Saturday, September 22, 2012

oblique motion, friend of singers like Bob Dylan, applied harmony

One of those canards beloved by lazy music students who don't want to learn theory is to ask, "When will I ever use this stuff?"  The canard is predicated on an understandable but ultimately silly idea that may be described as a cognitive bias and this cognitive bias could be summed up by Daniel Kahneman as "What You See is All There Is".  Because beginning instrumentalists and theory students don't realize they are already making use of applied harmony any time they strum a guitar or tickle the ivories they assume (wrongly) that they're never going to use certain abstruse concepts about manipulating physical objects so that the air vibrates in such a way as to transmit certain sounds.

But let's break it down for you folks, harmony is a part of music that you can use to your advantage.  Let's say that you're a slightly better rhythm guitarist than you are a singer and you want some momentum in your song but won't be able to do a Mariah Carey thing like exploiting your multi-octave voice.  Let's say you're Bob Dylan and you want the song to move forward with some energy but you're vocal range is "maybe" useful within an octave or a perfect fifth.

Harmony is your friend and a particular approach to harmonic movement known as "oblique motion" can save the day.

Let's take Dylan's classic tune "Like a Rolling Stone".  Ignore some of those fake books that give you just three chords and go back and listen to the recording.  Listen to the guitar part coupled with the organ.  You're going to hear Bob and company stroll through the first five chords of C major.

We get Bob wailing away on that one note with "Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime in your prime ... ".  Now what's going on as Bob hammers on that one note?  He's strumming the chords C major, D minor, E minor, F major and by the time he gets to G major he jumps up from his one note to a tone a major third above the tonic pedal tone (i.e. that note he keeps singing as the chords change underneath his voice).

You know what Bob just did there?  It's called oblique motion.  His voice sits at the top and the harmonic forces in play keep shifting upward beneath his singing.  In music theory terms we're given a simple upward transition from the tonic (C major) through the supertonic (D minor), the mediant (E minor), the subdominant (F major) and finally reach the dominant (G major).  In Roman numeral paralance that's I, ii, iii, IV and V.  What happens after V?  The cycle starts all over again.

Now I happen to be a Dylan fan so don't take this the wrong way but when you're possessed of Dylan's voice oblique motion is a harmonic approach where you can exploit you're being a better guitarist than a singer to add momentum in the rhythm section when you know you don't have the greatest singing range.

Oblique motion doesn't have to be restricted within a major or minor key.  In blues you could be in C major and jump to an E flat major chord or a B flat major chord while still singing your ditty in C major.  If you were a composer in a Tin Pan Alley or vaudeville setting and a capable pianist working with a lot of singers without formal training or a limited range then you could compose a simple diatonic melody and have all sorts of killer chromatic alterations to the harmony that give depth and musical drama to a vocal line that might be rudimentary.  If you have a hard time imagining how that might actually sound go digging through Gershwin's song book.  I assure you that a variety of examples will present themselves to you before long.

People already possessed of fantastic singing voices might be tempted to say that manipulating harmonic movement in this way could be the shortcut of less capable singers.  Well, yeah, that would be true but by the same polemical token it could be pointed out that singers who could be described as multi-octave divas have often succumbed to the temptation of the same old three chords and presuming that their perorations of melody will somehow carry the day and make people want to listen to them squeal with amorous joy or whatever a la Mariah Carey (and, to be fair, there's been a market for that sort of music for decades, it's just not stuff I like to listen to).

There's other stuff about applied harmony I've been thinking of blogging about but I'll leave oblique motion at this case study for now.  If you're a musician working with a singer who has trouble going behind his or her narrow singing range and just can't make it then what you can do as a performer or arranger is accept this fact and find ways to add harmonic momentum to a song by providing a dramatic musical change in the supporting harmony the singer wouldn't be able to bring to the situation.  How and why you do that would be up to you, of course, but we can broadly propose that, at the risk of gross simplification, most applied harmony in popular musical styles is about how you mess around with subdominant substitutes.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mark Driscoll--FY2012 has been the best year ever

They were so excited about the annual report for FY2011 (which apparently included the film on a DVD that is called God's Work, Our Witness that Are Women Human blogged about)

... And in that same spirit, we like to notify the church of how things are going. That includes monthly updates for all of Mars Hill. In one sense, we’re one church, in another sense, we’re fourteen local churches scattered across four different states, and pregnant with five more churches, hopefully to be birthed in about a year. And what we like to do is give a global update for how Mars Hill is doing, and then also allow the lead pastors of each local church to give a local update for how things are going at that particular location.

Our fiscal year, our budget year, runs from July through June, so we just finished our fiscal year, and those who are administratively gifted and allow us to steward the resources that God has given us, have put together a final year-end report, and I’m really excited to share it with you.
Before I get into the details, let me just say, we have just completed the greatest year in the history of Mars Hill Church, any single way you measure it: number of people, number of baptisms, number of Community Groups, number of people in Community Groups, number of Redemption Groups, number of people in Redemption Groups, number of weddings, number of children, number of services, number of locations. Whatever variable you would take a look at, it’s the highest it’s ever been.

In the fifteen years of Mars Hill Church, we’ve just completed the greatest year we’ve ever had, and I can say with full confidence, it’s firstfruits and there’s much, much more to come. So, I want to start by saying thank you, Lord Jesus, for loving Mars Hill Church. And I want to thank you who love Mars Hill Church, and some of Jesus’ love is coming through you as you give, as you serve, as you pray, as you care.


Just off the top of my head, I know that Pastor Sutton Turner, your executive pastor, is negotiating deals for Mars Hill Everett, as they’ve outgrown their kid’s space, Mars Hill Downtown, as they’re at five services having outgrown their facility as well, in negotiations for Mars Hill Orange County, also in negotiations for Mars Hill Federal Way, also hoping, trusting, praying that we’ll be able to open Mars Hill Tacoma, Mars Hill Renton, Mars Hill Kirkland/Bothell-ish, and so lots of real estate negotiations in play, in addition to others that I’m sure that I’ve forgotten. But, just be in prayer for that, that we would have the space to see more people come to church and come to Jesus.

The greatest year ever?  So Mars Hill Orange County getting served an eviction notice didn't slow the roll?  So news of Andrew's disciplinary case hitting the media wasn't a problem?  The eruption of documents from former pastor Paul Petry documenting how the 2007 firings were handled didn't chill the vibe?

How many people got laid off at in the first half of 2012?  Who got laid off and who quit?  Who got fired?  At least two if PR statements are to be believed. The two people on staff who got canned some time in 2011 for "overstepping spiritual authority"?  What about Lance?  How about the trademark/logo snafu?  Anyone else notice Chris Pledger (who was involved in that situation) is no longer working at Mars Hill?

Now in all the buzz Driscoll drummed up about "best year ever" he mentioned a monthly uptick in average member giving.  Did anyone else notice a conspicuous absence of financial statistics and figures in there?  Monthly giving?  So what?  What about annual and monthly expenses?  What about that big old grid and report from June 2012?  What about those deficits mentioned in the June 2012 "Church update"?  What about the concession that Mars Hill had a financial model that was not viable for the future?  Was that part of this "greatest year ever" spiel? Congratulations, Mars Hill, your lead pastor admitted you've had leaders who pursued a financial model that was unsustainable but, guess what?  It's still the greatest year ever?

Greatest years ever are not just measured by an uptick in monthly donations. What about that eviction notice?  By now we don't just have Joyful Exiles, Chris Rosebrough at Fighting for the Faith broadcast Driscoll saying, with a chuckle, "There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus ... ."  That stuff had to have come from someone who was at one point deep inside the organization.  Andrew didn't come forward and somehow break his privacy as though Mars Hill were "protecting" his reputation.  Something got posted to The City and then someone who was still inside the Mars Hill scene forwarded that document to Andrew.  Mars Hill insiders ended up handing outsiders evidence of overboard church discipline on the one hand and of a Mark Driscoll from 2007 who chuckled about a pile of dead bodies.  Mars Hill suspended its entire campus blog and blog archive network this year.  If this is the greatest year ever what's with the unprecedented information suppression in the wake of significantly incriminating information hemmorhaging through the stories of former members of Mars Hill?

If FY2012 was the best year ever we can look forward to an amazing actual annual report instead of stories about teenagers at youth retreats.  There's nothing wrong with that but there's nothing inherently special about it, either.  Lots of churches have done some neat youth retreats.  I went to a few myself when I was a teenager.  It happens.  How much did renting the city of Ephesus actually cost, since Driscoll made a point of talking about it?  How much did it cost to make those "epic" films?

Last year's annual report came very late in the calendar year.  This year's annual report for FY2012 may take a while though it's hard to see why that would be.  The earlier reports popped up quickly after the end of the actual fiscal year. If this was the best year ever the numbers will tell us so, and not just the numbers showing an uptick between May and July in average giving.  That will have been for not if expenses and liabilities outpaced congregational generosity.  For the moment things are sort of like Mark Driscoll talking about his work as a journalist, he can say he did it but the by-lines weren't produced and editorial columns through being a local celebrity do not an actual journalist make.  By analogy, saying that FY2012 was the best year ever has to get back up at some point.  If a pastor like Chad Toulouse gets mentioned as being on a finance committee to keep executive elders and others accountable and then unaccountably vanishes that, too, is part of the story of FY2012.  Same for the disappearance of James Noriega despite having been plugged by Driscoll a few times in sermons from 2006 and 2007 and then promoted to co-leading Redemption Groups with Mike Wilkerson.  For the moment it looks like FY2012 was an explosive year and not just for the church growth metrics.

