Friday, January 28, 2011

big weekend

This is a busy weekend. Tonight I am playing at the Seattle Classic Guitar Society open mic. I'm presenting my guitar sonata in f minor. Tomorrow I'm hitting the Free at the Frye guitar recital and then meeting up with my brother (Totoro-Man) and an old college buddy to catch an anime (I sincerely hope this one is better than the horrifically bad Goro Miyazaki film Tales of Earthsea). Then Sunday I get to wake the dawn (so to speak) and head over to church to prepare my vernacular Magnificat setting for voice, guitar, and cello for communion. Big weekend in terms of music.

On top of all of this one of my housemates is coming home this weekend and he and I have been discussing, er, discussing OT literature and Israelite history. On top of all this I have been making some important bits of progress in the DCAU essay project. Being sick a good chunk of this week and having to sleep on almost everything except music practice may have paradoxically been good for me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

HT to Jared Wilson: "Not Calvinistic Enough"

As it happens, then, the occasional Calvinist's insistence on the exclusivity of the personal gospel -- God/Sin/Christ/Response contra Creation/Fall/Redemption/Consummation -- turns out to be not Calvinistic enough.

This is a salient observation. I don't mind making a polemical observation that piggy-backs off of Jared's comment--if Calvinsts and other Protestant theologians had not spent so many centuries boiling down salvation to a purely personal/transactional understanding of the good news of Jesus then "threats" liked the New Perspective on Paul would have had no breeding ground because the fullness of the Gospel (not to say "the full Gospel" in the old Pentecostal sense) would not have been compromised. Now I know what my Eastern Orthodox relatives might be tempted to say about this. ;) If I'm going to play with ever crossing the river, so to speak, I haven't seen sufficient evidence that Rome has any advantage in antiquity or reliability. As it is, however, I am tempted to quote the German composer Paul Hindemith when he said something like, "I may not be a good Protestant but I am a loyal one." Of course a few years later he converted to Catholicism so maybe I shouldn't say that. ;)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A short musing on dramatic irony in True Grit

Yes, I've seen the Coens' adaptation of True Grit and it's wonderful as well as charming. Of numerous things I find entertaining chief among them is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross who pretty well owns the entire film. One of the great and amusing ironies throughout the story is Mattie's righteous anger at her father's murderer, the proverbial snake-in-the-grass Tom Chaney. When the bumbling and insecure Lebeouf warns Mattie of the snake pit Mattie doesn't pay it any mind until, of course, things are too late. The shot that allows her to avenge herself on Tom Chaney hurls her down into the snake pit where she gets bitten (this is stuff from the novel so after more than half a century I trust spoilers of a novel adapted to film at least twice shoudn't be a problem for you). Cogburn must then ride as swiftly as possible to save Mattie from being killed be the consequences of getting what she most wanted.

The completely impious and worn down Cogburn becomes, ironically, more gracious and considerate of the lives of others than the defiant, self-assured and self-righteous Ross. Of course Mattie isn't wrong to want her killer brought to justice she just refuse to accept what the less pious and more pragmatic marshal and Texas ranger repeatedly point out to her, that justice would be done if they could do things their way, either way being quite a bit simpler than insisting on seeing Chaney hanged or killed for the murder of her father specifically. Wanting justice is not her fault, it is insisting on both justice and vengeance on her own terms that nearly gets Mattie killed.

We can often be like Mattie Ross, convincing ourselves that we are working for justice in the face of imcompetent or indifferent officers of justice. We may discover that when we finally grasp for the thing we want most and think we deserve it stings us with the sting of death. To say that True Grit is a story involving religious faith misses all the ways the story satirizes and inverts expectations. The marshall is an old drunk who has alienated everyone in his life. The ranger as barely competent, insecure, and prone to doing what in modern day paralance would be called self-congratulatory spamming for his in-group. One of the most discussed outlaws in the story, when we finally meet him, turns out to be a surprisingly friendly and principled man. The orphaned young girl turns out to be a self-assured conniving schemer set on getting retribution on her own terms even if it means messing up the pre-existing legal claims against a known and wanted fugitive. Sometimes the good news of Christ in our lives is, as some say, keeping from us the things we think we want most.

