Saturday, October 13, 2012

Practical Theology for Women: Esther, Victimes, and a Reformed View of Depravity

... Here's the issue with depravity. Scripture clearly presents that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory. This does NOT mean, however, that every person is as bad as they possibly could be. It does not mean that every person always makes the wrong decision. It does not mean that no person is able to help or be good to another. No, our depravity is better expressed as pervasive than total. Pervasive means it affects all aspects of ourselves. It is spread throughout, and we are unable to reverse it. But it does not mean that every response every time in every situation is 100% or totally wrong. I hear this wrong view of depravity discussed as Jesus wears the only white hat, and everyone else has black hats. [emphasis added] Or Jesus is the only hero, and everyone else is the bad guy.   There's a sense in which that is pervasively true, but it is not totally true.  *Note that such subtleties matter a great deal when discussing something as sensitive as sexual subjugation.*

This difference is crucial for understanding Esther's situation. If you think that all people make bad decisions all the time, well, first that is really depressing, and second it's just not true. In Esther's case, you then likely interpret the fact that she ends up in the king's harem and eventually as his wife due to her own poor choices, because, well, that's the nature of man (or woman) in your belief system. That paradigm has no category for the honest to goodness VICTIM. If you are totally bad all the time, then of course you made only bad choices along the way that led to your victimization.


It's very easy for someone with power who is not threatened to surmise what they would do if they had NO power and were threatened. In contrast, anyone who has been threatened sexually and feared for their life or the life of their family will likely give a very different perspective when reading Esther than the one that she contributed sinfully to her own situation. ...

In some circles this might be called a Monday morning quarterback approach to things.

Of note is the observation that it is a truncated view of what depravity means to say Jesus wears the white hat and everyone else wears the black hat.  There are two very obvious problems to this approach.  The first is that it's demonstrably not true, the second is that those who espouse it can't even show they consistently apply such an interpretive approach to biblical texts in their own discussion of them.

Friday, October 12, 2012

More on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife and how it might have been forged.

HT Jim West

How The Gospel of Jesus' Wife Might Have Been Forged: A Tentative Proposal

... I am going to cut to the chase and offer an "executive summary" of what I regard as the most important contention::

Line 1 of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment copies a typo from a website interlinear of Coptic Thomas

There's quite a bit more, of course, but that's the teaser for those interested in tracking this story.
Some light reading for your weekend, if you wish.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mockingbird: The Authenticity Hoax--the perpetual Coolhunt & The Law of Keeping it Real

People can’t stop themselves from competing for status. It is branded into the side of the brain before you are born. As a primate, status hierarchies are a part of life, and when you remove yourself from the competition in the mainstream you just join the competition in the counterculture. As long as there are clusters of people bent on avoiding what is most popular, within those clusters people will compete for status through conspicuous consumption of art and fashion, music and movies, furniture and gadgets, signaling to insiders the quality of their taste or the ingenuity of their search for the authentic, and signaling to the outsiders that they are not one of them. Whether you are a Juggalo in Kentucky or a Kogal in Tokyo, the internal affairs cool police are always on the prowl for posers.

The application of this to any community is apt, including religious communities.  Ten years ago when I was still at Mars Hill Martians looked down on the outsiders.  Now people who would fit in the label "alienated by the institutional church" look down on the religious institutions they used to give their money to.  But the status-clambering has not changed on either side of the divide, has it?  If it had then, perhaps, a person could provide help or encouragement to people on that other side of the institutional divide in a way that does not dehumanize them.  Conversely, people still on that other side of the divide could look at those of us who aren't on their side and step back and think a moment about how we are not really any less "cool" than they are. 

The quest for authenticity would be a whole lot easier if we didn't so often have a reflexive desire to not express sincere affection for something without seeming to appear as though we're complete suckers for something.  We want to be "authentic" but if we seem "sold out" we might look a bit crazy or appear to be fools.  I have so jaded a perspective on a certain megachurch that people who express zeal for it come off sounding silly and naive to me ... but it's equally true that anyone who is going to actually go watch Atlas Shrugged Part 2 comes off as just as much a sucker (because they are). We're all suckers for something but authenticity seems to be a stance through which we want to say "I'm all for this Subject X but I am not a sucker." 

Adolescent passion seems to simultaneously be the measurement of "sincere" ardor and yet the measure of the coolest and cruelest dismissal of such ardor.  There are few things that seem to simultaneously be so easy to sincerely attach significanct to in music and so easily satirized in the same as adolescent attraction.  The self-authentication of our authenticity may be what dooms our authenticity more than anything else ... yet if we let others authenticate us we are subject to their judgment.  I could try to do some trite thing here about how it will matter whose authentication of your self you seek ... and sometimes the trite thing is the best thing to end with, mentioned without irony and without an attempt to say more.

