Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Recycled material: Meditation on John 1:1-5

O Word of God who formed the sun,
Who formed the billions and the one;
O God, the Word, who made all things,
Whose praise the universe still sings;
Our origin and end you are
And in all things we prove your power.
Of you we can't be over-awed
O Word who is true God with God.

O Life who is the fount of life
In spurning you we loved our strife,
Your breath is how we came to breathe,
Your health our sickness will relieve;
Your blood makes our dead hearts to beat
And makes our withered hands complete;
O Life of Life you can decree
That e'en the blindest eye may see.

O Light that makes the cosmos shine
Please fill our minds with light divine,
That with yourself our hearts may glow
And you our darkness overthrow.
O Light in whom no shadow lies
Give sight to all our blinded eyes
That we may see you are the Word,
True Life and Light to all the world.

I wrote this poem between January and March 2007 and posted it in March of `07. It took months of work and was a slow and steady process. If it weren't obvious already I had been immersing myself in a lot of the poetry of John Donne around the same time I was reading John's Gospel. I tried setting the poem to music but never successfully made any music that I felt properly fit or set the text. I trust it's obvious that I was (and would be) going for a simple four-part chorale/hymn setting. I'm simply a competent poet, if even that, but since my church is heading into a series on John and since I wrote this poem inspired by reflecting on the famous first five verses of that gospel I thought I'd repost this.

You may notice a slight change or two if you compare this version to the version I originally posted. The differences are small but not subtle. I made the revisions I made (if you read the original, can you spot them?) so as to avoid what I considered to be overly synergistic implications in the original form of the poem. In case you hadn't noticed it in my blog entries since 2006 I kinda care about theological stuff. :)

Monday, September 05, 2011

list of things to write about later.

In Christianese parlance this is so you dear readers can "hold me accountable".

I am interested in writing a bit about Michael Card's lecture on Job from years ago, particularly about his observation that the book of Job as a character drama shows us Job attempting to complete a lament offered to God that is constantly interrupted by his friends who insist on correcting Job's theology. I could write a lot about that but I feel I should save that for later.

I am interested in writing about Scheibe's polemic against the music of Bach and how that connects, in its tangential way, to the polemics of northern German music critics against Haydn later in the same century. Say what? Well, criticisms of Bach and Haydn are instructive because 18th century criticisms shed light on a shift in 19th century perspective regarding Bach and Haydn. I hope to get to the question of what is "authentic" and how 19th century musicians and scholars had some diffidence about Haydn because he wrote for the Man (a royal court) and Bach wrote for the Church. Both were happy to do what amounted to work-for-hire yet both were so collosally influential their work was unavoidable.

I want to eventually tackle how in a post-20th century musical world in the West we are at a point where no more rules can really be broken and we can take up what Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer considered the important musical revolution musical academia has mostly failed to address, fusion. I plan to suggest down the road (as I already have) that in such a setting a Mozart or a Beethoven is not likely to be a composer who matters in our time, or maybe even a Stravinsky. The composers who have made works that have really resonated in pop culture (and not necessarily academic culture) are folks like John Williams, popular composers whose path to a willing audience has been through integration and assimilation, fusion in other words. When we consider the fusion of white and black American music that led to rock and roll this is not very surprising but it would take a lot of time to explore.

I have more I wish to write about "I see things" down the road and about some points I consider cessationists to have even though I believe the polarity between cessationism and charismatic theology is itself irreducibly problematic. I have come to this view because I have noticed how much both groups try to front load their goals for ecclesiology and liturgical order back on to biblical texts that do not necessarily support either agenda.

