...conversations in the Great Hall Thu, 27 Aug 2015 05:14:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...conversations in the Great Hall A word from our sponsor, and Michael’s thoughts on “gear” Thu, 27 Aug 2015 04:01:29 +0000 11940717_10153828238396777_5997104879266822649_n

First today, a word from one of our friends and sponsors, Alan Creech . . .

11128620_10152771540730474_5266719116451218187_nGreetings Internet Monk-ites!

It’s been a while since I’ve made an appearance in the actual blog copy of this estimable site. Many thanks to Chaplain Mike for the opportunity to beg for sales. And, from of old, thanks to the original Internet Monk, Michael Spencer, who was my blogging colleague, who became my friend, and who was also, my internet rosary “pimp.” Pray for us, Michael.

Some of you have bought prayer beads from me before — thanks for that. In addition to the 1-decade “Catholic” style rosaries (you don’t have to be a Catholic to use them –seriously), I now also make quite a few 1-Week Anglican Rosaries.

Don’t be afraid, it’s just a prayer tool, folks. I have several of each made and ready to go out the door – for you or a friend. You can take a look at what I have ready on my alancreech rosaries FaceBook page– or take a look at my website for more options. I’ll be very happy to make another for you. Just let me know what you’d like and I’ll get that to you as quickly as I can.

Thanks for letting me invade this sacred space. Peace to all in this house.


• • •

Note from CM: Seriously, folks, Alan makes beautiful prayer beads, which I have used personally and given as gifts over the years. You can access his site at any time by clicking on the link on the right side of our Internet Monk site.

Perhaps you have never used a tool like this for prayer and meditation. If not, I recommend it. We are embodied people, and we must take our physicality into consideration when praying and engaging in “spiritual” activities. This is one way we can “keep our bodies under control and make them our slaves” (1Cor 9:27, CEV) as we practice our faith.

In my evangelical/fundamentalist background, we resisted the use of what Michael Spencer called his “gear.” Here’s a post from 2009 in which he addresses those who have problems with it.

19557_306557776776_817076_nThoughts on “Gear”
by Michael Spencer

Evangelicals have no serious arguments to make against the use of “gear.” We’re up to our ears in our own versions of the stuff. We can point out the differences in what we believe is going on, but we’re no innocents. God using matter and the senses works just fine for evangelicals, so get that smirk off your face.

Have you seen how Bibles are marketed in evangelicalism? The covers? The “Favorite preacher” editions? The things we say will happen if you buy the right one?

Have you seen people buying relics from Spurgeon? (Not bones, but publications, pictures, letters.) Have you seen the picture I posted from the Lifeway at Southern Seminary selling Calvin bobbleheads and busts of Spurgeon? If they were actually selling “hair from Spurgeon” how do you think that product would move?

Do you have any idea how many evangelicals buy things like WWJD bracelets, Prayer of Jabez trinkets, infinite numbers of t-shirts, pictures of angels, pictures of Jesus, various versions of the cross, manger scenes, all kinds of Biblical art and statuary?

But seriously, when I was a young Christian, I was given Hook’s famous painting of the laughing Jesus. My wall in my classroom has a full print of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son.

Someone bought all those “Footprints” gear. And the picture of Jesus carrying the man with the hammer and the nails in his hands? Who bought that?

In my family, old Bibles and relics of Godly ancestors are treasured. My uncle was a revered pastor. I have a Bible, sermon notebooks and a ring he always wore. I have family Bibles from both parents.

Ok, we don’t bow down to these things. Oh wait, what were they doing at the last Promise Keepers meeting I was at? Going down on the floor and bowing in front of a cross.

OK, we don’t interact with images of….Oh wait. Who has all those Passion plays? And who went to see Passion of the Christ 12 times, right there with their Roman Catholic friends.

Ok, we don’t use these things….Oh wait, who came up with prayer cloths and the whole bit about things and people being “anointed?” Who first said “put your hands on the radio/television?”

Well, we don’t go as far…..Oh wait, who has FAN PAGES for their favorite preachers? Who goes across the country just to hear Brother so and so in person? Who can write an ad for a person claiming that God’s Spirit hangs around them like cologne?

We don’t have anything going with the dead…..Oh wait, what are we singing about in all those Gospel songs? Who prints “Daddy’s First Christmas in Heaven” letters in the local paper? Who buys all those books from people claiming to have seen heaven/hell in some near-death experience? And do you have time for some church cemetery stories?

We don’t have pilgrimages….Are we really going to have this conversation? Do you have any water from the Jordan in your desk? Know anyone in Israel now buying stuff?

Can we talk about Judgment House sometime? Can we talk about what goes on at Christian concerts?

