Thursday, January 14, 2010

The temptation of Jesus in Luke: a comparative survey of the synoptics with an excurses into OT literature

My ultimate goal is to discuss the sequence of temptations Satan presents ot Christ in the gospel of Luke but in order to fully explain the significance of Luke's account and the power of its narrative I believe it is necessary to consider the whole of the scriptures on this subject and take a broader survey of the temptation of Christ in the synoptic tradition and also tie it firmly to the Old Testament narrative so as to demonstrate more fully the significance of Luke's syntax of temptations from the accuser. Each of the temptation narratives offer a combined insight into the temptation of Christ that Christians must not ignore, not least because Christ proved victorious where we so often prove ourselves weak.

I will presume at this point that you have read both Matthew and Luke's accounts of the temptation of Christ by Satan in the wilderness. I will also assume at least some working knowledge of both Exodus and Deutoronomy. I will not assume you know about psalms as prayers of exorcism, however. I mention Mark in passing so as to note the Spirit impelled him to go into the wilderness. In Luke we are told that Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, went into the wilderness and there was tempted. Mark shows us a more disturbing portrait that suggests Jesus was compelled to go into a place of temptation.

We are told that God never tempts and yet there is an ambiguity in the word commonly translated "tempt". The word can also mean "test". In this light God tests people all the time but may not test them in the form of inciting them to evil but by driving them into circumstances in which they will face the possibility of temptation. This, I admit, is the sort of paradoxical approach that someone like Satin Cog of old school Midrash and Babblerash would have a field day with.

What I want to examine is the unique order in which Luke presents his temptation compared to Matthew and what this may mean in each respective narrative. The community receiving the gospel has some bearing on this approach to interpretation. Now here I don't mean to propose that I know about the recipients of the synoptic gospels beyond what is traditionally ascribed to them. Matthew was geared toward a predominantly Jewish audience and Luke toward a more Hellenistic audience that probably had at least some awareness of Jewish thought but not much. Mark, as is often said, is pitched toward Roman society. In that respect I want to keep those audiences in mind as I proceed.

In Matthew the sequence of temptation implies that there were various forms of temptation throughout the time in which Jesus was fasting and was hungry. There were doubtless more than these but these may be considered the three exemplars of temptation--turning stones to bread, throwing himself from a high place, and worshipping Satan in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world. At the first Satan says "If you are the son of God ... " Where with Adam the serpent made an indirect temptation to Adam through Eve and tempted Eve while also making his sales pitch to Adam, the serpent directly questions Jesus' nature. He then proceeds to cite scripture in tempting Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple, and finally offers to give the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship.

Christ rejects each of this temptations by citing scripture. Intriguingly the pinnacle temptation includes a citation from scripture, which Jesus reproves with another scripture. I will get to the significance of this shortly but since it is not the ultimate temptation from the Tempter in Matthew's gospel I will refrain from explaining a few things about the significance of this until later. For now it will be enough to point out that the passage is a psalm that speaks of how those who dwell in the secret place of the most High will be safe from harm.

In Matthew the sequence of temptation is compelling because Jesus has come to fulfill the mission of Israel. To understand the nature of the temptation we must consider why it would even be a temptation. I have heard it said that Satan isn't in control of anything so Jesus could not be a ransom paid to the devil. Never mind that Paul says Satan is the prince of the power of the air and the god of this age, then. No, to make that argument seems viable but it presents us with the problem of a Jesus who was not really tempted since He already was in possession of all things. There was no need for him to learn obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews) or to tell us that He saw Satan fall like lightning from the heavens.

The temptation for a Jewish annointed one called to deliver his people from bondage to the nations is that Satan's offer is an offer to destroy the nations, to be the Jewish messiah who defeats and subjugates the nations and all at the expense of giving worship to Satan. If we only dismiss Satan's temptation as just being a lie (which, of course, it ultimately was) we have to appreciate WHY the offer could have been a temptation to Jesus the man. For Israelites weary of subjugation to Gentile empires the ultimate hope was that the one chosen by Yahweh to destroy the nations and demonstrate God's justice and vindication of His people was the thing to look forward to. Satan's last temptation in Matthew is a temptation because it offers a shortcut to that, a shortcut Jesus refuses because it was, ultimately, the shortcut that Israel took to its own downfall. They worshipped other gods for centuries and took refuge in them, failing to remember that these refuges would become not merely snares but coffins. Jesus refused to accept the offer and so was the second Adam and the true Israel.

