Saturday, September 08, 2012

guitarists on other musicians, a few thoughts on Ana Vidovic and how guitarists react to her

I have a couple of her albums and I've enjoyed listening to them.

I notice that it's often enough people discuss her looks in comparison or contrast to her playing.  I've seen and heard a few people say her playing sounds mechanical or without soul.  Some have said her playing of some works is so fast as to be unmusical.  Now I think I might agree that she takes Walton's Five Bagatelles a bit on the fast side but does not the word "bagatelle" itself suggest a certain lightness and frivolity.  We wouldn't expect five bagatelles by Walton to be played as though they were Britten's Nocturnal, would we?  Vidovic's spry and perhaps even light take on Walton seems appropriate to the works, even if a bit fast.

As to occasional claims that her Bach is too fast and lacks expression ... please, guitarists, go actually listen to violinists play these works.  Vidovic's performance is swift but not even that much swifter, in terms of tempo, that Szigeti's famous recordings from about half a century ago.  I have more than a handful of CDs by Hilary Hahn and Hahn's performance of the E major partita is at least as lively.  There's room for dispute among Bach fans but a guitarist's idea of "too fast" is likely to be "lively" or "buoyant" or "assured" for someone who grew to love the partitas and sonatas for violin played by the kinds of musicians for which Bach actually conceived the works.  If Vidovic's aesthetic crime was simply playing Bach at around the tempo that many violinists play his work at then, well, her crime is that she's playing the works in a way that may not be the norm for guitarists.  More power to her as far as I'm concerned.

Now I'll admit I'm not a huge, huge fan of Torroba.  His work's all right and I don't question her ability to play those works in a way that will have fans of those works happy.  Torroba's a bit light and blissful for my taste.  Alert readers will know that I have referred to Haydn enough times that they may be tempted to ask, "What gives?"  But they probably won't because Haydn is more significant historically than Torroba.  Not all apparently happy, light and frivolous music is of the same substance, just as not all minor key music is necessarily profound.  It is one of the infatuations of the teens and early 20s to imagine that minor key music is more substantial or emotionally profound or honest.  It may just be that the neural network of the adolescent brain is still chemically predisposed toward emo outbursts and thus has not worked out what people learn in their 30s and 40s that writing minor key music is not necessarily as tough to pull off well as major key music.  Or that has been my experience from my teens and twenties.  The experience of others may be altogether different.

All that to say, Matanya Ophee has said that most guitarists play repertoire that amounts to lollipops.  If what you want to play is lollipop repertoire and your audience wants to buy that then there's no problem.  If some may suggest that Vidovic tends toward lollipop repertoire and her image is tailored to fit this then they can say this ... though I would think a person should be at least mildly cautious about this.  See, she's a professional and she's an artist whether what she does in the arts is something you would approve of.  I liked her work enough to buy at least two of her albums and respect her artistry enough to have run a work by her.  If it turns out to never be a piece she'd be interested in playing that's fine.

I've met a few professional musicians who have respectfully differed with Vidovic's interpretive approach on a few things without questioning her overall competence or artistry.  Let me repeat, professional musicians.  Amateurs ... may be another story.  For people into show business trivia you may recall that for a while some people in the media circuit tried to see if they could gin up some "tension" between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.  Kelly eventually remarked that he and Fred had never had the chance to work together but knew of each other's work and respected it.  Kelly made a dry joke that Fred was the patrician while he was the proletariat.  The idea being, for those who may have seen that footage, that Kelly was not going to put down Astaire for having a completely different conception of dance as art.

To stick my neck out slightly I absolutely detest the music of Wagner and have found most big name Romantic repertoire to be a little hard to tolerate.  But I respect the repertoire.  Just because I find myself squirming during some works by Schubert or Chopin doesn't mean I can't respect the significance of the repertoire.  Mahler often drives me up the wall and yet countless people adore Mahler's music.  Now if a blogger like Jim West declares Mahler to be a hack, and declares that when demons in hell play for each other they play Mahler and when they play for Satan they play Wagner, I can laugh reading those comments.  Jim West as a pastor and biblical scholar and he gets to have his opinions.  Personally I enjoy Haydn's work more but that's because I like how Haydn thinks and I like how Haydn found a way to synthesize the academic and "street" music of his time in a way that serves as a compelling prototype for what may be called "fusion" experiments in the early 20th century.

Now it also happens I share West's dislike of Mahler and loathing of Wagner.  But, see, the thing is I'm a composer and a musician so for my discipline it is important that I know who Mahler and Wagner are and understand their works enough to engage with that work as part of my own discipline.  Jim West, as a pastor and biblical scholar, goes out of his way to read and grasp the work of various authors and theologians he may often disagree with.  I distinctly recall him pointing out that while he greatly dislikes the theology and ideas of N. T. Wright he'd never bracket Wright in with a guy like Rob Bell.  That is, you see, the sort of respectful disagreement or annoyance scholars can do for each other within a field.  By extension, as a composer I can respect the ideas of music I can't stand even if I still think some of those ideas are just plain stupid.  No, I'm not going to name names here.  I will say that there are some composers who do not so much develop their ideas as repeat them endlessly so as to beat you into submission.  That's clue enough for you.

I have spent my life (which has neither been very long nor short) working on the idea that I don't have to presuppose a set of instruments or styles must be a given way.  I recently composed a sonata for banjo and guitar because I don't see any reason there can't be a sonata form written for banjo and guitar.  Whether or not I can persuade musicians to play this sonata or if it needs revision due to idiomatic difficulties remains to be seen.  I trust you get the idea that there should never be such an obstacle to writing a sonata for banjo that beings with the idea that "Such things ought not be done."  There's no reason not to do it and the reason to do such a thing is that if it entertains and makes people happy and brings musicians together in a collaborative way for something that might be a little unusual, that's a reason to try it.

Now, back to Ana Vidovic.  I can understand controversies over scholarship and research.  It matters what you do or don't establish on scholarly grounds about this or that topic.  You want to find out what he facts are.  Who, what, where, when and why (how, when applicable).  This was drilled into my head in school as the fundamental set of questions to ask when covering a topic and that gives you a big clue as to what my academic discipline was, doesn't it?  I'm with Ophee on the problems of importing Romantic virtuoso frippery into music that is not Spanish music.  To the extent that Vidovic may get complaints for playing Baroque music in a way that fits how violinists play Baroque music I just don't see where guitarists have much ground to complain.  Sure, people can say her performances sound "like MIDI" but I doubt most of those people actually work with MIDI so very, very often as to notice that humans phrase things even when they phrase musical lines in ways you may not agree with.

If a musician is able to make a living performing, recording, and teaching I'm not going to begrudge them that.  We've been in a bad spot economically, haven't we?  Who am I to begrudge a professional her opportunity to work even if I somehow didn't like that work?  If the person is doing stuff that is legal, doing that work in a professional way, and able to pay the bills then if I'm not into that myself I will normally be content to let things be.

There are, clearly, cases in which I will strongly object on intellectual grounds or personal conviction about how any number of things get approached in certain settings.  It's not lost on me that 90% of the traffic to this blog is in some fashion connect to just those reservations about a specific non-profit religious institution.  So I'm hardly saying that live and let live is the only way to ever go about things.  Careful readers will have noticed I make a distinction between those who advocate what I consider objectionable and those who enjoy or benefit from those things in some fashion and who are not themselves necessarily the same as people I disagree with.  I may find Wagner detestable on musical and personal grounds but if you enjoy Wagner's music I'm not going to say you're evil.  I'll just make a point of being in some other room if you're listening to his work and it's in my power to be somewhere else.

