Saturday, May 12, 2012

Excerpts from Driscoll sermon on 1 Timothy 2

1 Timothy 2:11-15, 3:2
part 5 of 1 Timiothy
Pastor Mark Driscoll, February 1, 2004

He [Paul] goes on, "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over man; she must be silent." he continues, not with a cultural argument. Some people say, "Well, that's just cultural. That was old school." He goes really old school. He goes all the way back to Adam. He roots this, not in culture. Some people will say, "Well, that was their culture, this is ours. Things are different now, because we're in a different culture," and again, culture's not the authority, creation is. This is a matter of creation. Because it's creation, it's binding and enduring over all cultures. That's why women in all cultures still have painful childbirths. It's cross-culturally binding. "For Adam was formed first, then Eve." When we read that, we say, "What does that mean? He was made first." It's important. With the culture that the concept of the first born was a huge issue, it's even a title given to the Lord Jesus. The first born had responsibility for the rest of the family. They had primary responsibility. God made Adam first, established him as head, as leader, as first, and then after him came Eve and he was responsible for creation, he was responsible for the woman. So that society--if any of you from an eastern, a far eastern culture, the oldest child has responsibility for the rest of the children. Here, Adam was made first. He's got responsibility for the rest of his family. He was made first. God made him first for a reason.

And "Adam was not the one deceived." He went into it eyes wide open. "It was teh woman who was deceived and became a sinner." Now this verse--if the other one didn't get you, this one will. We won't have near the parking troubles we had this week next week. We'll have all kinds of space. Next week, we'll be meeting in a phone booth at the 7-Eleven around the corner. This verse says that Eve was duped. She was deceived. 2 Corinthians 11, Paul says, my fear is that jsut as Satan, through his craftiness, deceived Eve, he's gonna deceive you too. Now through the history of the church, this--the theologians have always taken this to mean that women are more gullible. A lot of you say, "I'm not!" Well how would you know? Just think about it. Chrysostom, Erasmus, Gill, Knox, Luther, Wesley, Calvin--they all believed--they all taught--Aquinas--they all taught that this verse was teaching that women, when it comes to the highest authority of leadership in the church, that they will be more gullible. Meditate on it. 

This sermon is a bit more than eight years old but looking back on it this Mother's Day weekend it strikes me that the approach seems incomplete. That Adam was made first and from that is considered to have headship is not a new idea and Driscoll's articulate this idea a few times.

But a generalization about the gullibility of women backed up by name-dropping a few famous theologians isn't the same as explicating a text.  The trouble is, further, that there are plenty of stories within the scriptures where the man was more gullible or foolish in some way than his wife, who demonstrated a greater capacity for shrewdness. I'll touch later upon an ambivalent discussion of wisdom or craftiness but first I want to take a tour through a few case studies.

Abram passed his wife off as his sister twice to avoid getting killed by a guy who wanted to take Sarah as his wife.  Who came up with the plan for Abram to have sex with Hagar and thus secure an heir? Sarah.  Sarah went along with Abram's plans but also came up with her own plan. Considering how long the promise went without her own son Isaac being born Sarah was coming up with the best plan she could for the time.

Let's consider that it was Rebekah and not Isaac who heard that Jacob would be the one who received the blessing and promise rather than Esau and this despite Esau being the technical firstborn and his father's favorite.  Rebekah helped Jacob receive the blessing from Isaac by taking advantage of Isaac's blindness.  Isaac comes across as blind at more than one level and possibly a bit hard of hearing and not very swift on the uptake. Then in a fine dramatic irony Jacob himself is duped by his double-crossing uncle Laban.  Moving on a bit Zipporah prevented Moses from dying at the hands of the Lord because Moses was not circumcised. Naomi shrewdly understood how to guide and observe the relationship between Ruth and Boaz to secure the financial and social standing of what was left of Elimelech's household. Deborah advised an important battle during the period of the judges.

When the angel of the Lord visited Samson's parents he came to Samson's mother.  When the angel appeared again and Samson's father asked what kind of life the boy should live the angel instructed the man to listen to what the angel had told the wife. Abigail interceded to prevent David from killing the household of Nabal and shedding blood.  Skipping ahead quite a few stories when Josiah's reform movement was beginning the court consulted Huldah.  Suffice it to say there are more than just a handful of stories in which women proved to be wiser and more considerate of the Lord than the men in their lives. If women were considered to be more gullible in some general sense it was not unpacked all that well how and why this inference was made.

