Thursday, February 23, 2012

how ex-Pentecostal am I?

just ex-Pentecostal enough that I've linked to this. :)

Whether or not I could be considered cessationist/continuationist I have no regard for that thing Americans regard as "revival".

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Interesting link from Phoenix Preacher

Couldn't someone suggest that what is described in the article is not necessarily always prevenient grace but common grace?  Or as some might put it, manifestations of ethical outworkings of "natural law"? It may be there are a number of theological terms that could be used to explain things but they are terms that many evangelicals will have tossed off the train of acceptable Christian nomenclature because thems be words used by Papists? 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A few thoughts on Practical Theology for Women's Review of Real Marriage pt 2

As Andy pointed out, Real Marriage paints an intimate portrait of a couple dealing with the sexual and family baggage of the wife, but not that of the husband. Mark is skilled and precise at diagnosing Grace's problems and those of his culture, but he lacks insight into himself.

It's not a big shock that a man who can have all sorts of insights into other people can completely lack insight into himself.  After all the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure and who can understand it?  As I have mulled over the subject over the years it has struck me that if you are deceived about something you can't tell the truth to others even when you wish to because you believe something that isn't true. It can be easy to pinpoint the fatal flaws of a culture while pretending you are not yourself a product of that culture.

In my own transition out of Mars Hill I had to come to grips with the realization that if there was a spiritual sickness in the community I had to admit I displayed a lot of those same flaws and didn't realize it for years.  As I shared when I parted I came to realize that there were spiritual flaws and sins in my life I was only going to learn how to repent of if I wasn't in a place where my sins that I hadn't been aware of weren't such a remarkably good fit in the place I was at. I couldn't begin to say there was anything wrong with Mars Hill without squarely confronting the question of how and why I fit in there so well for so long.  If there was a disease there then surely my own life could be read as a symptom.  This is one of the reasons why I have had such a hard time taking so many anti-Driscoll bloggers seriously, they frequently display the same character flaws I've seen in his pulpit rants over the years.  I've seen in myself the sorts of cruel qualities I want to be free of. 

My estimation, for what little it may be worth, is that the Alsups do not display these problems in their review of the Driscoll booko.  As Michael Spenser wrote about Wendy years ago in his review of her first book, Wendy does not manage to come off ever displaying the flaws of her pastor (i.e. Mark).

Of course there's that dream Mark talks about, a dream which I am not certain was necessarily a divine oracle.  Just because something happens to come true does not make it a genuinely prophetic oracle and, more over, prophetic dreams in the Scriptures are never cases in which things of the past are recounted.  Instead Ecclesiastes 5 warns us that as a dream comes with many cares so many words bring foolishness.  Mark Driscoll has shared enough prosaic information about how his previous women cheated on him that a person can explain the vivid dream as the outworking of worries he already had per Ecclesiastes 5.  It doesn't have to be a divine dream at all.  That it could be or not is not an issue I am interested in discussing at further length here.

Central to Real Marriage, Mark gives testimony of his decade long bitterness toward Grace. “I had a dream …. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating” (p. 11). “Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her” (p. 12). He says on p. 14, “I grew more chauvinistic. … I started to distrust women in general, including Grace. This affected my tone in preaching for a season, something I will always regret.” He repeats this in the first Real Marriage sermon online as well. I don't think the root cause of his misogyny (his own word from the first Real Marriage sermon) is anywhere near that simple, but that actually explains a lot. I remember Mark telling a husband publicly on the church members' forum during those years that if he didn't shut his wife up, Mark would do it for him. I hope his regret has caused him to reach out to that family in apology (she was also an abuse victim, sexually exploited by an older youth leader) as they left Mars Hill after that.

Interesting thing about the Christianese cliche "season".  Mark doesn't say how long the season was and people can't figure out even now, from the outside, that there's any evidence that that "season" has even ended.  As I have written before the confession Mark Driscoll makes in his recent book confirms that the critics who have said he is a misogynist who resents women concedes that these critics have been exactly right.  He's even brought out the sexual issues of his own wife and the sexual activity of his prior girlfriends as evidence for the basis, as he sees it, of his period of resentment toward women (assuming that period is over I "guess" we can say it's over but only on the basis of his say-so).

The general, vague apology for a "season" in his preaching life where he resented women is the kind of safe and saccharine confession of sin that, were it someone else, Mark Driscoll would warn us could be a sign of false repentence.  Would someone like, say, Andrew, have been able to get away with such a vague confession and a comparable level of repentence?  Something to consider.

According to the book, Mark's bitterness and stress culminated in 2007. He recounts on p. 16, “... my adrenal glands and thyroid fatigued, and I finally came to the end of myself …. So we cleaned up the church” and “lost around one thousand people due to changes amid intense criticism.” The intense criticism he mentions came because he fired two older elders while engineering the rewriting of the church by-laws at the high point of this season of bitterness and anger with his wife.

Some of that intense criticism came about because the pastors stonewalled about the firing of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer.  Some of the criticism came about because Mark Driscoll, in response to a question about the by-laws from some members, told a woman that Pastor Jamie had said to not talk about those things.  When I pointed out that Pastor Jamie had written nothing of the kind and advised members not to talk about the firings of Petry and Meyer I added that the only person who was saying Pastor Jamie said not to ask about the by-laws at that point was Driscoll. 

Further, I pointed out that since no one else was even connecting dots between the firings and the by-laws, Mark Driscoll himself was introducing the connection of the two ideas in a way that would probably encourage speculation and invite the consideration of why Driscoll was claiming Jamie Munson published something to the church members that he didn't actually write. I asked whether this was a good idea on Mark's part.  Couldn't it lead to speculation that Paul and Bent got fired over the by-laws? Why would Mark speak as though Jamie had forbidden discussion of the by-laws when the prohibition was against public discussion or enquiry into the firings of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer?

Well ... turns out that there was a reason Mark Driscoll had made the connection.  It's because Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired over the by-laws changes.  After months of stonewalling the leadership finally explained why the two men were fired.  Turns out that Mark Driscoll had let slip something that was eventually confirmed. 

Now if anyone imagines this was done on purpose, well,  you don't know how lazy and sloppy Driscoll can sometimes be.  At one point Mark Driscoll was going to run with the idea in some sermon notes that Boaz must have been a reader of the Psalms and made reference allusively to a Psalm of David.  I had to be very blunt in pointing out that it would be a bad idea for Mars Hill to run with sermon notes attributing to Boaz the reading and appreciation of Psalms that were written by David.  Chronological issues, anyone?  The problem was spotted and things got fixed.  To this day, however, I wonder if it would have been wiser to let Mark get egg on his face for betraying his lazy use of biblical texts.  So, no, dear reader, having been inside Mars Hill for a while he's not the hypercompetent puppet master some of you people want him to be.  For a self-described Bible teacher that he made such a mistake at all was embarrassing, though--yet I mention it because I want to make it clear why I don't take seriously on-line allegations that Driscoll's got to be behind every little thing they don't like at Mars Hill.  Seriously, he's just a guy and we're all capable of making dumb mistakes and having people assume we did something on purpose that was just plain stupid. I know this about myself so I know Driscoll has to be capable of it.  Surely Grace must know. :)

Anyway, around the same time the firings became a controversy Mars Hill finally let us members know the state of that big building purchased earlier in the 2005 capital campaign project, the one Mark Driscoll assured us in the 2006 book Confessions of a Reformission Rev was slated to become Ballard campus 2. The property puchase that Mark says was the idea of Pastor Jamie Munson in the 2006 book (if memory serves). 

