Saturday, January 28, 2012

An observation from Adolf Schlatter

"A gap between faith and obedience occurs only when the message of God is replaced with a doctrine about God."

Romans: The Righteousness of God, p 11

renting and ownership

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?"

There are some people who assume that if you own something you will care for it more than a rental. There are some people who assume that if you invest a dollar in a private or public firm that it will be more carefully spent than it would be at a non-profit or a government office because the recipient of the investment knows that dollar does not belong to him or her. The assumption is that mere renters are not as responsible.  The assumption is that borrow money can't be spent as shrewdly. The assumption is that people will only do their best work if they are doing it just to please themselves.

Yet the parable of the wicked steward exists. How could that be possible?  Why is the punchline of Jesus' most challenging parable to say this, "If you have not been trustwory with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?" If the axiom that owners are more responsible than renters why did Jesus tell a parable in which things are reversed and He says that if you can't be trusted with something lent that you aren't responsible enough to own?

HT Dan at City of God: Ian Hugh Clary--"Shoot an Elephant"

I have to link to this simply because anyone who can simultaneously refer to Driscoll and Jakes and The Elephant Room 2, and do so by way of a justifiably famous George Orwell piece is a blogging genius.  These are the sorts of puns and literary allusions that make blogging and reading blogs fun and downright literary. I may not be writing as much here as I'm writing off-line but a blogger can still link.
Kudos to Dan at City of God for bringing it up where I could spot it. May all the City of God folks have a good weekend, too, while I'm at it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mockingbird touches on the Law of Indie Cred

This happens all the time. It now seems super-funny that so many people once believed Arrested Development was among the most important bands of the early 1990s. The idea of anyone advocating the merits of Fischerspooner now seems totally ridiculous. It somehow seems crazy that Cornershop was previously viewed as luminous, even though their songs still sound good to me. It’s just an impossible problem: We always want to reward art for being innovative, but most artistic innovations are not designed to hold up over time. They exist as temporary reactions to other things happening within the culture. And that means they will seem goofy and dated when the culture changes again. [emphasis mine]

The Klosterman article is a funny read because the excerpt quoted above is a footnote.  Specifically footnote number 2 but, more generally, that there are footnoes in a piece that barely breaks 1,000 words.  Leave it to a music critic writing about indie music to throw just two footnotes that contain enough words to equal a quarter of the length of the body of the article itself!

Of course depending on the musical idiom there's an emphasis on tradition rather than innovation; or it may be that the fact that pop band after pop band pretty much all blur together the way Vivaldi's concerti kinda sound the same because he was composing by way of the Baroque equivalent of the Xerox machine .Perhaps the funniest way to put this is that in classical music or art music we all know J. S. Bach is arguably the pinnacle of Western art music and yet how many real formal or stylistic innovations did he actually introduce? 

Yeah ... see, it appears that a person can go down in history as the greatest music genius of the last five hundred years and have not introduced, at any practical level, a single innovation in the form and content of music like pioneering sonata allegro form or stuff like that.  Of course Bach knew he was working within a tradition and came from an intergenerational dynasty of professional musicians.   Haydn pioneered some great innovations in musical form but who is more popular for developing and running with Haydn's innovations?  Mozart and Beethoven, that's who. 

What indie rockers don't discover because they don't necessarily immerse themselves in the history of pop music is that it actually doesn't pay to introduce the big innovations that get remembered by a name or a code.  Why?  Well for the classical nerds reading along let me throw out phrases like clausula vera or Alberti bass.  Yep, those are practically the classical equivalents of "power chords" or "twelve bar". Musical innovations that can be remembered by name and stick around end up being, you guessed it, forms and cliches. 

Most artistic innovations are finding ways to repackage and rebranding old hat stuff in a way that's clever enough that you don't necessarily spot how old hat it is.  Now if you're a jerk about things like Boulez often was you can say Schoenberg was dead and that he expanded harmony without making any corresponding innovations in rhythm or other things.  And if you like Boulez' compositions even more than his conducting then, well, whatever.  Who am I to tell you how to spend your disposable income?

yeah, I know of it

If you've wondered if I've heard about the formal response I know it exists but boilerplate non-informative press release stuff I recognize when I read it. I didn't read the chapter as it wasn't anything I didn't already know. 

Now I know some blogs have exploded with moral indignation and outrage about this boilerplate and I submit it is because of the Driscoll chapter attached more than anything Holcomb wrote and published.  What Holcomb wrote and published is, frankly, pitiable boilerplate press release tofu. I can't read it as an indictment of deceit or stupidity on Mr. Holcomb's part.  It's just non-informative boilerplate. If anything I pity the man for being in a position to have to put his name in a by-line under that.  Wouldn't the impersonal collectivist writing style of The Economist that I just read have no need for a by-line?  Why does some hapless pastor have to have his by-line tied to that?

I "might" write something but I don't feel any particular need to write about that stuff right now.  Perhaps I should explain.

I'm scheduled to get new lenses for my glasses for the first time since cataract removal surgery.  For newbies to my blog I had a cataract in one of my eyes (the one that didn't have a macular detachment).  Being able to see clearly out of both eyes is important, after all.  Thanks to snow in the previous week I haven't exactly been out and about when my best option is public transit.

I am juggling two writing projects that are, how do I put this, of more earthly good to me than blogging about other things. One you may have already seen some links to this week.  Those essays on Batman: the animated series are not writing themselves! The second I'm keeping more under wraps because it's still early in the production and revision process.  In any case I trust you'll get what I mean.

I'm still hunting for a regular day job and scoping out job leads. 

I have been ironing out more details and jots and tittles toward publishing one of my compositions.  I have not blogged about that because I don't see a reason to. During this time I have not stopped composing or networking with musicians.

So while I do appreciate that folks are concerned about "you know what" there is a time to for everything and wisdom consists, in part, of knowing when to write and not write about something. For me there are just more pressing things to write and pursue.  Ergo my earlier posting of a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer. With all due respect and prayers and concerns for the various parties involved I've got a few things going on.

xkcd 1002

Oh, and I'm throwing in this one, too.

Here's something from the Book of Common Prayer for bloggers

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices; Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire, part 4a just went up

So "The Wounds of Discovery" (i.e. part 4a) just went up on Mockingbird.  This is good news for two reasons, it shows I've finished some new stuff and that Mockingbird is back up and running. This is exciting for me as this year is the 20th anniversary of one of the finest and most important cartoons in American childrens' entertainment in the last, well, twenty years. 

This is even more fun for me than when I collected my thoughts for the tenth anniversary of The Powerpuff Girls.  I know I might be getting most of my traffic by blogging about "that" place and "those" subjects so I feel like I should mention that if you come here you may find some massive rambles on cartoons you may have never heard of (like my ramble on Eureka Seven as an anime exploring child abuse from earlier this month.  Or you might end up seeing me write a bunch of stuff that covers music by Ferdinand Rebay (you've been warned that's coming); or I might finally get to my career overview of the d'Amore Duo and discuss what I think of the duo's role in the admittedly rarified realm of chamber music for oboe and guitar.  And, of course, I'll blog about "that" church and related topics just as I'll link to Mockingbird or Orthocuban or the Boar's Head Tavern. 

Oh, yeah, I kinda forgot to mention I'm a fellow at the Boar's Head Tavern now.  Much thanks to Fearsome Tycoon and J. S. Bangs for suggesting I be a fellow at the Tavern but particularly to Fearsome because he's been the strongest proponent of that.  Now might be a good time to note that just because I use a pen name doesn't mean I'm trying to be anonymous.  And, uh, it also does not mean I came from Wenatchee.  I'm originally from Oregon with a background in the Assemblies of God and went to a little school by a canal. That means I have three things in common with Gordon Fee. Isn't that awesome?

Ahem, anyway, "The Wounds of Discovery" are going up on Mockingbird and I hope you enjoy the essays.

HT Phoenix Preacher: Rachel Held Evans on "Evangelical Celebrity"

... Praying whatever is in my heart and head is good in small doses, but structured prayer is the only way to truly transcend my selfish ego. There is nothing like greeting the morning with a prayer intended to remind you of your own mortality—“Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom”—to put that deadline or that interview into perspective.

Structured prayer, particularly the offices, reminds me that God is bigger than my cause, bigger than my ministry, bigger than my “tribe,” bigger than me. It reminds me that, today, there are sparrows falling from trees and planets coursing through space, that a great cloud of witnesses has come before me and will come after me, that I have sinned by what I have done and what I have left undone, that all I really need is my daily bread, that, with or without me, the glory of God persists, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”  ...


I'd add a comment if I thought I had any comments to add. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

BHT: Are we seeing pride going before destruction?

