn't go quite far enough, I think. Where the old evangelicals tried to fight the culture war by protesting the culture they didn't like young evangelicals seemed poised to co-opt the culture they do like so as to find ways to integrate evangelical elements into that culutre so as to seem cooler and more relevant. It can be very easy to put the cart before the horse.

A bunch of Christians who start a band and go out touring bars in Seattle to create goodwill on behalf of a church will only generate so much good will as they are a truly decent band. They will also only generate, at most, respect or fondness for them. A lot of evangelicals want imputation to happen. Jesus can impute His righteousness to us or take our sin upon Himself ... but taht doesn't mean that we can make Christianity "cool" to Gentiles or Jews as Paul lays out the contrast. Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. If evangelicals want to be culture shapers to make life easier and evangelicalism and by extension the Christian faith more acceptable to the world that is more a fool's errand than proclaiming the good news of Christ.

Anderson sees a lack of real courage or principle in speaking against kitsch in the "Christian" arts. I agree. I would also say that it does not take real courage or principle to make this observation either. It is quite a bit tougher to labor to become even a non-entity in the arts. We must remember that no matter what level of artistic excellence we may obtain as a goal unto itself or as a path to making evangelical Christianity more respectable God owes us nothing.

If we as Christians are going to devote ourselves to the arts we must do so with no expectation of a material reward not because a jmaterial reward is bad but because God does not owe any of us a living at the arts or any cultural influence. While I am more skeptical than possibly anyone I have ever met about the premise that art should be made for the sake of art I also admit that there is a paradox at work here, a need for balance. The person who places content before the joy of simply playing with things for the sake of developing technique and a renewed understanding and deeper understanding of how things work and what is possible will never get anywhere as an artist. He or she will be doomed to a self-repeating, insular, and reflexive approach to the arts that has no room for expansion.

Ironically those who attempt to break all the rules and defy history are just as prone to making art that doesn't seem to last as those who take the other blind alley of going by intuition and instinct alone, relying on inspiration without any consideration of craft and discipline and who fail to grasp that the best art engages the entire person and also stretches the entire person. Art is not a quest for truth with a capital 'T' for a Christian but an artist who fails to truly observe the world is not going to be able to grasp the need for the Truth because lesser truths than Christ Himself are part of what you have to apprehend to appreciate Him.

Here I come back to my own experience as a Christian and observing Christians' eagerness to "engage culture" and be "culture shapers". My experience is very particular as I have spent at least eight years or possibly nine in and at and around Mars Hill. Even though many could describe me as a 'younger evangelical" about a third of my life, nonetheless, has been in this particular Christian and cultural setting. Mark Driscoll has talked about how Christians can get "upstream" and take positions in society to "shape culture". Part of me likes this idea because who doesn't want to have a position from which to positively influence culture. I am a composer and a sorta nearly competent musician and certainly I hope to compose music that I hope will be a benefit and a source of challenge and joy to musicians and to a musical community. To be more blunt, sure I'd love to have my music performed and published and to have a little legacy that could go on after I'm dead. In fact if it were possible one day that I might actually get any music published and maybe even garner a footnote in some obscure monograph on classical guitar music that would be pretty cool.

But that's the thing, evangelical Christians talking about culture shaping this and upstream that need to remember--Who really changes and directs things in the end. And we should remember that the stakes we're playing for at our best and most significant amount to footnotes in history that will be forgotten. As the Preacher put it, there is no remembrance of the things that have gone before. If Mars Hill impacts the city for Jesus today in some big way inside of twenty years people will start forgetting the church ever existed even if it is still around that long. In twenty years I can see people reading some books by Piper and Wright and Peterson and Stott and I don't see anyone picking up Driscoll books. Of course I started of talking about the arts and young evangelicals but because my experience of both has been at Mars Hill I speak from my own experience. I believe the stated goal is more admirable than the actual execution, most of which is hamstrung by simple realities.

Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox will no doubt recognize that patronage systems get you great art because you can AFFORD the great art. Evangelicals young and old have wanted to impact culture without actually immersing themselves in culture. I don't mean contemporary culture I mean the arts as a historical entity.

As Fearsome Comrade over on the BHT might put it, evangelicals want someone like Bach to just show up and compose organ preludes and sacred cantatas for free. This is not a NEW scandal where evangelicalism is concerned. In fact the existence of that curious acronym and the genres it represents, CCM, speaks of this continuing stream. We are back to Christian rock hard.

I have no real optimism that the young evangelicals are going to go any directions other than those paths trod by previous evangelicals. Now it isn't as though there isn't a rich tradition of evangelical Protestant music, least of all in the United States. Mahalia Jackson, to pick a thoroughly non-random example, exemplifies the best qualities of uniquely American music, uniquely American art, and a uniquely American approach to Christianly approaching the arts that has had a vast influence on popular culture in the last half century.

Of course I would also have to say that a lot of the influence is more readily seen in how badly her legacy is appropriated and imitated by lesser artists! ANd it would be reasonable to point out that in order to understand Mahalia's legacy we need to see who she turned to. As Bob Dylan put it, go further back. Find the roots of the stuff you like and see where the tree grew from. Find the roots of that. This leads to a progression and I followed Dylan's advice. I liked 1980s rock and pop and I went back to listen to what influenced them, which is how I got to Dylan to begin with, and then from Dylan I went back to the things that inspired him and that led backwards both to white and black American popular and folk music. From the white music it was several steps back to "classical" music (I also listened to Pinkfloyd if this helps explain the journey) and eventually I stopped moving back in time studying music around Mauchaut. That was as far back as I could go before hitting theoretical treatises by Aristoxenus and PLatonic discourse on the way music was advised to be used by the state to avoid girly men.

Now when people on the other side of the TIber say Protestants have no sense of history I half-way agree. AMERICAN Protestants (evangelical or otherwise) often seem to have no sense of the historical moment. It is too much to keep track of the pop cultures of today and stay "relevant" and "engage culture" and become culture shapers now. There is a place for that I guess but I long ago figured out that I don't care about staying current. The history of the avant garde in Western art music is that people go back to move forward or they go east or west in the present rather than attempting to dismantle the present or even anticipate the next big thing.

All of this I have said boils down to a grim observation on my part, the young evangelicals are going ot be as irrelevant to shaping the culture as their predecessors have been because they have too small a view of the culture into which they want to inject their own legacy and this as much for themselves as for any devotion to the Gospel. Even the best efforts suffer from this temptation. The desire to be culture shapers is a mutation of the old culture war impulse. Instead of trying to win the culture war by beating them the "yong" evangelicals want to win the culture war by joining them.

Did Christ send us out to "redeem culture", though? Hasn't Christ called us to love God and our neighbor? Can we do that and not be in positions to be "upstream" or "shape culture"? Certainly we can. I am not so sure the coming evangelical collapse that iMonk predicts is going to come. I agree that Mars Hill will probably survive that coming collapse if it happens. It will be hurt, a lot, but I think the church is well-placed to make the mission of the church less about Driscoll's personality and more about a body of believers demonstrating the love of Christ, a point that Driscoll by now must know he's rather weak on. Fortunately he seems to have leaders in place who actually know something about conveying the love of Christ to the flock.

But over the years I have seen Mars Hill exemplify what Anderson has complained about, a penchant for wanting to "engage culture" and move upstream to become culture shapers without any clear indication that artistic excellence for its own sake is at work. Many Christians want to place the respectability of the faith at the front when it can at best be merely a by-product. You can think that you are on a mission to make Christianity more acceptable and cool and that is not the mission. Foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews ... no one can make that cool. You can't make the scandal of the Cross of Christ cool. God the Son hanging on the cross is not cool.

