Saturday, October 15, 2011

Carl Trueman on how defining a celebrity pastor is like defining pornograph (is there a SLAPS test for both?)

Over at the Gospel Coalition, the Rev. Thabiti Anyabwile has a post on definitions. His argument is a thoughtful one and he calls for the abandonment of talk of `celebrity' and 'rock star' pastors because, as he rightly points out, defining these terms is hard. He also sees me as one of the main culprits. So it seems apposite to thank him for his provocative and gently expressed thoughts and to offer a few in return.

I am tempted to say `I don't know how to define art, but I know it when I see it.' Except, other than understanding that Thomas Kinkade is not art, that statement would not be true. I am told Jackson Pollock is art but that, as they say, is clearly above my paygrade.

But let's bring it closer to home: most pastors I know would acknowledge that internet pornography is the number one pastoral problem among men in their congregation. Yet no pastor I have ever spoken to has been able to provide a fully adequate, stable, universally agreed definition of pornography which covers all cases any time any where. By the above logic, we should therefore stop all talk of pornography as a problem. We do not know how to define the term; we should not use it.

The problem is: semantics notwithstanding, pornography is a huge problem; and pastors who cannot define the p word know its a problem, recognise it, and take action to help those struggling with it. Frankly, pastoral time spent debating exactly what it is is pastoral time completely wasted -- time which might otherwise be spent tackling the issue.

Thus, the issue with the celebrity culture surrounding certain pastors and organisations is not ultimately one of linguistic definition or of those who use the term with a certain amount of elasticity or even incompetence. The issue is that there is a real problem -- in fact, many real problems -- to which some are trying to draw attention. There is a problem with the yob aesthetic, the arrogant stage swagger, the stand-up routines, the obsession with talking about sex in sermons which puts some of these conference headlining pastoral role models about as far from Paul's vision of leadership as possible; there is a problem with pastors who tell their people they will only visit them in hospital once they have been placed in a body bag; there is a problem with pastors who make videos which ape the aesthetics of the mainstream media and focus on the pastor, not the pastor's God; there is a problem with churches of thousands of people, few of whom ever get to meet an elder, let alone the pastor; there is a problem with church planting strategy that is so wedded to the cult of the one man that he has to be skyped in to the community; there is a problem when a man has to phone the librarian at Westminster Seminary with a pastoral issue because nobody at his home church of thousands has the time to speak to an ordinary church member about his crisis of faith.

Call it what you like. I call it the culture which grows up around celebrities. Maybe I am hopelessly wrong in my choice of terms. You may certainly choose others which fit better. But like internet pornography, I would rather spend time exposing the problems for what they are than debating semantic qualifications.

In the blog post Anyabwile wrote to which Trueman responds, Anyabwile explains that his training is in social science and education by background.  Trueman does not mention his credentials outside being a pastor but his is the far more compelling case.  Why?  Well, I was a journalism student (which some would say makes me biased).  Trueman attempts to address the celebrity pastor in terms that matter more than the domain of social science or education because celebrities and private citizens can end up having to meet different criteria to establish the grounds for a defamation suit!

Trueman's case is more pertinent because he brings up the inherent problem of objecting to a lack of definition in "celebrity pastor", special pleading.  A pastor wouldn't say that one has to define pornography specifically before addressing the subject (unless that person is defending, say "Peasant Princess" as being erotic and not pornography, perhaps).  I've got a counter-example closer to where I live, just because the Bible does not seem to define "poverty" or "the poor" as generously or strictly as some Christians would like does not mean there is no Christian obligation to help the poor.  Trueman's right, just because we can't define "celebrity pastor" on the basis of a scientific method or procedure hardly precludes our being able to speak to the problems of the celebrity pastor. 

Coming as I do from an academic background in journalism I don't think Anyabwile can make a viable case that terms can be so steadily or strictly applied for a celebrity pastor.  Even his own attempt at defining celebrity pastor fails to come off as a meaningful deviation from the criteria Trueman came up with.  It is, in any event, absurd to attempt to impose a scientific procedural definition on Trueman's criteria for celebrity pastor when Trueman's criteria mesh better with laws surrounding the basis for a defmation suit.  Even a non "rock star" pastor can still have responsibilities as a public figure.  A celebrity pastor is one for whom the grounds for a defamation suit would be even more stringent than that of some pastor no one has heard of.  If you're a pastor whose soundbites and public remarks can get blogged about by people in other countries than the one in which you preach and get your paycheck you "might" be a celebrity pastor.  If you're a pastor who is known about across the United States by millions of people you "might" be a celebrity pastor.  What constitutes a "celebrity blogger" and why do "celebrity pastors" seem to think that there's more wiggle room for them than for the "celebrity blogger" to say stuff off the cuff? 