That someone from Mars Hill has gone public about a discipline contract does not surprise me.  It disappoints me but does not surprise me.  I am not in a position to be sure that this person named Andrew is telling the whole story.  I'm not sure there's any thing that can certainly be discussed beyond some rudimentary points. One is that someone finally felt that Mars Hill disciplinary procedure is problematic enough to decide to go public.  This may not mean the person who did this has good motives but if we account for divine providence it may not be necessary to be certain of every detail. This does not necessarily give us an assurance the anti-Driscolls are right more than the pro-Driscolls. 

On the other hand, now might be a time to share that a discipline contract, whatever its merits in a specific case, does not seem like a huge surprise to me.  The reason I think it is important to finally say something in public about this controversy, whether Andrew was "truly repentant" or not is because when I left Mars Hill one of the things I shared was that I was concerned that if things didn't change in the way Mars Hill approached church discipline and pastoral counseling a disaster could be down the road.  I wasn't sure what form the disaster would take if it happened but I felt that it was going to come from two things: 1) a case in which discipline was unusually stern and 2) a case in which the sternness of the discipline was part of a sequence of events in which disciplinary precedent made the stern action seem arbitrary or out of proportion to the offense.  Well ... it's too early to tell for sure but it's "possible" that moment may have arrived.  I sincerely hope not but as I just said it's a bit early to tell.

Now shunning errant members whose errors were real or simiply imagined began earlier than 2011 or 2012.  By now the 2007 firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer are not that hard to look up.  The coverage initially done by Seattle alternative paper The Stranger was actually pretty fair.  I don't say this because I like reading The Stranger.  I only read The Stranger for about as long as Chris DeLaurenti was writing a column about the local classical music scene.  But I can truthfully say that the coverage was, particularly coming from them, fair minded and fairly accurate in my opinion.  The material was also leaked to the Seattle Times (if memory serves).  So the coverage of the firings goes back for years.

And it was during that time that folks at Mars Hill were urged to shun the fired pastors and only speak to them if we were going to urge them to repentence.  One of these men was my neighbor and I consider him a valuable friend.  I've met his kids and like his kids.  I was not going to then nor would now stop associating with a brother in Christ and a friend.  Yet a friend of my friend once asked me to pray for him years ago because he was being considered as a candidate for church discipline for having been seen with this man who was supposed to be shunned ... even though the person who reported this to a pastor at Mars Hill was at the same social event!  I began to put together that if I wanted to spend time with my friend and not get flak from Mars Hill leaders simply not renewing was a good way to do this.  After all, if I wasn't a member how could I get flak for hanging out with people I'd been told by Mars Hill leadership to shun?  There was no case against me. 

And by letting my contract get cancelled out by elder fiat and not renewing I was convinced of another thing.  After renewing my membership contract for years and then not renewing it after it was voided by elders I came to this conclusion, if the "covenant" was ended it was not by me.  A covenant you have to renew every few years isn't a covenent unless we're talking short-term marriages in some place like Sweden.  This means that if the covenant was nullified it was not by me but by the elders.  I.e. in the plainest possible language I was not the covenant breaker, they were, and that gave me no incentive to renew what was really a contractual relationship in which I was obliged to give money to them and had no voting rights in the church and no practical appeal should a church disciplinary issue come up.  I'd read the by-laws, I'd worked out the unlikelihood of any significant changes in the doctrinal statement.  And I had seen how the culture of the church had decided to ostracize a fellow believer on grounds that I had not found adequately convincing. 

I am not against church discipline, in case anyone might wonder that.  There is a time and a place for confession of sin and for repentence.  There are times and place for confession of sin that are not just individual but corporate.

Let me put it another way, when I didn't renew I didn't renew out of concern for the lack of accountability for what appeared to be arbitrary applications of church discipline.  I was asked to shun two men I respected who did not seem to have done anything close to being as bad as a serial adulteress whom I was asked to NOT shun because she said she wasn't even a Christian and since the pastors agreed with her the whole membership thing and discipline didn't apply.  Trouble was we heard after about a year which church she was attending. If she was claiming to have never been a Christian to avoid disicplinary sanction a number of Mars Hill members told me they'd seen her a few times and knew people at the other church she was attending.  If someone was really never a Christian what was up with continuing to attend other churches? Don't true heathens in the Emerald City have better things to do on Sunday than go to church?

And why, then, was I asked to shun a man who was my neighbor and who had befriended my family when there was no clear explanation that what he did was even close to being as bad as what the adulteress did?  Surely I was not the only person to point out that this presented a huge problem of consistent disciplinary precedent.  When I made this point to elders I got zip.  One elder trotted out the old saw "When dad and mom are having an argument the kids don't need to know what's going on."  So when dad and mom live off the tithe checks given by the children they don't have to explain why dad decides to fire mom?  But I blogged about this in the past.

What ended up happening during that time was I ended up in a place where friends who I saw spending time together every week were no longer speaking to each other.  They'd speak to me but not to each other and this went on for years.  When any of these two groups had any overlap in a social activity there'd be awkward silence (and in several ways that still happens). I was stressed out at work and stressed out because of family conflicts that Mars Hill people had made much worse rather than better and I was seeing my Mars Hill circle of friends circle wagons in what looked like a disaster.

I was going to use a compouned word starting with "cluster" but in deference to some PG language for this post I'm refraining. All my friends in and outside Mars Hill know by now that this is how I've fielded both sides and I stand by it.  The 2007 controversies were a shameful fiasco that nobody in the church or out of it can entirely live down.  At a practical level my entire social life was integrated into that church so seeing all that stuff happen was so bad it was sort of like watching family members going through a divorce. I began to believe the smart money bailed out before the firings happened. If you're reading this you know who you are already. 

After I'd decided to not renew my membership I kept attending for several months because most of my best friends were there and a lot of them still are.  Of course with a lot of them being married or being parents I hardly got to see them anyway. I even kept giving to the campus I attended for a time. But a friend of mine preached some sermons on Jonah in later 2008 and the sermons were convicting.  They were convicting because of a simple question, is there something you sense God wants you to do that you don't want to do because it feels too risky or inconvenient or scary?  I began to think it through and realized that, yeah, that was actually where I was at.  It's one of those strange ironies for me that I believe God used my friend's sermons to convict me that it really was finally time to move on to a new church home. 

Friends of mine have told me that my peaceful, amiable transition out of Mars Hill without bad blood and with mutual respect and affection was pretty much a miracle, particularly given what I actually shared on my way out.  Well, if so, God is very good and I am fortunate. I have made some trenchent criticisms of Mars Hill but I have not done so with an eye to demonize them even if they have demonized others.  They are fellow believers and I want the best for them.

To put it in old school Pentecostal/spiritual warfare terms, I love the people at Mars Hill who share life with me and I pray for them regularly.  I do, however, hope that what might be called Mars Hill the principality will be broken.  For as long as the top brass don't want to admit that what they're gunning for is becoming, in essence, a Calvinist Baptist complementarian denomination I will be comfortable saying they need to stop hiding from themselves.  If by twenty years there are more than a dozen churches and tens of thousands of members with a goal to have an intergenerational impact what do these people think they're doing?  "Not" making an institution? 

But though I was blessed to leave on the best possible terms and have remained friends with my Mars Hill friends and love spending time with them when I can; I have been disappointed to hear that a lot of people had much worse experiences.  Sometimes I have wondered if the new blood may be bad blood and bring bad blood with it.  I'm not sure, but I did begin to hear about redemption groups and about how if there was any sin in your life it was a "worship problem" and how the idea was that everything comes down to idolatry.  If you worshipped yourself into a mess you were going to worship yourself out of it. 

Well, the confessions of the Driscolls in Real Marriage were sobering and in some ways they have some bearing on a controversy about church discipline and accountability. This will take some time so bear with me if you're even still reading this.  It turns out all this time Driscoll was extolling wifely stripteases and holy blow jobs he was unhappy with his wife, not realizing that she felt uncomfortable about sex due to a history of sexual abuse and (probably) because of her husband's way of approaching sex. Now I have read excerpts in which Mark Driscoll said that in the end the thing that cured his moodiness was frankly more frequent sex and that's what he needed.  Do I need a larger context for that?  Is there really a larger context for understanding the flat declaration that more orgasms for Mark Driscoll equaled a stabilized mood? 

If a guy who is part of a redemption group, accountability group, or community group at Mars Hill sat down one night and said to the people in his group, "You know, I've got these struggles with moods and the only thing that makes them go away is having sex more often." how do you think guys in that group might react to this man?  Might the man be told sex was his idol; that he was using sex as a drug to stabilize his moods; and that he needed to repent of his sin of making sex a god and using his wife to make himself feel better?  The people I've met at Mars Hill over the years would seem to be the sort to actually say that.  He would probably be told that using orgasms as a kind of mood-stabilizing drug suggests a problem, wouldn't he? 

