Saturday, February 26, 2011

link: Publisher sues Benny Hinn for moral turpitude

One commenter asked whether it was biblical for a publisher to sue Hinn about moral failings. The question seemed rhetorical with an assumption that the answer is "no" the publisher shouldn't be able to sue Hinn. Hinn admitted to a relationship with White and then agreed to pay back the advance given to him by the publisher for a few books which, to date, he has not done. In this case telling the publisher "Why not rather be wronged?" is to say Hinn is allowed to not keep his word and pay back money he was given on the trust that he was acting in good character. Sure, I don't know all the facts involved but if it's verifiable that Hinn promised X in response to Y and then has not fulfilled his promise its his breach of contract.

Or, as Mark Driscoll put it a few years ago, an awful lot of Christians like to say Christians shouldn't sue each other as a way to give themselves a biblically quoted loophole for doing shoddy and unprofessional work and that he'd seen a few Christians abuse the no lawsuits teaching to defraud fellow believers. Unsurprisingly, Driscoll has posted a link to this over on his twitter. Obviously I have had my differences with Driscoll on a few key issues over the last few years but on the subject of Hinn my hunch is Mark and I are in basic agreement.

Friday, February 25, 2011

your anger destroys, Christ's anger raises the dead

Do not be quick to be angry for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:9 is a verse that I hope I do not forget for a long time. There is a wealth of beautiful, if grim, observations in Ecclesiastes but one of the highest concentrations of these observations surely lays in chapter 7. yet these grim observations are reasons for hope if in a paradoxical way. To know that anger lodges in the heart of a fool is to recognize a path toa void, a path many have seen embraced but have seen end in ruin.

What makes the melancholy observations of Ecclesiastes a bit more "meta" if you will is that I have seen people who have touted the wisdom and beauty and realism of Ecclesiastes while flagrantly ignoring its advice, particularly the advice of THIS passage. I've seen people not only be quick to be angry but to lionize it as a demonstration of God-approved behavior. I have seen others embrace wrath as a way to powerfully motivate action. I now cannot help but consider, having long since heard Tim Keller's sermon "The Furious Love of Jesus" that the wrath of Christ raised Lazarus from the dead while the synoptics do not actually tell us Jesus cleansed the temple in anger.

I know a few too many Christians who would attempt to say that when Jesus cleared teh Temple He was angry. I know why people may wish it to be so but the biblical text does not actually say Christ was angry. We have to infer that from thetext. Yet John tells us plainly that Christ at Lazarus' toom was quaking with rage. Still, it is easier (as I blogged earlier) for Christians who want to justify their own actions taken in wrath to cite Jesus cleansing the Temple because it's easier to invoke our Lord acting in a way that destroys a small evil than to invoke our Lord's wrath that leads Him to raise a man from the dead. Arguably money-changers ripping people off is not as great a terror or evil in the universe as death itself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Link, by way of Fearsome Tycoon: Priestly Rants: Wal-Mart Jesus

I discovered this blog by way of Fearsome Tycoon linking to another entry in it and so I have decided, since I'm in a linky mood this week, to link to an entry I found intriguing.

A lion dies on Broadway

As the lion's eyes grew dim
and life withered in his bones
he felt his lungs burdened by
the weight of too many years.
His claws were dull, but his ears
could hear the panting of dogs
revolving around him,
ebbing and flowing,
like the rustling of the grass.

The last thing he felt
was the close of jaws upon him
and the scuffling on his flesh
of claws that could not retract.
He felt his life bursting forth
like opened floodgates--
Dull but insistent pain,
every victory and pleasure draining
as he felt dogs cleaning his ribs.

And in the moment before darkness
swallowed him, at last, whole,
he thought to himself,
"At least I was no dog."

First draft, just riffing on a passage in Ecclesiastes. Don't judge it too harshly or consider it, er, too meaty.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Not every revolution that succeeds is a success and not every revolution that fails is a failure

I have often found myself interested in the things Anne Applebaum has written in the last decade about international politics. She has written recently about revolutions that have been afoot in the Middle East and has pointed out that not all revolutions that fail in the short term fail in the long run. Not all revolutions that succeed in the short term bring about lasting change.
Want to take a wild guess where I might go with this? Yes, to the young, restless and Reformed. After a decade of being connected to and observing the YRR's the older I get the more convinced I am that what was once the emergent/emerging muddle is redistributing itself back into, you guessed it, the standard conservative and liberal Protestant streams that the emerging/emergent movement was supposedly going to differentiate itself from. For a few short years I genuinely believe it was possible this was not going to be the case but as far back as 2002 if people asked me what Mars Hill was theologically I would say, without hesitation, "basically we're Reformed Baptists". I don't think any0ne who looks at the ecclesiological and sociological data would disagree if he or she were honest. The young Calvinist bucks from ten and fifteen years ago are reinventing the wheel and the wheel is the Calvinist Baptist tradition or the Presbyterian tradition. I have thrown my hat into the ring of the Presbyterian tradition because compared to the Calvinist Baptist crowd there's less wheel reinvention going on.

