Saturday, October 22, 2011

Mars Hill Church as a trademark, probably another sign it's a denomination/institution/franchise

A cease and desist order to a church calling itself Mars Hill down in Sacramento suggests any number of things.  One is that those people down in Sacramento may have lived in some special bubble world where the internet doesn't exist.  Two, those people have also lived in a part of the United States where Mars Hill, whether a Driscoll brand or a Bell brand, hadn't gotten much notice in the last fifteen years. 

And brand is exactly what comes up.  Mars Hill just turned fifteen years old recently and is no longer just in Seattle.  It is present in three states and multiple campuses exist.  It is, as I have been saying, a denomination.  If Driscoll and the elders at Mars Hill ever wanted to imagine Mars Hill would not become another denomination or institution a cease and desist order to a group of uncreative church planters in Sacramento should put to rest any doubt about the institutional and denominational nature of Mars Hill now.  Even as far back as about 2003 when people would ask me what Mars Hill was like I'd say, "Basically Calvinist Baptist without dispensationalism, which I'm okay with."  Well, I was at the time, obviously.

Well, if the cease and desist letter is legit then congratuations, Driscoll, Mars Hill is a denomination that can use its branding and trademark as leverage against little start-up churches like the one you planted fifteen years ago.  And, legally speaking, this "can" be done, but along the way you have to concede that the little church you planted has become the denominational institution that throws its weight around to make little churches fall into line.  It has become the kind of church and institution you used to complain about.  Citing trademark to tell a little church in Sacramento to cease and desist is a case where a big megachurch tells a little start-up what it can't do on account of branding and trademark.  Doesn't that sound like a big ol' institution telling a sincere little group of godly guys with a vision for missional community that they have to jump through some hoops? 

One of the great ironies about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill in the last fifteen years has been watching Driscoll and his church turn by steps from a little church plant that met in his house into a massive institution, a denomination and a brand.  Having spent a few years complaining about how too many pastors only have so many years of sermons in them he spent a good chunk of 2006-2008 recycling material from his 2000-2005 period.  Early on he and other pastors talked in 2000-2002 how traditional copyright was outmoded and that open copyright was the way to go and now?  Well, a cease and desist letter.

After talking about how denominations were dead institutions that could throw their weight around to make life miserable for little sincere start-up churches Driscoll and company have managed to become that, too.  Of course it's possible Driscoll complained about the ways denominations made life tough for little, sincere start-up churches and churches dependent on bigger churches for help because that's what he was chafing at.  Nothing quite says "institution" like a letter expressing concern that one's trademark and brand is in danger of being compromised. 

Back in 2000-2002 Driscoll was talking about how copyright was outmoded and becoming out of date and suggesting that people go with open copyright.  Well, I saw how that was going to turn out, the Mars Hill team was going to have a change of heart once it got big enough and popular enough to worry that its content might get infringed upon or dilluted in some way.  Unlike some ideologues I have come across I don't actually object to intellectual property.  Mars Hill as an institution may illustrate a short observation Robert Frost made in a poem, he wrote that he chose not to be radical in his youth for fear of becoming conservative when old.  The young radical from the 1960s could at lenth become a Reagan Democratic in the 1980s.  An upstart group of Christians claiming copyright was outdated in the late 1990s can become older guys who issue cease and desist letters about trademark infringement, it seems, in the 2010's.  Christians who want more public recognition of religion in the 1980s in America steadily don't want that recognition of religious practice to be Islam in the 2000's. 

Dare I suggest, as a conservative Christian, that the problem with this is that the real nature of the game is being given away?  Or perhaps we could consider that Francis Schaeffer pointed out decades ago that Christians must be ready to accept the full implications of engaging in discussion and debate in the marketplace of ideas. We have to grant the possibility that we may fail to make the sales pitch, fail to seal the deal, fail to make the most successful case for our view in light of alternatives.  Now a guy like Van Til wouldn't concede that possibility but, of course, I'm not talking Cornelius Van Til and "worldview", I'm talking Francis Schaeffer (not Frank). 