And thinking "Christianly" about the arts doesn't ensure that we will make art that lasts, or make art that "engages culture", whatever that means. The older I get (which is not to say I'm really al that old) the more I believe that it is better to love your neighbor and create from that impulse than to aspire to "shape culture" or "redeem culture". The simplest reason for this is that if you go into the arts with that kind of motive you're doing it for love of you, for love of your own legacy, for the love of the idea that looking back thirty years from now you can tell yourself,"God used me to change the culture to something more fitting His will."

Now this is all just me rambling on my own pointless opinions, I know, but when i consider the artists who have dramatically shaped the culture in a field that I like, music, I don't see a whole lot of evangelical Christians from America. I see Orthodox, Anglicans, Catholics, and in the popular Gospel traditions lots of Baptists from America. If we defined the evangelical tradition more broadly than Anderson does we could include Luther and Bach.

I cosnider it very good, by the way, that Mars Hill has finally gotten around to CCLI stuff and incorporating established hymns into the music. The music in the first four to five years could often be horrible. I'm not sugar-coating my opinion here, most of the Mars Hill music that was most popular was terrible because it was not suited to congregational singing but fit naturally in the vocal range of some guy who, like Geddy Lee, I'm not entirely sure actually got through puberty.

The rock concert vibe has pervaded at Mars Hill. Congregational singing is great and it is great that more and more Mars Hill has shifted toward an approach to song that gets closer to being singable for, again I won't sugar coat things, the musically illiterate. I don't mean people who have no "taste" in music I simply mean people who aren't thinking of themselves as career or hobbyist musicians and so couldn't be expected to follow along with tunes.

And CCLI is a relief to see because I now no longer have to worry that one of the fastest growing megachurches in evangelical Protestant could get the pants sued off them for copyright infringement. Ten years ago pastors at Mars Hill were blathering about how copyright was passe and that open copyright was the wave of the future. Thank God they came to their senses about that. Seattle, you know, we have this superiority complex where we think we're smarter and more progressive than others but lack the competence to do anything in an organized or efficient manner that isn't related to computers or coffee. Mars Hill is no exception and maybe isn't even so awesome about computers or coffee. But the Lord is kind, right?

My overall response to Anderson is that he's right about this problem he sees. The solution will be to both redefine what evangelicalism is so that it isn't ANDERSON's definition of the term and also be to advise evangelicals to search high and low into artistic legacies that seem completely outside their traditions. There is no evangelical Protestant American artistic work particularly worth celebrating. The reason so many evangelicals co-opt Lewis or Bonhoeffer even though by strict definitions of terms neither is all that good a candidate is because these two men offered a legacy in literature and in political thought and applied life that so eclipse the actual evangelical model we have to co-opt them as patron saints precisely because if we didn't, we'd have nobody.

In some sense that is true about Francis Schaeffer, too, a lot of people wouldn't dream of being as environmentalist as Schaeffer was and many evangelicals want to champion Schaeffer circa 1980 to his death rather than Schaeffer circa 1960-1980. We love having poster boys of relevancy and cultural engagement so that we don't have to do it ourselves. What happened with Schaeffer could, conceivably, happen even with Driscoll. That would be terrible both because Driscoll is never going to be a Scheaffer and because it's not fair of Christians to expect fallible men with tempers like Driscoll or Schaeffer to do for us what we could seek the Lord ourselves for help with.

As for the pursuit of art as an excellence in itself, 90 percent of everything is crap, so the old saying goes. Evangelicals need to increase their invovlement in the arts as artists first who happen to be evangelicals rather than attempting to Veggie Tale their way into cultural relevance. We know where that path will lead. Evangelicals should go work for Pixar or EMI because they love the work as its own joy from the Lord (per Ecclesiastes) not because they want to be culture shapers. We too often forget, especially as American evangelicals, that the apostles did not turn the world upside down because that was their plan. They proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ and the Spirit's work in their proclamation turned the world upside down. Evangelicals have so often put the cart before the horse they should stop wondering why, decades after the start of the culture war and decades longer after Schaeffer warned us that we were living in a "post-Christian society" why that horse hasn't seemed to push the cart where we wanted it to be.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The New Evangelical Scandal" same as the Old Evangelical scandal part 4