Now in Luke the sequence is different and that difference is compelling. The temptation of the pinnacle comes last and Satan says that it is written "He will gives his angels charge over you. On their hands you will be lifted up. They will guard you so that you do not dash your foot against a stone." Jesus replies that the scriptures say to not put the Lord to the test. In fact anotheer way of rendering the text is, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God."

Now here is where I come to the central observation. Satan's ultimate temptation of Christ in Luke reveals him quoting scripture. When he tempted Eve he questioned the accuracy and legitimacy of the word of God but when confronting the Word Satan tempts the Word with the word of God itself. "It is written" Satan observes and invokes that as the reason Jesus should throw himself off the pinnacle.

The passage Satan quotes is Psalm 91. Read Psalm 91 in its entirety and it speaks of how God will preserve His chosen one, the one who is hid in the secret place of the Almighty. Satan's temptation is pernicious because it quotes scripture, quotes it accurately, and even quotes it in context but to a terrible end! What is more there is a strange and terrible yet darkly amusing irony to Satan using this psalm as a means to tempt Christ.

Dead Sea Scrolls research has revealed that in the Qumran community the Psalms had not yet been codified in the order we now have in our Bibles. The canonization process was not yet complete, if memory serves. Jamnia had not yet taken place. Now in Qumran Psalm 91 was part of a small collection of prayers of exorcism (it is utterly fascinating that one of the prayers of exorcism is attributed to Solomon but I'm going to write that post later if I feel inspired enough to write about that, though I'd prefer Scotteriology to maybe tacklethe ironies of a psalm of exorcism attributed to Solomon given Solomon's spectacular apostasy). Psalm 91 happens to be the fourth and last psalm listed as a prayer of exorcism in the scroll.

Do I really need to spell out how ironic it is that the passage Satan quotes to Jesus when he says "for it is written" was not just any psalm but a psalm used as a prayer of exorcism? To put it in more modern parlance, Satan was using one of the landmark texts on spiritual warfare used at the time. He was quoting statements straight from a widely accepted spiritual warfare text, from a prayer that would be used to pray against demonic attack! He was using this text to tempt Jesus and tell him he shoud throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple! Satan is not only willing to tell the truth, he can quote scripture accurately, quote it in context, and use it in his sales pitch.

It should go without saying that each temptation by Satan was a temptation for Jesus to be the kind of Mesiah Israel WANTED but not the kind of messiah Israel NEEDED. I'll go further and say that Satan's temptation of Jesus was tempting him to be the kind of Savior WE want and not the kind of savior we need. No one illustrates this gap between the savior we want and the savior we need better than the bitterly ironic and relentless "The Grand Inquisitor" from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. That is, for the time being, going to be some other blog entry because while I adore Dostoevsky's work this is a blog about Christ, about his temptation presented to us in the scriptures, and ways in which we can learn about the nature of his temptation as a reflection on temptations we may face that he faced on our behalf. Christ has been victorious where we have failed, are failing, and will continue to fail.

Jesus' response is to quote Deutoronomy 6 where it says "Do not put your Lord to the test." It can also be read, "Do not tempt the Lord your God." The fuller passage is important. Deutoronomy 6 warns that we should not worship other gods but revere only Yahweh. The fuller text Jesus quotes says "Do not test the Lord as you did at Massah." Moses named the place Massah and Meribah, words meaning "Proof" and "Contention" respectively because it was there that the people of Israel contended with him and demanded water. They blamed Moses for leading them out in the wilderness to die. Moses replied, "Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the Lord to proof?"

When the Lord says "Do not test me as you did at Massah" the story refers to Israel grumbling, proposing that ultimately God has had Moses lead them out into the middle of nowhere so that they, their children, and livestock will all die of thirst in the wilderness. They had no water to drink. Asking for water itself was not necessarily the problem. This is the Lord who knows we need water and knows we need food and shelter. They questioned the goodness of God and the character of God asking, "Is the Lord really with us or not?"

We can begin to see, now, how ingenious the Tempter is in his full frontal assault on the Lord's person and character. We can see his cunning in disputing with Yahweh in Job, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and everything he owns?" Yahweh even tells Satan that he has inspired Him to ruin Job's life without cause (there is a cause in the end but Job never learns of the cosmic bet between Yahweh and Satan or what its purpose ultimately is within the book). Satan is even more cunning in his temptation of Christ than we saw him be in Job. Luke reveals this in ways that invite hours of reflection when we consider not only Deutoronomy but also the incident in Exodus to which a fuller reference to Deutoronomy refers.