If in the grand flow of history and civilization Vidovic manages to be a minor musical celebrity in the world of classical guitar let's not dogpile her as being some mediocrity because we think we can do better or we are sure we know of musicians whose musicality we like better.  In the realm of classical guitar we're all pretty much nobodies.  You name "John Williams" and you'll see that most people think of that guy who wrote music for films like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws. As significant as Segovia's legacy is for us as guitarists beyond the world of six strings he's a non-entity. Sorry, but when the bulk of one's musical education is among symphonic musicians, pianists, and vocal performance majors you start to realize that the most famous guitarist of the 20th century is still nothing more than a footnote compared to Rite of Spring or the development of dodecaphonic composition or the development of jazz and blues.. Keep enjoying Segovia's records, of course, let's just remember that he filled what must still be considered a niche market.  This doesn't make him unimportant.

By extension, if someone were to be dismissive of Vidovic's stature as an artist or belittle her for playing lollipop repertoire or catering to a marketing image that involves simple and aesthetically pleasing outfits, aren't most people playing the same old pieces most of the time?  Vidovic has at least commissioned a few new works.  Whether or not you like those works is a bit moot.  When she plays stuff I like I'll get her albums and if there's stuff I'm less than thrilled by I've got the option to not buy.

Some people like her music, some people don't.  I think her work is okay.  I'm glad she's been able to play music professionally for so long.  That these sorts of debates about Ana Vidovic's looks and repertoire or Eliot Fisk's tone may be yet another indication of how impoverished discussions can be regarding guitar literature.  I mean for the times I've seen those discussions happen I keep wondering, "Is someone else going to point out those infuriating parallel perfect fifths in measure 4 of system three in the fugue in E flat minor that Igor Rekhin wrote for solo guitar?"  I mean I admire Rekhin's cycle overall but I've got too much of a choirboy in my still to let some of those voice-leading problems go without comment.

Now that may seem pedantic for a guitarist and composer to talk about (and it totally is) but it's a matter of discussing the art of counterpoint itself and some case studies and it happens that beyond studying classical guitar I've got a background in choral music. So I'm saying here that the average guitarist may know so little about the art of polyphony he or she may be apt to think that any melody that has an accompaniment must by definition be a manifestation of counterpoint--it's not the goal of this post to disabuse those guitarists of their ignorance of the distinction between homophonic music with accompaniment and real polyphony (Chris Kachian is right to have written that truly polyphonic music is rare on the guitar). My broader point, I trust you've seen, is that this sort of discussion and debate about music itself can be a more interesting and pertinent way of discussing music then talking yet about what dress Ana wore at her latest recital and how she keeps playing these warhorses.

If that's a problem to you then composing new repertoire is an option.  I don't see what it has to be either one or the other.  We need advocates for the old as well as the new and the fact that it's possible to do both isn't a huge sticking point for non-guitarists.  Last fall I went and heard Hilary Hahn play a ton of new pieces, some of which I liked and some of which I can't even remember. I liked the Higdon concerto just fine and look forward to hearing whatever Penderecki has written for her.  You know what?  She still plays Bach and Mozart because she's smart enough a musician and businesswoman to know that you don't fill concert halls doing just one or the other.  I haven't heard the new album yet (money's an issue with me again).

Hahn is another woman who plays music who "could" be sidelined for how she looks (I'll say it, I think she's absolutely adorable). I've read reviews that have said her rendering of Vaughn Williams sounds robotic and inhuman.  So it goes.  When she plays Schoenberg's violin concerto or the Ives sonatas or commissions something from Penderecki I don't think there's a guitarist alive who could say she's not engaging serious repertoire and making an effort to commission new work.  Who are the guitarists who are doing that comparable level of work?  What would be the guitarist equivalent of Mutter playing something by Dutillex or Wolfgang Rihm? Which are the works in the guitar literature that have a comparable place to Schoenberg's violin concerto?  See where these rhetorical questions are going?

Even if I didn't enjoy anything Vidovic has played the stuff that concerns me as a composer and concert-goer will never be improved by talking about how her playing "sounds like MIDI" (because it doesn't) or how she plays stuff that seems light (once again, look up the meaning of "bagatelle").  Mozart's music seems insipid to me most of the time and yet he's considered profound for some reason.  Does that mean I never listen to Mozart?  No, in fact Hilary Hahn can get me enjoy his work because, as some people put it, her take on music is remorselessly brainy and cerebral.  For me, at least, that's sexy.  For some people music has to be about the "heart" or the loins without dealing with the mind and for others the mind is central.  There are types of music that are made to bluntly assault the sensory organs from the pineal to the prostate gland (and there are folks who listen to music for that kind of experience; there are types of music that are hyper-cognitive to a point where ideas can seem to be all that are going on in a kind of meta-musical rumination on possibilities of form.  The music that engages us across our lives will be more fully orbed than that.  That one particular musician and her repertoire does not do that for you doesn't mean she has not attained that communicative capacity for others.  Even if one were to finally declare a composer or musician to be second or third rate even Robert Craft could say of Vivaldi that his work may be second-rate but we can't really listen to all Bach all the time.  Or as the author of Ecclesiastes once put it, there is a time and purpose for everything under heaven.

Besides, Vidovic has a job, right now I can admit that I envy that. May she have a long and prosperous career doing what she loves.  I'm okay with that.

3d printing used to print guns?

The most obvious point is that if this works banning a person or group from using 3D printing to make guns without serial numbers or registration will be difficult (impossible?) to enforce.

Secondary points for pure speculation.  Survivalists and anti-government groups who wanted to 3D print guns might be inclined to invest.

Entirely fanciful idea, this could totally fit into a Batman story.

Friday, September 07, 2012

the sexiness of guilt and the sexiness of "community".

In the last twelve years I've had some time to think about a few things.  I've written earlier about how I've had time to consider how guilt can get sexed up (thanks to the Boar's Head Tavern).  Guilt isn't the only thing that gets sexed up, it happens with "community".

I put that word in scare quotes because I have probably spent the last twenty years more skeptical about its use and the agendas for its use than any other single word I've heard in my life.  That word often has represented the foundation from which ideas or information or news was suppressed for the sake of what that word was supposed to represent.  People who forsake organized religion in its various forms seek what they believe this word is supposed to mean.  People seek an "authentic" variation of what the word is supposed to mean.

I know it's easy to say that there are no perfect churches and that if there is one then you'll ruin it by going there.  Ha ha, cute joke and all that.  We're in an election year and so identity politics become important yet again.  Group identity and group guilt are inevitably going to show up and it's no shock that it happens with "community" of every sort.  Group guilt is how we people work. Some group is the "in" group and some group is the "out" group.  We manage to find ways to convince ourselves our group is the righteous group and the other group is bad, whatever the "other" is.

When Jesus told the parable about the Samaritan He was warning us that we don't get to choose who our neighbor is, and we do not get to choose in advance who we are to love as ourselves when we love our neighbor as ourselves.  I mean, yes, we can make lots of decisions but an advance screening test to weed out the people we don't want to have to love as our neighbor isn't something we get to do.