But as I was hinting at earlier this week I've still got a lot of work to do writing for Mockingbird. With the twentieth anniversary of Batman: the animated series coming up I still have a lot more work I want to do fleshing out how and why this cartoon was so revolutionary. It may seem like a small thing but Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Batman is a pop culture character who emerged in the post-Cold War era and transitioned easily into the post 9/11 era. I also have a polemic in the works about Joseph Campbell and how pop cultural artifacts like Transformers and comics and sports become religious/cultural narratives. Trek fans "may" look forward to the case I plan to make for why Star Trek is genuine pop culture mythology while Star Wars is little more than merchandising exploitation of the monomyth as a brand. Real myths and the monomyth are not the same thing but I should save my debt to Jeffrey Burton Russell's cross-cultural examination of the Faust myth as a refutation of Campbell for later.

amidst a certain amount of chaos I am still working on some projects

The last month or so have not been the greatest months in terms of focus. I attended the funeral of a relative; I came home from said funeral of relative to discover my roommates and I had major housecleaning to do that needed taking care of; then the next week was spent trying to figure out if terrible headaches and a decline in vision were something as bad as my doctor feared it might be. The good news was that it wasn't as bad as he feared. The bad news is that I have to have cataract surgery during one of the least opportune times in my life to need it. On the other hand, I live in a city with some potentially great resources for getting help for that kind of thing. I have also been trying to keep the fire alive in hunting for steady employment and had a few job leads I needed to devote time to pursuing.

In the midst of all this I have blogged but more important than blogging has been attempting to get my momentum back for the next phase in my big project for Mockingbird. If you read the end of the last series I did about cartoons and 1980s nostalgia you saw that I was setting things up for a set of pieces on Batman: the animated series. Those are still in process. In fact what I consider to be parts 1 and 2 are almost as big as the entire Superman: the animated series project. There are still three more parts to go. And then as I map out what needs to be tackled for Justice League/Justice League Unlimited there's a mountain of stuff to be written there.

I also have a set of polemical essays about pop culture analysis, problematic views of universal narrative and how Christians can get sucked into these kinds of things as ways of "engaging culture" that are neither very scholarly nor in the long run necessarily helpful to a Christian apologetic. That's not to say these ideas I'll be taking issue with are necessarily "Christian ideas" or that the Christians who make use of them are bad Christians, far from it. In fact several of the people I have known who go in some directions I consider unproductive are some of my favorite Christians I've had the pleasure to know! However my aim is not to be that personal in addressing points of difference with people. My aim is to promote discussion of ideas and art. The points where some brothers and I disagree are not nearly so important as the points where we agree.

But as I alluded to above cataract surgery is going to be a big priority in the next month. I also have been trying to make some time to spend time with friends and family. One of my friends had a pretty bad stroke and has been recuperating. Doctors gave her a poor prognosis and told her kids (all friends of mine, which made the news of her stroke pretty rough to hear) that their mother would not speak again in all likelihood. Well, yesterday I was able to play her music I've written for steel-string guitar and classical guitar and I got to hear her use the word "counterintuitive". He ability to speak is taking time to come back and there's a lot of struggle but considering what the prognosis was a month ago she's had some remarkable recovery.

Here I digress strategically to say that I have come to suspect that part of the scriptural encouragement that we believers weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice is that this is, in its way, a way to help us realize that the Lord is faithful to provide for fellow believers in times when our prayers for ourselves so often seem to go unanswered.

I do have other things I mean to write about here but I trust you'll all be patient (those of you who actually follow this blog) if I take some time off, kinda, to write about other things. There's actually a lot of stuff I am looking into writing that may make me have to resist writing on this blog like it's the temptation it has sometimes become.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

I managed to miss this, this year Driscoll says preachers talk too much about sex