By way of yet another diversion, in ancient writing it is customary to allude to a point and leave that as a completed, implied argument. This is not a form of argument or reasoning that we may find acceptable in blogging. Obviously it is not my own preferred way of handling things. I prefer to tackle every single point as it occurs to me, which makes for sloppy blogging and sloppy writing. When you live in a culture where paper is expensive and writing is especially labor-intensive one of the ways you, as it were, economize your literary space, is to saturate your narrative with allusions which, once given, complete the narrative or argumentative thrust by implication. Luke's Gospel is full of this and these allusions within allusions are necessary to know in order to fully appreciate what the Tempter presents to Christ.

Here we come to what makes Luke's narrative of the temptation of Christ unique. We see in Luke that the ultimate temptation from the Tempter is to take the scriptures, take them in context, take them accurately, and use them to promote an action that is approved of by the father of lies. To Eve the serpent asks, "Did God really say ... ?" But to Christ Himself the serpent says, "If you are the Son of God then do this ... for it is written." The serpent uses the scriptures themselves to imply that God Himself through Christ is wanting, is not who He truly is. Satan questions whether Jesus is really the Christ, whether Jesus is Immanuel, the prince of peace. Jesus' reply is that we are not to put the Lord to the test and it is here that we should remember the rest of the allusion, we are not to put the Lord to the test as Israel did at Massah and Meribah, asking "Is the Lord truly with us or not." Satan's final temptation to Jesus goes beyond saying "turn these stones into bread"; beyond giving Jesus the kingdoms of the world in exchange for some worship; the Tempter presumes to find the Son of God wanting by the very scriptures that anticipated His coming.

Jesus would go on in Luke to say that a wicked and unbelieving generation asks for a sign. Had He not seen Israel asking for signs at Massah? He promised that there would be no sign but the sign of Jonah. Israel would once again receive a sign but unlike at Massah this time the sign would not be what they asked for but what Yahweh brought forth Himself.

Now as for us, we see that Jesus prevailed against the Tempter and the Lord prevailed where we have failed, fail, and continue to fail. Let us consider how the Tempter may tempt us, or how in our hearts we entertain the doubts that are our own. After all, Israel doubted the presence and goodness of God at Massah and Meribah and we are warned to not be that sort of grumbler. When Paul wrote that we should do everything without grumbling the ethic advised was not a "shut up and do as your told" ethic but a warning that if we assume that God ultimately does not have our best interest at heart then we will go through life ostensibly obeying God but having a heart inclined toward disobedience.

Satan's ability and willingness to take scripture and manipulate it toward his end should give us pause, and should make us very sober in assessing our own motives for employing scripture to attack the integrity and character of others. I think that among Christians we are perilously culpable for using the scriptures as ways to accuse and impugn each other for things that are not of primary importance. We can be little satans to each other and to the world, accusers, adversaries who doubt the provenance of how God may speak to others while unshakably thinking that our missives from the Almighty are beyond dispute. The coming of Christ into the world has revealed that the signs we expect from Yahweh in each age are not necessarily ever the signs He chooses to give us.

If the devil can quote scripture to tell Jesus "You should do this if you are REALLY God's child" then how much more can we, even among Christians, make the same mistake? A person can cite all the scriptures, have them in a row, have them in context, and still ultimately play a satanic role in accusing someone. This is something that I look back on with regret because I believe I have made this mistake and have been in Christian settings where this mistake was made. Jesus' words for the Pharisees were harsh, "You are of your father the devil." What John refers to somewhat cryptically and through Jesus' fiery rhetoric is fleshed out here in Luke's narrative. Luke shows us how Satan can take the scriptures themselves and put them to utterly satanic ends.

Yet Christ confronts the pinnacle of satanic abuses with a proper use of the scriptures. The Spirit who drove him into the wilderness and was with him gave him power and through the scriptures Jesus rebuked Satan's tests of Yahweh and of himself (also Yahweh, of course). Christ properly expounds and lives out the scriptures that we distort and manipulate for our own ends. Christ corrects the abuses of the scriptures encouraged by Satan and by the religious leaders of his time during his ministry. Christ resisted the temptations by Satan and men to be the kind of messiah he was expected to be (if he was, really, the messiah). Christ ultimately reveals that He could conquer the abuse of the word of God through the ages because He Himself is the Word. Despite generations of false prophets who invoked the name of Yahweh for the blessing of lies and crimes Jesus' life and teaching ultimately puts to flight Satan's use of even the scriptures to accuse and condemn Him and those He came to save. The Word will at length make all things new, all those things corrupted by the power of sin and death.