Keep your eyes open for that FY2012 annual report when it finally arrives.

Robert Cargill on The Gospel of Jesus Wife Announcement

It will be interesting to see the case made for the authenticity of the fragment and translation of the text, as well as whether the fact that the manuscript is unprovenanced, was acquired from an antiquities dealer, and that the present owner wants to sell the document to Harvard adversely affects the credibility of the discovery

HT Jim West: The Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment may just be a modern forgery made by someone bad at Coptic--Francis Watson's case

BrianD, I saw those links on Linkathon and I'm posting this contribution with a hat tip to biblioblogger Jim West.  Francis Watson makes the case that the supposedly new discovery comes off like a badly cobbled together forgery using lines from the Gospel of Thomas by someone who doesn't really grasp Coptic. Since Watson does us the favor of a line-by-line breakdown of the alleged discovery and how it compares to the Gospel of Thomas it's a useful reference.  I read through F. F. Bruce's old survey of the Gospel of Thomas and was surprised at the overlap even though Watson tips us off early that it looks like this discovery is not genuine and that King's initial skepticism would be the right way to proceed.

If you want to read it yourself it's only six pages and while there's a bunch of languages in there you may not know Watson fairly says that you don't need to know Coptic to follow the case.

Internet Monk: Thom Rainer on Megachurches

Rainer mentions seven trends, noted summarily as:
1. Further consolidation of people attending church in megachurches and other large churches
2. A significant increase in the number of megachurches in America
3. An increased interest in the long-term sustainability of the megachurch
(The ten largest U.S. churches in 1969 are not in the largest now, which raises the question of how sustainable the megachurch model is)
4. More youthful megachurch pastors
5. More multi-venue, multi-campus churches
6. A greater interest in groups (i.e. small groups, community groups, maybe throw in Redemption Groups since there's a push for that in some circles)
7. A greater interest in the source of growth of megachurches.

As has been suggested a time or two here at Wenatchee The Hatchet we may be in a time in which there are a few closet-case denominations.  Mars Hill and Acts 29 may protest they are not a denomination but a movement of like-minded churches that span denominational and confessional boundaries.  They are "Reformed" and "evangelical" and "missional" and "complementarian".  You can even cite those words without quotes if you like.

But here's the thing to keep in mind, they can say over and over they don't function like a denomination but let's consider some reference cases.

Four of our churches, however, are a result of mergers.

Mars Hill Bellevue

In the mid-2000s, a Mars Hill elder planted church on the Eastside of the greater Seattle area called The Vine. This plant was led by a Mars Hill pastor at the time, Jesse Winkler. The Vine started with a small core group from Mars Hill and eventually grew to be somewhere between 100 to 200 people.
Many people from that area were still driving into Seattle to attend Mars Hill in Ballard, and the number of people grew so large that we decided to consider planting a church east of Seattle. We met with Winkler and asked him if he wanted to continue as an independent church with us planting another one far enough away from his church so as to not drain his people, or if he wanted to become a Mars Hill Church. He took some time to fast and pray, seeking God’s will, and was convinced God was asking him to partner with Mars Hill to lead one church made up of people from The Vine and Mars Hill. The Vine church became Mars Hill Eastside in 2008, which eventually became Mars Hill Bellevue.

After the merger, the church saw immediate growth, going from 200 people to over 500 people almost overnight. Some Sundays, men were asked to stand outside in the wet and cold of Seattle to listen via speaker because we couldn't fit everyone into the small funeral home in which the church met for the multiple services. Since then, there has been much fruit, as Mars Hill Downtown Bellevue just moved into a new building in the heart of Downtown Bellevue and is seeing over 2,000 people worship Jesus and serve the surrounding community, hundreds of which are a result of new Christians who met Jesus and were baptized at Mars Hill Bellevue.

Additionally, Mars Hill Bellevue, along with some other Acts 29 churches, helped fund Westview Church in San Diego, California, with Pastor Jesse spearheading that plant. And the church has sent a core group of a couple hundred over to our newest location, Mars Hill Sammamish (which I’ll talk about later in this post).

The Vine got big enough that it was noteworthy.  It was a Mars Hill church plant.  Let's not overlook the obvious here.  When a Mars Hill pastor goes and plants a church, it does well, and it gets assimilated into Mars Hill at a formal level this is not a church merger in the sense that two distinct entities have merged.  The community was re-assimilated back into the parent/originating entity. For folks curious as to where Jesse Winkler went after the assimilation happened Driscoll provided a link to where Winkler went.  For sake of overview, it "looks" like a church merger but bringing the church plant of a Mars Hill pastor formally into the fold could be seen as formalizing a distinction that was not really a difference to begin with.

Now then there's ...

Mars Hill West Seattle

Mars Hill West Seattle was a result of conversations I had with Pastor Bill Clem, who now leads our Ballard church. Bill planted Doxa Fellowship in West Seattle after having served as the North American Director for Sonlife Ministries, a national discipleship ministry. The church was part of the Acts 29 network and running under 100 people when Bill and I began talking.

At the time, Bill’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, from which she eventually passed away. I called up Bill to offer support for the tough battle he and his wife were facing, and I also asked if he’d be open to letting us use Doxa’s building on Sunday mornings, as Doxa was only meeting on Sunday nights.
Eventually, as our church met in his building in the mornings, as we talked more and more, and as Bill’s wife faced a continuing and difficult battle with cancer, Doxa decided to merge with Mars Hill and become part of our church. We gave Bill many months off, paid him a full salary, and let him care for his dying wife and get a break from the exhausting work he’d undertaken in planting a church with an often bedridden wife. Her funeral was held in the church building that Pastor Bill had been given, and once he was ready, he started working for Mars Hill and is now our lead pastor at our biggest church, Mars Hill Ballard. Additionally, he has published the book Discipleship for us, and is the Northwest regional director for Acts 29.

The old church building we inherited needed a lot of work. So, the people of Mars Hill generously gave $1.8 million in one massive special offering to renovate it. It’s been a great transition over the last five years or so, with the church growing from less than 100 people to now well over 700 people coming together to worship Jesus and serve the West Seattle area, many of whom are new believers who’ve met Jesus and been baptized at Mars Hill West Seattle. Not only that, Mars Hill West Seattle has gone from being a church plant to planting churches, having planted Mars Hill Federal Way in 2009.
“As I look back in the rear view mirror,” says Pastor Bill, “I’d do it all over again. Because I see where we’re going and what [Doxa] was doing. That [Doxa] was following Jesus as [their] senior pastor.”

James Noriega gets no mention in this process.  That might have been because by November 2011 Noriega had been fired.  It was apparently also in late 2011 that the disciplinary case of Andrew was beginning to take shape but consult Matthew Paul Turner's blog for that story.  It's simply a coincidence and not necessarily pertinent to Driscoll's plug for church mergers.

What is relevant is that former pastor James Noriega and Pastor Bill Clem played the role of getting Doxa to Mars Hill and were pastors at a church with real estate Driscoll had wanted for Mars Hill for ten years. Driscoll shared in "One Body Many Parts" he'd wanted the real estate that Doxa was sitting on for Mars Hill for a decade.  He also mentioned a rent-free arrangement with CRISTA ministries that let Mars Hill use Schirmer Auditorium for free.  Tim Beltz was Chief Operations Officer at CRISTA around the time that deal was brokered, though whether or not he was involved in the deal never has been discussed.  Beltz did, however, get ordained as a pastor and executive elder at Mars Hill in October 2007 even though by the by-laws in place at the time he couldn't have been considered eligible to be an executive elder.  But you can dig through the real estate and Mars Hill tagged posts for that.

Next ...

Mars Hill Albuquerque

In 2009, Pastor Dave Bruskas, planter and lead pastor of City on a Hill in Albuquerque, New Mexico, began talks with us on merging the church he’d pastored for over 10 years with Mars Hill Church and becoming our first out of state church.

At the time, City on a Hill was running over a 275 people, healthy, and doing good ministry in their city. There was lots of discussion as to whether the merger was the right move, but as Pastor Dave relates, “One question rose above all the others as most important: ‘Would more people meet Jesus if we went through with this?’ After months of deliberation, the leaders of both churches unanimously answered that question with a resounding ‘Yes!’”

The driving force behind the merger between Mars Hill Church and City on a Hill was one of shared mission. Our desire was to see as many people as possible in the city of Albuquerque meet Jesus, and we both felt strongly that this could be accomplished better together than apart.

God has been gracious to us. Today, Mars Hill Albuquerque has over 800 people meeting to worship together and serve their community each week. And we thank God that 250 people have met Jesus and been baptized at Mars Hill Albuquerque since the merger in 2009. Today, the church has outgrown its building and is officially replanting in a new larger building on December 11. Pastor Dave is now an executive elder at Mars Hill, the #2 ranking pastor in all of Mars Hill, and a tremendous gift to our church.

Do you wonder if perhaps by now there might be something Driscoll neglected to mention in this piece about City on a Hill?  If you were to guess that the thing Driscoll didn't mention is that City on a hill was an Acts 29 church plant ...
May 3, 2009

about 4:30 into the sermon

City on a Hill is a church planted through the Acts 29 Network by Pastor Dave Bruskas. He's a great guy. Really great guy. Years ago he was actually on staff in the building our Lake City  campus actually meets at. He has planted his church in Albuquerque. It's going really well. There are over 400 people. Great church. Doing very well. Bilingual, multiethnic, eldership. Really cool things happening. And they have agreed to partner with us. We praise God for that.  We rejoice in that. So they have announced to their people officially today that they're becoming a Mars Hill campus. 