I could feel bad or cranky that this seems to happen in each generation in the Reformation but that's how it is. It's also how it is in each generation of life within the Church. We are called to rediscover the wheel. Our reinvention of the wheel might be better described as discovering for ourselves what the apostles and saints have passed on to us. There will inevitably be things that we succeed and fail in apprehending. As God permitted the kingdom of Israel, His people, suffer division and schism prior to the coming of Christ in the first Advent I am less shocked, now that I'm in my somewhat later thirties, to realize that God is perfectly content to let schisms and disruptions happen in the Church even though He has disapproved of it. God permits many, many terrible things He doesn't approve of but nevertheless permits.

J. I . Packer once gave a lecture series in which he points out that if we look at the lives and work of the Puritans we will see that they all failed to achieve the reforms and changes they aspired to for the Church of England. Those of us who arrived at adulthood in the last fifteen years have seen a few church movements come and go and have begun to settle into more old school stuff. Do we all regret that we were part of that emerging/emergent/young restlesst Reformed thing? Probably not, probably not even most of us, excepting maybe the resentful ex-Christians and that's another matter.

But I suppose what sticks with me is that we must remember not to make the prosperity gospel mistake of equating success and influence with godliness. For every First Great Awakening we can cite there's always a Second Great Awakening. We can talk ourselves into believing we're on the train that is the next first great awakening but people have been doing that in America for centuries. I don't wish to get into all the rigamarolle about Americans, revivalism, and those cultural and historical currents. Just as every generation of premillenial dispensationalists has been tempted to believe Jesus would have to come back in their lifetimes so every generation of revivalist-influenced Americans hopes that THIS generation will be the one that transforms the world for Jesus. Despite any premillenial dispensationalist stuff everyone ends up being as giddy as an ambitious post-millenial historicist at the idea that we can make the world a better place and hand it to Jesus on a silver platter.

Maybe that's why the Lord has allowed things like World War 1 to happen, to take the wind out of the sails of a generation of Christians eager to congratulate themselves in the name of the Lord for their faithfulness and obedience, and talking about how they would usher in a new great age in the history of God's people that would be remembered for generations like the great saints of old.

If memory serves there is a whole wonderful, bewildering and terrifying genre of iterature in the canon for those kinds of people. I hear rumors that some people refer to this as prophetic literature. Did the prophets ever successfully convince God's people to turn from their path back to the Lord? Yet the failures of the prophets were not merely immortalized, they were canonized. Something to consider when we wish to see the success of a ministry or movement as a sign of the Lord's blessing and favor and, worse yet, of our own faithfulness and obedience.

Link:The Misnomer of Righteous Anger--human fallability and biblical authors

One of the things Wendy pointed out in her post about righteous anger as a misnomer among Christians is that it is popular to point out that Jesus got angry and cleansed the Temple. This can often be cited as a rationalization that Christians can and should be angry. I suppose that if a Christian wants to rationalize acting in wrath the Temple cleansing is substantially easier than Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead! It's easier to have our wrath motivate us to destroy someone's property than to raise someone from the dead! Don't believe me? Well, go get yourself Tim Keller's sermon "The Furious Love of Jesus" and listen to that sermon (head over to Redeemer Presbyterian's website in case you don't know who Tim Keller is or have ever heard of him before).

But I propose that there is a simple reason a Christian may prefer to invoke the wrath of Jesus rather than other biblical authors. Most other biblical authors reveal their profound fallability. How many men have I heard in the realm of the young, restless and Reformed who talk about king David being some whiny emo boy? You would think these theo-bloggers with beards and toddlers were manlier than a person who by his own account killed a bear when he was a child and who figured out how to protect his father's sheep from lions and won a substantial victory for his country in single combat against a neighboring army. Oh, but, well, David was a whiny emo boy, eh?

