...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Thu, 28 May 2015 04:01:31 +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 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The God who continues his creative work Thu, 28 May 2015 04:01:31 +0000 Beginning and End, George Stefanescu-Ramnic

Beginning and End, George Stefanescu-Ramnic

I finally ordered a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, Terence Fretheim’s God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation. I started it last night and am already finding rich material for contemplation.

In God and World, Fretheim is not just emphasizing the early chapters of Genesis, nor even OT texts that speak explicitly of God creating. No, he sees “creation” as a theme which pervades the very fabric of the Hebrew Bible.

Explicit creational interests occur in every corner of the Old Testament, including in every major tradition, from early to late, including the priestly, Exodus, Sinai, Royal-Zion, and prophetic traditions, and in numerous echoes and allusions. They also occur in most types of literature: poetry and prose, laments and hymns of praise, narratives and Wisdom poems, prophetic oracles and apocalyptic visions.

The first question he asks, therefore, is “To what does ‘creation’ refer?” Fretheim finds three broad categories — “three interrelated points of reference: the beginning and the end of the world and the times in between.”

  • Originating creation
  • Continuing creation
  • Completing creation

In contemporary discussions about the subject, most of the debate focuses on the first point: God the Maker of heaven and earth, the One of whom it is said: By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host” (Psalm 33:6).

But it is the second category that gets my attention here. Terence Fretheim’s summary is worth repeating in toto here as a source of rich meditation today on the One who continues to renew his creation.

Creation is not simply past; it is not just associated with “the beginning.” God does not cease to be the Creator when the work of Genesis 1– 2 has been completed nor is God thereafter reduced to the role of creative manager. With reference to Ps 104: 30, Anderson rightly claims that the verb used for originating creation in Genesis 1– 2 (ba-ra-‘) here refers to continuing creation: “Creation is not just an event that occurred in the beginning, at the foundation of the earth, but is God’s continuing activity of sustaining creatures and holding everything in being.” While generally helpful, such a statement raises two issues:

(a) To say that God holds “everything in being” claims too much, as does Anderson’s assertion that, were it not for the reality that “the Creator sustains the world, it would lapse back into primeval chaos.” Rather, several texts witness to God’s having established the basic and dynamic infrastructure of the world once and for all, guaranteed by a divine promise (Gen 8: 22; 9: 8-17; see Jer 31: 35-37; 32: 17-26). God does not, say, make a daily decision to sustain the creation. Because God keeps promises, the future of the creation is assured without particular divine action to that end. God created a reliable and trustworthy world and, while God will be pervasively present (see below), God lets the creation be what it was created to be, without micromanagement, tight control, or interference every time something goes wrong. At the same time, one must not translate a reliable creation into a fixed and static system. Elements of unpredictability and open-endedness, what Eccl 9: 11 calls “chance,” are an integral dimension of the ways things work in God’s creation. Not everything has been predetermined; genuine novelty is possible in God’s world, both for God and for God’s creatures. And, as Genesis 3 soon informs us, God’s creation does not preclude creaturely possibilities that are negative, even anticreational.

(b) As we have noted, continuing creation is often associated only with preserving/ sustaining the world. While creation may entail preservation in the broadest sense of the term, that word can be misleading, as if it had the sense of preserving creation just as it was “in the beginning” (a “finished product”). Continuing creation cannot be restricted to that understanding; it also refers to the development of the creation through time and space, to the emergence of genuinely new realities in an increasingly complex world. God’s continuing creative work is both preserving and innovative. Anderson, too, will make a more inclusive claim: “the Creator not only sustains the order of the cosmos but, more than that, does the ‘new thing’ that surprises all expectations (see Isa 42: 9; 43: 18-19).”

This continuing creative activity means that God has an ongoing relationship to the world as a Creator, and that relationship, by virtue of who God is, brings into being that which is “new” again and again. God not only continues to care for the creation and provide for its needs, as important as that is, but God also continues to create the genuinely new. God’s continuing creative activity enables the becoming of the creation. That Isaiah 40– 55, for example, can so readily use the language of creation for God’s salvific action in the return from exile is a specific manifestation of God’s continuing creative work between the beginning and the end (e.g., Isa 41: 20). The language used for this action of God is “a new thing” (Isa 42: 9; 43: 19; 48: 6; see also Jer 31: 22, “the LORD has created a new thing on the earth”). The language of divine birthing in Second Isaiah (e.g., Isa 42: 14; 49: 19-21) is further witness that something genuinely new is brought into being.

As we have noted, creation, while centered in the physical world in many ways, has to do with the continuing activity of God in all spheres of life whereby the world, often threatened by the presence of sin and evil, is ordered, maintained, evaluated, and renewed. Generally speaking, those spheres of life include the historical, social, political, and economic— everything that is important for the best life possible for all. “The whole thrust of the Old Testament proclamation guards against any flight into a beyond which is turned away from the world.” The broad understanding of creation in ancient Israel was crucial for such a purpose; it helped assure a fundamental earthiness, a down-to-earth understanding of the faith that was related to life as it was actually lived rather than a faith centered in a spiritualistic, futuristic, or sentimental piety.