The world's biggest pot has called a couple of kettles black. Why can't he just name Ed Young Jr. already? And didn't Driscoll spend a quarter of a year preaching Song of Songs in 2008, having preached it for a couple of months earlier in 1999? Then there was that sermon from 2002 that has been pulled because it involved discussions of sexual techniques and positions. If Driscoll can say in 2011 preachers talk too much about sex is that because he and his wife have finished their book about marriage and because this fall we're going to get Driscoll's next platform for pontificiating about gender? Prior to Driscoll's extended glosses on Song of Songs I would never have imagined that Song of Songs chapters 7 and 2 were about wifely stripteases and oral sex.
I mean, what is it with this guy? I had an agnostic friend in my college days who felt sheepish laughing at mention of the word 69 around me and he knew I was a Christian. Then he felt sheepish about explaining why it was so funny in the context of a Monty Python song. That nonbeliever showed more discretion in talking about sex with a Christian than Driscoll did. I don't wish to get into Driscoll levels of detail but whatever helps Driscoll intended to be for all those already-married guys who want better sex lives, for bachelors, this bachelor anyway, there was a bunch of too much information that I can't quite forget. I will eventually because the human brain is not like a computer or a file case with unlimited space. Stuff gets lodged from the memory eventually.
I mean in break-out sessions for men in 2001-2002 he'd talk about which condoms had spermicides that were unhealthy and I went from being interested in themens' training sessions to wondering, "When am I going to get information I can use?" I don't want information about condoms or spermicides or what has apparently turned into the never-ending question from guys to Driscoll over the years about anal sex. Where before I had some chance of reading Song of Songs and seeing it as in some way referring to Christ post-Driscoll sermons Song of Songs is readable only as Hebrew erotica. In Driscoll's eager hands it became what in my crankiest moments I have referred to as Christian porn, months and months of discourses on wifely stripteases and holy blowjobs and various positions. Even one of my married friends confided to me that despite his being married he found the series to be useless.
When I heard Driscoll via video chuckle and talk about how pastors talk about sex too much from the pulpit I almost snorted in a mixture of disbelief and indignation. If Driscoll thinks pastors are using sex in gimmicky ways he's chief among sinners. It's not as though Peasant Princess, a quarter-year series in 2008, wasn't perfectly timed a year after Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired in a controversial set of decisions related to the Mars Hill by-laws. It's not as though Peasant Princess didn't come after the Doctrine series in 2008 where the pulpit was transformed into a platform for going through new membership materials so that all interested parties could become members on-line. Driscoll said at one point in a Gospel Coalition interview that 1,000 members bailed because of the increased doctrinal standards. What increased doctrinal standards? A harder line on complementarianism? Nope, still women deacons. But a lot of members left after Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired.
A lot of members also left when the elders finally conceded that the big second Ballard campus purchased circa 2005 couldn't be zoned for anything but industrial use. The rest of us ex-members began to do the math and realized that about 1.5 million of church member gifts was dumped into a boondoggle around the same time the pastors very reluctantly conceded that two counseling pastors were fired in the midst of a political battle over church polity. But I do not doubt that in Mark's mind he really believes (now) that 1,000 members left over that stuff. But not everyone even "left". Some people resigned their memberships only to discover they weren't going to be allowed to resign their memberships. Others just never renewed their memberships because renewing a "covenant" every two or three years just starts to feel weirdly skeezy. If the church membership covenant is likened to the covenant of marriage some of us church members who had to keep renewing the covenant over and over again to retain membership began to feel, dare I suggest this, like paying consorts.
So when in 2008 Peasant Princess came on with its quasi anime intro and the weird colors and the months of talking about sex, Driscoll could talk about how fast the church was growing. Huh, it's almost as though there were a science to it all. Maybe, just maybe, Driscoll set up Peasant Princess as a kind of sweeps week to draw in more fish to more than make up for the ones that left because they felt betrayed by a sense that Mars Hill displayed fiscal imcompetence in real estate investment and a lack of transparency in the blunt resolution of political fights? So when Driscoll tells Todd Rhoades that some of the preachers talking about sex get crazy with this pastor talking with his wife on a bed on a stadium it's just ...
God, I don't get it. What is it with these preachers who can sell themselves like Barnum & Bailey and then get on the high horse about other pastors using sex as a topic from the pulpit in gimmicky ways? If any preacher could be cited as a suspect in blatantly using months of sex-talk as a sweeps week style quest for ratings and buts in the seats to recoup a loss of church membership ... you would think Driscoll could be considered at least a nominee. It surprises even me (and I was at Mars Hill from late 1999 to just before Peasant Princess in 2008) that Mark can act as though OTHER pastors talk too much about sex. If he had just coupled this with an admission of "And I am chief of sinners in using sex-talk as a gimmick to attract people" then, okay, I could take him more seriously again.