J. S. Bangs: Toddler Language: Getting Past

... So I don’t think this is something that he acquired as a fixed form, but rather appears to be him accurately applying regular past-tense morphology.

Go read the whole post.  This particular sentence is very cute, though. 

There are dads who are proud of their children for being able to use words and there are dads who are happy to report when a son appears to be accurately applying regular past-tense morphology.

That wins the internet for this week so far as Wenatchee The Hatchet is concerned.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fighting for the Faith discusses The Elephant's Debt

Carl Trueman: The Culture's The Thing
I'm going to highlight a few spots of this to the degree where if you say any bold text that's my emphasis added, not Trueman's.

Looking back on the creepy cults of the 70s and the self-indulgent excesses of the televangelists of the 80s can be a little like watching an episode of some ghastly 'reality TV show': as the freaks and frauds parade on the television screen, that subtle sentiment of "I thank thee Lord that I am not like other men" is never far from the surface.

When it comes to cults and televangelists, of course, evangelical Protestants have an obvious foundation for assuming their superiority to the wild-eyed megalomaniacs and the superannuated mullet-haired mountebanks of the TV revival brigade: orthodox theology. The scoundrels are all deviant or downright heretical. We have the right theology, so we cannot be cultists or corrupt, can we? Sadly, that is not so.

In fact, as Paul himself makes clear, the gospel - the true gospel - can be peddled for power and for profit. To borrow Lutheran terminology, just because the product being sold is the theology of the cross does not mean that the salesman is not a theologian of glory. Cults and corruption are reflections of certain cultures, not of confessions. They can be as orthodox on paper as the Chalcedonian Definition but as perverted in their practices as a poker game run by a man called 'Honest John.' So just because somebody preaches the gospel, uses the name of Jesus every other sentence and cries when they talk about the lost does not guarantee that they are not a cult leader or simply in it for what they can get out of it.

The key is the culture. One must ask cultural questions of such men, not simply doctrinal ones. Is the culture of their church or organisation transparent? Are there clear lines of accountability which flow both ways, from the leadership to the grassroots and from the grassroots to the leadership? Is opposition to leadership decisions addressed in an open fashion or via thuggish backroom manoeuvres and public derision and isolation of critics? And one interesting question which I remember a pastor once asking in a pulpit when I was a college student: how far above the average economic level of the congregation or funding constituency does the leadership live? That little old lady putting her ten dollars in the plate each Sunday or sending in her pledge -- is she funding a lifestyle for functionally unaccountable leaders which is lavish beyond words and built on gospel rhetoric, on not-for-profit tax breaks and on an overwheening sense of entitlement? That can be quite an interesting gauge of whether the church or ministry takes seriously its role as steward of the money it receives. It is, after all, easy to prostitute yourself to the prosperity gospel when your own prophecies of material wealth are effectively underwritten by the desperate dreams of the poor and destitute which you yourself have helped to create and upon which you prey with a depraved and insatiable hunger.

Cultists and con-men are identifiable only by their culture, not by their confessions.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Nathan, David, and Gad the seer: one prophet seems to show up when the other seems missing

It is a common colloquialism for Christians to ask where the Nathan is to speak to David about his wrongs.  It's an understandable collquial expression but I have wondered where Gad the seer was when David took Uriah's wife and had him killed.  Gad the seer was described as David's personal seer through 1 Samuel while David was on the run.

Gad is the name of a prophet who appears in 1 Samuel 22:5 instructing David to head to Judah.  Gad the seer is described as David's prophet in 2 Samuel during the disastrous census.  So "if" Gad is the same person in both books where did he go in the middle?  If Gad was David's prophet or seer (David had a few advisors, it seems, one of whom was Ahithophel, who turned on David eventually and joined Absalom's insurrection) what was Gad up to when David took Uriah the Hittite's wife Bathsheba and arranged for Uriah's death?


We know from Gad's role in talking to David during the census that he an important role but Gad is absent. 

To piggyback on the colloquial question of where Nathan is for David perhaps we can introduce a new element for reflection, where was Gad the seer?  Gad seemed to have played a role in advising David previously but was absent here.  Perhaps a Nathan appears not simply because David had sinned but also because the prophetic voice David had relied on previously had also failed in some way. Nathan, to go by Samuel and Kings as a cohesive narrative, seems to show up when Gad may be out of the picture or drops the ball.  Not that Nathan's scheming with Bathsheba to place Solomon on the throne isn't itself a little problematic but bear with me.  I'm proposing that the need for a Nathan may not just involve a sinful king but also the failure of the king's prophet to confront the king.  Maybe Gad was advising the soldiers on the field and didn't know of David's actions?  I don't know, I'm just throwing that out as a question about the narrative given that both Gad and Nathan play significant prophetic roles in the reign of David.  We've seen from the fitful hand-off Samuel oversaw in setting up Saul and then David as kings that even prophets and judges could mess things up. 