Moreover, continuing creation is not a neutral reality, as if it were only a matter for God to throw the switches and grease the wheels. God’s continuing creation is as “good” as the original creation, pursued and shaped by fundamentally gracious purposes. Continuing creation has to do with the ongoing development of those earthly conditions that are most conducive to the flourishing of life in view of new times and places. Given the realities of sin and evil, such continuing creational activity will not proceed without significant opposition. But God will be creatively at work in the often tragic effects of such overt and covert resistance, unrestingly seeking to bring “good” out of evil, to liberate the captives and to build up communities.

Such understandings of continuing creation also have implications for our view of the human being. The human is not a fixed entity from the beginning but, along with the rest of creation, is in the process of becoming. The human is not somehow exempted from ever new developments taking place in the larger creation. Creation as a whole is open to a future in which the genuinely new can be brought into being, and human beings are among the creatures that are creatively affected. Moreover, human beings are invited to play an important role in the becoming of such a world. Indeed, as we shall see, the texts will speak of God using both human and nonhuman creatures in this ongoing creative activity and such creaturely participation will not be inconsequential. To put that point positively, the creative activity of the human, in particular, has the potential of significantly enhancing the ongoing life of the world and every creature therein, indeed, bringing into being that which is genuinely new.

• Terence Fretheim
from God and World in the OT, chapter one

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Natural Law and Sexual Morality Wed, 27 May 2015 04:01:01 +0000 Song of Songs, Weil

Song of Songs, Weil

Any sexual act other than one man and one woman engaging in the type of intercourse inherently capable of procreation is an unnatural sexual act.

• Ronald L. Conte Jr.
“May the Marriage Bed Be Immaculate”

• • •

In light of the Irish vote to legalize same-sex marriage, a decision that has its Catholic leaders pondering what the future might hold, I thought we might discuss a few thoughts about traditional Christian teaching on sexuality, in particular the place of “natural law” in understanding sexual morality.

We traditional Christians tend to think our view of morality is a slam-dunk. That nature itself teaches clearly the purposes and goals for sexual relations, and that God’s revelation in the Bible and the Church’s Word and Spirit-prompted traditions are unequivocally compatible with those natural laws. As Peter Leithart writes at First Things: “Through the creation, human beings know the ordinance of God that there is a ‘natural function’ for sexuality.”

In Humane Vitae (1968), the monumental Catholic document about contemporary sexual morality, the Church teaches that moral sexual acts meet three criteria. They must be:

  • Marital
  • Unitive
  • Procreative

As the Catechism says:

“Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter—appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.”

This makes sense to me. I count myself traditional when it comes to matters of sexual morality.

But I wonder if appealing to natural law is really the best way to make the traditional point. It seems to me that nature teaches us some things fundamental about biology and reproduction. Male and female bodies complement one another. Human beings reproduce by joining them together in sexual intercourse. If we bring our Creator into the discussion, we might say that God designed our bodies this way for this purpose — this biological, procreative purpose.

We also know that the experience of sexual union can provide great pleasure, enhancing the concept of a unitive function for sex. (More on “pleasure” in a moment.)

I’m not convinced that nature teaches us that sex should be marital. Or that “marital” must involve only one man and one woman, joined together for life. It seems to me that we need more information than what we could get from observing the natural world to come up with that.

Gary Gutting, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, thinks the Church may have overplayed her hand with its emphasis on natural law teaching, especially in light of the contemporary debate on same-sex unions.

The problem is that, rightly developed, natural-law thinking seems to support rather than reject the morality of homosexual behavior. Consider this line of thought from John Corvino, a philosopher at Wayne State University: “A gay relationship, like a straight relationship, can be a significant avenue of meaning, growth, and fulfillment. It can realize a variety of genuine human goods; it can bear good fruit. . . . [For both straight and gay couples,] sex is a powerful and unique way of building, celebrating, and replenishing intimacy.” The sort of relationship Corvino describes seems clearly one that would contribute to a couple’s fulfillment as human beings — whether the sex involved is hetero- or homosexual. Isn’t this just what it should mean to live in accord with human nature?

Noting that proponents also use natural law to show the immorality of birth control, masturbation and even non-reproductive sexual acts between heterosexuals, Gutting asks two questions:

First, why, even if nonreproductive sex were somehow less “natural” than reproductive, couldn’t it still play a positive role in a humanly fulfilling life of love between two people of the same sex? Second, why must nonreproductive sex be only for the selfish pleasure of each partner, rather than, as Corvino put it, a way of building, celebrating, and replenishing their shared intimacy?

Canto 6 (Song of Songs), Dali

Canto 6 (Song of Songs), Dali

He is making the argument that the unitive and marital functions of sexuality can be fulfilled in relationships and through practices that are not necessarily procreative. The most conservative Catholic teachers disagree, and deny that any sexual act that leads to orgasm apart from intercourse is legitimate, even for heterosexual married couples. Yet we know that married couples continue their sexual relations long past childbearing years when no procreative purpose is in view, and find ways of pleasuring one another apart from intercourse alone. I suspect that those teachers don’t have a full appreciation of the significance of mutual pleasure in the sexual relationship. As a traditionalist, if I were listing the essential elements of a “moral sexual act,” I would add for mutual pleasure to marital, unitive, and procreative.

