Saturday, December 17, 2011

and writing continues

It's been a long time since part 3 of Batman: the Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire got published over on Mockingbird, hasn't it? Yep.  "Heart of Ice, Heart of Wrath" took months to put together.  I only managed to finish the essay after a few sleep-deprived nights revisiting C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton after watching every Mr. Freeze episode in the DCAU.

I was certain that after all the work it took to complete that essay that part 4, "The Wounds of Discovery" was going to be a cakewalk by comparison. What a fool I was for thinking that!  Well, at least I have chosen a essay title that ironically mocks me for having so much trouble finishing this essay!

Well, at least you can go read parts 1 through 3 if you want to while I keep working on part 4:

My goal is to have part 4 complete before the new year.  I wanted to have part 5 and 6 finished by then and to have already begun work on the Justice League essays but life happens, in my case, eye surgery happened.

appropos of movies

I've never been much of a Tom Cruise fan yet the fact that Brad Bird has directed the new Mission Impossible movie means I do want to see it.  If the director of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille is helming a Mission Impossible film and Simon Pegg is in the film to boot then, well, I can just overlook that it's a Tom Cruise vehicle.  Don't necessarily expect a review if I see it.  I don't know if or when I will. 

yep, still a comic book nerd

I recently saw some of the promotional photos and teaser for the next Spiderman film.  Any number of things could go wildly wrong with the film but at this point I would guess that Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy couldn't be one of them.  She looks like a John Romita Jr. drawing come to life and I know from Zombieland she has the chops to transcend Stan Lee's odiously binary depiction of women.  I'm going to state this in some very blunt terms, Stan Lee only seems to know how to write women as weepy clingers or party skanks if he's not writing old biddies.  Sue Storm possibly excepted, my brother tells me.  Don't get me wrong, I still love the old Spiderman comic books up through about issue 137 or so but I'm not going to soft pedal my unhappiness with how Stan Lee has tended to write women.  Emma Stone may have a chance to play Gwen Stacy the way she could have been if Lee had stuck with his earliest characterization of Gwen rather than what happened later.

I never cared for Bane but Christopher Nolan got me to like the Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul.  He also came up with the most compelling version of Two-Face/Harvey Dent on film so far.  So if Nolan decides to use Bane and hadn't been familiar with the character before that's okay.  Better that than Sony strong-arming Raimi into using Venom.  The reveal that Bane is the main listed bad guy for The Dark Knight Rises conveniently lets me keep mentioning the use of Bane in Batman: the animated series for my Mockingbird project.

Of course everyone by now must already have heard, for those of us into comics, that Jerry Robinson died.  Co-creator of the greatest Batman villain ever made Robinson would be famous within the medium just for that.  I didn't blog about that because I know that there's nothing I could add that others wouldn't have said better.  Since I'm on a post about comics and comic books in film, though, I'll at least mention Robinson's passing in, well, passing.

Tim Challies, slightly late to the Driscoll party about sex and marriage

It's understandable Tim Challies would only discover certain things about Mark Driscoll a whole decade after someone in Seattle discovered these things about him.  Such is life, such is the internet, and such is living in the real world without paying attention to a nobody who's trying to tell everybody about somebody when he was actually more of a nobody. If his first contact with the Driscoll's discussing sex is this book and not Peasant Princess or the 2002 sermon on sex (which, I know, you can't even find anymore since it got pulled, last I checked) or the 2007 stuff, then it's understandable that Challies is very late to what might be described as the Driscoll party about sex and marriage.

That's the thing about the speed of the internet, on some things it can be swift as lightning but on other things some things don't come to the attention of bloggers until somewhere between five to ten years have passed. 

Justin Barnard articulated what seems to be Tim Challies driving point of concern way back in 2009.  So props to Barnard for articulating his concern with a systemic problem in Driscoll's theology of sex almost a year after Peasant Princess began.  That may seem like a long time, especially given the proverbial speed of the internet, but it's faster than others. 

Of course the Driscoll's aren't the only ones selling a book about "real marriage".  Check it out

Looks like megachurch pastors are thinking the same things here.  The Driscolls have their book on marriage and so the Youngs also have one.  But according to Driscoll in that Rhoades interview preachers are talking too much about sex lately?  Can we  _______? 

Why, of course we can, as long as it's lawful, helpful, and not enslaving.  So I have permission to blog about this topic and note that some folks who are genuinely (and in some cases legitimately) concerned about Driscoll's weaknesses as a teacher are about a decade late.  Way, way back on the Babblerash days there were a couple of folks who said the bluntest way possible they saw how Driscoll's approach to Song of Songs worked itself out with reference to chapter 2, verse 3 and said they had concerns that the guy might be some kind of sex addict or pervert to so persistently see only the sexual side of the book from a pastoral perspective.  Now I know that it's popular to only see that side of the book these days.  It is, quite literally, sexier to do so.   Carl Trueman has noticed.

It seems to be the latest thing: middle aged pastors writing books about sex and/or talking about it in the pulpit all the time. Don't get me wrong: if you and your wife being "on the job" seven days in a row has revitalised your marriage and your spiritual life, nobody could be happier than yours truly. I am absolutely delighted for you. Really, I am. But I do wonder if the rest of us need to know about it. I especially wonder if your children and your parents-in-law and your congregation need to know about it.
Indeed.  The answer from the Driscoll and Young camps seems to be, "Why, yes!  You absolutely must know.  Let's make sure we've spent anywhere between 7 to 12 weeks telling you!  Be sure to buy the book and DVD series, too, and generously support our ministry so we can print a second edition. Don't forget to go to our websites named after ourselves and post comments thanking us for going to the trouble, if possible."

Trueman also touches on the recent rhetoric of envy.  A person who thinks maybe celebrity pastors are going to far or have problems could only be writing out of a sinful envy of the success of the megachurch pastor.  Not only is this not a particularly viable argument simply on its face it ignores the reality that not everyone who is critical of a megachurch/celebrity pastors is 1) even a pastor 2) ever wants to be a pastor.  Of course for that sort of person there's always the canard of "God appointed authority".  The thing about God appointed authorities, in case people hadn't bothered to read two paragraphs in OT narrative literature, is that not all people given authority by God are always in formal positions of leadership or power ,and not all of them are inside the beltway.  Not all God-appointed gifts and roles and offices are always at the center of power.

Of course it still leaves me befuddled that people have come to notice the obsession with sex and the branding of sex as the thing evangelicals are better at than the world, particularly in the case of the Driscolls, roughly a decade after this became part of the shtick.  I guess it's the nature of the press cycle and book deals and megachurches doing their thing with video clips.  It's the nature of book deals with attendent DVD study guides.  Such details as that letter at the end of "real" being tilted off to the right which just proves that it's all about keeping things real and talking about stuff that no other Christian authors have talked about. 

Steven Furtick plugs the Young book by saying most preaching and teaching on marriage isn't getting the job done.  What's the job? Why isn't it getting done?  Didn't Furtick listen to all of Peasant Princess?  After all, that was three months of hitting all the important topics about marriage and sex, right?  Or was Furtick just saying what would make for a good book endorsement blurb because Ed's closer to home and that book endorsement was easier to make for a shorter sermon series?  I don't know.

Let's consider some of these other authors or teachers who haven't been getting the job done all these years, shall we?  If Furtick thinks most teaching/preaching hasn't gotten the job done what's he referring to?. Song of Songs?  Paul? The Reformers?  Church fathers?  The Puritans?  Am I supposed to believe that James Dobson has never fielded any of these subjects in the last forty years? Tim LaHaye never published a book dealing with marriage or sex?  We only just got two millenia away from the resurrection of Jesus and NOW we have pastors and their wives making it all real for people about marriage, whether it's Ed Young or Mark Driscoll? 

Maybe I could throw these guys a bone and say that no one has written a book for post-internet limitations in attention spans in American evangelicals.  There have been books written on the subject of sex and marriage but they were published before the Google search destroyed our capacity to go to a library and actually research something for longer than 85 seconds.  Besides, I've gone through eye surgery recently so,honestly, I can actually understand why reading for long periods of time can be challenging.  I'm serious about that.

Now having written at some length on what I consider to be problems in Driscoll's approach to Song of Songs within the context of broader Christian interpretation I'm the last person to say that Challies' concerns have no merit.  But it is too bad that people, whether they're John MacArthur or Challies, articulate their concerns years after Driscoll has already transformed Song of Songs into odes to wifely stripteases and oral sex.  And, really, how could they have headed something like that off at the pass when this has been Driscoll's approach to the text for the last decade? 

Then again, if Driscoll had actually submitted himself to someone's discipleship and teaching, some pastor who could keep him accountable for anything, this might have been avoidable.  The overtures of humility or repentance withstanding, this is precisely what Driscoll has not been interested in at any practical level over the last fourteen years.  True, he loves Jesus and all that, but when the rubber met the road and he had his wife in a position to be the bread winner when he believed that was wrong he didn't resign his pastoral job because he failed to manage his household well; was worse than an unbeliever; and therefore by his own metric was certainly unfit to be a pastor.  No, he just kept on keeping on until Mars Hill could pay him a salary.  Then he repented, just in time.