Despite my decades of being cautious and even skeptical about how Christians use the word "community" I have had to rely on help from my church more in the last two years than at any point in my life.  I don't know if I would say this has been a humbling experience.  Nobody can live for long who lives completely alone. Human babies are among the more helpless of babies of all living things.  As Donne so aptly put it, no man is an island.  Relying on my church is not, therefore, something that "humbles" me as though I had some history of being self-reliant and from which I needed to learn some  humility.

No, but in the sense that having to need help from an institution when I've got so many friends and associates over the last eight years who believe that relying on institutional religion is problematic may be humbling in another way.  I honestly don't trust the house-church type movements any more than the institutional churches.  Institutional churches have their own foibles but they don't tend to include devolving into discussions of black U.N. helicopters in Oregon that will conquer America.  They don't tend to have these weird prayer sessions where teddy bears get annointed with oil and are claimed to heal people.  They don't tend to be quite so swift in assimilating frauds like the famous bank debenture fraud that was known in the late Clinton years as "Omega".  It's true that the informal and formal gathering of Christians are just as likely to have straying spouses and swindlers and self-aggrandizing divas.

In a sense, though, what a church has that the informal "spiritual community" won't necessarily have is this beautiful barely appreciated thing, possibly even a "less presentable" part of the body of Christ.

What is that?  I go out on a limb and suggest bureaucracy with all its attendant inefficiencies.

Let me digress a while here.  It can be said among Christian circles that gossip is sinful.  Yes, let's just agree on that.  But if gossip is sinful then what if it is a sinful variation of something that may be a role for the body of Christ? For instance, if someone is unable to work and needs help then what is the distinction between gossiping about that person and, say, networking on that person's behalf to help the person find work?  Isn't it conceivable one may simultaneously do a good thing and have an impure motive in part of that good thing?  We are frail creatures and so it is possible for even "authenticity" to be a kind of plasticity.  Sometimes the apparently righteous word or action masks a corrupt motive and a bumbling or harsh act may be done inadvertantly.

It's easy for pastors to say that prayer circles often become breeding grounds for gossip but this is, with a little reflection, capable of being a sin comparable to the charge made in the canard about prayer groups as gossip rings.  It's possible here to say "It takes one to know one."  If someone is praying about me without my knowledge how can I possibly be harmed by it, even if some of those prayers may be to my harm?  Doesn't the book of Proverbs teach that an undeserved curse is harmless as a flitting sparrow?  Yet in some places I've been Christians were sure that curses had literal, magical power.  I don't think this is the bulk of scriptural testimony regarding curses.  There are elements of a belief that certain words heal and destroy but even in these cases some things must be kept in mind.  Curses that come to pass in the scriptures are presented as having come to pass because Yahweh saw fit to honor those curses as prayers.  Perhaps, for instance, this is what could be said about Judges 9.  Yet the weight of scriptural testimony regarding curses is clear about love of neighbor as the foundation for not cursing regardless of whether or not one may curse and see that curse having some effect.

Then there's a matter of how problems come to light.  To continue with the jobless example, if someone has no work because a person is unable to work or simply isn't getting hired that's not necessarily under "He who will not work, let him not eat."  But let's ask ourselves a simple question, for that command in scripture to be obeyed how would a person find out that so-and-so hasn't been willing to work and therefore should not eat, whatever that meant?  Could that not end up being "gossip"?

Then, famously: My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.

Was what Paul heard from some in Chloe's household gossip?  Let's not be so simplistic in our way of defining "gossip" that we forget that word-of-mouth and the grapevine had a role in the authoring of canonical texts.  If there were no grapevine of some fashion how would Paul have heard of the difficulty between Euodia and Syntyche as a subject to address in his letter to the church in Phillipi?

If God's strength is made perfect in weakness we like to talk about this for individuals but do we believe this is possible for groups of Christians, too?  If God's strength is made perfect in weakness then are our strengths weaknesses?  It often seems as  though they can be.  A church may consider itself strong on discipline and community and end up being a bastion of tyranny and conformity.  A church may consider itself strong on hospitality yet discover that its members consider their weakness to be an insularity that makes it hard for newcomers to feel welcome.  This is a simple paradox, is it not?  We can be hospitable and friendly to each other within the "in" group without realizing that we don't always know how to extend a welcome to the stranger, who may feel left out or even ignored.

If there is a skepticism I continue to struggle with it is about "authenticity" and being "real".  I don't believe people do this.  I believe people WANT to be this, whatever it is, but that it's simply not the same as attaining it.

Perhaps the sexy part of "community" is when we hope that "community" will remedy problems.  We like it when our group is able to solve a particular problem.  We'd like to be able to take pride knowing that our group has gotten our hands dirty and come through for where others haven't.  Now this is the part that may get a bit awkward but I've heard some people say that the informal network of believers can get a lot done the institutional religious groups don't do.

Well .... no, sorry, I haven't personally seen that. Maybe countless others have but I'm not those others. There are things institutions are capable of doing powerfully that all the informal brothers and sisters in Christ basically don't get done and often can't even get done.  You see that stuff called that bureaucracy that people say stifles the Spirit or shuts people out it can paradoxically be how people get noticed, too.  There are parts of the body that are not as presentable and yet play a vital role in the life of the local church.

Last year when I needed eye surgery and had absolutely no money to spare I could have consulted an informal network of friends to get help for the money I needed at the time.  I didn't do that.  I went to a foundation and I went through the hoops and meetings required by their bureaucracy.  They came through and they helped me.  There are things that God's people only manage to do in noteworthy fashion by doing so through institutions.  I don't care how many people blog or talk about how the informal this and that is the "real" Christian community, there's reality to be dealt with here, there are some things where a bureaucracy serving a Christian purpose is still able to do more than countless masses of informal "real" people who form "community".  We can talk about how we are, as a church, not a place but a people.  Tell that to those people in Phillipi who got that letter.  There are pious catchphrases that are kinda dumb in the end.  This idea that the local church is a people and not a place is just partly true. When Paul dealt with a collection for the church in Jerusalem would it have benefited him to say that "Oh, well, see the church is a people and not a place"?  Obviously not.

Conversely, let's not kid ourselves too much about how "real" informal gatherings of believers are.  Yes, there's authentic fellowship and community there, too, but it's beset by all the same problems of the institutional variety/  There could still be that long-talking "leader" sort in the informal house church meeting who leaves his wife just as there can be that pastor who ends his marriage for greener pastures  in a church.

Perhaps because I've been in Protestant circles that have overemphasized "community" or emphasized the "real" I turn a more jaded eye toward the "real" than the institutional.  Neither are without awful flaws but there's this, an institution has been around long enough that more than two generations of Christians have managed to keep the thing from disintegrating.  When I worked at a huge non-profit I understood there were rules.  There come times when people want certain rules to not apply to them and they want you to set those rules aside.  Well, the thing about rules is that if exceptions ever get made they have to be predicated on what the aim of the rule is in the first place.  Jesus pointed out that men would feed and water livestock even on the Sabbath.  Promoting life trumped the strictest enforcement of a particular rule. Once the aim of the rule was understood exceptions to that rule could respect the spirit of the rule rather than simply fall into the realm of exceptions on a "mere" case by case basis.