... or do we want to make some potential exemptions for the celebrity pastors who are not modalists?

Scotteriology misses the Mark on Mark Driscoll and Westboro Baptist Church

Must have seemed like a fun blog title for Scotteriology to say "Mark Driscoll Joins Westboro Baptist Church".  Scotteriology mentions a number of things he's fond wrong with Driscoll and writes "Now it seems he is adopting the theology of Westboro Baptist Church."

Scott, being Canadian, just may not have access to the same coverage yours truly has to American coverage of the protest of Mars Hill Church Westboro Baptist Church planned earlier this year. Scott also has a job (something I wish I had) and does not live in Seattle.  Just about nothing would make yours truly happier than if I could have had a job so as to have NOT noticed the old news of the Westboro Baptist Church protesting Driscoll and Mars Hill.  As a matter of fact the protest was announced and happened ... four months ago:

The protest turned out to be a few people from Westboro Baptist Church showing up to "protest" by standing in front of a MH campus (they were still being called campuses back then, I think) for a few minutes and then moving on because, apparently, they had other places to protest.  None of the protestors actually stayed to attend the service.  See, Wenatchee the Hatchet lives in Seattle and word gets around.  It looks like Westboro Baptist Church got what they thought was some handy publicity in announcing in advance they would protest Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church for saying God loves most people and then considered their mission accomplished. 

So while Scott's certainly entitled to think Driscoll's theology is similar to that of Westboro Baptist Church, this year Westboro Baptist Church made it clear they think the God Driscoll preaches isn't actually hateful enough and they didn't want the donuts Mars Hill staff left for them.  Such is life.

Christ at Cana and the absence of wine

Last week I hit the two year anniversary mark of being laid off. I was laid off by a non-profit so I have not been eligible for unemployment. I got what was, all things considered, a very generous severance package and in the months before the lay-off I even considered that if a job at my organization had to be cut it should have been mine. Suffice it to say the day I got laid off I wasn't happy! I also did not want to be so very right in anticipating that if the recession kept having the dire results it was having that my prediction would turn out to be the right one!

This sermon is something I've been mulling over off and on for a few weeks and it's difficult for me to unpack its significance in a way that lends itself to writing. There are some people who are Christians are who are not sure they will continue to call themselves Christians because they are unhappy about the legalism and judgmentalism of other Christians. In some conspicuous cases I have observed as carefully as I can in the last ten years these are people who, it must be said, are themselves remarkably judgmental and callous people. There's a term that could be readily applied to these sorts of people and you probably know what the term is so I don't need to say it, and there may be brothers and sisters reading this blog who don't need that language brought up so I defer to them. The point is that there are points where people find most detestable in others those acrimonious traits in themselves; furthermore, there are some people who have tired of Christian company because Christians tend to act the way these people act.

But there can be a paradoxical other side of struggle within faith. That struggle can be Christian kindness. When God feels absent and seems to not answer your prayers for yourself but blesses others, and you receive kindness from Christians, it can paradoxically feel as though the kindness of Christians is more tangibly real then an abstract notion about the kindness and generosity of God. There are a lot of unbelievers and nominal Christians who choose the Paul McCartney axiom that evil is just the devil if you take the d off the word. Evil can't be transcendent. And per McCartney level thought, god is just what happens if you take an o out of good. This is sloganeering of the sort that McCartney (and Lennon, frankly) excelled at.

There is, however, a time and place when there is some strength to the mundane and obtuse axiom. There are times when the kindness of people does not always seem to indicate that there is a "Christian" let alone a "Christian worldview" motivation. Not that these things don't happen, I've benefited from the generosity of various sorts of people who are various sorts of Christian, but some folks more in the "worldview" camp have doubted the sincerity of those Christians who are "liberal" who, unbeknownst to the worldviewer types, have done far more to help me in tangible ways than they have. I don't wish to name names here but the "liberal" who "may not even be a Christian" gave to me so generously it broke down any sense of personal restraint or dignity I might have tried keeping up. Now I'm not saying conservative Christians haven't been helping me, they have, I'm just sharing that sometimes a crisis about faith in practice comes from seeing actions and outcomes that seem counterintuitive given what people would say about themselves verses those other Christians they judge to not quite be Christians.