Now since I don't think a pastor must necessarily always ever be the breadwinner, and the passage Driscoll famously warped to refer to stay-at-home dads is about the care of widows and anyone who won't take care of family anyway,  I don't actually think Driscoll was in a position to have to step down.  I am, however, saying that if Driscoll took his own overheated rhetoric seriously on its own terms he should have resigned his pastoral role rather than continue.  Driscoll's not a hypocrite on the basis of what Jesus and the apostles taught, he was a hypocrite for laying out a set of rules he didn't bother to keep himself that he has since insisted others keep.  If a person repents in time to be paid a salary that's repenting in time to have one's cake and eat it, too, to keep being a pastor despite being unfit for it by the measure of one's own conscience.  Or, perhaps, Driscoll's conscience wasn't that stung by the realization that he was letting his wife be the breadwinner.  He stayed on the job, after all.

That Driscoll has become a lightning rod about sex and marriage now is because he exonerated himself from the sternest application of his personal convictions about husbands as bread-winners in the context of being a pastor a decade ago.  Who was it that said, "They sit in the seat of Moses"? And "You should do everything they tell you to but don't follow their example"? Here's the thing, the Pharisees were certainly zealous for the keeping of the Law, getting back to the Bible, and promoting good things.  They just did this at the expense of justice and mercy. 

Well, at least the Youngs have a book out in January 2012, too.  And I suppose, in all fairness, Driscoll spent three years in Luke after Peasant Princess wrapped up.  So if he's recycling material for the Real Marriage sermons and the book tour I guess he at least waited three years.  One could suppose that with the new thousands of members who weren't around since the record attendence levels Peasant Princess got that it could be time for a fourth time around.  1999, 2002, 2008, why not 2012?  Once more, and toned down a little more?  Maybe by the time the Driscolls are in their sixties they will have reached James Dobson family friendly levels. 

Meanwhile, maybe someone can keep track of which book sells better, the Driscoll's Real Marriage of the Youngs Sexperiment.  I'll leave it to other people to actually read megachurch pastors' books on marriage and sex.  I've still got that Adolph Schlatter commentary on Romans to keep reading through.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Evangelicals and arguments for chastity

The article Fearsome posted on the BHT has gotten me thinking about evangelical arguments for chastity.  Basically they suck.  How do I know this?  Well, if 80 percent of evangelicals ages 18-29 admit they're all fornicating animals that's one measure of failure.  Now the biblical prohibitions against gay sex and adultery are easily located but it seems the big failure in evangelicalism is the fornicating/pre-marital sex part. What has been the argument for avoiding premarital sex?

Lauren Winner has been saying for a few years that the whole case evangelicals build for chastity is this: you need to save it for the wedding night.  You want that wedding night to be super special.  You don't want to go into marriage with the shame of knowing you've been with other people.  Well, she has said, that argument may actually work for teenagers but if you're 28 instead of 18 and you're not sure you're ever going to get married what arguments can you marshall for chastity?  The answers evangelicals have come up with, if the fornicating rate of younger evangelicals is any indication is, nothing. Everything hangs on getting evangelical youth to marry as fast as possible so as to solemnize the sex drive.

I've written about this at length already but I've seen an inconsistent appeal to the biology of sex in evangelicalism.  If you're gay then whatever is biochemically applicable about your sexuality is something you need to repent of.  Turn to Jesus and repent of your biochemistry and sexuality.  If you're straight?  Well, get on the horse as fast as possible and get married because that biological thing called sexuality is proof that you need to be married.  Preferably last week, if you really love Jesus. 

Yet Paul wrote that the one who marries does well and the one who does not marry does better.  Paul famously lays out an eschatological argument that the present time is difficult and the time is short.  Life isn't THAT long in the eternal scope of things and you won't be married in the age to come.  Therefore if you can keep yourself from sexual immorality don't be in a rush to marry. I know this seems like a silly and impossible argument if you're 18 and beset by hormones but when you're 37 and have seen your friends lose wives and husbands to cancer or war or you've read newspaper headlines in which old college associates have been murdered you begin to realize how short life is.  When you've seen how married life has its joys that come at the cost of, say, finishing a book or song you wanted to write, you realize that there are opportunity costs to marriage.  More on this thing about opportunity costs later.

The second argument is that sexual sin is a sin against one's own body.  Tim Keller fleshed this one out a bit by pointing out that there are bonding processes in intercourse that knit two people together the more they have sex and that sexual immorality divorces the sexual act from this process.  As my brother-in-law put it, in a very different way, he noticed that once people started actually having sex they often couldn't stop.  So it made sense to not start unless you were starting with someone you're married to.

An application of the second argument is that the subject of "sexual compatibility" shouldn't even have to come up.  If you've kept your pants on and avoided fornication then if you and your spouse are not masters of bedroom sex positions then it doesn't matter, because you have no reference point from which to negatively assess your performance. As Luther is said to have said (and Lutherans, correct me if I'm wrong) if the husband and wife love each other they will love each other enough to not sweat how awesome or bad the sex is and the love outside the marital bed will be the incentive to get better. 

Now the third argument is one I don't think I've heard any evangelicals make in the last fifteen years for avoiding premarital sex.  I've seen it trotted out at rare intervals against adultery but the argument is from Proverbs 5.  Sexual immorality is financially catastrophic.  She may look hot, son, but when she gives birth to that out-of-wedlock baby three states away it's going to cost you!  You won't get custody of the kid, but you'll have to spend the next twenty years paying child support for a kid who will be raised, in all practical matters, as someone who isn't your kid. You'll get all the financial burdens and responsibilities of that child without the joys of playing with the kid or watching cartoons with the kid or teaching the child the things you know and the things you believe.  Oh, well, you might, but that'll be once a week or once a month depending on har far away the mother moved after things went south.

Proverbs 5 and 7 warn that while the opportunity for sexual gratification may be tempting it should not be forgotten that the cost is immense.  Back when I was a teen my parents were hard up for work and funds.  I ended up getting a job where I paid for my portion of the food bill.  Teenage boys eat a lot, in case anyone needs reminding of that.  Getting a grasp of how much I had to pay into the food budget just for my own food gave me some dim insight into the expense of kids.  I concluded that if I wasn't ready to raise one of my own it was not a great idea to sentimentally seek out the girl who would "complete me". 

I've had friends who are fellow evangelicals tell me that my remarks on the enormous expense of married life seems like an anti-romantic buzzkill.  I don't mean it to be that way.  It's just that I've seen marriages fall apart and what can happen to the kids in the wake of those divorces, those affairs, and those serial daters.  I've had a chance to observe the significance of divorce both first hand and second hand, and sometimes third hand.  I have come to the grim conclusion that most American evangelicals are sold, and sell themselves, a bill of goods about marriage that emphasizes the benefits and pleasures without adequately considering the expenses and responsibilities.  Now I grant up front that I have probably weighed the burdens and responsibilities too heavily but I haven't exactly been on dates so my observations are based on observation. 

It doesn't help that in many cases marriage is seen as the +10 category friendship, as Driscoll so eagerly put it.  A friend of mine has told me he wants to be married because there will be emotional intimacy.  I have told him that if he hasn't obtained that sort of emotional intimacy with family and friends already why should he think he'll obtain that kind of intimacy in a marriage? Marriage as the  +10 friendship over and above close friends and family (+7?) helps to perpetuate marriage as a holier-than-normal kind of relationship.  And, of course, marriage mirrors the Trinity so that makes it even more holy than any other kind of human relationship!  Who wouldn't want to be married then, ,eh? 
All those fornicating unmarried Christians are just seeking to model the love within the Trinity I guess, because there's no other kind of relationship that models Christian love that evangelicals want to talk about, is there? There are other kinds of relationship that model Christian love ... but we don't stamp them with "God's design" and move from there to the "epidemic of singleness", do we?

If evangelicals persist in arguing against premarital sex on the basis of the idealized wedding night then it won't be any wonder that 80 percent of American evangelicals in successive generations will tire of waiting.  We're in an economic slump that has been comparable to other recessions.  Some have even compared to to the Depression in terms of where it might still go.  This means the median age of first marriage is going to keep going up, not down.  Now if the best argument against premarital sex evangelicals come up with is still "save it for the wedding night" then evangelicals are idiots.  There is no place where the biblical authors ever make that case!

I've outlined the three basic arguments for avoiding premarital sex and other sexual dalliances that I've noticed in scripture over the years.  It would seem as though all three arguments must be kept in mind at various stages in life.  Let's face it, if there were only ONE case for keeping your pants on it's possible to exempt yourself from that one argument.  But if there are three arguments then if you might exempt yourself from warning 1 then warnings 2 and 3 are still relevant.  Your success rate may not reach 100%, you might still stumble with temptation, but if you have three biblically derived arguments for resisting temptation that's better than hanging everything on "I'm saving it for the wedding night."  We've had a chance to see over the last tweny years how THAT line of argument has been working out in evangelicalism.