As name-dropping go Driscoll felt free to mention Luther and Calvin as being right (implicitly) about the gullibility of women while dropping them like hot potatoes on infant baptism. The trouble is that even if it were true all these dead theologians agreed on one subject this would not preclude a man like Driscoll himself from being gullible, lacking discernment, and being too easily impressed by credentials and titles that he should ignore.

"But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." Now, some of you read that and you go, "What, if I have a baby I get to go to heaven?" No, it's not quite that easy.  Takes a little more than that. You become a Christian through faith. Trusting in the Lord Jesus, his death, burial, resurrection for your sin. Your faith works itself out with love. You love God and your neighbor. Holiness,  you hate sin and change your life. Propriety, you live your life for Christ. That's how you're saved. Justified. Brought into relationship with God. Your sanctification, ladies, your process of growing in your relationship with God is in large part done through childbearing. Accepting that God has created you to be a mother.  It's interesting, there's one thing that men can do that women can't do. That's be an elder. There's one thing that women can do that men can't do and that's to bear children. Each of us has something that is unique and special that God has given us, and in our culture we hear that and we go, "What kind of gift is having children?"  ... 

Here we might find one of the better distillations of the idea of motherhood as a kind of sanctifying sacrament, for want of a better term. But what about those women who never marry? What about those who marry but are infertile? What about those who become widows having not borne children? If the way a woman's sanctification is in large part worked out is through childbearing

Now I don't doubt there will be plenty of other people who can look at the above paragraph and consider that there are myriad practical difficulties with the claim that a woman's sanctification is in large part done through childbearing.  There are actually two different levels of problems with this at a theoretical level.  Who is doing this sanctification?  Is it God? Is it the woman? Is it both? Is it both God and the childbearing woman plus the children? I don't recall how many kids Mark and Grace had at this point but the sheer theoretical nature of this abstraction in the above paragraph now seems hard to miss.  Even if one could settle for certain which agents are involved in what way in sanctifying a  woman who has had children the practical question even at that time would be "What about unmarried women?" Another would be "What about married women who can't have children?" If you haven't heard or read through the above sermon there's no practical application in it.  It's basically just a string of assertions where childbearing and sanctification go.  Now, to be sure, Driscoll would go on at various points to "unpack" these ideas in later sermons but the core puzzle has remained largely the same.

Now obviously I linked to Wendy's observation that it is sentimentalism that places wifehood and motherhood as the greatest goods a Christian woman can pursue earlier this weekend.  I'm going to out on a limb and suggest that (since we both were, at one point, immersed in Martian culture) that this may be an example of a kind of sentimentalism. Driscoll wouldn't seem like the kind of person to bask in such sorts of sentimentality at first but it would seem that he's got a stronger propensity to it than some might give him credit for.  Now children are a blessing from the Lord and it's good to raise children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord.  It's just that, to borrow an observation Paul made to another church about semi-related topics, not everyone has this gift and in particular not all women.

Since this is Mother's day weekend and all and I'm an unmarried man I figured I'd not just link to Wendy's observation that motherhood is not, in fact, the greatest good a Christian woman can pursue, but that there's a kind of sentimentalism associated with Christian motherhood that forgets that the unmarried woman, let alone the unmarried man, don't have those same sorts of experiential "tools of sanctification". I have over the last twenty some years heard people say "Boy, you really find out how selfish you are once you get married."  This often turns into "Boy, you really find out how selfish you are once you become a parent." Oh that's wonderful!  Who wouldn't want to find out in ever-increasing waves how joyful it is to discover how selfish you really are? ;-)

Well, for all you moms who have found out, as the Christianese verbiage puts it, how selfish you are then I guess thanks for being "selfish" enough to spawn some of us who blog about Mother's day.

Practical Theology for Women: Mother's Day for All Women

It is an age-old conundrum in humanity in general and Christianity in particular. How do you honor someone who has something good that you want too? How do you applaud the sacrifices of one without minimizing the suffering of the other? I don’t know exactly, but I do think there is an over arching principle that is helpful. Motherhood is not the greatest good for the Christian woman.

Whether you are a mom or not, don’t get caught up in sentimentalism that sets it up as some saintly role. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of the Christ to the glory of God. 

Just a short excerpt or a short entry that I found worth reading. Of course I might suggest there are principles that may be helpful to men for the corresponding holiday, Father's day. The highest good for Christian men is not being a husband or a father and it is a form of sentimentalism that sets up husbandry and fatherhood as saintly roles. Being a husband and a father are important and precious responsibilities just as being a wife and mother are but these things are not the greatest goods for Christian men and women. If you seek Christ you will be pursuing that good which will best prepare for whatever roles you may or may not have in the course of your life.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A note on the apparent passing of Priestly Rants

I learned about the blog Priestly Rants from Fearsome Tycoon and would read the blog semi-regularly.  Now, it seems, the blog is no more.