Yeah ... about that ... the property is zoned for industrial use and the pastors kinda sorta didn't bother to investigate that before making the purchase.  They must have just trusted that God was on their side come hell or high water, purchased the property, and then figured out privately that this was an oopsie.  Oh well.  During the firing controversy members began to wonder what, exactly, came of that roughly 1.5 million dollar investment.  By the Martian leadership account it was all done in good stewardship.  It's not a huge surprise that within months of this revelation 1,000 members decided that "maybe" Mars Hill leadership was not as fiscally competent as they'd previously trusted they were. 

So Paul Petry and Bent Meyer got fired over disagreeing about the by-laws?  Well, why was completely unanimous voting required?  If two out of forty guys don't agree with something why would it have been disrespectful to spiritual authority?  More importantly, if unanimous voting lead to what seems to have been a 1.5 million dollar boondoggle wouldn't a lack of unanimity form the important role of forcing pastors as a leadership team to ask questions about their competence and motivation as a group? 

Of course with the executive leadership system in place only the executive elders had the powers to make the decisions that had previously been group decisions.  In theory this was probably supposed to preclude things like the Ballard boondoggle from happening again.  Problem, the guy who Driscoll credits with the great idea of purchasing that Ballard boondoggle was one of the executive elders.  No offense, guys, but that was not an encouraging turn of events.  It's got nothing to do with personal disrespect and everything to do with a hsitory of demonstrated competence.  If Mars Hill had leaders who had listened to business leaders in the community who knew the purchase was a bad idea the whole thing could have been avoided.  The reality, as anyone who watched the situation play out was able to see, was that Mars Hill pastors didn't really want input from actually knowledgeable people in the local business community. 

What Driscoll habitually seems to miss is that a lot of the intense criticism sprung from the unhappy reality that he and his leadership team made a lot of dumbass decisions and tried to avoid conceding that maybe they'd botched more than a few things.  The new by-laws ensured Mark Driscoll retains a huge amount of organizational power while divesting himself of having to actually do anything in the trenches.  There was not, I might add, anything particularly clear about the administration of local church discipline on members beyond that there was nothing like an appeals process.  So that Andrew's case ended up in public is no surprise.  It's sort of like Derek Zoolander wondering how his friends could have died in a freak gasoline fight accident.  A plurality of elders who are supposed to unanimously agree on everything defeats the whole point of any advantage a plurality of elders should confer in the decision-making process.  It has become apparent Driscoll has probably never practically grasped this idea.

As I've been saying for years folks can be pretty gracious and forgiving if you can simply admit you did something or said something stupid.  In the Mars Hill theology of sin sin is the result of pride and is a rebellion against God or God-appointed authority, at a practical level.  The idea that sin can involve really stupid yet well-intended decisions that costs huge amounts of money or harm the lives of people is not the usual Mars Hill talking point when "sin" or "idolatry" come up.  It would seem overdue for discussion at some point.  Part of the reason we can be gracious to each other when we sin is because as scripture attests in a few points there can be inadvertant sin. But if you don't have room for that conception of sin you won't have critical room for that abstraction called Christian love. And should a conflict arise and you want to resolve it that will have consequences.  Perhaps uncoincidentally ...

... The accountability of this system is much less effective when you can fire your elders at will and put the ones who remain through the “wood chipper” as Mark called it at an Acts 29 bootcamp at that time.

I recently put (a Mars Hill executive elder who remains at the church) in the wood chipper in my church. ... He was the guy, he had to nitpick at everything; he had to resist everything, he had to look at the other side. … you'd ask him why, he’d be like, well, I just wanted to make sure we've looked at everything, and everybody is considering all the angles. … I'll tell you what, when you despise your elders, at that point you have no safe place in the world from which to do ministry. ... there's always one guy there who's just like a fart in an elevator, and I'm just counting the minutes till I can get away from this guy. You can pray for me. You may say, “It seems like he's dealing with this right now.” Yes, I am. I'm thinking of certain people. If it weren't for Jesus I would be violent.” (Mark Driscoll, “The Man,” Acts 29 Bootcamp, Raleigh, NC, September 20, 2007)
Looking at every angle, as we've seen, is just not how Driscoll thinks. He's the bottom-liner with the one-liner. Of course the Evelyn Waugh remark about how much more churlish he'd be if he wasn't a Christian might not have been what Driscoll was thinking of.  I could take a time to digress on to how many guys in their twenties first introduced to Mars Hill ten years ago looked up to Mark because, whether any of us would have admitted it or not, we lionized the possibility that one could be, in the bluntest way of putting things, a sanctified asshole.  People who look back on the antics of William Wallace II in "Pussified Nation" with something other than regret may have a hard time conceding this point but those of us who regretted the whole fiasco happening at all, never mind those morons who participated in it, should feel a measure of abiding regret. 

If you don't know the history of Mars Hill from first hand experience, there are other issues with Real Marriage that may or may not be problems depending on what you are looking for in a Christian book on marriage. First, there is little exposition of Scripture in the book. It mentions Scripture in passing and footnotes the references at the bottom. When they do discuss Scripture, such as Esther's relationship with the king from p. 65, they sometimes come to troubling conclusions that are not consistent with a careful examination of Scripture. As Andy said, if you're looking for a gospel-centered Bible study on marriage, this isn't it.

Pretty much.  Ten years ago on Babblerash a Pentecostal who went by Morgan74 wrote something that has stuck with me.  He/she saw/heard what Driscoll extolled about Song of Songs and how he slammed the typological reading and said that Driscoll's whole conception of sexuality seemed troubling.  My hunch was when Wendy mentioned the hugely problematic take on Esther as better than Vashti was it might have had something to do with Grace Driscoll's handling of the book of Esther.  That's to say that "if" Grace handled Esther that way it's not a competent handling of the text.  Given where her head goes (Mark) it's not a huge surprise that she'd have an irresponsible handling of biblical narrative literature. 

Mark Driscoll has often professed his love for the wisdom literature.  I am not sure he understands it and I am also convinced that he takes his prism of his take on wisdom literature as a thing through which he filters and distorts narrative literature in the Bible.  He can use a wisdom literature prism to transform Ruth into an instruction manual on dating and marriage when that is not what the book is about. He used Ruth as a dating/courtship manual in 2005 when he was big into courtship.  He then recycled a good chunk of material from that into his Ruth series in 2007.  His two actually decent sermons in the Ruth series where the ones where he didn't recycle his earlier shtick.

Mark spent months later in 2007 transforming Nehemiah into a typology about himself and Mars Hill, culiminating in a sermon in which he explained Nehemiah's violent reaction to people during the time in which it was announced that Paul Petry and Bent Meyer got fired.  The parts where Nehemiah considered how he and other members of the leading class sinned against the people?  Heh, that was not so very prominent in the preaching and teaching was it?

Mark said in the same Acts 29 Bootcamp message referenced earlier that the pastor's wife has the “most important job” in a new church -- “having sex with the church planter.” I wonder what the Driscoll's story would be if Grace became incapacitated long term. If that became the case, the majority of their marriage book would be useless to them

Holy concubines from Colorado, Batman!  He said that? Well, not a huge surprise to me. 

Mark felt betrayed by Grace for her sexual sin, but it's stretching it to call Grace's sexual encounter with another guy when she and Mark first started dating primarily a sin against Mark. A sin? Yes. Against Mark? Not so much. According to how they describe it, they had only just started dating when this incident occurred. She was a sexually active teenager in a new relationship with another sexually active teenager (Mark) who was not a Christian. There was nothing remotely resembling covenantal commitment between them at that point. Even though Mark seems to understand parts of the problem in his response to her, there remains much about Mark's “forgiveness” of her for this sexual sin but nothing about Mark asking Grace's forgiveness for how he exploited her sexually during that same season. [emphasis original]

Yep to all the above.  Driscoll wasn't a virgin at the time so if Grace wasn't a virgin and they had just started dating was there a relational context in which Mark Driscoll could have legitimately considered Grace's lack of faithfulness a sin against him at that point?  If Mark had a dream about something from a decade earlier and felt so retroactively betrayed he threw up does he ever stop to put together why he was okay with using her sexually?  Instead of only freaking out that his woman turned out to have cheated on him when neither of them were particularly Christian and he had grown used to sexually benefiting from her why feel betrayed?  I say this as a single guy who's never had a girlfriend. 