Fewer words find more frequent use among young evangelicals than “authentic.” Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee resonated with young evangelicals for the same reason: they appeared authentic in their positions and their mindsets. Sarah Palin’s immediate success hinged upon her knack for being a different sort of politician, a more authentic one—that is, one who reminded us of her humanity. The ability to appear authentic matters to young evangelicals just as much as a politician’s policies or decisions. As one friend put it to my wife, “I agree with more of John McCain’s policies than Barack Obama’s, but John McCain just doesn’t make me feel good.”

Anderson rambles a bit here on Democrats and Republicans and I believe he makes a fundamental mistake in a potentially noble attempt to dig beneath the surface of what he sees. "Authentic" is a buzzword like "community". These are words that don't mean much by themselves and mean less through overuse. So now, as a blogger, I will ramble about that.

For that matter, Anderson doesn' t help his assertion by hitching his wagon to the star that is an anonymous quote. You can tell that Anderson is not really talking about "authentic", though he thinks he is, he's really talking about charisma. The capacity to project an air of simple authenticity is an aspect of charisma. The charismatic person (in the non spiritualized sense of that term) is always more winsome than the ordinary person. Obama didn't win in this break-down of things because his policies made sense but because he was (and is, I suppose, if I bothered to watch TV or listen to the radio instead of just reading things) charismatic.

Charisma is that often ineffable quality that allows a single person to hold such emotional sway over people that people follow the man or woman more than they really follow the cause. The man or woman of the hour embodies and exemplifies the hopes and aspirations of a legion. Charisma can be based on a genuine warmth and sociability in person or, in our day and age, especially with the rise of cinema in the last century, charisma can also be a by-product of an entertainment culture. You might call the charisma of tele-evangelists pseudo charisma. They are able to convey through mass media the effect that they are one of you or that they articulate your hopes and aspirations, or you put upon them those hopes and aspirations yourself while the object of your devotion has no awareness of this in any meaningful way.

But authenticity isn't the thing here. Something that is authentic is something that is reliable, true, legitimate, not a counterfeit, the genuine article. No one wants to buy ice cream with a dollar bill that is not an authentic dollar bill. The charismatic dollar bill may make a person feel good but the bill has to be authenticated by the Treasury to be an authentic dollar bill.

I would argue that the real problem Anderson is (or should be) attempting to address is that evangelicals had gleefully traded the authentic away for the charismatic. Even in cases where they embrace the authentic they often lapse into gushing about the authentic because of charisma and not what is actually authentic. Obviously I don't mean the charismatic movement, I mean that charisma is considered enough to establish the authenticity of a leader. But I would say that this is more prevalent and perilous in evangelicalism regarding leaders within it than it is in politics. There are evangelicals who have convinced themselves Obama is a fraudulent candidate because their commitments to certain policies lead them to believe that he can't be a Christian, can't be a legal American citizen, and can't be God's sovereignly appointed executive of the republic of the United States of America.

Authenticity is the veracity of the thing, charisma is the sense that you belong to the object of your admiration or that he or she belongs to you. Evangelicals have been guilty of idolizing their pet leaders for long enough that it is not surprising this would manifest in other ways with a curious devotion to figures present in the mass media like, say, the President of the United States.

Having established all those details and observations, Mark Driscoll is a charismatic speaker and considered by many to be "real". He appeals because he is earthy and people consider him authentic. Well, I suppose we could say that. He is authentically concerned about promoting evangelicalism and Christianity. He is a charismatic speaker but it is this flip that seems to be what Anderson should really be talking about. There are people thousands of miles away who would be willing to ask Mark Driscoll a question about a theological topic or a topic about sex or maybe a topic about politics. On what basis does a person suppose that Driscoll actually knows what he's talking about? About the Bible? It's a safe bet he knows a lot on that topic? About sex? He's married so he knows a lot about that I figure. About politics? He is probably wise to avoid that topic, saying nothing more than that he is more Republican than the Republican party which is why he doesn't try to hang much on them.