Earlier this year I noticed the disappearance of Driscontinuity, a blog I admit I read less frequently.  One of the blog entries I wrote here was specifically to contest the accuracy of a claim made at Driscontinuity.  Either you already know what claim by my mentioning it or you don't and I wouldn't get anything accomplished by explaining it.

But this is really about the end of Priestly Rants.  Where ever its author may be, the passing of the blog is noted.  Sorry it ended but I guess all things end some time and it was a consistently helpful read. So where ever you are, thanks for blogging.

Kinnon: Church Discipline does not equal discipleship

Some folks may not have seen posters that say "Membership equals discipleship". We know that membership does not necessarily entail discipleship.  A disciple of Jesus may be a member of a church but a church member is not necessarily a disciple of Christ.  The two may be overlapping spheres that are not always exactly the same.

One of the selling points ... for folks who are into this sort of thing, membership brings with it this joyful benefit of spiritual discipline.  That might be a puzzling way to describe it if discipline is only defined in corrective and occasional terms.  Now if a person were to describe "discipline" as having a positive and negative aspect there's room for actual exposition.  Let me put it this way, "church discipline" could be something as mundane as going to church and singing songs and praying and reading scripture and hearing teaching and taking communion.  These are all spiritual disciplines, are they not? There's a subculture, and I doubt I have to explain which subculture I mean to regular readers, that tends to define "spiritual discipline" entirely in corrective or potentially even punitive terms.  "Spiritual discipline" ends up being mainly discussed only in terms of accountability and checklists and oversight. Now there's a time and a place, I suppose, for that stuff, too yet this would seem like a negative way of framing things.

As Bill Kinnon's post puts it, Jesus did rebuke and correct his disciples.  We can go look that up.  There was, however, a great deal of positive instruction and, equally important, lived out demonstrations of what Jesus would have his disciples say and do.  A Jesus who taught us how not to pray also taught us positively how we ought to pray.

Conflating church discipline with discipleship may simply be a case of putting the cart ahead of the horse ... or ... maybe it's a case of calling the cart the horse.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cinemagogue assembles themes from The Avengers

You knew he would, after all.

The movie is easily the benchmark popcorn movies have to live up to the rest of this spring and summer. Sure, I admit I'm much more a fan of Batman and Spiderman so I look forward to Nolan's final Batman film and the Spiderman revamp but The Avengers has thrown down the gauntlet.

questions for those who have read Real Marriage, five kids and C-sections

2012 opened up with Real Marriage, Mark and Grace Driscoll's book about, well, marriage. The sales pitch has been that they get real and vulnerable.

Every story will necessarily be selective.  Things will be included and some things may get overlooked or go unmentioned.  That Mark Driscoll recounted in Real Marriage  how frustrated he was with the lack of sex is something all reviewers have noted.  But as yet I have not read any reviews that consider what Driscoll might call the big E on the eye chart.

The Driscolls have five children and there's not a single one of them who is adopted.  All the kids seem to be about two years apart in age.  Now here is some things I'm not sure anyone's asked about or discussed in reviews.

Pregnancy normally lasts about nine months, right?

Weaning can take a while.  Some mothers wean for at least a year, others take a couple of years. Mileage varies and not all mothers breastfeed.

I get that the Driscolls have talked about how the sex wasn't happening as often as Mark wanted it to but, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, they had to be having sex at least often enough for Grace to have birthed five children, right?  Maybe it wasn't as fun for both parties as they would have liked, I get that, but five children do not just spontaneously emerge.  There wasn't some magic kid dust left around the house that led children to spontaneously emerge from dust mites left on the floor.  Mark Driscoll used to joke from the pulpit that liberal secular Seattleites have asked him, "Don't you know where babies come from!?" and his punchline was that the babies come from a hot wife.  So given how he liked making that joke is it possible one reason not as much sex was going was because, well, Grace was carrying babies and then weaning them?

For those who were attenders of Mars Hill over ten or twelve years there's something else I've wondered, do either Mark or Grace Driscoll mention her C-section deliveries? Is it possible part of the reason Grace may not have felt frisky had something to do with a steady cycle of 9 months of pregnant, maybe a year of weaning, and this weaning time including recuperating from getting cut open to deliver her babies?  That's a lot of physical change and some trauma to give birth to five children over the course of about ten years, isn't it? Do either of the Driscolls mention the possibility, at least, that all this may have put a damper on some things?  This is the sort of issue that can come up in an otherwise healthy marriage, so I've heard, how much more could it have been a set of potentially exacerbating variables for a woman like Grace who Mark seems to have described as having a history of being sexually abused in her past and, well, frigid?