There is a fourth argument, for the already married, that what you have is better than what you want.  Proverbs 5 discusses this a bit.  Be happy with the spouse you have because what you have is better than what you want.  The eye never has enough of seeing nor the ear of hearing.  There is always something newer and better, someone younger and hotter, or someone more "emotionally available" that you may be tempted to want.  Resist that temptation.  He or she will get old and fat, become emotionally distant, and die at some point.  As I have told some of my friends remember that time and gravity will inevitably defeat us all.  Some of my prettiest friends have appreciated this observation as more than a simple joke.  They don't mind being appreciated for being beautiful now but they want to be appreciated for more than that, and know that one day physical beauty will fade.  Your character remains when you no longer have the slamming body you had in your early twenties ... if you had one that is. 

If this seems like a recipe for going decades without getting any and sometimes being miserable about that, well, it is, but the practice of being a Christian means living your whole life with a desire that won't be realized in this life.  Why do you think we hope in the resurrection of Christ and sharing in the life to come?  Because it means getting all the tail we want now in Jesus' name, if we're adequately obedient?  Who sold you that prosperity gospel, anyway? Who says that if you just get all your ducks in a row that things will fall into place and then you can crank out a brood for Jesus' fame?  If that happens, well, be grateful, especially if the children are born without any genetic problems that led to allergies to common foods or neurological disorders or liver conditions.  Now I probably do seem like a buzzkill about marriage and parenting, huh? 

I don't think my mother has regretted giving birth to me even though I've spent my whole life with a vision history so bad eye doctors and surgeons remark on how crazy it is.  Has she stopped praying that my eyes would get better?  Nope.  Have my eyes gotten better?  Well, not exactly, but as I've been writing about in my essays on Batman: the animated series Batman lives in the place where he is reminded of what has been irrevocably lost and living with a desire that is impossible to have met in this life.  In other words, the Fall is the Fall and the new heaven and earth are not yet with us. Batman villains can be seen as those who deny any Fall took place or that death will touch us all, or who believe they can usher in the new heaven and earth with their plan.  Batman calls bullcrap on both impulses, which is why he's a hero.

But it also means Batman lives between the agony of loss and impossible desire, all the time.  This is actually the normal way of living as a Christian. I keep driving this point home as I work on essays about Batman: the animated series for Mockingbird because I like Batman, but also because the cartoon does a good job of illustrating an unresolvable tension that can be seen as characteristic of Christian living.  We live between an awareness of the Fall and and a new heaven and earth that isn't with us, and a resurrection body we do not have and anticipate. 

Meanwhile, the whole process of offering one's body as a living sacrifice suggests that the sacrifice is not your best life now, and it's not fulfilling "God's design" by letting biological impulses be taken as prima facie evidence that what you want must be what God wants for you.  There are going to be times of miserable loneliness compounded by evangelicals saying that you're not being married means you're a loser who has failed to live out "God's design".  You might even hear some pastor say something like that having sex with a condom is like trying to eat a stake with a latex glove on your tongue.  You might end up having a pastor go on a weeks-long or months-long series on marriage and sex and hear friends say, "Oh, it's cool because it gives us something to look forward to."  Reread that as new ways to be tempted, too.  If evangelicals think their best argument for chastity and fidelity is "save it for the wedding night" then the 80 percent of evangelicals ages 18-29 who are boning each other like there's no tomorrow may well prove how compelling that argument has been.  We've made the bed as evangelicals, and we've found out a little too clearly what we've done while in it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the "aesthetics of plausibility", spiritual authority, and a narrative in recovered memory

Earlier this year Carl Trueman used a phrase, "the aesthetics of plausibility". He used it to refer to how megachurch pastors of the celebrity variety model themselves after plainspoken comedians just keeping it real. This is aesthetically defining one's persona as authentic and relevant.  Not all cultures expect this from pastors and so a pastor who would go over well in a megachurch American context will not fit in within other cultures.  Cultural relevance is, unsurprisingly, relative, contextual, and all that.  But I'm not interested in digressing into all that as that is the pet obsession of missiologists and pastors and so on.

No, what I want to touch upon with the "aesthetics of plausibility" is how and why the recovered memory fad has ever had or continues to have a lure.  I will overstate things here a bit and say that since in the last twenty years the viability of recovered memory therapy has been almost completely discredited the whole enterprise of a recovered memory can be seen as a form of sympathetic magic.  If you can go back into the past and discover the trauma from the past that you'd suppressed that will liberate you to be truly you or a new you in the present.  I don't say this to cast doubt on those who have actually been abused in childhood, for those who may not be following the nature of my proposal.

What I'm proposing is that at a popular level certain narratives become popular to a degree that even preachers who on the surface appear to denounce pop psychology can embrace pop psychology with gusto.  Driscoll, for instance, has extolled "The Five Love Languages" over the last decade.  In his spiritual warfare presentation he talked about his God-given super-power to "see things".  What did he see?  Molestations in real time.  Adultery, sexual sins generally.  Twenty years ago there was a huge fad of repressed memory of sexual abuse that therapists help people discover.  Discover might have to be in scare quotes.  There is an aesthetic of plausibility to a narrative in which your life today is one of sadness and bondage due to sins committed against you. 

This narrative can be Christianized by linking the experience you had, real or imagined, to the Fall and to the stain of death that entered the world through sin.  The recovered memory can be used then, as a kind of talisman for divine revelation that allows you to break generational curses, cut soul ties, and things like that.  Or in other church settings it can help you discover that this preacher or that "biblical living" pastor/counselor helps you discover lost or ignored events that help to explain why you are where you are today. Thus a marriage on the rocks now would be on the rocks because of an affair a woman had ten years ago.  But that affair would merely be symptomatic of problems that already existed in the relationship, wouldn't it?  Well, no matter, it becomes talismanic to uncover such an event or to propose that such an event existed.

Back in my Pentecostal days it was common enough to have an approach to music where the goal was to emotionally whip kids into a frenzy.  Teenagers, you know.  Well during those impressionable teen years I was swayed by the mood of the moment and had trouble staying still and shook and mumbled.  The preacher said that he appreciated my appreciating the music but that it was time to be cool and stay calm.  Two other people led me outside and started praying over me.  They had come to a very different conclusion than the preacher had!  They were going through every possible spirit to exorcise from me they could think of and some old lady was there doing the same.  I began to rustle a bit to say that I was okay but they kept pressing down to keep me in place.  They were rebuking everything they could think of.  I began to realize that they weren't going to stop restraining me until I agreed that I was possessed of something or other on that list.  They finally got to some new possible source of bondage and I said "How did you know?"  I don't feel particularly good about saying that but that did, at least, get them to stop restraining me from being able to move or get up. 

So, dear reader, I'm afraid that I have some first hand experience with what may be called `the 'aesthetics of plausibility'.  I learned later that the old lady was declaring to other people she'd cast out demons from me.  Great ... not exactly the most wonderful news to be hearing about!  There was a pastor at the church who stepped in on my behalf and asked the old lady to stop spreading that report. 

Why do I mention that?  Heh, I hope by now it's obvious.  A person who is told by a pastor in a counseling session, "This is what I think God is saying is the root cause of the problems" may, entirely without intending to be deceptive, feel obliged to agree just because the social pressure of the moment seems to provide no other option.  The person may not have done anything remotely like whatever that counselor has proposed but the person knows the pastor is going to default to a request to be proven right.  If you say "Nothing like that happened" the question comes back, "Really?  Are you sure?"  In Pentecostal circles and in revivalist camp meetings that could be rephrased as:

Do you know!?

Do you know that you know that you know!?

Yep, I've been to some Pentecostal camp meetings in my life.

Even if you think you know, you'll be asked enough times (rhetorically) that you'll begin to think that maybe you don't know.  Even if you do know it couldn't hurt to walk down the aisle one more time, you know, just to make your calling and election sure.  Barring that there's always walking the aisle to make sure you're not a backslider and that you renew your commitment.  In a similar way, it can be that in a pastoral counseling session a person can become convinced that since it's good to confess and be aware of hidden faults (Ps 19 and Ps 119) maybe it wouldn't hurt to confess sins you're not aware you have committed because you can't recall having ever committed those.  Then again, you might have, so it couldn't hurt to agree just in case. 

Embracing an aesthetic (or a set of rhetorical as well as social gestures) to make one's self or one's story more plausible to a given narrative or appeal can happen as a way to cement certainty in the self or the other, but also as a way to foster doubt in the self ... or in the case of certain pastoral or polemical contexts, the other.  You can lay out a lengthy and contentious set of arguments and assertions defining a particular topic around premise A and if you pull that off then you've practically won.  But if a person can establish that premise A isn't even the only premise relevant to a given subject and that premise B must also be considered the entire argument from premise A has to be revised, at best, or at worst abandoned.  Having literally been on the restraining end of such a set of assumptions I can tell you that proposing premise B is not going to be welcomed.  It's beyond the aesthetics of plausibility.