But if Mark Driscoll states plainly in Real Marriage that the only cure for his moodiness was more frequent sex this goes with no remark other than to defend him?

It gives a curious spin to this ...

Nine reasons Real Marriage is for singles, huh?  The Driscolls say to not copy them.  Heh, that probably goes double for singles, right?  If an unmarried person struggles with depression or moodiness then Mark Driscoll's self-diagnosis that the moodiness goes away with more orgasms might not be the best practical methodology for single people who aren't married!  There are a few Christians I've met where if they heard someone say they need orgasms to stabilize their mood that this sounds like the symptom of a straight up sex addict. No ifs, ands or buts. 

Now what if Driscoll ends up in a situation comparable to what Mars Hill pastor Bill Clem went through, with a wife who was slowly dying of cancer?  The chemo treatment was severe, so severe sex was not an option for a long, long time (as in she eventually died and sex wasn't on the table).  Clem gave a sermon years ago in which he said guys who think self-control and self-denial about sex are only for single people will be in for a huge shock if they get married (and stay married).  I had a chance to work with Bill a little in a ministry and, honestly, I like the guy.  I appreciated his openness and his humility.  If Mark Driscoll needs more frequent sex to stabilize his moods God help the Driscoll clan if Grace ends up with an illness that makes sex impossible because at that point Mark Driscoll could become impossible.

For people who never got any counseling at a church like Mars Hill you may not be aware that there are things you may be asked to sign called waivers.  The things that get waived are stuff like:

1. That this is actually professional medical, psychological or legal advice
2. That this is actually confidential (it's not, they reserve the right to inform law enforcement if what you share turns out to be a matter of breaking a law)

What this means, in essence, is that if you're a regularly giving church member you're obliged to give financial or warrant a talking to but you have no voting rights as a member about things like the appointment of deacons or other matters of church polity at a local level. You have also been given a situation in which to get a counseling session with a pastor you will likely be asked to sign waivers that indemnify them against legal liability for whatever advice they may give you.  They are not required to certify competence in mental health, medical knowledge, or the law and in a non-denominational setting there is not even any need for academic credentialing in theology or the study of biblical literature. 

You have basically tithed for what is considered binding in terms of spiritual discipline within the church but that at a purely legal level might as well be entertainment.  Should it happen that a pastor decides what you have shared should become public knowledge throughout the church, well, we've just been notified of that, haven't we?  If you were asked to confess to some sin that you regularly struggle with as a part of the membership application process you may come to the conclusion, as a friend of mine did, that what this amounts to is leadership having ammunition for a database so that if at some point you dissent from leadership there's something to hold over your head. If the tables are turned and you were to ask the people in authority over you if they have any recurring sins would you get an answer?

And if after all this you go to a pastor for counsel in a church setting like what I saw at Mars Hill what you may get is someone who might be listed as a "biblical living" pastor so there's no misunderstanding about competency. As Steve Hays put it over at Triablogue years ago the tricky thing about "biblical counseling" is that it will only be as good as the exegesis brought to a situation by the nouthetic counselor.  It is not always clear that those nouthetic counselors are competent exegetes.  Some of them are but in the case of a church like Mars Hill what you could get is someone who was appointed to be a "biblical living" pastor whose formal education may have stopped at high school, or an undergraduate degree in business, and who pleads the Holy Spirit and maybe the approval of Mark Driscoll.  I think a thinking man or woman will be forgiven by both God and men for deciding those qualifications just aren't good enough. 

When I left Mars Hill one of the very sincere cautions I passed on was that I was concerned about both the competence and good will of "pastoral counseling" as it had been practiced at Mars Hill.  It wasn't all terrible counsel.  In fact some of the best personal counsel I've gotten in my life were from Mars Hill pastors.  But I have to add this huge, huge caveat, the two pastors who gave me the best advice gave me that advice having known my family for years and having known me fairly well over the years.  In other words they "led" out of love for me that was personal as well as pastoral and for the people in my life they knew I was having trouble relating to at the time.  And they were not guys who were officially listed as "counseling" or "biblical living" pastors.  They frankly didn't need to be.  Years of that thing called actual fellowship gave them the tools and mutual love gave them a basis from which to give actually wise counsel.  As an axiom goes many people who pay for therapy wouldn't have to if they had good friends.

But it seems that for a lot of people they weren't even close to this fortunate.  They didn't get counsel from pastors who actually gave a crap about them.  They didn't get counsel from pastors with any competency in mental health or biblical literature that was demonstrated beyond fitting the preferences of a leadership panel. Particularly in the wake of the 2007 firings the default mode a lot of campus pastors took was to assume that if anyone had any trust issues with elders of any kind that was a sin issue that sprung from pride.  I have written enough about my concerns about the truncated hamartiology I saw at Mars Hill I won't bore you with the details.  Search the blog for a term as arcane as hamartiology or distaff spellings and you'll find that.

Now the question Jason Blair asked over at the Boar's Head Tavern was this, "Are we seeing pride going before destruction?" In light of all the "I stand by what I said" and "I'm a Bible teacher" Driscoll has been doing the answer that question could be "yes".  How bad will that fall be?  It depends on how unwilling some people at Mars Hill are to concede that maybe how they've handled things at almost any critical juncturewas bad.  Not just concede that how they handled things was bad but to make restitution.  Make restitution would mean publicly admitting to error and having hurt people.  It would mean establishing a basis for internal and external accountability. 

It might mean doing something besides spinning the failure of a capital campaign as far back as 2005 into a claim about good stewardship when the situation was they hadn't adequately researched zoning requirements before purchasing what was supposed to be Ballard campus #2, that one Driscoll mentions in Reformission Rev.  It's very easy to go easy on folks who admit to mistakes but if you don't admit a 1.5 million purchase was not the shrewdest move, well, it becomes tougher to show some leniency, especially if along the way you start doling out "discipline contracts".

For every Driscoll drone who talks about Mahaney or Piper mentoring Mark Driscoll please stop taking that idea seriously.  Mahaney's on the other side of the country and last I heard isn't even necessarily attending his own church.  People say Driscoll is "teachable" because he's got the kinds of pastors whose names sound cool when you name-drop them to show some enthusiasm for him.  This is not the same as actually being mentored. A mere stamp of approval isn't enough, a mere few words about not adequately expressing Christ's love for the church only gets him to change his tone for about three sermons. When someone outside Mars Hill tries to point out where Driscoll is going off the rails we see the way things went with John MacArthur.  I have made my lack of agreement with MacArthur on all sorts of things plain but I respect that he said something.  But the trouble is that when serious criticism of Driscoll as a biblical scholar and exegete comes from a conservative like John MacArthur or liberals like Soott Bailey or Robert Cargill the Driscoll fan base circles the wagons and sheer charismatic authority is cited. 

By now it is impossible for Driscoll's fanbase to say that critics are just liberals in favor of a hippie queer Jesus or fundamentalists who are upset that Jesus told knock knock jokes to hookers.  No, what both liberals and conservatives have started articulating is that Mark Driscoll puts himself and his interpretation of certain texts above scripture while claiming to "just preach what's in the Bible".  When confronted about this he just doubles down and says "I'm a Bible teacher and if you disagree with me I'd be glad to discuss this with you." 

Want to schedule an appointment with Robert Cargill or John MacArthur, Mark?  It seems that by MacArthur's account of things Driscoll has not been that eager to have that discussion.  To go by what Driscoll told Thor Tolo years ago if any pastoral folks are uptight about his take on Song of Songs that's because they're looking at porn.  I doubt MacArthur would appreciate being told that if he's objecting to Driscoll's handling of Song of Songs it must be because he's looking at porn.  Team Pyro has already spent some time suggesting that if anyone's seeing porn it's Driscoll in his visions.

IF there's a crash it could be a disastrous crash but it may not be the worst thing that could happen.  The worst thing could be no crash for years and years.  King Saul had success at every turn for quite a few years and then the downward spiral into paranoia, madness, and cruelty began all while people still referred to him as the annointed, God's chosen leader for the time. Just because God tells you to specifically do something doesn't prove in itself you know Him.  Even Judas was on the same team as Jesus, to pick a New Testament example.  We cannot be certain that success proves Driscoll's legit anymore than it proves Benny Hinn or Todd Bentley or Paula White or T. D. Jakes or Rick Warren or John MacArthur is automatically legit. 

