Thursday, June 17, 2010

a temporary hiatus on posts

I have at least another part of the series on Hell to tackle, possibly two more parts, and there's been some fascinating stuff I've read courtesy of Mockingbird but I won't be blogging on that for at least a few days. I'm going to be babysitting the pets of my sister (two pits, let the reader understand) and minding the house. Totoro-Man will potentially be home for some of that time (my clone, let the reader understand) but I'm not sure I'm going to be doing a whole lot this weekend except making sure the doggies are doing okay and get fed and don't get into trouble.

I tend not to read tons of hard copy books these days so I might actually not spend quite as much time on computers as I usually do and take some time to read books, actual books. Somehow I doubt this but I figure if I'm breaking my routine up at several points already why not get into some stuff I haven't gotten into a while? Last book I started and finished that I can remember was a commentary by Provan on Kings last year! Oh, and Theilicke's The Silence of God but I kinda forgot I read that book. Oh, and 1 Chronicles. It's sorta like Towely saying he's addicted to marijuana and cocaine, oh, and crack. Even when I think I'm not getting jack reading done I seem to never run out of stuff to think about.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Nothing like the BHT to occasionally toss in a quote I can admire

“Love community and you will kill it. Love your brother and you will build it.”

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer was a smart man. His observation has held true in the short life I have lived. It was interesting in my school days how the people most into team spirit (e.g. community) were generally the least-liked people around (not that they were unliked, "community" driven people were into them). The emphasis on community becomes the emphasis on the group becomes the foundation for placing the community over the brother which becomes the foundation for stomping on the brother when the brother gets in the way of the goals of community.

The community becomes the inspiration for social engineering of the highest and grandest as well as the lowest and meanest orders. Spock can say the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few because Spock is an imaginary character (and it doesn't hurt that Spock was willing to die so that he could save the lives of his friends, which shows that if you take away story-telling power from Gene Roddenberry and inject some Christian ethics about dying to save your friends that you can make one of the few really great Star Trek movies instead of a Motionless Picture).

Is it ... possible that Bonhoeffer might have seen this dynamic of an emphasis on community destroying community at work in his life in his country? Nah ... we live in different times and it's impossible for "community" to be used as a value by which to destroy the lives of people who are a threat to our conception of what community ought to be, especially impossible for this to be done by Christians.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

God providentially gave a whole new, literal meaning to "burn your plastic Jesus"

$250,000 spent on a styrofoam and fiberglass statue of Jesus isn't how I would prefer a church spend money. But setting aside that whole issue this gives the most literal meaning possible to the phrase "burn your plastic Jesus". Steve Camp, I'm sure you don't read my blog but you couldn't ask for better footage than the burning Jesus statue if you ever felt like making a music video.

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth that teachers must be careful how they build upon the foundation laid by the master builder. Some use stone and marble and gold and fine materials. Others use wood and straw and each builder's work will be tested by fire to see if it survives. If the work survives the teacher receives a reward but if the work is destroyed the teacher will be saved but as though saved through fire. Paul isn't saying the people who build poorly won't be saved or aren't saved but that their work will not survive the day of testing.

Paul's warning is that we should not be boasting about men. We should not be saying "I am with Apollos" or "I am with Paul" or "I am with Peter" because that is not how it should be. This can become the kind of building on a foundation with wood, hay, or styrofoam. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a styrofoam statue invests in something that isn't automatically evil ... but it is building with materials that quite literally did not withstand the day in which the Lord providentially revealed the quality of the materials. Rather than make fun of them the way others have I'm sorry the Baptist church spent so much money on something that God's lightning consumed in a single night.

Our own lives in Christ can be our figurative covering a fiberglass frame with styrofoam in terms of our spirituality. We can convince ourselves that by the abundance of spiritual quotes and spiritual talk that our spirituality founded on Jesus will survive the day of fire. We ourselves are being saved but much of what we build does not withstand the day of testing, however the day of testing comes, and this is not even the final, great day of testing itself. Paul was writing to a church about the dangers of building upon personal loyalties.

Personal loyalties, even to apostles and great teachers, is a building of styrofoam on a fiberglass frame. If your loyalty is to defending your team your loyalty can be a kind of burning material that doesn't withstand the day of testing. How many Catholics have left their churches because of sexually abusive priests and gave up on Christianity? How many members of evangelical megachurches have left because of political abuses and turned their backs on institutional church as a whole? How many charismatics have turned aside from their churches because they began to feel that it was all a dead tradition beneath the songs and speaking in tongues and holy laughter while the misery and suffering of life was not ameliorated by "Spirit power" marathons where groups of people were whipped up into a frenzy. Even at a place as well-spoken of as Mars Hill I have seen people burned who have bailed.