Or do we suppose that when priests and judges and others were bribed in ancient Israel that none of that could have had anything to do with trying to bend the rules for particular gain?  Perhaps I'm missing out on something but it can often feel to me as though American Christians with a thing about institutional churches can believe that the bureaucracy can't be as sanctified as the individuals that make up the bureaucracy.  I have recently written at some length about prophets, priests and kings.  These were institutions in ancient Israel that were often at odds with each other or in collusion and in rare cases synergistically worked together for the common good. If you or I attempt to imagine that the institution isn't "real" let's be cautious about presuming that you or I are any more "real" than that.

Let me put it this way, for any individual Christian who's inclined to think that he or she can do more for the kingdom of God and fellow believers than some deacon board, as yourself how much you've financially helped someone with medical bills, rent and utility expenses, or things like that?  One of the things that is sexy for individuals is imagining that whatever we think our version of "community" is can get more done than those others.  But there's also a way in which it's sexy for the individual believer to convince himself or herself that the informal this and that can do more than some institutional religious bureaucracy.

Make no mistake, I've been helped by individuals who have, led by conscience, helped me in generous ways.  But if I were to have to produce an itemized list of who has helped me the most in the most concrete ways I'd have to go dig up the list of the deacons and all the church members whose generosity has helped me.  We seem to live in a culture in which collective guilt for a church is much, much sexier than collective credit to a Christian church who namelessly, anonymously, and collectively helps those who are in rough patches.  Sure, it might be sexier to say that this small group of believers I see every week (whether a community group, small group, or whatever-group) has come through for me.

But it's often the case that the mercy of God comes in anonymous and even impersonal ways through agents whose role in the church is, let's face it, is distinctly and vocationally bureaucratic.  There's not necessarily some "personal" connection and yet if you've spent as many years in non-profit as some people I know have you grasp the reality that nobody should take that personally.  There's a certain emotional distance that is necessary to help people in certain types of need.  Contrary to certain misnomers about "priestly" gifts not every thing gets dealt with in such a fashion.  Sometimes what a Christian believer may find he desperately needs is not a bunch of people to be "with him" in "community" as much as he needs people to flatly review his resume to tell him what works and what doesn't.  Sometimes what he needs is prayer for continued work and sometimes he may need a check to pay the rent.

There's more on this but this is probably as good a place as any to stop on this particular rumination on why "community" is often a lot sexier than bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy and tradition do not belong merely to the world or to the devil.  For all our complaints about the impersonal nature of bureaucracy and rules let's go back and think about the pastoral epistles some more.  Those rules were given in part to help certain bureaucratic elements of the church function more efficiently and truly toward their purpose.  The aim was that those widows who were truly widows would get the help they needed and that those widows who had family to help them would actually do their part.

"Community" is a lot sexier than streamlining a church bureaucracy to make sure people were served better.  In a time such as ours it's a lot sexier to talk about how impersonal a bureaucracy is than to talk about how it helps the sick get better, how it can save the lives of people who would die without the help of institutions, or how institutions can help those going blind to see.  I've read a few rants and seen a few axioms about how groups should not be trusted or how there's no wisdom in crowds.  I've seen how people say that bureaucracies and institutions can't necessarily be "community" the way these others can.  Well, sorry, but I have literally seen what institutions can accomplish that individuals can't pull off.  As much as we may like to bag on the impersonal nature of institutions and talk about a "community" that is "authentic" there are things only bureaucracy can do.

Election years would not be so fraught with rage and dread if this weren't the case.

HT Mockingbird: Can You Train Business Students to Be Ethical? (Slate)

There are many such examples of what Bazerman and Tenbrusel would argue are unintentional ethical failings: People fall prey to self-serving bias: an accountant whose future business depends on maintaining the approval of the companies he’s meant to be auditing is genuinely more likely to believe his clients’ books are in order. We discriminate unconsciously against those who aren’t like us, passing them over for promotion or low-balling them in negotiations. And even when we lie, cheat, or steal for personal gain, we often disengage, at least temporarily, from the set of values that would normally lead us to look down upon those who lie, cheat, and steal.

These acts are all done, by and large, unthinkingly. In the terminology of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, they’re processed automatically by our System 1 thinking—that is, the thinking that’s driven by intuition and emotion. If we could only force the System 2 part of our brain, which reasons logically through decisions, with full appreciation of the many biases that plague our intuitions and instincts, we might behave differently. So a first step is at least equipping business school students (also future lawyers, doctors, accountants, and probably everyone else) with a basic understanding of our psychological frailties and vulnerabilities—greater self-knowledge is at least a first step towards a solution.

However, mere knowledge of our flaws isn’t necessarily enough to stave off unconscious temptation. As Kahneman notes in his best-seller, Thinking Fast and Slow, “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to [cognitive errors] as it was before I made a study of these issues.” No one, Kahneman and Bazerman included, is immune to ethical blind spots.

Prophets, Priests and Kings: Back to those priests

From Munson's post cited earlier in this series

Which One Are You?

Church leadership focused on the message


leads through communication
larger audience
air war

Spiritual gifts:


Prone to Sin:

Self-righteous w/knowledge

Church leadership focused on the people


leads through relationships
care and shepherding
smaller audiences (one-on-one)
ground war

Spiritual gifts:


Prone to Sin:

tolerance of sin
lack of truth
self-righteous w/compassion or love

Now there's something basic that needs to be established about what priests did in the Mosaic covenant.  It's popular in at least neo-Calvinist scenes to say priests about relationship but a steady survey of the priestly role would lead a person to conclude that a lot of the priestly vocation involved knowing how to slaughter animals quickly.  In case you haven't read Leviticus, go back and read the whole thing, it's more fun to read than people claim it is.  Numbers ... is a bit less exciting but Leviticus and Deuteronomy are actually fun!

Permit us to skip secondary literature and go to a few direct citations from biblical texts.

On teaching in the OT

Malachi 2:7
For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts ...

Micah 3:11
Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the Lord and say, "Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us."

Leviticus 10:8-11
Then the Lord said to Aaron, "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses. 

2 Chronicles 17: 7-9
 In the third year of his reign he [Jehoshaphat] sent his officials Ben-Hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah to teach in the towns of Judah.  With them were certain Levites—Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah and Tob-Adonijah—and the priests Elishama and Jehoram.  They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people.

2 Kings 17:28
 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the LORD.

Nehemiah 8:9
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

Ezekiel 22:26
 Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them.

2 Chronicles 15:1-4
The Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded, and he went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.  For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest and without law,  but when in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, he was found by them.

Anyone notice a pattern here about what priests are described as doing?  It looks curiously as though priests did (and were supposed to do) a lot of teaching of the people.  Not merely priests were considered as having a teaching role.  The scribes had a role (anyone can consult Jesus' conflicts with the scribes and Pharisees and the teachers of the Law).  Sages also had this role (see the epilogue of Ecclesiastes and we'll see that Qoholeth was considered the greatest sage of his time and that he made a point of teaching the people).

What else did priests do.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20
Deuteronomy 17:8-13

Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes ine very town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess teh land the Lord your God is giving you. 

If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge--whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults--take them to the place the Lord your God will choose.  Go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the Lord will choose.  Be careful to do everything they instruct you to do. Act according to whatever they teach you and the decisiosn they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left.  Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God is to be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel.  All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.