Mark Driscoll, "I see things", cessationists, prophets, and recovered memories

Readers will have noted I wrote a lengthy series expressing my reservations about Driscoll's approach to Song of Songs.  I've also written my thoughts on the logo situation and about giving trends.  I have been intending to write for some time about the "I see things" clip.  I listened to the whole spiritual warfare series back in 2008 while I was still attending mars Hill.  I also actually picked up the unabridged The Christian in Full Armour by William Gurnall because I learned of it through a Boar's Head Tavern discussion. Unfortunately I have since lent it to someone and I have no idea who!  I have wanted to read the book simply out of curiosity because so many books purporting to deal with spiritual warfare have been, well, too ... "Pentecostal" for my taste.  Alas, reading the book has been a non-starter but such is life. 

This is something I've been meaning to write about for months but I have wanted to avoid writing anything merely off the cuff.  I have also wanted (ardently) to avoid writing from some passion of the moment.  I've seen a lot of for and against about Driscoll over the years and longtime readers will know most of it drives me completely up the wall.  Like Spiderman battling Doctor Octopus levels of up the wall.

The subject of Driscoll's clip from the 2008 presentation in January to church leaders has been whether the claims are legitimate and whether Driscoll is insane for having made the claims he has made.  I've already seen a variety of claims.  One is that he's lying through his teeth and knows this is all a farce.  Atheists make that one, surprise.  Another is the cessationist "pornographic divination" variety that is probably exemplified by the Team Pyro kind of case.  Neither of these seem to get at Driscoll and they won't get to him, either.  He's not an atheist and he's a former cessationist in leaning.  Part of why he backed off was due to some experiences he said he had.
By 2002 he and I had discussed exegetical problems in how most cessationists attempt to get their views into passages that can't be interpreted in a cessationistic way, most famously 1 Cor 13.  There basically is no strictly exegetical defense of cessationism and Driscoll came to this conclusion ten years ago.  Having conversed with Driscoll personally about the work of Wayne Grudem, Gordon Fee, and others I am in a position to know that Driscoll also became disillusioned with what he considered to be John MacArthur's irresponsible polemics against charismatic/Pentecostal/continuationist theology.

Driscoll rejects dispensationalism and won't endorse either the Rapture or post-millenialism in its theonomistic varieties.  He also rejects an abstainence from alcohol teaching even though for years he avoided drinking alcohol himself.

But cessationist critiques of Driscoll's claims to visions aren't the only basis from which to express concerns about Driscoll's "I see things" claims.  Secular science in psychology and cognitive development have established decades ago that recovered memories are, at best, problematic.  In this respect I find the secularist skepticism about a recovered memory of a sexual immorality ten years ago to be more plausible an objection than a cessationist simply asserting that Driscoll must be guilty of divination.  The idea that God can't look upon evil as a reason that God wouldn't beam visions of violence into Driscoll's had is the kind of straw man that gets into a freak gasoline fight accident with the friends of Derek Zoolander and then lights up a cigarette.  Of course God sees evil in some fashion or there's no point in Genesis 6, is there?  There's no point in a final eschatological judgment, either.  If God can't even look on evil how were authors of scripture inspired to write down Amnon raping Tamar or Onan's refusal to continue his brother's family line? And what about the Levite's concubine? 

Another problem with the claim of pornographic divination comes from the issue of what sort of role a pastoral role actually is.  In this matter many cessationists want to judge preachers as though they were prophets yet there are countless Christians and some church traditions that consider pastors to be priests.  If the pastoral role is a priestly role then, yes, all those prohibitions against divination make sense.  Notice, however, that the modes of divination forbidden to the priest are to the priest.  They appear as a set of things priests are not allowed to do.  Elisha asked a man to tap arrows on the ground and the number of times he tapped the arrows on the ground would indicate the number of victories he had.  Elisha cursed a group of children for mocking him and they were mauled by bears. Ezekiel and Isaiah and other prophets were known to do and say very odd things.  Elisha told Namaan to bathe himself in the Jordan seven times.  Elisha advised actions that could, depending on how you looked at things, seemed curiously like sympathetic magic. 

As Susan Garrett put it in her books on diabology in Luke and Mark, one of the challenges of defining witchcraft or sorcery is that it often has an inherently polemical definition.  One person's holy man is another person's sorcery and this is shown most explicitly in the accusation Pharisees made against Jesus, claiming that His exorcisms were performed in the power of Satan.  Strictly speaking Jesus' rebuttal that if Satan casts out Satan he is at war against himself is not a completelly watertight argument.  After all, if it had been no one would have continued to want to kill Jesus.  So some of the challenge here, amongst actually religious people, is that a claim that Driscoll must be guilty of pornographic divination is that the claim is already a polemic which assumes the worst about Driscoll without adequately backing up the assertion.  What is divination?  I'm not suggesting cessationists could never have a basis for making that assertion but they would need to explain what they actually mean by divination. 

But another aspect to consider here is what the nature of the pastoral role actually is.  Deuteronomy's warnings against divination is a warning for priests.  As I have considered here, prophets in the OT could occasionally act in ways that could be construed as a form of sympathetic magic depending on who was interpreting things.  Saul, famously, sought the witch of Endor to get in touch with Samuel after the prophet/judge's death.  We could propose for the sake of yet another tangent in this post that a difference between Samuel's understanding and David's understanding of Samuel's role could have been that David understood Yahweh to be guiding him through Samuel's actions while Saul saw Samuel as another seer and someone who was not necessarily any more special than another seer he could have hired to find his father's livestock.  If it is possible for two different annointed kings to view the same prophet as either a prophet or as someone to consult for divination this, too, may suggest that an attempt on the part of a Christian to evaluate Driscoll's claims may not always be as simple as cessationists would claim it is.

For instance, let's take the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy.  There are no actual prohibitions on how prophets might hear or perceive the word of the Lord. In fact Elisha called on a musician and after hearing the musician spoke an oracle.  Trance-induced states inspired by music were certainly not unheard of in ancient prophetic guilds.  Though the priests were barred from resorting to divination methods common in Canaan there is no description of how one would actually recognize a prophet of the Lord other than the negative test of a failed prediction.

Yete here, too, the popular passage cited by cessationists runs into some challenging test cases.  For instance, Jeremiah was nearly killed for predictiing devastation and was accused of being a traitor.  He was kept alive by elders who realized that until what had come to pass actually came to pass, or failed to occur, then it was too soon to kill Jeremiah as some false prophet.  Conversely, as I discussed in my series about Driscoll and Song of Songs, Ezekiel's prediction in chapaters 26-28 about Tyre was not fulfilled in exactly the way the most literal reading of the texts would often suppose.  What's more in a post-exilic context what group was around to stone Ezekiel as a false prophet anyway?  Jonah's own anger at God was because he anticipated God would be merciful and spare Ninevah, this would make Jonah come off like a false prophet predicting a woe that didn't come.  Of course Jonah was prophesying against Ninevah and not Jerusalem, but perhaps Jonah didn't much care about that detail.  He still wanted to die.

All of this is to say that if pastors are seen as playing prophetic roles it becomes nearly impossible to condemn them for any claims of visions or spiritual insight because the OT never condemns prophets for claiming to have those things.  Here, too, we must note that the test for a false prophet is that if what he says DOES NOT COME TO PASS you have no reason to fear him.  But since in Driscoll's case he's making claims about things that happened in the past it becomes impossible to find Driscoll wanting on the basis of the criteria of a false prophet at the most literal application of Deuteronomy 18.  He's not telling people to worship gods other than Yahweh, he affirms the Trinity.  He does not endorse sorting through the organs of birds or sacrificing children by passing them through fire or the various forms of necromancy mentioned in the Torah as off limits.  And if preachers are exercising the gift of prophecy or continuing a prophetic office how would prohibitions on priestly appropriation of divination even be relevant?

Of course plenty of Christians understand the pastoral office to be, in essence, a priestly role.  And someone, could, I suppose, say that the whole body of Christians constitute a priesthood of all believers.  But by that measure every Christian could conceivably ask for the gift of prophecy and get that gift. 

Though I have heard it asserted time and again that prophecy is preaching this does not adequately account for the prophetic role as described in Deuteronomy 16-18.  I'm not in the habit of referring to Frank Crusemann but his book on the Torah has been instructive at at least one point, in his break-down of the judicial implications of Deutoronomy as a way to shape the legal milleu of Israel.   Cruseman notes that the most important common judicial reference points for case law were the tribal chieftains and judges.  These were appointed by the people adn the elders of the land.  If there were judicial cases too difficult for the tribal magistrates the case would go on up to the judge or acting priest who would then settle the matter.  Whatever the priest or judge decided upon was the final decision.