The temptation in all these settings is to say that so-and-so was not really a serious Christian if they left, whatever it was they left. This may even be true in so many ways but that is not what I'm considering here. What I am considering here is that these are often people whose loyalty was first to their church and secondarily to Christ. The medium had become synonymous with the message of Christ. Not all these people who left a particular church have given up on Christ. The foundation itself was not destroyed but the temple that was built on the foundation of Christ was destroyed in the day of testing because it did not withstand the day of fire. This is a failure of the builder to build on the foundation with proper materials.

How often we boast about men even after the apostolic warning against it! We quote church fathers, favorite Bible teachers, favorite pastors, preferred theologians, favorite Christian songs. We cite them as authoritative when that is not quite what Paul would wish. We may find that when the true day of testing comes that is an anticipation of the final day of testing that our own spiritual lives or the spiritual life of our favorite gathering of Christians (whether formal or informal) is built of material that cannot withstand fire.
Our spiritual lives can be revealed in the end to be styrofoam molding put over a fiberglass frame and planted on the ground.

Christ is still the solid rock but I may discover at length that nearly everything I thought was being soundly built either by myself in my own life or by others into my life has turned out to be fiberglass and styrofoam and that so much Christian teaching built into my life does no good in the day of testing. When I think of all those useless sermons I heard in the last ten years about how to get married I regret them. Surely they were a great blessing and actually useful to someone else but now that I am in the ninth month of looking for work I look back on the last ten years of sermons I have heard and I realize that though they have had value a lot more of it turned out to be styrofoam that has burned up in the day of fire than I ever imagined it would be. We cannot be building with gold and silver all the time, can we?

So if a Baptist church back east spent a quarter million bucks on something that burns away to nothing overnight when I consider how I can put so much time and energy in my life into what looks super-spiritual but is burned down to the foundation over a few years it's hard for me to look down on those people. We all make decisions that seem wise and hopeful and offer a model for others to follow only to discover that God can providentially bring about circumstances that reveal that what was a great-looking decision we advertised to others as a beacon of hope or a model for morality gets incinerated before our eyes and shows us to have been the fools we really were.

God can make each one of us eat crow to the tune of $250,000. You live long enough and God can use the things that you boast most about to yourself and others to utterly humiliate you. Just because God hasn't burned your figurative plastic Jesus to the ground while literally burning down someone else's literal plastic Jesus doesn't mean He won't get to yours. I think he's been getting to mine and I feel as though I am having a new way of experiencing for me what Paul talked about, how the things that he previously could boast of he now considers rubbish.

In the past I could be far more confident about having been part of one of the fastest-growing churches in America with one of the most dynamic, entertaining preachers around. I was, if you will, of Apollos while not thinking that I was. The Lord in His mercy saw fit to prove me wrong. I was enamored with the preaching and teaching of a dynamic preacher and managed to still exonerate myself from Paul's admonition in 2 Corinthians that interesting speakers do not always make the best teachers or apostles and that self-proclaimed super-apostles are not necessarily the best leaders either by personal example or by teaching.

Then around 2006-2007 God saw fit to send the equivalent of a lightning strike into my life. It wasn't just one thing going up in flames, everything went up in flames in one way or another. I began to see that what I thought was gold and silver being built on the foundation of the rock was turning out to be styrofoam on fiberglass. The rules and regulations did not give me any hope and led me to despair even as people claimed that what was being taught was not really rules and regulations but principles. Principles were conflated with methods and then rebranded as principles. I suppose for those who have never felt any shame in their lives they need to feel a sense of shame that gives them a sense of purpose. For those who go through life with ambivalence and regret shaming people into walking in discipline has about the success rate you would expect.

What looks like the building on the foundation with gold and silver in one life will prove to be stubble and straw in another. Job's friends were sure they had their theology down. They understood the sovereignty of God and the sinfulness of man and were sure Job's problem was unrepentant sin and then they turned out to be wrong. Too many Christian teachers assess their own work and consider it gold, silver, precious metals to be shared with other Christians as a way to build on the foundation of Christ. But it is God who tests the quality of the building materials in the day of fire, not you! What you consider gold and silver God may consider styrofoam and all it takes is one lightning strike from Him to reveal the true quality of the work you have done!