Dealing with a history of abuse would be traumatic enough without also dealing with the traumatic changes of carrying a baby to term, birthing by C-section, and nursing a baby for maybe a ten to 18 months or however long a mom might nurse a baby.  No reviews I've read of Real Marriage touch significantly on any of these issues and this goes for sympathetic as well as negative reviews.  Maybe most people don't know what many MH attendees would have known, that Mark said Grace delivered all her kids C-section.  That doesn't seem like a mundane detail even to a single guy.  If Grace spent a year weaning a child and the kids are spaced roughly two years apart then there's 9 months of carrying a baby and 12 months of nursing and that'd be 21 months of all that, which includes C-section birthing every two years.  That doesn't seem like a whole lot of down time, does it?  But my memory has limits and so perhaps none of these variables are worth considering.

Still ...  let's face it, married people don't bring five children into the world by not having sex..  It may, again, have not been as frequent as Mark wanted and it may not have been as pleasant as Grace wanted it to be when it happened, but the five children are irrefutable evidence that sex happened.   Mark Driscoll's punchline about the hot wife circa 2002-2005 was its own jovial testament that the sex was, in fact, happening just often enough to eventually bring five children into the world.  I know this may be discussing the obvious but a teacher I had in school used to say "Never underestimate the obvious."  It surprises me, looking back on a few months of reviews about the book that nobody mentions these things.  Is it because the Driscolls never mentioned Grace's C-sections or C-sections in general?  I'm curious.  Perhaps people who have read the book can enlighten me.

P.S. some people have let me know, offline, but this underscores even more fully the perplexity of how nobody online seems to have broached these subjects in discussing or reviewing the book. I would think that as proof of sex between a husband and wife goes it just can't get more obvious than five children but, to go by chapter one of Real Marriage, you'd get the impression Mark Driscoll was struggling bitterly with the lack of action in his life when Grace's birthing five children would seem like at least a potential counter-narrative.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

a golden oldie, you'll know it when you see it.

Dianne Anderson on unsolicited advice singles get

And we all know the advice.
The advice that says, “When you stop looking, you’ll find someone!”
The advice that tells you to “dance with Jesus, and he’ll let the right man cut in!”

That first line I've heard but that second line? That's a new one to me. I don't really dance and I don't exactly "dance with Jesus". I know some nice people who dance or used to dance. I've even gone to a couple of ballet productions (Stravinsky/Ballanchine collaborations are full of win) but the "dance with Jesus" stuff sounds like a line that guys are not likely to hear.

The guy variation is to "man up" and that "he who finds a wife finds what is good and has favor from the Lord." I've seen fun (sarcasm warning) discourses on how he who finds means that "find" means an intent and earnest and active quest and not some passive something or other.  Women may be told to stop looking and be pursued while men may be told that it's all on them.  I've seen anonymous women post at the blog of a friend of mine about how the epidemic of singleness is on those guys who don't man up and pursue the women whose godly obligation is to wait to be pursued.

Is it?  You folks do realize how many marriages were brokered and arranged in the ancient near east, right?

I've heard a guy take the aforementioned proverb and claim that because that proverb says that the man who finds a wife finds what is good and has favor from the Lord then it means that the man who doesn't find a wife does not have the Lord's favor.  Only an idiot would reason like that because there's no shortage of proverbs about how a wife can be a bad wife and be rottenness in the bones of a man. There's even a proverb about things that are better than living with a quarrelsome wife. The idea that wisdom literature includes these life-rules  is something I've discussed elsewhere. I don't intend to digress too much into that.  I simply reiterate what I mentioned in the topic sentence for this paragraph, a guy can come to the delusional conclusion that because he's single he does not have the Lord's favor and let's never mind Isaiah's message to eunuchs, eh?

I'm nearing 40 and I've seen single guys get super bitter.  I don't want to be one of those guys myself, and the big temptation I've seen guys succumb to is externalizing failure on to women or on to "relationships".  I've seen a guy consider marriage an abomination and another guy consider breeding to be a moral evil.  Whether it's some pseudo-Marxist critique of "consumerism" or a Rand-inspired rant against emotional dependence I've seen single guys who never had it in them to emotionally bond in "that way" in any observable way adopt ideologies in which their failure to pair off stopped being interpreted as failure and started being interpreted as moral superiority.  I really don't want to be "that" guy because in the end either of those two paths looks pretty much like misogyny suited up as philosophical integrity.