Rather than end with the trite observation amongst some Christians that wanting X may be an idol a story like True Grit points out that the problem is both more pernicious and less obvious than that. As T. S. Eliot put it, the highest treason is to do the right thing for the wrong reason. The idol may not be what we want or even entirely why we want it but the self-justifying impulse and self-exoneration we want THROUGH those things. The whole point in the prophet warning us on behalf of the Lord that the heart is deceitful above all things is that it is. You convince yourself that your motives are pure and that the outlaw Tom Chaney is the worst possible sort of coward and scarcely worthy of being called a man and then when you confront him by accident he tells you that the sanctimony and meddling of both you and your father was always a problem. There are times where if we did not think so much of our charity, loyalty, and other characteristics we might not be so upset when those are either not appreciated or become betrayed.

This is a short musing on a story, for me anyway.

theological cyber-punditry and the temptation of the double standard

I more or less live in what you might call a world of the "young, restless and Reformed". Well, maybe not that young or restless since I'm in my thirties but I've lived connected to what has been branded as YRR for short.

In my short time I have seen cyber-pundits of various sorts call out false doctrine on this or that. Sometimes it has been doing a theological smack down on N. T. Wright for being an apostate. Sometimes it's been reading blogs about how Mark Driscoll is unfit for ministry because he uses cuss words (and cuss words at that point are defined however the blogger wants just to reach a foregone conclusion). Sometimes I have seen people blogging about the "epidemic of singleness" as though it were a disease that needed to be eradicated like small pox.

But a common element I have seen in most of these bloggy moments is that at some point in the public spouting something like the following exchange will happen:

Anonymous: You should stop being so judgmental against X because X is a brother in Christ. Did you contact X privately first with your concerns as prescribed Matthew 18?

Poster: No, because public wrongness must be rebuked publicly and because X is wrong there is no need to contact X privately. False doctrine and false teaching must be publicly confronted.

Open fan of X: I know X [i.e. have served in ministry with, read twenty books by, listened to every podcast of, am friends with on Facebook, etc] and you've got X all wrong. You're grossly simplifying and mispresenting X's views

Poster: No, because X chooses to teach things that are wrong and no one on the internet can be wrong without my having to sound off about it, especially if the wrongness involves Holy Scripture. Your personal devotion to X has blinded you to the reality that you don't take scripture seriously like I do.

Then as is wont for the internet, the shoe gets on the other foot. Leave it to Christian bloggers and fans of Christian punditry to want to be able to dish it out but not have to take it. No sooner does the pundit's favorite Christian or own self become subject to the same theo-blogging or cyber-punditry then we see them urging people to be respectful and considerate and take things to private discussion before airing disagreements. It's okay to rip on someone for writing a book like The Shack but publicly slamming someone amongst the YRR as not really Reformed because of views on baptism or sacraments and then a few comments get wiped out. Suddenly failing to adhere to truly Reformed distinctives is something folks can disagree on, at least something people should disagree on in a way that doesn't involve public rancor about the pet subject of the blogger.

It's not really hard to point out that this kind of double standard is a temptation everyone can face. We all want to be rougher on whomever we consider not on the same team than we want to be on our team. The American Calvinist milleu is oddly wonderful at excelling in these things, of course. It's nearly impossible to get too much mileage from John Frame's essay "Machen's Warrior Children" because we've been so great at living out that eagerness to fight about doctrinal matters that are not even close to primary.

We convince ourselves they are primary, however, often because we have anchored real-world concerns into second and third level doctrines or even lifestyle preferences that have nothing to do with doctrine at all. There are neo-Calvinists congregations that have reflexively favored alcohol consumption simply to not seem legalistic. There are other neo-Calvinist congregations that fixate on postmillenialism as a motive for action when it isn't necessarily a better approach to motivating Christian activity than other things. Certainly in many, many places attempting to fix society's problems (as "we" see them) regarding gender roles has often become a defining characteristic of neo-Calvinist church life.

When I "discovered" a few neglected nuggets of Calvinist hymnody I was "assisted" in this process of discovery by a Lutheran. :) He helped out in clarifying a few textual elements and elements of musical phrasing. I am a Calvinist but I have always, so far as I have been able to tell, been a rather bad Calvinist. What I mean to say is that my cage phase was chiefly a reaction to what I felt were excesses in charismatic/TBN-influenced theology. I overdid it a bit but then most orthodox Christians might say that it would be tough to blame me for wanting to move as far away from Third-stream Latter Rain Rick Joyner style theology! I don't blame myself for wanting to distance myself from that stuff as much as possible. But here's the thing, along the way I resolved to not speak or think of non-Calvinists as holding to heresies. I don't particularly share in Jonathan Edwards' sentiment that Arminianism was then as bad as open theism is now. I don't hold to that view (Arminianism) obviously but I don't believe there is ultimately any benefit in establishing a polemic about it. I'm okay with Lutherans being Lutherans and Methodists being Methodists and so on.