In closing I might as well make a full bibliographic index of materials I have read that have helped me get to a point where I felt inclined to write this blog entry. Susan Garrett's books The Demise of the Devil in the writings of Luke and The Temptation of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are both valuable references. I found The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, edited by Martin Abegg Jr, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich to be useful, too, as it corroborates Garrett's observation about Psalm 91 as a prayer of exorcism. Jeffrey Burton Russell's entire book series on the history of Christian and Jewish thought about the devil is immensely valuable.

I have Gurnall's The Christian in Full Armour but it is, I must admit, not relevant to this particular reflection as what I have undertaken here is to examine the synoptic gospel accounts of the devil's activities and words toward Christ; Gurnall's book is so focused on Ephesians his work was not immediately applicable with reference to this blog entry, which is not to say I have no appreciation for the work since I did quote a section of it in this blog a while back. It's also spectacularly long and I have not read enough of it for it to be particularly relevant here, just in case someone ever wonders why I haven't cited it here.

Last but not least I am also grateful to heard John Haralson's sermons on Exodus 17 and Phillipians as background material for this blog entry. There was a recent sermon by Mark Driscoll on Luke 4 that I didn't actually listen to but hearing some people comment about it got me thinking about how much material a teacher or simple Christian could consider that is worth sharing (I am not here proposing to be a teacher in some spiritual sense of the word as I'm not a pastor and have no inclination to be one).

The primary determinant for the meaning of a text is its context. Lawson Stone, my first OT teacher, used to say coyly: “Any interpretation must be able to survive at least one close reading of the text

Scotteriology vents about Pat Robertson

If this seems too extreme and "uncharitable" and "unChristian" let's consider the eytmology of Satan. sa'tan means "the accuser" and what Robertson has just done is make the accusation that an entire culture was guilty of making a pact with the devil generations ago that now, it seems, warrants God continually providentially punishing them for that disobedience. What happens to be hyperbole from Scotteriology can be biblically defended. Robertson has taken the role of the accuser regarding Haiti. The question at hand is whether or not Robertson can legitimately claim a basis for making such a claim publicly and connecting it to what has recently happened.

Now if a person were to defend Robertson by saying he is speaking with a prophetic voice how about this?:

If God has judged Haiti for a pact with the devil made years ago why does that include decimating a seminary that helps evangelistic work and teaching down there? If it be suggested that God is finally punishing the Haitians for their pact why do Christians bear the brunt of the blow, too? Some Christians I have known would say that when God warns people God warns them that the punishment will be so great that not even the righteous will be spared, which is usually then construed as a sign that you need to get out of Dodge and go where ever the person speaking advises you to. This is cooking the argument well in advance.

Apply this in personal terms and it helps you to see what a satanic role Robertson has truly come to play, probably at his age and with his intellectual acumen he may not be aware how he's coming across now: let's say that someone close to you dies in a car accident and the other person was driving while intoxicated. Pat Robertson's case amounts to claiming that your great-grandfather made a deal with Satan to marry your great-grandmother and ever since your family has been under a curse to be struck with disasters in each generation until that action is renounced. Until then your family is cursed with financial foolishness and health disasters until you break those bonds, cut the soul ties, and all that stuff from Rebecca Brown M.D.

In legal parlance there are things called slander and libel. One of my favorite moments in the first Spiderman movie J.J.J makes a remark about Spiderman and Peter Parker objects, "That's slander." J.J.J retorts, "You insult me, son. Slander is spoken. In PRINT it's LIBEL." The law is more generous regarding libel and slander toward public figures because as public figures their responsibilities are greater and the burden of proof of irreparable damage to reputation becomes more stringent. You, dear reader, do not have to make as compelling a case about slander or libel as Bill Clinton, George Bush 1 or 2, Barack Obama, or Woody Allen have to make regarding the defamation of their character (Allen would have to have an unusually cogent case since he's defamed himself ever since the "Mia and I aren't married so this woman is not technically my daughter" argument)

As with individuals, so with nations, I guess. Robertson can make a sweeping claim about an entire nation and some Christians will defend it as legitimately within the realm of biblical discussion. To be sure Robertson is also as likely to say that 9/11/2001 happened because of the leniency Americans have displayed toward homosexuals and abortionists so Robertson is certainly being internally consistent in claiming the right to pronounce God's judgment as though he were a prophet.