But we get stuck because David wrote psalms that are prophecies and in scripture. Nehemiah wrote a book. Daniel wrote a book. Jeremiah wrote a book. One of the things Christians have to wrestle with is that we affirm that no one is righteous, not even one. All people are sinners being saved by grace and yet we also affirm the truth and reliability of the scriptures. This confronts us with an awkward paradox which, I believe, is part of what makes it so easy for Christians to misappropriate and abuse the scriptures. We want to conflate the words of men through which the Word of God has been given us so that we can eliminate the human voice (which I admit has been my big hang up over much of my life). Or if we don't fall prey to that temptation we do what most theological liberals do, which is to assume an equivalency between any claim of divine origination with the presumption of such by human authors which allows us to screen out whatever we dislike in the scriptures to not rock our own boats too much.

Now Docetism proper is a heretical teaching regarding the nature of Christ but there can be a sort of scriptural docetism which posits that not only is the whole of scripture infallable and inerrant but of necessity the vessels through whom the word of the Lord came can be taken as prescriptive in example. To put it most simply, it's the mistake of assuming that what did happen in the biblical narrative is what the Lord "wanted" to happen by way of prescriptive rather than permissive will. Just because Solomon came into power the way he did does not mean God desire that that was the way it happened. Conflating what are often called the decretive and permissive wills of God is the fastest path to a form of ontological monism regarding the divine. In other words, the hyper-Calvinist (and all other practicing Christians would say Calvinists as a whole are guilty of this) comes off as essentially a kind of pantheist in which EVERYTHING must be taken as a manifestation of the divine will.

One of the points Wendy made that I believe will at some point warrant a separate blog entry (which, I guess, I'm writing now) is that simply because something is described in scripture does not mean we should emulate. Wendy, by referring to Nehemiah's wrath, is going so far as to point out that not only are we to avoid emulating certain behaviors described in the scripture we are also required to discern character flaws in the biblical authors themselves that we must avoid. It is interesting that in the neo-Calvinist realms I have been in that there is a definite set of prejudices and preferences with respect to this challenging task. The verdict has been to conspicuously cite David's whiny emo nature, self-aggrandizing, capacity for deceit, and his sexual ethics as flaws to avoid. Solomon's henotheistic bent and polyamory are held in proper disdain. Samson's being a stupid horndog is also held as something to avoid.

But what about Samuel's shameless nepotism and self-pity when he was confronted about the wickedness of his children? What about David's timidity in tackling the wickedness of his most powerful military and political allies? What about David's striking up pacts with pagan empires as a way to create military and financial security? What about Jehoshephat's clinging to traditions and attempting to forge alliances with the wicked? What about Amaziah's righteousness that lasted only as long as he obtained political and financial victories, after which he simply appropriated the gods of the very people against whom Yahweh had given him victory? What about Nehemiah's wrath? What about the possibility that at least some biblical scholars have proposed that Ezekiel may have been, well, insane? I don't really need to get into the various things theologians and commentators have said about the weeping prophet, do I?

All o fthis is to say is that if we take seriously that all are fallible save the Lord then we must reckon with the reality that there will be manifestations of human sin and failure even within the scriptures that, paradoxically, does not mean we are not reading the word of the Lord and least of all does not mean we cannot benefit from it.

I can't really begin to broach all of these issues since it would entail the entirety of scripture. I do have a few haphazard suggestions off the top of my head having read the scriptures almost my whole life.

1) First and foremost recognize that the character flaws of a biblical author are real but that this does not nullify the importance of their contribution to scripture.

Samuel had an even worse problem with nepotism as a way of choosing leaders than Eli did and Eli was explicitly punished by God for his nepotism allowing him and his sons to get fat off of the sacrifices of His people. We don't know in detail why Samuel ended up having the same leadership failings as Eli because Eli was basically his functional father figure. It doesn't require a lot of explanation but it does require that we remember this failure being passed on. Samuel may have been right to point out that Israel was asking for a king sinfully because they didn't trust the Lord but it is equally true that Samuel wasn't above self-pity and reproach based on resentment because he felt rejected by the people and because he wanted to justify himself even in his failures over against a people he believed owed him more respect.

But Samuel is still a man of God we can respect and emulate for his willingness to share difficult messages at difficult times. At his best he did what propets were supposed to do, share the worst possible news without sugar-coating it any way in an attempt to warn people away from a path they were travelling that would only end in death.

2) We must recognize that, strangely, God can actually use the worst character traits of a person to accomplish a purpose we may never know about.

It's easy to talk smack about Samson but Samson is mentioned as a hero of the faith. Why? He was a stupid bloodthirsty horndog who wasn't even that bright. He had no problem pursuing foreign women as wives and ignoring the advice of his parents. Yet scripture makes it plain that God intended to use all of these things as a way to punish the Phillistines. God can even use the worst character flaws of a person to accomplish His purposes. At no point are we ever told that Samson himself was ever aware of this.

