Saturday, February 28, 2009

a consideration of eschatology and ethics

I have been considering Anderson's article for a month now and as I consider a few threads he brought up in his article it has struck me that whether or not dispensationalism is something evangelicals embrace there is a respect in which a proliferation of "kingdom now" ideas or even post-millenialist ideas could be misunderstood by evangelicals. In other words, there is risk in a prosperous country like the United States for Christians of any confession to not think in terms of eschatology, which is to say that we look forward to a life to come and that that, more so than any cultural or social or political goals we have for this age, is what we can draw upon to motivate our ethics.

Take the subject of marriage and sexuality. As Lauren Winner put it a while back evangelicals have tended to frame the argument for chastity in terms of the wedding day. Now this seems like a compelling argument if your sixteen and think you're likely to get married by the time your 20 or 24. By the time you're 27 and it looks less likely you're going to get married the argument that you should be chaste in anticipation of an unspoiled wedding day stops becoming a compelling argument. The argument that the treaty Neville Chamberlain got with Hitler should be relied upon stops holding any weight after Poland gets invaded.

In fact speaking as a single guy in his thirties I would say one of the biggest failures at a church like Mars Hill specifically has been to articulate a vision of Christian life in which marriage is never on the table. It's not that marriage is bad, it's that marriage is for this age. In the age to come no one will be married. It is useful to mention this once or twice as a salve to singles and another thing to teach in such a way as to expound what it means to say that those who are married should live as though they were not. That obviously doesn't mean to leave the wife or husband and any attendent kids.

I remember the days when I was actually a dispensationalist in my early through late teens. I read Hal Lindsey. I paid attention to Bible prophecy stuff. I actually thought for a while the European Union could be the Beast foretold in Revelation and research that a lot. The more I learne about the European Union's history, its lack of competence and efficiency in getting anything done, or the propensity within the so called European Union to bicker in the same way the member nations did for centuries before the more and more convinced I was that dispensationalism was a dead end in application even if in theory it could ever be demonstrated to be true. And the more I considered the origin of a variety of cults in the wake of dispensationalism the more apparent it became that whatever the historic confessions of the Christian faith were on eschatology, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, it was not dispensationalist in eschatology.

When I settled that I wasn't a dispensationalist I found myself liberated to recognize that while this present age was passing away it was not passing away so soon as to render anything I did worthless in this age. Surely I would say what I do is of no temporal consequence in this age, still, but there is no despair that Jesus will come back by the time I'm 22 so that therefore there is no reason to contribute anything to society, let alone any basis for the consideration of that task. The paradoxical already but not yet eschatological prsim has been most helpful and most historic in aiding me and it is precisely this kind of eschatology that American evangelicalism can't get too much of. Why? Simply because we must all live with the awareness that our Lord could return tomorrow even while living with the reality that Hemight not return until centuries after we are dead.

It is in this context that Christians can consider the magnitude of decisions and actions that can't be reversed. As someone who was a kid in the 1980s and thanks to thins being progressively declassified let me just pick Reagan as an example of someone who seems to have been considered a hero to conservative evangelicals. We are fortunate that Reagan drastically changed his stance on the Soviet Union and that he was loathe to resort to nuclear war. Allow me to risk some Alan Moore fanboy ire and say the reason Watchmen dats so badly is precisely because it was a British leftist paranoid dystopian present in which Republicans were in charge and someone like Ozymandias thought he had to create a terrible threat to prevent nuclear war from happening. But as Isaac Asimov put it during that era, after fifty years of no one engaging in full scale nuclear war you start figuring it's not likely to happen. We can't keep rewriting variations of Dr. .Strangelove forever you know.

It seems to me every generations burden and opportunity is to reinvent the wheel. We can err on the side of thinking that task is too dull or onerous or simply refuse to reinvent the wheel in our time because we feel it isn't cool enough of a fate to rediscover for our own time what others discovered for us. This may be a uniquely American challenge since we would prefer to come up with something no one has come up with before, head down to the patent office, and get a patent or trademark on it so we can make money off it.

When once we have done that we can be a little too happy with ourselves, holding forth that we have invented the wheel or discovered fire. The Sadducees and Pharisees may represent most readily the dangers in erring too far one way or another on eschatology but I don't feel like unpacking that right now. To me it would be enough to say that the fundamentalists and evangelicals have tended to err on the side of a Pharisaical approach to eschatology (which is to say a culture war or ask that God disrupt the established order for our benefit) while the mainlines are Sadducees (we can compromise just about anything so long as we get along with the imperial state that lets us do what we want and tip our hats to them in exchange for some lenience).

Of course Jesus made enemies of both groups.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Dobson resigns?

Man, I feel old.

Dobson, a child psychologist and author, has gotten more involved in politics in recent years. He endorsed Republican John McCain last year after initially saying he would not, and also sharply criticized Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

I gotta say "Huh?" to that, though. How recent is "in recent years" that Dobson has gotten "more involved" in politics? Fourteen years ago? Dobson has been pretty direct about his political convictions so far as I could tell since I was in my teens.

Steve Hays at Triablogue addresses some weaknesses in John Piper's theology

Piper is one of those guys where if you lean at all Reformed you not only can't seem to say anything bad about him you can't even fail to muster up enthusiasm in some circles without getting some bewildered looks! I own a couple of Piper's books and like a lot of what he has to say ... but there are some things Piper has been saying I don't think adds up or seems to work too hard at, say, baptising rational objectivism into a form that Christians can accept. I love the work of Miyazaki, for instance, but I would not go so far as to say that I adopt any aspects of his philosophy. Where Miyazaki is a pantheist God has providentially used his work to help me remember that the creation is still a reflection, dimmed as it is by sin, of the goodness of Christ.

Some people are skeptical of Calvinism because they believe it takes the mystery out of things. That's simply not my experience. My concern, even as a Calvinist, is more in keeping with an old joke. The old joke goes like this: the founders of the Lutheran church and the founders of the Presbyterian church got together one day to discuss congress in marriage. The question at hand was how often in the week congress happened. A Lutheran happily said that three times a week was the average. The founders of the Presbyterian movement said, "We'll fix that, we'll make it a requirement." Essentially Piper at his best is reminding us that, as it were, there are joys to be had in marriage, but at his worst he makes it a requirement even when that's not his goal. It is an old risk for Calvinists or non-Calvinists.

But the most pertinent critique Hays provides is the observation that the dichotomy between God and His gifts is unnatural and inappropriate. Back in my college days a professor pointed out that this whole approach is not only problematic but antithetical to the psalms. Could a Piper style Calvinist say, "I love the Lord BECAUSE He hears my supplication?" Of course! Yet doesn't Piper risk saying that we should love God for His goodness regardless of whether or not He really listens to our prayers? It's not as though I don't know enough of Piper's work to know that Piper would say that, yes, we should be thankful to God because He hears our prayers. Hays knows that, too, I'm sure. That is the reason the critique seems so necessary.

Hays is generally so long-winded I don't read more than a handful of blog entries he writes. He might be likened to Homer whereas I might be likened to Wallace Stevens if I were to cast about for an analogy in poets. :)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Osteen on pork?