All that is sort of a rambling preamble to discussing this sermon. In the last two years I have become familiar with lacking things. I have lacked money, and I have lacked income. I have also lacked the gain of continued employment I can live off of. I have ended up on food stamps and that because I relented when everyone in my family urged me to go on them. I have lacked the financial stability to consider the continuing education that some of have urged me to. I have lacked the marital status that would be needed to qualify for most of the worker re-education programs that are available, just as I have discovered that because I got a B.A. I lack the qualifications needed to be eligible for the few programs that fund worker retraining for people who aren't married. I have in the last few months discovered that I have a cataract growing in my left eye that has brought some new, unhappy impairments in my vision. I also lack the money or resources to obtain cataract removal surgery. Being unemployed, without money, and having a disability, these are all substantial lacks. Depending on which circle of Christians we're talking about I am also single and in my later 30s, which means I lack in other ways, particularly by way of what is considered "God's design". :)

The family that put on the wedding at Cana lacked wine. The social failure of this moment could be difficult to fully articulate. The groom's family and the groom were the ones to fund the wedding celebration, which usually lasted for days. The wedding was also a town-wide affair and in smaller villages people from adjacent villages were invited to participate. To run out of wine in such a setting would be a huge disgrace and not just on the level of "party foul" here in the West. This would not signal that the guests ate all the food you spent your money on because people eat a lot. No, this would signal shame and disgrace at being unable to pull off the kick-off party of one's own wedding. This would permanently mar your standing in society and signal to your in-laws that you were an abject failure.

In Western cultures the bride's family covers the wedding and this is not necessarily how it works in Eastern settings, either in the ancient near east nor in the far east but I don't want to digress into too many nerdy points about how these cultural expectations play into ancient Near Eastern or Asian story-telling. Yet I believe it would be useful to provide a case study from a pop culture tale from Japan to help unpack a basic difference between East and West here. There's a fun, low-key but momentous moment in a Rumiko Takahashi comic book (Maison Ikkoku, very far in the series' run) in which a man opens up his balance book to show a woman he loves that he's, in that culture's idiom, proposing marriage to her but showing that he's worked out the budgetary concerns of pulling off a wedding. Anyone who knows the series knows that Kozue accepts the proposal but I'll try to save any discussion of Takahashi comic books for some other time. Suffice it to say that in an Eastern setting it's a big, big deal if the man and his family can't pull off the wedding celebration because they lack the funds. In some Eastern settings demonstrating that the groom and his family can handle the expense is considered something necessary to share as part of the marriage proposal itself. See, my readers, it's not entirely useless to know trivia about Japanese culture from manga!

So when the wine runs out at Cana I don't think that it's possible to overstate the shame of that lack to a Westerner. "Party foul" doesn't even begin to cover the significance of this. This might as well have been a public, unintentional announcement on the part of the groom and his family saying "We don't cut it, we're failures." It's not necessarily material whether the guests drank too much or the groom was a poor planner the result ended up being the same. And that is, to some degree, the thing about how a lot of people can think about poverty. It doesn't matter why someone thinks you're poor. They could decide you're poor because your stupid or evil. They could decide you're poor because society is evil. They could decide any number of things but the lack remains the same either way.

I've certainly gotten the feeling I don't cut it.  Two years of having no job and being ineligible for unemployment because I got laid off by a non-profit is no fun.  In the last two years I've had one acquaintence die of cancer, another got murdered by her stalker, one of my cousins died of skin cancer, one of my uncles died of a diabetic coma that he (in his hermitic existence) didn't get help for in time, another of my associates finally succumbed to decades of battling brain tumors, and in the last few months I learned I have a cataract that needs to be removed from my left eye.  I have not managed to sell anyone to hire me for a job in these two years and the non-profit I worked for had a set of proprietary systems that aren't full of the most obviously transferrable skill sets for either for-profit or non-profit work.  There's a lot that sucks about my life at this point.

However, a lot of people have shown me kindness.  I think that in the sense that followers of Christ show kindness that can be a kind of unsettling moment because when Jesus said "They will know you are mine by your love for one another" this invites the question of how many people, really, know we belong to Jesus by how we love one another. 