Maybe I'll understand things better if I have a girlfriend who cheats on me.  But, still, the point is not lost that Mark describes himself as having a sexual history where he was totally okay with fornicating with prior girlfriends and with Grace but incensed that they weren't faithful to him.  The question remains why Driscoll never seems to have stepped back and wondered what it was about these women he found so appealing?  Mark can concede that what Grace "should" have done was never dated or married him.  Does this statement let him have a pass on the subject of claiming that if he'd known she cheated on him even once he would have never married her even though he keeps claiming over decades that God told him to marry her?

According to Real Marriage, both Mark and Grace were sexually active with other partners before dating each other. Grace went through Redemption Groups at Mars Hill and dealt with her sexual history, but Mark never did (the elder leading the early version of redemption groups in which Grace first found her voice on the issue of past sexual abuse was one of the older elders fired in 2007). Grace deals with her parents and issues stemming from her upbringing in a pastor's home. But Mark only makes a passing reference to his and doesn't deal with baggage from his upbringing AT ALL. Does he have NO baggage he brought to marriage from his women-beating, alcoholic, redneck family (his description)?

You'd never know Mark Driscoll had any baggage of any kind given his public statements.  He's tended to talk about his family in positive terms.  He's dad's the union dry-waller who swung a hammer for a living.  What Mark has said about his father has tended to be in the vein of establishing his street cred as a preacher rather than a son sharing affection for his father.  His dad may not even be alive or exist anymore for all we know, he's that inessential to any public teaching or preaching.  Now if you haven't seen your biological father face ot face in, say, 21 years, then if you don't make a habit of speaking or writing about him people will get that. 

But if Mark's dad is still alive and Mark has been preaching for decades where's dad?  Not where's Mark Driscoll as "poppa daddy" in his own narrative, where's HIS dad?  I never had to wonder that about Lief.  Lief told me!  Lief gave me some priceless counsel about how to improve my relationship with my stepdad.  Meanwhile, for a guy so obsessed with dad this and that Mark sure has managed to avoid discussing his dad.  It's almost like Mark has himself not had the kind of dad he would ever feel like bragging about to anyone and just avoids any serious discussion of him.  In the church I've been part of I hear my pastors actually make reference to their parents.  I'm not saying you have to, just that if you're obsessed with the whole "pastor dad" motiff and habitually trotting out family vignettes into sermon applications it wouldn't kill you to show an example of how you learned from your old man.

... Though if Mark does teach through Hosea consistent with his Nehemiah sermon series of 2007 and his portrait of himself in this current book, he will cast himself as the hero of Hosea and Gomer's story, not recognizing that he himself is Gomer to Jesus' Hosea as much, if not more, than his wife. “(God) said that He ... had chosen me for the important mission of rescuing, protecting, and loving His daughter. This felt like a noble divine assignment and began to change my motivation for pursuing Grace …” (Real Marriage, p. 15)

Sigh ... yeah, can't argue with that one.

Mark's last chapter on reverse-engineering your life describes a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps way of writing your life story from the end to the beginning, which basically sets the stage for the autobiographical portions of the book which Andy addressed. The Driscolls do seem to have genuinely repaired their broken relationship. I am glad they seem at peace with each other personally, though I'm concerned that Grace has excused Mark's unrighteous anger against her by calling it righteous. While I'm concerned for Grace, I am more concerned for specific individuals to whom Mark directed angry, cutting words over those years of bitterness and anger toward his wife. The story he recounts in this book was not lived in a vacuum. Mark bears the responsibility for that, not Grace. Giving a general apology (as he did in the first Real Marriage sermon) to a church no longer filled with the specific people to whom he directed those words is inadequate (no one in our family, by the way).

Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
A person who keeps advocating reverse engineering your life is someone who has probably never had a moment of real, unalloyed failure, or at least someone who has never looked square in the face at an irrecoverable failure or loss in an unflinching way. If Mark loves the wisdom literature so much he should remember that it is foolish to boast of plans for the future because you don't know what will happen.  And to this day the optimistic declarations about what that property in Ballard was going to be used for when it became Ballard campus 2 are a witness against Driscoll's own over-eager reverse-engineering not only of his life but of the life in his church. 

The reason these things matter, the reason it matters a great deal that a man like Mark Driscoll can make the case to his wife that the cure for his moodiness is more frequent sex is I have known guys at the church who ended up in a bad spot because they were trying to convince their wives they needed more sex.  Apparently if you're at the bottom rungs that kind of relational problem can land you in a church disciplinary situation or a redemption group.  But if you're Driscoll?  You get to write a book in which you flatly declare that more sex stabilizes your moods when if you were at the bottom rungs of the organization you might get told you're a sex addict whose made sex an idol.  You would probably not be allowed to become a deacon or stay a deacon if you made a confession that you and your wife had that kind of relational tension. 

It would have been nice for these sorts of observations from either Andy or Wendy or myself to have never had to have been written.  It would have been nice if years after the pastoral firings of 2007 or the by-laws controversy or the news of the Ballard boondoggle finally coming home to roost that none of us would have had any reservations about the public behavior of the Driscolls or their statements along the way of promoting their self-help book. Gritty confessions don't stop a self-help book from being a self-help book. 

I know a lot of friends at Mars Hill who met their husbands and wives through Mars Hill.  I've known couples who met each other and married swiftly and are still together.  I've known couples who literally spent years dating before deciding on marriage and I heartily support them and their marriages, too.  My lack of interest in reading Real Marriage is not just because I don't feel like reading the Driscolls pontificate it's also because I have come to the impression that there were plenty of other people in Mars Hill better qualified to write about real marriage than the Driscolls. Their lives and marriages lived out on a daily basis have taught me more than I think I could probably learn from the selective and often self-justifying rambles of the head honcho.  That's a good thing because the reality is that probably no rank and file member will ever see a Driscoll apart from a DVD playing on a video screen or on a stage with security in the wings.

It's easy to offer a generic apology to anyone who you might have abstractly done wrong but Jesus' teaching tells us that before we offer our gift at the altar we should go to the brother we've actually wronged.  Bromides and platitudes are not the same as doing that. What is more when the shoe is on the other foot we've seen that Driscoll has no problem pre-emptively attacking both the character and theology of a man like Justin Brierley on PastorMarkTV.  What good does it do to have the pious bromide or platitude about forgiving and making restitution if mere weeks before this you show the world you're willing to assasinate someone's character in advance as somehow exercising "authority" over you? 

Which person was exercising authority?  A journalist?  Dude, for a speech communications major at a top tier American program I would have thought you'd remember what "on the record" means. Get used to it because if you keep acting and speaking the way you do it's gonna keep happening. 

But the truth is a book like Real Marriage isn't really anything more than a best-seller. Inside five years who's going to be reading it besides Mars Hill members who are told to read it by marriage counseling pastors?  Who's going to be talking about it ten years from now?  Probably not the other megachurch pastors who will come out with their own books on marriage talking about how Christian pastors and teachers are afraid to talk about the hard truths about sex and marriage. If Ed and Lisa Young hadn't gone and done their book thing, too, Mark and Grace could have claimed to have been the only ones tackling those tough issues.  Such is life.