3) The massive character defects of those whom Yahweh has chosen to use do not necessarily disqualify them from the role for which He has appointed them.

Too many Christians seem to assume that this or that character flaw automatically and permanently disqualifies a man or a woman from having this or that role. To get pointy about this, the president of the united states is providentially placed there by the Lord regardless of how fit or unfit you think he/she is for the position. Same goes for your dad and mom. In any event you can't control those circumstances anyway so even if you aren't religious you know full well that crying over spilled milk won't change anything. As a certain author put it, memoirs about childhoods full of frustration does not merit writing yet another memoir about an unremarkable or pedestrian life. That is another thought for another time.

All of this is to say that God seems to rejoice in using people not merely despite their sins and weaknesses but, perhaps this is going too far, even because of those sins and weaknesses.

4) [As Wendy's own blog entry and subsequent comments reveals] One role of prescriptive passages in scripture is to help shed light on descriptive passages in scripture. If in the psalms or the apostolic epistles we are told that human anger never brings about the righteousness or jusitce of God we must bear this in mind when reading Nehemiah's frequently self-justifying narrative. What this does not mean is that we, say, ignore passages of Proverbs that say things we don't like on the basis of character flaws ascribed to Solomon. The first reason for this I have already explained but the second reason is because Solomon clearly authorized the compilation of the book of Proverbs and did not actually come up with all that material himself.

Second of all, since the authorship of Ecclesiastes is not universally agreed upon even by conservative scholars we must recognize that the way ancient patronage in the arts worked was that the patron could and did accept authorship or ownership of works created on his behalf by others. In other words, dear reader, by ancient standards you can't dismiss the wisdom shared in the scriptures attributed to Solomon because it's frequently his presenting material he has collected to begin with, which means his character flaws described in Kings and Chronicles can't be held against him if there's something in Proverbs you don't like.

That's about all I feel like writing on the subject for now. My aim is merely to broach a broader subject that Wendy's recent post on Practical Theology for Women opens up. We should neither denigrate biblical authors and consider them unuseful once we have discovered they were sinners like us. Nor should we attempt to exonerate them in the midst of their failures because we feel we must do so in order to see to it that the scriptures are still seen as the inspired word of God. They will still be this even after we recognize in biblical authors some of the sins we ourselves struggle with.

In fact, now that I think of it, one of the bad habits in the young, restless and Reformed crowd has often been to pass judgment on the weakness of biblical figures who possessed character flaws the speaker in question believes he does NOT have. A guy who is a music pastor or a preacher or a blogger who laments David's whiny emo boy status probably does not see himself as being capable of David's self-pity or deceit or pragmatism or susceptibility to the physical charms of an attractive woman. We in our Christian walk can find it most easy to criticize those flaws we can't even conceive we would ever have ourselves. But the apostles warned us about that. If anyone thinks he stands take heed lest he fall! Just as we should not forget that biblical authors struggled with sins we should be cautious in citing a biblical author's virtues (as we see them) as mirroring our own. That becomes a terribly surreptitious way in which we place ourselves above the scriptures having convinced ourselves that what we're really doing is submitting ourselves to the scriptures.

At a personal, devotional level I end up studying commentaries. I end up reading and rereading. I end up discussing the scriptures with any and all friends and family interested in discussing the scriptures. I don't say this merely as a pious platitude. I need to discuss the scriptures because it is often in discussing and debating what a passage refers to that I can gain some insight both into the scriptures and myself, particularly blind spots about myself or about the ways in which the Lord works and the Lord's character. There are points where I have to confess I don't understand what a biblical author is getting at or why they express certain emotions or ideas in the way they do and want to know how and why that is the case. Conceding the possibility that in some cases some of the most interesting or frustrating figures in scripture are those people who have similar or dissimilar character flaws helps me better understand what the Spirit has seen fit to give us in the scriptures for our benefit.

Link: Internet Monk: "The Real Prosperity Gospel"

Chaplain Mike resposted this as an iMonk classic, and it is a classic. For that reason I'm posting a link to it again because Michael's writing has been a staple in my life over the last ... has it really been nine years?

sometimes one good troll deserves another

Social networking tools are curious things. It is through them that I became familiar with the term "troll". It probably goes without saying that if you are even able to read this you have, at some point, probably learned what a troll is. I was born in the generation that had my teen years virtually behind me by the time the internet was invented so the term "troll" was coined, in all likelihood by someone in my generation. We know that the troll is someone who will, like the of-synonymous flame-baiter, seek out making incendiary and controversial statements, pull back, and then watch the fireworks. He or she has more fun being the center of negative attention than not getting any attention at all.