I have managed to just barely obtain even four digits of income in either of the two years I have been unemployed.  I have come across some fellow Christians who, surprisingly, have been willing to say I'm not really poor.  I beg to differ ... well I don't beg to differ, I've got food stamps. ;)  I've managed to adapt in a few ways, like learning how to cook a whole slew of meals I never thought to cook at home in my employed days.  And friends and family and church have stepped in to support me in all sorts of ways for which I am grateful.  In that respect Jesus' fills a lack in my life in that Christians inspired by Jesus' teaching have helped me.  I can't hope to return the favor that has been shown me but I hope one day to display similar kindness to others who may need help.  When I worked at the Salvation Army for nine years I certainly felt that in my own small way I could say that I was part of a Christian organization dedicated to helping meet people in their need. 

So when friends give me food left over from a speaking engagement they were attending they were able to collect for me I'm grateful, very grateful.  When friends and family run jobs leads by me I'm grateful even when the job turns out to be something I'm not able to get.  I'm grateful for roommates who help me keep a roof over my head.  I do have a lot to be grateful for despite my circumstances but that does not mitigate that I need a lot of help and lack a lot of things. 

I used to be the person to get groceries for my disabled friend who couldn't get out of the house.  I'd ask him what he needed for the month and go get that for him.  I even picked up food for his cat while I was at it.  As long-time readers of this blog will remember I don't have great vision.  I had a macular detachment in my good eye (fixed up years ago thanks to a surgeon) and now have a cataract in my bad eye.  I was calling my disabled friend about an item on his grocery list and then had a thought I couldn't help but share, I told my friend that I just realized that a partly blind guy grocery shopping for a cripple and playing phone tag about how to find items was actually pretty funny.  We both chuckled but I did find what my friend needed.

I admit that being on the needing side of that equation feels a lot different than being on the helping side of that equation but not in the way I expected.  I don't mind receiving help when I'm sure I need it I just wish I didn't have to say I need help as often as I have needed to.  I don't know if I'd say that it's because I feel like a bad person for needing help, it's more like I wish I could be better than I am because I would like to be able to live up to the level of generosity I have received.  Maybe that's a problem?  There's a certain type of pious imagination that would tell me that that's pride.  I have no use for that type of pious imagination (maybe I do and don't consciously realize it but that's not for me to work out at this stage in my life).  Apparently to go by how Mary approached Jesus she didn't have that kind of pious imagination either. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

I just had to post this comment from Bill MacKinnon at BHT

Lutherans are mythical creatures in my area, so I don’t have any first hand experience with them, but I have to agree with Bob’s assessment of this situation.

Sorry, I know it's goofy and trivial but it made me laugh a lot.  Some kinds of Christians really don't appear that often.  Back in my Mars Hill days a friend of mine felt obliged to tell another fellow (who is now a pastor at MH) that I was not, in fact, a heretic for being an amillenial partial preterist.  Even at a church like Mars Hill where lots of people care about doctrine 98% of Mars Hillians had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.  I have myself been a sort of mythical creature in some parts of American conservative Protestantism for my views on eschatology.  Seminarians get it, and sometimes chuckle, but most lay people have no idea what I'm talking about.  Christian love often means not even attempting to explain it to them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

differences between 18 year old poets and 28 year old poets,an utter ramble

There are benefits to aging and there are benefits to establishing a context.  One of the things I look back on in my teens, not that I'm moving through the late 30s, is I remember how many high school poets seemed obsessed with writing about the anonymous person who commits suicide.  Well, there are people who write about anonymous suicides at much later ages but I'm not going to list Brian Eno as a poet as such.  The anonymous person who commits suicide is one of those cliches that I hope is dispensed from poetry altogether at some point.  The trouble is that the dead person, usually nameless, becomes a cipher for the poet's righteous indignation, or often self-righteous indignation. 

In teenagers this is especially apparent.  There's a moral outrage at the indifference toward which the world at large, however small that world may be, has toward the person who dies.  The anonymity makes the death all the more tragic (the naive poet thinks) for being so mundane.  The person does not even have a name and the cruel world cares not for the death.  But that is the failure of the poet's imagination.  The most memorable poem anyone wrote about a suicide in the English language is Richard Cory for the simple reason that Richard Cory has a name.  Richard Cory was the envy of everyone, so the poem tells us, and then one day the man just kills himself. We are not given reasons why within the poem itself and are left to speculate.  What ambitious and outraged teen poets fail to grasp is that by making their various suicides anonymous they, too, participate in the indifference of thosse societies that do not even have names for the deceased. 