Still, fallible as even they could be their role in challenging David was important, whether it was Gad who told David what he'd done wrong or Nathan.  This may also be a reminder that no matter how great you think your accountability person/network is the reality is that if David's life in the books of Samuel is any indication, that network can fail you and the corrective challenge may come from another avenue you didn't select, didn't anticipate, didn't want, and that hits you with your guilt in an unexpected way by using your own moral outrage as a way to show you your wrongdoing. 

Matt Redmond: Why do they leave the church--vocation and opportunity costs?


Here is my theory – one reason why so many people, young and old, leave the faith is no one is helping them think about what the great majority of what their lives are made up of.

Christianity is given (sold?) to us, in the main, as a life of evangelism, morality and church activities. Evangelism is painful for most people. Morality is great but there are always unbelievers who are more moral. And church activities, even when profoundly helpful, are another spinning plate in already busy lives.

Honestly, I can’t help thinking this is not enough.

Lutherans might suggest that American evangelicals have so imbibed pietistic concepts of faith even in ostensibly non-pietistic settings that there's no theology of the ordinary and no theology of vocation.  Not that I'm a Lutheran ... but I'm making a guess.

Sure, there are the gospel-hyphenated movements that get people to be gospel-centered, and these do some good in helping people see the big picture. But the big picture is not enough. It is not enough to see the big picture.

Our lives are made up of finely drawn details. Each day is full of countless ones. We do all these “little” things at home, at work, and in the marketplace and they just don’t get a lot of sermon time.

Yep.  The big picture is inspiring and wonderful but try explaining the significance of what that big picture might look like in any setting besides a conference and see how long stuff gets discussed. 

I've seen that spiel about "the tortured beauty of the cross" and it doesn't add up to much.  Sorry.  That's still too big picture.  It's vision-casting without boots on the ground.  If I were to do something as, say, a musician, then how I understand the big picture would need to inform how I handle even the minor details of putting together a musical work or playing a piece of music.  A lot would depend on setting. 

If I were playing music in a church then no matter how much I'd want to be able to play some sort of musical extract from Messiaen I wouldn't play it if it alienated listeners.  I've put up with singing or playing songs I actually can't stand for the sake of being of some benefit to others.  I'm an amateur musician but I don't doubt for a second that "vocational" musicianship can often involve being asked to play a piece of music you can't stand that you do because you're able to play it and because someone who loves some music you don't like is willing to pay you enough money for you to do a respectable job playing that music.  This might be why Aranjuez keeps getting played even though a lot of guitarists get sick of it.

They walk away because we are answering the questions they are not asking.

This, I think, is key.  Francis Schaeffer used to say that the problem with American evangelicals is they were busy saying "Jesus is the answer" without considering for a moment "What is the question?" You'd think after decades of evangelicals admiring Francis Schaeffer they'd have paid the slightest bit of attention to his warning but, nope, it seems a lot of folks used Schaeffer's life and work as a shortcut so that they will never have to struggle with any of the stuff Schaeffer struggled through. 

For instance, this is a hobby horse I admit to having, in music if we take seriously that through Christ God is reconciling all things to Himself then there is no high and low, art and pop, serious and frivolous in the arts.  The worship wars played out for decades on a supposition, it seems, that even though we will say there is in Christ no slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female we're sure those distinctions are deal-breakers if things aren't observed the way we want them to be.  That's neither an endorsement nor criticism of either traditional liturgical music or CCM as such but of a mentality that presupposes that all styles are not in some fashion capable of being legitimate musical possibilities. 

When I was a kid and a teenager I'd hear this or that style was off the table for Christians, which would mean there'd be some other Christians, usually folks who already wanted to keep buying more of that music, who would come up with a set of rationales for why that music was more awesomer than the traditional old fuddy-duddy music.  These days the catchphrases used would be "incarnational" (as in "I've heard of it before and i like it") and "missional" (as in if we play this music instead of forty strains of "Have Thy Own Way, Lord" people will sit through things long enough to listen to the forty-minute sermon).  Well, some of them will, no doubt.

Once you get out of the plugged-in plan-to-be-leaders set even in the neo-Calvinist set what do most people do?  Don't they potentially jsut show up, give on Sunday, hit the community group, and have pretty normal lives?  Most people will not end up being community group leader material and don't need to be.  Not that small groups are necessarily bad but small groups discussing what a preacher said earlier the same week is no more "community" than people trading pictures of cats and dogs on Facebook, is it?  It's exactly "not" social interaction in any sense but it may well be no less "mediated", to borrow a media theory abstraction.