A lot can change in fifteen years.  Driscoll used to be far more critical of Robert Schuller in 2000 than he was in 2003.  Driscoll was more accomodating and less polemical toward egalitarians in 2001 than he has been in 2010 when he can afford to be less considerate now that there's no risk that ticking off egalitarian churches in Seattle might open fewer venues into which Mars Hill could move.  Mars Hill is also obviously much less dependent on support and resources from Antioch Bible Church.  Perhaps part of institutional growth and institutional memory is a selective forgetting and remembering of where you have come from. 

Psychology Today: Enemies Enhance the Meaning of Life

I suppose pertinent to my recent discussions of how the narrative we create for our lives can guide and shape us without our examining the nature of that narrative, here we are, observations (a bit too general for my taste) about how having enemies gives meaning to life.  The enemy may be specific (let's say that Batman has the Joker and Superman has Lex Luthor).  Or the enemies may be generic, like al Qaeda, or the Republican or Democratic parties, or maybe laws that restrict marriage to heterosexuals or laws that deal with intellectual property, or maybe a particular religious institution like the Roman Catholic church ... or religion in general or atheism in general. 

It is one of the things that has flourished in the wake of things like "worldview" discussions and has helped to catalyze "culture war", whether on behalf of a religious right conception of the just society or the secular left conception of a just society.  It's just preferable to not imagine that a just society includes one or the other, depending on what one wishes to imagine. The enemy can be seen to embody opposing values in some way or form and one's opposition can become a way of simplifying the world.  I admit that I can see how from the perspective of a secular progressive both a Christian and a Muslim will look pretty much the same in their opposition to a secular state in which religious views are not made the foundation of a just society. 

The Christian and the Muslim will not see things this way in many cases.  In fact a Christian may be least likely now, if he is a conservative or a neo-conservative, to see the correspondence.  But in the midst of the Cold War, particularly during the Reagan years, a Muslim in Afghanistan fighting the Soviets was an ally where as now ... well, the enemy of my enemy is no longer my friend once our common enemy has fallen.  As a certain pastor in Idaho once put it, today's political problems are generally the result of yesterday's political solutions. On that much we can certainly agree.

P.S.  I know I'm posting just link after link and I'd like to be more productive and coming up with stuff but I've been sick this week.  My main priority in writing has had to be cover letters and resumes.  If you find you're tired, have slight aches in your joints, feel a bit weak, and occasionally have to cough up green sputum it can really kill the literary impulse.  I'm surprised I've gotten as much written this week as I have!

And I feel like a chump because I've stalled (again!) in my esays about Batman for Mockingbird.  In my unhappy defense needing eye surgery, having some kind of nasty cold, being unemployed, dealing with medical bills, and attempting to continue the job hunt in the midst of all that does constitute a pretty powerful set of distractions.  Still, God willing I can get over this bug sooner rather than later and get back to writing stuff that doesn't involve pleading for kindness from medical billing offices or making a case for why this unemployed broke guy with bad eyes could use cataract removal surgery.

Reboot Christianity: Speaker for the Dead [Ed. title--Is "Legacy" how we whitewash the dead?

... What we have today is a tendency when someone dies to elevate them to saintly status and conveniently forget all the nastiness of their lives. It is the antithesis of Antony's speech in Shakespeare; where he once famously said, "The evil men do lives on after them; the good is oft interred in their bones", we find it to be the opposite today. The good is elevated and applauded; the evil is carefully and quietly hidden away. [emphasis added here and throughout]
It is said that this is done for politeness; perhaps so. I think more likely, however, this is done because of the preference by society at large to deny the inherent evilness of mankind and instead tell us that we are all basically so good. Anti-depravity, it would seems, requires that we have short memories about how people live their lives.

At any rate, with the recent deaths of two controversial luminaries, Steve Jobs of Apple and Al Davis of the Raiders, we find this principle of polite forgetfulness writ large. Both completely dominated their industries, literally changing the game fundamentally in their roles. Without them, neither the NFL nor technology looks even remotely the same as it does today. Their visionary influence is hard to overestimate, and they fundamentally shaped much of our world. And that is all that you will read about.
The greatness they do lives on after them; the evil seems to be interred in their bones.

But let us not forget that both were far from universally loved during their lives.