Provisions were made for a king to be appointed by the people at God's direction.  Crusemann notes, usefully, that the king is to be a fellow Israelite. He was not to amass too many wives, too much gold, or too many horses.  Here Crusemann notes that a mass of wives is easy to explain.  Too much gold might indicate that the king was actually not supposed to levy much by way of taxes and should be relatively self-sufficient in terms of his means.  Crusemann camps out a bit on the significance of horse, explaining that this Deuteronomistic prohibition would refer to checking the level of power the king's personal guard and standing army would have.  Having consulted some works by Israeli Defense Force authors on biblical texts I'm now in a position to get some idea of what Crusemann is getting at--the king is never to have a standing army or personal guard so numerous and powerful that it can overwhelm the tribal civilian militias.  There are a set of checks and balances decentralizing a lot of power away from any one branch.  The king is actually not authorized to appoint regional judges, which is something the people are supposed to do. 

Finally we get to the prohibitions against the priests using divination methods common in Canaan at the time.  They are told to not practice the abominations of the locals and the priests are to instead consult the prophet.  The prophet is mentioned after the priests are given prohibitions against any divination to discover God's will.  Why would a priest want to figure out the will of God?  Well, the narrative literature explains this.  Priests would enquire after the Lord on behalf of men like David or Saul.  Priests would end up speaking to ordinary people like Hannah.  A king might not know whether or not to go into battle with a certain country or whether to stay uninvolved.

One of the difficulties with attempting to say that modern times cannot have prophets because that spiritual office has stopped is that this raises the question of what that office was supposed to do.  If prophecy were merely "preaching", which is what any pastor does, then a cessationist interpretation of 1 Cor 13's "but where there is prophecy it shall cease" becomes impossible if "that which is perfect" ever referred to the canon itself. 

Now there are cessationists who are not that lazy and so the question arises of how prophecy has continued into the present.  If prophecy is preaching then we still have the gift of prophecy.  But this makes a hash of what the role of prophecy actually was throughout the Old Testament.  To be sure prophecy could include preaching but preaching to who?  Did Gad the seer preach much when he was David's consulting prophet in his earlier career?  Was Nathan preaching when he and Bathsheba conspired to get Solomon installed upon the throne?  Deborah was a prophetess and she advised a significant military campu in pre-monarchic Israel, right?  Huldah was the prophetess consulted during the years of Josiah's reform.  Phillip the evangelist had daughters who prophesied.  If the prophetic role involves preaching then those cessationists who equate prophecy with preaching who are also egalitarians at least have a consistent position, but it's not clear that anyone who looks at the Ot will see that the role of the prophet was preaching, not in terms of preaching as the role in which a spiritual leader instructs God's people about the scriptures. 

Both cessationists and charismatics seem to spend a lot of time defining terms related to New Testament texts rather than anchoring a discussion of the office or role of prophet in Old Testament literature.  There is also a propensity to only interpret Deuteronomy 18 or comment on it in terms of Jesus.  Now it's typologically a given that Jesus fulfills Deuteronomy 18 perfectly for Christians ... but if we look at Deuteronomy 16-18 as a judicial summary the role of the prophet is to speak on behalf of the Lord in cases that no one else can consult. 

To spell this out even more obviously, the Torah establishes hundreds of laws that form case law and a basis for dealing with a range of common social and religious situations.  In the vast majority of cases a tribal chieftain or elder or judge would hear those cases.  If the case were unusually tough it would go to the priest or judge over Israel.  If there were a judge or king and there were an unusual military situation the prophet would be consulted. Why?  Well, for instance Deuteronomy forbids Israel from going to war with Moab on the basis of kinship.  What happens if Moab attacks Israel, though?  Should they defend themselves?  Should they do nothing in case God has providentially designed some other way to thwart the plans of Moab?  Deuteronomy 29:29 establishes that the secret things belong to the Lord but the laws are for all God's people forever.  A prophet had a role that was a concession to the reality that though the Torah (i.e. the given scriptures of that time) were sufficient for understanding the character and story of Yahweh with His people, it was not so comprehensive that a prophet didn't need to be consulted to understand Yahweh's will in unusual circumstances not covered by Mosaic case law. 

In other words, though the scriptures were authoritative to define the lives and faith of God's people it was not presented as so comprehensive as to deal with every judicial, economic, or military scenario or to cover every conceivable form of case law.  For this reason priests were barred from resorting to divination techniques and were commanded to consult prophets.  Though prophets were considered to speak as authoritatively for God they were not going to be consulted for the majority of cases, which the given scriptures would account for.  The prophet served as a kind of divine ad hoc consultant, frequently as religious and military advisors to kings and priests.  In other words, prophets were not, so far as social role went, the official leaders.  There were prophetic guilds and professional prophets but it was not necessary for a prophet to have the "job" full time.  Amos, famously, declared he was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet (i.e. in one of those guilds) but someone upon whom the Spirit of God rested to speak.  Amos herded sheep and tended sycamore trees.  So if a prophet or prophetic office indicates "preaching" or "pastor" now Amos was some kind of bivocational pastor.

Somewhat more seriously, the OT precedent for prophets is as advisors rather than executive or adminsitrative leaders.  Huldah could verify the authenticity of the book of the Law because she was a prophet.  Jeremiah in 8:8 is able to confirm that the scriptures themselves were being made into falsehoods by corrupt scribes and priests.  Prophets not only played an important role in advising the royal court, they also had a significant role in providing some criticism of priestly corruption.  Of course prophets themselves could be corrupt and so at times prophets had to speak up against the corruption of the prophetic guild itself. 

All of this is to observe that if anyone proposes that prophecy is "preaching" then women must be permitted to be prophets on the basis of Huldah and Deborah, since it would take a series of mental contortions worthy of Plastic Man to dismiss their roles.  It becomes even more problematic in light of Joel and the promise that daughters would prophecy, to say nothing of the daughters of Phillip the evangelist.  Rather than attempt to fix a definition of prophecy from debates about NT text it is necessary to look at the cumulative witness of OT literature to establish what prophets did and how that would have informed NT precedent.  This is something I have not seen done often enough either by cessationists or charismatics. 

In light of Deuteronomy 16-18 as a foundational text for establishing the judicial/political role of the prophet within Israelite theocracy it is important to bear in mind that prophets were not intended to supplant divine revelation in the scriptures but to supplement it in ad hoc situations in which the Torah did not address a particular dillemma.  To merely assert that NT prophets "exhorted" or "encouraged" is to ignore the entire OT precedent for understanding the role of prophets within Judaism.  Prophets, though like Moses in speaking the words of God, are not introduced within Mosaic law as playing any role in making eschatological predictions.  As Frank Crusemann put it, eschatological prophecy is not the scope of prophetic activity prescribed and promised in Deuteronomy. To go just by the lives of Deborah and Huldah it was not entirely a given that prophets of the Lord would invariably be male even within the OT period.  So it becomes difficult to sustain a case that prophets are to be men because the scriptures don't uniformly establish this point, even though some complementarians would mightily wish for it.

When we get to the New Testament discussion of prophets we see that in Acts 2 Peter describes David as a prophet.  Certain Israelites from the past were seen as having a prophetic role even though David was primarily king.  Within Acts an important role is played by the prophet Agabus, who warns of a pending famine, and also predicts Paul's eventual imprisonment.  Curiously Paul hears the prophecy and goes on anyway.  Agabus predicted a famine and Paul's eventual imprisonment. 

All of this is to note that "if" a prophet is a role fulfilled by the modern-day preacher then the prohibitions against the priesthood making use of anything called divination is irrelevant.  Driscoll can't be called a false prophet if a pastor is a prophetic role.  If, however, a pastor is a priestly role then the accusations become significant.  Yet this would necessitate abandoning the entire idea that pastors and preachers have any prophetic role.  This would be, I propose, the natural outgrowh of taking OT literature by and about prophets seriously. If only men could be prophets God seemed to take pleasure in breaking that rule at least twice. 

If prophecy only means preaching then most prophets have never produced work that we can consider preaching.  Elijah, often considered one of the greatest prophets, wrote absolutely nothing.  Gad the seer was David's advisor for some time.  He didn't seem to preach anything preserved for us.  When the NT authors speak of Christ fulfilling the Law and the prophets in question wouldn't refer to all prophets as a group across time and space, but the prophets whose works were considered of essentially canonical status within Judaism at that time.  "According to the scriptures" was still somewhat in flux then.  If everything associated with an apostle or a prophet were considered authoritative Protestants would include the letter of Jeremiah or the letter of Baruch.  Pseudopigrapha being what it is I'm not going to bunny trail off on to that. 

What is worth mentioning is that Agabus, one of the named prophets does more than just "exhort" or "encourage" disciples.  He predicts a famine that becomes a basis for an aid campaign to Judea.  He also predicts Paul's imprisonment.  The precedent of prophetic function within the OT was to speak to issues that were not covered in the Torah.  Agabus' predictions as a prophet are consistent with an advisory role in subordination to leaders among God's people.  Agabus was, we may surmise, prompted by God to mention a pending famine and Paul's imprisonment.  We are not told that the disciples anticipated this famine. 