Some of Michael Spencer's gear

Some of Michael Spencer’s gear

Humans are religious. In their religious practices, they endow objects, associations, places, persons and certain sense experiences with meaning. They use these objects, etc. to focus upon God’s presence in the world. All that Catholics/Orthodox do is come out and tell you they believe God mediates his presence through matter. We believe the exact same thing, and can outdo our brothers and sisters in the gear department most days. (I haven’t seen Catholic amusement parks and their bookstores are not quite as numerous as Family Bookstores, Lifeway, etc.)

I’m a new covenant Christian. NONE of this stuff is necessary. It can get out of hand, both in practice and in the money spent on them. But I believe that the New Covenant isn’t the enemy of bread, wine, water, art or a hundred other ways the Spirit uses matter and sense experiences to commune with us.

If you want to point at a string of beads and a cross, see Marian worship and pagan roots, that’s fine. Don’t look too closely into the origins of your Christmas tree or the date for Easter, but that’s fine. I don’t want to pray to Mary or worship her either. I’ve heard and read 30 hours of arguments for the place of Mary in the RCC, I’m not as ignorant as I once was, but the whole supposed post-Gospels career of Mary misses me completely.

But I understand what’s going on with icons, beads, statues and medals. It’s very much what’s going on with your ESV Study Bible, your picture of Calvin, your feelings about your favorite Praise and Worship music and your church’s insistence on an “Altar Call.”

It’s OK with me. Let’s just be honest about it all. The differences matter and we should air them. But evangelicals need to get on the bus to rehab with everyone else.

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Wisdom and the Insufficiency of “God-Talk” Wed, 26 Aug 2015 04:01:31 +0000 15372847092_772d0c7dd6_z

There is something about the biblical God which enables a “secular” account of human life to be given.

• Colin E. Gunton
Quoted in Fretheim,
God and World in the OT

• • •

I absolutely love the quote above. When describing the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible, von Rad made a similar statement when he observed the language such literature uses: “experiences of community life are understood in a predominantly ‘secular’ way or, to be more precise . . . as a secular entity governed by Yahweh.”

In other words, the Bible’s wisdom literature gives the lie to the notion that religious people must fill their mouths with religious language all the time. “God-talk” is not the only way there is to speak about matters that are ultimately divine. It is also overly restrictive and insufficient to describe the actual world God made and the life humans experience in this world.

In God and World in the OT, Fretheim observes how scriptural wisdom teaching is universal. Israel’s wisdom teachers borrowed liberally from their Ancient Near Eastern neighbors and also phrased most of their own instructions in terms that evoke creation at large and not the specific redemptive covenant history of Israel. Wisdom herself speaks of God’s worldwide perspective in Proverbs 8:30-31 —

 I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.

Furthermore, wisdom is presented, as the quote from von Rad above indicates, in secular terms. Fretheim comments:

God allows the creation to be itself, which includes both being and becoming. That is, creatures are able to be what they were created to be; at the same time, because the creation is not a fixed reality, creatures are in the process of becoming. In this complex and ongoing process, God honors the createdness of the creatures, while not removing the divine self from their lives.

All of life is sacred, but that does not mean we must talk about all of life in sacred, special language. We can talk about mathematics in mathematical terms, the sciences in scientific terms, history in terms of people and events in the context of natural human and societal processes, human relationships in terms of the actual physical, emotional, down to earth things we experience in life.

As people of faith, we are certainly free to talk about how we think God is involved in any matter — that is a legitimate topic of inquiry. And it is always appropriate to be thankful to God and cognizant of God’s presence. But we don’t have to automatically bring God-language into every conversation or consciously try to speak of God’s participation in every matter we discuss.

In fact, to do so is to act in a way that is contrary to the way God made the world. He has hidden himself, by and large, and left it to humans to discover this world and this life and give our own language to our experiences.

God gave us the Bible, you say. Isn’t that what it’s for? Well, despite what people claim about the Bible, it most certainly is not a textbook for understanding everything in creation and in our life experiences. And in those parts of the Bible where we are given such instruction (the wisdom literature), the language is predominantly universal and secular!

But just in case you don’t feel right about not fitting in with those who are truly “radical” in their faith, “on fire” for God, and “sold out” for Jesus, here’s a video that will load you up with proper spiritual language so you won’t feel so left out. I’m truly not sure what world this kind of speech was made for, but it’s not the one in which I live.

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Daniel Jepsen: The Sin of the Orthodox Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:01:17 +0000 Job and his False Comforters from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier

Job and his False Comforters from the Book of Hours of Étienne Chevalier

The Sin of the Orthodox
by Daniel Jepsen

Note: by “Orthodox” I am referring to those who are biblical and traditional in their theology; I am not referring to the Orthodox Church.