When I was a late teenager myself I began to have doubts about how touching or confrontational this trope of the anonymous suicide really was.  It would make "me" feel good to notice what supposedly no one else noticed, and surely it made the poets feel good in their own perversely unaware way but the truth was none of us cared.  And the truth is that deaths in society matter because they effect other people.  Consider that Steve Jobs has been remembered as changing a lot of people's lives.  He has.  I've never been a committed Mac user and Macs seem absurdly expensive and not as diverse in software options as PC's.  Yeah, I know the argumetns that Macs are more stable and have more robust antivirus protections and better warranties and if you're willing to pay two to three times as much money for a system that is reliable at the expense of versatility that's all right.  I'm not a programmer or anything but I can appreciate a relatively recent xkcd.

You know it's true, folks.  :)

Oh, where was I?

Yes, well, when someone important enough to effect millions of lives dies that's considered more important than an anonymous suicide.  We can pretend that it's stilly to mourn the loss of a Steve Jobs or a Michael Jackson or people like that.  But it could be as silly to mourn the loss of  a John Stott or a Billy Graham or remember the dead at all.  It can be easy to think you're too cool for school in feeling bad that someone you haven't met has died but it can be easy to think you're too cool for school in being angry that someone you haven't met has died, too.  So it's not inappropriate to consider that Steve Jobs is dead.  Many poets have celebrated dead people who accomplished big things.

And here I wish to piggyback on something Fearsome Tycoon wrote over at the Boar's Head Tavern.  Steve Jobs did not kill tons of people in battle like many celebrated heroes of old.  Jobs made stuff, stuff that has made the lives of various people more convenient.  Even though I'm not exactly a user or loyal user of Mac/Apple products I can appreciate this point.  Even though I was far happier that Finale becamse useable on a PC than I ever was that it was first available on Mac products I can grant that Mac users are happy with their products.  And I also note that the following comic strip is an amusing assessment of how some folks are about brand loyalty.

Where was I again?  Yes, well, my teen years were some twenty years ago but here I'm just ruminating on random stuff.  Ergo links to both xkcd and The Oatmeal when initially I was discussing teenagers writing poems about anonymous suicides and then thinking about Steve Jobs.  I guess it all holds together as a succint, logical sequence

We'll just call it an obligatory free-writing session in blog form.

Monday, October 10, 2011

new guest series is up at From Bitter Waters to Sweet

I have written a guest series about Mark Driscoll's handling of Song of Songs for the Mara Reid at her blog From Bitter Waters to Sweet. This year when I saw Driscoll saying in a video interview that some pastors are using sex too much I just hit my limit.  Three months of Driscoll talking about sex at his own church and then his Scotland discourse is enough, especially since he's displayed the moxy to claim that Ed Young Jr. overdid sex from the pulpit in his interview with Rhoades earlier this year. 

I believe there are four related issues in Driscoll's handling of Song of Songs in the last eleven years that speak to weaknesses he has as a biblical scholar, theologian, and as a pastor.  I don't say that lightly.  After nine years at Mars Hill and having once served on the Theology Response Team I am one of the last people who could say that lightly.  I once fielded theological questions on behalf of Driscoll and the other pastors because I was recruited to serve in that ministry. 

I do think there are areas where Driscoll does a good job in discussing Scripture.  He's done some strong preaching in 1 Corinthians which is ironically where he has been most self-critical.  His series (there were a couple of them) on Ecclesiastes were pretty decent.  Though I think he failed to make an entirely persuasive case against what he calls the "seed of Chucky" reading of Genesis 6 there were quite a few things in his Genesis series that were good.  When his fans don't pick the most scabrous soundbites on his behalf he's done some teaching from Luke that has been very good. So in case you think I'm just ranting about Driscoll without knowing what I'm talking about I've got a decade of the man's sermons jostling in my head.  You probably don't.  I write what I write in an attempt to provide constructive, informed criticism of weaknesses.  My pen name may be Wenatchee the Hatchet but a hatchet job is not the goal.

Now permit me (since it's my blog) to explain some things in advance, in case it is necessary.  I am not defending an "allegory only" approach to Song of Songs.  I believe that even an allegorical reading of Song of Songs must be predicated on the straightforward romantic/erotic/conjugal theme of the text.  At the same time I can't help but note that Driscoll reveals that he's trying to have things both ways about the Puritans.  He loves to share the same old story about Puritans who excommunicated a man who wasn't having sex with his wife as much as she wanted.  But he skips over how the Puritans actually tended to handle Song of Songs, like, Matthew Henry for example.  For a preacher like Driscoll who can hold up a Bible and say "It's all about Jesus" his approach to Song of Songs reveals the exception--Song of Songs can't be about Jesus or Jesus is taking Mark Driscoll from behind and he doesn't want to imagine that.  Dude, a metaphor is a metaphor.  You know Jesus says that in the resurrection no one will be married, not even Jesus.  The wedding supper of the lamb is a metaphor, buddy.  It's not literally going to occur.