Well, a curious quality many (though not all) trolls have is a self-righteous capacity to play the game and not necessarily want to be on the receiving end of it. The troll has no problem going to someone else's page, whatever it may be, and making a comment about how stupid or liberal or conservative or terrible a person is by virtue of professing an unfeigned affection for something. Turn things around and tell the troll he or she is a troll and protests ensue. Trolls have, at least sometimes, a pronounced preference for dishing out rather than taking the treatment they traffic in.

One person in particular who increasing seems to me to have a weakness for trolling can troll merrily along in his own page. That's what personal pages are for. But he got upset that someone showed up from his past and told him he was wrong. It's too bad that happens but this guy himself, a few years ago, went to another person's personal page and declared the guy was a fan of ignorance and racism on the guy's own page. When the guy said they could disagree and still be friends the troll said they were not even friends and wouldn't be and that if this kind of reply to him went any further he was going to report harrassment. The troll didn't seem to put together that if the people who oversaw those kinds of things actually looked at the situation they would say HE was the one making harrassing remarks on other people's pages.

So while I sort of sympathize with the reality that it feels aggravating to have people show up on something you worked on and posting flaming remarks or calling you an idiot or what have you that's just how web pages are. Anonymous flame-baiting is just part of the internet and if there's anything social networking tools and discussion forums have revealed it's that even when you have to use your real name to participate in a discussion the internet can bring out the worst in people because your "self" on the internet is always a persona even when you are being most honest and most yourself.

The problem isn't so much that "you" aren't real it's that like any constructed mediated reality (I just revealed I was a communications major, eh?) the message is never the whole thing. The perception of you will be still another thing than your presentation of yourself to others as perceived by yourself. You can think you are a correctly-thinking person who is put-upon by the ignorance and evil of lesser people and the rest of the world, without much error, will possibly perceive you as a touchy, self-righteous jerk excepting those people who are already disposed to think everything you say is right and true and awesome and you could STILL be a jerk precisely because of who your fan club is. As the old axiom has it, birds of a feather flock together.

I am at a stage in my life where having looked for work for a bit more than a year and using social networking tools to stay in touch with people I rarely get to see I notice that, well, some of the people I used to hang out with a lot are frequently trolls. I don't say that to suggest they don't have many qualities I can respect and even admire. It would be wrong to dismiss the troll as merely a troll because trollish behavior invites that. Indeed, it does invite that and it may well be an adult variation of the old proverb that some children would rather have negative attention than be ignored.

But the thing is that to merely dismiss the troll as just a troll is to do to the troll what the troll does to everyone else, which is to judge and dismiss entire categories of humanity on the basis of pre-established types. I have seen this all the time between liberals and conservatives, radicals and reactionaries, the religious and non-religious. A man who hates all people from the American South is no better than the racist Republican inbred hicks he or she thinks are worthy of his contempt.

On the other hand, there is a time to not respond to a fool according to his folly or you become a fool like him, but there is also a time to respond to a fool according to his folly. Answer a fool according to his folly or he shall become wise in his own eyes. Of course with some fools it's far too late to hope that responding to a fool according to his folly will prevent him from becoming wise in his own eyes. And by extension even the fool has more hope than someone who is wise in his own eyes. It is best to consider, above all else, that it is better to actually be a fool than to c0nsider yourself smarter than the average bear (even if you ARE smarter than average the race is not to the swift, nor victory to the strong, nor riches to the wise but time and chance happen to them all).

Sometimes a troll deserves the posts of a troll but I would rather not be a troll at all. Still, I must say that at times I have been a troll and that everyone will be a troll to someone at some point. This is why in the big picture of the internet it is necessary to at some level not condemn trolls by the measure trolls condemn others as trolls. It is also necessary, at times, to reply to trolls in such a way as to lead them to reveal the trollish nature of their enterprise. If you want to troll all you want on your own space that's what it is. It isn't even technically trolling. :) Trolling is, so to speak, when you take your trollish disposition and share it as a gift that keeps on giving in someone else's space. So don't be a troll but if you find that you are a troll then bear with more equanimity those that troll you. Do not take to heart everything that people say or you will hear your servant cursing you and you know that you have yourself many times cursed others.

See, trolls existed even in the times of biblical authors before the internet was ever invented. As Ecclesiastes put it at the outset, there is nothing new under the sun? Do you see trolls on the internet? Oh, well, they were in existence long ago!