Priests were supposed to teach the laws of the God of Israel to the people.  They were supposed to offer sacrifices.  They were supposed to assess cases of leprosy and disease to prevent plagues from breaking out in the community.  They were supposed to help adjudicate cases that were too difficult for tribal elders to handle. If they were not sure themselves how to handle a particular case they were to enquire of the Lord but they were not permitted to use any forms of divination that were used by priests in other religious or cultic practices. For that matter no one was to emulate those practices.

Deuteronomy 18: 9-13

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,  or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.  Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.  You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

Why would the priests or the people be tempted to do that?  Well, if people come to you with situations that the case law of the Torah doesn't address; if kings or judges come to you with a question about a military or economic situation or civil or criminal case that presents a problem and the case law of the time doesn't address the issue what happens?  Well, if you were a bad Israelite priest you might resort to sorts of divination that were forbidden.

Let's consider the case of the daughters of Zelophehad.  Who's that?
Zelophehad had only daughters and no sons, a big problem regarding inheritance in that time and culture. It was big enough an issue to get discussed here and here. Moses brought their case before the Lord and who was Moses? Well, he was unique but he could be considered a prophet and a judge not just someone who delivered the Law.  The case of the daughters of Zelophehad necessitated consulting the Lord and adding to the existing case law.  If the case law available at the time had covered this situation there would have been no real need to consult Moses and for Moses to consult the Lord.

So we've seen that the scriptures indicate a wide range of activity for the priest.  It does not appear that the role of the priest is mainly one-on-one or more personal.  Who was supposed to release the scapegoat into the wilderness?  There's not much in Leviticus 16 that looks like it's Aaron dealing with personal, one-on-one spiritual relationship stuff.  It's not that a priest can't do that it's that if Jesus is our High Priest that priestly role wasn't just confined to one on one stuff, was it?

Now something that is absolutely right in the grid of sins toward which priests were prone is an absence of truth.  We've seen that the prophets testify against the truthfulness of the things that priests taught and their ethics.  But priests were apt to be guilty of overlooking sin through stuff like nepotism and accepting bribes. Tolerance of sin might not be a sin unique to the priests.  Every single group of leaders in Israel was apt to overlook sin.  Because the priests were not given an inheritance they had no land to pass on to their children.

Deuteronomy 18

The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s name always.

If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the Lord will choose, he may minister in the name of the Lord his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the Lord. He is to share equally in their benefits, even though he has received money from the sale of family possessions.

So if they have no inheritance they live on food offerings.  Unsurprisingly Leviticus is full of detailed instructions about which offerings the priests can and can't eat.  Consult Leviticus 6 for just a small sample.   Now if a sin of priests was to tend to be light on sin that could certainly happen but if you're paying attention to how the cultic sacrificial system worked sacrifices for sin and various offerings were literally the meal ticket of a tribe that was formally barred from being able to inherit land.  How soft on sin were priests apt to get if they were to live off of offerings?

Well, if we survey the great swath of biblical literature the way priests adapted to living off of sacrifices was not exactly going easy on sin.  Sometimes the people were tempted to cut corners on what kinds of offerings were offered to the Lord.  Sometimes people offered sacrifices to other gods.

If you'd like some specific cases When your meal ticket comes through the sacrificial system
A good deal of what some believe constitutes a "prophetic" role taken by pastors is more demonstrably illustrated to be things done by priests if we take the scriptures at their most literal level.  So if what gets described in Munson's shorthand as "prophetic" fits what the Bible actually describes about the priesthood then what were prophets supposed to actually do?  To be continued.

Prophets, Priests, and Kings: some coursework

from The Christian Post June 18, 2009
Aaron J. Leichman

Mars Hill Church, the Seattle megachurch of pastor Mark Driscoll, plans to open a school this fall that hopes to eventually help develop thousands of new and existing pastors and deacons with a passion for the gospel, a love for people, and a heart for Jesus and his church.


“Re:Train represents a significant effort to build a lasting legacy out of the ministry of Mars Hill Church in obedience to the Great Commission,” Mars Hill leaders reported. “People need Jesus, and we’ve been called as a church to aggressively expand the preaching of the gospel and to train other leaders to do the same.”

Led by Pastor Rick Melson, Mars Hill's Campus Network leader, Re:Train offers a 36-hour graduate program that the church describes as reformed, urban, and missional.

Of the alumni who have shared public testimony about the nature and content of the Master in Missional Leadership from the Resurgence Training Center none has provided a more comprehensive insight into the course materials than Chris Blackstone.  Even this simple list of books with reviews using five-star rating system is of at least some use to those moderately read in Christian publications.

Re:Train Book List

Here are all the books we’ve read for Re:Train. It’s a long list with some outstanding books and some that were, at least to me, a little lacking. I’m try a quick rating system (out of *****). At some further date, I may add a fuller review of each book

Spiritual Formation and Disciplemaking taught by Pastor Bill Clem

 •Death By Love by Mark Driscoll – **
 •How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp – **
 •God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Story-Line of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts – ***

 •Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges – **

Missional Christology taught by Dr. Bruce Ware

 •Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology by Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler, eds. – * [WtH, wow ... Blackstone really didn't like this one]
 •Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles, and Relevance by Bruce A. Ware – *****
 •Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper – ****
 •Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach – ****

 •Vintage Jesus: Timeless Answers to Timely Questions by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears – **
 •Your Jesus is too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior by Jared C. Wilson – *

Missional Ecclesiology taught by Dr. Gregg Allison

 •Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears – **
 •The Assembly of “The Way”: The Doctrine of the Church, Foundations of Evangelical Theology by Gregg R. Allison (forthcoming from Crossway) – ****
 •Evangelical Ecclesiology: Reality or Illusion? by John G. Stackhouse, Jr., ed. – ***
 •The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit by Craig Van Gelder – ***

 •The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by Christopher J. H. Wright

Missional Missiology taught by Dr. Ed Stetzer

 • Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending Church in North America by Darryl Guder, ed. – ***
 • The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission by Lesslie Newbigin – ***
 •Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putmum – **

Missional Practicum taught by Mark Driscoll, Scott Thomas, and Jeff Vanderstelt

 •Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro – *
 •Confessions of a Reformission Rev. by Mark Driscoll – **
 •Humility: True Greatness by C. J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris – *****
 •One biography from this list (others were also approved including the Whitefield bio that I read – *****) 

Spurgeon: A New Biography by Arnold Dallimore
Jonathan Edwards: A Life by Gorge Mardsen
Luther: Man Between God and the Devil by Heiko Oberman and Eileen Walliser
Calvin by Bruce Gordon
John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait by William Bouwsma
John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life by Herman Selderhuis

Leader as Prophet taught by Dr. John Piper

 •The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper – ***
 •Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching by Graeme Goldsworthy – *****
 •Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon – ****
 •Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today by John Stott – ****

 •Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Leader as Priest taught by Dr. Sam Storms

 •A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ: 100 Daily Meditations on 2 Corinthians by Sam Storms – ***
 •Brothers, We are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical by John Piper – ****
 •The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift That Changes Everyting by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne - ****** (yes, I know 6 stars. It’s that good)

 •Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ by Sam Storms – ***
 •Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist by Sam Storms – *****

Leader as King taught by Rick Melson

 •Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership by Alexander Strauch – ***
 •Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders – ***
 •On Church Leadership by Mark Driscoll – **
 •The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni – **
 •Meetings That Work: A Guide to Effective Elders’ Meetings by Alexander Strauch – **
 •The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make by Hans Finzel – **

So, there you go.  Blackstone has provided what appears to be a comprehensive listing of the reading materials for the Master in Missional Theology program that was provided by the Resurgence Training Center for the 2009-2010 academic year.