Jobs was famously hostile and spiteful; tales of his management style almost always discuss his dismissiveness, hostility, and fear-inducing leadership. He was near-Orwellian about centralization of power in the company, and was sometimes loudly criticized for the outsourcing of production to Chinese factories whose commitment to fair work practices was questionable at best. Under Jobs, Apple became one of the most aggressive censors of information on any Internet device, squashing a great deal of offensive material ("offensive" also apparently including anything invented by other companies). Further, he even established a sort of internal affairs team to seek out whistleblowers and leakers. A visionary he was; a saint, he was not.

I've never really been a Mac user but none of this stuff above is news to me.  Word gets around.

Legacy is a funny thing.  It frequently doesn't turn out to be to others what we imagine it should be to ourselves.  Most of us don't have a legacy of any note and yet each of us in some way will, understandably, want a legacy.  Whether or not Jobs' legacy will be given a more balanced presentation than the mainly laudatory one he's been getting in the weeks since he passed is not something I worry about.  Within weeks of Michael Jackson's death any number of people were going on about how the evil pedophile, no-talent pop star should not be mourned, this usually from people who can't find it in themselves to consider a popular entertainer someone to lament in any event.  We don't tend to lament the deaths of people who, however we classify them, as kinds of cultural enemies.  Mac users may not have great or kind words when Bill Gates passes but the legacy of Bill Gates and his company is surely going to be more than Windows Vista.

Jared Wilson, Prepare for Later Now--Ecclesiastes 12 and the weakness of the body

Jared Wilson writes about Ecclesiastes 12 and the fleeting powers of youth.  I add merely as a comment that for people who have grown up with disabilities those freedoms of youth have not always been entirely present.  Many young men and women live so comfortably within the bounds of their physical forms facing the slow and steady decline of the body is part of the dread of aging.  It is, frankly, a dread of aging, to discover the various ways in which your body can fail you, or that you can fail your body.  Many people, particularly young men it seems, may not realize that that body they have will one day fail. 

Any kid who has ever been called "four eyes" already has some idea of bodily limitation.  And a corresponding reality about growing up with a disability of some kind is you don't mind what you've never had most of the time.  Still, there are always moments where there may be something you can't do that others can do.  If the South Park episode "Gray Dawn" is any indication a lot of old people spend so many decades driving it just doesn't occur to them that they should no longer be driving out of consideration for other drivers.  Obviously this is not intended to be a particularly serious or extensive reflection here if I'm ending with reference to a South Park episode.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mark Driscoll asks people to give food to help Port Angeles Salvation Army food bank

As long-time readers of this blog well know (all fifteen of you? :)) I have not minced words about concerns I have had about Mark Driscoll's pastoral approach and some of the ways this has plays out in Mars Hill church culture.

However, as I have also said, I am also not interested in purely hatchet job profiles.  I leave that to other people and you probably know who those bloggers are already.  Driscoll has just asked that Mars Hill step up and donate food to go to the Port Angeles Salvation Army food bank, which was recently subjected to the theft of a literal ton of food. 

Driscoll's right, the theft has happened near the end of the fiscal year.  I ought to know, I used to work for them in the fundraising department.  My job was to help map out the data and code parameters in direct response fundraising strategies for the Salvation Army.  You can do the math there, dear readers.  Folks who may be tempted to assume Mark lies all the time should keep in mind that this is legit.  Times have been rough enough for the local Salvation Army in the last two years that, well, I'd still have my old job if things weren't so rough! 

For years I had hoped that Mars Hill would seriously consider collaborating with or partnering with the Salvation Army in some fashion.  That never materialized in the past.  In fact some Mars Hill attenders and members had the impression the Salvation Army was maybe just a Social Gospel thing and too liberal, or that they had problems because they ordain women.  Well, this is one Calvinist/Presbyterian (now) who has absolutely no problem working with egalitarians on issues I care about.  Helping the poor can be something where complementarians should not get their undies in a bunch working with egalitarian organizations.  I can assure you few organizations do a better job helping the poor than the Salvation Army.  It would have been nice if Mars Hill had stepped up to contribute earlier in less high profile ways but I'm biased because for the better part of a decade I was a Mars Hill member and a Salvation Army employee.  So, yeah, bias up front there.

Still, better late than never.  This, folks, is the kind of thing a celebrity megachurch pastor should throw his reputation behind.  My hope is that Mars Hill members go well above and beyond what is needed to help the Salvation Army Port Angeles food bank. 