Joel Osteen is saying people shouldn't eat pork? Ha, well, as if all the bacon-loving men at Mars Hill from Driscoll on down didn't have a reason to call him a false teacher BEFORE they do now. Say Christians shouldn't eat bacon? At Mars Hill them's fightin' words.

Seriously, though, I've never had any interest in Osteen's preaching. Osteen could be dropping pork from his diet for perfectly good reasons and make a great case that all things are lawful but not all things (like pork) are beneficial. I don't really go much for pork so giving it up won't be difficult because I prefer beef and bird meat and lamb. Shellfish? It's okay but I don't go out of my way for it.

But where Osteen goes the various echo chambers must already be in effect. I see some praising his "hard words" on the health risks of pork and others referring to him as a false teacher (which they surely must have thought he was before anyway).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Russell Moore on the legacy of Billy Graham, HT to iMonk at BHT

Wacker and Moore's observations are pretty impressive. Despite being so widely admired Billy Graham was obviously not much of a prophetic voice against racial segregation or Vietnam or other progressive causes. I've encountered a handful of people who believed that Graham was a useful too for the GOP to speak out against trade unions and other progressive policies. People of that bent seem to forget that everything is NOT really a grand conspiracy on the part of Republicans to manipulate the world.

Conversely, conservative Christians might want to note that Martin Luther King Jr., another famous 20th century Baptist) does not have to be seen as a liberal sell-out to the pinko-communist agenda. If there are two Baptists this never-Baptist fellow in his mid-thirties can be grateful for it's Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. I would suggest that Wacker and Moore's comments about Graham are absolutely necessary and we should ask ourselves if Graham is not for many of us a way to see evangelical respectability as a stepping stone to what our real gods are, reforming the culture and social fabric into what we want.

But I do want to add that as supportive as I am of a reasonable critique of Graham I would suggest that it might be unfair to expect of Graham a prophetic voice within the evangelical world. Couldn't we make the argument that Graham did not need such a prominent prophetic voice because there was already King's? Not everyone needs to be a King or a Schaeffer and arguably Graham didn't need to be something he pretty clearly wasn't. Don't Moore's observations suggest that we need to have both King and Graham as exemplars of the best legacies the Baptist tradition has given us not just as Americans but as Christians? Christ was given to us and came to us to be a blessing to all the nations, not just our nation.

Moore's remark that Baptists need to see to it they don't just move from the Confederate States in prayer to FOX News with prayer is spot on. I am not actually a liberal but I have not been happy as a conservative. Obviously I have a great deal of skepticism about the culture warrior approach to Christianity in the United States. Whoever would save his life must lose it and evangelicals seem eager to save their lives rather than lose them. I understand why because it is hard to trust in the mercies of Christ when you think you're plan B is better than Jesus' plan A. And let's face it, Jesus' plan A looked pretty bad to Peter once Peter figured out what it was.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How many are my foes, a riff on the Psalms and a consideration of the nexus of spiritual warfare and physical ailment

In the Psalms we are not really treated to technical description of enemies but we are presented with a few cases in which sin leads to physical illness and enemies exploit that. I have a background of Pentecostalism in my teens. Since anyone who reads this regularly will have pretty well figured out who I am I will say up front that I am riffing off of something I posted over at Jesus Shaped Spirituality. Rather than ramble on forever at Spenser's blog I am writing something here because the alarmingly difficult attempt to understand or grasp the nexus of physical and spiritual struggles is something I've had or seen in the lives of people I care about much of my life.

See, in a Pentecostal background there can be this propensity to see mental illness as the result of demonic influence. The chicken and egg of mental illness and demonic oppression is invariably answered in favor of the egg of demonic oppression and demonic influence is opened up by sin so ... you see where things go from there. I think Spenser's analogy that rats appear where there is garbage and that by forgiving sin Christ rids us of the garbage that the rats (demons) feed upon is a particularly apt description.

It's just that I have seen the lives of people I know get warped by a misapplication of that. I have a friend who I have known for more than a decade. He has a mother who had wild mood swings and was the sort of mother to tell him that the reason good Christian girls dated unbelievers who got them pregnant and made them get abortions is because good Christian guys like HIM wouldn't date the Christian girls. Great, no pressure. My friend would have wild mood swings where his high points were luminous and his low points he would eat foods he knew he couldn't digest to punish himself.

Eventually he became an atheist and grew tired of the evangelical/charismatic culture that measured one's success by the material benefits of a career and a wife with brood in tow. He also came to the conclusion that he had bipolar disorder and that the highs and lows of his life as a Christian probably simply reflected upon his manic and depressive episodes. Being told by various charismatic types he needed deliverance didn't help things. Far from helping this man be free of a genuine psychological and physiological issue the Christian insistence on bottom-lining things to a spiritual condition helped prompt him toward atheism. For him it got old being told he had to measure up and that that measuring up had to come about through a sanctified sexual performance he didn't see happening. He also despaired of ever amounting to anything. When people point out that there is a rampant materialism in evangelicalism this friend of mine is more than aware of it, it is probably one of the reasons he left the flock. He has his own issues post-Christianity that haven't gone away and he knows it.

Another case I have considered of late is someone I know who told me that most people who think they have spiritual discernment probably really have blood sugar issues. This person has been dealing with the consequences of congestive heart failure and diabetes and I can understand if in attending to the physical symptoms of those conditions for the first time in life it would seem, in hindsight, that anyone who feels physically oppressed and considers that a sign of spiritual attack that it is really a blood sugar issue. In Pentecostal/charismatic circles or mystical traditions of ANY sort it can be easy to mistake a blood sugar issue for a spiritual attack, just as manic episodes could be construed as a mystical experience with God or depressive episodes could be construed as an attack by a devil.

Does this mean that devils and demons don't exist? No, I don't believe so. You can't prove a negative anyway but since I don't take a dualistic approach to health on body/spirit issues I can see demonic activity as something that really happens while ALSO seeing it as having a metaphorical element.

In my own life I used to have nightmares about being attacked by demons. I would know that I was dreaming and would rebuke the demons in the name of Jesus. The demons would go away and I would wake up or I would wake up or I would have a different dream in which demons were not attempting to kill me. Now that I have been diagnosed as having sleep apnea and have a CPAP machine I don't have thes kinds of nightmares anymore, by and large. Treating the physical condition caused a great reduction in dreams with a demonic presence in them. Now obviously anyone could suggest that the demons in the dreams were probably my sleeping mind's way of telling me there was a real, serious physiological problem that needed treatment. I totally agree. I also affirm, however, that demons can exploit physical weakness to their own ends.

It is dangerous to assume that our foes are merely earthly and corporeal. We do not battle against flesh and blood even though it often seems as though our enemies are entirely flesh and blood whether our OWN flesh and blood we must do battle against or the flesh and blood of those we consider enemies. It is often easy to view others as the enemy when the real foe we struggle against may be the weakness of our own flesh. People with bipolar disorder (and I say this as the friend of someone who has bipolar disorder) can become paranoid and see enemies in even their friends or family without realizing that they are not functioning rationally. People who struggle with depression and have no manic episodes can have the same struggle.