Yet if everywhere else in the Bible the conjugal metaphor is used to describe God and His people why reject it only in Song of Songs, even if things get racy?  Driscoll's okay with pinning his approach on the fanciful notion that Abishag and Solomon were carving their initials on a tree somewhere and going for the plainest reading of Song of Songs as a celebration of sex.  Any innuendo he can find he goes for in Song of Songs. 

Having listened to about a decade of Driscoll sermons I believe is is important to stress a potential pastoral implication in Driscoll's rejection of even a typological association of husband and bride with God and His people in Song of Songs.  Driscoll, historically, has only really seemed to know how to get revved up in telling God's people their sin put Jesus on the Cross.  Yeah, there's all that "Death By Love" stuff but that book was a rehash of material he preached in 2005.  In other words it's recycled material from some time ago.  "Christus exemplar" was, to be sure, the finest sermon I think I've ever heard Driscoll preach and it's because he got out of his comfort zone. 

If the Church is the Bride of Christ the sermon Driscoll knows how to preach best to her is "You're a stupid spoiled whore and your sins put Jesus on the cross so you better repent."  Yeah, there's that stuff in the Bible, but Driscoll has famously stunk at the other side, which is that Christ loves you enough to gladly bear the cross and your sins to reconcile you to Himself.  If Piper and Mahaney, by Driscoll's account, have said he stinks at expressing the love of God for His people then Driscoll has conceded this point. 

Another point to note here is that some Christians defending Driscoll have said that (and will say) there is a distinction to be made between what is truly pornographic and what is erotica.  Driscoll is preaching Song of Songs, which is canonized erotica is firmly on the erotica side of things.  "Frank without being crass" as Driscoll puts it.

Well,  okay, then, so Driscoll is preaching Song of Songs and the biblical book is not about Jesus and is erotica.  So there is now a canonically justified basis for Christians writing erotica, then? There must be since a whole book of erotica made it into the Bible. What, exactly, is the line of demarcation between pornography and erotica?  Is erotica okay when it is strictly verbal or written?  Erotica is definitely okay for public consumption on feast days in religious observance then.  Okay so, uh, let me see if I can work this out, there's this whole genre of Christian literature I've never heard of before called Christian erotica and it's right and good for Christians to enjoy it if they're married. 

Can someone explain whether or not there are actually examples of this genre of sanctified erotica outside the Bible?  Maybe such stuff exists and this single guy does not really need to know authors, titles, publication dates or ISBN numbers (and, seriously, I don't).  I just have this sneaking suspicion that this defense of Driscoll as preaching Song of Songs as sanctified erotica could begin to look curiously like special pleading if a Christian were to read erotica that isn't in the Bible.  After all, if the Holy Spirit inspired the Song of Songs as sacred erotica and I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me then I can read or write sacred erotica, too, right?  I mean, not me personally, mind you, because I'm a single guy who's never been on a date and wouldn't know how that stuff works, but other people could write Christian erotica.  But what, then, of all those pastors speaking against romance novels and Christian romance novels? 

There are plenty of positive things I can say about Driscoll.  He's a capable speaker, he's entertaining.  He finds ways to make the Bible accessible to people.  It's just too bad that he can often be irresponsible, sloganeering, and downright inventive in claiming that what he teaches from the text is actually in the biblical text.  Song of Songs is a case where he is particularly enamored of his highly personalized take on a book of the Bible.  I think that in the long run his apparent capacity to only address the Bride of Christ as though she were a whore needing to change her ways and not as the Bride Christ loves extravagantly will continue to be a problem in his pastoral work.  This is not as simple as proposing that Driscoll is speaking the truth when he says God hates you if you don't believe in Jesus.  Big deal, so it goes. 

Where the rubber meets the road is when Driscoll makes jokes such as that congregational leadership is like asking the inmates to run the asylum.  Here he is talking about church members who share the Spirit and who are in Christ.  These he has referred to as mentally deficient people in an asylum who should not be allowed to run things.  When Driscoll writes about ranked numbering categories for which friends and family are most valuable for fellowship this is where his ... unique view of the Bride can shine.  I know some of the people Driscoll used to call "good friend" and they haven't seen him in years.  They will probably never see him again.  Driscoll has often said you must take stock on the people who are wasting your time and cut them loose. 