That's the thing about trying to be unique, you'll find that you're not unique.  Wasn't it C. S. Lewis who said something about being innovative in the arts would be a fast track to not innovating, while reaching for truth could make you innovative in spite of yourself? 

Another reality that seems to be staying in the light is that a lot of these travails Driscoll tells us about are curiously self-inflicted afflictions.  Why did he have a physical burn-out?  Maybe because he'd made an idol of his ministry and was working past his physical limits.  Why did he hit a terrible spot where he was resentful toward his wife about marriage and sex?  By his account, he'd made an idol of his marriage and a god out of sex.  Why did Driscoll end up getting flak about his remarks in the wake of the Ted Haggard situation?  He decided to "take one for the team" that involved a team that had nothing to do with Haggard's actual situation.  Then, when asked why he said what he said his best defense was "I never said anything about the Haggards" True, which is why what he did say in the wake of the Haggards is even more inscrutable and insane. 

But the confessions of Real Marriage, if anything, retroactively explain why Mark would have been comparing notes with other pastors about how unsatisfying sex with their wives was.  Like I've said elsewhere on this blog, if you don't assume Mark is lying and take his comments at face value they at times become far more creepy and troubling than you thought they were.  If Driscoll stuck to just preaching Jesus and not conscripting Jesus into his agendas most of the trouble and controversy he's courted wouldn't be around for him to complain about. I can't feel too bad for a guy who laments that his ministry is killing him when he's working himself compulsively.  I can't feel too bad for a guy who laments that guys lack ambition to build a legacy from the guy who was so unwilling to excuse himself for a bathroom break he crapped himself at the pulpit and kept on preaching.  If my pastor says he's got stomach flu and has to potentially end the sermon early nobody in my church is going to look down on him.  Stomach flu is lame and so it goes.  I'll end with the last paragraph from the review.

I hope Mars Hill's current elders will encourage Mark to stop and repair with those he has specifically directed his anger and misogyny over the years and to seek counsel for his past issues he hasn't addressed, because the past verbal violence he directed toward individuals was verbal violence toward the Savior. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me” (Mt. 25:40). And the issues he hasn't yet addressed in his own heart will resurface again. In every instance in which Mark's accountability structure (whatever that is now) is aware of his verbal sins without holding him accountable and is aware of baggage from his upbringing without pointing him to gospel counsel, the name of Jesus and the good parts of doctrine Mark teaches will be undermined right along with him, as is now the case in many secular news stories

A few thoughts on Practical Theology for Women's Review of Real Marriage

Wendy and Andy Alsup have written about Real Marriage. As former members of Mars Hill who also served in leadership they have a unique perspective from which to consider the book. Wendy used to serve in Women's ministry at Mars Hill (her first book was well-reviewed by the late Internet Monk Michael Spenser).  Wendy and I also used to serve in the Theology Response Team together.  I also observed Wendy moderating discussions in the Women's Theology forum on the old moderated Midrash.  I have been impressed by her theological acumen and her character. 

The Alsups and I also attend the same church and my positive impression of the Alsups has not changed over the years.  Long-time readers will know I have regularly linked to and commented on Wendy's blog for years.  I don't know Andy quite as well but I know any man who would marry and stay married to Wendy is a solid guy.  I know that sounds like gushing a bit on the internet but there you go.  Since as far back as six years ago I have been struck by Wendy's ability to be a voice of reason in heated settings.  That women's theology forum was not a "safe" place because women were anything close to civil or thoughtful toward each other!  It was a place for safe and civil discussion because Wendy actually moderated discussion, which was sadly more than I can say for the majority of moderators of Midrash forums at the time.  I can name names of the people who I thought actually did moderate discussions--Wendy Alsup, Paul Petry, and James Harleman actually put in more than a token effort to make sure arguments didn't get overheated or out of hand on Midrash.  They may not have always succeeded but I can testify that at least they actually tried. 

So with that in mind Andy and Wendy reviewing Real Marriage has caught my attention. Since I'm posting more than once about it you can surmise it has kept my attention. 

Andy explains in simple terms what others have mentioned, that as a marriage counseling book the book is middle of the road.  It's not the best nor worst book out there on the subject.  I might add only that having read a bit of Real Marriage myself it would appear Mark picked up things in counseling other couples but seemed certain that no counselors were ultimately qualified to counsel him because of sin in their lives.  It sometimes seemed in chapter one as though Mark was implying he would only take marriage counseling from Jesus. 

Seeing as Jesus was never married one wonders what practical insights and advice Jesus had about marriage!  Within the Martian culture I saw over ten years single guys were said to know nothing about relationships.  That Jesus was the token exception merely proved the rule.  Apostolic instruction on how and why it might be better to remain unmarried got transformed into a moral obligation to marry unless you were smuggling Bibles into some foreign country to non-white people.  People without non-white relatives might not fully appreciate both how stupid and racially presumptive that sort of remark comes off as. 

Over the years Driscoll has made much of how ninety percent of people are going to marry at some point.  Okay, how about half of them divorcing?  Statistics, as the axiom goes, come after lies and damned lies.  In any case it would appear that in the scope and focus of his teaching Driscoll is pretty much always going for the ninety percent.  I doubt Driscoll would be capable of ever writing a book called Real Celibacy.

Andy sums up the book succinctly enough as follows:

To put it in perspective, this book is like a field guide for the young people represented by young culture in Seattle, many of whom are like a kite in the wind with marriage and responsibility having not seen it modeled well for them.

So if you've neever had marriage or responsibility modeled to you adequately in your own life the book can be useful. 

If you're looking for a gospel centered teaching guide on marriage, this isn't it. If you are looking for a moderately prescriptive christian perspective on marriage and want to hear it from a couple who are in and of their culture, this might hit that target. Mark and Grace are their target demographic.

Ouch.  So this means Real Marriage comes off as a self-help book written by its authors to help themselves as well as others?  I don't have much reason to doubt that as "gospel centered teaching" goes that the Driscolls would simply not offer a gospel centered teaching approach.  I have written obliquely about the backdoor prosperity gospel I sensed at Mars Hill where if you repent of your sins, shape up, fly right, and get your ducks in a row that that hot or hunky spouse is in children's ministry waiting for you to volunteer.  That was practically the sales pitch for years for certain ministries.  You weren't going to meet that future spouse in the choir because nearly all the women were married (or in my case I liked them as friends and was not interested in dating much anyway). 

But the observation that Mark and Grace are their own target demographic seems spot on.  What if you're not that target demographic?  As in you've been raised in a Christian home, haven't dated anyone, and don't have the exact same baggage as Mark or Grace Driscoll?  Well, it sounds as though from reviews I have read that a book by the Driscolls would not necessarily be of any use to me.  I've seen the 9 reasons Real Marriage is for singles and it made me laugh. I've already shared my own doubts that Mark or Grace Driscoll seem to display much real knowledge about friendship.

If friendship is the big selling point for their book and they sincerely think friendship in marriage is not discussed in Christian books on marriage they may need reminding that companionate marriage is a relatively new invention and that "friendship" as the foundation for marriage in ancient near Eastern societies (i.e., you know those cultural settings in which authors of the Bible wrote those books of the Bible) was not the same thing.  As I put it for years, to no avail, a lot of what Driscoll and other Martian leaders pass off as "biblical" is a cherry-picked selectively engineered pastiche of customs from ancient Near Eastern societies and the butterflies and twitterpation of mutual sexual attraction as a prerequisite to marriage valued in contemporary society. When I said the Bible says nowhere that mutual sexual attraction is ever necessary as the starting point for a truly "biblical" marriage Mark said that it was necessary and also preferable.  He can say so but that doesn't make it so. As C. S. Lewis so wryly put it in The Four Loves lots of people got married who weren't in love but somehow produced offspring.