Principalities and powers are hard to define. I don't think it is just a case of them being demons or princes of some spiritual kind. There is ample testimony throughout Scripture that world leaders are opponents to Christ. Lest we assume that we live in America and have a Christian nation Psalm 2 does not really specify that the United States of America is somehow exempt.

I'm not advocating a view that says the flesh is bad and the spirit is good. I think that both our flesh and spirit are intertwined and weak. We are not merely clay but also have the breath of God within us that has given us life. Koholeth can ask whether we know the breath of man goes upward to God at death or goes to the earth because there will remain mysteries about who we are. I can read about how neuroscience and musical perception may connect as fields of study and I may read about how sexual selection is considered to be the driving impetus for why musicality developed in humans but in any event music is not demystified but remystified by these things. I don't just mean the old mystery from my teens as to why Christian teenage girls had posters of Michael W Smith on their wall!

A principality or a power MAY be a demon but it may be an idea, a meme to borrow the term. The need for the renewal of the mind is on my mind because it is in essence a core component of spiritual warfare and it is, if you survey the whole of the Psalms the main path the psalmists take during times when they despair. They retrain their minds to consider the faithfulness of God even when that faithfulness may not manifest in a way that changes their circumstances.

And the nature of any victory we have is often vicarious. Moses wrote that we are given seventy years to live, perhaps eighty if we have strength but that the pride of these years is but labor and sorrow and that these pass before us as though they were a sigh. Even our greatest victories are ephemeral. I could pick some mundane example now from popular culture. How many people now really recall Titanic from eleven years ago as a titanic victory of pop culture? How many people in generations following mine really care about the Star Wars movies? Sure, the Lord of the Rings books were popular enough to be turned into films but what of it? As Leonard Cohen said there are so many poets, so very many poets who all think they will write poems that matter but none of us have anything that will even las as long as "The Lord is my shepherd ... ." Cohen is not really religious or an observant Jew but he knows his Jewish literature.

Our enemies may be external as well as internal. We may find that we attribute to demons what is a physical problem. The danger of an approach like this is impossible to overstate. A man may have blood sugar issues he insists on seeing as a sign of his spiritual discernment and then by the time he has diabetes he has spiritually discerned himself away from any consideration of a physical problem and must live with the consequences of his so-called discernment. I would humbly suggest that in that case the princiaplity and power at work was blaming external spirits for things that are explicable by one's own inattention to one's health by spiritualizing away your own bad health. That sows a legacy children may follow or react to.

If a principality or a power is a meme or sentience that seeks to destroy the image of God then there are two lies the devil can tell. The first is to persuade people he doesn't exist but the second is to persuade people that they can blame him rather than themselves. As Mick Jagger's Lucifer put it, "I shouted out `Who killed the Kennedys?' when, after all, it was you and me." The enemy has the tool of accusation which he can use to condemn but also use to excuse and we like so many men and women before us who struggle with sin can accept. In other words, it may be convenient enough for Satan to let you blame him for something that is finally your fault as it may be to persuade you to blame yourself for something that is his doing.

What can be said or done about this? Well, immersing yourself in Scripture and being open to the possibility that you may be blaming the devil for what is your own doing or the work of others, while also being open to the possibility that there may be spiritual attacks synergistically working through circumstances. God gave Satan permission to kill Job's children, make waste of his health, and take his possessions. Curiously Job's wife is allowed to live and she adds to Job's misery by asking him why he holds on to his integrity and does not simply curse God and die. Thus the accuser's work is accomplished in Job's life not only through direction destruction but even Job's wife and friends become instruments of accusation that Job must deal with.

We are never told what happens to Job's wife. We are not told that Job needed to intercede on HER behalf for telling him to curse God and die, whereas God says that Job's prayer will be offered on behalf of his friends so that the Lord's wrath may be averted. What happened with job and his wife we may surmise from the other children that he had. We are not told that Job had more than one wife so we may suppose that his wife bore him more children.

Job must have found it in his heart to forgive his wife of her foolish advice to have had more children with her. She was for a time one of his adversaries, one of his accusers. Job was alone before God without wealth, without family, without friends and he pled that the Lord would hear him and quickly come to him.

Job received much of this suffering through the efforts of Satan but considers it all from the hand of God. This is a hard thing to understand and to accept. it seems impossible to truly grasp the balance between recognizing that we have enemies spiritual and physical and that God nevertheless permits them to afflict us for a time. It can be easy, too easy, to see our enemies as people that God should destroy outright even though God warned the Israelites that He would not drive out their opponents in the promised land all at once or the promised land itself would overwhelm them by becoming desolate and a place for the beasts of the field (Exodus 23).

It is this that I consider in my own life when I consider all the myriad character flaws and weaknesses and sins I have in my life. It as though I face a path to the promised land with legions of foes and it is in this I remember that Yahweh said He would not drive out all the enemies in a single year or else the land would become desolate. Israel must grow numerous enough to take the land. We know that Israel, a whole generation of Israel, died in the wilderness for lack of trust in God. The history of God's people is a history of every single generation failing to move forward yet not failing in a way that leads God to say that the promises are over and spent. Our faithlessness does not prove Him unfaithful.

And with a recession and considering with no small amount of trepidation that I don't know what the future holds I have to remind myself that the Lord said He would not drive out all the enemies in a year. I have myself many enemies, enemies that are within myself, things I wish were not in me. I have am more lazy and fearful than I would like to admit to and I often doubt whether or not I will overcome those things. I at times feel most discouraged and most accused by those whom I would hope to lean on most for encouragement. Job's comforters visit us where ever they are. We are all Job at some point whose wife says, "Why do you cling to your integrity? Curse God and die." Jesus warned that a man's enemies will be in his own household in some cases.

But Christ brings peace where there is no peace, and Christ brings reconciliation where there was once enmity. Through Proverbs it is the voice of Christ that says that when a man's ways are pleasing to God even his enemies will be made to be at peace with him. God being pleased with us is a gift He gives us. We may attempt to curry God's favor but it is ultimately God's decision whether we have pleased Him and on that we can only trust in His goodness. Cain attempted to offer a sacrifice that was pleasing to God and when his sacrifice was not accepted grew resentful.

I once saw an impromptu exorcism that seemed to be the real deal, like a real puffy flailing woman who showed all the expected physical manifestations of demon possession. Not Exorcist stuff as that is a horror fantasy, but unusual strength, red skin, bloated appearance. The woman got prayed over and was led through a peculiar healing of memories talk-a-thon that puzzles me to this day. The woman went back to her church and told a counseling pastor about it and the pastor advised she see a psychiatrist. Some of the people involved in the impromptu exorcism (no one had any idea it was going to happen and we were all just praying when the woman hit the floor and began to flail about and start shrieking) didn't like this verdict. They figured the woman was delivered from her demonic possession and could go on to have a totally normal victorious Christian life.