And, honestly, I kinda want to be able to take him more seriously again. Watching the institution that is Mars Hill grow is bittersweet for me because in my twenties I thought it was something I could be part of my whole life and watch grow into a church unlike anything I'd come across. Ah ... the naivety and foolishness of youth!
It's an unhappy confession to admit that even I was astonished by what Driscoll said to Todd Rhoades. I guess here I tangentially mention that Zizek claims we should not attempt to take refuge in cynicism. We should be willing to be outraged and upset and consider that something is wrong. Okay, you Marxist weirdo, I'll grant you that just this once.
In some ways seeing stuff like that video with Todd Rhoades God has providentially done me a favor. I have been cautious and skeptical about the idea that a generation can really change the world and make a big impact on things. I like to think this caution is scripturally informed and grounded but when I consider the anger and regret of how sold out I was to Mars Hill as a movement I see in it a humbling process that is useful for my spiritual health. There are all sorts of things wrong with my spiritual life and yet I can be grateful that I have been disabused of a quality I often disliked in the Baby Boomers, a naive hubris that "my" generation was going to fix things. I was able, so I thought, to see this hubris in other people, even other people in my generation, but I was not able to see how it was part and parcel of my own heart, too.
And, frankly, I believe that it is a hubris that is central to the heart of anyone and everyone who not only calls Mars Hill home but chooses to see it first and foremost now as a movement and not an institution. The folks who see it as an institution and a nascent denomination? (surely those must exist). You know what? I'm probably okay with those people. If a person could be pragmatic enough to admit to someone that there's such a thing as a pastoral sweeps week move to pull in new members, I might be able to respect that person a little more.
Rather than just rant against Mars Hill as so many bloggers have done, or rave on its behalf as so many others have done, I keep coming back to Mars Hill despite my desires to set it all aside and move on with my life because, well, let's face it, I don't have a life. I haven't had a job in 23 months. I have no money, I don't even particularly have my health in as much as I have to have a cataract removed and things stink on the job search side of things. I look for job leads and try to network. So I kinda have few places to escape to and the things I could use to escape are ... well, not good choices in most cases. I compose music and I read blogs and wonder if I'm really making proper use of my time. I battle depression and the gnawing sensation that I'm not only useless and disposable but that even the things I love most and seem to be est at are useless things that no one should be making a profession or vocation of. In other words, to borrow Driscoll parlance, I have never felt like the things I wanted to do with my life constituted a "real job" or could.
So I am in a place where I'm close enough and far enough about things Martian that I am continually forced to confront something called ambivalence. There are so very many blogs seething with the purity of for or against that sometimes I wonder if God has in some cruel yet providential way gotten me stuck in this ambivalent point to blog ambivalently for reasons I can't even begin to fathom. I could get angry about something stupid Driscoll has said (yet again) and then be grateful that Mars Hill members have helped me in my time of need. I could get exasperated at the gender roles stuff and the weird vibe of self-righteousness I get from newer members, and then be grateful for a chance to help some long-time Mars Hill friends paint their house and get to know their children a little. I can spend time with former pastors and friends who were shunned by the bureaucracy and church culture as "in sin" and yet I still love spending time with the friends I have made at Mars Hill who are still there.
If I could give any advice, as a man who spent nine years there and still has connections there, never make Mars Hill more than a small part of your life, even if you're in leadership there. My big mistake was pouring my whole self into that place. That was a big mistake. If you pour your whole self into anything that's your idol and despite what bloggers may say, churches can be idols. No self-respecting Protestant can deny the reality of this. If a Protestant blogger can say with a straight face that the Roman church is the whore of Babylon or an apostate church then that Protestant blogger has to concede that ANY church can take the role of an idol, especially the church that really, say, teaches the doctrines of grace, or has it together.
So there's a sense in which Driscoll, when he makes self-serving dissembling dumbass jokes about how OTHER pastors use sex as a gimmick it's a humbling reminder that the Lord, whatever He has in store for me, has kept me both near and far with Mars Hill. The ambivalence is often aggravating and humbling, and humiliating. But as the old school Mars Hill people used to always say, we were about exploring tension.