This “pleasure principle” is where a closer look at nature and human nature in particular might backfire on the traditional view. For example, because of the male anatomy, sexual intercourse is perfectly designed for male pleasure. This is not the case, however, with women. The anatomy of the female orgasm is focused on the clitoris, which is outside the vagina. The vast majority of women do not experience sexual climax through intercourse, but through direct stimulation of this external organ, and it’s entirely possible that those who do have orgasms during coitus have them because they receive indirect stimulation there. In other words, if sex is for mutual pleasure, then nature provided women with the wrong equipment to receive that pleasure through the procreative act alone.

It is not only nature, but the Bible itself that emphasizes the “mutual pleasure” significance of sex. In fact, one entire book of the Bible is devoted to it: The Song of Songs. This inspired, canonical work celebrates the unitive and mutual pleasure facets of love and sexuality with little emphasis on its marital aspects and no emphasis at all on its procreative possibilities. Maybe this book is one way God laughs at our little moral formulae.

Now, none of this is enough to persuade me to be anything other than the conservative person I am when it comes to sex, marriage, and family. And I have no agenda here of trying to persuade anyone else of anything. All this is simply to say that observations like these make me more cautious about thinking any case for a certain form of morality is strictly black and white, especially when based upon so-called “natural law” teaching.

This also makes me want to take much less of an “us vs. them” approach to talking about sexuality. The fact is, people who do not practice traditional morality may find great meaning, satisfaction, and deep bonds of love in their sexual relationships. For me to simply dismiss those people out there in “the world” as enslaved and bound by selfish desires, seeking their own pleasure at the expense of others, is not an honest portrayal of the people I observe every day. Loving my neighbor means I can learn from my neighbor, appreciate my neighbor, and see the image of God in him or her even though we hold different moral views.

I can maintain my moral beliefs and still confess that things can get a bit murky.

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Four which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the sky,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the middle of the sea,
And the way of a man with a maid.

• Proverbs 30:18-19, NASB


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Matthew B. Redmond: Some Thoughts on What Is Happening at The Village Church Tue, 26 May 2015 04:01:36 +0000 the-village-church-lead-pastor-matt-chandler-spoke-with-christian-hip-hop-portal-rapzilla-com-in-an-interview-published-aug-31-2012

Note from CM: Sin rules this world through the unholy trinity of money, sex, and power. Most of the scandals with which the church has to deal have something to do with one or more of these three areas. And often, the original transgression ends up being but a small part of the problem. As we have learned well, the cover-up is usually more significant in the long run than the crime itself. It only compounds the original error, adds sin to sin exponentially, and creates a multitude of problems that go far beyond embezzlement, adultery, or abuse of power.

Last week was not a good week of publicity in this regard for Christians, especially evangelicals. There was the Duggar affair, for example. We’re not going to talk about that one, because frankly, I have no interest in that little corner of celebrity religiosity. I’m not sure anyone will ever be able to unravel all the strands of money, sex, and power that are in play there.

The situation that gets my attention, and that sparked interest in today’s author, has to do with The Village Church, whose lead pastor, Matt Chandler, has been a respected preacher, and one for whom this blog has at times expressed appreciation.

My friend Matthew B. Redmond, who blogs at Echoes and Stars, has been following their story and today we present some of his thoughts about it. If you don’t know the situation, follow the link in his first sentence and review it first.

• • •

Some Thoughts on What Is Happening at The Village Church
by Matthew B. Redmond

If you do not know what is going on, you need to go read the documentation.

1. At this point, there are very few facts to debate. The story comes from official documentation from The Village Church and the missions agency, SIM. To ask for another side of the story is to simply bury your head in the sand and not want to deal with the uncomfortable facts of the actual story.

2. A church (and its leaders) that places itself in the position of teaching and instructing men and women all over the world through conferences and resources will not be and should not be able to enjoy the luxury of avoiding criticism in its practice of discipline, especially when some of that instruction is on the subject of discipline itself.

3. One question The Village Church and its defenders will have to answer is, “Why is this not a biblical grounds for divorce if they do in fact have the biblical grounds to remove him from ministry indefinitely and feel the need to warn the parents of the church about this man and his exposure to children?”

4. If the use of child pornography is in fact pedophilia, then Karen, the wife has the biblical grounds to divorce/annul the marriage according to most evangelical position papers. The job of the elders is not to validate that decision but to support her.

5. The Lead Pastor of The Village Church is Matt Chandler, is also the President of Acts 29. To assume this kind of thinking has not and will not be exported to other Acts 29 churches is naive. If you support what The Village Church is doing to Karen, then you will think it is a good thing. If you do not, then this should worry you.