While gays in Seattle have waited for Mark to be caught at a gay bar and others assume a sex scandal is in the works I would cautiously propose that the real scandal has already been slowly taking shape, the lack of competence and good will displayed by the counseling pastoral arm of the denomination. I don't say that lightly and I don't speak as someone who had no experience.  I have felt for years that if there were a disaster brewing at Mars Hill it would be about exactly this topic, church discipline and how the top down approach often lacks mercy and can seem arbitrary.

That someone has finally come forward about church disciplinary procedures that seem abusing and controlling does not surprise me.  Honestly, right now that I'm blogging about it I'm surprised it took this long.  I would have thought something would have shown up earlier. I would have thought anyone who'd simply read some of the waivers they'd have to sign to even get counseling from Mars Hill might have started putting together that what it amounts to is a tithe-based form of entertainment without an assurance the pastor who counsels you is necessarily up to the task. 

You may find yourself in a position where a counseling pastor assumes the worst about you and your associates; gives advice that fractures relationship; and then when asked to simply explain the basis for his counsel stonewalls you.  You might discover that some vital piece of information that could have ameliorated a longstanding conflict was not brought to your attention because some pastors decided you just didn't need to know something that made all the difference in the world toward a reconciled relationship because it happened to come from some people who decided to leave the church. If they left the church that meant they were only after control. 

Then you might have to decide if you had to take the risk of going against that counsel and finding someone else to step in and help seek some reconciliation after a pastor or two have decided that's not on the table.  And if you do that, God willing, you'll find some of those folks have a change of heart and are sorry about the earlier advice and glad that reconciliation happened.  If you haven't figured out that I wasn't speaking hypothetically I might as well say I was not speaking hypothetically in this paragraph and the one before it.

So, no, I'm not the least bit surprised that someone finally felt a need to go public about Mars Hill church discipline or pastoral counseling.  I got some terrible as well as terrific counsel from Mars Hill pastors in my time there.  In consideration of the love I have for my pastoral friends who gave the wonderful counsel in the past I did not wish to blog much of the terrible counsel.  And even in one case where some counsel I got wasn't so good that got patched up very nicely!  I, too, was an asshole so if someone gives me well-meant advice that doesn't work out, that's still on me and finally not them. Love covers a multitude of sins, a godly man can overlook an offense.  If someone gets something grievously wrong but I know I love them and they love me I can roll with that.  If there is a lack of clear competency good will sure helps.

But in other cases there were situations in which there was neither a demonstration of competency nor good will and that did make things messy for me.  Naming names is not important, sharing that this news that is shocking to other people is not to me is what I've been sharing.  I don't know if I should have shared this earlier but I feel like I should share this now.  I don't want Mars Hill to head for a disastrous fall but if disaster is unavoidable I would rather one or two guys have to eat the whole flock of crows than for the whole people to be forced to eat crow because a man or two persists in unentreatibility. 

I do really love the people at Mars Hill and still pray for them but that doesn't mean the institution can always outrun the full consequences of ill advised policies and decisions. I don't know what the future holds, I've been meditating on Ecclesiastes enough to know that. When times are good be happy and when times are bad know that God has made one as well as the other so that no one can find out what the future may be.  If Mars Hill is getting flack for its disciplinary sternness I'm sorry to see this both for those harmed and for those who perpetuate the harm.  I can't speculate about the future.

I can, however, in good faith and in all honesty say this, that when I finally felt I needed to leave Mars Hill back in 2008 I warned at least some of them about this very issue that's become a talking point now.  I warned that if there wasn't some circumspection and introspection about the basis and practice of church discipline, going right down to one's practical theology of sin, that a disaster was on the horizon. Whether or not anyone considered my advice is now completely moot.

D. G. Hart offers a suggestion on why neo-Calvinists make terrible CCM

... For neo-Calvinists distinctions between creational and redemptive spheres when considering aesthetics is a form of dualism and a sign of infidelity because it denies Christ’s lordship over all things. 

The frustrating aspect of those who are so eager to blur distinctions between the religious and the secular, between the eternal and the temporal, is that they are long on inspiration and short on qualification. What I mean is that someone could plausibly read Kuyper on the effort to integrate the church and all other walks of life as an endorsement of contemporary Christian music.

If I may provide a musician's perspective on this perhaps the way to illustrate this point is to put things this way: in "classical" church music and worship there is no prohibition against learning new styles, assimilating them into a liturgical setting where they are useful, and measuring the appeal of the style over against its practicality in a liturgical setting.  If no one ever did this in any churches we would not have gained the Bach cantatas, Luther's hymns, anthems by Tallis, and so on.

There was not necessarily in any of those epochs a need to go out and deliberately court the contemporary because each epoch of Church music was contemporary in its own way in the Western Church. There were debates about whether Bach's Matthew Passion was acceptable since it borrowed heavily from the forms and idioms of opera but the piece still got performed and it's still a masterpiece of sacred choral literature in the Western tradition.  At one point, however, it was "new" and contemporary.  Other musicians and musicologists have already spent time explaining how the "high" and "low" distinction we have seen in popular and concert music was not as great in the 19th century or earlier periods as it has become since then; the 20th century saw an almost complete break between academic and popular styles. About that I will have plenty to write later. 

What I'm trying to get across is that the whole idea of even bothering to keep up with popular styles at all is a uniquely 20th century business cycle procedure rather than one in which culture necessarily springs forth in an organic way. Step back and look at popular music not at the surface level of production values or compression or audio engineering; look at it beyond the perspective of regional popularity and instead look at it in terms of the nexus of musical form and text setting and you'll begin to discover that there have been no significant innovations in popular music at all in the last sixty years. 

A lot of the core ideas for forms and setting approaches emerged within folk music and the Tin Pan Alley tradition.  And while in the minds of partisans who conflate aesthetic and cultural norms rock music is not playing for the Man, it is, probably more so than even chamber music would be these days if you consider the millions or billions at stake.  As Frank Zappa put it, if you were a rock musician and you sold 20,000 copies of an album they'd sniff at you and consider you a failure whereas if you sold 20,000 copies of classical music you'd be a hero. Marketers have a strong need to sell different styles as different based on demographic appeals but musicologists have been noticing that the barriers between, say, white and black popular music have been more fluid than marketers have at times been interested in dealing with. In a similar way, a composer like Haydn could appeal to a broader audience in his life than he likely will now.  He did play in street ensembles after all.

But in contemporary Christian music there may not often be a whole lot of bringing the past into the present and adapting the present options back into what is musically useful. We may see, instead, in the neo-Calvinist scene particularly, a case where a bunch of ambitious guys want to be a "Christian" version of Radiohead or whatever band is current. Musicians in churches of this sort are urged to find out what is going on in contemporary music and name-dropping is important to establish street cred.  That was what I noticed at a church I used to be part of.  In the church I'm part of now the question is thankfully more prosaic and important, "Can you play this?"  Yes, yes I can and I'd be happy to.  The need to know new bands isn't important if you're playing the old standards, even if you're playing them in new ways.  I look forward to the possibility of playing some more, actually, but first I'll need to get my glasses fixed up.

Scott is in fine form over at Scotteriology with "God Loves Australia"

Australia is in no rush to let Todd Bentley bring his "fresh fire" into the country.  They don't all come from the US of A now, do they?

well parts 1 through 3 of "The Wounds of Discovery" are done

After months of delays due to holidays and eye surgery the next installment of Batman: the Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire over at Mockingbird should be going up.  At least parts 1 through 3.  "The Wounds of Discovery" should start going up some time this month. 

Every time I think the next part in this project writing about Batman: the animated series should be easier than the last I keep being wrong! I don't want to spoil things in advance but I've been excited to have even parts 1 through 3 done.  Parts 4 and 5 (with a possible 6, depending on how 5 turns out) are still in the works.  If you read the introduction you may remember I opened with a passage from Ecclesiastes that says, "Better what the eye sees than the wandering of desire."  Well, dear readers, you can anticipate a few more passages from Ecclesiastes and maybe a proverb or two to show up for Part 4. 

I know for some people who don't look at cartoons as a serious art forum considering the human condition it won't make sense to tie passages of Hebrew wisdom literature to a superhero cartoon. Well, so it goes, I can't help that. But I hope that if you read my essay on a certain Batman villain you'll appreciate why I open with the proverb that says, "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him" and if you know your Batman lore you will probably have figured out which Batman villain best fits that description! I'm looking forward to "The Wounds of Discovery" getting done and to the new parts going up on Mockingbird.  M-bird is temporarily down, though, so it may take a little time for the essays to go up. Meanwhile I can assure you that at long last I've got some more writing done. 