Matt Redmond notices how a pastor manages to fit his own checklist of false repentance on something

Fascinatingly, Matt Redmond points out that within days of Driscoll posting his thing about effeminate anatomically male worship leads he was also posting about false repentance and seven different forms it can take. Redmond, interestingly enough, notes that at least 4, 6 and 7 are prominently on display in Driscoll's non-apology about posting about effeminate worship leaders. But by framing "the real issue" as whether gender is designed or constructed 1 and 5 were easily displayed in the non-apology. After all, since there's this crisis of a lack of real men in the church wasn't it necessary to speak up strongly about the problem of effeminate worship leaders?
Now we are all capable of false repentance in all sorts of areas in our lives but if you and I learn any lesson from Driscoll's facebook scuffle this summer may it be this, that as soon as you dump legions of stuff out there and have a high profile it becomes all the easier for people to put together the realization that you or I or Driscoll can simultaneously talk about signs of false repentance while displaying them. Driscoll showed us 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in his check list of signs of false repentance. That's not a small matter but I am a small person so my pointing this out is probably just an outworking of personal conviction and observation, all of which may be flawed.

Mark Driscoll, cessationists, and God's love letter to us written by committee

I.e. Mark Driscoll says he sees stuff and Christians and unbelievers alike have lots to say about this:


I should mention that most people don't bother to actually source most of Driscoll's statements about spiritual superpowers very accurately. Some statemens he has made come from the 2008 series on Spiritual Warfare (yeah, I did listen to nearly all of it). Other statements are from a "christus victor" sermon that goes all the way back to 2008.

But since Driscoll-preaching 2008 was the great year of recycling whether it was the doctrine series or rehashing stuff from the 2005 Atonement series or letting campus pastors preach through Jonah (they did a good job, actually), and culminating in 2008's quarter-year rerun of Peasant Princess Driscoll critics would do well to recognize that material mentioned in 2008 was frequently material that had been taught in some form or another in the previous nine years. The spiritual warfare marathon was for pastors and leaders and not made available in services. You had to know about it and go looking for it in the audio library in order to find it.

One of the common objections in Team Pyro side of things is that the Spirit couldn't be giving Driscoll these visions because essentially Driscoll says he's shown movies of sexual abuse and affairs and violence. So God divinely siphons hardcore porn into Driscoll's mind and that's spiritual discernment? That doesn't sound like something the Spirit would do. If Driscoll were a true prophet and even a real Christian this couldn't be. Either he's a sideshow salesman of snake-oil or a demonized madman. Driscoll is trotted out as an example of the evils of all continuationist theology. I'm not exactly a continuationist or a cessationist at this point because it strikes me that both sides are essentially playing political and institutional games with the Scriptures to prop up the team they're on that they believe should have more clout. Call that cynical but that's where I'm at.

Considering Driscoll's warnings and lengthy discourses on the perversions of men I must grant Team Pyro and other similar critics a significant point, if Driscoll's so eager to hammer men for sleeping around and watching porno why is it Driscoll claims that God's occasionally downloading the hardest of hardcore stuff into his brain during spiritual counseling sessions? See in my Pentecostal days when someone got the sense the Spirit was showing him or her something things were pretty vague.