6. What I cannot understand is why they would be so clear in their communication about the pedophile husband not being under discipline and how the wife emphatically is under discipline.This would have to assume the best about his repentance and then assume the worst about her motives.

7. There will be many voices calling for “grace” for the husband caught in his sin. I agree with those voices. But I do not agree with all the addendum to that call for grace that would deprive the same for the wife/victim. Grace for him does not mean she, the church, and law enforcement have no recourse for action against him.

8. In the end, I cannot imagine anyone at The Village Church admitting they blew it. I hope I am wrong. I want to believe the best about them. But they have no real outside accountability since they are a SBC church and they are now the flagship of Acts 29. Matt Chandler is among the elite of the celebrity preachers in the Evangelical Industrial Complex. He and his fellow pastors will not have to worry about being marked by this. That is, until it happens again.

9. And it will happen again. And again and again. The dude-bro will get a pass and his wife will be expected to fall in line. This is exactly what happened with SGM. The wife was expected to stay with the pedophile husband and if they did not, the wife was disciplined. And it kept happening.

10. There is no place on the Scriptures saying the leaders of a church must give permission for a divorce if there are biblical grounds. A church cannot and must not discipline where no sin has occurred.

11. I think it is a good thing when husbands and wives can reconcile after adultery. But the most cynical part of me thinks the desire of churches to see husbands and wives reconcile in situations like this is marketing. I may need to repent of that but I fear also I may be right.

12. Many will ask, “Why do you care?” The short is answer is that I was once on staff at an Acts 29 church.

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A Memorial Day Meditation: Pentecost and Memorial Day Mon, 25 May 2015 04:05:06 +0000   
It is an odd conjunction of special days: Pentecost Sunday and Memorial Day (U.S.A.).

Memorial Day looks back and commemorates the sacrifices of the past. Pentecost, an event which grew out of the greatest sacrifice and triumph, looks forward to a new day.

The one recalls war. The other anticipates peace.

One emphasizes what people have done to secure a nation’s freedom. The other stresses what God must do if people would be truly free within.

One emphasizes our battles against flesh and blood. The other reminds us our greatest conflicts are not with human enemies, but with spiritual forces of darkness.

Memorial Day is solemn. Pentecost is exuberant.

The one is a day for silent reflection. The other a day for speaking the good news with tongues on fire.

The sign of Memorial Day is a national flag, billowing in the breeze. On Pentecost, the wind of God blows from heaven, and God’s people are marked with cross and crown.

On Memorial Day, communities have parades to honor our country. At Pentecost, the people of God are sent marching into all nations of the world to share the good news.

Our leaders make speeches on Memorial Day, urging us to remember those who gave their lives to protect America. On Pentecost, great is the company of preachers who point us to him who died and rose again to make the whole world new.

Families decorate graves with flags and flowers on Memorial Day. On Pentecost, we receive gifts from him who broke the power of the grave and will one day raise the dead to life again.

One day is an occasion for family picnics. On the other, God’s family gathers at the Table.

Memorial Day was designed to bring our nation together. Pentecost makes people from every tongue, tribe and nation one in Christ.

On Memorial Day, our leaders remind us that we too may be called to take up arms in defense of our freedom. On Pentecost, we lay down our arms and our reliance upon them, confessing the ultimate power of love and service.

Memorial Day commemorates the sacrifices of a few in uniform who died for the many, that all might live in peace. Pentecost calls every man, woman, and child to lay down their lives for others that all might live forever.

On Memorial Day, our leaders tell us that our future peace and prosperity depends upon maintaining our military might. At Pentecost God reminds us, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.”

Memorial Day celebrates the common grace of living in a free and prosperous nation. Pentecost marks the extraordinary grace of God who has come to live within us and make us his own temple.

One focuses on America. The other focuses on Christ.

Each, in different ways, is of value and importance.

But only one day has ultimate significance.

Give honor to whom honor is due. 

But remember, there is a new day coming. At Pentecost, we begin to taste it.

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Sundays with Michael Spencer: May 24, 2015 Sun, 24 May 2015 05:00:07 +0000 Pentecost, Giotto

Pentecost, Giotto

If you haven’t read them recently, the relevant passages on Spiritual gifts are 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12, and 1 Peter 4.

Most of us who are old enough recall when we first heard teaching on the subject of “spiritual gifts,” or charismata. For me, it was in the Charismatic movement’s first wave, which involved me both with Catholic charismatics and with charismatics in the mainline churches. That teaching almost entirely dealt with the gift of tongues and other “supernatural” gifts of the Spirit.

Later on, many of us encountered evangelical teaching on spiritual gifts in teaching that seemed heavily influenced by various kinds of secular personality theory, especially the identification of various personality characteristics as they pertained to work, relationships and self-understanding.

The Biblical material on spiritual gifts took a back seat to questions of fulfillment and happiness. I’ve known many Christians who were on a permanent quest to be accurately defined in terms of spiritual gifts/personality type/vocational preference and style.