Yeah, well, a psychiatrist determined that she needed to be on antipsychotic drugs. Whatever the initial healing of memories talk through was about how Satan worshipping Mexicans put a spell on her (and there's so much that could be discussed on that point about racial stereotypes that I don't feel like getting into it, or into the puzzling detail that the man who did the talk-through-exorcism-by-healing-of-memories thing has long since divorced from his wife) it seemed to me that medication wasn't a bad thing. I learned later that this woman was in and out of a mental institution for a while and for a while was convinced she had given birth to Jesus who was present in this age. In other words, completely nuts in a clinical way. It is not enough in a case like hers to suppose that a deliverance session will suffice. It may also not be enough to suppose ONLY that she needs the right meds and all will be well.

For me the tension between a physical or spiritual explanation of things is anything but academic. I have been told I needed deliverance from religious spirits. Someone close to me was subjected to an exorcism for being considered a rebellious child. Was either spiritual diagnosis even close to correct? It might be that there is a kind of poetic truth to the thing but there have been times I have really struggled with the reality of how Christians can implement spiritual language as weapons to obtain or coerce what they want from people.

It IS a question of authority and for that reason, though I am a Protestant, I can emotionally relate to why people would prefer to embrace Catholicism or Orthodoxy because the rules and traditions set in place to limit when and how someone can invoke God's name for the purpose of, say, an exorcism on a child or telling a child she needs deliverance from religious spirits for having a different doctrinal view than her parents is valuable. What if a daughter concludes that Calvinism is true and her parents are Arminians? Is it rebellion against the God-appointed spiritual authority of the parents to differ with them on theology? Suppose a son of a Methodist minister concludes that Scripture and tradition do not really support women as pastors? How can he meaningfully ever deal with this subject without, say, incurring the disapproval of his mother? Does that child need deliverance from religious spirits for having a difference of opinion like that?

I have jumbled a few details here and for good reason because the kinds of things I'm talking about are real parent/child relationships, real situations in the lives of Christians I know or even things that have happened in my own life. I have gone out of my way to obscure the details about the identity of the people involved, changing a gender here, changing an age there but the relational circumstances have not been changed. I have seen Christians and church leaders invoke authority to make decisions I have never been sure they ought to have or that if they ought to have that power it struck me very strongly that the power they were using they might be using in a way that was abusive.

I have of late considered that what every Christian must face is essentially the question of what entrenched, unobserved, and unrepented of sins he or she is willing to see in a church and overlook for the sake of unity. An unbeliever would rightly say that is a foolish path but I submit that Democrats and Republicans make these decisions daily to excuse the crimes of their respective parties. No one's hands can be completely innocent of blood. That is what the Cross reminds us of for those of us who attend to that unavoidable fact.

How do we reason through to who we consider our enemies to be and why do we do that? Is our adversary a landlord? Is it because he is corrupt and won't fix things or is it because we want more leniency when we don't pay the rent on time or pay the full amount? Is our boss unjust because he refuses to acknowledge mistakes he made or is he attentive to mistakes we made that he trusted us to not make? We do not even have to consider any of these scenarios to present either one or the other at the expense of a second or third condition or relational pattern.

David could see that his health declined because of his sin, yet he could also see that he had real external enemies and could plead that the Lord would rescue him from them. David would remember God's promise to not cast out all of the people of the land in one year or else the promised land itself would become a desolation. So it is with all this in mind that I consider how much more patient the Lord is than I am. I would prefer that He drove out all my adversaries in a moment so that the adversaries in my own heart and flesh, parts of me that are not given over to the Lord, could be conquered. Yet perhaps it is those parts that if conquered in a moment would be left desolate, roamed by wild beasts, non-arable land that cannot produce a harvest that benefits anyone else.

Like Job we may find the greatest accusers are those we would most wish to trust, our allies turn out to be those who want us to curse God and die. They do not intend to play this role but they reveal their weakness as they regard ours. These are men and women for whom we can continue to pray, not without a great deal of anguish of course but we can all the same continue to pray for them.

It is not as though Jesus doesn't understand how hard it is to pray for those who array themselves as your enemies. He knew better than either David (whose own son Absalom rose up against him) or Job (whose friends accused him of sin as the cause of his trials and whose wife urged him to curse God and thus give up his integrity) what it is like to discover that one's enemies are in one's own household. The whole universe is the household of Christ and yet countless subjects have turned against Him in distrust and we are so often among them even though we bear His name in our hearts and on our lips. But He is gracious to us and though we were His enemies He came and bore the cross for our benefit, out of love for us. It is this thing that I have struggled most to remember and take to heart. A sovereign and powerful God I can easily believe in but a loving and generous God I find harder to understand.

"The New Evangelical Scandal" same as the Old Evangelical scandal, part 8


Eschatology has historically been one of the chief hallmarks of evangelical theological reflection. It is one of a handful of doctrines evangelicals have made famous. From the Thief in the Night movies and Hal Lindsey’s Late, Great Planet Earth in the 1970s to the Left Behind series of the 1990s, eschatology has dominated the evangelical imagination. It has been so prevalent, in fact, that leftist commentators have sometimes blamed dispensational theology and its focus on national Israel and the end-times for American foreign policy.

If Anderson defines evangelicals as having dispensationalist premillenial pretribulational eschatology then no wonder he might think evangelicals are jumping off the horse. Let me tell you, they're doing it because Hal Lindsey's books are a crock. A passionate, well-intended crock perhaps, but a total crock. The more evangelicals explore their heritage the more they discover what an utter snow job and distortion of Scripture dispensationalism is. Anderson only defines eschatology in a way that would fit a dispensationalist model. There's no mention of all the happy theonomistic post millenialists,let alone amillenialists or partial preterists (I'm tipping my hand big time here by placing those two views at the end because that's where I'm at). Anderson thinks evangelicals have jettisoned eschatology. No, not exactly. We may want an eschatology that allows us to fully appreciate the signifiance of Christ's first coming as well as the second. This is another reason why Anglicans like N. T. Wright are so conspicuously better at articulating an eschatology that can make sense even to evangelicals. We don't have to buy the particular political outworkings he advises as a British citizen to appreciate that the way he outlines traditional/historic Christian eschatology and thought about heaven and earth in the age to come is more consistent with biblical teaching.

If anything Anderson is fretting that evangelicals have abandoned something THEY NEVER SHOULD HAVE TAKEN UP TO BEGIN WITH!!!! This is particularly where I say that the "new" scandal Anderson sees is one of the most virulent and disturbing outworkings of the "old" scandal Mark Noll saw about how there isn't much of an evangelical mind. Yep, I'm not pulling any punches here on this issue because a bishop like N. T. Wright can argue that Christians have failed to produce art because their theology of creation and their eschatology are deficient and nothing does more to eviscerate any opportunity for artistic credibility over a lifetime than a conviction that Jesus is going to come back and barbecue the whole earth and sinners inside of your life time so there's no point in trying to do anything that matters.
There are conservatives who believe evangelical obsession with Israel has been damaging to Americna foreign policy. Last I checked Douglas Wilson is not a big Zionist advocate.