Now I would say that a lot of dating does come off like an essentially consumerist enterprise in which people consume experiences, products and each other but I'm being a bit sarcastic here.  People obviously want and need emotional connections. It's easy for a subset of suburban Christian types to talk about the selfishness of singles and consumerism in singleness but who's to say family life is not even more consumerist? Is consumerism the only way to discuss the impulse to pair off?  So maybe pairing off does fetter some impulses to independence? No one is autonomous in the end, not even guys who get written about as not using money or people who do the sustainable living kick.  Most of these people I hear about who obsess about this stuff tend to be physically fit people without disabilities who magically believe that "everyone" should embrace the kind of low-tech life they believe makes them less corporate.  The human species always has been and always will be corporate in some sense. We all have some Eden we are attempting to regain despite any repudiation we may make of someone else's idea of Eden and thereby miss the salient point of the story that Eden has been lost as of so long ago it's like we never lived in it.  Bingo. Meanwhile, people still want to know and be known, duh.

The church that has “kissed dating goodbye” is now attempting to welcome it back with a barrage of late night texts made after downing an entire bottle of wine. The church, as an institution, has place such an emphasis on the marriage relationship being “what a Christian does,” that it no longer knows what to do with actual single people who are dating, especially if these single people are older than college age.

ha ha ha ... oh I love that first sentence in the paragraph.

One of the things I've considered for a while is the "how do you know?" stuff.  Not "how do you know you've found the right person?" I don't think there's as much discussion of "how do you know this is even something to be considering seriously?" It's a given that you "should" be pairing off at some point or that the evidence is that you really ought to pair off soon so as to avoid fornication or any number of other things.  I've heard it said that nobody is ever really ready for marriage, ever.  It just doesn't work that way.  Yet people obviously want marriage or paired-off life and pursue it despite the nearly universal recognition that nobody's completely ready for what it entails.

Cards on the table, even before I was at my old church I got the distinct impression the way Christians talked about marriage was often about the good times or the fun stuff.  Once I was at my former church there was the decade of "man up" for guys and I don't know what for gals. I began to get the impression the leaders sincerely bought into the idea that if they just made the guys shape up and fly right the women would pretty much just take care of themselves because if you get the young men, you know, you get everything and if you don't get the young men you get nothing.

The more I look back on a lot of useless teaching at my old church about dating, courtship, singleness and marriage the more it seems as though the goal was the evasion of heartbreak. A friend of mine who is staunchly in the "I'm not gifted for singleness" and "I'd like to be married" and I had some discussions over the last few years and something I mentioned is that there didn't seem to be a lot of planning for something in a discussion of dating and courtship and marriage?  What is that?

Well, since certain places and communities love martial metaphors I'm gong to frame it this way, there's something called attrition warfare.  Speaking, I admit, a bit too broadly, this can be thought of as the number of soldiers that may get lost in the battle to take a hill. It could be how many you lose or how many the enemy loses, the point I'm playing with is that most Christian teaching on dating and "relationships" I've heard has seemed useless because there's basically no accounting for probability and systemic failure on the way to success.  You don't just win magically, you fight long and hard and wear down through continual effort. American Christians seem to approach discussing dating and mating as though the process were using some bomb sight to precisely line up and aim a nuclear weapon from the relative safety of a high altitude strategic bomber rather than instructing infantry who are about to go cross the trenches into mine-infested territory when they're being shelled by artillery at night what things they need to be alert for.

How much Christian advice about dating or mating accounts for the inevitability of failure, of missing the mark?  To put it in grandiose theological terms, how much instruction considers that you will fail and often not intentionally? I know I've heard occasional lectures about how most people are going to marry.  Dating is the pits, dating is lame, dating is exasperating but, oh, yeah, there's also absolutely no other plausible way to find a mate besides that. The disconnect is obvious, blindingly obvious.  If we get told in Christian circles that dating is bad and prone to failure but people should hurry up and get married then maybe the starting point should be learning how to adapt to and anticipate failure as a natural part of things? It's as though some Christians harp constantly on "we live in a fallen world" and don't stop to consider how that might apply to "date night" which, in reality, has nothing much to do with planning "date night" as a single person might understand things and more to do with planning a night away from the kids with the hopes of activities that could lead to the conception of another child.