But let's consider something else, regardless of how much Driscoll does or doesn't know about anything, if people were to email him a question or ask him a question at a conference he might go to in Australia .. why do they do so? This is not a rhetorical question that supposes a negative answer any more than a positive answer. I don't know why, if people do this, they would email a question to Mark Driscoll from thousands of miles away. Do these people lack the resources on the internet to research a question themselves or do they hope that God will use the answer provided by Driscoll as divine confirmation? What is it about our day and age that brings this about? This question, potentially unanswerable except by individuals who obviously have no reason to read this blog, gets at some of what Anderson considers the "new" evangelical scandal that I think Mark Noll might explain is just a part of the old evangelical scandal. By this I mean specifically the role of the charismatic populist evangelical figure who takes up a prominent role in society with particular social goals in mind.

Consider Noll's description of the appeal of William Jennings Bryan (Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Wm. B. Eerdmans 1994, p 159). Noll says the tradition he exemplified was populist, activist, and appealed to a mythic sense of history rather than a careful study of history in detail. Years ago on the old unmoderated Midrash a few people laid into the prudishness of the Puritans and Driscoll's response was "Don't knock the Puritans, kids, one church excommunicated a guy for not giving his wife enough action." Summary, not a quote. The detail is specific but the scope of the anecdote essentially preserves a mythic positive rather than a mythic negative history of the Puritans. An actual survey of the Puritans will reveal both positive and negative legacies. I'm sure Driscoll is widely read enough in Puritanism to know how pathetic they eventually got on the arts. He probably doesn't know a thing about Frank Martin's Mass for Double Choir but Calvinist Masses as professions of personal faith in Christ are, how do I put it, exceptionally rare.
All that is to say that Driscoll exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of a lay preacher like William Jennings Bryan. Come to think of it, as Driscoll has not been ordained by an ecclesial body and has been developing his evangelicalism as it were on the fly he has always been a lay preacher, more or less like Bryan, hasn't he? Except that Bryan was Presbyterian and Driscoll interned at Antioch Bible Church, which doesn't seem too strongly denominational.

Now I would agree with Anderson if he meant to say "Today's evangelicals care as much about how charismatic a preacher is as they care about whether or not they agree with what he or she teaches about the Christian faith." This is a venerable evangelical tradition, really, so I hope Anderson isn't too troubled to see this as a "new"element in what he considers the evangelical scandal. This element has been there for a century. A charismatic preacher with an interest in poopulist appeal and a sense of mythic history comes along and touts a solution to what ails society. In the case of William Jennings Bryan this eventually coalesced into the "Cross of Gold" speech against the gold standard and in favor of the silver standard. In Driscoll's case it has been coalescing for a decade into "We need to get the young men to love Jesus." Both are appealed to as means through which injustices in society can be made right.

So how is the silver standard holding up these days?

For someone like Driscoll the diagnosis of the societal ills may be accurate and the presription of Christ is fitting. As a Christian I'm always willing to say Jesus is the answer and because I appreciate the legacy of Francis Schaefer I also want to ask, "So what is the question Jesus is the answer to?" But Anderson's point overall, that many evangelicals are simply sanctifying existing American trends, is something I believe can apply to Driscoll. He says a lot of valuable things but there is a sense in which his whole pastoral career is essentially a baptising of the middle class American dream in the name of Jesus.

Driscoll may not be another William Jennings Bryan. That would be a good thing, I think. A preacher of Christ should be remembered for things besides a public address like "Cross of Gold" over against any actual sermons. At the rate he's going I don't think Driscoll has to worry about becoming a Bryan at a political level. I do think that the older he will have to drop the shtick. Not that being relevant is bad but today's relevance is tomorrow's irrelevance. Today's engagement is tomorrow's pastoral equivalent of jumping the shark. He's not plugging the Matrix as a spiritual allegory now, ten years later. Good thing, too.