A digression into Acts 10 may be in order.  In this chapter, famously, Peter receives the vision of the animals in the white sheet.  He refuses to eat any animals therein because they are unclean and a voice says "What God has called clean you will not all unclean." It should go without saying Peter experienced a prophetic vision.  What was the aim of this prophetic vision?  Surely we know but it should be said anyway, God declared the Gentiles to be able to be in the followers of Christ.  In other words, while Jesus' teaching within a Jewish context was understood clearly enough among Jewish Christians it was not so clear what the global implications were for the nature of Christ's resurrection and the good news.  Anyone who wants to get some idea what the role of the prophetic was in either the OT or NT needs to bear in mind that certain events described in Acts bear all the hallmarks of prophetic insight and prophetic discoveries whether or not they are explicitly described as prophetic in the plainest fashion. 

In other words, if Driscoll is going to be labeled some kind of false prophet it can't be on the basis of priestly restrictions unless all preachers are performing a priestly role rather than a prophetic role.
Given how lazy and inaccurate the prophet/priest/king shorthand has become in a lot of new Calvinist writings I feel it would warrant a whole separate discussion ... but I'm just letting my remarks about that sit within this context where I trust the basic idea comes across. 
All that said, I am not convinced that either cessationists or charismatics have adequately defined or explored biblical texts establishing what prophets did and what their role was.  No prophet had as a goal "writing books of the Bible".  The Spirit's activity is not in every possible respect the same as what prophets would have understand about their work.  They were shown that they were writing not for themselves but for you.  Of course they were also writing for "you" as in "them" from the earliest recipients of the message.

Yet prophecy in Acts indicates at least a possibility that the authority and sufficiency of the message of Christ was not so comprehensive as to preclude the need for an Agabus to predict a famine or the eventual imprisonment of Paul.  Jesus Himself predicted to Peter the way in which Peter would die.  John received Revelation at Patmos. If Jesus' coming had brought in "all truth" in the sense of an all-encompassing divine revelation it did not preclude the Spirit giving different people at different times knowledge or insight not expressly laid out in Jesus' own words. 

In other words, it's not impossible to note a continuity of the subordinate, advisory role of prophetic activity in Acts that corresponds to the advisory role prophets played within the OT and as prescribed by the Torah.  Speaking the word of God into a situation did not mean the prophet had unquestionable authority.  Deuteronomy 18 famously states that if a prophet's words do not come true then the prophet has not been sent by the Lord.  But as I have attempted to illustrate through the Torah and the OT literature that prophets were ever needed was a concession that though the Torah was sufficient and authoritative it was never considered comprehensive.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 "we know in part and we prophesy in part".  When that which is perfect comes prophesy will cease because Paul will known even as he is fully known.  In other words prophecy will cease when Christ returns and not before.  If prophecy is "preaching" then, of course, this must necessarily be true.  However, even if prophecy is not preaching this will remain true.

Do we then worry that anyone can claim to be a prophet and have authority on par with the Bible?  No, because a proper understanding of the limitations on the role of the prophet within the OT can guide us.  When we bear in mind that within the Mosaic covenant prophets were only even necessary to consult in cases that were extremely unusual and not covered by the Torah  As Frank Crusemann noted in his comments about Deuteronomy 18 and prophets, the people of Israel were still supposed to wait until the thing predicted by the prophet did not come to pass before taking any action against the prophet. The other test of a false prophet had to do with leading people away from the Lord.  If Driscoll is going to be accused of divination and false prophecy it needs to be established that Driscoll is enticing people away from worshipping God as Father, Son and Spirit.

While Phil Johnson may be determined that Driscoll's salacious content precludes his having any Spirit given super-powered visions Johnson needs to remember the salacious yet Spirit-super-powered Samson from the book of Judges.  Judges says that God used Samson's sexual avarice and stupidity as a way to punish the Phillistines.  God also used David, despite his having many wives and being an adulterer.  In fact David is referred to by Peter in Acts 2 as a prophet.  If Phil Johnson wants to argue that someone with impure sexual thoughts can't be used by the Holy Spirit then David presents a  conundrum that can't be fielded simply by any eschatological framework differentiating between the OT and NT.

The most credible criticism I have seen anyone bring to the table about Driscoll's claim to spiritual superpowers of seeing other people sin or being sinned against came from Unreasonable Faith:

Let’s consider what is happening here: Driscoll, a trusted and authoritative preacher, is telling people that God has shown him that they were abused. If we’ve learned anything about the mind in the past few decades, it’s that memory is far more slippery than we’d like to believe. Could Driscoll be creating the memory he believes that he’s revealed?

You can listen to Elizabeth Loftus being interviewed on SGU on the topic of false memories. She focuses on therapists who – intentionally or unintentionally – implant false memories of abuse in their patients. It seems possible to me that Driscoll’s talks with the victims he has visions about could result in the same thing.

I’m open to being corrected by someone who knows more about the science of memory than I do. But to me, this goes beyond absurd. This is actually dangerous and very, very damaging.

During the 1980s and the early 1990s there was a repressed memory fad making the rounds.  I saw it in a few Christian publications, too.  Recovered memory therapy has been debunked as of decades ago.  We know enough about cognitive development and neurobiology to establish that while it is "possible" to have some repressed memories it is not possible to have sustained long-term memory until around the ages of 6-7 depending on the child.  I found out that this varies when I asked my niece if she remembered the Star Wars in Concert performance I took her to see a year after the event, she didn't remember it.  Oh well, she had fun while we were at the concert!  :)  I trust my point is simple enough, if people who believe Driscoll is guilty of divination want to make that case they should at least go the distance and say they believe that the recovered memory movement or recovered memory methods of therapy constitute divination.

And you know what?  I would be willing to "kind of" agree with them on that given the majority of material I've considered on recovered memories and my own first and second hand experience of people who have employed healing-of-memory or recovered memory methods.  Only things like the recovered traumas or sins-in-progress Driscoll has claimed, if they aren't legitimate, don't have to be "divination".  Anyone who spent any time around people enthralled with the recovered memory ministry movement in the early 1990s knows that a recovered memory session might be the basis for an exorcism. 

For instance, I know of a case in which a woman who was a professing Christian, during a prayer time swelled up like a red balloon and began shrieking and screaming.  It took two grown men with former Marine corps service a good chunk of their strength to keep the woman from harming herself or others.  After a length ad hoc exorcism a man in the group, who led a home church/home fellowship I was conscripted into attending by parents a time or two, began to talk to the woman, who by all appearances would seem to fit a case of demonization.  The man prayed a bit and talked her through a scenario that was unsettling because it seemed to be spun out in the moment--when she was a teenager long ago she hung out with Mexicans who did things with her and got demons into.

Well, later the woman went to a pastor, happy to report she was free of any demonic influence.  The counseling pastor apparently was not wholly convinced and had her sent for evaluation.  Medications were prescribed.  Since the woman was a professing Christian it might be impossible to grant that the woman was really demon-possessed (unless your theology allows for that). On the other hand, the person could have had a psychotic break or a delusional episode.  For a Christian wholly committed to the idea that there is no such thing as mental illness the demon explanation would be the only acceptable one.  Yet this woman was a practicing Christian.  On the whole it seems if I had to pick one of two explanations I'd lean toward the psychotic break explanation, particularly if I were to learn that the family lineage has some history of neurological disorders.  I once had the unenviable task of suggesting to a long-time friend that given his brother's history with epilepsy and his mother's mood disorders that he might have bipolar disorder.  So I am not speaking as someone who only has "book learnin'" about people who have mental or emotional disorders.

Okay, having written all that, I want to get to the subject of the malleability of memory generally  ... it happens that a professor specializing in studying the flaws and limits happens to have been around here in the Seattle area, Elizabeth Loftus.
 In Missouri in 1992 a church counselor helped Beth Rutherford to remember during therapy that her father, a clergyman, had regularly raped her between the ages of seven and 14 and that her mother sometimes helped him by holding her down. Under her therapist's guidance, Rutherford developed memories of her father twice impregnating her and forcing her to abort the fetus herself with a coat hanger.The father had to resign from his post as a clergyman when the allegations were made public. Later medical examination of the daughter revealed, however, that she was still a virgin at age 22 and had never been pregnant. The daughter sued the therapist and received a $1-million settlement in 1996.


It is highly unlikely that an adult can recall genuine episodic memories from the first year of life, in part because the hippocampus, which plays a key role in the creation of memories, has not matured enough to form and store longlasting memories that can be retrieved in adulthood.
In the lost-in-the-mall study, implantation of false memory occurred when another person, usually a family member, claimed that the incident happened. Corroboration of an event by another person can be a powerful technique for instilling a false memory. In fact, merely claiming to have seen a person do something can lead that person to make a false confession of wrongdoing.

This effect was demonstrated in a study by Saul M. Kassin and his colleagues at Williams College, who investigated the reactions of individuals falsely accused of damaging a computer by pressing the wrong key. The innocent participants initially denied the charge, but when a confederate said that she had seen them perform the action, many participants signed a confession, internalized guilt for the act and went on to confabulate details that were consistent with that belief. These findings show that false incriminating evidence can induce people to accept guilt for a crime they did not commit and even to develop memories to support their guilty feelings.