Along the way I have seen a lot of this double standard I have described. It is one of those things that I find embarrassing on behalf of my theological clan. I'd find it embarrassing on behalf of any intellectual tribe but I find it more embarrassing for my theological clan because as a friend put it, you'd think that people who are big on "the doctrines of grace" would have a shred of humility to them but often they don't.

The biggest bump to this usual pattern in Calvinist blogdom was Steve Camp's eventual change of heart about his blogging on Mark Driscoll. I'm not going to attempt to replicate everything Camp blogged about Driscoll because he removed all his older posts and in deference to that I'm not going to reproduce any of the stuff I read. I'll just say that even big fans of Steve Camp the person will recognize what Camp recognized. I have myself made some fairly trenchant criticisms of Driscoll as exegete, theologian, scholar, and demagogue but the thing is that despite my numerous differences with the man I have never forgotten he's a brother in the Lord and I have seen no reason to question whether or not the Lord has providentially established him as an elder. I can, as he might put it himself, find ways to salute the uniform while adamantly disagreeing with him on a few other things. In other words if Driscoll and I were to discuss or debate theology in person (we've done it and both had a pleasant time of it so don't assume we haven't) I believe that despite our various respective character flaws we can both trust that whatever our myriad mistakes what we'd be trying to be to each other is iron sharpening iron.

Camp, for a while, was not so good at that and it was a pleasant surprise to see that he had a change of heart not about his misgivings about Driscoll's pulpit mannerisms or handling of scripture but about his own heart in the process of expressing those concerns. It is entirely possible to be "right" in substance but so wrong in style that you lose any traction you could have had even in the things you were right about. The Reformed blogosphere seems to be one in which guilt is imputed even in cases where someone's motives do not need to be questioned. It's not enough for us to say that someone handled a biblical text irresponsibly or made a point too acerbically.

We theo-bloggers have to zero in on what we assume the problem of the heart is. "Seeking to address the heart" becomes shorthand for us judging the motives of someone else in the guise of discerna-blogging. It may have been this more than some other cultural qualities of character that inspired the late Internet Monk to bid farewell to Calvinism. I'm not willing to bid farewell to Calvinism myself but I can certainly see how many people have been inspired to bail on the whole tradition simply on the basis of the humility deficit amongst those most eager to tell everyone else how they have bungled the doctrines of grace and have done so so graciously.

What was disappointing to see was that there are some folks who were fans of Camp's take-downs of Driscoll as a kind of theological gladitorial theater. I've seen a few "discernment ministries" and they can often be an argument by hamster-wheel example for a church that has a shared confession and a creed. If you don't then you're doomed to keep reinventing the wheel and constantly having an ad hoc response to every cultural or social issue that presents itself as a theological problem.

The risk inherent in this kind of theological blogging or church culture is that your anchoring point can stop being in a common confession and can start being in the common process theology (to wit) of figuring out who really isn't on the same page as you theologically or on ecclesiology (which is the same thing as ethics, praxis, you get the idea). Of these things and their outworkings as making Baptists the butt of jokes there is no end.

Circling the wagons around a core confession of the triune nature of Yahweh and the kingdom of Christ is central. Most of the time when Christian cyber pundits and bloggers circle the wagons it's around things of a decidedly lesser order than that. We hitch our wagons to lesser stars than the bright and morning star while convincing ourselves we have picked the highest and best. We are still tempted to say "I am of Paul" or "I am of Apollos" and being Corinthians.

HT Psyblog: cognitive dissonance

Sunday, January 23, 2011

despite the flurry of recent activity I'll be on another hiatus

I have too many things going on with musical activity and the job hunt to keep up my recent rate of production for long. I have also made some small but still significant breakthroughs in my pending DCAU survey project for Mockingbird. Most importantly, though, my family and I finally managed to have "Christmas" after a whole month's worth of consecutive delays due to numerous family illnesses. Everyone is generally in fair health and I'm hoping to finish an essay series on the DCAU as soon as I can manage. "Soon as I can manage" has just been mitigated by numerous non-bloggy real-world concerns.