More recently, “spiritual gift” seminars and inventories have become a standard part of the megachurch’s appropriation of Biblical material for its own programmatic needs. Spiritual gift inventories were not so much about finding who had the gift of “helping” as getting adequate cameramen for the 11 a.m. service.

I’ve always thought that despite the exegetical mysteries we’ll probably always face with these passages and this topic, the practical application of spiritual gifts was not really in question. But because of the connection with controversial topics many don’t want to explore and because spiritual gift inventories are assumed to be the best application, little new is ever said about spiritual gifts.

A recent sermon by my pastor/friend Fr. Peter Mathews boiled the essentials of these passages down to these four points, all with application.

1) The Holy Spirit gives charismata.
2) The Holy Spirit gives diverse charismata.
3) The Holy Spirit gives diverse charismata to diverse people.
4) The Holy Spirit gives diverse charismata to diverse people for the common good.

After hearing that message, I found myself thinking about the one thing I find missing in most evangelical teaching on spiritual gifts. I’d insert it as point “3.5”

3.5) The Holy Spirit gives diverse charismata to diverse people in diverse situations.

Much of the teaching on spiritual gifts that has morphed into “inventories” and such seems to be about my own possession of a gift so tied to my own identity that no matter what situation I am in, that gift is my one offering to the community.

So if my gift is teaching, then I am gifted for teaching in every situation. And I’m justified to say “I would like to help, but that’s not my gift/calling/ministry.”

Instead, I’d like to suggest that the Holy Spirit manifests a diversity of gifts in diverse people in diverse situations, and what may be my spiritual gift in situation “A” may no be at all what I am gifted to do in situation “B.”

The applicable prayer here is not just “What can I do?” but “Father, how can I be a gift from you to this situation?”

We actively seek out the manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s diverse empowerment, but we have a spiritual sensitivity that if toilets need to be cleaned more than Leviticus needs to be taught, then I am gifted, called and empowered to do that very thing.

I believe that the economic downturn and the situations we all may face as families, neighborhoods, churches and ministries may provide a much needed opportunity for us to rethink “charismata,” and be much more open to what God would have us do and be in a new situation.

The current economic downturn provides many opportunities for kinds of “giftedness” that aren’t that valuable or appreciated when times are good. How many of us think about offering rides to others, or sharing a meal, or creating a food pantry when times a good? How many of us see our gifts in terms of program rather than in terms of what the Spirit is doing and yearning to do in very unusual situations?

I’d welcome your thoughts on spiritual gifts, and particularly on having a more flexible and less deterministic view of how they function in the church, the Kingdom and the world.

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Saturday Ramblings, May 23, 2015: Memorial Day Edition Sat, 23 May 2015 04:01:49 +0000 1968_AMC_SCRambler_Rambler_Hurst_Replica_Clone_Restomod_For_Sale_Front_resize

1968 AMC SCRambler

Saturday Ramblings, May 23, 2015: Memorial Day Edition

Greetings iMonks. Today, Dan is away at the Moody Pastor’s Conference, you know, the one where all the moody, grumpy pastors congregate and complain. That leaves me, one unworthy to tie Dan’s hiking boots, to lead us in rambling on this Memorial Day Saturday.

We’ll start with a Top Ten list of quotes from David Letterman’s final show:

DL goodbye10. “We’ve done over 6000 shows and I was here for most of them, and I can tell you, a pretty high percentage of those shows absolutely sucked.” (DL)

9. “I’m just glad your show is being given to another white guy.” (Chris Rock)

8. “Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale.” (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)

7. “Earlier today we got a call from Stephen Hawking, and he, bless his heart, had done the math, because he’s a genius and stuff, and 6,028 shows and he ran the numbers, and he said it works out to about eight minutes of laughter.” (DL)

6. “Honestly, Dave, I’ve always found you to be a bit of an over-actor.” (Jim Carrey)

5. “You want to know what I’m going to do now that I’m retired? By God, I hope to become the new face of Scientology.” (DL)

4. “Your extensive plastic surgery was a necessity and a mistake.” (Steve Martin)

3. “When we started the show there were mixed responses. Half of the people said, ‘That show doesn’t have a chance.’ The other half said, ‘That show doesn’t have a prayer.’ ” (DL)

2. “My fellow Americans, our long, national nightmare is over” (President Ford). “Our long, national nightmare is over” (President Bush). “Our long, national nightmare is over” (President Clinton). “Our long, national nightmare is over” (President George W. Bush). “Our long, national nightmare is over. Letterman is retiring” (President Obama).

1. “It’s beginning to look like I’m not gonna get The Tonight Show.” (DL)

The month of May in Indianapolis may not be what it used to be, but it’s still all about “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” — the Indianapolis 500. This year is the 99th running of the race (next year should be amazing), and Scott Dixon will be on the pole after winning qualifications with an average speed of 226.760 mph. Dixon won the race in 2008.

MemorialDay_Banner1Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Andy Stanley and the North Point family of churches must have decided it’s time to “engage the culture” again. Shutting down Sunday services is no longer just for Christmas — North Point will be closed this year for Memorial Day as well.