I suppose, though, that perhaps attrition is an important concept for this discussion in another way.  Attrition can be defined as the flip side of contrition.  Contrition can be thought of as a remorse arising from realizing relationship with God has been compromised.  Attrition can be thought of as fear of perdition.  Now I'm being sloppy here, I know, but if we step back and think about ethical instruction in wisdom literature the precept of attrition is actually hugely important.  We're told who to NOT be like in the wisdom literature as much as we're told who to be like.  That may be, in fact, part of the trouble with how Christians attempt to instruct the unmarried.  We're known a bit more by what we're against than what we're for.  Don't break our rules and then you're sure to succeed.  So what does success look like in dating?  Not "What does success look like in marriage?" Not "Intentionality leads to marriage". Nope, what is "success" in dating? Everyone knows that if the dates work marriage happens but that's sort of like saying the caterpillar turned into a butterfly without considering any of the segments of the caterpillar.

The lack of defining success compared to the concern to evade failure gets at why so much teaching from guys like Driscoll about dating and marriage seem useless or even worse, counterproductive.  If we're going to talk about living in a fallen world we have to remember that failure, and adapting to failure, is central to the human experience.  Not all failure to achieve is of the same kind or quality. Some failure is unfortunate, counterproductive and to be avoided.

Some failure, however, is essentially to ever learning something. Perhaps the reason so much American Christian counsel about dating and mating often seems so useless is that we fear failure (because, let's face it, we're apt to define failure as failure at best and sin at worst) and so attempt to teach "practical" things in a way where we don't want to affirm failure but do want to affirm success is a worthy goal without accounting for probabilities.  Besides, failure hurts and failure in the realm of building a life with someone hurts even more. To belabor my earlier example, Christians teach the strategic nuclear option rather than infantry tactics.

As an air war/ground war metaphor goes this may be what stands out most glaring as a basic failure on the part of Mark Driscoll over ten years.  It's not that he intended to fail, he just failed, that's all.  The reason was simple, and he put it so himself, he has no idea what it's like to truly be single and so had no basis from which to really grasp what single people might deal with in the trenches of being actually unmarried. He probably couldn't help being a failure here but he could have helped avoiding discussing subjects that, by his own admission, he was not qualified either through knowledge or experience to seriously discuss. Then again, it's not like ignorance and youthful overconfidence stopped Joshua Harris.

I guess at the risk of ending on a pragmatic note that may seem disconnected to anything before, American Christians don't seem to discuss vocation well in connection to pairing.  There's more emphasis on the kind of "who" you should partner with than any serious discussion of whether what you want to do would merit investing in a "life partner".  A lot of people who were the recipients of biblical documents didn't have to fret too much about what they would do for a career.  Your career could often be in some way connected to family.  You might have skills that distinguished you in some way or other but the horizons were smaller for a lot of people.  Your marriage, if you got married, might well not be something you had a ton of direct input in.  This "might" explain why a lot of ethical instruction in biblical documents presupposes a lack of direct control either about vocation or about marriage.  Paul went so far as to say that he who marries does well and he who did not marry does better.

Yet conceding the point that the biblical authors were unconcerned about the parts of marriage and vocation that Americans are most obsessed about (i.e. how you know you're about to choose the right person and what to decide to do with your career), and so unconcerned as to never directly mention these things seems too scandalous for American Christians to consider. There's useful indirect instruction but we don't want indirect instruction, do we? We'd rather let celebrity Christians spin fantasies of how the biblical authors were concerned with date night and satisfying sex lives when they were more obviously far more often concerned about whether or not everyone in their village was going to die because of a famine or because the Assyrians were back in town.

NYT covers legal fights within TBN

In the lawsuits and interviews, Ms. Koper, 26, also charges that TBN has spent millions of dollars in sweetheart deals with a commercial film company owned until recently by a son of the Crouches, Matthew, including poorly monitored investments made after he joined the TBN board in 2007.

“My job as finance director was to find ways to label extravagant personal spending as ministry expenses,” Ms. Koper said. This is one way, she said, the company avoids probing questions from the I.R.S. She said that the absence of outsiders on TBN’s governing board — currently consisting of Paul, Janice and Matthew Crouch — had led to a serious lack of accountability for spending.   


As lawsuits and countersuits swirl, the Kopers are living in the basement of his father’s modest house in Elmont, on Long Island.

Mr. Crouch and an assistant, Matthew and his family, and two pilots are nearing the end of a six-week world tour in the larger company jet, visiting affiliates, taping programs and scouting new territory for evangelism in Rome, Dubai, Israel, Hong Kong and Hawaii.

“Others may do things differently, and may criticize TBN for how it operates, its look, its doctrine and belief,” Mr. May said. “But what is absolutely clear is that TBN, with God’s grace, has succeeded where most others have failed.”