HT Mockingbird: Atlantic article--"How zombies and superheroes conquered highbrow fiction"

The trappings of genre fiction—monsters, masked marvels, gizmos, and gumshoes—are no longer quarantined to the bookstore aisles reserved for popular fiction. Horror, mystery and science-fiction books have spread their genetic code to a foreign habitat: the literature section.

To understand why this is significant, it's important to stress how rare genre interpolations were in late 20th-century fiction. In the 1980s and 1990s, serious writers trafficked in realistic tales, simply told. Led by their patron saint, Raymond Carver, American minimalists like Grace Paley, Amy Hempel, Richard Ford, Anne Beattie, and Tobias Wolff used finely-tuned vernacular to explore the everyday problems of everyday people.

Discounting a few notable (and unclassifiable) isoladoes like Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and Don Delillo, our literature unfolded in diners, standard-issue automobiles, and the living room. Even those writers who did not subscribe to a Hemingway-influenced minimalist aesthetic—John Updike, Phillip Roth, Jane Smiley—still wrote about modern-day people in believable situations. In the 1990s, a new generation of writers took this tendency one step further, hyper-focusing on the stark realities of lesser-known contemporary subcultures (see Annie Proulx, Chris Offutt, William T. Vollmann, and Denis Johnson).

There is a point where literary realism is not realistic.  C. S. Lewis once wrote that it's less dangerous for a child to read a fantasy story with talking animals than some "realistic" story about boarding schools because a child can know that dogs and cats do not normally talk but it becomes harder to dispute the reality of boarding school headmasters and the like.  My friend J. S. Bangs has referred to Eve Tushnet's observation that "realism" is for those who consider their view of the world realistic while the rest of us must make do with genre. 

Having grown up with a fondness for superheroes I've seen plenty of people rip on superheroes as not realistic.  Art Spiegelmann once opined that he wasn't into superheroes because superheroes constitute power fantasies for children while he had adult power fantasies.  Having actually spent any time at all with children would surely disabuse Spiegelmann of this wildly inaccurate generalization.  For that matter in her sometimes denounced essay on feminism Joan Didion wrote that 1970s era women leaving husbands and children to break the shackles of traditional marriage to find themselves as painters and sculptures in New York were not embracing the realistic, pragmatic worlds of consenting adults.  They were,instead, embracing the fantasies of children.  Essays and novels and movies about the crushing conformity of suburbia are a dime a dozen and ironically the critique of suburbia itself constitutes an agreement with the trappings of genre fiction. 

If I weren't feeling sick as a dog and needing to write cover letters and resumes for the continuing job hunt I'd write more than I realistically know I can write about this subject right now.

Link: Mockingbird: You can't put your arms around a memory, especially a false one

DZ links to a Jonah Lehrer article about false memories.

Humans are storytelling machines. We don’t passively perceive the world – we tell stories about it, translating the helter-skelter of events into tidy narratives. This is often a helpful habit, helping us make sense of mistakes, consider counterfactuals and extract a sense of meaning from the randomness of life.

But our love of stories comes with a serious side-effect: like all good narrators, we tend to forsake the facts when they interfere with the plot. We’re so addicted to the anecdote that we let the truth slip away until, eventually, those stories we tell again and again become exercises in pure fiction. Just the other day I learned that one of my cherished childhood tales – the time my older brother put hot peppers in my Chinese food while I was in the bathroom, thus scorching my young tongue – actually happened to my little sister. I’d stolen her trauma.

One of the things I have spent a good deal of my life thinking about is memory and how it alternately shapes us and is shaped by us.  It is in the realm of memory we often refuse to discover for ourselves that the heart is deceitful above all things.  I could imagine to myself my memory is formidable but there are limits to it.  Conversely, I have been told I have one of the most formidable memories of practically anyone a person has met (and this person had by that time met a lot of people) and that there are still gaps in it.

Joan Didion has written about how the quest for a sensible narrative frequently causes us to falsify our own histories and embrace things that are not really true.  Our personal and collective history can often be unwittingly revised and refined, reverse-engineered in light not of what happened or who we are but who we now imagine ourselves to be.  We can create the narrative of our lives up until this point in such a way as to justify our emotional and intellectual habits now rather than letting the past be what it was.