Dispensationalism, as Mark Noll so eloquently pointed out in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was one of the biggest disasters for the life of the mind in evangelicalism. No movement in American Protestantism has done more to fuel the growth of religious cults, false prophesy, and absurd cultural paranoia than dispensationalism has. If there are other currents of thought in the United States that have done MORE harm to meaningful thought in evangelicalism I am hard pressed to figure out what those things are. Noll is right to point out that a nasty synergy of dispensationalism, Holiness teaching, and fundamentalism all led to an intellectual climate in evangelicalism where it would be safe to say that an intellectual evangelical Protestant American is a greater oxymoron than military intelligence ... though not Seattle city planning.

Anderson's lament that evangelicals have abandoned eschatology is something we should greet with happiness! Theologians like N. T. Wright have been articulating an approach to eschatology that would be a welcome antidote to dispensationalism. Sure, there are any number of things about Wright's theology evangelicals might want to dispense with post haste but on eschatology and a lot of big picture issues Wright has helped defend a traditional orthodox Protestant perspective, indeed, in many cases better than American evangelicals.

That is, I think, one of the main problems of American evangelicalism, it has been all too American and not that evangelical. One of the things that attracted me to mars Hill eight or nine years ago was their reluctance to commit to a specific eschatological point of view. Sure, I thought it was pure chicken on Driscoll's part to not go through all of Revelation in terms of the "We go through whole books of the Bible" sales pitch. But in the case of Revelation it was good to break their stated rules. I think that some classes visiting the schools of thought on Revelation might have been a good idea, and would be a good idea. There were some phases where postmillenialists and dispensationalists were causing a fuss that could have been partly averted by being willing to educate the congregation on issues. There was a lot of self-feeding going on on the issue of eschatology where Mars Hill pastors seemed to decide some people were being divisive when it might have been equally accurate to say they were too chicken to lay out what the views on Revelation were. Saying that you don't feel comfortable endorsing postmillenialism because you don't like theonomistic thought on the one hand and on the other hand saying you don't espouse dispensationalism because it leads to false prophecy isn't the same thing as educating the congregation on what positives the views have. In the long run Mars Hill has never been all that interested in educating congregants at that level because it doesn't connect to plugging them into ministry.

My own persuasion, that of an amillenial partial preterist, was easily the odd-man out position. A friend of mine came to me one day and said he had to explain to a man who is now a Mars Hill pastor that, no, I'm not a heretic for being an amillenial partial preterist. Post-millenialists like to say that they have a basis for optimism but consider the post-millenial squealing about the Obamanation. :) Optimism? Right. At least super conservative dispensationalists can dust off their Bibles and say that the coming of our Lord is now nearer than when we first believed! It's still crackpot theology but their brand of theology gives them something like optimism. It wasn't that long ago that there was a magazine called Christian Century started because some remarkably naive or proud Christians thought there would be one. :)

Anderson's just totally wrong on the eschatology issue if he thinks evangelicals have abandoned eschatology. Evangelicals who abandon dispensationalism are doing more to embrace historic evangelicalism than anyone who picked up the pop books like Left Behind or The Late Great Planet Earth. There shouldn't have to be anything more to be said on Hal Lindsey than jokes from The Wittenberg Door ... but we live in a fallen world.

The New Evangelical Scandal" same as the Old Evangelical scandal, part 7


For most young evangelicals, the flash points where our libertarianism comes out are traditional sources of conflict with parents: tattoos, alcohol, music, movies, language and sexuality. In each area, younger evangelicals have rejected the perceived prudishness symbolized by our parents (yes, ironically, the children of the sixties and seventies) in favor of engaging the culture around us. Often this reflects a new internalization—one might characterize it as a gnosticization—of the Gospel. Social rules, such as those which once governed alcohol consumption among evangelicals, language, and sexual behavior, are now a sign of a Puritanical legalism that has forgotten that Jesus really cares about the heart and our intentions, not our behaviors and, as such, are to be discarded.

After spending quite a bit of time letting this series on Anderson's article go fallow I have returned. There are enough ebbs in the social life to let me return to writing on a few things and as anyone, the few who bother to read this blog, could surmise, I was not done writing on Anderson's article. This above paragraph in particular sticks with me for its sweeping generalizations.

It is not so much that Anderson is apt to sweeping generalizations that catches my attention here, it's that living in Seattle I have attended a church that displays the traits of the newer evangelicalism and is arguably more pioneering in the direction or scandal of new evangelicalism on the various flash points Anderson writes about. It seems to me Anderson works on a set of unstated assumptions he doesn't bother to, pardon the pun, flesh out. If he had, let alone if he had taken Mars Hill church in Seattle as an example he might find that the so-called "new internalization" he imagines is neither a gnosticizationof the Gospel nor has it led to a lack of puritanical legalism as such because the heart matters rather than behaviors. To make a counter generalization as sweeping as Anderson's, the man is obviously too lazy to found his assertions in examples. To wit, this entire paragraph is a stereotype without an actual evangelical exemplar.

Since about a third of my life (short as it might be considered to be) has been spent at Mars Hill I can comment broadly from both experience and observation that Mars Hill probably embodies the "new" evangelicalism and the internalization of ethics is not what has happened. An adjustment of priorities about what outward signs of behavior constitute evangelicalism may have happened but every generation excuses itself on one thing and condemns itself for another thing. One generation sanctioned racism and forbade abortion, another generation detests racism and permits abortion. Jesus rebuked the generation of religious leaders that said "We would never do that" as, having said those words of self exculpation, that they proved they were guilty of those things their ancestors did, murdering the prophets of the Lord.
Now indulge me as I consider Mars Hill's history of stances on any number of issues verses on inlight of the implied ethical shift Anderson seems to see.


Tattoos are considered fine at Mars Hill. This brand of evangelicalism has no problem with it. Older arguments and assertions about how the Mosaic law says to not scar yourself or cut yourself on account of the dead are not considered to hold up. In Exodus 13 keeping the Passover is considered as it were a mark on the right hand or a mark above the eyes. Christ is depicted in Revelation, as Driscoll so fondly puts it, as a prize fighter with a tattoo on his body. Ergo, Christians have no need to think that in putting tattoos on themselves that they infringe on any divine command or prohibition. If Anderson were to assert that evangelicals are historically against tattoos he might need to consider how cultural that position is. As unbelievers are so fond of noting, plenty of Christians were persuaded that a correct interpretation of the Bible sanctioned racism and slavery.

Now here Anderson could appeal to the historic involvement of evangelicals in favor of Prohibition and the outlawing of alcohol. Mark Noll and others have noted that evangelicals supported the outlawing of alcohol because of the social ills related to it. Older evangelical traditions were in favor of the consumption of alcohol. One of the founders of what would be considered a branch of the evangelical faith, Martin Luther, had spoken of him the epithat that he was only railing on as he was because he was drunk and that as soon as he sobered up he would come to his senses. Mars Hill has been very supportive of the consumption of alcohol even though Driscoll admits he didn't consume any alcohol until he was around 27. Anderson, if he thinks evangelicals by and large should not drink alcohol, may simply betray his lack of knowledge of the history of evangelicalism. If anything on this matter if younger evangelicals are enjoying alcohol they are moving back toward the roots of the evangelical ethic rather than moving away from it and Anderson is postulating a loss of evangelical distinctives that is really a recovery.