Yeah, I already know what both cessationists and atheists would say about that and cessationists have to consider that their being in the same field as the atheist on this is more telling in its way then they are going to admit. The main trouble of a formal cessationist position has been, at its most rudimentary level, building an expectation in Christian life that though we read about miracles and divine guidance in the lives of saints in the scriptures absolutely none of that is for us. Well, the scriptures are for us but everything we get is in the scriptures, which is better than, say, Abraham speaking with God about the city of Sodom, or Moses speaking with Yahweh personally.

You see the reason people like Driscoll can say that cessationism is a road that ultimately leads to atheism is not so much because Driscoll thinks a cessationist like John MacArthur is an atheist. He's a former student of MacArthur's flamboyant, winner-take-all rhetoric, though, so when Driscoll says that the cessationist is basically moving in the direction of atheism (or deism) is because he'z zeroing in on what amounts to a spiritual double standard. We speak confidently about saints in the past, before the canonisation process was done by the still catholic church. But anyone who claims any of those sorts of things may be possible now is basically wrong.

Pentecostalism is rife with all sorts of theological weaknesses but contrary to the claims of various confident cessationists whose goal is merely to make a list of every heresy known to Christendom and draw a straight line through them to modern Pentecostals, the movement began with a dissatisfaction with the deadness of American churches. We can say that while Pentecostalism's "second blessing" pneumatology is deficient and has led to a lot of chaos it would be dishonest historically and in plain old daily life to claim that the average Christian can meaningfully speak about a relationship with God of the sort described in the scriptures.

As Michael Spenser used to put it, there are those of us who are real Christians who don't hear voices in our heads that we are sure are proofs of God's speaking directly to us. As I put it now regarding the cessationist, if the Bible is God's love letter to us then it was a letter put together over thousands of years and overseen in a generation by a committee of people who figured out what manuscripts fit the best description of who Jesus was. The compilation being canonised, we were given the text, those of us who can read anyway, as something we could consult. Given how many people over millenia couldn't read to say that the Bible is God's love letter to us meant that it was for most Christians prior to the printing press a love letter that had to be read to them by someone trained to read. And as love letters go, I suppose it's got the decorum of a love letter a husband would write to his wife that was read to her through either a child or a family servant.

Which gets back to the concerns about Driscoll's super powers. Because, after all, this is all of a piece, it is important to note that many Christians see in the "love letter" analogy how remarkably indirect God is about how He communicates to the vast majority of believers. Anyone who claims to get a special dispensation of spiritual powers has a lot to answer for and rigorous criteria. Of course Driscoll would say he must be meeting those criteria in some way or he wouldn't be getting these things from the Holy Spirit. Of course cessationists say that's precisely what can't be true.

And if it can't, for the sake of discussion, why do American cessationist Protestants spend any time talking about a personal relationship with God when the relationship is so indirect in all its mediated forms that the relationship is, well, mediated through the local church, the local preacher, the personal devotional time, and so on? I mean you take the position far enough what you get is not a deistic position or an atheistic position per Driscoll's polemic, you get the idea that he cannot God call his Father who does not regard the Church as his mother. Where ... oh where do we hear or read these sorts of sentiments? I notice at least one Pyromaniac has been writing for First Things. Well, I guess in a strange sort of way that answers that question, doesn't it?

But no Protestant from a cessationist camp would say "I don't really have a personal relationship with Jesus". They can't say that! If they did they'd have to concede the Church/church/God's people play an indispensable and unavoidable role in mediating the presence of Christ to His people. We can't have that! The solas! Of course there are plenty of Protestants who grant that ordinary means of grace are essential to Christian living but there are plenty of cessationists who don't really want to affirm that, or won't affirm it officially. There aren't any sacraments except baptism and communion, but the 39 Articles or the Westminster Confession, or the Book of Common Prayer, or the Book of Hours, or the Canon of Repentance, or the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Pentecostals are all heretics because they claim to have spiritual superpowers but that's not, having grown up in Pentecostal circles, what drives their theology. They want to be able to feel the presence of God. How dare they want that. Bad, bad Pentecostals! You should be content with the love letter from God compiled by committee read to you by other people instead of wanting the heretical emotional experiences of actually being shown or told you are loved by the Lord.