A few things stand out for me.  One is that Blackstone seemed to hate Jared Wilson's book.  I have no idea why but that stuck out to me.  I've read and enjoyed some of Wilson's blogging over the last six years.  That Gospel Coalition affiliates would end up dominating the required reading list is not a surprise, at all.

For whatever reason Blackstone never rated a Driscoll book above 2 of 5 stars.  Let the reader speculate as to why.

So there, dear readers, are the listings for the pertinent courses on the leader as prophet, priest and king, along with the other course work on the other courses.

Having provided that reference there's time, we hope, to get back to Munson's summation of what the three roles entail.  Time permitting some discussion of Rick Melson's role in the Resurgence Training Center may get some discussion.  He was heading up Re:Train at the time the course work seems to have been developed.  He was listed as an executive elder during the time the program was developed and then after the students graduated (or at least a few of them did) it appears Melson's work was done and he went somewhere else.  But that's getting ahead of things.

Prophets, Priests and Kings: A short overview of the Re:Train 2009-2010 reading lists for the coursework

The first testimonial on how good Re:Train is comes from Jamie Munson, former executive elder at Mars Hill and current pastor (someone can look up which campus he's at now as he seemed to move from Shoreline to Ballard to Downtown or something in the last year).  Munson is described as a student but whether or not he actually earned a degree isn't mentioned.  In addition in to Munson's testimony are 

Mark Myles, who actually lists the degree in his resume::

There's an Acts 29 Network church planter who also had positive things to say about the program

Then there's Dr. Bruce Ware, who taught and developed course work there. Another testimonial comes from Dr. Gregg Allison and another from Dr. Sam Storms.

So there's a testimonial from Munson who took courses but may not have finished the program.  There's also testimony from at least three professors who themselves designed and taught the curriculum.  Then there's two guys who took the program, finished the degree, and have planted churches.  

There's at least one other person who seems to have gone to the Re:Train program and gotten the degree.  Mark Dunford

No mention of the Resurgence Training center in the LinkedIn profile but targeted resume-writing being the discipline it is this is understandable.  There seems to be a match for Dunford's professional work available here:

There's a jpg translation for those who might not have been able to read or open the pdf to the link above.  It looks like a match.  This would seem to be a match, too.

Whether or not this is exactly the same Mark Dunford (which is a relatively common name if you go looking for it, is left to reader discretion.

It would appear for the sake of observation that there's a Mark Dunford affiliated with Mars Hill who got a Master in Missional Leadership degree from the Resurgence Training Center.

There's a guy I haven't mentioned yet from the Re:Train testimonials named Chris Blackstone whose testimony does not focus so much on the coursework or content as the people he met there.  Fair enough. Blackstone has done us the favor of listing all the required and some of the optional reading for all the course work.  Whether or not this Mark Dunford was an executive assistant to Pastor Mark is interesting though somewhat moot.  

The main thing is there are a few people we can look up who have earned a Master in Missional Leadership from the Resurgence Training Center and have included it in their resumes at at least some point since earning the degree.  A few details of note:

from page 12

The program fee for the entire Master of Missional Leadership program (36 semester unists of graduate study) for the 2009-2010 academic year will be $7,500. Students from an Acts 29 church will rceive a $2,000 scholarship reducing the cost to $5500 and students from Mars Hill Church will receive a $4,000 scholarship reducing the cost to $3500. In order to receive the scholarship, the student must be a member of the church for at least one year prior to enrollment and submit a completed Church Affirmation form (available at 

Program fees do not include miscellaneous fees for travel, required textbooks, housing, and living expenses. Applicants accepted into the Master of Missional Leadership program may pay in full by August 1 or in 10 month installments (beginning August 1). 

A word about Mars Hill Church

Mars Hill Church lives for Jesus as a city within the city--knowing culture, lvoing people, and seeing lives transformed to live for Jesus. ...

really you probably can work out the rest so there's no need to quote it in great length.  It's of interest that the fee for students who were members of Mars Hill Church or Acts 29 churches got discounts of roughly 53% and 26% respectively.

From page 16

How is the Resurgence Training center governed?

The Resurgence Training Center is governed by the Executive Elders and the Board of Directors of Mars Hill Church. Rick Melson, an Executive Elder and the Executive Director of the Resurgence Training Center, will oversee the Board of Directors for the Resurgence Training Center and will serve as the liaison to the Executive Elders and Board of Directors of Mars Hill Church.

Who administrates, teaches, and coaches at the Resurgence Training Center?

The administrators, teachers, and coaches in the Resurgence Trianing Center are men who gladly embrace the Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement, and are members of Mars Hill Church or other like-minded congregations and institutions.

All professors will be chosen because of their exceptional knowledge in their respective field of study and their ability to teach in a useful and practical way. All professors will be academicians in well-respected institutions or practitionery scholars who have the appropriate teaching credentials.  

The teaching line-up has since changed significantly.  Rick Melson is no longer executive director, Justin Holcomb is.  Piper, Allison, and Ware are no longer teaching at Re:Train.  The new line-up is Driscoll, Ray Ortlund, Bryan Chapell, Justin Holcomb, Ed Welch, Jim Gilmore, Bill Clem, Dave Bruskas, Sutton Turner, Brad House, and Mike Wilkerson.

The course calendar looks very different for 2012 and nothing like a Master in anything degree is offered.


Bill Clem and Dr. Justin Holcomb
One-Week Intensive | August 13-17, 2012

When Jesus told his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19), he commissioned a disciple-making movement. This course explores the core identity of a disciple (imago dei, worship, community, and mission), as well as current distortions to this core identity in the Western church. Particular attention will be paid as to how and why disciples and disciplemaking need to be emphasized, and disciplemaking in the context of the Mission of God. The desired outcome is that each student will have a working knowledge of basic discipleship skills that can serve as a foundation for development in missional leadership. This is a 3 credit hour course.

Hermeneutics to Homiletics

Dr. Bryan Chapell, Dr. Ray Ortlund, and Dr. Justin Holcomb
Three Weekend Sessions | September 7-8, October 5-6, & November 9-10 2012

This course covers the principles and skills necessary to develop the student’s confidence and ability to rightly handle the Word of God in the context of ministry and leadership. This is a 3 credit hour course. This course has three essential components:
  • Hermeneutics: To be a faithful missional leader, one must faithfully read and interpret the Bible from a gospel-centered perspective. This component is taught by Dr. Justin Holcomb.
  • Biblical Theology: Developing a full understanding of the biblical narrative and its implications on teaching and leadership provides missional leaders faithful trajectories for ministry. This component is taught by Dr. Ray Ortlund.
  • Preaching & Teaching: Leaders lead through communication. Whether preaching from the pulpit or teaching in a small group setting, missional leaders must have the skills to rightly handle and communicate the truth of Scripture. This component is taught by Dr. Bryan Chapell.

Community and Counseling

Mike Wilkerson, Brad House, and Dr. Ed Welch
One-Week Intensive | January 14-18, 2013

This course is an overview of pastoral care, biblical and professional standards of ministerial conduct, interpersonal relationships, typical problem areas, and possible pitfalls for pastors. It will also cover counseling theory and practice and the role of counseling in public, private and church settings. Basic counseling skills taught in this course include interviewing, assessment, and listening. Application is made to premarital, marriage and family, crisis, grief, and substance abuse counseling. This is a 3 credit hour course.