Arguably Anderson might as well throw in the use of tobacco, too. At Mars Hill social markers of men, Driscoll's speaking against smoking here and there withstanding, I noticed that many a man took pride in drinking and smoking. Driscoll himself wrote a chapter called "The sin of light beer". As a joke it falls flat and is, pardon the pun, worth making light of because there are customs that are in the realm of Christian conscience that can be used to define one's status that are not strictly delineated by any scripture or tradition. A person may drink or not drink, smoke or not smoke, all as personal health and conscience and regard for others may be considered. If yesterday's evangelicals were legalistic about the consumption of alcohol out of fear that alcoholism would destroy families and careers today's evangelicals may be legalistic about proposing that they are free to drink in Christ and if you have any concerns you are automatically the legalistic fellow who needs to be defied in order to reveal the freedom Christ gives. Many a fellow at Mars Hill essentially took this path and one or two people I was friends with decided that their parties would be alcohol free because they were persuaded that alcohol was too easily abused at Mars Hill.


The worship wars have been going on off and on for decades. I don't think that the conflicts of what music is used in liturgical settings is unique to evangelicalism. At Mars Hill, certainly, what I would have to call a rock concert vibe prevails. Many songs are well suited to the voices of the singers who wrote or co-wrote the songs but are not in themselves particularly suitable to congregational worship. Anderson may have in mind CCM and rock music assimilating into worship There have been many things written on the subject of worship. Now decades old is the book Why catholics Can't Sing, a sweeping and stinging indictment of contemporary music destroying any possibility of congregational singing as an act of public worship. The rise of the "sweet song" Celtic tradition has led to indisputably beautiful music that is often a test of congregational mettle that said congregations fail at.

Mars Hill exemplifies this trend. Dozens and dozens of songs from the earliest years of the church are no longer sung. One could argue that so many bands have come and gone that it is natural, and that is true, but many of the musicians who have stuck around don't even play most of the material I heard performed at Mars Hill seven years ago. The reason? Well, my own opinion is that most of the songs were musically impractical, incompatible with congregational singing, and not especially effective. The songs that worked have stuck around.

One of the things that has changed a great deal over the years is a greater consideration of copyright. When Mars Hill was a young church all the music was home-grown not just to cater to the flock but also to avoid any hassles of CCLI. In the last year CCLI has shown up in slides. Gone are the days of 2001 when the pastors published on the church website that they believed copyright was a concept whose days were numbered and encouraged songwriters to employ open copyright and promote creativity. I seriously doubt that if you visit any Mars Hill website you'll see any open copyright. Even back in 2001 I considered that preference for open copyright and the argument that traditional copyright was going to lose steam to be stupid and naive. It was precisely what I would expect self-certain 20-somethings who wouldn't admit to how much illegal downloading they were doing to argue for. As the church and its leadership have, as it were, moved "upstream" the attitude toward intellectual property rights has become more respectful.

It is this shift at Mars Hill over the last decade that I consider salutory. The music might still suck half the time but you're more likely to hear traditional and accessible church music and it is more likely to be done in a way honoring the legal rights of those who produced the songs.
As to matters of style, it is simply not my interest to go on about those details. I think Anderson simply fails to realize that each generation differs on style. That is not so scandalous as he thinks that new evangelicals like different music. Bach's children thought his music was old fashioned but more people know the works of J. S. Bach than any of his children.


It used to be when I was growing up that Christians only watched G or PG rated movies. There simply was no PG-13 rating when I was a kid. Quaintly enough the PG-13 rating didn't emerge until I was in my teens. My guess, since Anderson doesn't bother to spell it out, is that he thinks evangelicals have a history of not watching R rated entertainment, let alone X rated entertainment. The new distinction now would be NC-17 and X, I guess. The former demarcates violence and sexual content, while the latter might (if the designation is still commonplace) entirely sexual content. I know from the commentary on Evil Dead 2 that it was originally considered an X-rated film. Now the rating has dropped down, two decades from its release date, to an R rating.

Anderson may have a point that a generation ago no evangelicals would be caught dead admitting they watch and greatly enjoy episodes of South Park. Twenty years ago evangelical pastors were decrying the cultural awareness teens had about Bart Simpson over against any awareness of who Abraham Lincoln was. I know, I heard those pastors who said that.
And in essense the stuff about movies is the stuff about language and sexuality. The 20th century, I suppose, could be said to be a century in which people tested the limits of what was permissable to say and do and create in the public sphere. The word fuck, for instance, has a lineage that goes far back into the history of the English language. Its earliest appearance is circa the 1300s in dictionaries which mention it just long enough to say it shouldn't be used. Don't believe me? Well, I don't have the patience to type up my old college essay "A Word for All Seasons" but one guy I knew in college loved the essay just for the invocation of Robert Bolt. Yeah, Nathan, I had to do it, just for you, I knew you'd love that joke. :) I'm sure he's not reading this blog but no matter.

At Mars Hill my observation is that people have little trouble watching R-rated films. I met many fellows who said that they had no problem watching violent films but had big reservations about watching films with sexual content. In a city like Seattle you might guess that in the world, or among the worldly, that squeamishness is precisely reversed. Violence is bad but sexual content is considered great. Some shows, like any number of HBO programs I generally don't bother to watch (I have no cable) and have little interest in watching, parade both sex and violence on the screen.

Here I believe Anderson has not really made any point so much as implied that new evangelicals have more libertinistic attitudes about their entertainment. In ther 20s and 30s I would say that is probably true. That The Simpsons have been on the air for two decades and that Fox mainstreamed things on The X-Files that were creepy and boundary-pushing fifteen years ago but that are probably tame now goes without saying. if Mike Judge had not made Beavis and Butthead would we have progressed to South Park? If Matt Groenig had not made The Simpsons would any of the more adult-targeted cartoons in the United States have ever happened? In Japan animation for adult audiences (and by that I don't mean pornographic material) has been commonplace. Anderson doesn't really examine changes in film or cinema so much as throw out the implication that "we" among the younger evangelicals countenance levels of sex and violence that our parents would have frowned upon. He notes that with some irony yet doesn't consider how the proliferation of technology and the reissuing of older works feeds into this.

But let's think something through, the limits of television and film have constantly been tested. There are many revolutions in the arts that never filter through to popular entertainment. Or, if they filter through to the popular level at all there is a niche limitation to it. Consider Hilary Hahn's recording of the violin concerti of Arnold Schoenberg and Sibelius. Hahn's recording is awesome and her Schoenberg is compelling. She also sensibly linked it to the far more accessible Sibelius. But as popular as she is her profile in American culture is still extremely low. Schoenberg, were he alive today, might be proud that someone could sell so many CDs with his concerto on it.