I’m not sure they even do that in Indianapolis.

franklin-graham2-351On his Facebook page this past week, Franklin Graham posted prayers for each of the Supreme Court Justices, urging Christians to petition heaven that the court will make the right decision regarding same-sex marriage. Here is his appeal for Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was born to a family of immigrants and grew up in public housing in the Bronx. She is a great example of someone who reached the American Dream through hard work and determination. Unfortunately, she is also an example of someone who seems to be very misguided on the issue of same-sex marriage. She voted to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2014, and homosexual advocates consider her an ally in their fight to make same-sex marriage the law of the land. Let’s pray for Justice Sotomayor to have the wisdom to know that as a society we cannot survive if we turn our back on God’s standards and His definition of marriage.

07/05/2015 Marriage Equality Referendum. Pictured are Yes and No Posters on street in Dublin. Photography: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Photography: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Meanwhile, the New York Times anticipated yesterday’s national vote about this issue in, of all places, Ireland.

If there was any doubt about the pace at which acceptance of gay rights is taking root in societies around the world, consider Ireland.

On Friday, voters in this once deeply Roman Catholic country will decide whether the Constitution should be amended to add a tersely worded declaration: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

If the amendment passes, Ireland will become the first country to legalize same-sex civil marriage by popular vote.

Here are some samples from what will surely become everyone’s favorite new website: Pinterest, You Are Drunk.

If nobody can tell if you are really good at it, or really bad at it,
it’s probably time to pick a new craft.


And then you invariably have to spend the second half of the BBQ
watching Aunt Bernice walk around with a bottle cap stuck
to the back of her pale meaty thigh.


 Hairy leg hosiery, because my husband tried to keep me
from coming to meet his coworkers at the work picnic.


Last week, we lost two great extreme athletes, Dean Potter and Graham Hunt, in a BASE-jumping accident. The pair had attempted to jump in wingsuits from Taft Point, a 7,500 foot cliff overlooking Yosemite Valley in California.

Potter once wrote of his childhood dreams: “I dreamed of feathers sprouting on my arms, fields rolling far below in waves of cloud-streaked green, distorting into burnt wastelands of faint sand dunes and dust storms. Other winged humans flocked toward me. They were gesturing, making high-pitched squeaks. They arched their backs and brought their arms down to their sides, shifted slightly to control their flight and looked at me, encouraging” (“Embracing Insanity”).

Here is a remarkable 2009 National Geographic video featuring Potter making the world’s longest BASE jump:

Christianity Today reports that:

Progressive-Christianity-Fact-or-Fiction-3-300x123A feud over theology has led an unusual ecumenical project in a small Arizona town.

Eight churches—including Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and non-denominational congregations—in Fountain Hills have teamed up for a campaign of public banners and sermons aimed at the theology of a nearby Methodist church.

These churches in Fountain Hills, Arizona have come together in the light of a fierce public debate in the local media surrounding the teachings and positions of Pastor David Felten of The Fountains, a United Methodist Church. Felton advocates what he calls “progressive Christianity.” The other churches will be preaching a coordinated sermon series on “Progressive Christianity: Fact or Fiction?”

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday in the Western Church, so here’s a Pentecost Special (from Lark News)…

When he prophesies, it’s in pirate

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Sam Brobst took a “Learning Your Spiritual Gift” course at Full Life Center, a charismatic church, and felt the Lord leading him to prophesy during meetings. But when Brobst opened his mouth the first time, he and others were surprised by what came out: pirate speak.

“We were in the middle of worship, when this voice rings out, ‘Yar! Hear the word of the Lord — the Lord of the mighty seas!’” says one witness. “It was straight out of a Disneyland ride.”

Brobst says he can’t help it: when the Spirit moves upon him, he clamps one eye shut and his voice becomes gravelly and menacing. On a recent Sunday, he prophesied, “Avast ye, mateys! Hear the word from our Cap’n: No fear have ye of storms and scallywags, says ye? Argh! But I be seein’ your true hearts. For I see below quarterdecks, says I. Ye be tremblin’ in the face of scurvy dogs. But pay them no heed. For I be preparin’ to pour down plenty o’ booty upon ye. So be of cheer, me hearties! Ye be loved of the Cap’n.”

The people of the church by now are accustomed to it, though first-time visitors often giggle.

“It doesn’t even sound like pirate to me anymore,” says one regular attendee. “My mind translates it.”

Others say it’s preferable to past prophetic styles they have witnessed.

“One woman would wail her prophecies,” says longtime member Darlene Bright. “Another man would thunder in a deep voice like he was trying to impress us. All in all, I prefer pirate.”

Finally, a brief tribute for Memorial Day. This video, from Arlington National Cemetery, describes an honor trip made there that was sponsored by Vets Roll, an organization that thanks America’s veterans by making it possible for them to travel to Washington, D.C. at no cost. These trips are designed to help bring healing and closure to these veterans as they remember the extraordinary and difficult times when they were called upon to serve their country in battle.