Success in areas where others have failed sure seems like a popular defense of controversial ministries, doesn't it?  It can be easy for me to forget the Crouches have been around since the 1970s and doing the TBN thing. Video venue preaching has really been around for a long time if you stop to think about it.  Anyone who's ever watched somebody preach on TV, never mind TBN, knows that the prospect of going to church by way of watching someone preach via screen was with us for decades before anything like "multisite" became popular.  Before there was "multisite" there was TBN, CBN, and any number of local access TV preachers. Compared to these men and women multisites that have developed within the last six to ten years are still, arguably, amateurs. 

Salon: Joel Osteen worships himself

I don't know much about Osteen. What little I know leads me to not take him seriously. That the implications of  his theology could be construed as symptomatic of narcissistic personality disorder I'm not going to contest. I suppose it's possible for a person to have a problem being narcissistic and even be able to critique Osteen's Word Faith approach as narcissistic, which could make for a remarkable but altogether possible paradox. Osteen, after all, would hardly be the only pastor or megachurch pastor completely sold on the idea of a particular divine mandate justifying his job both on the basis of large numbers and a certain amount of material prosperity.

The messages in the biblical texts do invite us to join in understanding that we are part of a larger story that is anchored in and founded on Jesus. What these biblical texts are not about is "you".  A highly personalized ,idiosyncratic self-reading on to a biblical text is not really the way to go about reading the Bible.  This isn't to say you can't pray Psalm 139. There are all sorts of ways to pray the texts of Scripture. This is to say that when you read a passage as a personal message that isn't exactly the point of reading the biblical text.  It's not necessarily God's love letter to you as though it were an email just for you. One of the paradoxes of some preachers who have leveled criticisms of Osteen is that they themselves have at times evinced a habit of reading  biblical texts in a way that suggests they are reading their own concerns and anxieties into a text and then exegete the text, if they do this at all, much later. But then it's very easy for Christians to do this where ever they may be. There's a fine balancing act that has to be done in which we can appreciate how, if we are Christians, we are included in the things discussed by the biblical books but also realizing that most of the books were not written to individuals, despite the individual instruction often assumed in a book like Proverbs or Philemon.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Interesting chain of links on fashion, eating disorders, and a rumination on toxic assets

This is interesting. The link titles tend to explain themselves. Vogue banning anorexic models (and also underage models) is described at Slate's Double X as a rare and pleasantly surprising concession by a big gun in the fashion industry that the precedent and example they set matters. The article on sociology describes a woman who embedded herself in modeling as part of sociological research on the nature of the industry.  The final link is an article from said sociologist about how some models are like toxic assets and are taken on even though those who do so realize it is simple social conformity or market force response to do so.

I'm not sure I get everything in the articles because, and this may surprise no one, I haven't really paid a whole ton of attention to the fashion industry.  I admit I read an article in Vogue once because Joan Didion wrote it but, another thing that will surprise no one, I am not in the habit of reading Vogue.

A friend of mine at one point considered fashion and design years ago but, she said, she decided against it.  What she told me was she came to realize that the fashion industry exists almost entirely as a way to inspire women to covet and to feel insecure about their appearance and she did not consider it ethical, let alone Christian, to embrace such an industry.

Years ago when I was at Mars a subject was brought up about defining beauty. A certain guy said that if you marry someone you have to consider them hot. No explanation was given as to why this would be and there's nowhere in the biblical texts that mutual sexual attraction was ever considered a necessity within marriage, let alone as a prerequisite for marriage. The attempted discussion unfortunately didn't get off the ground and so bromides were brought up that were not well backed.

Some of those bromides are still around, such as "God doesn't give you a standard of beauty, he gives you a spouse." No on the main points because not everyone gets a spouse and while it's true there's no "biblical" standard of beauty beauty itself is described as an ultimately unimportant variable to consider in marriage and mating.  Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting ... so the advice from the wisdom literature does not seem to be saying that there is no standard of beauty so much as that whatever the standard of beauty may be beauty does not last.  Time and gravity shall defeat us all and death will take us and there is no one who is beautiful when dead, is there?

Molly Worthen on Why American Evangelicals love the British

HT Reformed Anglicanism

Nice to know I'm not the only person who noticed a curious habit among American Calvinist sorts who, nevertheless, love reading Chesterton and quoting him approvingly despite his Catholicism and his bluntly stated  view that Calvinism was a nasty heresy.  Stott has, to be sure, written some stuff I've found interesting and useful so I get the appeal but Christopher Hitchens would have continued to say, were he alive, that the appeal of a Chesterton to American evangelical Calvinists would be his arch-reactionary politics and doctrinaire disdain for things progressive and modern.  I suppose so.

There are, Worthen notes, a couple of ways American evangelicals can like the Brits and she quotes from a former assistant to John R. W. Stott about how some people in American evangelicalism like British theologians because it may confer a halo of broad-mindedness that can mask what is ultimately a provincial approach to the life of the mind and thought about theology.