Finally, there are reasons to doubt the veracity of Robertson's "true story".

How can Robertson even establish that his story about a secret meeting of Haitian rebels making a pact with Satan to defeat Napoleon the third and whatever occurred? Wartime propaganda being what it is, Orthoduck notes that French Christian soldiers might find the voodo/Satan theory plausible because if black insurgents actually defeated white combatants they couldn't have done it without satanic assistance.

I suppose at some point someone will say that everything Robertson says is well researched and perhaps he is God's appointed voice. People will always say stuff like that even if false predictions come up. Selling what-if prophetic end-times warnings has been a career for Jack van Impe and "oh Jack" Rexella. Before you say something like "Robertson could be right" ask yourself how you would respond to someone telling you that your wife or husband or child or parent died of diabetes as God's punishment for a pact with the devil your grandma made that means you, too, will die of diabetes unless you do the Rebecca Brown M.D. thing.

If you find the prospect of "me" telling you that your suffering is God punishing you and your whole family for the sins of your grandfathers offensive, well then, congratulations, you've actually read Ezekiel and have some understanding why saying stuff like that is wildly inaccurate ... and you should avoid jumping to Robertson's defense. I hate that it has to be said but old pastors who say unconsidered things should get reprimanded whether we're talking about Pat Robertson or Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or Dave Wilkerson or John Piper. Yeah, I threw in Piper because his bridge comments and tsunami comments were unfortunate. He didn't go there with 9/11/2001 that I can recall, but he went there easily enough for other things.

Well, I've said enough about those things. Consider giving money to charitable organizations that are helping with relief work in Haiti. It will display the love of Christ more readily than defending Pat Robertson saying that they made a pact with the devil. As I have blogged elsewhere, we Christians do not realize how often satanic a role we play in the lives of others.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

everything old is new again and everything new is old again

I recently finished arranging the Kyrie from William Byrd's Mass for Five Voices for solo guitar. It was a lot of fun! Of course the guitar having the very unbending limitations that it has I had to cut out two of any given five voices in the musical texture but after years of choral singing in college and high school and being a composer I pretty well worked out what lines to keep and what lines to omit.

Actually, speaking as a guitarist and a fellow who has sung in a couple of choirs the guitar and the choir resemble each other in having some not-very-pliable limitations. In a way it's not that difficult to consider the limits of the choir and the limits of the guitar as moving within overlapping spheres. The lowest notes of the guitar are as low as baritones can handle and the highest notes on the guitar reach up above what sopranos can handle on good days. Of course the guitar has absolutely no sustain! Conversely, the guitar never has to breathe the same way a choir will. Each weakness can be a corresponding strength just as each strength brings with it corresponding weakness. It is the nature of both life and art to plumb the depths of these things.

I have had a fondness for Byrd's music for about half of my life. I sang the wonderful motet Haec dies quam fecit dominus in high school (yeah, somehow despite separation of church and state stuff the choir teacher decided that if he just went with stuff in Latin (which no one teaches these days) he could bombard people with sacred choral music without them being offended by it and he could conduct music he actually liked)). I know a couple of friends who don't like Byrd and prefer Palestrina. My old college choir director used to say that Byd's writing isn't as perfect as Palestrina's ... but that a lot of Palestrina DOES start sounding the same after a while.

Actually, you listen to seven discs of Byrd's complete keyboard music and you notice that HIS music starts all blending together ... sort of like everyone else's music does. You see, it's not just punk and blues songs that all get to sounding like the same chords over and over again. If you listen to all sorts of music you begin to realize how much repetition and the same chords and hooks keep getting used again.

Instead of seeing the repetition and endless variation of things that have come again you can look at how even if it is not new in the grand scheme of things it can still be new for you. In Revelation we are told "Behold, I am making all things new". In the age to come the three chords that make up so much of Western music may still be those same three chords but they won't be the same. They will mean something new. The same will be true about all the microtonal music from other cultures. The kings of the world will bring their glories to the king of kings. Who knows but that in the age to come the Lord is gracious enough to include all sorts of music many Christians wouldn't even consider music. God may surprise some folks by enjoying the music of Messiaen and Penderecki when the new Jerusalem meets the earth.