Song of Songs, as a book of poetry which may not refer to Solomon at all, or if referring to him sees him alternately as a villain or an archetype of pleasant life depending on who's interpreting, does not count.  In fact the more earnestly a man tries to insist Solomon has to be the beloved the more problems open up in the text.  If it's a fictitious work of idealized erotic love that can be typologically read as being about God and His people those blunt textual problems vanish.  Of course in the hands of Driscoll Song of Songs can't be a fanciful and gentle pastoral; it has to be an epic narrative about the sexual extravagance of two married people. 

Seeing as he seems to have never preached from the Psalms in fifteen years it's hard not to make a case that Driscoll doesn't really care about poetry that isn't within the rarified subgenre of sanctified erotica, at least when it comes to discussing anything from the pulpit.  For a guy who keeps saying Spurgeon's his favorite preacher this seems even weirder and more inexcusable. Of course Driscoll's paid homage to Puritans whose interpretation of Song of Songs he's still going to make fun of.  The fan base does not seem to fully appreciate how much a lot of what Driscoll does comes off as name-dropping more than serious attention to big names.

This book uses a combination of nonlinear narrative, and finally reverse chronology, to tell a story with the end of the book revealing greater context for circumstances within the book. ... This book is a revealingly intimate autobiography of a man who came to a breaking point and rebooted his life. This seems counter intuitive, but is actually quite enlightening when interpreting the book "Real Marriage".

The reveal within the book begins in chapter 11 with Mark under a great deal of pressure and fighting his way through it. This chapter completely changes how the book can be interpreted. In this chapter Mark lays out a blueprint for how he wants to change his life. In the intimate details that follow, Mark tells a story of mistrust and hurt that culminate in what is basically described as an emotional breakdown. The story now picks up again in chapter 1 with Mark filling in what was going on behind the scenes throughout the book. Mark and Grace were both sexually active adolescents as was fairly typical in their culture. This story now shifts to a young couple doing what young people do, making mistakes along the way. Over the years as their lives became intertwined, Mark and Grace learned more details about each-other's past, specifically as it pertains to this autobiography, their sexual past. Mark describes the emotional toll and cost in trust this caused between him and Grace.

Other reviewers have remarked upon how sloppy and confusing Real Marriage is about facts, dates, timelines and the like.  Seeing as Mark Driscoll got his degree in speech communication it's not surprising that he and Grace would not be all that good about writing as an art unto itself, or that when it came time to write a book about doctrine Breshears was brought on board.  If it takes a former member and deacon at the church to actually make sense of the chronology this a potential sign that the writing was not very clear. :)

Throughout the book, when talking about intimacy and marriage issues, Grace describes how her actions had hurt Mark and, in hindsight, how she had fallen into this state of low self worth through abuse, reinforced by patterns that were present in her own view of herself and through people in her life. Mark describes the toll on him and their relationship and the effect this had on his ministry in the church. What stands out as odd however is that Mark shares equally intimate details of these events, but from a different perspective. What started in chapter 11 now adds context to the back story. This book was written as a chronicle of a young pastor struggling to understand his wife and then her response to him. Chapter 11 is about reverse-engineering your life from the last day forward. This sounds like a reasonable approach, everyone needs goals to strive for. Wait, what?! Somewhere things got off course. Are we talking about life goals or a relationship?

I have not read the book but I've read enough reviews to know that Mark was going to trot out "reverse engineering your life" yet again.  You'd think for a self-described Calvinist who leans so heavily on the sovereignty of God and direct revelations that Mark Driscoll wouldn't be so continually fixated on reverse engineering his life.  He wouldn't be advising young guys to have a five-year plan in which they imagine whether or not they will be married, how many kids they will have, how much money they will make, where they will live and those details.  Since I'm not a member of the Politburo and the Soviet Union fell apart decades ago I've never warmed up to this five year plan stuff.  Is Mark Driscoll secretly a Soviet dictator or something?  Maybe it's just my fault I was a kid who grew up to see how the Cold War sorta worked and began coming of age during the years the Berlin Wall came down?

What stood out earlier as odd about Mark's perspective of the past was that Grace was humbly reconciling her past, but HE wasn't! What at first appears to be a book about their marriage is really a book about Grace's marriage. We actually know very little about Mark's. From the beginning of this book, Mark has made passing references to Grace's mistakes and abuse that lead to difficulty in their marriage, but what about him? He had been in previous sexual relationships prior to Grace, and with Grace prior to their marriage. What affect had this had on him and how he would view relationships going forward? Not much is said about this, in fact Mark barely recognizes his responsibility in this at all.

Yes, I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed this even from chapter one.  Mark Driscoll spends some time explaining his anger at Grace's lack of faithfulness to him but it didn't seem he ever stopped to ask himself why he was attracted to the sort of woman who would be sexually available to him outside marriage.  I didn't feel like reading all of Real Marriage to find out.  That Andy Alsup could read the book and notice that Mark Driscoll never once addresses the question of why he was drawn to women he could fornicate with lets me know that it wasn' t just me wondering about that question in just chapter one of the book.  That the question never comes up and is never answered may be more telling than anything.

When viewed as a whole, the end gives context to the beginning and now some pieces fall into place. This is a story told by the inside voice in Mark's head about a period in his life when he was a pastor under pressure in a large young church. He acknowledges the effect his depression and anger had on his relationship with his wife and on the church and then his resolve to attack that problem and take it apart until it was gone. He decided he deserved better and set out a path to achieve that. He has yet to recognize his own responsibility in much of this, to the point that his wife is publicly apologizing to him for past offenses he participated in himself with seemingly no remorse or consequence on his part. The dichotomy between their viewpoints is striking.

What is particularly striking in light of, say, the snafu with Andrew, is that if Mark Driscoll can state in a book that the cure for his moodiness was more frequent sex then the cure for his unstable moods is something he may be deprived of by divine providence one day.  He'd better take heed from a pastor like Bill Clem who explained how sex was impossible during the final years in which his wife Jeannie was dying of cancer.  If Mark Driscoll needs sex to stabilize his moods then if it were anyone but the top dog preaching pastor at a megachurch a guy who admitted he needed sex to stabilize his moods would probably not get the support Mars Hill members put behind Driscoll now.  As for all those unmarried people, do orgasms get to be a mood stabilizer for them?  What's good for the goose should be good for the gander, right?

At length I arrive at Wendy's part of the review, which I'll write about in a separate entry.

Nathans and Davids--on blogging, watchblogging, roles and relationships

This one is for those who followed the link from the previous post.

There are a lot of people who think that if they can deconstruct a church leader's theology they have done the work necessary to challenge what they consider to be problems in the church leader's movement.   If you don't like preacher X then you may convince yourself that if you take down every major theological plank in his/her platform you have shown that he is in error. This is both naive and untrue. Let me rephrase things in a way that will, I hope, make this clearer.

When Nathan confronted King David about a problem he didn't come to question David's theology of kingly rule or try to come up with some theological argument that there shouldn't even be a king. Nathan didn't try to do that or articulate a theology that could be used to tell people in Israel to ignore David. What did he do? He said to David "You are the man."

I have seen more than a few self-appointed would-be Nathan's on the subject of a particular church leader and without fail they have tended to presume their Nathan-ish role. But they fail to ever do what Nathan actually did, which is to articulate "you are the man". First of all they don't have any relational context in which to have enough of David's trust or shared life to say anything to begin with. Now it is true that in certain cases the David makes a point of not being vulnerable enough to ever even have a Nathan in his life.  Just roll with me on this illustration, okay?  The myriad points of minutiae can wait for another time.