And what this means is that we hope to establish them as a regional hub to plant campuses of Mars Hill and churches of Acts 29 all over the Southeast, including into Mexico. Some of their elders are bilingual and are able to minister across cultural contexts and we praise God for that. As well at least one of their primary leaders is part of a Native American nation, tribe, and has full rights to potentially even plant a church in that context so it opens up some wonderful opportunities that we praise God for. 

Hmm ... so City on a Hill was an Acts 29 church plant and it was planted in 2009 and it was 400 people by May 3, 2009 based on what Driscoll indicated in his sermon and lo they decided to partner with Mars Hill and now Dave Bruskas is an executive elder.  Tim Beltz was Chief Operations Officers for CRISTA Ministries during the years in which Mars Hill was given free access (in apparently all senses of the term "free" to go by what Driscoll said in "One Body, Many Parts") and then Beltz ends up an instant executive elder at Mars Hill in October 2007 having been attending the church since apparently about 2004.

So if City on a Hill was an Acts 29 church plant that started in 2009 and in 2009 was swiftly assimilated into the Mars Hill fold where Dave Bruskas ended up being an executive elder then the pattern with the church mergers Driscoll cited in November 2011 would seem to be that the boundary between an Acts 29 church plant and Mars Hill is very permeable if the real estate is at a hot location and the church could be considered a hub for further expansion. Fair enough ... but the pitch for how much Jesus loves church mergers might have come across as a bit more above board if Driscoll said, "We love assimilating Acts 29 church plants and Mars Hill church plants back into our organization as we expand and outsiders shouldn't have a problem with that."

So that gets us to Mars Hill Sammamish.  Be warned a few of the links Driscoll uses have ended up dead.  The campus blog archives and blogs were all taken down in early 2012.  That might have been because of the massive amount of information about campus pastors and their wives and children and stepchildren.  Maybe Mars Hill took all that stuff down out of a concern that if Andrew's story had gone public that identifying which pastor and stepdaughter/daughter he was dating would have only taken forty seconds to discover on-line.  That would have been a legitimate concern.  Too bad for Mars Hill all the information got blogged and tweeted and mentioned in sermons and in media coverage over the course of eight years anyway.  Connecting the dots is simply a matter of a bit of time, patience and knowing how to use some rudimentary search tools.  No, I'm not going to tell you who the people are.  If you already know you already know and if you don't already know it isn't material to a discussion of how Mars Hill assimilated Acts 29 and Mars Hill church plants back into its umbrella.

But Sammamish is a bit different.

Mars Hill Sammamish

The newest church at Mars Hill is also the result of a merger between Evergreen Christian Fellowship in Sammamish, about 30 minutes east of Seattle, and Mars Hill. This is still breaking news, as it was announced just a few weeks ago and will be officially launched as Mars Hill Sammamish on January 15, 2012.

Evergreen Christian Fellowship (ECF) was a once larger church that was facing some financial difficulties as they had a newer building on over 10 acres on the plateau east of Bellevue, Washington. ECF was comprised about over 100 great, God-fearing, Bible-loving Christians who have a passion for the city of Sammamish and the surrounding area.

Facing some loses in leadership (they had no lead pastor) and some financial struggles, they reached out to us to see if a merger would be a possibility. It was a grace bomb that dropped out of nowhere for us. [don't bother following the link, it's dead and drops to the church calendar]

Through our talks, we decided to merge, as we share the same biblical convictions and both share a commitment to the same mission of seeing as many people as possible on the Sammamish Plateau meet Jesus.

“Our ministry and our mission and vision statements have been very similar, so that’s why we pursued Mars Hill,” says Guy Dalrymple, who chaired ECF’s transition team. [same dead link, same don't bother] “We had other options, but the core principles and the core doctrine between our two churches were very similar, and that’s what was really enthusiastic and that’s what drew us to Mars Hill.”

We’ve not even launched yet, but the response has been amazing. Last Sunday, we installed the first roughly 100 members of Mars Hill Sammamish and nearly all of them were the former members of ECF. I preached there live, and we had 1,100 people! The church does not even launch officially until January 15, 2012, but it’s rocketing off to an amazing start thanks in part to the hundreds of people from Mars Hill Bellevue who live nearby and moved over to Mars Hill Sammamish.

“This could have been a really sad story, a good church forced to shut its doors,” says Sam DeLay [tje same dead link], a Mars Hill leader who will serve on staff at the Sammamish location, “but God has redeemed that story. Together, we now have a great opportunity to serve this community for a long time.”

For a summary of the January 2012 opening of Mars Hill Sammamish go here.
For local coverage of how the decision was arrived at on the part of Evergreen Christian Fellowship go here and here.  Short summary for people who don't follow links, ECF was a church plant from the 1990s that used land donated by Overlake Christian Church (yeah, that one for the locals for the rest the sex scandal won't be hard to research). ECF got halfway through projected building before basically running out of money.  Needing some help they turned to Mars Hill Church which purchased the real estate (yeah ... expect this to get further discussion in a certain set of posts at this blog at some unspecified point in the future).

So in this case we've finally gotten to a church merger in which what was merged into Mars Hill was an actually (apparently) different church from an Acts 29 plant or a Mars Hill plant.  As Driscoll described it, the thing came as a surprise (because it was an idea he didn't think of, possibly?).

It would appear that Ghioni and company at Evergreen Christian Fellowship had their own transition committee and had done a lot of the work in advance.  If so then why wouldn't Mars Hill agree to a church merger where the legwork had been done in advance and they were approached as the favored candidate.  All they may have had to do was just buy the property that ECF may have been half-way to purchasing anyway.  If the land was donated by Overlake (a church that has not been in the greatest of shape since the sex scandal) it was going to be a genuinely beneficial deal for the parties involved, wouldn't it?

With so many campuses, though, Mars Hill can't consider itself a non-denominational church forever.  Institutionally it's becoming more and more in functionality what it has already effectively been, a denomination.  But for a guy like Driscoll who has spent years talking about how denominations are on the wane and with Mars Hill leaders preferring to speak of their thing as a "movement" rather than an institution Mars Hill may be a conspicuous case study in what may be described as a denominational closet case.  The boundaries between Mars Hill and Acts 29 seem pretty permeable.  This wouldn't just be the case because Jesse Winkler, Bill Clem and Dave Bruskas did church plants that were assimilated into Mars Hill.

It seems the boundaries between Mars Hill and Acts 29 churches are permeable on the basis of former Mars Hill pastor Scott Thomas landing a job at The Journey having served as president of Acts 29 and as executive elder at Mars Hill.  Shuffling leaders within and across administrative roles and regional boundaries is one of those things that is characteristic of institutions, and of denominations with some long-standing.  When Mars Hill Lake City got shut down a number of its leaders were shuffled over to Mars Hill Shoreline.  When some blogger documented that James Noriega was no longer employed as a pastor by Mars Hill West Seattle Pastor Tim Beltz, within a week, was popping up over at Mars Hill Downtown.

Driscoll opted to field a rhetorical question, "Why the negativity?"  He proposed that "merger" was simply an unappealing term. He went on to talk about "missional mergers" and mentions that Sammamish happened because of a financial struggle.  West Seattle was because of personal loss on the part of Bill Clem (the way Driscoll phrased it you might have assumed Jeannie was already dead but she died a few years later--Clem was given a full salary and the option to not work for months at a time and in exchange would run the Ballard campus.  Driscoll was able to get a piece of real estate he admitted he'd wanted for Mars Hill for ten years).  City on a Hill was seen, by Driscoll's mention of it in  a sermon in the 1 Peter series, as a great place to form a hub for regional expansion.

Driscoll's case that mergers are likely to increase because there are fewer younger people and these are less likely to be in church may have some merit if one's goal is ensuring the continuance of the megachurch paradigm.  I'm still not convinced and in the case of a man and a ministry like Mark Driscoll the long-term legacy of a place like Mars Hill "could" be reaching countless for Jesus or the age of the internet and a cult of personality as a substitute for responsible biblical expository teaching or (to borrow Lutheran ideas) proper administration of the sacraments could make the regions in which Mars Hill has influence a new kind of burned-over district in which people want "gifted" speakers more than competent biblical scholars and the giddy rush of mass musical events becomes a substitute for what in Pentecostal circles might have been called "annointed" experience.  Driscoll has said he's a charismatic with a seatbelt but the visions ... are best left undiscussed in this post.

So churches have taken a hit since the real estate bubble burst and the recession began.  Driscoll has tried to present mergers as about Jesus and not about a larger church taking over a smaller church.  That is a simplification but it's ironic for a guy like Driscoll to say we shouldn't simplify things.  He's said that people who haven't liked how he preaches on Song of Songs must be downloading porno.  What if the simplification that is accurate for Mars Hill may be that if a smaller church has grown quickly, shows promise of future growth, has a competent leader sitting on a piece of real estate that is valuable that partnering appeals to Mars Hill?  That's not a gross simplification, even if a person "could" cynically read that as Mars Hill cherry-picking the most successful Acts 29 plants as a way to maximize its own growth and making the boundary between Mars Hill and Acts 29 unilaterally permeable in Mars Hill's favor.

But because they'll say so, they're not a denomination.

The newest (semi-Pelagian) installment is up for the Batman essays

Now an alert reader may have noticed I'm not exactly what would be called semi-Pelagian in my views on soteriology.  However I do mean to be fair to how semi-Pelagians understand their own approach to soteriology even if that's not my view.  Yep, you would probably not be at all shocked if I said I subscribe to a monergistic soteriology ... or you may be scratching your head wondering what any of this means.  Well, no worries, you can read the latest essay in Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire and that may explain the concepts in narrative and character arc terms that may make the concept of synergistic soteriology a little easier to understand.