Research is beginning to give us an understanding of how false memories of complete, emotional and self-participatory experiences are created in adults. First, there are social demands on individuals to remember; for instance, researchers exert some pressure on participants in a study to come up with memories. Second, memory construction by imagining events can be explicitly encouraged when people are having trouble remembering. And, finally, individuals can be encouraged not to think about whether their constructions are real or not. Creation of false memories is most likely to occur when these external factors are present, whether in an experimental setting, in a therapeutic setting or during everyday activities.

If there's divination going on it is of a fairly natural and predictable sort.  Twenty years ago a huge fad was to have people go public with memories of repressed memories and traumas that couldn't possibly be confirmed as having happened because of the death of the accused parties. Loftus' observations about the settings in which false memories can be easily planted fit perfectly with settings of repeated pastoral counseling, settings in which Driscoll could plant seeds of false memories into the minds of couples with himself ever stopping to consider that this is what he was doing.  Why?  Because certain types of spiritual warfare teaching work on the assumption that God will reveal lost memories of sexual abuse. 

When Driscoll stated in the 2008 clip that he was shown a woman was sexually abused by a grandfather he says he asked the woman to go ask him.  This is, as has famously been blogged already, a remarkably stupid pastoral move.  I don't have to recite the concerns other bloggers have expressed in much detail.  If Driscoll has gotten visions of grandparents molesting children and doesn't report this to law enforcement and also advises counselees to go confront abusers this isn't wise.  If the person doesn't remember the event that happened at the age of 1 or 2 it can't be measured as a significant influence. 

On the other hand, if a child is raised being told he or she is always fearful and was always fearful a kid could easily internalize that and come to believe it.  The recovered memory fad grounds itself on an idea that things we don't remember had a formative and traumatic influence on us when the relational patterns we have over decades are more formative.  But it is easier, more tempting, and more magical (if you will) to assume that if we can divine that lost memory that is the key to unlocking "everything" we will have noticeable improvement in our life and relationships.

The anecdotes Driscoll shared in the notorious 2008 clip all fit the basic profile of a recovered memroy guru, which is why they all raise red flags with me.  I don't have to attribute them to demonic divination.  I don't have to attribute them to some assumption that Driscoll is just making stuff up to control people.  A lot of otherwise well-meaning therapists got sold on this turkey decades ago.  It's not even an inherently religious fad or mistake.  I need neither assume the worst about Driscoll's motives nor assume he's lying nor assume that he has demons to question the viability of recovered memory counseling or treatment.  The scientific work on the fallibility of memory is too well-established at this point.  What I am willing to say is that if the anecdotes Driscoll described in his 2008 spiritual warfare series presented to church leaders could have been considered normative for pastoral counseling or spiritual warfare in Mars Hill that would set a precedent I would consider disastrous.

You see the script for memories of abuse is a script that can play into a cultic dynamic.  It isn't even necessary for the memories to be sexual abuse.  All it takes is to be in a church you find new and exciting and within this social setting you hear people talk about how great the church is and how it's like nothing you've seen or heard before.  The church is special, more special than any other church and it's a shame other groups of believers don't have this sense of community.

Well, I was there for about nine years and for a while I sincerely felt that way myself.  Then I stopped being in my twenties. :)  I began to realize that there were plenty of other churches in the Seattle area that were not theologically liberal.  Okay, maybe not TONS of them, but there are more of them around then people at Mars Hill might believe (if they're new, trust me, the old schoolers know there are plenty of other places out there, too, and a few of us ex-MH members have landed in a few of the same places). 

What I'm meaning to say is that the social life of Mars Hill contributes to a belief that it's completely new and in this social setting one can feel one has found a kind of new spiritual family.  A fellow I knew from the earlier years would talk passionately about how Mars Hill was the real deal and had real Christians in it.  He'd explain how his parents were Methodists and they were church attenders but not really real Christians.  He hasn't been at Mars Hill in years and I haven't heard him talk so much about how his parents aren't really the real sort of Christian since he got deployed overseas.  Those parents may not be "real" Christians but let's face it, flesh and blood can be more understanding of you than church "family" that may not always know you so well.

Though, that said, I love my Mars Hill friends and family.  I'm not saying any of this to just bag on Driscoll.  I've rambled at such prodigious length because I have felt obliged to touch on a host of issues I don't think have been discussed adequately that interconnect on the subject of Driscoll.  I could consider that the 2008 spiritual warfare series was presented to leaders as a guideline to leaders for how to approach spiritual warfare.  I'm not even concerned to cover all four hours of that content, just to touch upon the recovered memory aspect.  Other bloggers have already addressed things that worried them about Driscoll's discussion about other things.

I believe that Driscoll is a case study in which shortcomings of how both cessationists and charismatics deal with NT texts can be alleviated, at least in part, be reframing a discussion of spiritual gifts in the NT as being in continuity with OT texts and roles.  Whatever prophecy was (or is) it becomes difficult to make a case against Driscoll based on that.  A case against Driscoll's employment of recovered memory therapy techniques, however, can be mounted on entirely secular grounds and Christians should not preclude referring to advances made in discovering neurological findings and research into cognitive biases as a way to account for now what, in the past, certain cessationists types insisted had to be demons.  This is significant because so far as cognitive biases and methodological errors go, cessationists are no more innocent than charismatics.

P.S.  I am by no means endorsing everything Frank Crusemann has written about the Torah, for any of you who even know who he is.  However I have found his disscussion of Deuteronomy 16-18 as a formative prescriptive text for the judicial/political systems in Israelite theocracy to be a useful reference point.

P.S.S.  It is important to stress that what the blogosphere has been talking about in 2011 was content from a spiritual warfare series going all the way back to early 2008.  It may not indicate what Driscoll's current views on spiritual warfare or recovered memory forms of therapy are.  I hope that by now Driscoll should become informed enough to avoid using such counseling methods in any pastoral setting.  It's important to clear up what other bloggers have skimmed over, this clip is from a seminar that is nearly half a decade old! 

A lot can change in a pastor's thinking and practice in a few years.  In late 1999 when I first started attending Mars Hill Mark Driscoll not only leaned cesssationist he wasn't even a Calvinist!  I've got a friend who shared a time or two in the early years how Driscoll and another pastor got into shouting at him about how Calvinism couldn't be the right way to approach biblical texts.  Folks stumping against Driscoll as though his worst ideas all come from Calvinism don't know (and won't want to know) that a lot of the ideas they dislike about him often have been ideas that predate his Calvinism. It wasn't until about 2001-2002 that Driscoll started actually advocating for Calvinism on anything like a consistent basis.

And per pastoral counseling at MH, the most beneficial pastoral counseling I got from Mars Hill pastors came not from pastors trying to get to the bottom of some past event that needed to be uncovered, but pastors who have known me and my family well enough to actually address existing relational patterns for my family and I to work on. Driscoll's now notorious clip should not be construed as how all Mars Hill pastors handle pastoral counseling even if it were more recent.

By the way, in case potential new readers hadn't spotted this about me, don't expect anonymous flaming comments about Driscoll to get an endorsement or sympathy from me.  I used to serve in ministries at Mars Hill and have always been up front about my agreements and disagreements with Mars Hill and Driscoll over the years. I attempt to articulate construstive criticism, sometimes with a hefty dose of snark, but my friends at Mars Hill know that I've been this way for years. 

Additionally, many of the concerns I have written about here are also why I'm no longer Pentecostal so though Driscoll is a recent case study of some flaws in charismatic pastoral counseling methodology I know it isn't indicative of all pastoral counseling in charismatic or Pentecostal circles.  The woman I mentioned who hoad the psychotic break was advised to seek professional mental health care by a Pentecostal counseling pastor. Because I left Pentecostalism partly due to the healing of memory ministry fad I was disappointed that Driscoll seemed to so uncritically embrace elements from that fad when research has shown so much of it to be prone to error.

Anyway, i think I'm finally done here! :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jared Wilson: I won't prelable revival

It's one among many reasons I stopped being Pentecostal that I often heard people talking about revival, the need for revival, and how we needed to get God back into America again.  I began to take the very skeptical position that a lot of Christians wanted a revival, a Third Great Awakening more for the social and political implications they hoped would go with it.  It began to seem as though there was something faintly mercenary in how American evangelicals wanted revival to happen.

Sure, there was the First Great Awakening, and then the Second Great Awakening.  Depending on who you talk to the first was awesome and the second was terrible.  Or both were awesome.  Or the second was better because it wasn't something happening in Calvinist circles.  The First Great Awakening came about a generation before the American Revolutionary War.  The Second Great Awakening picked up steam in time to precede the American Civil War.  If the dubious pattern (of course it can be considered a dubious pattern every which way, as far as that goes) what would a Third Great Awakening eventually lead to?

I don't know that what I'd like to see is yet another revival.  I would prefer Christians simply be involved in being a blessing to others where ever they are at.  Besides, revival, whatever form it takes and however it comes about, is not something that can (or should) be engineered by ambitious American Christians.  Revival itself could be one of those idols in American evangelicalism.  Considering the spread of Christianity in Asia there's no reason to assume that an explosion of Christian evangelism and activity has to be in the United States.