Richard Pryor and George Carlin's work has been around for literally decades and at the risk of pointing out the obvious today's edgy and even profane comedian often becomes the purveyor of watered down kids' entertainment in ten years. Witness the trajectory of Jim carrey. And ten years before him (or more) consider Robin Williams, peddler of feel-good treacle. Bill Cosby's greatest work predates his famous 1980s TV show. Foul-mouthed or vulgar comedians tend to grow up and build families and find they want limits and boundaries on what and how they do things. What may have happened with the last generation's evangelicals relative to my generation is that they may have realized the trajectory they set their children on too late.

The children of the 1960s and 1970s may have turned a corner and returned to the prudishness of their parents in the last thirty to forty years. Not saying this blanket statement by Anderson is entirely wrong but at the risk of venturing upon the obvious, duh, as people get older they can revert to standards they rejected in their fiery youth. Scripture says that if you instruct a child in the way that he should go then when he is old he will not depart from it. The emphasis is that when he is old. This can mean older, this can mean old, it means that the instruction comes early and there is no assurance it will settle in without interruptions or speedbumps. The more popular narrative in our culture at a popular level is the child who abandons and forsakes and denounces everything the parents stood for on general principle. I have never taken seriously the meta-narrative conceit that each generation of teens has to rebel agaisnt the previous generation. Only teenagers in the United States seem to do that. We are placed in a roughly decade-long space in which we are not able to do much as adults because of public education and are physically adult but not mentally or emotionally adult in an age when people are living longer and it becomes easier and easier to define adulthood upward.


Where this "new" developmentin younger evangelicals does not get any serious discussion by Anderson is sexuality. I don't expect it from him but point out that he is particularly lazy on this topic. If I were Driscoll I might ask if the guy has ever dated a girl in his life or if he looks at porno since, you know, that is how Driscoll tends to reason through things. Since I'm not Driscoll I would suggest that Anderson hasn't accounted for the fad of courtship in more conservative evangelical circles. "How I kissed dating good bye" Mr. Anderson. Welcome back Mr. Anderson ... we missed you.

See, I have noticed over time (and this is just my observation) that every generation has its legalisms and libertinisms. If Mars Hill erred on the side of liberty in alcohol in formal and informal professions it leaned heavily away from dating on the issue of sexuality. The church held a high standard of masculinity and marriage. If a couple is serious and considering marriage but neither the man nor the woman want kids the counsel would be that they should reconsider why they want to get married because kids would tend to be a natural consequence of married life. After all, it was known even in the time of Mary and Joseph that babies came about because of sex. All that begatting didn't happen in a vacuum.

But as recent teaching on the subject of marriage at Mars Hill indicated, a husband and wife where the husband is greatly out-earned by the wife would be a husband who might be told he and his wife should reconsider wanting to become members at Mars Hill if the husband's okay with the income disparity, as was said by Lief Moi in the long-ago pulled Mother's Day sermon circa 2006 or 2007. Mark and Grace Driscoll more or less let it be known that a stay-at-home dad could be subject to church discipline. This is a branch of evangelicalism that doesn't seem particularly libertinistic about sexuality or marriage and is probably most emblematic of the new evangelicalism at both its best and worst.

For years the fad at Mars Hill was courtship. Mark taught special sessions where he explained how the etymology of dating was a euphemism for hiring a prostitute. He went to great lengths to explain how modern dating has the guy spending a lot of money on a woman in exchange for some kind of sexual reward at the end of the date and that at Mars Hill that was not acceptable. Then around the time a very well-known member of the church left who was a big advocate of courtship Driscoll suddenly and quite conveniently saw the light about how impractical courtship often was to implement in real life. Fancy that. I had been saying that for years and no one seemed very interested in that. My sister had been saying that for years, too, and no one seemed too inclined to listen to us. Mars Hill leadership does not have much of a history of saying, "Oh, maybe we overdid that."

If anything Mars Hill demonstrated the opposite of what Anderson ascribes to younger evangelicals. There was a startling propensity toward legalism and condemning things that Scripture does not spend a lot of time speaking to. I attempted for some time to point out that the scriptures were writtenin an age and cultural milleu in which you were probably not even going to have a choice about who you married. Isaac's wife was chosen for him. David married people for political reasons. These were considered precedents to be ignored. What the leaders and members at Mars Hill spent a lot of time doing was cherry-picking their favorite aspects of ancient Mediterranean courtship rituals with their favorite modern amenities from Western dating rituals while holding up the 19th century customs of courtship as the acme of civilization.
So "husbands love your wives" could be magically transformed into "husbands be in love with your wives" in practice. Being an admittedly cranky and contrarian fellow on romanticism I argued that being "in love" was not particularly important to getting a marriage off the ground since literally millions of people got married through arranged marriages and weren't in love off the bat in the twitter-pated lovey-dovey fashion we expect couples to have. Sure, you could tell me that I might end up falling in that sort of love and become a slobbering dodo ready to grant my bride's wishes with zest. It "might" happen but there is not certainty.

Which more or less gets me to how Mars Hill taught on courtship and marriage. The ethical norm prescribed was that men should "man up" and get real jobs and be chivalrous and go get permission from the woman's dad and only if dad gave permission was the guy free to pursue--the woman could then reject him at any time for any reason and if the guy was upset or curious about the reason he was failing in his manhood and should stop crying already. Not that the pastors themselves ever lived this out or modeled it, mind you, but it made for great singles teaching and rhetoric from the pulpit. When Driscoll said he was a hypocrite to advocate something he hadn't lived out in his own life he wasn't wrong. Curiously, this awareness of his hypocrisy didn't stop him from going on about courtship for a few years. In 2008 he came to a more balanced expression that some Christians could actually date and it wouldn't be sinful. It wasn't the same as, say, apologizing to singles for scaring the crap out of them by talking about how sinful dating was and then saying they should lighten up because coffee is just coffee after saying that all relationships should be "intentional".

I have come across any number of evanglical screeds about how today's youth aren't growing up and aren't taking responsibility. The example of this? They are delaying marriage. A culture of credit and home-ownership may be a better example of living beyond your means and investing in property as a sign of having arrived. There's nothing wrong with living in a rented house forever and ever til God calls you home.

Now it is popular among evangelicals with a conservative social bent to say people are refusing to grow up but I don't think this is all there is to be said about the matter because it is half of the situation. Let's remember that prior to the Great Depression child labor laws were not being enforced and that they got enforced to ensure that older men could still have jobs and stay in the work force. Sounds kind of discrminatory against the youth, eh? If you have generation after generation like this that are not given a place that feels meaningful within the work force and are told they need to plan for the future when there are only so many futures you can build toward when you don't have a high school diploma and many places want formal education what is there left to do except conform or rebel? Does either path have much in the way of rewards in the end?