It's only fitting that this year, the 20th anniversary year of the show, I'm able to write about what makes the show great. It truly is a classic show that changed childrens' entertainment in ways I hope to show in future essays. If it seems staid and slow-moving now I hope that what I wrote in Cartoon Nostalgia, Cartoon Revolutions laid a foundation from the perspective of a child of the 1980s on how revolutionary Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's creation was in the land of kids' shows.  In fact when I get to writing about Two-Face I'll have a chance to explain that even more.  But for now, tune in this month for "The Wounds of Discovery" over at Mockingbird.

End of advertisement for the day. :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

legacy is always mixed

This is a simple, essential observation shared over at Phoenix Preacher since you know who passed recently (and if you don't know who don't sweat it). What this means in that more famous case is that a late-in-his-life revelation reveals a legacy to be tained in a terrible way. Does this mean the overall legacy is only evil?  Well ... consider what your own legacy is, or in a more blunt way, if you have one.  How do you know?  As I have written a few times at this blog God could by some providence kill all your children, destroy your belongings, and leave you with a spouse who sincerely believes the kindest thting to tell you is to "bless" God and accept death.  And that's before your friends dogpile you and say it had to have been your sinful ways that caused all the trouble.  The recently deceased was not Job so far as I know but if we take seriously the ways in which we err it would be tough to say he was Stalin, too.

We don't even know what our legacies will truly be in the end. Ecclesiastes warns that our legacy in the end is to be forgotten, all our greatest feats, however modest they might be, swallowed up by the passing of time.  If that is how it is what is a legacy?  Well, a lot of people choose to have a very literally living legacy in the form of children.  Then again that's always a mixed legacy, isn't it?  Children grow up and then don't always become exactly the person you hoped they'd become.  They might change religions (to no religion, for instance).

Or they may not change religions in any official sense but they may change political parties or change in some way that you wouldn't have anticipated or approved of.  Maybe a child comes out of the closet in the commonly understood sense.  Maybe the kid becomes a Calvinist or the wrong kind of Republican, the kind that concedes that sometimes Democrats are actually not evil incarnate even if you don't agree with them. Sometimes your kid bewilders you by getting into stuff you don't get. 

Some kids bewildered parents by getting into rock and roll they didn't like.  I put off my parents a bit by getting into jazz and of an old sort they didn't quite appreciate.  One of the things I recall about my maternal grandmother from my 20s was that I started getting into the music of Duke Ellington. My parents didn't get the fascination and found it odd.  My grandmother smiled when she heard I was getting into Duke's work.  She said, "You're starting to like the music I liked to listen to when I was your age."  I made a point of trying to relate to people older than me and get some idea where they were coming from.  I like to think that liking the music my grandma liked was in its way more subversive and non-conformist than other people in my generation who for reasons I still don't understand, liked Nirvana.  "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is pretty much Boston's "More Than a Feeling" in a minor key.

Even within a single family a legacy will be perceived differently from one person to another.  Were it not for my maternal grandmother I simply would not have become a guitarist.  I have occasionally pondered whether in many ways I have taken after my grandmother more than my mother on a few things.  It's hard to know how to explain that in a blog entry that I'm improvising.  Certainily I am the cumulative result of the parenting methods of my parents and yet during my teen years I got used to extended family scenarios and the most long-standing such scenario was living in a house with my siblings, my mom and stepdad, and grandma.

While it seems the majority of family do not necessarily look back on that period as a very positive one it has been one of the favorite periods of my life. It had it's stresses and troubles but I liked my grandmother.  I loved my grandmother would be more accurate, if conventional. She died almost a decade ago and there are times when I miss her, times when I consider she had an ability to get a whole bunch of us who descended from her to have an easier time hanging out with each other. One relative of mine confided to me that with grandma dead it was going to be that much harder to get through some family events because, honestly, grandma was the person in the family he liked most.  It's not that I don't love my family members but I could sorta understand how grandma played a vital role in keeping some people in the family on more than the most perfunctory speaking terms.

Years ago when I got one of those patriotic spams about the Greatest Generation it dawned on me that if I had the option of emulating a generation it wouldn't be the Baby Boomers if I could help it.  If I were to choose to be like my parents' generation or my grandparents' generation I realized I wanted to be more like my grandparents' generation if that were possible.  Not just the bit about fighting the Nazis, either, living with the reality that a bunch of people made stupid fiscal and other policy decisions that all came home to roost.  I guess put that way, if the economy tanks as badly as some people fear it may then looking to a generation that weathered the Depression seems smarter than looking to the generation that dropped acid, protested Vietnam, and then became yuppies in the Reagan years.  While the Baby Boomer generation would like to accept credit for "changing the world" which generation still had a lot of people in political and social and economic power guiding policy?  Hmm ... .  Legacies, as the axiom goes, are mixed.

Drew G. I. Hart remarked in the wake of the Rob Bell fracas that the battle between the Piper fanboys and the Bell fanboys was essentially about who would get the 20-35 white boys who will go on to become tomorrow's establishment.  I think this was an accurate assessment.  I realize it may be terribly cynical to say that but that's what I think, I think D. G. I. Hart is right about that.  I also think D.G. Hart is right to point out that in the post Cold War America we have the Reagan coalition has long since fallen apart.  Thus we get various Republican sympathizers debating whether or not Ron Paul makes sense of Gringrich makes sense and all that stuff. 

But there's something else D. G. I. Hart wrote that intrigued me.  He mentioned that despite the rhetoric of emergent generation church leaders there aren't even as many token blacks and other non-white theologians around as from Billy Graham's generation.  That's a fair point to raise.  In fact it might be a point that Keller made reference to about John Stott's passing.  If the Stotts and Grahams did more than the Bells or Driscolls to actually reach out to non-white theologians and thinkers then the "new" generation of evangelicals congratulating themselves on getting things right may be getting some things right at the expense of other things.  Neo-Calvinists like to think they're a formidable movement but they are still not growing as fast as Pentecostals, are they?

To make a merely polemical point for folks to think about, what if the older evangelicals had their problems but in their way did not pick the path of least resistence? For instance, maybe Francis Schaeffer was really odd and weird.  Yet he seems to have had an influence that goes beyond even just Frank Schaeffer marketing himself as I'm-not-my-dad during election run-ups. Schaeffer's legacy has not been all good but it has not necessarily been all bad and yet the temptation for partisans is to go one way or the other.  Just look at his son Frank, who has at various points in the last forty years been a partisan trying to benefit from alternately praising and damning his father's interest in political concerns after shoving him into a sphere he was reluctant to enter. 

But what is clear now, decades after Francis Schaeffer's passing, is that he has had an influence.  In many cases that influence can be observed in obsessive talk about a "Christian worldview".  I've grown tired of that even though I was a huge fan of such talk in my teens and earlier twenties.  I left that behind not because I have found it to be of no value but because it is in the end nothing more than a starting point.  Unfortunately many Christians use that starting point not as a foundation for actually going out and doing something so much as critique of what others do.  It is the treacherous path of the fuzzy line between "engaging culture" and consumerism; between "engaging culture" and a kind of criticism that is either a mercenary attempt to evangelize (which, I suppose, will have its place since Paul did it, too) or a blanket dismissal of something that may shine a light on what is going on with people. 

A lot of people in their twenties may not fully realize how much they're copying people in their 40s just as people in their forties may not realize how much they are copying people in their 60s. If we only think of legacy as linear or reactionary or cotninuationist we miss out.  There's no reason I can't look to things my grandparents' generation said or did and favor that over things my parents' geenration did.  But at this point I'm just rambling and running out of steam.

a curious vow ...
Sometimes an idea can have the compelling or admirable motivation on its face. yet still end up with the stupidest result, a result that is paradoxically born out of the motivation.  The stupidity of the result casts a curious backward light on the exact nature of the motivation that spawned the problematic thing.  Thus we get to this.

"... and my grandchildren will worship the same god as me because my children will worship the same god as me."

And here I thought Mark Driscoll actually read Ecclesiastes 5.

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
   Do not be quick with your mouth,
   do not be hasty in your heart
   to utter anything before God.
   God is in heaven
   and you are on earth,
   so let your words be few.
   A dream comes when there are many cares,
   and many words mark the speech of a fool.

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?  Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.

Notice something there? Don't delay in fulfilling your vow.  How and when will you know your grandchildren worship the same God as you? How do you know you'll have grandchildren?  Not even paedobaptists are that confident! If you make a vow that cannot be fulfilled unless your grandchildren worship the same God as you does that sound like a smart vow to make when as yet you don't even have grandchildren?  Does it sound like a vow about which you can say you did not delay to fulfill it?