Plus it was obviously another wonderful opportunity to open with a quote from Solzhenitsyn. Batman and Solzhenitsyn don't seem like a bad combination to me, anyway.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some possible lessons about Driscoll on Esther and bloggers on Driscoll

Anyone remember the Liberty University kerfuffle?  I would assume so.  Anyone remember the pre-emptive strike on Justin Brierley and the subsequent finessing Driscoll did at the start of this year?  Probably.

Well, folks, I'm going to throw an idea out for consideration, those of you who have taken up blogging about Driscoll's earlier post about Esther as sexually immoral were played for suckers.  Driscoll's post on 9/13/2012 at Pastor Mark TV "could" be interpreted as a tell.  Why?  Well ...

Since the Scriptures simply do not give anything more than the facts of what happened, absolute certainty as to any view is impossible if we are using just the Scriptures as our guide. This may explain why for the first seven centuries of the church zero commentaries were written on the book, John Calvin apparently never preached or wrote on it, and Martin Luther rejected its place in the canon of Scripture. Last week, I preached the first sermon in the 11-week series, and it will be online by Monday, so I’m just getting started.

Or early Christians may have not seen the use of a ton of preaching on a book whose obvious literary purpose was promoting the observance of a Jewish festival when a certain apostle Paul wrote epistles saying that fixating on observance of Jewish feast days and dietary laws was hampering the Gospel of Jesus.  Driscoll can keep asserting that early Christians just didn't get around to commenting on Esther because, well they just weren't sure what to make of it.  That might be partly true but don't be too quick to take Driscoll's approach seriously if even he grants that there's no clear consensus.  Then again, Driscoll's objectives may or may not depend on whether or not he takes earlier Christian interpretations seriously.

It's been noted that it is characteristic of Esther to conceal knowledge throughout the story.  Esther can be seen as almost a secondary character to Mordecai and as some have noted the differences between the Masoretic and Septuagint (i.e. Hebrew and Greek) forms of the canonical book could keep you busy for a while.  Driscoll's too Protestant to necessarily concede there's anything to be preached from the Greek version of Esther, perhaps.

Now Driscoll mentions there are three options for how to interpret the book.

1. Esther was godly from beginning to end
2. Esther was an innocent victim of sexual assault
3. Esther started as a less-than-godly woman but had a conversion of sorts and became godly by the end of the story.

Driscoll notes that the evidence for the second view is scant to non-existence.  Vashti refused the king's demand (though let's face it what the king demanded of Vashti and Esther respectively are not exactly comparable if we think about them for even a few seconds).  Driscoll points out that the text doesn't say Esther didn't want to go.  He also claims that when women are sexually assaulted the Scriptures say so clearly such as with Dinah and that Esther as a book doesn't tell us this so it's not a given that Esther was an innocent victim of sexual assault. The most Driscoll can manage to pull off amounts to saying that arguments from silence can't be used to assume view 2.

But the very definition of view 2 could be considered a straw man regarding this woman.  Modify "assault" so that it reads as "exploitation" and view 2 is a very easily defended position.  Narrative literature doesn't have to spell everything out and often narrative literature leans on some ambiguities and ambivalence for a reader to consider.  For instance, whose wisdom was Solomon leaning on during much of his reign, his own or wisdom he received from the Lord?  The text does not spell that out in any obvious way but Solomon's decline into idolatry and apostasy tells us that even asking for wisdom from Yahweh is no safeguard against a heart that strays from the Lord.

Let's remember that Driscoll said during 2008's Peasant Princess series that if he were going to be your mortgage (not his) he'd speculate that the young woman in Song of Songs is Abishag.  But for Esther he doesn't want to speculate that a young Jewish woman in an exilic context would have likely been the victim of sexual exploitation but a pagan king?  Does anyone want to go back and review Andrew's discipline contract that made the news earlier in 2012?  That was over consensual sexual activity between a guy and the daughter/stepdaughter of a Mars Hill pastor (or former pastor since it's not a certainty that pastor is still employed by Mars Hill).  The year that Mars Hill advocates have claimed Andrew was a predator may not be the ideal year in which Driscoll even suggests that view 2 is not really sustainable from the textual evidence, not after he's speculated that Solomon's first love was Abishag despite an absence of any real evidence.

As to other cases of rape in the Bible, we could discuss the Levite's concubine but let's skip to Amnon and Tamar. Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar and while we are not explicitly told that David's failure to punish his son for an incestuous act of rape that Absalom's insurrection is eventually fomented by exploiting David's broader failure to see to it that a judicial system was in place can be shown to be the fulfillment of the prophetic judgment David was told about through the prophet Nathan.  Judgment for what?  For taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Driscoll might want to bear in mind that we're not told whether Bathsheba really wanted to have sex with the king either and Nathan's rebuke seems to have no interest at all in condemning her as an adulterous.  Was she going to refuse the king of Israel, God's annointed leader of Israel? How would things have gone for her and any of her children she may have had if she tried to blow the whistle on David's taking another man's wife?

Now it's true Esther leaves us an Esther who is a cipher.  It's not a huge leap to propose that her being a beautiful cipher was part of how she stayed alive.  If we are honest we should be aware that claiming that the book of Esther doesn't tell us how Esther felt about what was done to her is simply not an argument against the view that Esther was subjected to sexual exploitation by a pagan ruler.

There's not a lot by way of evidence for Driscoll's view #3.  There's no indication of a conversion experience for Esther anywhere in the text.  Esther called for a fast but this may not be indicative of a conversion experience.  We don't know whether or not Esther had fasted before.  The case for a conversion experience seems even more speculative than the more reasonable surmise that Esther was conscripted into the king's queen auditions.  But even if Esther HAD a conversion experience of some kind that would not have changed her position.  If we're going to jigsaw puzzle the Bible Paul would later write that you should stay in whatever state you were in when you were called. Mordecai told Esther that perhaps she had been raised up to her place so that she could plead for her people.  Because the narrative literature often does not spell things out I suppose we could try to say that Mordecai was selfishly misreading providence but if he were why did anyone bother writing the book?  There are certain things you can infer from the mere existence of the text, one of them was that Mordecai made some wise decisions at an appropriate time in advising Esther so as to preclude a genocide.

It's useful that Driscoll pointed out that David authorized a political assasination from his deathbed.  As some OT scholars have pointed out David had a way of "interpreting" some of his promises so that his heir could kill potential threats to a unified kingdom.  It might have been useful of Driscoll to mention this detail in this case because when the unity of a kingdom for a king trying to build a legacy for himself is a big enough deal to have a couple of guys put through a woodchipper it's of note that the Bible does not present this sort of act as the kind that would be worthy of a professing believer in the one true God.  Since Driscoll brought it up ... it's an interesting aside regarding view 1. Driscoll wants to point out that there's a pious bias in which we imagine that saints of old were better than they are.  Well, yeah, there's that but if we're going to go there that has implications now for the saints of today, doesn't it?

You see the thing about view 1 is that it is easy to claim that this view "can" be erroneous by deciding to read a character's actions in the most positive light.  Driscoll decided to ignore the various views that Ruth, a Moabite woman who would not have been trained in the godliness of the Israelites during her time over in her homeland, seduced Boaz.  Driscoll skipped over that by saying that Ruth didn't cross the line but danced on it vigorously.  Says Driscoll, who has managed to see all kinds of innuendo in Song of Songs but seems a bit selective in what innuendo he sees in other biblical texts. For that matter Driscoll said Boaz was fantastic without addressing the question of whether or not Boaz violated the prohibition against Moabites ever entering the assembly of God's people.  Driscoll has trafficked in enough straw men that we can point out that there has to be some textual basis for suggesting view 1 doesn't or shouldn't apply.  Even Driscoll can grant that there's not a ton of evidence to say that Esther was actually all that bad.

View 3 is one for which Driscoll says nobody is shown praying or reading scripture or worshipping God and this means we can't be sure anyone is living in God's will.  Well if that interpretive approach applies for Esther as a narrative why would it apply? Just because nobody is shown praying or doing pious stuff?  What about view 1 and the proposal that people read piety into things where it isn't?  If the argument from silence is used to make a case that maybe Esther had a conversion experience why does that apply?  See, the name of God and famous events in Israelite history are pretty absent from Song of Songs and Driscoll didn't see any need to point out that maybe these two lovebirds were kinda not entirely in the will of God.  Obviously a poem is not really aiming to do that when the anatomical plaudits are given. We would not expect Song of Songs to have endless asides thanking God for the gift of sex and how sex (only in marriage) is a wonderful way of reflecting the hierarchical submissive relationship within the Trinity for all the obvious reasons.

Now if we were to lean heavily on what Esther didn't do we'd have to assume more about the context that is ostensibly provided by other biblical narratives that are simply not relevant.  For instance, if Esther was merely a nominal Jew she wouldn't have known about the example of Joseph, would she?  If we take Driscoll's advocacy of view 3 that Esther was not that godly and later had a conversion experience then pointing out that she didn't do this or that like other saints of old did is simply irrelevant.  The trouble, further, is that even if she never had a conversion experience and was a godly woman from the start she's not in a position to negotiate or change her status.