Monday, June 14, 2010

two supposedly contrasting views on Christians and politics

Over the years I have seen Christians get into debates about how to "influence culture". There are, broadly speaking, two approaches that can be taken here. I don't mean "liberal" and conservative" I mean active and passive. The active approach is that Christians should unionize and boycott Hell, get out the vote, put people in the positions of power. The passive approach is to quietly influence culture and convert individual Christians so that one day culture-wide changes can happen. Or so the advocates of these allegedly different schools of thought say about themselves or their perceived opponents.

The two views are not really different in the end and it is even less possible to meaningfully distinguish between methods once you examine them apart from formal causes. The conservatives worry about activist judges changing the laws while liberals worry about executive orders that wildly increase the power of the executive branch and nobody worries about these things so long as the other side isn't the one considering constitutional restrictions to be dead letters.

At another level the active and passive approaches alleged by some Christians to be different aren't different. As seen from verbose unbelievers both look the same. If a preacher decides to not engage political issues and prefers to make convert after convert who will go "upstream" and influence the culture for Jesus to gay rights activists and abortion advocates that is functionally the same as lobbying now. Why? Because it is still perceived (rightly) in culture war terms. The preacher who decides to convert people en masse to his or her particularly cultural, social, political, and religious views is still, ultimately, focusing on a different stage of the game than the activist/lobbyist.

Now the lobbyist sees his or her work as paramount because if THAT work doesn't get done the voters aren't energized to "do the things that matter". The corresponding problem of such an approach is that at most you will always be preaching to the choir and depending on how few of you there are, it won't matter how mobilized you are. If what you want to do is considered illegal that presents an entirely new problem. A lobbyist sort of preacher is constantly trying to mobilize the existing base. The "let's go upstream" preacher is trying to change the base in advance before any kind of formal political actions or campaigns get taken. What these pastors do is make moral appeals based on ostensibly agreed upon ethics that are then worked out tacitly as political action. This is, of course, why atheists would prefer to wipe out the tax exempt status of all churches across the country, because they don't like the fact that many churches, as they see things, have been used to mobilize donors and voters for the Republican and Democratic parties respectively.

Now the Christian lobbyist sort and the "upstream" sort may THINK their positions are functionally or morally different. They're not. Per my earlier entry, the parable that was in extremely bad taste, the Christians who debate about these two supposedly different things are like a husband and wife debating whether infanticide or abortion is the more morally appropriate and economically viable way to exterminate the child.

It is not a distinction without a difference but these so-called disagreements fail to grasp that the mentality about how Christians ought to deploy political power end up being essentially the same--Christians ought to consciously and carefully re-engineer society so that it will be what they think it should be. One side insists that good Christians should vote good people into political power so they will vote for good moral laws and act as though the other side doesn't want that, when what the other side is constantly trying to do is to grow the number of "good people" who could potentially do that voting for good Christians who will vote for good moral laws. See, the partisans who supposedly stick to one or the other are not really being honest with themselves or each other about how, to any clear-eyed observer, they're bickering about two different inextricable stages of the same process.

When Paul wrote that we should not fear the government and have no reason to fear it unless we are doing wrong he was writing to the Romans. The Christians in Rome knew they were at a fulcrum of power in the world. Christians living in Rome came to be known as those who live in Babylon. American Christians can be considered to live in Babylon relative to the rest of the empires of the world. Christians in America will often refuse to see things this way but just as Rome was the greatest empire in the Western world so the United States of America has been the greatest empire in the Western world and has shaped the planet for good and for ill, just as Rome has. Babylon will fall in each age in which the Lord sees fit to topple her. Christians are urged to not join in with the harlotries of Babylon. That is not an easy request since it involves sacrifice unto death. Christians can talk about how this is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles and how we ought to keep saying that we should get God back in America again.

Well, I have a jaded view of that sort of Christian interpretation of national history. It's not a complete fiction and a great deal is true about it ... but there is also a great deal that isn't so clearcut. I am the sort of person who might be described as black and white by those who don't know me but the people who know me really well know that that is hardly an accurate description of me. I tend to be paralyzed by varying shades of gray. At one point I considered myself to see things in black and white terms (and on a few core things I still do). But careful consideration of the scriptures and immersing myself in the narrative literature keeps reminding me that even heroes can be villainous and that villains can have more heroic qualities than some heroes. As the scriptures say, there is no one who is righteous, not even one, and yet many Christians will insist that there ARE good people when it's time to start voting. It is strange how we have the capacity to exonerate power so long as we're wielding it. Wasn't Jefferson a strict constructionist until he actually had power?