Then they fool themselves into thinking if they can debunk the talking points of the theology of a leader they have done a great and glorious service to Christians everywhere. They haven't. They have propped up their own agenda contra that of another Christian. There's a time and a place for that, to be sure, but it is not going to get anything done. Once the subject is theological differences those who are the heads of their respective tribes already know there's nothing really at stake.   We already differ on theology and that explains everything. 

See how useless that ends up being?  If an Arminian is criticized by a Calvinist?  So what?  If a complementarian gets criticized by an egalitarian? So what?  In other words the division has already happened across which any criticism is already filtered out due to mutually acknowledge theological differences.  A prophet may be outside the formal power structures he or she ends up criticizing but a prophet speaks WITHIN a faith community as a corrective.  A lot of would-be self-appointed Nathans and watchbloggers want the luxury of speaking as outsiders about groups and people they look down on.  That's not really much of a prophetic role, is it?

This goes triple for folks who don't have a church they regularly attend who attempt to run with the non-institutional thing. Why? Because one of the men these folks try to make a case against himself doesn't like institutions and hopes to avoid becoming leader of a denominational institution that's placing itself above the welfare of individual believers (too late for that now but you can still hope you don't realize it yet). At the risk of overstating my case a blogger who chooses to air concerns about a pastor like Driscoll must air those concerns carefully, clearly, and with an aim to constructively correct. This means not assuming the worst despite a temptation to do so and in some settings immense peer pressure to take one side or the other. If you don't do this then you fall prey to the same egotistical agenda-mongering you're likely to think that other person is always guilty of. You can't just run with the first thing you think is witty or clever.

Besides, as anyone with any connection to certain Christian circles will know, if you're not submitted to the spiritual authority of someone you don't count.  End of story before it's begun.  Paradoxically in many cases the folks who argue against authoritarianism "may" in some cases be self-appointed prophets of the variety they're trying to make a case against.  It makes it tough to make such a case if you're arguing from the same spiritual position as the person you're arguing against. 

Lest anyone think I think the Nathan/David analogy is even all that great (it's over-used but I'm using it for reasons I trust will become clear), let's remember Nathan's complicity in the scheme to get Solomon installed on the throne.  A Nathan is not above political schemes and conspiracies to advocate for particular things.  A would-be Nathan who doesn't remember this is even less likely to play the role of a Nathan.  Nathan's great moment was not when he schemed with Bathsheba to get Solomon installed, it was when he was willing to risk death from the wrath of a self-deceived king to point out the truth. 

Let's face it, there are plenty of would-be self-appointed Nathan's who are only willing to be Nathan's if they have nothing to lose and something to gain.  They want the glory of being a Nathan to a David without any risk. The sad irony of such people is they are in their way as glory-driven as the David they would seek to rebuke.  How do you know if you're such a would-be Nathan?  It's probably best to assume you are and be cautious about when to speak and what to say.  And if you take the role of Nathan for yourself be careful to realize whether or not you're Nathan talking to a David or a Nathan talking to a Saul. We know Nathan had flaws, but just because Nathan had flaws doesn't mean Nathan did not have a moment in which he needed to say something.  Just because "you" are not a Nathan doesn't mean one doesn't exist.  It doesn't have to be you and if you understood what being a real Nathan to a real David would involve you probably wouldn't want the job as much as you do right now. And if you reall, really don't want it, well, I pray you've got the courage to actually be that Nathan.  You just might be the person who should be a Nathan.

And when Nathan's moment came, to reiterate my point, he did not hammer David about his theological problems.  He spelled out the problem of what was done in a way that forced David to realize what Nathan was saying, "You are the man". David's problem was not a doctrinal problem but one of his character and specifically his abuse of a God-given office to bring pleasure to himself rather than be a shepherd to Israel. Nathan then had the unenviable task of explaining how, because David abused the power of his office for personal pleasure and gain, the sword would not depart from his house.  Though what he did was in secret the disaster that would chasten him would be in public and come from within his own household.  David was being told in plain terms that the Lord was going to bring public disaster on him because of wrongs he committed in private. Those words didn't come to pass until some time later, years later.

We know the rest.  David was lax in dealing with the incestuous rape of one of his daughters and this unresolved wrong boiled up into Absalom murdering Amnon and fomenting an insurrection.  At the risk of asking an obvious question in light of Nathan's service in the royal court ... do you think Nathan wanted to break this remarkably bad news to David?  If there needs to be a nathan to David we might fairly ask whether the person who wants that job may be unqualified the job. On the other hand, if out of regard for Israel and the throne a Nathan steps forward and says very uncomfortable things this can be taken, as David understood the confrontation, as a done out of regard for not only the king and Israel but for the Lord.

Practical Theology for Women reviews Real Marriage

Just go read it. Now. 

The Evangelical Industrial Complex & the rise of celebrity pastors

That title totally reads like G. I. Joe: Rise of Cobra doesn't it? The celebrity pastor as Cobra Commander is kinda funny to think about for a moment ... . Destro must be around somewhere ... .

Oh, okay, back on topic.

Are the publishers evil for focusing on sales potential more than quality? Of course not. They’re businesses that have to sustain themselves. They are simply reacting to the realities of the market. But sometimes they fail to see how they also shape the market by their decisions. And am I saying all megachurch pastors’ books are subpar? Not at all. Some of them are my friends and I’ve deeply appreciated their writings (Dave Gibbons and Tim Keller immediately come to mind.) But we mustn’t be naive--the system is rigged to favor a writer/speaker’s market platform rather than his/her content, maturity, or message.

Yes there are exceptions, but they generally prove the rule. And we've all been to ministry conferences where we've scratched our heads wondering why that yahoo is on the platform...oh yeah, he's got a big church and a book to sell, just like the guy before him, and the one before him. It's a system that rewards sizzle whether or not there's any steak.

Given the dynamic duo of sex/marriage books that came out at the start of 2012 the metaphor of sizzle without steak could be construed as a curiously apt one, though maybe there's steak in both books and it is, to go by some observations other Christians have made, that such steak as there is to be found is a little undercooked in some places but I'm not going to get into that right now.

... We live in a new age where consumerism and mega-congregations have resulted in a self-perpetuating evangelical industrial complex that not only creates, but also depends upon a growing number of celebrity pastors. Should we be concerned? Yes, but at least they’re not building nukes.

And what are we to do about it? Avoid conferences or popular books? No, not necessarily. But we do need to be discerning and recognize that popularity does not equal maturity, and a wide audience does not equal wisdom. Don't let the publishers or conference organizers determine what's right for you and your community. Seek God's wisdom about what voices and ideas to allow into your life and church. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you and not just the marketing departments of the industrial complex. ...

The evangelical industrial complex isn't building nukes but given even a small dose of culture war/cultural engagement they're trying to mold and shape the young minds who will eventually either build the nukes or authorize the use of nukes (at least in the United States).  I'm no more of a pacifist than Eisenhower was but the warning about the long-term implications of an evangelical industrial complex could still be taken as seriously.  After all, when a megachurch pastor talks about how he wants to get the young men because if you get them you get "everything"; when a pastor talks about how he wants to get the people who are going "upstream" who "influence culture" that pastor is talking in culture war terms that secular liberals instantly grasp while the pastor pretends he's not advocating for a more guerrilla form of culture war. 

The consumerism that can be at the heart of such an enterprise is also not hugely difficult for secularists to observe.  If this seems peculiar to a Christian reader let me reframe this--we are used to framing consumerism as a purely individualistic rather than a cultural or institutional activity in Christian teaching and polemic.  We're more likely to talk about some individual church member being consumeristic (i.e. doesn't give enough to the church or volunteer enough in ministry or participate in a community group or whatever the marks of social and economic integration into a church may be). 