Saying that Vashti refused misses that what was asked of Vashti was a public demonstration of her body and not being the consort of the king.  To suggest that Esther could have refused advances as Joseph did is to forget a number of things.  Even in the pre-exilic context there were laws dealing with selling daughters into slavery.  It was not a given that even in an Israelite setting Hadassah would have had much input on whether she was traded to this or that person.  There is, of course, no real evidence Mordecai would have sold her but given that the king was a man who could be persuaded to blithely sign off on a genocide of a whole race in which a single member of that race was perceived as disrespecting an important royal functionary had Esther refused this was the kind of exilic setting in which all the Jews in the region might have been massacred, for all we do or don't know, had Esther refused and word gotten around that she was Jewish.  In absence of some fuller background as to why Mordecai urged Esther to conceal her Jewish identity we can make a semi-educated guess that Mordecai had good reasons.  After all, this is Jewish literature we're discussing.

Driscoll notes that a commentator rightly observed that the only criteria the king had would be the queen would be beautiful and have sexual prowess.  Driscoll says so but this is not a given that a commentator is right just because Driscoll says so.  As to sexual prowess, well, did not Driscoll once say that sex is like any team sport and that one only becomes better at it with practice?  The king could advise the queen on what would most please him and barring that the eunuchs in charge of the harem would be able to advise the young queen, and in fact we are told clearly that Esther sought the advice of the eunuchs and went with whatever they advised regarding how best to make a favorable impression with the king.  Another problem with claiming that demonstrable sexual prowess was important is that for a prospective new queen the matter of heirs was important.  Why would a king want to bring in a sexually proficient queen who may have already become pregnant with some other man's child?  Thus virgins.  Now some think Mordecai and Esther were secretly married but I'm not going to bother getting into all of that. The point here is that given the goal of the king was a queen who would properly submit and be a better example to all the wives in the kingdom the last thing that would have aided this campaign would be if the newly appointed queen were already "sexually proficient" enough to impress the king.  Now maybe experts in ancient near eastern societies could explain how this proficiency could have been established but this whole line of explanation opens up more questions than it can manage to answer now that Driscoll has brought it up.

But I'm going to suggest in the spirit of playful sarcasm that all of this would still be to miss something more rudimentary about Driscoll blogging about Esther.  There are two comments from Driscoll that are relevant.

Depending upon what assumptions you bring to the story, you can be persuaded in any one of the three directions. 

Driscoll has butchered OT literature whenever he's preached from it in the last six or so years.  Ruth was a how-to-marry manual.  Nehemiah was a typology in which Driscoll was Nehemiah.  Song of Songs was a topical preaching series masquerading as an expository series.  As marriage advice it may have had some useful information but as a discussion of the actual text of Song of Songs it was a wreck.  Proverbs was a bit more of the same in which a few pet topics were drudged out. Ecclesiastes was built on the unsustainable assumption that Solomon was writing his way through to repentance even though this is not indicated anywhere in the actual canonical texts that deal with the final years of Solomon's reign, nor do we have a case in which even the internal evidence of Ecclesiastes itself suggests that identifying its author as Solomon is ultimately very sustainable.

But let's consider the selection of texts.  Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Esther.  Maybe there's something shrewd to these sorts of selections.  These are OT books about which scholars have puzzled and disagreed.  The fact that Driscoll has no demonstrable competence in exegeting OT overall probably won't come up within his church.  He can't have been the first pastor to shill a bunch of pep talks tangentially derived from Nehemiah into a campaign to promote a church re-org project.  It's not like there have never been pastors who have used OT narrative literature as a way to stump for building campaigns.  With a book like Ruth Mark Driscoll could lean on the reality that there's still scholarly debate about authorship, dating, and other details to the point where he practically has a blank check to basically say whatever he wants.  Don't believe me?  Well, consider this quote.

Since the Scriptures simply do not give anything more than the facts of what happened, absolute certainty as to any view is impossible if we are using just the Scriptures as our guide.

Like I said, a blank check. Sure, he's going to consult commentaries by the bundle but he's going to say that if we "just" go by the biblical text of Esther it's impossible to have any certainty as to any view.  Of course it's convenient to say that at the start of what may be yet another controversial dance Driscoll takes his church through with an Old Testament book.

And who in the laity will be educated enough in biblical literature to second-guess him in his church?
 Probably not many and those who do may just keep quiet.  Now critics have been vocal from the outside and have brought up different views, views that Driscoll has rolled out.  This is where I'm going to restate my proposal that Driscoll has quite possibly played you for suckers.

When I started the study of Esther and launched the brief blog post to get the buzz going, I leaned toward view #3 but now I’m reconsidering that and reevaluating some research

Linger a bit on the "to get the buzz going" part.  It's not like Driscoll hadn't been researching a variety of views about how to interpret Esther already.  My blogging friend Wendy at Practical Theology for Women was noting problems in certain interpretations of Esther and Vashti as submissive wives and it wasn't a huge leap of association to note that Mark and Grace Driscoll's book Real Marriage came out around that time..

I propose that Driscoll has a history of researching into topics, knowing there are a variety of views and then just preaching or publicly discussing an issue as though just the version of textual interpretation he's promoting at the time is the one way to go.  He dismissed Genesis 6 interpretations of angelic/human hybrids as the "seed of Chucky" interpretation even though that interpretation was, by Augustine's account, all but universally accepted in the apostolic period.  Even though that interpretation is the basis for the apocryphal books of Enoch and that the books of Enoch are quoted in the epistle of Jude.  Even though the epistle of Jude's appropriation of Enoch involves a contrasting parallelism that makes more sense then saying "strange flesh" must have meant "homosexuality" which is as same flesh as possible.  Never mind that stuff, a "seed of Chucky" joke and no one is invited to dig through the texts further to see that that interpretation was really widespread and considered a legitimate option.

But in the wake of a public reaction to some incendiary proposals this month Driscoll finds it convenient to mention that there are a range of views.  Sure, why not, because now would be a good time to mention a lack of scholarly consensus as the blank check for whatever he comes up with over the next few months.  His lack of competent exegesis of OT literature is not going to be an obstacle to his fanbase taking him completely seriously as a "Bible teacher" even if his degree in exegetical theology has not as yet been shown to have done him much good on OT literature.  Maybe he'll get better?  I'm not holding my breath.

But if people forgot about what he said about the issue underlying a lot of issues in 2011 being whether gender is a social construct or divinely designed, congratulations, you got played again if you took the bait.  Driscoll's managed to go most of 2012 without many people asking questions about the number of ex-pastors who have dropped out of MH in the last 12 months.  James Noriega, to go by a couple of comments on the internet, got fired (and while people can say it's on the internet and you can't trust everything on the internet the same can be said about Driscoll's scholarship).  Driscoll can say that Esther is nuclear radiation and that pastors won't touch the book for whatever reason.

Nuclear radiation for Mark Driscoll appears to be less books of the Bible about which he admits he hasn't figured things out than a website, particularly Joyful Exiles, or discussing Scott Thomas in any fashion, let alone the role Scott Thomas played in the 2007 firings.  The eligibility of Tim Beltz to be an executive elder when he was ordained in October 2007 is not likely to get a lot of public discussion but it would sure appear from the by-laws in place at the time that Beltz simply wasn't yet qualified to be an executive elder when he popped up as one in late 2007.  No questions about any possible connection between Tim Beltz as Chief Operation Officer at CRISTA Ministries and Mars Hill getting Schirmer Auditorium rent free for a few years seem to be on any one else's mind.  No discussion about how many executive elders were in place when the bid on Tabella was made or if written notice was given 30 days before the decision seems likely to happen, yet these are the more significant questions than what Driscoll might opt to say this week about Esther.

Unfortunately bloggers find it easier to blog about Driscoll on Esther. It's easier to react to Driscoll's public moves than to look through the stuff he won't comment on.  I don't think bloggers have grasped that the stuff Driscoll bothers to talk about is stuff he considers safe. Liberty University and the book of Esther are safe.  If you look at the things he's never uttered a word about and that his PR team has done gymnastics to separate him from those, I suggest, are the things that are more important.

I'm going to propose that if Driscoll actually publicly addresses a topic at Pastor Mark TV it's probably not actually all that important.  If he avoids mentioning something that's worth discussing.  For instance, when the invitation for churches to ask if they could join Mars Hill came up Driscoll mentioned successful church mergers in the past.  Well Mars Hill West Seattle was Doxa, a church plant that happened to be sitting on real estate Driscoll had wanted for Mars Hill for ten years.  Mars Hill Albuquerque also started out as an Acts 29 church plant.  The take-away Driscoll might have wanted you to take from those case studies would be "Church mergers with Mars Hill have really worked out."  The take-away for someone who spent about a decade inside a Mars Hill or Acts 29 context might be different, it might be that if you're an Acts 29 pastor sitting on a church and real estate that the executive leadership at Mars Hill really, really wants (maybe even wanted for up to ten years) then you'll be getting a proposal in which you hand over your church to Mars Hill and the congregation just gets to be on mission or you need a whole new core.  If you're a pastor at some other non-Acts 29 church it's not as certain that things will go that swiftly or that once you've handed that real estate to Driscoll you or yours will keep your jobs.  Whether or not any pastors and churches took up the invitation from April 2012 to ask if they could join Mars Hill is at this point an essentially hypothetical discussion.

So am I discouraging blogging responses to Driscoll's handling of Esther?  Why, no! Far from it.  But bloggers need to realize there's much more to a religious institution and brand as big as Mars Hill then its most attention-getting and possibly attention-craving star. Any discussion that furthers an actual discussion of the biblical literature is still great.  Just try to make it more about the biblical text and less about Driscoll.  What I am suggesting, as well, is that the way the blogosphere has continually reacted to Driscoll this year makes it seem as though they're reacting in the sorts of ways that Driscoll can play like a cheap fiddle.