I have other directions I want to go with respect to reflecting on the role God's people play in mediating His presence in the world but that will take time. The thing I notice about what Christians (Protestants at least) say and don't say about a "personal relationship" with Jesus on these kinds of occasions is that we pay lip service to an idea we know we don't live. The reason liberals and non-evangelical Christians consider evangelicals and fundamentalists to be jokes of spirituality is that we have a history of shouting about how we've got a "real" relationship with the risen Christ all those other Christians, if we dare even call them Christians, just can't possibly attain. Oh, except for those stupid Pentecostals. But if we admit that we DON'T have a personal relationship with God in the vast majority of our lives then we're in a place that may be scary.

So while Driscoll can get assaulted rhetorically by people who can't believe God would show him sexual assaults and I grant there's some seriousness to those concerns, if we put it in the context of the lip service evangelicals and fundamentalists pay to the "personal relationship with Jesus", we begin to see the lady doth protest too much. These are people who are complaining that a man publicly talks about how God gives him spiritual super powers to do his job as a pastor. Well, THAT can't be right! But if it isn't right ... then what is a "real" "relationship" with Jesus supposed to look like? Reading that church committee assembled love letter from Jesus, or having it read to you if you're not literate?

If that's a personal relationship with the risen Christ that's an awfully indirect one! It's like you're a junior high boy and you get a note from a girl who got it from a girl who's friends with a girl who says she likes you. You sit there wondering why the girl can't just come up to you and talk with you. Well, so it is with the cessationist conception of God. It's not that the girl doesn't exist, it's that if you're being told you need to have a personal relationship with and personal faith in Christ it sure would be handy if there were some, as Josh McDowell loves to put it, evidence that demands a verdict. She likes me! I got this note.

And for junior high boys that is, for a time, good enough. In fact I would suggest that a proper eschatological understanding of Christ and His work tells us that this actually is the kind of personal relationship with God we have. It's just not how evangelicals and fundamentalists want to sell the relationship because if they did that a lot of people would realize that it's not so different from the "impersonal" churches they could be going to.

But there are those Christians who, like high school boys I guess, don't want just words on the page. They're older now and they want to see some action or get some action. This is the point at which skeezy pop stars write songs with lyrics about how "more than words" is what they need from the girl. What would the girl do if the boy took the words from her? How would she show him how she feels? She could do something that would make sure the boy already knew how she felt about him and wouldn't need to use all those words, not that he doesn't want to hear the words but ... you know. I might be betraying a general loathing of love songs here that I might have to get over some day. There are very few of them I can stand and those usually on musical grounds rather than the lyrics but I digress.

What I meant to get at is that if we're honest about how indirect our relationship with Christ is as a Christian we will be able to better appreciate the appeal of a person being able to say "I see things". If cessationists could back up the truck a bit and concede that they have never had a truly personal relationship with God the way they do with, say, a sister or brother; a wife or husband; a friend or cousin, then it would be easier to provide a gentler critique of the problems inherent in charismatic and pentecostal theology.

The foundation of the critique could be anchored in, ironically, a 1 Corinthians foundation. An over-realized eschatology leads to sin because we think we have powers and liberties we have not necessarily been given because we lack the motive of maturing Christian love as the basis from which to serve each other with the gifts the Lord has already given us, gifts that we can identify in ourselves and each other, as well as gifts that we can seek to obtain. The cessationists and continuationists will remain so busy saing "I'm of John MacArthur" or "I'm of Warfield"; or "I'm of Mark Driscoll" or "I'm of Wayne Grudem" that these people have fallen into the error of Corinth while thinking they are correcting someone else's problems!