As I consider Matthew Lee Anderson's "new" evangelical scandal and Mark Noll's old scandal of the evangelical mind I have to say that as much as I find admirable in Driscoll he exemplifies a new generation of the old scandal with a few new twists. He has presented a Jesus who is a blue-collar worker who is the son of a carpenter, utterly a product of a populist impulse. Presenting Jesus as the son of a blue collar construction worker in a dumpy rural hick town doesn't get more populist.

He is able to appeal to an activist impulse and that activism manifests in a call to the American dream baptised in the blood of Jesus--a sentiment that "At Mars Hill we want young men to love Jesus, get jobs, get married, and make babies." Not that there is anything wrong with loving Jesus, getting jobs, getting married, or making babies, but I think it is evident that where older evangelicals worked out the activist streak in politics or social outreach Driscoll's demonstration of the evangelical activist impulse shows up in a different form, which should not distract us from observing it to be what it is.

Driscoll's approach to theology from the pulpit and on blogs is every bit as intuitive and appealing to an assumed sharing of common sense as earlier evangelicals. Scottish enlightenment, per Mark Noll. Driscoll adds a humorous twist here and there such as dismissing the typological interpretation of Song of Songs by saying "I love Jesus ... but not like that." He also adds things like "seed of Chucky" by way of dimissing the interpreation of Genesis 6 best exemplified in books like Jubilees or 1 Enoch. It is simpler to joke away competing interpretive schools of thought than to say, not mention them, I guess. And it is simpler to joke away competing interpretive schools of thought than to get into them from the pulpit.

Finally, Driscoll's appeal to history is essentially mythic both at a personal level and at a broader level. Consider his appeal to consider Jesus as the son of a carpenter and his own account of his life living as the son of a union dry-waller. Driscoll's narrative entwines a mythic/poetic sense of history that ties his own personal history to the personal growth of Christ. After all, both men grew up in dumpy towns or parts of towns and were the sons of blue collar dudes who swung hammers for a living. His personal history as a pastor kicks off with an account that God told him to plant a church. That invokes at a literary level the calling of all sorts of prophets. As a Christian I have no problem saying God specifically calls people to specific tasks. I also don't have a problem pointing out that Driscoll has a history of conflating his own, if you will, mythic/poetic history with his own populist mythic/poetic translation of the life of Christ. If someone wanted to play the role of pyschologist to Driscoll on this point I don't know what they would come up with but after eleven years Driscoll has made the parallelism in the mythically styled narratives easy to spot.

Anderson spends time looking at the appeal of "authenticity" in a political arena but doesn't look closer to home within evangelicalism to consider the impact of these things he's looking at. I would argue that there is no better test subject than Mark Driscoll both for Anderson's would-be "new" scandal and Mark Noll's old scandal of the evangelical mind. No one should expect Driscoll to be an intellect at the level of Jonathan Edwards or N. T. Wright or even John Murray or Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He doesn't need to be, he has been a populist and a popularizer of better intellects from the beginning. I want him to keep playing that role for years to come.

Conversely, if Driscoll represents the best elements of evangelicalism as Noll or even Anderson might define them he exemplifies the lesser elements, too. Where the best aspects of Anderson's observations go Driscoll is a case for us to consider. The pro-Driscoll fans are caught up in his charisma. Thing is, his critics are often caught up in a charisma/fascination with someone else. There are Driscoll fans and there are Macarthur fans. Yes, I'm talking about Steve Camp and Camp on This. We as Christians should consider that authenticity and charisma are best located by seeing them in Christ and as much as the Lord enables us to, to not fixate on them in others. This is also true of politicians.