Many of the debates Christians have among themselves continually remind me of rivalries and tensions within God's people prior to the coming of Christ. I have seen a lot of what I would have to describe as rankling between Judah and Samaria. Each considers the other to be rebels who don't really get what it means to REALLY be God's people but both are apostates. Samaria went "liberal" first but Judah inevitably followed. In fact apostasy had seeds germinating before the kingdom even divided, as any cursory survey of the narratives books will indicate. Good leaders were capable of forestalling apostasy but none of them could stop it. In the end God's promises were sure and Israel was sent into exile after suffering a series of humiliating and devastating defeats. When I hear Christians talking about how this country is going to hell either because Obama is in office or because Republicans have won positions or done something or other about healthcare I lack both their enthusiasm and their vitriol.

Jesus said that where your treasure is your heart will be. A lot of Christians both right and left have clearly put their heart into politics because that is where their treasure is. The lobbyist has most obviously done this but the Christian who insists on the slow "going upstream" approach is in the same boat, just rowing at the back of the boat rather than the front. The boat is still going in the same direction, which is to consciously appropriate power through direct and indirect means on the assumption that God will vindicate them. Despite the various proclamations that "it's all about Jesus" it can often end up looking like both sorts of people, in practice, fall prey to the temptation of thinking "it's all about me."

I very seriously believe that Jesus was crucified by the vote of a bipartisan committee. That means that my favorite people killed Jesus and it means your favorite people killed Christ. The worst thing we can do is claim that our sins were not the ones that led Him to take up the Cross. Oh, sure, we'll pay lip service to the idea that we are sinners who are being saved by grace but when we debate with each other in the body of Christ we exonerate ourselves as we demonize others.

At some point there should be an addendum to Godwin's law. It's not just mentioning Hitler that kills any chance of intellectually meaningful discussion of anything the supplemental vitamins for the red meat of "Hitler" has become "consumerism" along with a mineral supplement in the form of "legislating morality". This is true whether a person is railing against consumerism having just announced one has three Tivos and two home theaters or lamenting judicial activism and out-of-control federal government has to be ameliorated by even MORE federal hanky-panky to ensure the states are allowed to do what they want.

Now if Christians get judges in power who repeal Roe vs Wade they will have paradoxically used the very judicial activism they had been decrying for decades to put an end to judicial activism. There is a sense, a very real sense, in which the liberal judicial activists are simply being more intellectually honest about how cavalier they intend to be with the Constitution. No one is likely to seriously bring back the institution of slavery just to make sure the slave clause in the Constitution is literally enforced, are they? The liberal is the person who admits he doesn't really care about how strictly he keeps the Constitution, while the conservative keeps telling himself he keeps it ... when it's important. By contrast, Paul could write in Romans 13 that the government (i.e. Rome) did not bear the sword for nothing and that good people had nothing to fear. Yet in Revelation it is the whore that is known as Babylon. Just as the Constitution itself reveals conflicting interests and concerns in its development Scripture reveals that not all apostolic witness had a completely uniform testimony about the justness of government. Paul was, after all, a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 22:28)

Conservatives may theorize as to why the socialist won high office. They may theorize as to whether he is or isn't a legitimate citizen of the United States. Those things don't matter because over the last eight to fifteen years conservatives have revealed they are no more interested in restricting their powers to those outlined in the Constitution than their political rivals. Once again, to me this goes back to Judah and Samaria. What good did it do one kingdom to consider the other apostate when both were failures with respect to keeping covenant with Yahweh?

ha, here's something that hasn't shown up much in Christian teaching on dating!

An intriguing little article about how anxiety can cause misattribution of sexual arousal. To take a small diversion into the animal world, everyone who has been around a cat knows that a cat can purr. Well, cats are commonly thought to purr when they are happy. This is true. However, cats have also been documented purring when they are severely injured and undergoing a freakish amount of pain. One of the pet theories as to why this happens is that purring happens at a sound frequency that has been demonstrated to promote bone density. In other words purring can function as a response to severe injury and promote the cat's healing process.

Well, by (er) extension, some research indicates that men may consider themselves aroused by an attractive women when the real physical arousal is that they are experiencing anxiety for some other environmental reason. The punchline (and actually serious advice) given in the above article is that one of the ways to exploit this capacity to misattribute physical arousal to sexual attraction is to do, duh, exciting things with a member of the opposite sex so that in doing those things they decide that they like you.