Now I could go on at some length about how I came to the conclusion that a Christian musicians can approach all musical styles as equally legitimate and get into points of comparative musicology and observing the way temperament and tuning systems laid a ground work for new approaches to music.  I could try to explain how the old and new styles in the Baroque period paved the way for a polystylistic approach being possible within Church music centuries before the worship wars were happening in the U.S.   I could try to demonstrate how common practice harmony ends up looking curiously the same across the pop and art divide where secondary dominant functions are or how contrapuntal invention is possible in more than one style. 

But rather than do any of that I'm going to make a sweeping assertion, absolutely nobody in church leadership came up with even fifteen words to articulate any of this stuff.  The whole lengthy decades-long process I'm describing was something I worked out privately and with influences and people I couldn't describe as having ever been in some kind of formal ministry.  The official theologians and pastors and so on were generally not equipped to have any connection to any of this sort of process, at least not many of the ones I ever met in person.  I mean, sure, I'd say a Harold Best or a Michael Card could have tackled both a musicological and doctrinal approach to how multiple styles could be approached and in what practical context but they're professionals on both fronts. 

No, if I were to try to think of someone who proposed, for instance, that the musical divisions of the East and West may one day be broken down it was Toru Takemitsu I first remember reading making that comment.  How many evangelicals who would opine on music in a seminary know who that was?  A few, really, but they'd be in music departments, by and large.  Experiments with juxtaposing sound and silence was not strictly the domain of Arvo Part, after all.

Now we could say that people miss the big thing about who God is.  But let me bring it back to music again, how does saying God made all things inform your understanding of a non-modulating transition compared to a modulating transition?  This is where the pious platitudes about the vertical seem more than anything to have no intersection with the horizontal.  I've got some quibbles with the vertical/horizontal stuff but I'll save that for some other time.  For now the distinctions are more useful than annoying.  The vertical angle is great for people who are at the top of the pyramid and want everyone at the bottom to keep siphoning their money up to whatever the vision-caster wants done.  The thing about the vertical is that it's great for people who are on the leadership track where ever they are at.  I get that, but for the people who don't live to get more progressive plulgged-in into being on the mission and have normal lives tehre's a lot of talk about God that doesn't translate because the points of translation get to things that the people who like to talk about God really don't seem to care about. 

For the never married this can become strikingly obvious.  If you want people to avoid fornicating you have to do more than just camp out on the don't fornicate part.  Suppose a guy has never dated anyone and doesn't feel like dating because all the people who pair off don't do anything much artistically?  Now in a neo-Calvinist setting the stock reaction to that would be the guy hasn't manned up and realized that getting hitched and making babies to the glory of Jesus is his God-ordained designed role.  But life is full of opportunity costs.  Talking about Jesus and God doesn't eliminate the reality of opportunity costs. 

There's a price for any investment and interest in life and it may be the big failure of evangelicals, per Matt Redmond's theory, is not simply that we haven't managed to discuss vocation but that we also don't care to talk about opportunity costs in normal ways.  It's easy to talk about the opportunity cost (infinite) Jesus made for the atonement.  If we are defined by what we say "no" to that's a weak spot but it also seems a weak spot that when we say "yes" to something there are things we have to say "no" to along the way.  Evangelicals tend to think of the "yes" and "no" with respect to sin and righteousness while forgetting that there's a whole realm of conduct in which the "yes" and "no" are not about sin and righteousness so much as opportunity costs in which once you commit to something love of neighbor would enjoin you to keep your word even when it ends up being painful. Think of it as a "cheap grace" problem in discussing vocation.  If you choose to marry and start that family you may have to give up the dreams you had of writing those books or songs. 

Conversely, if you write those books or songs you may not have the spouse or the money to support kids.  Are one set of options sinful and the other set not?  No, but evangelicals seem unable to distinguish between competing goods as well as they find ways to polarize decision-making into the right and the wrong.  Evangelicalism may have failed not merely for lacking a theology of vocation but for failing to address the reality that many of lives greatest disappointments and challenges are the result of decisions we regret where we see the opportunity costs of choosing one of two actually legitimate options. When Paul said that marriage or celibacy were equally legitimate options it was as though he gave way too much freedom and people have been trying to systematize a one-size fits all either/or option ever since. 

Maybe the reasons people leave the church is not simply because we are answering questions that aren't being asked (per Francis Schaffer half a century ago). It may also be because we can't level with people about the reality that life is full of roads not taken and that many of these roads are equally legitimate; Most of life's regrets are not necessarily between a Christian choosing righteous option A when he or she wanted to choose sinful option B.  We don't seem to know how to talk with people about the regrets that come from picking one of a couple of equally legitimate options. We have to talk to them as though whatever they didn't pick, or whatever they wanted, was probably a sin.

I've rambled enough on that topic for this post.

The Elephants Debt, a website that discusses James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel real estate and finances

I haven't had a chance to read through every single document on this one but since James MacDonald teamed up with Mark Driscoll to shake hands with T. D. Jakes this site might be of interest.

Link to the "howdy" page presented for your consideration.