Avatar and the shoot `em up genre

Debra Dean Murphy recently blogged about what she considered the failure of James Cameron's imagination in devising a narrative in which violence on the part of the Na'vi was not the only and ultimate response. The simplistic polarization of most of humanity as greedy and evil and the Na'vi as peace-loving warriors who respect the All-Mother couldn't be more obvious. That's normal and Cameron is never going to be a philosopher, nor should we expect him to be some intellectual giant. He makes spectacles (and, like Michael Bay's work, there is a place for that, really).

But what Avatar highlights about a convention in action cinema is that the peaceful warrior (and let's be even more blunt, the magic super-white-boy chosen-one (or white-girl, if we're talking about Joss Whedon plot-device girls)) ultimately kicks ass. A fellow I know once said that he didn't object to gratuitous violence in film as much as gratuitous morality--the badass who kicks ass isn't as offensive as the badass who smugly considers his own violence to be morally praiseworthy more than the violence of the people he harms.

The crux of redemption for the hero of the shoot `em up is not to give up the sword but to turn the sword on the right people. The hero of the shoot `em up film is redeemed not by repenting of a life of killing but by killing the right people. This is why the philosophy and moralism of Avatar ultimately rings hollow quickly. I wouldn't expect James Cameron to be, say, John Woo. John Woo's The Killer is maudlin, absurd, even downright embarrassing in a lot of places but what Woo did in that action movie was present a charming, sympathetic, likable protagonist who still dies in the end because what he cannot do, no matter how noble he aspires to be, is to lay down the sword. John Woo said he wanted to create an action film in which the man who lived by the sword died by the sword because action filmmakers have NOT told that sort of story.

Actually, when I was at Mars Hill I attended the screening of the film for film & theology and one attender said he didn't see where the redemption was in Woo's film. Woo's film is not about redemption because it is about demonstrating the ultimate end of a man who does not repent. Christians can too quickly and easily want their redemptive story arc without considering if repentence is involved. We TELL ourselves that we want repentence but the action genre is frequently proof that we want that repentence to take the form of repenting about WHO we will kill, not whether or not we will kill at all. Don't misunderstand me, I do own a few of John Woo's films and there is a lot of killing in the scriptures.

My critique of James Cameron is not to say there is never a time when killing to save lives is necessary. What I am getting at is that for a film-maker like Cameron his narrative trope is more hypocritical in that the peacable Na'vi are ultimately more bad-ass killing creatures than even the humans because they can pull it off, supposedly, without resorting as much to technology. In a way it's like George Lucas imagining that a bunch of Ewoks can take down a technologically superior culture which, so he claims, he learned from observing the Vietnam conflict. Lucas should have stopped rolling doobies or whatever it was he was doing besides seriously study of military history and inferring spectacularly dubious lessons about armed conflict. By extension, James Cameron's peacable Na'vi would be more plausibly peacable if they were not ultimately and obviously going to fight. But, again, Avatar is an enjoyable enough popcorn movie that I wouldn't say "don't go see it".

This sort of narrative inconsistency in art or life isn't purely the domain of James Cameron, it's a struggle we all have continually as we go through life (to some degree or another, perhaps not all at equal levels). Like Carrie Prejean speaking against gay marriage while not exactly living up to the ostensibly evangelically endorsed lifestyle herself, James Cameron (and perhaps all of us) is stuck in a world and a life where the gap between who we know we "should" be and who we are never seems to be bridged. It's not that gap that I think is itself an unusual problem, it's that in Avatar the selling point of the Na'vi is that they ostensibly don't "have" that gap even though they demonstrate it. Avatar becomes an allegory about the escapism combined with moral superiority inherent in its critique of those very things. The redeemed killer (Sully is an ex-Marine, after all) is redeemed by killing the right people for a change.

As I wrote earlier, an actually serious pantheist like Hayao Miyazaki concluded that what his kill-capable hero Ashitaka most needed to do was not to redeem his killing but to lay down his arms and find a way forward that involved not killing. Of course Miyazaki and Cameron are very different sorts of story-tellers. I simply hold forth Miyazaki as having already told the kind of story Cameron has given us in Avatar but with a more nuanced and alert reading of the moral quandaries and opportunity costs of the issues at stake.