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Religious Switching 2.0 Fri, 22 May 2015 05:38:40 +0000 RelgiousSwithching2014-2
ReligiousSwitching2014-legendWell, last week I promised you, the full Religious Switching in America Graph along with commentary. The graph is complete. Click on the image for a better view. The commentary and related data tables… well I guess I will have to discuss with Chaplain Mike when that will be coming. The graph took a little longer to finish than expected.

To understand that graph, 54,000 Americans were surveyed in 2014. The top of the graph represents what they said their faith group was in childhood. The bottom of the graph represents their faith group today. The lines between the top and the bottom represent the changes between childhood faith group and current faith group. The legend for the smaller faith groups is to the left. The blank space at the right of the graph represents those faith groups where not enough data was provided to determine changes. All data was derived from the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Study.

My apologies for not having the commentary ready. I will have it soon. Please contribute to the discussion my leaving your own thoughts and comments and I will answer them as best I can in my next post. For comparison purposes the 2007 graph is provided below.


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More on “Playing the Music” Thu, 21 May 2015 04:01:11 +0000 MS Band 1

Picking up on yesterday’s post, here few more thoughts on “playing the music”…

• • •

Last night we went to a spring intermediate school band and choral concert (5th and 6th grade). My grandson was playing and we knew several other children and families who were involved. I have four children and have been to many of these events before. I’m not being unkind when I say that concerts at this age are usually events to be endured rather than enjoyed. At least with regard to the music, that is.

There is, of course, much to be enjoyed and celebrated. Just looking down at that gymnasium floor and seeing all those energetic, eager, dressed-up, awkward pre-teens navigating their first tentative steps toward adulthood is entertainment enough. Then, take a glance back at the bleachers. Some of their parents are barely thirty years old, many are holding drooling newborns or squirming toddlers, and there they are watching their little man or woman play an instrument, sing in the choir, maybe even do a solo in front of a huge crowd. That can be a wake-up call! There are plenty of grandparents like me, too, the old veterans, who chuckle with recognition when the jazz band strikes up “Ben’s Blues,” the same piece we’ve heard played by every first time combo we’ve witnessed. A blest community of ordinary people in all shapes and sizes and seasons of life, gathered to hear the music come alive through our kids.

The young choral director in her twenties always throws in a surprise or two to delight the crowd and show off the kids’ energy and emerging talent: a solo or two in a contemporary pop song, a swinging rendition of “Rockin’ Robin” with movements and gestures, an African folk tune that impresses everyone with the children’s ability to sing in a foreign tongue. The band’s not left out either — they rock the joint (oh so slowly) as they don sunglasses and play the theme from “Mission Impossible.”

Of course, the tempos are tedious, entrances and cut-offs are anything but precise, the tuning is questionable and instruments squeak here and there, often at the most inopportune times. A vocal soloist misses her cue and the choir has to start the song over. The audience begins to clap at a pause in the music rather than at the end. Mics feed back on the teachers who introduce the numbers and there are awkward silences between performances as the groups rearrange themselves and their equipment and music. The teachers always tell bad jokes. Parents and grandparents like me crawl around the floor and bleachers trying to find the best spots from which to capture the memories through pictures and video. It’s a scene right out of Mayberry, I tell you; small town charm at its best.

But somehow it all comes together, and the audience and participants end up thoroughly enjoying the show. Afterwards the community mills around, we visit with our neighbors, snap pictures, admire each others’ children, and touch base with the teachers, some of whom are getting to know yet another generation in our families.

MS ChoirYesterday, we talked about “virtuoso spirituality.”

Maybe that word threw some of you a bit. I for one don’t think I’ve felt like a “virtuoso” for a single second in my life of faith. More like the kid who hit the cymbal on the wrong beat or the one whose clarinet squeaked or whose voice cracked when trying to hit that note that was just out of reach. When it comes to following Jesus, I’m not sure I’ll ever leave the awkward middle-school stage.

But I’ll give it to those kids and this community. They may represent exactly what “playing the music” is all about. Putting yourself out there. In all your awkwardness and naïveté and self-doubt. Trusting the music and the practice you’ve had. Keeping your eye on the director or conductor. Listening to the others and trying to blend in. All the while knowing that there is a big community around you that takes delight in you and your growth, that is there to applaud every step of progress and to encourage you after every mistake.

I tell you, I saw a lot of grace, forbearance, kindness, joy, and encouragement at a 5th and 6th grade concert last night.

I also saw a lot of awkward, half-grown kids who made a bunch of mistakes and produced a lot of mediocre music — it surely wasn’t “virtuoso.”

Or maybe it was, in its own way.

However you want to look at it, music came alive here last night, we were all a part of it, and the joy was tangible.

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Eugene Peterson: Virtuoso Spirituality Wed, 20 May 2015 04:01:28 +0000 Violin

What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.

• Luke 24:49, MSG

• • •

Pentecost is the next great Sunday on the Christian calendar: it falls this Sunday for the Western Church and on May 31 for the East. The Holy Spirit has always been one of the great mysteries of our faith and throughout church history entire movements have been devoted to trying to capture the essence of the Spirit-filled life.