I don't think the consumerism of some individual, least of all in a megachurch, is really as big an issue as consumerism in the leadership classes in megachurches.  A megachurch pastor who talks about how people shouldn't be mere consumers yet who can talk about having three Tivos and two home theaters has a credibility issue.  Who needs two home theaters?  One I can actually understand but two home theaters?  Is that so that you can cram a legion of kiddies into one room to watch the kid movie while you watch something like Braveheart for the 1500th time? Anyway I digress.

Jethnai doesn't end on these words but they're useful words to end this post on:

Seek God's wisdom about what voices and ideas to allow into your life and church. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you and not just the marketing departments of the industrial complex

Link HT Tall Skinny Kiwi--Obituary for the American Church

Mike Breen lays out three things he says will cause the death of the American church.

From time to time I will have the people I’m discipling write out their own pastoral obituary. I ask them to write out how our enemy would take them out, rendering them unable to serve their family and communities. As you can imagine, the answers vary, but always serves as a really helpful exercise as they are forced to confront issues of character, etc.

Now last week I did a post looking at some of the things the American church is doing well. Today, let’s do something different. You see, taking the same exercise I’ve used with pastors, for the past year I’ve been thinking how the enemy would/might be trying to take down the American church. Now what I’ve noticed is that the original temptations Jesus faced (which can best be boiled down to Appetite, Affirmation and Ambition) are somehow warped and insinuated into the culture. As each culture is distinct and different, a smart enemy would come at each culture in subtle ways, tempting them in ways they don’t see or expect, and with things that would look different from culture to culture. ...

A culture of CELEBRITY (affirmation)
A culture of CONSUMERISM (appetite)
A culture of COMPETITION (ambition)

These are three interesting things, aren't they?  If you disagree you probably won't read on anyway.

Celebrity is probably the first and easiest symptom to observe in the disease:

... I suspect it’s because riven deeply into the American psyche is the desire to be a celebrity. And American pastors are very susceptible to this. Many subtle things happen in people who desire to this kind of celebrity status:
* They can disengage community and isolate themselves, setting themselves up for moral failure.
* They can make decisions that are numbers driven and not always Kingdom driven.
* They can skew to a shallow understanding of the Gospel as opposed to a holistic one that leads people to discipleship.
* They can put the good of their church (their personal Kingdom) over the good of God’s Kingdom.

Celebrity pastors who disengage from community and isolate themselves do set themselves up for moral failure.  About this I could say a great deal but I wish merely to note the following--the moral failure a celebrity pastor may become guilty of won't always be about sex.  Americans and evangelicals are so used to the sex scandal that when a controversy DOESN'T INVOLVE a sex scandal we breath a sigh of relief and say, "Oh, well, at least it's not a sex scandal." 

In other words, the grading of sex as the be all and end all of a pastoral career as sin goes makes us tacitly say "Anything short of a sex scandal is basically not that bad and doesn't disqualify a man from ministry no matter how bad he may be about money, power, ego, deceit, narcissism, or some other character flaw.  The main point is that he doesn't make us look too bad." The other things that Breen touches on are things that celebrity pastors that can do that are driven by consumerism or competition.

About consumerism Breen says a few things but I want to consider this ... :

Yet most of our churches are built around feeding consumers. I’d argue 90% of the church’s time, energy and resources are linked to this. But the issue is this: The means you use to attract people to you are usually the means you must use to keep them. In other words, if you use consumerism to attract them to your church, it often means you must continue using it to keep them…or else they will find another church who will meet their “needs.” And yet…that consumer mentality is antithetical to the Gospel and to the call of Discipleship.

Disciples aren’t consumers, they are producers. Jesus cared about disciples more than anything else. Question: In what ways is your church community using consumerism as the means to draw people to a Gospel that is, in and of itself, anti-consumerism?

Ever hear the old saw, "What you win them with is what you win them to?"  Now let me play a little game here for the sake of this post.  Let me propose that talking people into doing tons of stuff for the local church, getting "plugged in" and making sure you're not merely a consumer is the perfect line for a Pharisee.  Why?  Because the pursuit of piety can become a paradoxical form of consumerism.  The Pharisee does not want to be a "consumer" and wants to be a producer and the various rules devised by Pharisees can help establish what the rules of good spiritual productivity are. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones said about the danger of sin is that it is so pernicious it can travel with us into the very nature of our prayer to the Lord. 

If a preacher shills a book saying that if you give X amount to the church you get a book free is that fighting consumerism?  Or is it a convenient way of asking for a gift of X or more and giving the book away as a gift to hide the reality that you just BOUGHT SOMETHING.   Now if I buy a CD of chamber music for guitar by Castelnuovo-Tedesco I've got no illusion I just bought something.  If I give a gift to some ostensibly charitable cause and in return I get a gift the giftis being given me to recognize I have given an unusually large gift and I'm being encouraged to consider giving in the future.  I used to work with major donor officers and planned giving staff so it's not like I didn't learn anything about how gifts work in non-profit.  The thing is that the gifts are modest and in most respects non-personalized.  The gifts are also not things that provide royalties to the officers and staff who sent them out (that's what salaries and hourly wages are for!).  But I'm going to save the subject of publishing for another entry.

Now about competition Breen writes, among other things:

... 96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss. Furthermore, for many pastors, we don’t think we’ve won until we’ve won AND someone else has lost. Seriously?! For sure, we have an enemy and we should be competitive, but we should be competing against our enemy, knowing that the final battle has already been won, and not competing against our own team members.

So gifted and skilled is our enemy, so conniving is he, that he has convinced us that beating the people on our own team is victory while he stands back and laughs, rarely having to ever engage in conflict, protecting his territory. He is beating us with a slight of hand, with a clever distraction, turning us against ourselves. Question: In what ways are you competing (both in actuality or simply in your mind) against people who are on your own team?

Transfer growth is not a win.  The acquisition of an existing church and its members into a network does not constitute a real win for the Gospel.  It does not constitute souls being saved, it constitutes a victory for a consumeristic expansion of a religious institution that sees any growth, even transfer growth, as some kind of proof of God's favor. 

Of course Christians have a wonderful loophole for this conundrum, that is to decide that on doctrinal grounds a whole bunch of self-identified Christians CAN'T BE TRULY CHRISTIAN.  So if you view Catholics as not real Christians and you're a particular brand of Protestant you still win by making Catholics convert to your real brand of Christianity.  Same goes in reverse.  Same can apply for a super-Calvinist who wins an Arminian over to "the doctrines of grace" or an Arminian who wins a Calvinist over to the "real Jesus".  When you make secondary issues, let alone third-rate theological issues (like complementarianism or eschatological schools of thought) primary level issues then you can justify competition within the body of Christ as justified because the people you're competing with are people you've just defined out of fellowship.  So that other church has a pastor who doesn't REALLY get the Gospel like your pastor does and that warrants enlisting people to visit your church because your pastor "gets it".  Unsurprisingly in many cases this sort of competition emerges from a kind of consumerism.

from BHT: Stringfellow on Institutions

But above all, Stringfellow’s prophetic importance lies in his critique of the way churchly institutions themselves function as demonic principalities. The demonic character of churchly institutions “cannot be hidden by the simple retention of some of the condiments of the Christian faith”; indeed: “Much of what is now discussed and practised in the American churches as the witness of the Church does not really pertain to the witness of the Church to the life and action of God in the world, but rather to the witness of the Church to itself as churchly institution” (Free in Obedience, p. 96). In particular, both “gospel and church [have] become adjuncts or conveyances of civil religion and of a mock-sanctified status of political authority” (Conscience and Obedience, p. 49). The church in America, Stringfellow argues, “has gained so huge a propertied interest that its existence has become overwhelmingly committed to the management of property and the maintenance of the ecclesiastical fabric which that property affords. It is a sign certainly of the demonic in institutional life where the survival of the principality is the dominant morality” (Conscience and Obedience, p. 103).