At a purely pragmatic level, yes, such people exist, but in the scope of eternity could not Christ Himself be accused of wasting His time by permitting the universe to exist and calling us "brothers" and "friends"?  We cannot give anything to Christ that is of value to Him, we have nothing He needs.  Even if we give ourselves what have we given Him that He does not already rightfully posssess?  There is a very real level at which Christian friendship means sharing life together with someone even when there is nothing you can gain from it.  Driscoll has seemed to choose or reject friendships based on who will help him build his legacy for Jesus.  We know that it's his legacy he's concerned about because in his own way he keeps talking about it.
Part of Driscoll's legacy is how his handling of Song of Songs reveals some problems in his theology and his approach to the scriptures and his approach to the Church.  In the long run if you can only think of the Bride of Christ as a spotless bride in the future who is still just a stupid, spoiled whore now (because nowhere else in the Bible is the Bride described as already being loved as though she were flawless) it's not surprising you end up with the kind of pastoral approach Driscoll seems to have.  It's too bad, though.  I guess the more he sticks to NT literature the less likely he is to traffic in this?  Only time will tell.

MacArthur is to Elvis what Driscoll and MacDonald are to Lennon & McCartney: polemics among the rock star pastors

I was at a 9Marks conference recently and was shocked to hear one of the panelists include me, and another preacher on the platform, as “rock star” pastors. I guess somewhere on the edge of my mental radar I had heard the term before, but it had never occurred to me that “I” might be one. As I listened, it became clear that the qualification for such a pejorative term was gained by extending my preaching ministry by video to places I did not go in person, and then including those reached locally as part of our church organizationally. I later discovered that by doing this we have evidenced an ego out of control and are inducing idolatry. Really?

My first celebrity pastor was John MacArthur. In the early 1980′s (before video), my home church substituted John MacArthur Jr. for our Sunday night preacher and showed his series on the family. ...

Now I'm going to go on record (again) and say I have never had one positive impression about James MacDonald. He's still not on my list of favorites. But you know what? I agree with his basic contention that John MacArthur was a celebrity pastor before a lot of the celebrity pastors MacArthur doesn't approve of hit the scene. As blogger Fearsome Tycoon put it over on the Boar's Head Tavern, a guy who has a study Bible named after him should not be complaining too loudly about a cult of personality surrounding another pastor. John MacArthur is as much a rock star pastor for his generation as Mark Driscoll is a rock star pastor for his.  This is, in fact, a point I've been making for some time now to no effect because I am not a rock star blogger or a celebrity blogger.  That's good and may it stay that way. The downside of being a real nobody trying to tell everybody about something (as opposed to the posture and franchise line purporting that) is that because you're nobody ... nobody pays attention to you.  But I digress.  Here's some more from MacDonald that provides a sense of what a rock star pastor this guy was even two decades ago.

When he came in 1985 to preach at our denominational convention, I lined up outside the door with a throng of eager hearers, then raced in to find a front seat, so I could soak up every word. My hands trembled as I stood in line to shake his hand. God had gifted him wonderfully, and he was extending that gift to as many people in as many places as possible. At the time I never dreamt that John MacArthur would be someone who came to speak at my church, as he has done numerous times, or that I would be invited to speak at his college and Seminary. Getting to golf with Dr. MacArthur several times I saw firsthand his generosity and uncommon graciousness. I was thankful through the years to have that testimony ready when colleagues in ministry took shots at him and attacked some of the stands he took on controversial issues. I not always agreed with his actions, but I have never doubted his fidelity to Scripture or his sincere desire to hold others to the same. I praise God for John MacArthur’s ‘celebrity,’ and how it has impacted my life. The issue is not celebrity, but how one arrives there and how they steward that influence. I realize that he, like all of us, will account to Christ for how he allows his influence to be used and how he treats every minister of the gospel, every Christian, and every person outside God’s family.

 The time has come to model publicly, a gracious biblical method for how to disagree. Obviously our manner depends on who we are disagreeing with and what issues are at stake, but it must be:

• An approach that neither compromises truth nor fails to exhibit grace.
• A method that models correcting a brother in serious error and, if possible, protecting the relationship.