Now the Scriptures do say to teach your children and your descendents and all that. But there's no guarantees.  You can do your best and your son or daughter could end up an atheist.  You can do your best and you could have a grandchild who renounces the faith. You might have a grandchild renounce the faith precisely because of the kind of Christian you are.  You can't control for these things. 

In the early days of Mars Hill I read some people seriously convincing themselves that Samson's parents dropped the ball and THAT was the reason Samson was a stupid, faithless horndog so much of the time.  Really?  Didn't we get told in the book of Judges the husband wanted to hear what the man told his wife and he got told, "Listen to what I told your wife?"  If anything Samson's parents were precisely as dutiful and attentive to the will of the Lord as Samson was not.  Yet at least one or two guys I came across in the early days at Mars Hill had put together some silly magic formula that said Samson was raised badly.  That was not his problem.

By contrast, considering the miserable end of Saul the Benjaminite, the first king of Israel, and given how he disregarded the Lord you might think he'd raise terrible kids who didn't have regard for the Lord or were bad people.  Yet Jonathan turned out pretty well and did not display his father's lesser traits. 

In the last few weeks I ended up having some back and forth and some misunderstanding with Matthew over at City of God.  It happens and some of it came from points I think could have been clearer on Matthew's and some of it has to do with my realizing I have a few visual handicapts. Fortunately things got talked through.

I'm glad the discussion happened because along the way the topic was about what kinds of promises a man leading a family can reasonably be expected to keep.  Matthew brought up a series of passages that, it turns out, ever so conveniently dovetail with things I've been reading in the last week or so.  So, here's another passage about people taking stupid oaths, this time from Leviticus 5.

 ... if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned. As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat from the flock as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.

There are some oaths that are so impossible to fulfill there's no value in making them.

The my-me-my-me-my-me-my-me-my-me-my-me juggernaut in this vow gets tedious.  Not only is this relentless use of the passive voice something that doesn't seem to fit a manly man, it is doubly passive.  At two different levels this is foolish. The first is that the passive voice is passive, which is weak writing, but it is what the passive voice points to that is more profound and terrible. 

But the second is worse in that each subject in the vow is the passive recipient of what the oath-taker determines will happen. The passive voice indicates that the church will be served by this oath-taker. How?  Who gets to decide that?  The wife will be loved, served, and prayed over.  Who determines that?  How does a person know the goal has been reached?  The wife will speak up (unless she's supposed to be a submissive and respectful type, depending on how the husband may choose to define that in some circles (sarcasm warning there).  There is at least some wiggle room for negotiation here.

But as for the child and grandchild who "will" worship the same God.  Why?  Because the oath-taker says so.  Notice, however, that in no circumstance can the oath-taker establish that his (and it's always going to be a "he" here folks) will love and serve in such a way that it will necessarily be construed as such by the recipient of the action.  This vow sounds wonderful and inspiring to people who will then participate in a group hug or whatever, it sounds pretty to someone who says the words but we're all fallible and "true to you" frequently ends up being "true to you as I understand truth."

As Proverbs puts it the heart knows its own sorrow and no other shares its grief.  The heart is also deceitful above all things and beyond knowing.  This means you don't know how your self-assessed obedience and faithfulness to God will be perceived either by those you vow to serve or by God.  It's fine to vow in the active voice to love and serve your wife.  The passive voice is all wrong at every level. You don't know whether the things you say or do that you are most proud of or anxious about are things that actually don't matter so much to your spouse.

When I read my blogging friend Wendy's recent post about overcoming the burden of a silly and impossible wifely requirement she'd put on herself she said that her husband had to explain to her "Honey, I don't NEED that!"  She found that what she was worrying she had failed to do was not even something her husband was worried about. Some oath-taking man who resolves to love and serve his wife will not necessarily love and serve her in a way that will be perceived or received as being loved and served. 

Let's rewrite the whole fiasco:

I will serve my church
I will love and serve my wife and family
I will instruct my family in the ways of the Lord
I will seek to live by Word of God and model the love of Christ
And pray that by God's mercies they may testify to His greatness to future generations
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be forever.

See?  You can make a promise like this and not even necessarily make it a vow but a discipline of the heart. That's finally in a form that I could consider.  There's nothing about the form of the original I can condone because the passive voice takes on theological implications all by itself that are terrible even if I pretended the last line about grandchildren wasn't in there. 

The passive voice for every construction means little more than that, having satisfied yourself that you have kept your vow, you have kept it when it is actually your wife, your child, your church that have some say in the matter. To make a vow in the passive voice sense laid out a la the Real Marriage poster is to make a vow that is impossible to keep.  No one in their right mind should even make it.  You can vow to instruct your family in the ways of the Lord but you cannot, I repeat, cannot control the outcome. 

If you've made some insipid passive-voiced self-congratulatory vow like the one referred to above with it's "My X will be Y by me" then repent.  At least reformulate the vow in the active voice with the understanding that your best is not necessarily ever what's going to lead your children to Christ.  Your children may become Christians despite your flaws and they may reject Christ precisely because of your most concerted efforts to win them to Christ.

And here's the thing, Samson's parents were faithful.  They did as the Lord's man instructed them. They prayed and were obedient and Samson was still a seflish and violent thug.  David was a man after God's own heart and consider how Amnon turned out?  What about Absalom?  What about Adonijah?  Even Solomon, the better of the lot, how did he turn out? David's love and regard for the Lord did not prevent Absalom being killed by Joab, did it?  If we want to insist that David dropped the ball as a parent let's consider that the reality is that despite doing your best you can still fail.  Parenting, as with any enterprise in life, will go better with wisdom but comes with no guarantees and with no refunds.  Did Adonijah or Solomon turn out okay? How did Tamar's life end after she'd been raped by one of her siblings? 

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future. This must inform our understanding of what kinds of vows we should and should not make. A vow to your husband or wife is understandable. A vow about a child? Not so much. A vow about a grandchild?  Dude, wait until you HAVE grandchildren before you consider vows that involve them.  Nobody knows the future, especially when they are confidenta bout it. I thought I had a lifetime job lined up at a respectable non-profit and here I am in month 27 of the job hunt.  I thought I had a sure thing.  I was wrong and now I'm here blogging about it. 

When Jesus said to make no vows He was saying to not break your word and to be truthful.  Having to swear an oath comes from the evil one if you're so inclined to not keep your word you have to vow something.  Let your "yes" be yes and your "no" be no.  In other words, you don't have to make some vow that says that people WILL passively be the recipients of whatever awesome things you plan to do and be; when asked if you will love and serve people and if you promise to do these things you could use those two words that somehow pop up in marriage ceremonies, "I do."  Then you go do those things, however hard or easy they may be.

I just don't get how a guy can publish a vow like this vow having ripped on William Young over The Shack. A vow that says a guy's grandchildren will worship the same God is just off the reservation. I would advise anyone wanting to make such a vow to rethink the entire wording of the thing and think through why he would take such a vow.  Peer pressure and conformity are not good reasons.  Guilt over how you have treated your wife or children are not necessarily good reasons.  King Saul was great at confession yet terrible at repentence. Saul, for that matter, made a stupid vow that would have called for the death os his son Jonathan.

There is a form of piety that is terrible in its deception and I would ask any married guys to think twice and thrice about taking any kind of vow just because some megachurch pastor (who says he gets visions of people being molested in real time, and belittles entire nations of believers as cowardly) would encourage you to buy his book to improve your marriage and urge you to make a vow.  The vow may be made with the best intentions as best you understand yours but the heart is still deceitful above all things.

If you're married, you know what?  You made that vow already and now you just need to seek the Lord and work at keeping it.  The simplest reason I would discourage anyone from taking some new vow is that this new vow you might be thinking of, it's just a slipshod reworking of the natural implications of the wedding vow you took when you married. Now if you feel guilty that you haven't kept your vow as you should it's good  to feel remorse and regret for that. Don't, however, make some new vow out of that guilt, especially not a vow that, as worded on some poster, is impossible to keep. Pray the Lord can help you keep the vow you already made and get help from as many fellow believers as may be available.  If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions some of the signposts are pious vows made along the way. Don't be hasty to utter anything before God.

speaking of Atanas Ourkouzounov ...

Here you go.  Knock yourself out.  There's some fun stuff on this channel.

Here's an ensemble I'd like to plug for

I own the CD Falls Flyer by the Kachian/Klemp Duo.  Though the duo no longer exists Christ Kachian is busy with Arpeggione Duo, a cello and guitar duo that has been busy for a while and has three CDs.  I highly commend Falls Flyer and hope to pick up the Arpeggione Duo recordings when, erm, I have money for that!  Along the way I ended up writing a sonata for cello and guitar for them. There is a lot of wonderful music for cello and guitar around, particularly since the dawn of the 20th century, but there can always be more advocacy for this music.  So I want to do my part, such as it is, and urge you to go check out this duo's webpage and listen to some of their music.  Sonata of the Wanderings by Jan Friedlin is a fine, ambitious piece, just to mention one specifically.