In all this, Stringfellow’s point is not to advocate any cheap anarchist refusal of institutional life; he is not dreaming of a world without institutions (cf. Free in Obedience, p. 94). Instead, his point is that Christ’s resurrection empowers us to exist with freedom within the various institutions by which our lives are structured; free to live and work without anxiety, without looking to any institution for moral worth or immortality. In short, the Christian is free to obey precisely because she is free from death and from the fear of death. “[Christ’s] resurrection means the possibility of living in this life, in the very midst of death’s works, safe and free from death” (Free in Obedience, p. 72). The task of Christian witness is always “to expose the transience of death’s power in the world” (Free in Obedience, p. 44); and the church is liberated to become something like the true institution, the “exemplary principality” (as Stringfellow somewhere calls it) which fulfills its proper calling by serving God instead of death.
The resurrection of Jesus thus interrupts the demonic rule of the principalities, inaugurating a trajectory of freedom and life amidst the death-regime of the principalities. In this way, the resurrection makes it possible to confront and resist the demands of the principalities in true freedom. “In all idolatry, … death is the reality which is actually worshipped. Death is the deity of all idols; every idol is an acolyte of death…. In light of the Gospel, every life, every person, every event, is included in the context of death and resurrection – of death and the resurrection of life, of death and transcending the power of death…. The resurrection of Jesus Christ means the available power of God confronting and transcending the power of death here and now in the daily realities of our lives” (Imposters of God, pp. 63-65).


As someone who has blogged here about a personal distinction I have made between a church people I regard as brothers and sisters in Christ and a church as a principality and institution interested in self-preservation this all sounds interestingly familiar.  It's encouraging to learn that there are authors who have considered how Christian institutions themselves can take on the form of demonic principalities by seeking self-preservation. Chris Hubbs, at BHT, writes

Stringfellow argued strenuously that even the institution of the Church fell into this category. Back when I read it I wanted to disagree with him, but with the this post of Jethani’s and the recent discussions around MHC and SGM, I’m beginning to sympathize with his position.

Yeah, it's a scary idea to consider the first time it comes up but when you observe the difference between the church as Christ's people in action and the church as a self-preserving institution you begin to appreciate the necessity of the observation of a man like Stringfellow whether you know of his work or not.  As someone who has concluded that there's Mars Hill the people (many of whom I know and love) and then Mars Hill the principality, which needs to be the focus of some informed criticism from time to time, I can appreciate the value of believers bringing up the work of someone like Stringfellow. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Matanya Ophee on the dangers of publishing that is in the public domain

Interesting read, for folks interested in the risks involved in publishing editions of works that are already in the public domain.  If it seems like there'd be no point in publishing an edition of a work in the public domain for music just remember that there's a correlating issue of expertise in ancient near Eastern literature (i.e. books of the Bible).  Just because in principle manuscripts and content are public domain and easy to get ahold of doesn't mean the scholarly competence to explain what this part of a the Masoretic Text says is something you or I have.  Ergo, people can still make a living translating the Bible or studying philosophy and having people pay them money to explain stuff that, in theory, people "could" teach themselves. But enough of me, feel free to follow the link.

So I did finally get around to seeing Brave and the Bold and My Little Pony

So far I'm enjoying both shows.  I'm a Batman fan so, yeah, I enjoy Batman: The Brave and the Bold more than My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. But when I heard that the new Pony revamp was helmed by Lauren Faust and that Tara Strong had the lead role I knew after years of enjoying The Powerpuff Girls that there was pretty much no way this Pony revamp was going to stink. What I've seen so far is pretty solid.  I've been enjoying both shows.

Headless Unicorn Guy, if you're reading this, the way Twilight Sparkle says the word "crazy" is a dead give-away that she's voiced by Tara Strong even if I didn't know she was cast in that role.  Yes, I've seen that many cartoons.  I was able to identify Elizabeth Daily as the voice of young Mumbles without a credit listing within fifteen seconds of dialogue (couldn't sit through the parts of Happy Feet a friend showed me but he was alarmed at my ability to i.d. the voice of Buttercup from a short vocal sample).

Interesting belated observation about the UK and Driscoll

... leaders are nearly always capable public speakers, and have an innate ability to grasp enough of the basics of a subject to appear competent at it. In Driscoll’s case, he’s learned some basic theology and aligned himself with a particular theological tribe, and thus he has been able to pass himself off as a teacher. In practice he is nothing of the kind; he is merely adept at using the bible as a sock-puppet that always agrees with him. It’s all of our faults; for centuries the “reformed” church has idolised the pulpit, and increasingly confused the terms “minister”, “preacher”, “teacher” and “leader”. But again, I don’t judge Driscoll as a teacher; he isn’t one, and I don’t need to take his theology seriously. Which, again, leaves one free to pick out anything of value. [emphasis mine in both cases]

I found this excerpt particularly interesting. Go read the whole comment, which I trust you will find very interesting.  Nick Bulbeck manages to both take the core of Driscoll's criticism of UK pastoral culture seriously while also demonstrating why Driscoll himself is not someone to take seriously as a self-described pastor, prophet, apostle, etc.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

An excerpt from one of my chamber sonatas

The is a performance of the first movement of one of my chamber sonatas.  The entire work has not, as yet, gotten a premiere, but the first movement is up on Youtube for your perusal.  I hope, of course, that the rest of the sonata will get a premiere.  Meanwhile, since audio and film recordings of live performances of my work are few and far between here's at least one sample of the kind of music I write. 

yes I do plan to get around to writing about Ferdinand Rebay

It's just going to take some time.  After nearly fifty years (it seems) of the composer's work getting no attention, performances, or recordings the last six years or so have seen a revival in the fortunes of the composer's music.  That might just be saying that hundreds or thousands of people have heard the name Ferdinand Rebay worldwide but, hey, in the world of chamber music for classical guitar that's enough to constitute a great revival in reputation ... isn't it?  I've been wanting to write about Rebay's music for a while now but becoming more familiar with his work takes time when you don't have money.

Nevertheless thanks to the generosity of a few people I have been able to learn more about Rebay's work and it has been a rewarding process of discovery, particularly as Rebay began a big cycle of duo sonatas for guitar with woodwinds and strings in the 1920s that led to fifteen sonatas.  When you discover that nearly a century ago a composer actually tackled the kind of project you've been working on yourself over the last twelve years you naturally want to get some idea how that earlier project worked out.  So I'm hoping, eventually, to engage the works of Rebay as they now constitute the closest thing I would have had to a model to examine for my own series of sonatas for guitar with woodwinds, strings, and brass I've been working on over the last twelve years. 

If you have any information, resources ,or thoughts about Ferdinand Rebay's music feel free to comment away on this thread.  Rebay's life and work are overdue for continual exploration and promotion.  I'm biased by my decade-plus committment to composing and learning about chamber music for the guitar.  If you know of biographical resources that are not Wikipedia'd let me know (I don't trust Wikipedia as an actual scholarly resource for scholarly stuff, though for pop culture it's not so bad).

If you know of anyone who has recorded the various sonatas feel free to post discography listings here.  I found recordings of the complete clarinet/guitar works and the oboe/guitar works a while back.  I know there are other chamber sonatas and pieces in Rebay's catalog of works. 

I've been busy tackling free lance projects off-line over the last month so there's been a number of things I've been interested in tackling I just haven't tackled yet.  Not to seem too pragmatic and self-interested but there comes a point in a person's life when you just focus on the paying gigs in the real world rather than just blog about the things that interest or intrigue you.