Paul's first letter to the church of Corinth is something that presents us with problems among cessationists and continuationists because Paul doesn't seem to care to define what gifts are and aren't supposed to be normally operating within the church. Personally I thank God that's how things played out in Paul's correspondence. Paul is concerned about what spiritual gifts are being abused but he is even more concerned with the partisan bickering and lack of mutual love in the church that causes them to tolerate sexual immorality, litigate against each other, and reinforce abuses and inequalities in love feasts where the poor don't even manage to eat and others have died due to the abuse of food and the Lord's supper. The fat Baptist cessationist who's dealing with heart disease is finally no better than the skinny fake-and-baked charismatic who is obsessed with a prosperity teaching. Paul's rebukes to Christians in Corinth covers both sorts of sins.

I am not here attempting to diminish concerns some people have about Driscoll's claim to spiritual superpowers. But I want to peel a few layers off of the onion here and bring up some issues that aren't so readily discussed by pro and con folks on Driscoll. This is why hymnals and prayer books and confessions and the like become battlefields and subjects for war within churches. They become battles because despite the lip service paid by evangelical and fundamental Protestants about "personal relationship with Jesus" we know on the ground level that this "relationship" is mediated. Even our relationship to Christ is mediated by what authors we read, which Christians we share faith with (as in we're sharing a journey following Christ with them, not proselytizing them to what we consider to be a truer faith).

The Christians who think they have just a "me and Jesus" relationship still have a relationship with Christ mediated by how they heard about Christ to begin with. This is why when a man or woman who led you to Christ renounces Him or is mired in terrible sin your heart sinks a little because, in a way, it should. You should feel grief that a brother or sister in Christ is lost, and in a way it's the kind of sinking feeling you have if you've seen friends or family divorce. "Wow, if they couldn't get things to work out how am I supposed to do any better?"

So a cessationist fan of MacArthur may find it scandalous that Driscoll talks about God siphoning explicit sex scenes into his brain. He or she may find it crazy to imagine that a personal relationship with God would involve seeing that sort of sin, God can't see that kind of sin. Well, if God can't look at that kind of sin then He couldn't have taken pity on us sinners and died for us on the Cross, could he? I think we know there's some rhetorical flourish in "God can't look upon sin." God can look upon it and decide to flood the world to destroy the sinful human race, save Noah and his family. It never ceases to surprise me how pedantic and selectively literal we Christians can be with biblical texts when we're assuming someone else is wrong. I shouldn't be surprised, as a fellow Christian, but I admit that I still am surprised.

But in a way the cessationist is saying that it seems crazy that Driscoll says God is siphoning porno straight into his brain, he is saying in a sense that a person really can't talk about having a personal relationship with God. There has to be a mediator. Jesus. Jesus is revealed to us in that love letter assembled by committee with explanatory notes by John MacArthur. See, the John Macarthur Study Bible is in its own way a sort of miniature magisterium, isn't it? Driscoll's paradoxical heresy and evil is that he actually talks as though he has a personal relationship with God. I'm not here saying everything Driscoll says is right, far from it. I'm just camping out on a pattern I have noticed with cessationists who use Driscoll as an example, and even non-cessationists who would use Driscoll as an example of how "not" to do things in the personal relationship with God part.

I have plenty of other things I could write but I have to set an arbitrary limit somewhere. Tonight/today the arbitrary limit is that I have written about how cessationist evangelicals and fundamentalists can be seen as hypocrites on the "personal relationship with God" issue, just as charismatics like Driscoll are hypocrites if they claim that cessationists take a path that ultimately leads to atheism or deism. The alternative, that our experience of Christ our mediator is itself entirely mediated through His people is quite possibly too scary for either the charismatic Calvinist or the cessationist. Why? Because then our responsibility as God's ambassadors to the world and to each other becomes far, far weightier. If it doesn't scare the crap out of you thinking about it then you haven't thought about it at all. Frankly to go by blogs and counterblogs using Driscoll as a case study for what's wrong with those other people ... I get the sinking feeling a lot of folks really haven't thought about it very much, including me.