For their 2011-2012 concert tour they're tackling Atanas Ourkouzounov's Tanzologia, which very literally rocks!  It's a wonderful duet and I would urge you to hear it however you can. Since Atanas' recording on KLE with the Ourkouzounov Ensemble is out of print and you probably can't dig it up anywhere the Arpeggione Duo taking this golden little piece on the road is exciting. I don't know of another guitarist-composer out there doing more for the cause of chamber music by writing it then Atanas Ourkouzounov.  If there are other more prolific composers of chamber music who happen to be guitarists I don't know of them right now and, in any event, Atanas is still my favorite. It's my blog, I get to have my biases, eh?

Orthocuban: did the church fathers address slavery?

Super short version, post-Constantinian Church Fathers did start speaking against slavery pretty quickly either to condemn it outright or say that though it was a social evil it was one that had to be tolerated though not approved of.  Gregory the Theologian, bishop of Nazianzus, spoke against slavery in the 4th century CE. Orthoduck briefly notes that for those who think Jesus and the Church have against them that they did not condemn slavery just haven't read enough patristics yet.  In a post Constantinian setting where the Church Fathers didn't have to wonder if they were going to get reamed for speaking up against the institution Church Fathers started condemning owning people as property.  Perhaps some people didn't notice the part where "kidnappers" or "slaver traders" were condemned in the NT documents? 

Anyway, this can be considered the monthly semi-scheduled link to Orthocuban now that I'm thinking of it. :)

Is Elephant Room 2 a stunt waiting to happen? is this possibly a rhetorical question?

Driscoll said we should reserve final judgment until, well, until he gets to moderate some kind of discussion with Jakes about whether Jakes is still a modalist.  Reserve final judgment?  Well, if we want to play the pious game only God gets to decide that, right, so that's what would have been good to point out. 

Now I'm going to admit to being cynical here.  Driscoll is simply not the only person to have ever heard that "maybe" Jakes has a modalistic view of the Trinity.  It's not as though the Christian Research Institute and other groups and researchers haven't discussed Jakes' background in Oneness Pentecostalism in the last, oh, twenty years. Of course if you spent your teens and earliest twenties connected to Pentecostalism like I did you might be more alert to this stuff than a jack Catholic would have been so it's understandable not everyone would remember this stuff even if they heard or read of it.

All the same, asking us by way of a website to withhold final judgment until Elephant Room 2 and that since Jesus died for us the least we could do is ... get on a plane?  Heh heh heh why I don't disagree with that.  That is, in fact, the least you could do because having your assistant book a flight so you can go somewhere isn't much, not in terms of mental effort.  If Driscoll plans to eviscerate Jakes for modalism then I won't feel bad for Jakes but there have been earlier opportunities to do this.  This does not have to be a theological boxing match on the order that Dead Men was supposed to be ten years ago.  By the way, the guy who made the case for infant baptism didn't do a bad job.  I'm not 100% committed to infant baptism nor am I against it.  Compared to modalism it's a lower level issues, isn't it?

So if by Elephant Room 2 Mark decides to hammer Jakes one of two things will happen.  Jakes gets shown up to be a modalist and Mark gets to be a theological superhero praised on the order of being some new Spurgeon or Athanasius (which might make him feel pretty good about playing an important role in global Christianity). Or if it turns out Jakes isn't all that modalist Mark gets to be there for the coming out party of Jakes' formal orthodoxy.  It's a can't lose scenario. 

Since Mars Hill's core appeal is ostensibly to young men and at a practical level to a lot of white young men should the fur fly and things get unfriendly Driscoll doesn't have a ton to lose, the predominantly white neo-Calvinists that are drawn to him anyway won't have to consider that there's more than just a theological dispute that may end up at the heart of an Elephant Room meeting of the minds.  Even from the earliest days some family and I wondered if the "counterculture" Driscoll kept talking about was only really a counterculture if you considered middle-class American white suburban life to be the ideal counterculture to Seattle.  I've never been sure that it really is, and I've never been sure that the so-called counterculture Driscoll has urged Christians to embrace is a counterculture at all.  It could be an edgier version of underwriting the American dream.

Not that the American dream is necessarily always, only, and ever a terrible thing but it's not the only way to live. There's plenty to be said for financial and social stability. It's okay to enjoy reading books and loving to read books. But as Halden Doerge put it a few years ago, there can come a point where collecting books and reading thousands of them can constitute its own form of consumerism.  Other bloggers more on top of things than I have remarked about how the internet has made a whole generation or two of us knowledge junkies. 

If knowledge puffs up we are a generation primed to be puffed up faster than any generation that has existed before us in the course of human history.This has nothing to do with choosing to be uninformed or informed and everything to do with whether or not we are vigilent to cultivate even a modicum of humility.  When we have the opportunity to consider the fact that of the writing of books there is no end and that knowledge always grows far beyond what we can grasp we can let that humble us and give us opportunities to be grateful to learn or we can consider ourselves more on top of things than the next person and live accordingly.  Too many self-appointed discern-o-bloggers tend to land in this second category, as do a few too many preachers.  When Paul resolved to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified we know that this did not mean he couldn't quote Greek poets or philosophers. 

Something along the lines of what Paul was getting at is that we should be willing to associate with the lowly.  There's the social, political, and ethnic implications of that.  It may be that in your neighborhood or my neighborhood there's only so many lowly folks you may run into but some of the apostolic admonition is more basic than telling you to hang out with the down and out.  We're admonished to be willing to hang with anyone and not just a pet group.  It'd be fun to hang out with writers and artists and musicians and intellectuals and talk about policy and music and literature and all that, but if I hang out with electricians and their kids and play board games that's fun, too.  The electrician with a wife and a few kids has a vast wealth of experience, wisdom, knowledge, and friendship I value as much  (or more, really) than the relationship I might have with folks in a blogging circle.  Both kinds of relationship are precious to me these days, all the more seeing as I'm about to end month 27 of a hunt for steady work. 

To the extent that it is possible the pursuit of knowledge as a way to serve others is a wonderful thing.  You generally will not fail to benefit from this quest yourself but if you can make yourself useful along the way it helps others.  If you pursue knowledge to establish yourself and your reputation you might do that but a weakness that can come with that is that somewhere along the way you may reveal that you got into this venture for yourself.  While it remains to be seen how things will go down in the Elephant Room 2 there's little of me that ultimately cares how it goes down.  Megachurch pastors talking about how they do their business will "probably" not effect my life as much as whether Christians here in the Puget Sound area are willing to help me network job leads or get some new glasses.

That is to say that there are treasures stored up in heaven and there are victories that have a more temporal value.  Jesus warned to not do your good works for the praise of men or you have received your reward.  Because plenty of people have taken issue with Jakes' theology in the past a venue like the Elephant Room may present a monstrous temptation to people who go to it and people who pay money to watch a bunch of guys ramble about things that won't effect their own lives. 

Does that mean theology doesn't matter?  I'd be the last person to say that seeing as I have relatives who are Eastern Orthodox, at Mars Hill, are not attending church, or are Pentecostal while I myself am Presbyterian.  There's pretty much no family event in my life, ever, where I'm not constantly considering what might be helpful or divisive in a family social event depending on what theology is or isn't brought up in casual conversation.  I used to want to discuss and debate these things all the time.  Obviously I still like to discuss and debate things a lot of the time.

I guess what I'm trying to articulate is that one of the things that I began to learn over ten years connected to Mars Hill is that there's a lot of stuff a person can be proud of being part of that turns out to be nothing more than the reinvention of the wheel.  This often comes because an impressionable guy in his twenties doesn't realize, per Ecclesiastes, that most of it all has been said and done before.  In the case of the core teachings of the Christian faith it has also been done better before, in most cases incomparably better. The most Driscoll will pull off is a Cliff Notes' version of Athanasius.

Best case scenario if Jakes is a modalist and needs to get thrashed it's been done before.  About all that we get out of it amounts to a pay-per-view dog and pony show.  A few rock star pastors get to feel good about having engaged with big issues that matter while not much changes in the trenches.  The thing about people who think wars are won by the air war is they know jack about actual military history.  Nobody has ever won a war through aerial bombardment.  Boots have to touch the ground and it's the boots touching the ground that get things done.  In fact if boots don't touch the ground one of the great axioms of 20th century conflict kicks in, "If it flies, it dies."  Why do you think we've switched so steadily to drones ... or were some of you folks talking about "air war" paying attention?