Conversion stories both illustrate the power of this capacity and how it can be both helpful and dangerous.  A conversion can lead one to describe truthfully how "I used to do X but now I do Y.  I used to do A but not I do B."  Yet in the annals of American evangelicalism an unexamined emotional script may exist (as Fearsome Tycoon alluded to so simply at the Boar's Head Tavern recently).  An American in the throes of evangelicalism who leaves that can construct a conversion story post-conversion in which all it took was some simple thing that flipped a switch.  "I used to be evangelical and then I found out evolution is true" is the most common one for the conversion of an evangelical into an atheist or simply someone who's not "evangelical" enough for other evangelicals.  "I used to be an unbeliever and then I read book X."  Is a common conversion narrative for many Christians.  The notion that conversion is actually a process taking years or even decades is easier to skim over. 

In the midst of seeking out the singular, transformative experience we can be prompted (yes, I chose that word strategically) by social conformity and an eagerness to please that puts us in a frame of mind and heart where we accept a narrative trope that is not actually true of us.  One of the most pernicious yet widespread examples of this was the recovered memory movement from the 1980s and 1990s.  It became easy for individuals to remember things that did not happen to them because they were prone to the power of suggestion.  It became possible to reconstruct a history that didn't exist through immersion in counseling or a social unit in which it was accepted that cathartic, transformative incidents that happened before your brain developed the capacity to form long-term memories or register their relational and emotional significance.  It became possible to remember things that never happened as a magical way to explain why you are who you are now.  To the extent that Joan Didion has written about this capacity in humanity I enjoy her work (and for various other reasons).

It has happened at different times over my life I'll remember things that other people don't recall but it has also happened that people have confidently explained things to me that have no connection to what I remember happening.  One person said something to me that was dismissive and demeaning and then had no memory of saying such a thing a few years later.  Well, of course.  :)  Another person is positive that they couldn't have said anything on the order of X to person Y because that couldn't have happened.  This person can't remember any number of things said to persons A, B, or C but out of a conviction that the person couldn't have said anything upsetting to Y the narrative of self does its work.

In other cases a person may remember a history that does not fit the history other people in a social unit remembers but which makes the most sense to the person telling the story.  The most public and conspicuous example of this I have ever seen is Mark Driscoll's cravenly self-exonerating description of why he took up the pen name William Wallace II and how he conducted himself during that period.  If you asked him personally or personally brought up the subject of what he wrote as William Wallace II he might cringe a bit and concede that there's whole periods of his ministry he'd like to forget because of how badly things went or how he behaved.  But in a book published for thousands or tens of thousands to read?  Well ... confidence becomes its own reward.  Mistakes were made ... but not by me.

But closer to home I could face the temptation to imagine that I was, in my love of the scriptures, "always" committed to this or that doctrine.  Or I could say that I embraced some doctrine I didn't.  For maybe half my life I grew up in an Arminian household and was Arminian.  It wasn't until I was got into college that I began the process of leaning toward a more Calvinist position and it was a slow and steady process.  It was not merely the abstract theological arguments, it was also a process of discussing the dynamics of human behavior with other people and, equally important, simply observing the limits of human control  At the risk of overstating things a bit, able-bodied people frequently default to the assumption that so and so is free.  Ecclesiastes warns young men to appreciate the days of their youth before the days come in which you say "I have no pleasure in them."  This is a warning, possibly, of a formerly able-bodied man to still abled-bodied men. 

Yet I could try to look back and imagine that what convinced me of Calvinism was "just the Bible".  No, not just the Bible, also observations about scientific research on cognitive development, the formation of memory, and the frequently exasperating capacity of the human mind to be enslaved to its own prejudices and methods of making sense of the world.  If you observe anyone with any compulsive or addictive or self-destructive behavior for a while, not least should you ever observe these capacities in yourself, it can inspire you to be cautious about just how certain you are of your personal narrative. 

One of the more troubling but necessary discoveries I made about myself in the last two years was about my approach to food.  I have not, honestly, given a whole lot of thought to food overall.  I have not obsessed about finding the perfect dietary/culinary formula which shall confer upon me optimal health.  Because I went through my childhood being the one person in the family who almost never complained about Mom's cooking I thought that I was a simple-minded fellow who didn't invest a whole lot of emotional significance into food itself.  Food was just food.  There were some foods I liked better than others but food was just something to eat.  The idea that I could have emotional eating cycles never entered my mind, they were unexamined.