I think Anderson had a great point here that he fumbled because he was too busy finding an example in the politics of last year and not in the partisan battles within evangelical Protestantism. We have enough to ask the Lord to correct us for as the Church that we should be wary of complaining that evangelicals found themselves liking Obama better than McCain. If that complaint is legitimate then we evangelicals suckered ourselves at home before we let ourselves get suckered out in the neighborhood.

I "could" tie this to iMonk's prediction that evangelicalism will fall apart but I don't feel like it. Part 5 is in the works

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This post from iMonk got me thinking ....

Religion #1:
God is mean, angry and easily provoked. From day 1, we’ve all been a disappointment, and God is–justly–planning to punish us forever. At the last minute, thanks to Jesus stepping in to calm him down, he decides to be gracious.
But don’t do anything to mess that up. Peace is fragile around here.

Religion #2
God is gracious, loving, kind, generous and open-hearted. He rejoices in us as his creations, and is grieved that our sins have made us his enemies and caused so much brokenness and pain. In Jesus, he shows us what kind of God he is and restores the joy that should belong to the children of such a Father. True to his promises, he will bless all people in Jesus, and restore the world by his resurrection victory.

Here are some questions inspired by this part of iMonk's post ... for the very few people who probably read this blog.

First question, have you considered who preaches religion #1 in your life and who has preached religion #2?

Did they know they were preaching those religions or not? Is it possible for someone to preach religion #1 while thinking he is preaching religion #2

Second question, have you met anyone who preached religion #1 and then switched to religion #2? Did you ever learn how the Lord worked in their hearts to get them to that point?

Third question, have you come across a preacher who started with religion #2 and started preaching religion #1? Were there any indications of a change in the preaching? What changes presaged such a shift? Was the teacher aware of the shift?

The thing I can't help but think about is that we like to talk about preachers who just preach 1 or 2, we like to talk about preachers who preached 1 and then preached 2 as Paul would be the pet example from history for that. But what about those who get religion 2 (the good news of Christ) and then start preaching religion 1?

I consider the case of Pelagius. It seemed he wanted to solve a problem, the problem being that people were immoral in the big city. He taught in ways that would attempt to curtail that by emphasizing responsibility ... and now Pelagianism is considered by many to be a wildly pernicious heretical teaching. The more time goes by the more it seems as though a transition from religion 2 to religion 1 can come when theology gets ... at the risk of making a statement wildly susceptible to misinterpretation ... practical. You're not likely to land in heresy by proclaiming that Jesus is King and God and man, you're likely to end up stating something heretical because you're trying to solve a problem, a real problem, in a local religious community.

Is the problem so pernicious it is worth it for you to switch from religion 2 to religion 1? What different ways can a pastor or theologian switch from religion 2 to religion 1 without even, possibly, noticing it? I am most interested in how a pastor or Christian can get from version 2 of Christianity to version 1. Why does it happen? What do these Christians believe they are preserving by jumping from 2 to 1?

What happens if religion 2 and religion 1 are both taught in the same church as what the good news of Jesus really is? I don't mean that there are aspects of the two, if you will, caricatures in true religion. Let's suppose for sake of argument religion 2 is the truer definition of the prodigal love of God for His creation. What happens when you get both religion 1 and 2 taught in the same church by different people in different settings on different topics and they all believe they are teaching the same thing? Is that even possible? I say, speaking as someone with a very dim view of how Christians so often teach, that it is perfectly possible for versions 1 and 2 of Christianity to show up in the same church, in the same family, even in the same person.

Just a few things to consider. If I had a clearer idea whether there were answers to this then this would be a longer blog entry but since I don't I am just throwing out these questions for consideration while I mull them over. We always want to hear stories about people who go from 1 to 2 ... but it feels like a dark spot in the history of Christianity is that there have been plenty of people who went from 2 to 1 and probably didn't realize it. Perhaps they thought they were solving or addressing the burning cultural problem of their time and perhaps they were ... in their own way, but the history of Christianity and aberrant teaching serves as a warning that your solution to today's moral problem may be the seed from which tomorrow's heresy grows if you tilt too far to the one side or the other.