Leadership Dynamics

Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas, Sutton Turner
Three Weekend Sessions | February 22-23, March 22-23, & April 19-20 2013

This course focuses on the various dynamics of missional leadership. Through interaction with leading practitioners, students are equipped to create & cast vision, address the complexities of team leadership, and develop the skills needed to move leadership theory into practice. The goal of this course is for students to be able to develop and implement a philosophy of ministry applicable to their contexts. This is a 3 credit hour course.

Now, there's a lot there that admittedly will interest virtually no one.  I mention it all because it establishes that Resurgence Training Center did offer a Master in Missional Leadership at one point.  There were three distinct courses on Leader as Prophet, Leader as Priest, and Leader as King.

What those courses were is yet to be delved into.  There's an alumni testimonial we haven't gotten to yet and that's Chris Blackstone.  Blackstone has provided enough insight into the nature of the reading list, if not the content of the course work, to merit a separate blog post.

Prophet, Priest and King--a sample overview from Jamie Munson of Mars Hill Church

Jamie Munson
Friday July 1, 2011

“Is there a test that will tell me if I’m more of a prophet, a priest, or a king?”

I’ve gotten this question a lot lately, and to my knowledge, no such assessment exists.[emphasis added] Most leaders, however, will recognize themselves quite readily in one of the three general profiles:

Until somebody builds a useful evaluation, I hope this chart can serve you well [emphasis added]—not as a way to force anyone into a pre-defined box, but as a way to help you build well-rounded teams and identify the areas where God has created you to thrive and take joy in your work. 


To find out more about prophet, priest, king, watch this leadership video from Pastor Mark Driscoll. Leadership coaching is free and open to everyone.

Which One Are You?

Church leadership focused on the message


leads through communication
larger audience
air war

Spiritual gifts:


Prone to Sin:

Self-righteous w/knowledge

Church leadership focused on the people


leads through relationships
care and shepherding
smaller audiences (one-on-one)
ground war

Spiritual gifts:


Prone to Sin:

tolerance of sin
lack of truth
self-righteous w/compassion or love

Church leadership focused on the tasks

leads through strategy
vision implementer
often behind the scenes
systems builder
resource manager

Spiritual gifts:


prone to sin:
rules (Methodolatry)
self-righteous w/policy

To Munson's knowledge in 2011 nobody had written an assessment of whether someone was a prophet, priest or king.  Okay, but if this were the case it would not be because no books on assessing spiritual gifts have been written and published in the last forty years.

I honestly wouldn't expect Munson to know about that stuff because he didn't grow up in a Christian home and wasn't exposed to popular fads in Christianity in America and he's probably not even lightly read on any discussions of spiritual gifts.  Those of us who grew up in a more Pentecostal/charismatic background were almost swamped with assessments and discussions.  Mars Hill is probably more Calvinist Baptist than anything and the tradition does not have a lengthy history of even granting a continuationist approach to pneumatology.  This could explain why there simply aren't any reference guides on whether one is a prophet, priest or king.  For that matter since many Christians have believed that Christ Himself fulfilled these offices perfectly (I hear rumors that someone named John Calvin articulated this view) that it's tough to claim that one can be any of these things in a meaningful way.

But it may be that some fashion of teaching about this stuff has existed in some fashion.

How about this?

Leader as Prophet

This course is the first in a series of three that focus on the tri-perspectival nature, aspects and attributes of God, namely, the three offices of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King.  According to John Frame, Christ's kingship represents his control, his prophetic office represents his authority as the word of God, and his priesthood represents his work on behalf of his people in history, or what Frame calls his presence. This course will focus on the pastor as prophet.

Leader as Priest

This course is the second in a series of threee .... 

Leader as King


Didn't Munson have some involvement with this?  Why, yes he did.

In 2009-2010 there was a program for a Master of Missional Leadership.  Three of the required courses in the master's program involved the above three courses.

Leader as Prophet was taught by John Piper
Leader as Priest was taught by Same Storms
Leader as King was taught by Rick Melson.

What was involved in these courses?  Does the Resurgence Training Center still offer a Master in Missional Leadership?  If Munson didn't think that an assessment existed it may be because no such assessment exists.  Why such an assessment would be needed in this context would be most explicable in terms of resumes for Mars Hill and Acts 29 church planters.

Now I haven't forsaken all my Pentecostal roots.  I do think that it is possible for Christians to serve in a variety of capacities and roles in the body of Christ.  Before attempting to discuss the three roles in any detail let's see if we can turn to some account of what how re:Train has fielded this stuff.  Mars Hill and its associates in the new Calvinist tribe seem to have done quite a bit to promote this taxonomy and it may be useful to provide an overview.  Fortunately as testimonials and alumni goes there's one person who has provided a decent thumbnail sketch of this stuff.

Prophets, Priests and Kings: Israelite offices and resume categories for American pastors

In 1984 David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates published the book Please Understand Me. This book sold a few copies.  Refining the ancient Hellenistic concept of the four temperaments Keirsey took Isabel Myers's temperament types into four temperaments as formulated by Ernst Kretschmer.  Hippocrates' ideas have come a long way.

Please Understand Me became a best-seller and numerous spin-offs were formulated for things ranging from professional assessment to ... spiritual gifts.  Now Keirsey's work prior to codifying ideas that turned into this best-seller included spending a good deal of time in his work as a psychologist assessing what we would now probably describe as "at risk youth".  That's to say he was looking to find out how to keep young people from becoming future criminals and temperament assessment, to this end, may have been a useful way of assessing which types of lads might one day end up in the slammer and how best to intervene before they became recurring wards of the state.

By the 1980s Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity were becoming the norm in the United States.  While in the 1950s the beginning of the Latter Rain kicked off it was in the 1960s the Charismatic movement proper begin.  David du Plessis shared practices and ideas of Pentecostal pneumatology with mainline Protestants, Anglicans and Catholics.  By the 1970s the Charismatic movement was expanding.  By the 1980s and 1990s charismatic and Pentecostal churches were, arguably, the mainstream of American Christian spirituality.  By the mid-1990s questionaires and books on assessing spiritual gifts were making the rounds.  I remember this because I saw some of them.  There were tests that could establish what your spiritual gift "probably" was.  I noticed that the materials that attempted to make this assessment bore a striking similarity to Keirsey's work.

Whereas in a Keirsey test you might be told you were an ENFJ or an INFP in this alternative you might be said to be a pastor with priestly gifts and if we throw in a few other things like The Five Love Languages you can add stuff to that.  We've gonoe past the point of discussing what prophets, priests and kings actually did and a fourth category of functionary within the Mosaic legal system the tribal judge or elder is completely eliminated from this judicial/spiritual taxonomy (excepting those who say heads of households somehow function in this way).

But as the three big categories go we're still not talking about offices fulfilled by Christ so much as codes or eumphemisms for skill sets that can be put on resumes.  As sometime lurker and commenter Headless Unicorn Guy might put it, here we were presented with Keirsey's temperament assessment matrix .... BUT CHRISTIAN. (TM)

Now here we are into the 21st century and it would seem that twenty years after Pentecostals began to replicate Keirsey's use of ideas from early 20th century psychological ideas derived from Carl Jung our comrades the neo-Calvinists, not to be outdone, have developed their own version of a Keirsey assessment matrix of a sort. Now it would not be a big deal for many Christians to consider whether they are sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, or melancholic but that all comes off as too medieval or Hellenistic for some Christians who would rather not use those categories (even though, arguably, they have a certain accuracy and usefulness to them).  It can be easier and more pious-looking to go with categories such as prophet, priest and king.