Then an acquaintence of mine, in early 2010, made the news because she was murdered by a man who had been stalking her for years.  I spent time with one of my roommates who generously got me some Asian food and I ate the whole thing in one sitting.  It dawned on me that night that without previously realizing it I had gone much of my life having emotional eating cycles.  I suddenly realized that night what "comfort food" really meant and how it can be a health risk if it is not examined or restrained.  I suppose as far as comfort food goes spicy Korean style pork could be more healthy than, say, a pint of ice cream, but there's still that proverb, "Do you like honey?  Don't eat too much of it or it will make you sick." 

The story about myself and my approach to food that I had unknowingly told myself was the truth turned out to be false.  The heart is deceitful above all things and who can understand it?  Well, a mixture of Scripture and science has proven very helpful. 

The temptation, however, to revel in a story now about how things were then remains.  Fearsome Tycoon sounds like he's tackling an overview of how people have a narrative based on political affiliation that colors their understanding of policy.  In other words, Republicans imagine themselves to be backing a party that stands for small government, a lean federal budget, and a lack of intrusion into the lives of citizens.  None of this is necessarily true and in the case of, say, Reagan, any number of things can be disproven by reference to policy decisions made during the Reagan years.  But party affiliation guides narrative. 

As has been famously discussed in American history, if a person is from the South then an entire narrative of the Civil War is embraced which selectively eliminates documents, rhetoric, and views about race as being primary motivators for conflict.  The war is even considered the War of Northern Aggression rather than the American Civil War depending on where you live.  Conversely, a comparably falsifiable narrative emerges in the North about how altruistic the Union motives were.  In an adjacent state Douglas Wilson published Southern Slavery As it Was. I agree with Fearsome Tycoon's jibe that Wilson should write another follow-up volume entitled Jim Crow As it Was.

I've met people who have personal histories which have changed in the course of life.  I am unable to observe this in myself, though I suspect it has happened.  When someone you have known for years describes themselves as having never subscribed to a view ten years ago and simply avoiding objecting to it you cannot help but take notice when this year they talk as though they "always" held that view you remember they always disliked, particularly if you also talked about this subject with other people who know this person.  What has happened?  Is the person lying in saying that view A, which they never actually endorsed, was the view they always subscribed to before?  Well, no, but the "truth" being told is an emotional narrative rather than a focus on factual details. 

If a husband insults his wife four years ago and gets a rein on his tongue now then if his wife remarks on an insult now by appealing to a past the husband might say "But I never do that."  Well, kind of, but not really.  What we tell ourselves must be true about ourselves in the abstract or in the whole lets us overlook all of the details of daily life and how we actually relate to people.  This is how a person who is prone to say cutting or dismissive remarks about anyone and everyone on an hourly basis can look back over the week and simply believe that he or she didn't do anything other than speak the truth.    The truth was not really spoken, but the judgment of the person who, in hindsight, rationalizes what he or she said by deciding it was the truth.  Mistakes were made but not by me.  If I made mistakes it was only because I may have over-reacted to mistakes you don't know or don't wish to admit you're making.

One of the roles of prophetic books is to puncture the fraudulent narrative God's people are so easily and so often tempted to believe in.  This is vividly shown in Jesus' debate with Jewish experts in John 8.  They protest that Abraham is their father and we know where Jesus goes with that.  He destroys the narrative they have constructed for themselves by confronting them with an alternative narrative, one that lays bare the real drift of their hearts.When faced with Christ the most dangerous thing we can ever say is "I would never", whether we may be Peter denying that he would ever deny Him, or Pharisees saying they would never have persecuted the prophets. 

A great deal of the brokenness in our lives and the brokenness we bring to the lives of others emerges from the "I would never" we continually say while doing exactly those things we tell ourselves (and others) we would never do.  But, like Christ, other people can see our "I would never" isn't true, even when we don't.  Other people can see that the "I always" or "I didn't" in our imagined pasts didn't happen.  Or maybe they can't, because they, too, share a narrative in which the truth of events and words and actions is suppressed for the emotional script of "this is who I am."  Sometimes this narrative takes the form of "This is who I am in God/Christ/Jesus."  That is, in sum, why we need prophets but about this a great deal more has to be said that must be saved for some other time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Feasome Tycoon translates Peter Leithart
Let’s assume that the Eucharist makes a political difference.
Let’s assume Republican Presidents create jobs.
And let’s observe that the predominate Christian tradition of the US has been a-Eucharistic.
And let’s observe that the current President is not a Republican.
Then we must ask, What political difference has that made?
Then we must ask, What difference has that made in the labor market?