• • •

Each time I read the book of Job I find deeper meanings.  As I read it this week, one idea that kept coming to my mind was the sin of those who thought they had God all figured out. At the conclusion of the book, God responds to Job, and then responds to Eliphaz and his friends. The friends were, you will recall, the “miserable comforters” who debated with Job about the justice of God.

The substance of their great debate could be summarized this way:

  • The friends argue that since God is just, Job’s afflictions must be the punishment for some hidden sin.
  • Job argues in response (repeatedly): Look, I don’t have any “secret sin” that deserves this kind of punishment, so God is not being just to me.
  • The friends then accuse him of undermining the notion of God’s justice.
  • Job responds by repeating what he knows: I am innocent, yet enduring incredible suffering, and this suffering seems to come from God himself.
  • Again, Job implies, “God is not being just with me”.

Now, of course, we readers are let into a secret.  Chapters one and two describe the scene in heaven where God twice describes Job, “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil”.  In fact, God says, “there is none like him on earth”.  So we know before the dialogue begins that the three friends are in the wrong.  Job’s afflictions are not punishments.  Job is blameless before God.

But imagine if we did not have this information.  Imagine we walked in to the story right where the dialogue starts.  On the one hand, we have three wise, older men who have an exalted view of God and are eager to defend his ways.  They are completely orthodox in their understanding, and their first priority is to protect God’s reputation.  On the other hand, you have Job, who seems to be not only suffering, but positively afflicted by God (the suddenness and completeness of his losses cannot be mere coincidence).  Job argues that he is blameless, therefore God is not being just, while the orthodox friends argue that God is just, therefore Job is not blameless.  Who is right?

Job on the Dung Heap (detail), Bourdichon - Getty Museum

Job on the Dung Heap (detail), Bourdichon – Getty Museum

Wait: before you answer, again try to strip your mind of what you know from chapters one and two.  And you may find yourself in the position of Elihu.  Elihu is a rather mysterious figure.  He shows up without introduction and his name is not mentioned again after his long speech (chapters 32-37).  His speech does not serve to advance the dialogue at all, and neither God nor Job nor the friends respond to it.

Here is what I think: Elihu is intended to function as a warning to the reader.  His viewpoint and speech (“Job, you are wrong; I know wisdom, and you are speaking folly”) are the natural conclusion we are tempted to draw simply by listening to the speeches (without the prologue).  In his speeches, he not only agrees with the orthodox friends, but is angry at them for not being able to withstand Job’s arguments.

It is right after his speech that God Himself arrives on the scene and, incredibly, joins in the argument.  God does two things.

First, he reproves Job (chapters 38-41) for failing to understand what Kierkegaard would later call “the infinite qualitative distinction” between God and man.  Job is wrong because He simply is not in a place to understand God’s ways, and therefore is recklessly hasty in saying that God is unjust to him.

The second thing God does, then, is surprising.  He approves Job, especially in contrast to his orthodox friends.  Twice he tells the orthodox, “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has”.  In fact, God regards this not only as a mistake, but a sin, for which they need to offer a sacrifice and ask Job(!) to pray for them.  God seems less upset by Job yelling at Him than the friends yelling at Job on God’s behalf.

This, then, is the surprising conclusion to the dialogue: God and Elihu are contrasting figures, even though Elihu represents the orthodox views about God. Elihu listens and takes the side of the orthodox friends and rebukes Job, while God listens and ultimately takes the side of Job and rebukes the orthodox.

And this is the heart of the book of Job: God’s ways are, in the final analysis, not able to be fully understood by man, simply because we are never in the position that He is in.  Even the most godly (like Job) and the most orthodox and cerebral (like Job’s friends) can never understand God in the same way they understand the things of this world.  In fact, God describes the words of the orthodox friends, who felt they were speaking godly wisdom, as “folly”.

Now, here is where the rubber hits the road.  I have always taken pride in holding correct, orthodox views of God and theology.  And I still feel that the traditional, conservative, biblical viewpoint is the best way to understand the world in which we find ourselves in.  Yet, books like Job warn me to be very humble about this.  In the end, I have little doubt that my orthodox, evangelical theology will be like the fig leafs the first couple used to clothe themselves: wholly inadequate, and replaced by something else by God’s grace.

What does this mean practically?  It means that we should be careful that our study of theology should never outstrip our understanding of “the infinite qualitative distinction”.  It means our eagerness to defend God should never come at the expense of loving people.  It means we must learn to live out our worldview fully, all the while realizing that when we see Him all of our previous “knowledge” will be fig leaves of foolishness.

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