In all the years I heard Driscoll teaching about singleness and dating these things never got mentioned. Now maybe he hit all these things during Peasant Princess and I just missed all the great content. ;-) If I hadn't read an article about attachment theory linked over at Mockingbird I wouldn't have stumbled upon THIS little article linked above.

"Why atheism will replace religion", what will replace it? Sports?

Even the psychological functions of religion face stiff competition today. In modern societies, when people experience psychological difficulties they turn to their doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. They want a scientific fix and prefer the real psychotropic medicines dished out by physicians to the metaphorical opiates offered by religion.

Moreover, sport psychologists find that sports spectatorship provides much the same kind of social, and spiritual, benefits as people obtain from church membership. In a previous post, I made the case that sports is replacing religion. Precisely the same argument can be made for other forms of entertainment with which spectators become deeply involved. Indeed, religion is striking back by trying to compete in popular media, such as televangelism and Christian rock and by hosting live secular entertainment in church.

This doesn't look like a case that atheism is going to replace religion but that sports are going to replace religion as a social bond. For those not into athletics then the arts play that role.

But there are multiple problems with getting that sort of world. Sports and the arts are activities of leisure. To borrow an often abused and over-used buzzword, sports and the arts are all consumeristic activities of the leisure class that are based on unsustainable economic dynamics. Ergo, loads and loads of left leaning secularists talking about global warming. Global warming is paradoxically caused by the very modern, post-industrial societies that tend to increasingly reject any belief in any gods. Atheists can argue that evolution disproves the existence of god but it would appear that the adaptive value of belief in gods didn't lead to humanity's capacity to wipe out all life on the planet. That arose neither through science in itself nor through religion.

The reason atheists should not be content with this rise of sports or arts as the replacement for religion is because, to borrow a page from their rhetorical playbook, the religion of the land is what is used to justify the crimes of the land. Blood doping, drug use, discrimination against the unhealthy. Atheists who argue that religion discriminates against the handicapped will not find an alternative in the culture that surrounds athletics.

In fact in the arts this could explain why people who are horrified at the pedophelia of priests will defend Roman Polanski. The difference is not so much in the nature of the crime as the nature of the criminal. Apparently sexually exploiting minors is unforgivable if you're a priest but forgivable if you're an artist. This is unfortunate proof that the dominant ideology in a culture, whether that ideology is religious or not, is what allows people to excuse and exonerate criminals if what they have done for the culture is considered good enough to protect. Just as priests are protected from the punishment warranted by their crimes because of the investment made in them by a church so people who watch movies have invested enough of their lives and money into a film-maker's work that they will exonerate him for doing what they would never forgive in a priest.

Athletic events are no less susceptible to violence, misogyny, racism, and other vices than religion. What is more it seems to be in athletics that a great deal of religious posturing and genuine expression seem to be happening. It would appear that in lieu of turning to a god for survival and avoidance of death athletes in a post-industrial society can turn to gods as the explanation for why their team won over the weekend. It doesn't sound like a turning away from religion to me. There's no particularly compelling reason any of this looks like evidence that modern western societies will pervade the rest of the world so that people stop believing in gods. After all, those are the consumeristic oil-dependent societies that have been causing global warming and making holes in the ozone layer, right? Sounds just a teensy bit like special pleading can happen with everyone.

a parable

Let the reader who has eyes to read this understand.

Once upon a time there was a young married couple who had just married and were eagerly anticipating the opportunity to change their town for the better. He had a lucrative job and she was a star in the city. Suddenly they discovered they had fallen pregnant. The baby was growing so quickly her job as a star was being compromised and that the husband's position at the company was not nearly as strong as he thought it was. His business skills had limits and her manager said that this was going to be a disaster. She had a major starring role coming up that would be damanged by bringing the baby to term and she had committed to her contract.

A hot debate arose between the husband and wife about how to deal with the unexpected pregnancy. The husband did not have the money to support them and a child and she could not keep working if she brought the baby to term. He decided that they ought to abort the child. But abortion was not legal where they lived and she did not want to risk death with an illegal abortion and proposed bringing the baby to term and then disposing of it. The husband decided to divorce her then and there for proposing to both bring the child to term at his expense then kill it. She agreed to the divorce because she hated his proposing something that would hurt her. She decided to back out of her production and publicly promised to be in a bigger production a year later. Privately she brought the baby to term and then killed it and has gone on to be an even bigger star today. Meanwhile all the gossip columnists are sure that she had a baby and killed it but the woman denies this publicly.

Now which of these two used their power more responsibly with respect to the baby? The husband, or the wife?