Which, ironically enough, may still totally fit!  The air war is increasingly being done by remote control, by gamer types whose abilities become relevant to a new approach to recon work. The knights of the air stuff won't go away completely but as air superiority technology has evolved in the last century (keep in mind that aerial combat is not even truly a century old yet, at least not until 2015) that the rules of engagement change even as the core tactics and concepts don't.  We are potentially arriving at a more remote control air power.  This not only true of the military that does actual fighting, it may also be true of evangelical/neo-Calvinist leadership.  The air war may increasingly be done by way of the ecclesiological equivalent of pilots sending out drones through whom they wage their part of the air war. 

An event like the Elephant Room 2 may just highlight this by anachronistically going back to the dueling pilots of a century ago.  What people may not realize about those old fighters like the Red Baron is they knew their role was fairly insignificant.  Want to know what the real point of the air war was? To control intelligence gathering operations and mapping procedures that guided the infantry and artillary movements in the ground war.  If war is what is pursued when diplomacy by other means has failed the air war is what happens when propaganda and information gathering have not quite done the job and you need to compensate for a possibility that the other team has made more progress than you want them to. 

By now I've probably stumbled upon my point by way of discovery, air wars do not win real wars and air wars in American Christendom are simply not the same as shared lives.  If the Elephant Room is air war it is perhaps simply guys talking about how the air war should be conducted on the assumption that, why yes, strategic bombing does change the course of military campaigns.  Except that it doesn't, not without things like army and navy folks going and getting things done. If Jakes is a modalist and Driscoll throws down will this impact how many church members Jakes has?  No.  If Jakes isn't a modalist and Driscoll says he's a brother in the Lord will this change anything?  It will be business as usual. Of course either way it will work out fine for Mark.  He's got nothing he can possibly lose.  But whether or not this does anything meaningful to advance the kingdom of God is not exactly an issue.  Ten years ago I would not have said anything this jaded but a lot can happen (or, perhaps as importantly, not happen) in ten years.

a bit of news about the comic/film Persepolis and things like arson and trials

Satrapi's comic is a well-made and compelling comic book. I don't happen to have either the comic or the film on me at this point because I've lent those out to friends but if there's a reason to consider watching a movie based on an autobiographical comic by an Iranian woman who grew up during the days of the Iranian revolution and the deposition of the Shah ... well, you don't really "need" a reason, do you? The film got released in America the same year as Brad Bird's Ratatouille (and Satoshi Kon's Paprika for that matter) and all three animated films are absolutely wonderful in remarkably different ways.  But Persepolis is the one I'd encourage you to see in light of news that it's getting flak.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

a few thoughts about Tim Keller's eulogy for John Stott: HT Phoenix Preacher!

I could write any number of thoughts about this eulogy Keller gave for Stott but I will try to keep this fairly short.

Keller remarked that we should be cautioned by Stott's cultural learning curve.  Stott spent years (and probably decades) coming to a fuller understanding of Christianity not merely as a Western but a global fellowship. Keller warns that if even a man like Stott took years to become fully aware of cultural blinders how much more cautious should Americans be?

Keller went on to remark that although Stott was not what we'd call a brawler he did not avoid having that famous falling outwith Lloyd-Jones.  He did not end up avoiding controversies, controversies younger evangelicals have, as a rule, not even been aware of. Keller made it clear that he was not convinced that in every controversy Stott was involved in he did not believe Stott always landed on the right side of a given issue.  Of course, at a eulogy we're not in a position to discuss such disagreements at length; it's no surprise Keller did not linger on the issues on which he believes Stott got things wrong. The caution is that if even Stott could not avoid serious controversy we must remember that we may be embroiled in controversy ourselves.

I never heard Stott preach myself and have only read some of his work but a remark by Keller about Stott's approach to expository preaching sticks with me.  About the Scriptures Keller remarks:
"You don't NEED to make it relevant, as people have said for years, it's alive and active and a two-edged sword."

I have blogged in the past about a danger we can face as any sort of Christian but particular in settings where we may be teaching.  We must remember that there is a difference between explaining what a biblical text says (aka "contextualization") and what is ultimately the contextualization of ourselves with a biblical text as a pretext for an agenda that is finally our own.  Having spent time reading sermons by not only Lloyd-Jones but also John Donne in the last four or five years I have begun to appreciate Keller's observation about expository preaching here. There is a lot that passes for expository preaching that is not strictly proclaiming what the biblical text says but includes a parade of funny or sad or touching stories about the pastor's life or wife or children or this or that observation about some social or cultural artifact that will often be meaningless even within a few short years.

If I am presented with an opportunity to learn why a festival mentioned in the Gospel of John takes on significance for rituals of water or rituals of lights on the one hand or an opportunity to hear an anecdote about some kids which do you think I am more interested in?  If you guessed the facts about ancient Israelite customs and feast days and how they inform the context in which Jesus is shown speaking in the Gospel of John you would be right.  No offense but I don't know your kids or your brother-in-law and though meeting them may truly be a pleasure should it happen if you stick with what's n the biblical text and don't try too hard to bring in your personal life to illustrate the point I'll get it. 

In fact if anything less you and more Bible means I've got more of a shot at understanding the gist of the text because your life is only an open book to you, God, and the people in your closest social circle.  And that's fine, by the way, but I realize having heard Keller's remark on Stott's expository preaching that a lot of supposedly expository preaching evangelical pastors are far more busy preaching themselves than they are preaching the biblical text!  I don't care about you, buddy, I care about the Father, Son and Spirit.  I mean, sure, I probably will really care how you're doing and people who have met me and interacted with me have been surprised how long I can remember a seemingly small or off-handed comment about a family or professioanl situation.  I'm just saying that the opportunities for this are best saved for some place other than a sermon.

Personalizing anecdotes in ostensibly expository sermons can actually be a kind of deception.  Let me explain how and why.  They create the illusion that social space has collapsed when it really hasn't.  In media theory (dreaded media theory) there's something called a constructed mediated reality. In other words it's not real but if it has been well-made it will look, feel, sound, and seem real.  It will convey an intimacy that does not exist.  This can inspire people to remember things from the sermons that involve more stories about the pastors wife or kids or the pastor's opinion about a movie or a book than about the core of the text the pastor was preaching from.  You are tempted to believe that you actually know something about the pastor as a person.

Yet the whole point of the personal anecdote or interlude is not, let me repeat that, is not to invite you into the private or social life of the pastor. The whole point of the personal anecdote is to illulstrate the point about the text the pastor is making. If it happens he or she has shared an anecdote which also gives you an insight into his or her life and character then, okay, that happened, but the real point was to hook you into an understanding and application of the text.  I'm not saying this is necessarily bad in itself.

Yet from the Lloyd-Jones and Donne sermons I read I came to realize that it is perfectly acceptable to not have any personal anecdotes through the vast majority of expository preaching.  Donne can even follow a formula such as discussing the literal reading of the text, the application of the doctrinal point of the text, and then close with a spiritual or typological aspect of the text when applicable.  And along the way do we learn stories about Anne?  Do we hear about kids?  Do we get references to contemporary literature?  Well, sometimes, but Donne was casual in throwing out Hebrew and Latin terms and then immediately translating them for the layman. 

An advantage of Donne's preaching in his day that may seem like a disincentive to read him now was his willingness and his eagerness to preach a single sermon at multiple levels of complexity.  He would preach for the highest academic level and preach to the lowest practical concern in any given sermon.  And somehow he managed to do this without having to make a habit of talking about pets or sharing anecdotes about pop culture from his own time in a quarter of any given sermon. Now, centuries later, people still have an incentive to read Donne's sermons as they do with Lloyd-Jones.
 By not seeking the kind of cultural engagement and relevance evangelicals now prize these old school Protestants obtained something better, having said and written things significant enough to merit attention forty and four hundred years later.

There are many sorts of preachers who would claim to be expository preachers who are more apt to give running commentaries about a text or even use the text as a pretext to make a running commentary about issues and concerns that have little to do with the text. Is it bad to have pop culture or other references in a sermon?  Well, no, even Keller uses a variety of literary or artistic references in sermons.  But I've appreciated that these digressions only serve the point to reinforce the actual point of the sermon, which is expounding on the text. Certain other preachers who have shared anecdotes or cultural references have not always done that so much as share stories and digressions that move away from the text and toward some topic that is at best tangentially connected to what a real expository sermon would do.

Well, that's my not-quite-planned ruminations on Keller's eulogy for John Stott. HT to Phoenix Preacher for linking.