Gladwell, at the New Yorker, writes about Sandunsky and the grooming process

The title of this blog post should warn you in advance it's going to be dealing with nasty stuff.

... We now know what Sandusky was really doing with the Second Mile. He was setting up a pipeline of young troubled boys. Just as important, though, he was establishing his bona fides. Psychologists call this “grooming”—the process by which child molesters ingratiate themselves into the communities they wish to exploit. “Many molesters confirmed that they would spend anywhere from two to three years getting established in a new community before molesting any children,” van Dam writes. One pedophile she interviewed would hang out in bars, looking for adults who seemed to be having difficulties at home. He would lend a comforting ear, and then start to help out. ...

It may bear repeating that a community is groomed before individually targeted victims are.  This may be the single most troubling thing for me to read because it's a reminder that the grooming process begins in a community, and this would arguably be true for almost any kind of abuse and predatory behavior, couldn't it? At the risk of making allusions to some other writings grooming is a process that depends on two aspects of human nature that are not conventionally conceived as being able to be weapons.  Before I get to them let's take a look at a case in which a psychologist recognized a person fitting the nature of a threat who was second-guessed by others.

... Of all those involved in the investigation, only one person—the psychologist Alycia Chambers—recognized Sandusky’s actions for what they were. Here was someone with the full authority and expertise of psychological training, who identified a prominent man with virtually unlimited access to vulnerable children as a “likely pedophile.” But what more could she do? She had told the police. Patient confidentiality constrained her from going to the media, and her responsibility to her client made her wary of turning him into a public victim. Then, there was the fact that two other trained professionals had seen the same evidence she had, and reached the opposite conclusion. She was in the grip of the same uncertainty that afflicts even the best people when confronted with a child molester. She thought Sandusky was suspicious. No one agreed with her. Maybe she decided that she could be wrong. [emphasis added throughout]

It may be easy to underestimate or miss this particular point in discussing how abusers manage to succeed for so long. When people think about child abusers they think almost invariably it seems, first of the evil of the abuse and secondarily, if at all, of motives or methodology.  If you read the article in its entirety you'll see that abusers will lie to avoid getting caught but they will also exploit ambiguous language and an apologetic form of doublespeak.  They will talk about how heartbroken they are an sorry so much misunderstanding happened and they never meant to harm anyone.

Now some people may describe this is deceit and, in a sense it is, but what it really is would be better described as the exploitation of empathy and sympathy.  If you have read the full article you'll recall that an investigator realized that Sandunsky's words of sadness and remorse were too vague to be seriously pinned down to much of anything.  There was not enough compelling evidence at that point to pursue investigation with a certainty that something had happened based on overheard conversation. This is a point that may need repeating, that abusers are generally shrewd enough to avoid talking about their most scandalous and harmful actions in ways that would usually let a person assign blame even if suspicions are directly raised.  By that time the community has often been sufficiently groomed that very few people want to question the bona fides of the suspected abuser because if the charges turn out to be unfounded a whole raft of people have their reputations damaged and the nature of allegations of abuse is such that once an allegation has been made it can float over the accused whether or not the allegations turn out to be true.  Most people for reasons that shouldn't have to be explained, are loathe to do to others what they realize would be life-ruining for them if the same thing happened for them.

Now I backtrack to the tools at the disposal of an abuser in this kind of miserable communal dynamic.
For those who read the little essay "The Weapon of Empathy" that shows up at another blog, a sadist is not necessarily someone who, clinically speaking, has no capacity for empathy.  In fact empathy (divested of sympathy) is possibly one of the most potent resources an abuser has.  An abuser can exploit the benefit of a doubt that a person wants to provide and an abuser can exploit reasonable doubt.  Does this mean that we should not provide any room for reasonable doubt?  Well ...

The thing is that it would appear that abusers of this sort are often those who groom communities and it takes a community to uncover their crimes.  A Hollywood pop mythology of one brave person changing everything is just a myth. The person who steps up and says something that changes everything may not be a "good guy" We've been let in on enough of the previously hidden secrets of Deep Throat to recognize that the press didn't take down the Nixon administration, disgruntled people in the Nixon administration leaked things to the press and that catalyzed Nixon's downfall.

The sad reality is that in cases where abusers are not sent to justice when there are grounds for suspicion it can often be because the abuser brings measurable, tangible goods to a community that its members know they benefit from. This is not an occasion for you, dear reader, to foment about how people look the other way, it's an occasion for you to examine your own heart for how you might look the other way if you find someone has said and done harmful things.

Paterno did not like Sandusky. They argued openly. Paterno found Sandusky’s goofiness exasperating, and the trail of kids following him around irritated Paterno no end. He considered firing Sandusky many times. But, according to Posnanski, he realized that he needed Sandusky—that the emotional, bear-hugging, impulsive knucklehead was a necessary counterpart to his own discipline and austerity. Sandusky never accepted any of the job offers that would have taken him away from Penn State, because he could not leave the Second Mile. But he also stayed because of Paterno. What could be better, for his purposes, than a boss with eyes only for the football field, who dismissed him as an exasperating, impulsive knucklehead? Pedophiles cluster in professions that give them access to vulnerable children—teaching, the clergy, medicine. But Sandusky’s insight, if you want to call it that, was that the culture of football could be the greatest hiding place of all, a place where excessive physicality is the norm, where horseplay is what often passes for wit, where young men shower together after every game and practice, and where those in charge spend their days and nights dreaming only of new defensive schemes. 

It can be very easy to blame the abuser (and why not, the abuser has abused, they're thoroughly blameworthy).  It can also be very easy to blame the most conspicuous enablers who could be shown to be looking the other way but as the theologian John Murray put it decades ago in The Imputation of Adam's Sin modern Western culture is not particularly interested in accepting collective guilt  This might be all the more ironic since the Eastern church does not affirm Original Sin, which is arguably a uniquely Western conception of the sin nature in terms of the development of global Christendom ... and yet in the modern "post-Christian" West group guilt is only selectively applied to particular political movements or economic interests like the Democratic and Republican parties, "big oil" or "the ___________ industrial complex" of your choice. 

But you?  Could you be part of a community that was groomed for any kind of abuser to thrive and expand his or her reach into appropriating and exploiting?  No .... no .... that can't be, because you're a reasonable, rational person with your own will and emotions who wouldn't just blithely roll over for the use of a buzzword like "authority".  You are and if you tell yourself otherwise you're very likely lying to yourself.  There are temptations that most easily seduce us precisely because we can't imagine being tempted and then, bam, we're ensnared.  We live in such an information-saturated time that an abuser could be well-read in the extent literature on the profiles of abusers and compare that to pop cultural imaginations of the abuser.  It's hardly impossible for a man who abuses children as Sandunsky has to present himself for decades as an advocate for children in need.  It should be a sobering thing for each one of us to realize that not only are victims groomed but communities are groomed as well and what is most troubling for any of us to consider, of course, is that you or I may already be part of a community that an abuser has groomed for whatever abuse he or she is interested in starting or continuing.  

As Baumeister wrote at some length in his book Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty the myth of pure evil is that it is the other and not in our midst. An application of this would not merely be a prosaic observation that you or I could even potentially abuse.  That is in a sense too melodramatic and too easy, though potentially true.  It's more troubling to concede that you or I might unwittingly enable the hurting of others; you or I may unwittingly have been groomed by others to have so high a threshold for the establishment of reasonable doubt that by the time an abuser gets caught or a person fits the profile of abusive behavior we will convince ourselves that can't possible be the case because that person (whoever he or she is) is one of "us". The troubling thing about an abuser to consider is that an abuser uses the community identity against us while we have been busy assuming that whoever an abuser might be the person could only be one of "them". 

This one's for Matt Redmond

The number one prejudice that whites take the lead reminds me of how bitterly disappointing it was that Windtalkers was a Nicholas Cage vehicle with old Cage in the lead.  You get John Woo directing and Adam Beach and other American Indian actors in the cast and it becomes a story of Nicholas Cage redemption and sacrifice?  With a set-up like that and working with Tom Cruise it's not necessarily a huge shock John Woo may have decided at some point that working in China made more sense then working for Cruise.  At least, if rumors and legends are true, a communist dictatorship is more openly and deliberately repressive about everything. But I digress ...

As for the trope "Only The Pretty Girls Survive" I would mention that depending on which cut of The Descent you watch the grieving mother does not live through the end of the first movie because the subtext of the film is that she wants to die but since I'm not sure which version of the film The Descent the author saw and the presumably needless sequel came out I'll grant that it still fits the trope under discussion of "Only the Pretty Girls Survive".

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed up it was funny and clever and a cute TV show.  But now that we're moving into the second decade it seems that Joss Whedon has been showing himself to have fewer tricks up his sleeve than his fans have imagined.  It's not a given that womanhood is more empowered or has been given stronger female characters since we got Buffy Summers and River Tam than when Marge Gunderson started investigating a multiple homicide situation.

... Joss Whedon can pretend like the ass-kicking supermodels were created as a reaction to the helpless victims, but he's just substituting one weird male fantasy with another. It's as if there's nothing in between "beautiful victimized woman crying while splattered in blood" and "beautiful invincible woman kicking people while wearing skintight fetish gear."

For a bit more on waif-fu ...

Prophets, Priests and Kings: The role of the prophet in Deuteronomy

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

So now we're back to the question that came up earlier in this series--if the role of the priest was to instruct God's people and see after the welfare of the congregation spiritually and physically (go back and read house inspection instructions and instructions on leprosy outbreaks) then what was the role of the prophet?  