The other thing, too, is that an explosion or expansion of American style evangelicalism may not be a good thing but I'll have to save that for some other time.

Link: US News: Marriage hits all time low

Cue laments from certain Christians about the epidemic of singleness and adultescence. 
Cue laments about class warfare, too, and the hegemony of upper middle class privilege as the measure of whether or not people are really committed to each other. 

One of the things that has struck me over the last twenty years of reading the Bible is how there is no mention of fornication in the OT and how in the NT fornication is a sin which emerges fully formed.  It also has struck me how adultery is condemned but polygamy is not.  I have been completely unconvinced by evangelical attempts to argue that passages referring to second wives in Deuteronomy are somehow cases of prohibiting taking up a second spouse while the first spouse is alive.  That the rabbis were able to reason that polygamy was less ideal than monogamous marriage is not especially hard to establish.  But a bit of digging reveals that rabbis also interpreted that if a woman was an unwed virgin that it was not technically possible for a married man to commit adultery with her based on what the Torah's prohibitions entailed.

If evangelicals aged 18-29 are fornicating at a rate of 80 percent then now might be a good time for evangelicals to pay some attention to explaining how fornication gets no mention in the OT and yet gets mentioned in NT translations.  I have a feeling that examining rabbnic discussions of case law or something like that might be a useful point of reference.  Jesus said that divorce was permitted because of the hardness of mens' hearts.  We might discover, perhaps, that the emergence of fornication as a moral and legal problem may have emerged from the hardness of mens' hearts, too.  I'm not betting against it anyway.

Just in case someone wants to misunderstand this, I'm not arguing for fornication.  I'm suggesting evangelicals bother to make a historical and legal case for how fornication ends up in the NT when it's not an issue in the OT.  Some of the rabbis made a case that if a married man took an unwed virgin girl as an extra bride it was not legally speaking possible for him to be committing adultery.  Evangelical attempts to claim the Torah forbade polygamy have been, so far, wildly unpersuasive.  That a case could be made for monogamous marriage as the ideal is easy enough to do but that doesn't account for the realities of the case law in the Torah itself.  It's impossible to get through Deuteronomy and avoid the mention that the offspring of favored wives are not to supplant the rules of primogeniture.

Now, particularly, if the moral law was not cancelled out by Jesus' death and resurrection then this makes it even more important to establish how and why premarital sex came under discussion as a moral and legal issue in the intertestamental period.  Just some things to consider. 

HT Mockingbird: Righteous Minds, Moral Matrices, and the real non-difference between liberals and conservatives

Slate on "bad seed" films

Ultimately, this is my problem with the genre, and maybe it’s a personal hang-up with horror movies in general. I never feel reassured, never think “this couldn’t happen” to me. As a horror viewer, I’m too open to suggestion, too willing to go completely with the story and identify with even the most outlandish of scenarios. For me, there is never the post-horror-film release—what aficionados liken to roller coasters or even sex—I always imagine what happens after the credits roll. In slasher films, I imagine all the therapy the lone girl survivor will need; in bad seed movies I imagine the lives ruined, the hopes every parent harbors for their child dashed, the pain and guilt and loss. Which is another way of saying that I can't wait to catch up to the new Muppets movie, and I'm fine with that.

I have never cared for bad seed films and it took a parent to explain what it is I don't care for about them. Two of three categories in the genre, as Jessica Roake puts it, hinge upon the assumption that the evil child is an Aryan genetically-guided psychopath or a literal hell-spawn.  Not being a parent I may not fully appreciate stories in which the horror is discovering your kid has turned out evil despite your best efforts. 

The third category deals with horrific children who mirror the evils of the mother and I'm not aware of such movies because even the premises of categoris 1 and 2 seem so noxious to me they don't interest me. While research on cognitive development and neurology suggest we are not as free as we often like to think we are socialization is not completely out of the picture.  There are sociopaths for whom empathy is essentially impossible but these are not usual, which is why we eventually notice them.

At another level the whole genre of the bad seed can be construed, within Christian terms, as a blunt genre examination of the anxiety that evil passes from one generation to the next in ways we can't understand, or that a person is capable of evil whether or not we would wish them to.  Adam and Eve had the grand-daddy of all bad seed babies in Cain, right?  And the narrative literature abounds with wicked kings who sinned as their fathers did. Or we read about people like Samson who did all kinds of stupid things despite the warnings of his parents.  It "is" more common for Eli to beget corrupt sons, and yet Samuel's own sons were so venal and corrupt it was one of the reasons Israel requested a king!  Thus King Saul.

King Saul was an unstable and crazy man who fathered Jonathan.  There are strange cases in which, despite the wildly reprobate ways of this or that person, a person turns out to be a better person than the parent. These cases of God-fearing and decent men born of wicked ancestors is something mysterious.  That mystery doesn't seem to be "good upbringing" unless we're going to imagine that King Saul was a totally awesome parent.  Actually, maybe he was a great parent but happened to be a corruptable leader everywhere else.  It's tough to say with certainty.

from City of God's "Sausage": Some fear megachurch bubble may birst

The bubble may burst soon but even if it doesn't the megachurches that survive will survive because they are, for all practical purposes denominations.

HT: Triablogue--The World of Revelation

Steve Hays over at Triablogue discusses, quite briefly for him, how an understanding of geography in Patmos can inform one's reading of Revelation.  References to Bauckham ensue.  I'd write more about this if I weren't committed to some other writing projects.  This is likely to be a stage in life where I'm more likely to link to interesting reads than necessarily always write a long blog entry.  I've got a few things cooking on the front burners.

Internet Monk: Public Scripture Reading, the sublime and the ridiculous

Tom Huguenot says:

I guess it also goes back to another question: when you take part to the liturgy (I mean, not as a pew-sitter) do you really exercice authority? Or are you serving? As far as I am concerned, when I preach, the only authority involved is the one of God and His Word.
I remain a complementarian, but I sometimes wonder if some of us do not base their beliefs and practices on a purely sociological reaction to the evolution of gender-roles in our societies.

This sums up what seems to be going on with a lot of complementarians. Complementarians are Protestants committed to sola scripture and some of them just stick with a few basic tenants for liturgy and ecclesiology. Others are just patriarchalists in the closet ... or not so much in the closet as recognizing the public relations campaign is better served by using a different label. As Walter Martin used to say, cults are groups of Christians who employ a different meaning for a term than what a normal Christian might use.  A complementarian that keeps finding reasons women have to be removed from more and more roles within the church is not necessarily a complementarian. 

Long ago women weren't allowed to have public roles in Western church worship.  Couldn't speak, weren't even singing in front of congregants.  Back then there was this high church tradition of castrating boys who had good singing voices in the hopes of forestalling their puberty altogether and keeping the golden tones.  Most of the time this failed and then church doctrine and teaching held that these castrated boys couldn't get married because they were unable to produce offspring.  But in its way it was a consistent outworking of precluding women from being public participants or even potential leaders in liturgy.  Contemporary "complementarian" advocates of patriarchy may not recognize in themselves a comparable impulse.  You follow the arguments some people have far enough there's a risk of returning to the place of creating castrati.  There's nothing new under the sun, after all.  Of course the production of castrati wouldn't happen right away, it would take several generations and necessitate a more successful set of cultural re-engineering on the part of some folks with faintly post-millenial sympathies.

If the sorts of complementarians who say women should not be reading scripture publicly come to this conclusion on the basis of saying that reading scripture is to hold a teaching position or position of authority then should they not retroactively insist that Mary did not sing the Magnificat?  As an unwed teenage girl she lacked the spiritual authority to teach men and so the song attributed to her must have been a pious forgery on the part of the evangelist.  The Magnificat shows various points of being indebted to Hannah's song in 1 Samuel but let's not imagine that Mary would have known of that being a peasant girl so perhaps both Hannah's song and Mary's song were composed retroactively on their behalf.  It wouldn't be proper, given the precept that a woman should not read Scripture in a position of potentially instructing men, that women should have been used by the Holy Spirit to actually create scripture, would it?  Well, time to bring back the castrati, I guess. 

Or we could consider that there are some basic flaws in reasoning with this whole approach that says that women should not be permitted to read scripture in churches.  A 'testimony' vs 'teaching' distinction is not a useful distinction because the psalmists wrote songs of testimony about the goodness of Yahweh that were later cited by apostles as being prophetic works.  If a vexed housewife like Hannah composes a song of thanks to the Lord, well, what can a complementarian who wants no women speaking authoritatively over men to do about that?  What do we imagine prophets were doing when they prophesied?  They couldn't have been testifying to the greatness of God, could they?  They were teaching and, well, we can't have women doing that.  We'll just pretend Deborah and Huldah don't count. Mary can't count, either.  The daughters of Phillip the evangelist wouldn't have been given the ability to prophesy because that would be a violation of creation order.
As Tom Huguenot put it above, it can seem as though a lot of what passes for "complementarian" commentary on gender roles and liturgy is not a defense of a tradition or church polity approach so much as a meta-commentary on the changing scope and role of gender in contemporary society.