That said, enjoy your burger. It is a well-made burger.

Uh, this isn't REALLY the scandal Mark Noll was talking about

Years ago, Mark Noll wrote a book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, in which he argued that the scandal was that there was no such thing. When it comes to evangelical scholars and scholarship, I disagree: the scandal is not that there is no mind; it is that these days there is precious little evangel.

That's the scandal of every age of evangelicalism and how evangelicalism as a historical movement began. Noll wasn't talking about theological scholarship, as I mentioned earlier and as others are mentioning. The scandal Noll was talking about is that evangelicals ONLY care about theology and certain types of political activism.

If evangelicalism sees the scandal of itself as not being evangelical enough then there's no point in thinking that continuing discussion will accomplish much. Didn't Luther argue that all vocations were equally holy if done in service to the Lord and love for neighbor? Since Noll wasn't even prmarily addressing evangelical scholars and scholarship as theological discourse (and The Civil War as a Theological Crisis shows that Noll has paid attention to how evangelicals have and have not grappled effectively with political and moral philosophy at a societal level in more than one epoch) Trueman is demonstrating he's part of the problem.

If evangelicalism yields more influence for good in society it will not "just" be because people teach and teach and teach some more. That is necessary, that is the role of the people who serve in leadership in the Church. But being the salt of the earth is more than just seasoning the salt shakers. If I were to take a guess at which Christian has done more to influence a wide public with stories and themes that embrace the teachings of Christ should I suppose that the biggest person influencing people's lives is someone approved by Reformed Baptists? Most people, really, don't know or care who John Piper is or John Macarthur or Cornelius Van Til or Dietrich Bonhoeffer are. Most people also don't know or care who Mark Driscoll or Brian McLaren or Rob Bell or John Shelby Spong are. Most people don't know or care who Andrew Stanton is ... but they have probably taken their kids to see WALL-E.

As I get older and observe how evangelicals basically don't want evangelicalism to be about things other than articulating the evangel in Powerpoint bullet points the more I wonder if I'm just a bad member of the team. I'm an evangelical Protestant but I don't feel obliged to read Christian fiction or see uniquely "Christian" movies. I have also found it frustrating to see that most of the work being done in the arts is either not done by Christians at all or not by Christians who seem to take their faith particularly seriously, at least among Protestants. Of course being into classical music this becomes more pronounced.

I don't think the explanation is that Protestants have no sense of history. That's a canard that Catholics find tempting yet Bach's music is more widely known than a lot of Catholic music. Besides, the argument that people have forsaken the real church with innovations of personal interpreation is what the Eastern Orthodox can say about the Catholics as much as the Catholics say that about Protestants (not that I'm interested in switching teams here, I'm just pointing out something). I think that the obsession to immerse in church history without considering the history of other disciplines "may" be the problem.

In other words, Mark Driscoll isn't going to shape culture the way Andrew Stanton has and neither man is supposed to have the same role. But after ten years of hearing people at Mars Hill talk about shaping culture, redeeming culture, engaging culture, getting "upstream" where "culture-making" happens it seems to me that evangelicals are happier talking about how they should be doing that or how they wish they could do it rather than actually doing it. The peopel who actually ARE shaping culture seem to mostly have better things to do with their time than talk about how we "should" be doing that. It seems as though Andrew Stanton is busy being a professional and a family man rather than preaching about how Christians need to get more evangel in their presentation. Whatever happened to "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks"?

If Jesus came to teach today evangelicals, particularly of the Reformed Baptist variety, seem like the would get on Jesus' case for not discussing propositional truth plainly enough. Now I'm being snarky here and I'm probably ovedoing it and for that I apologize. It just strikes me that Baptists can get too easily into a mode where they would say to Jesus, "Tell us plainly, who do you think you are?" But I should concede I'm being unfair, I'm pretty much more Presbyterian than Baptist these days.

a little resource for classical guitarists who like chamber music, Sheer Pluck's search engine

If you want an unusual, even obscure instrumental combination of chamber music for classical guitar you can't really do better than this website. I would encourage all fans of chamber music for classical guitar to use this resource if you're in a quandary looking for existing repertoire for say, double bass and guitar; or if you're looking for a trio that includes a mezzo-soprano, a guitar, and a viola (really, there's Charles Argersinger's Geography of Weather!) As yet there are no works for guitar and tuba and I plan to remedy that situation one day.