Most people who would claim to be small p prophets because they're pastors may simply not know what they're talking about.  When we discuss how in Jesus the role of the prophet and the priest and the king are most fully and truly fulfilled this does not mean that we then take these categories and translate them into some David Keirsey-style set of variations on the three temperaments or giftings for ministry. This is not because Christians don't think the Holy Spirit provides gifts and abilities through which the members of the body of Christ serve the Church, it's because the three grab-bag categories that some people (like Pastor Jamie Munson, who probably got it from Driscoll) simply don't have any necessary correlation to what the Bible itself says about the roles of prophets, priests and kings.  

Now here we've got some things on the list Munson provides that are simple assertions with no evidence.  There are some that "could" be true if they were qualified.  There is something to be said for a prophet having a strategic rather than a tactical concern, the "air war" analogy is not entirely out of place.  But in 1 Samuel Saul goes to consult Samuel "the seer" about where missing livestock have gone.  Now if that seems petty and stupid and unspiritual keep in mind that a few animals in an ancient near eastern society still represented a lot of money.  The case that Saul was unspiritual can be made at great length and on other grounds and there's a solid overview of that case made by V. Phillips Long in his doctoral dissertation on the rise and fall of King Saul.  Go read it and if you don't know biblical Hebrew (as I admit I don't) Long's case is still clear enough that you shouldn't balk at reading it.

Prophets did often deal with the biggest stuff but they could deal with stuff that was small.  Rumors that Samuel could be paid spread enough that Saul tried to pay Samuel and Samuel wouldn't take it.  Samuel was also from the priestly caste and, we may note, did not seem at all interested in being a judge or seer for pay and this may have been possible because his role in the priestly life of Israel meant that he could live off the offerings as others in the priestly clan were supposed to.  Why that matters has something to do with, basically, maybe that Samuel would be harder to bribe or curry favor with ... in theory ... though his sons were worse than the sons of Eli and this remorseless corruption on the part of Samuel's sons was actually one reason Israel requested a king.  They knew that Samuel's kids were not chips off the old block but greedy scoundrels.  Sadly Samuel turned out to be as guilty of letting selfish, imcompetent sons to run things as his predecessor Eli had. 

Now here's the part some Christians and Christian bloggers don't get, God didn't actually say it was unconditionally wrong for Israel to want a king.  God doesn't necessarily even say in 1 Samuel 8 that it was wrong for Israel to want a king when the status quo was an aging Samuel who appointed his sons as judges, sons who accepted bribes and perverted justice.  God still finds fault with Israel for wanting a king, of course, but not necessarily because they are so fed up with the corruption in Samuel's family they want an alternative. In fact the close of Deuteronomy 17 presupposes the legitimacy of wanting to establish a king and prescribes a set of rules about that

Since these days lots of Christians don't read Deuteronomy for edification or enjoyment a lot of people wrongly assume that when Israel asked for a king in 1 Samuel 8-10 that they were wrong for asking for a king.  No, not exactly, because what you ask for isn't always exactly the same as why you're asking for it.  If a child asks his parents if he can stay up late and eat ice cream on a school night that would be wrong and get rejected but if a child asks his parents if he stay up late and eat ice cream during Christmas vacation while the family is staying with other family and playing games and watching movies and there's no school for days then the parents will respond the same request in a different way because the context, motive, and the details aren't the same. But we'll take some time to get to the kingly stuff later.  Right now we're looking more at prophets like Samuel.

Now let's get back to some of the stuff on the list.  For instance let's discuss "visible" and "larger audience".  Yes, this can seem to be the case.  The prophet was expected to play a public role but not all prophets played public roles.  Some prophets are only known about because of works and words they did behind the scenes that we only hear about because someone wrote things down.  How many people would have heard of Nathan the prophet?  He played a significant role in the reign of David but he was not, let's remember, the official prophet or seer of the king?  Who was?  Someone I'm pretty sure has not been the subject of a lot of sermons.  When's the last time your pastor or community group or Bible study leader said, "Let's talk about prophets and the important role that Gad the seer played in David's life."  We're clearly not looking at someone who had that visible a role and even though he was described in a few spots as David's personal prophet through whom he may have enquired of the Lord we're not going to see anyone published a 120 page monograph on him that gets widely read.  

It is also important to note that the role of the prophet was not exactly to be "visionary".  The role of the prophet was not to vision-cast anything.  If the Lord's will were made known through a vision then, well, it was that case in that time.  But the reason why the Lord's will would need to be sought will come later.  We can see that Gad the seer either wrote nothing down and did no preaching or that all that material just somehow never made canonical status. Yet Gad the seer was described as David's prophet and advisor.  It was some guy named Ahithophel who is never described as a prophet at all who was said to have wisdom so great that when he spoke it was though he were speaking on behalf of God.  Apparently wisdom likened to wisdom from the Lord could manage to not get mentioned as coming from Gad in any specific way while Athithophel's wisdom was so widely known that when the man sided with Absalom in an insurrection David prayed that the man's wisdom would be made foolishness.  I encourage you to go look that up.  

Since we've established that the biblical books say priests had the role of instructing the people it would be tough to say prophets had that role.  Had not God assigned that role already to the priests?  What then were the prophets supposed to do?  Well, in order to see that we need to understand what the role of the prophet was in the judicial/legal/political system laid out in Deuteronomy.  I went into that last year at great length on the relevance the prophetic role has in the domain of cessationism/continuationist pneumatology and ecclesiology.  Or, at least, as great a length as a laymanw ith no pretenses to being a professional biblical scholar or pastor could likely go with help from the writings of Frank Crusemann.  But what about in terms of leadership roles?  Fortunately a bit from Leviticus and Deuteronomy would seem to walk us through that.  

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. 

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.

Note that Samuel didn't accept payment and his sons did.  The Israelites had some fantastic reasons to consider Samuel's sons corrupt perverters of justice.  So was "that" a wrong reason to ask for a king?  Speaking of which ... 

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,”  be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees  and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

As Frank Crusemann put it in a book about the Torah these prohibitions are shorthands that indicate other things.  Too many wives would not just be about the polygamy itself but the military alliances with pagan nations that would go with them.  The warning against amassing too much gold is a warning against the king being vastly richer than his subjects and Crusemann notes that the Torah never grants the king the power to tax, a point that is significant when we get to Solomon, who did pretty much everything Deuteronomy forbade, it seems.  The detail about chariots, Crusemann explains, would have been a warning that the king's private professional army should not be so large or powerful that it could take out the civilian militia.  These are warnings to the Israelites about what kind of king they should not have, the kind of king that is against the law.  The king is also not here shown as someone who appoints judges (David did not and that was a catalyst for Absalom's insurrection as much as failing to punish Amnon for raping Tamar) but the king, in terms of Deuteronomy, was not tasked with appointing judges, the people were, it seems.  

Now, back to those priests.  They get no inheritance and the priests and the judges were shown to be the ones to adjudicate cases too rough for the local tribal leaders.  What kinds of cases?  Let's not forget the obvious, that we're reading all this stuff in the context of the Torah, the Mosaic laws. 

Deuteronomy 18: 1-8

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.
Occult Practices 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.
The Prophet 14-22

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so.  The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.  For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”
The Lord said to me: “What they say is good.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.  I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.  But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?”  If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

Let's notice something.  The prohibitions against divination come right after discussing how Levites may come and serve.  As literary contexts go the ban on divination follows up on a further discussion of what the priests are and aren't permitted to do.  If a priest does not already know the will of the Lord through the Law he is not supposed to use divination to find out.  What is to be done?  The prophet gets consulted.  

So if you had a case that needed to be heard you'd go to the local tribal head or the judge.  If you couldn't get help there you might go to the priest.  But if you had some situation that was not covered by the Torah's case law and was beyond the wisdom of anyone else in the land then you would consult the prophet.  This is exactly why would expect Saul to head for Samuel the seer about the lost livestock that would cost his family some significant money.  Prophets were the people kings and priests consulted about whether this or that war was a good idea.  Prophets were to be on hand when a drought might have been anger from the Lord or just something else.  Remember what we observed earlier about Gad the seer, the prophet of David.  David was the annointed king.  The prophet is not necessarily the public face or "air war" leader but the advisor who would advise the kings and priests on the subjects where their respective knowledge or wisdom on the scriptures and legal precedent proved inadequate.  

Notice, too, that when Agabus predicted famine in Acts he was playing a prophetic role.  He was anticipating a problem that had no direct origin in any recorded words of Jesus.  The cessationist can argue that the office or gift of prophecy ceased after the scriptures were complete but that requires a fuller explanation of why even after Jesus' resurrection any prophecy happened, let alone for seven daughters of Phillip the evangelist.  As Frank Crusemann put it we must remember that the kind of prophecy described in Deuteronomy is not prophecy that would be eschatological in any sense.  It was, instead, the case that prophecy played a role in case adjudication and in policy for the nation of Israel.  If we overlook this detail we may bungle discussions about cessationist/continuationist debate on the one hand and a fuller understanding of the prophet/priest/king stuff with Jesus.  If Jesus fulfilled all these roles so perfectly why was there even a need for Agabus?  That may be a topic for some other time.

So, what we've seen from Deuteronomy is that the prophet is mentioned after we're warned that divination is off limits, especially for the priests.  Prophets, as Crusemann noted, don't get mentioned under that ban.  There's no way to know precisely how a prophet might divine the will of the Lord.  It could even be observed from the whole of the narrative literature that Elisha used symbolic action and musically induced trances of the sort that pagan prophets used.  I'm not sure how much scholarly work has been done on prophets in the ancient world and how they figured things out so if people have recommended reading materials there post away in the comments.