In the year after John Stott's death he can be appreciated for being a theological conservative American evangelicals left and right can look to who didn't anchor his ideas or life's work to specific political campaigns, which seems all but inevitable in American Christianity.  As Mark Noll put it about twenty years ago in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, American evangelicals tend to want to bottom line into practical causes and crusades and not think too much about first principles and concepts so much.

For those who might only have come across the name Molly Worthen for her article "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?" this is a fun article you should read.  Worthen was for a time considered to not be that fair or informed about Calvinism.  I probably had that impression myself and if so I retract that if I bought into that.  I've read enough of her other work that I get the usefulness of a pointed polemic.  After all, if a preacher like Driscoll gets to be defended for making sharp and historically simplified observations a lecturer and published author should get the same lattitude, eh?

It's an interesting read and Worthen makes quite a few interesting observations about Anglophile American evangelicals and about John R. W. Stott.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Study proposes farting dinosaurs caused global warming 150 mil years ago

Slate would not miss the chance to lead with Dinosaur Farts Created Global Warming, would they?

While this new research may not shed light on the “denied it, supplied it” or “smelt it, dealt it” theories, it does suggest that living during the time of the dinosaurs would have totally stunk.

You knew once they led with their headline there'd be a reference to "He who smelt it, dealt it."

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Mars Hill starting a record label

Head’s up: we’re starting a record label, and we’re gunning to take over Christian radio.

This one's not too big a surprise.  I admit, compared to renting the city of Ephesus I find this more understandable and less problematic a venture of two possibilities.  Renting a city for a day to do some "epic" filming is something I'd find objectionable for any church.  A label?  It's not like CCM hasn't existed before.  Mars Hill's just gearing up to give us CCM Mars Hill style. Perhaps the church has gotten big enough and famous enough now that they can market their particular sound and be assured enough people buying the product to at least break even.

Bottom line, whatever you think has defined “Christian music” up til now, you can forget it:

The scare quotes may be telling.

Now maybe Mars Hill "could" shake up what we may broadly identify as CCM (contemporary Christian music). I doubt it but I also doubt the necessity of doing anything to even try making people forget what has defined Christian music or "Christian music".

For instance, "Christian music" could be taken as a pejorative term regardless of what working definition we might bring to the discussion.  It might be old-time Gospel music.  That music doesn't need to be forgotten, far from it. There's no reason to forget Hank Williams Sr's "I Saw the Light" if you grew up in the United States.  there's no reason to not know about it if you take even "Christian music" seriously. You may not really like John  Rutter all that much (and I admit I'm not a big fan) but you do at least need to know who he is and some of his work to understand that he understands his market.  As far as I'm concerned there will not be a time from here on out where anyone with any appreciation for Christian music shouldn't know about, if not love, the music of Mahalia Jackson.  Ditto Blind Willie Johnson.

More near to the "official" type of "Christian music" I think Keith Green, Rich Mullins, and Michael Card have done work that still merits attention.  Yeah, even despite the fact that I have blogged about Messiaen and other composers like that I don't have some beef against Keith Green or Christian singer-songerwriters as such. Sometimes things get a bit cheesy but sometimes things get a bit cheesy, right?  There's the soft friendly ersatz and there's emo/indie/goth ersatz and one is not necessarily musically or conceptually superior to the other.

There may be some fun and listenable music to come out of the label but I doubt that many of us are going to forget what has been defined as "Christian music".  there's no way Mars Hill is going to come up with something farther out than Messiaen's organ works for Pentecost; Penderecki's Luke Passion, or maybe even Frank Martin's Mass for double choir (which is very conservative compared to the previous entries).  I don't doubt it's exciting for folks on the inside who might hope to have bands signed on to the Mars Hill label.  Working on new music is exciting, there's just no two ways about it.  It's one of the things that keeps inspiring me to compose and tackle playing new music myself.  But surely after every convulsive stylistic and conceptual change in music at a global level in the 20th century we don't have to kid ourselves about the possibility of coming up with something that redefines music in a genre as we know it in the 21st century.

 Then again, Driscoll's not a musician and by his own account no one would want to hear him sing so he may understandably just be at a disadvantage here on the musicology side of things.  I don't doubt they still have some very capable and wonderful musicians over there.  I met a few of them so I know I would know.  Just, please, don't mess with the golden oldies like "Wondrous Love" or "Be Thou My Vision" because you can't change those tunes in any way that will ever improve them.  Just leave them as the classics they are, okay?  :-)