It's important to note that these are more or less Christianized variations on temperament/gift assessment and establish that through at least some examples before attempting to illustrate that this is not a particularly accurate or clear way of discussing those roles.  Yes, it is recognized within this fad that people may display a variety of gifts to a variety of levels and that's commendable as far as it goes.  I think we can demonstrate from an actual examination of biblical texts, however, that the fundamental nature of some of the categories "prophet", "priest" and "king" are not exactly a great fit with what we can see in the texts themselves.  I may be a Protestant but I'm going to say at the outset that there's a good chunk that some Protestants call "prophetic" with respect to pastors that is wrong and that the Catholics and Orthodox (and likely Anglicans) are right to say there are lots of things pastors do that are priestly roles.  Ergo, they've got priests because they remember what the weight of biblical evidence actually indicates about the pastoral role.

But first let's turn to a case study of how prophet, priest and king have been employed as categories of discussing pastoral roles or functions.

Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire Part 6, "Crossing Thresholds" has begun

As ever, remorselessly nerdy, today's installment celebrates the 20th anniversary of the classic cartoon and opens up with select quotes from Soviet dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and German biblical scholar Adolf Schlatter (one of the instructors of Dietrich Bonhoeffer).  Today's topic?  Two-Face, one of my favorite Batman villains and it would be impossible to imagine a short series dedicated to tales of apostasy and salvation in Gotham without starting with Harvey Dent's sad descent into madness and criminality.

Future installments plan on dealing, if somewhat obliquely, with synergistic and monergistic soteriology.  This is, after all, a giant series of essays written for Mockingbird, right? :)  It's never too late to introduce those sorts of themes into essays about Batman, and there's a spoiler in there for who I'll be discussing in the next installment.

Escapist Magazine: Happy Birthday Mr. Wayne (it's the 20th anniversary of Batman: the animated series, after all)

A friend of mine ran this one by me and it's a nice overview of the popularity, influence and significance of Batman: the animated series on our cultural imagination of the Caped Crusader. You didn't think I was only going to link to my own stuff about Batman, did you?

Although ...

A link from over at the Boar's Head Tavern: Tutu, Blair and the Sexing Up of Guilt

You might think that the war was horrible. I do.
You might wish that we had never gone there. I do.
You might feel sickened by every fruitless injury or death or displacement. I do.
You might feel that the 45-minute “sexing up” of the WMD threat was regrettable. I do.
You might wish that Tony Blair had been more of his own man vis-a-vis Bush. I do.
You might wish that Tony Blair had insisted on buying the weapons inspectors more time.
You might wish that Tony Blair had been more open about his desire for regime change.
You might feel angry about, and ashamed of, the whole thing.

But there is no evidence that Tony Blair lied about the suspected presence of WMD. Is there?

Minghella adds more.

When politicians do things in our name with which we violently disagree; when they do it despite clear and overwhelming lack of popular support; when they do it anyway and it all goes wrong in the most horrific way, we want to express our shame, frustration and anger.

We want to show that we are good, loving members of Tutu’s human brotherhood. Built, as he says, for goodness. We want to put a distance between ourselves and what went wrong. We want to show our credentials as well-meaning pacifists. We want to show, especially if we are on the left, that we don’t automatically and naively accept everything that was done by a left-wing party. We’re better, cleverer, and, above all, sorrier than that.

So fierce is the shame, so repellent is the human cost, that it feels easy and uncontroversial to go the next step and call the man in the middle of the mess a liar.

To scream for vengeance, court and criminality.

It’s certainly therapeutic.

But to go down this path without solid evidence – the sexing up of guilt – is not the action of caring, thoughtful, built-for-goodness folk.

The sexing up of guilt is something that has been on my mind a lot over the last six years.  Longtime readers won't have to wonder very long as to why.  What I am getting at particularly is what I have called a practice of imputing comprehensive guilt by tangential association.  If something angers you then anyone and everyone who doesn't explicitly oppose that thing in the terms you would prefer has to approve of what has gone on that you disapprove of or, worse, been an active supporter or conspirator in the thing.

The trouble with that is that is that there are times when, as certain prophets used to put it, no one has clean hands.  When Christians cite biblical texts that say "All we, like sheep, have gone astray" or "There is none that is righteous, not even one." we seem to mean that in some abstract sort of way in which we academically acknowledge that this would be true about us, too, but not in the particular situation in which we found ourselves and opted to exercise our moral indignation.  One person's legitimate advocacy can be perceived as another person's cronyism.  One person's legitimate exercise of authority for the benefit of a community gets perceived as another person's abuse of illegitimate authority.  One person's desire to defend due process and review gets described by another person as defiantly working against the interests of an organization.  One person's desire to have serious discussion of problems in proposed structural changes gets, somewhat notoriously, described as "sinning through questioning".

One substantial reason the bromide of "there are two sides to every story" rings so hollow for me this year is that if we appreciate the warnings of scripture as being as significant as they are then we should  know better than to automatically put ourselves on the side of the righteous.  The sliding scale version of the law will always exonerate us if we choose to only measure ourselves on a curve while measuring everyone else by the unadjusted standard. I've seen more than a few cases in which people who were upset about injustice through cronyism, weight-throwing, judgment, and exclusion were themselves remarkably prone to these things themselves.  It was a problem in me, too, it took me a while to understand it.

The temptation to sex up guilt is very real and it's easy to fall sway to.  We want, some of us, to give in to this because if we sex up the guilt then, we like to tell ourselves, we're being prophetic.  But this would be to misrepresent the nature of the prophetic office or activity, something that's easy for Christians to do because the prophets are difficult to read and easily understand.  Many invectives penned by prophets deal with scathing criticisms of policies and people in power where it's not immediately clear what's going on.  Adding still further possibility for confusion is the fact that flesh and blood men who were the targets of these criticisms tend to be missed in a rush to make sure the Bible is "all about Jesus" (which is still true) without having established a more basic exegetical and historical background for who was the initial and literal subject of a couple of famous prophetic passages.  I don't intend to digress on the Light-bearer or the rulers of Tyre just here, though.

But you may notice from that pair of references that prophetic denunciation often begins from a point of understanding that the abuse of power is criticized through an understanding of the proper domain and use of power.  What is also frequently forgotten in a hermeneutic of interpreting all prophecy as fulfilled in Jesus is that the aim of prophetic criticism in its time was to invite and incite repentance.  Yes, we know the propehts got ignored and killed but the invitation to repent was still on offer (though the book of Jeremiah may be considered the giant exception that proves the rather broad rule).  There were times when propehts declared that God's people had been so cavalier in presuming upon the mercy of God, presuming on divine favor through having institutions like the Temple or the Law that they needed to be told that their sacrifices were injustices and that their scribes had perverted even the scriptures themselves into lies.

In another simplification of biblical categories that I mean to write on some more it can be easy to think of a few roles in grossly simplified terms.  Here I speak of prophets, priests and kings.  That I prefer to save for some other posts.