• An approach to dealing with serious doctrinal error that moves beyond a social “burning at the stake,” but refuses to back down or sing kumbaya when the gospel is on the line.

Hmm, well, Mr. MacDonald, those bullet points didn't seem on prominent display when you kept cutting off Mark Dever in a discussion about multi-site churches.  Those bullet points didn't seem particularly prominent in bromides and proof-texting against congregational polity, either.  That Jakes is even in a state of invitation to the Elephant Room doesn't fill me with optimism any more than any association with a tool like Furtick whose church is now nationally known for how it treated a person with a physical and mental disability. 

But I'm in an unusually generous mood today and the MacArthur orbit and his fanboys haven't put together that MacArthur is a grand old man among rock star pastors.  So I'm grateful that James MacDonald has helped to spell things out for me.  You know, folks, if a pastor like John MacArthur inspires Steve Camp to write, in his well-tested "Here's my Christian book report" tradition, a song called "The Gospel According to Jesus" we might be talking rock star pastor category here.  Yeah, I know that Steve Camp doesn't rock as hard as Kansas or Yes or Springstein but he rocks harder than Air Supply about half the time.  Did I telegraph that I don't enjoy his music?  Well, I admit as much but I respect his committment to the faith even when I don't land anywhere near the same places he does on a few things.  And the amount of humble pie he ate in admitting that he overdid his crusade against Driscoll is something some of the other MacArthur fans might benefit from.  Rock star pastors don't always look the same in each generation. 

I'm not backing down on my disagreements with MacDonald on the few things I cared to learn about of his writings and words.  I still think he's a self-regarding proof-texting tool just for how he dealt with Mark Dever.  But I'm a nobody who doesn't matter, which is as it should be.  Still, I'm going to throw MacDonald a proverbial bone because I have been saying for a while that a common denominator with some of the rock star shock jock pastors is that they have paid homage in various ways to MacArthur. 

There's a sense in which MacArthur and his fan club have to consider what they have wrought.  It'd be one thing if MacArthur inspired a whole series of folks who were not strident polemicists.  For instance, I could look at Michael Card's musical career and then look at the life of scholar William Lane as I got to know him in the early 1990s and I could draw a remarkably straight line between the Christian teacher and the influence he had on Card.  When I look at MacArthur and Camp I see a similar line of influence.  MacArthur can't go on too much about rock star pastors because the line between rock and Christian pop isn't that huge in the end.  When Driscoll has said (and he's said it a few times) that MacArthur was a huge formative influence on him I'm in a position to know because I got it from the man himself.  We were never close, but we were in enough proximity that I can vouch for his repeated mention of MacArthur being an important early influence. 

The trouble with legacies is that you die and you never know what those legacies are ultimately going to be. Even while you live you don't know what your legacy and influence will open doors for.  Elvis paved the way for Lennon & McCartney.  By analogy, John MacArthur could be taken as a late 20th century Elvis among rock star/celebrity pastors and he has paved the way for the rock star/celebrity pastoral team of Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald.  It's not that the Elvis impersonators aren't entertaining or providing a useful service, it's that the nature of the rock star/celebrity pastor changes.  The influence of MacArthur may paradoxically be stronger in American Christianity through the rock star pastors who basked in his cultural shadow, that he feels obliged to rebuke now, than through his more hand-picked proteges. 

Paul urging the Christians in Corinth to not get caught up in loyalties to individual teachers has never lost its relevance and one of the continuing and sad paradoxes of the faith is that many people who would tell us to heed those words of Paul are guilty of breaking the spirit of their intent in the process of trying to make that point.  Thus we get Elvis impersonators lining up around Elvis to make a case for why Lennon & McCartney are a downgrade.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Joel Osteen as bigot, Joel Osteen as progressive prosperity gospel heretic

Conservatives have lambasted Joel Osteen for a prosperity theology false gospel and liberals consider Joel Osteen a bigot for refusing to get behind homosexual marriage.  Now in the past I've heard it said by a preacher that the way to know if you're on the right path is if you annoy the liberals for being too conservative and if you annoy the fundamentalists for being too liberal.  There was a more idealistic time in my life when I took that metric seriously. I no longer do.

And, surely, now that Joel Osteen has managed to pulled off this hat trick of being too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals, too, it seems that this proposed metric of angering both liberals and fundamentalists or conservatives can be done by just about anyone.  I mean if Joel Osteen can pull off this hat trick then the metric of ticking off both sides has no value at all, does it?  Well, I suppose if he passed children through fire as a Moloch offering ... .