At the risk of indulging in stereotypes the error of liberalism is to suppose that the failure of the individual is due to society while the conservative wants to blame the failure of the society on some useful scapegoat. Neither is necessarily consistent or reliable. Evangelicals of my generation who saw their parents divorce may be spectacularly apprehensive about marriage because of that. If your own mom and dad can't get marriage to work and though both professing Christians end up divorcing each other and slandering each other marriage could look like a really stupid deal. If after generations of living on credit and buying houses for the status and stability it confers a new generation arrives who finds that it is more and more financially difficult to build the American dream of the single family home does that mean it is their fault? Evangelical conservatives can blather all they want about how two income families are more financially troubled than single income homes (i.e. where dad is the breadwinner) but at that point I have to ask what the real motive is, is it compassion or a sense of entitlement. There have been times where Driscoll would tell young men in the church to get real jobs. Is his being a pastor/entertainer who could up until a few years ago vote on hisown salary count as a real job? If he spends most of his time working from home isn't he basically a stay-at-home dad who happens to be the bread winner? I don't think I need to make it more obvious that Driscoll can have some plank/speck issues on that subject. Should he have been fired from ministry by Mike Gunn and Lief Moi because he let Grace financially support the family? Wasn't he guilty of a sin that warranted church discipline? Wasn't it convenient to repent of that sin in time to get a salary from Mars Hill?

To be fair, there are and have been any number of people at Mars Hill who have argued that the finances of a man are not foremost and that character is a bigger issue. It's too bad that Driscoll hasn't necessarily been that person over the years but he's a workaholic who seems at risk of idolizing his job as a way to define him. If you don't sacrifice your health to your job the way he has numerous times because you see that it's just your job then Driscoll can have genuine trouble relating to that. He can't help it, I think just as he couldn't help but really believe his own hype about courtship being better than dating.

So having been in the middle of a young evangelical church setting Anderson needs to put the crack pipe down and not just deal with the sort of sweeping generalizations that make for good blogging. I admit it, the stuff makes for good blogging. The article is still a good, basically articulate article. My concern, obviously, is that I believe my experience at Mars Hill that has taken up about a third of my life refutes a great deal of what Anderson has been saying and that Anderson doesn't realize how little history on evangelicalism he's drawing on in some of his critiques. I'll get to that particularly on the subject of eschatology, where Anderson reveals that he's basically out to lunch.

Mars Hill had a singles ministry for a while, kind of like it has a children's ministry. Circa 2001-2002 Driscoll and other pastors said they would avoid having segregated worship services because that would divide God's people and they wouldn't abide that. Driscoll also said that the church would split up into multiple sites and services when services got bigger than 120 people because they had read that when services get larger than 120 people things get too impersonal. Yes, that was some time before "videology" and explaining how Driscoll's face ona jumbotron screen was like Paul's epistles to Corinth. Awesome backtracking there. :)

The grand social engineering experiment of ripping on dating and praising courtship even though no one actually seemed to get it to work came and went. I defy anyone at Mars Hill to pick an example of two people who got together and married because the guy first went to the woman's father, got permission, and then courted her. Exclude all cases in which the man and woman responded to a mutual attraction to each other before the father was involved and the number of case studies dwindles to quite possibly nothing. It wasn't impossible for a woman to employ her dad in a "courtship" scenario to derail unwanted suitors before telling dad to shove off when the real Mr. Right came along. What might have been promoted entirely in good faith often got employed in self-serving ways. Far from being libertinistic about sexuality Mars Hill embraced with gusto a kind of weird prosperity gospel in which if Jesus was really working in your life you were getting a real job, getting married, and making babies. Pastors would argue that even though Scripture never actually supported the Mars Hill method that since all the pastors agreed on how things ought to be done that was how things ought to be done. Since I'm NOT Catholic and I didn't see any clear biblical support for that line of reason I kept questioning that line of reasoning. I'm not anti-marriage at all, just skeptical when pastors say we need to jump through hoops I know they didn't jump through.

One pastor told me that he wondered if Mars Hill set the bar so high for men on masculinity and responsibility that they weren't being a huge discouragement. I said that, yeah, that would fit me. It essentially was a case of law rather than gospel, though I doubt anyone at Mars Hill has ever seen things that way. Well, the singles ministry got canned eventually. It was doomed given Driscoll's launch teaching about Ruth as a manual on how to get married. That sort of moralism doesn't really have room in it for the grace of God. Going on for a few hours about how dating is basically sinful or looks sinful and you should get permission from the woman's daddy or daddy figure so as to avoid breaking her heart ... there's a lot of methods there rather than principles. If the bloggers who fret about Driscoll's wrongs since 2007 wanted to really focus on the arc of poor teaching and control freka issues wanted to be serious they should go back and examine how Driscoll's teaching on courtship and marriage revealed a propensity to want himself (as dad) to have control over the future dating lives of his not yet pubescent daughters. That might involve cooking the geese that laid golden eggs for some former members, though. These are all people I care about so it's not like I'm going out my way to be a butthead but it has been on this very subject that I have seen mars Hill past and present at its worst. Anderson doesn't know what he's talking about.

Mars Hill pastors and people came up with a bunch of rules. As the Joker put it in The Dark Knight, "You have all these rules and you think they will save you." Mars Hill did just that on dating and marriage. A friend of mine shared with me the observation I had come to years ago, the singles ministry at Mars Hill failed because its central goal was to get people married, not teach them how to follow Christ. Even at a church as big as Mars Hill and as popular with younger evangelicals as it is, we are capable of abject legalistic Pharisaic failure. I sensed from the launch event that what Driscoll and other Mars Hill leaders involved in the Covenant singles ministry failed to grasp is that all they were doing was teaching people how to avoid sin, not how to seek Christ.

The significance of this observation is impossible to overstate. Even at a church as popular as Mars Hill the capacity for legalism is always there. People could say that Driscoll doesn't take himself seriously but that wouldn't prove anything. I still was an eyewitness of a ministry that was doomed from its outset because it was a landslide of teaching on how to avoid sin rather than seek Christ. The hope was that if you got all your ducks in a row and a daddy figure gave permission that you could be married and thus fulfill the mission of Mars Hill to see guys love Jesus, get jobs, get married, and make babies. I believe most criticism of Mars Hill over the last ten years really has been paranoid, shrill, and in many respects stupid ... BUT I believe that there have always been kernels of powerfully uncomfortable truths in even the harshest and most unfair criticisms. sanctification is a long and painful process.

What Anderson does not seem to grasp is that younger evangelicalism may have seen through a lot of the rules older evangelicals set up, and have come to see that those rules will not save them. If anything the younger evangelicals are more true to the core of evangelicalism than the generation Anderson thinks we younger evangelicals have differed from on "flash points". Overall I would say that considering the history of Mars Hill as an example of younger evangelicalism I would say Anderson needs to put down the crack pipe and consider that this aspect of the "new" scandal is more a case of evangelicals going back to their roots rather than to a Prohibition era dispensationalist movement. That doesn't mean there won't be a bunch of legalistic stupidity in this generation or the next, just that the basis for legalism in evangelicallism has probably shifted. Just ask any stay-at-home dads who stopped attending Mars Hill because a pastor who mostly works from home said that would be grounds for church discipline.