Sometimes (or often) it takes a smart-ass Lutheran to cut through the jargon and Christianese of some Christians to show what they mean despite what they say.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I don't remember how long it's been since I linked to something on Slate but ...

I generally enjoy Anne Applebaum's work.  A friend was kind enough to pick up her book on the Gulag for me because it was selling for super cheap on a sale day at Half Price books.  Now there's yet another book in my too-many-books on my "books I have and ought to read" list.

HT. Mockingbird, Dragon Mothers and loving a child who has no future

Wow!  I just finished my last post and as if magically on cue DZ has posted this blog entry with a link to an article written by a mother who describes what it is like to raise a child you KNOW will not live long enough to have the bright future parents in America normally want for their children.  I was writing at the end of the last entry about how love of neighbor is love of neighbor, not merely love of neighbor as a means to an end ... and here DZ posts something about that subject with respect to parenting.  Another reminder of why Mockingbird has become one of my favorite blogs ever.

Speaking of which ... I still have a lot more material to write for them!

Fearsome Tycoon on the problem with Peter Leithart and similar theologians
My fundamental problem with Leithart is that he considers political power-brokers to be absolutely the most important people in the Church, and the attainment of political power by Christians (or the conversion of politicians) to be among the most important things that could possibly happen in the spiritual realm. Reading Jesus’ parables and looking at his ministry, I simply cannot in any way avoid the conclusion that if you care one whit more about the conversion of Caesar than the conversion of a hot dog vendor, you’re doing it wrong.

I think the mistake Leithart and other sympathetic theologians are making is that they’re confusing historical importance with theological importance. They don’t really look at what Jesus defines as important, because if you look at Jesus’ life and teaching the degree to which he simply did not care about the activities of the ruling class is shocking if you are a student of history and, if you are seriously religious, disturbing. Everyone from Mohammed to Marx gives their followers a pretty explicit program of social organization. Jesus does not, and the attempt to find one in his teachings has stumped earnest Christians for centuries

I think if you let Jesus define the Church and set its priorities, what you see in the history of the Church after Constantine is a grievous, sorrowing, utter disregard of passages like James 2:1-7. Looking at the way church authorities ultimately couldn’t risk the lure of political power and prestige makes me sad. I don’t see that as the kingdom of God come to life. It’s a restoration of the Herodian vision of the kingdom of God with a new coat of paint. Every time I read anything on the “political implications of the Gospel,” I get the feeling that if they’re right, Jesus really made a huge mistake by not going straight to Herod’s palace and telling him, “The kingdom of God is here, and it starts with you.”

And just to offend anyone I haven’t offended yet, I do indeed believe that Leithart is being as faithful a Calvinist as a Calvinist can be on this matter.

As a Calvinist who has read (and disagreed with) R. L. Dabney I'd say that it's hard to take offense.  I have come to disagree with people who embrace "political implications of the Gospel" for either the left or the right.  Orthocuban has blogged prolifically about how a Christian who takes Jesus' teaching seriously is not going to systemically land on either the left or the right in contemporary American political discourse--ordoliberal as he has called it in his case.

But I suggest here that some preachers and thinkers who say that we should not attempt to directly engage politicals have a differen way of waging the same campaign under different marketing.  Yep, "engage culture" or "move upstream".  Not to say that Christians shouldn't participate in society and attempt to influence it for the better but love of neighbor means love of neighbor, doesn't it?  Not merely love of neighbor as a means to an end.

P.S.  Kent, not that you're necessarily reading this but I think it's pretty obvious that Jesus was saying there would always be poor people but not that there was nothing anyone could do to help the poor.  It's implicit in the conversation that Jesus was saying "You can help the poor later, what this woman has done for me can't be done later."  It's impossible for me to look at the passage you're asking about and see the binary options you've laid out.  There are plenty of poor people Christians can help and plenty of poor people who just won't believe in Jesus.