The overall portrait of the prophet as described in Deuteronomy is an established but conditional authority.  It was clearly possible for a prophet to predict something that didn't come to pass.  If that were the case the admonition is to not fear the prophet and ignore what he says. Crusemann pointed out in his book on the Torah how open-ended even this test is.  The people are told that if the prophet's prediction fails to not be alarmed.  Was it common for prophets to make false predictions where people lived in fear that the prophecy might yet come true?  Maybe.  I don't know.  

What is clear is that Deuteronomy tells us that God Himself will hold to account anyone who doesn't listen to the words of the true prophet.  That might tell us something there, that the people might not be in a great position either to know for sure who the real prophet of the Lord was or they might risk wanting to punish people for not obeying what might turn out to be a false prophecy or, alternately, people might rush to destroy a prophet without having a proper basis for doing so.  Crusemann points out that when people in Israel wanted to kill Jeremiah as a traitor some elders spoke up and said that people wanted to harm Micaiah who made a prophecy.  But Micaiah's prophecy came to pass.  It seemed wise, the elders proposed, to leave Jeremiah be in case what he predicted was really from the Lord.  Crusemann pointed out that this would be a textbook case study of elders in Israel handling the controversial claims of a prophet in the proper way. I.e. they didn't just kill him because they didn't like what they heard and they were open to testing whether it was going to come to pass what this prophet said.  

Jeremiah 8, let's recall, shows the prophet beginning a passionate diatribe against the priests and scribes who had so corrupted the Law they had transformed the scriptures themselves into lies.  It's important to keep in mind that if we're going to try to understand what prophets actually did we have to clear the ground as to what they were not.  They were quite simply never the "pastors" of their time.  Though some prophets were priests and retroactively king David would be credited as a prophet, though Samuel was considered a prophet, a priest and a judge all at once these roles have to be understood as existing within checks and balances.  Even though Samuel himself was shown as exceptional and in many ways incorruptible he was as fallible about nepotism as Eli was.  When confronted about this problem by the people of Israel we should not take it as given that Samuel's response was entirely righteous or right.  The men of Israel came to Samuel and told him straight up his sons were corrupt and not walking in the ways of their father.  If this corruption of the sons of priests and judges was going to continue for two generations of Israelite history then maybe it really was time to ask for a king ... or was it?  As textual scholars have not-so-famously debated (for us lay-people) there's a lot of debate about that.  V. Phillips Long once wrote that though we could insist on reading 1 Samuel as deriving from multiple conflicting sources the final document, if we read it as it is, shows up a pretty ambivalent picture.  

But what is clear from the life of Samuel in prophetic, priestly, and judicial roles is that his most common role within Israel would have been as priest and judge, which was why the corruption of his sons and not a prophetic prediction about this or that precipitated the request for a king.  Samuel's track record as a seer was apparently above reproach and made him famous.  It was in his capacity as a judge and the corrupting influence of nepotism that got people questioning whether Samuel was any longer fit to keep on keeping on.

Munson's simplified and tendentious break-down suggests that common sins for prophets are that they are harsh, cold and arrogant about knowledge.  Absolutely no textual or historical evidence is provided for this.  One of the most common condemnations of prophets in the OT was that they were lying sycophantic suck-ups who told corrupt and godless kings what they wanted to hear. In fact some of the prophets were quite good at not just giving kings pleasing words but possibly even good advice that God decided to let a lying spirit go down and confound the prophets of Ahab so that Ahab would die.  There may be a pious fiction among American conservative Protestants in some settings that imagines that false prophets are easily identified and that they are characterized by this or that.  There are those who would propose that the sins most common to prophets would be how they treat other people.  That is the gist of the sins Munson's matrix credits to prophets.  

There's nothing in Deuteronomy 18 that says a bad prophet will say something in a way that hurts your feelings or reflects an arrogant attitude or suggests that there's some heart issue where they don't appreciate how a word from the one true God might make its recipient feel.  The sins condemned by prophets in other prophets is that they do things for money and they lie and tell people what they want to hear.  One prophet said that the false prophets declared "peace" for anyone who would feed them and called down curses on those who would not feed them.  When genuine prophets of the Lord could be found at fault it was often due to a navel-gazing self-pity that seemed connected to not being the center of attention anymore.  Elijah was brave and bombastic when confronting the prophets of Baal but when Jezebel, the big powerbroker behind the scenes, told Elijah he was as good as dead the prophet was scared and hid himself.  When God commanded Elijah to go appoint Elisha as his successor and appoint a couple of kings Elijah doesn't actually do ANY of those things.  He delegates a task to Elisha and Elisha himself delegates a couple of tasks.  Yet ... God took Elijah up in a chariot of fire anyway even though Elijah had actually not done what God told him to do in a few cases.  How weird is that?

Does that look like a case study of a prophet being cold and harsh?  Would Elisha cursing kids for calling him bald be what a guy like Munson has in mind?  Or are these sins considered common among prophets just a grab bag borrowed from someone else who possibly didn't do any real research and has just been spinning some fancy words about things without digging into the wealth of OT literature that actually shows us what prophets said and did? 

Saying harsh things, being emotionally detached, and realizing one knows more than other people are not things that can be described as sinful.  Pride, sure, that's bad. Everyone agrees on that in theory. The biggest sin the prophet is most likely to risk committing is perverting justice for his or her own convenience and lying about who God is and what God's will is to further what are convenient political and economic agendas.  A prophet may not be a nice guy or easy to talk to, a prophet might even seem to be completely insane (see Ezekiel as a sometimes-proposed case in point) but the point is that the prophet, whether he or she is a nice person or not, has the role of being able to tell the highest and lowest people what the Lord's will is and who the Lord is.  As we can see from Saul consulting Samuel, this might be as mundane as helping the man find livestock.  

We can see in Deborah's case it would be advising Barak about a battle.  We can see that for Samuel it can be to tell the corrupt Eli his time is up and then, ironically, God will tell Samuel he must annoint a king that Samuel absolutely does not like because doing so means Samuel is officially admitting by annointing Saul king that his own sons are considered too corrupt to be trustworthy guides for Israel. Yet Samuel, according to 1 Samuel, does it anyway!  Generations later the prophet Jeremiah warns that the scribes and the priestly class have perverted even the scriptures themselves.  During Josiah's reform the prophetess Huldah is consulted to find out of the book of the Law is legitimate and authentic.  Huldah confirms that it is and then having done that, her job was kinda done as a prophetess playing a role in the life of Judah went.  Contrary to those who might shill the idea that leaders are "prophets" in some consistent ongoing way the prophets who we see in the biblical texts were often men and women who had temporary walk-on roles during exceptionally bad times when people either had no idea what the divine revelation was or were ignoring it or corrupting it enough that a critique of institutional power advancing its own ideas for its own benefit had to be made. Whatever being a prophet was some people wanted the job when offered and they discovered they were made fit for it (Isaiah).  Others, like Moses or Jeremiah, kinda really didn't want to have to actually go do that job because kinda sounded unpleasant.  

Whatever being a prophet might be it would not by definition entail "writing books of the Bible".  The role of the prophet was a role and not necessarily an official job description.  Prophets often aligned themselves to political leaders and regimes or set themselves against them.  It is understandable why many Christians would today imagine that they are playing a prophetic role simply because they can't stand Obama or Bush or whoever happens to be their subject of ire.  The trouble is that that's not quite what the concerns of Old Testament prophets was.  If you look at the role of the prophetic literature within the canon and compare that to the role of the prophet prescribed in Deuteronomy you'll see that it's a bit more complex and shifting than some might want it to be.

Crusemann's observation that there's nothing in the job description of the prophet in Deuteronomy indicating that prophecy played any eschatological function is worth noting.  Prophecy in the Torah was not defined as necessarily adding to or modifying the Torah.  This might happen if unusual cases came up where the received case law was inadequate but the narrative books show that the role of the prophet was an occasional rather than a regular one.  There might need to be a prophet on hand to verify whether the book of the Law was legitimate, there might need to be a prophet around to determine whether this or that war was a good idea; whether this or that building project met with the Lord's approval; and whether or not this or that climatic disaster might have had something to do with the sins of the people. But it was not given that any given prophet had the job of "writing books of the Bible" so much as fielding issues that the "books of the Bible" (i.e. the Torah) had not addressed.  Prophets could be considered the ultimate ad hoc divine committee for things that weren't covered in the previous board meetings where all the policies were established.  That sounds rather less pious than the analogy is intended to be.

But in the hands of contemporary marketing and development teams that might actually be how small the role of a "prophet" could be considered to be these days.  The prophet was not the top company visionary.  It wasn't unheard of for prophets to have other jobs and roles.  Some prophets came from the priestly class.  Others just showed up without any background establishing who or what they did before, like Elijah.  Contrary the quasi-Keirsey style "Please Understand Me" job-placement categories of prophet, priest and king the prophets were supposed to play a significant role in the judicial and policy leadership of Israel but they were not necessarily or automatically already in places of power in the royal court (even though they could be personal advisors) or in the priestly class).  Why?  Well, it would take a further consultation of prophetic literature to explain that.  The best way I can try to describe the prophetic function is that it was supposed to supplement the limitations of the priestly/royal/judicial system on the positive side and on the negative side (though with a positive function) serve as a check on the abuse of institutional power in the other branches or, as evinced by stinging criticisms of other prophets, even its own propensity to abusive or fraudulent teaching.