Today, I want to share a passage from Eugene Peterson, whom I have found to be a reliable guide for my life in Christ. This passage is from his book, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Though it doesn’t speak of the Spirit directly, I find it to be one of the most enlightening texts I have read describing what, it seems to me, the Holy Spirit has come to do in our lives as Christ-followers.

See what you think. Let’s talk about this as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost.

Virtuoso Spirituality

Frances Young uses the extended analogy of music and its performance to provide a way of understanding the interrelated complexities of reading and living the Holy Scriptures, what John experienced as eating the book. Her book Virtuoso Theology searches out what she names as “the complex challenges involved in seeking authenticity in performance.” It is of the very nature of music that it is to be performed. Can music that is not performed be called “music”? Performance, though, does not consist in accurately reproducing the notes in the score as written by the composer, although it includes this. Everyone recognizes the difference between an accurate but wooden performance of, say, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and a virtuoso performance by Yitzak Perlman. Perlman’s performance is not distinguished merely by his technical skill in reproducing what Mozart composed; he wondrously enters into and conveys the spirit and energy — the “life” — of the score. Significantly, he adds nothing to the score, neither “jot nor tittle.” Even though he might reasonably claim that, with access to the interrelated psychologies of music and sexuality, he understands Mozart much better than Mozart understood himself, he restrains himself; he does not interpolate.

One of the continuous surprises of musical and dramatic performance is the sense of fresh spontaneity that comes in the performance: faithful attention to the text does not result in slavish effacement of personality; rather, it releases what is inherent in the text itself as the artist performs; “music has to be ‘realized’ through performance and interpretation.”

Likewise Holy Scripture. The two analogies, performing the music and eating the book, work admirably together. The complexity of the performance analogy supplements the earthiness of the eating analogy (and vice versa) in directing the holy community to enter the world of Holy Scripture formationally.

But if we are “unscripted,” Alasdair McIntyre’s word in this context, we spend our lives as anxious stutterers in both our words and actions. But when we do this rightly — performing the score, eating the book, embracing the holy community that internalizes the text — we are released into freedom: “I will run in the way of thy commandments when thou enlargest my understanding” (Ps. 119:32).

• Eugene Peterson
Eat This Book, p. 76f

There are many things I love about this and how it speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

  • The Spirit is closely linked with the Word, reminding me that my relationship with God is a conversational one. As in all relationships we deepen our friendship by listening and speaking to one another. It is my special place to listen in this relationship.
  • God’s Word, however, is not just a “rule book” to be slavishly followed. It is a text to be performed in life by individuals and communities with personalities, contexts, gifts, and unique perspectives.
  • The Word has no actual value except in performance. The Story calls us to live within it, to carry it on, to live it out.
  • In reality, we add nothing to the Word. However, the “sound” of the Word that emanates from each individual’s and community’s performance brings out fresh nuances and perspectives that can make it “new” and invigorating, no matter how many times we hear it.
  • When we “perform” the Word with virtuosity, having not only “learned” it but having also “internalized” it, we then “interpret” it through our performance in such a way that it does not, in the end, draw attention to ourselves, but to the spirit and energy — the “life” — of the score itself.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us that enables us to “perform” the Word in our daily lives. I’m not one who thinks of this process as merely monergistic. We actively participate in it, we “work,” we cooperate, we practice, we learn, we internalize, we grow. It is a messy process filled with failures and setbacks. Any sense of “progress” may be invisible to us. It’s a lot like life and nothing at all like a mechanical process of production. Disciples are not made, but grown.

Seems to me that I spend a lot of time learning the notes. I probably should be doing more performances. Putting it out there, in front of the audience. Playing the music. Letting it live.

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A Fight about the Finish Tue, 19 May 2015 04:01:29 +0000 il_570xN.683721116_bo6pLadies and gentlemen! Welcome to today’s feature bout. We are excited to feature two young fighters at the top of their game. They come to the ring today to trade punches, each hoping to give hell to his opponent and to settle once and for all the significance of that biblical doctrine.

In this corner, representing the Gospel Coalition, in the fiery red trunks, it’s J.D. Greear. Greear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and author of several books that reflect the “new reformed” movement. Greear says he’s going the throw the Book at his opponent tonight, with “7 Truths about Hell.”

And in this corner, a journeyman scholar from overseas, who has combined theological studies and writing with pastoral and missional work in a wide range of contexts. His books and his blog, P.OST, represent a further development of the so-called “new perspective” in N.T. studies, with its emphasis on narrative theology: here is Andrew Perriman. Perriman hopes to exploit the biblical and theological weaknesses in his opponent’s position by throwing “7 Fallacies about Hell” at him.

Ding! Both fighters emerge from their respective corners, ready to fight about the finish.

Greear begins by throwing a hard right, straight from the reformed playbook, which says we should always start with God. “Hell is what hell is because God is who God is!” Greear asserts.

Hell is what hell is because the holiness of God is what it is. Hell is not one degree hotter than our sin demands that it be. Hell should make our mouths stand agape at the righteous and just holiness of God. It should make us tremble before his majesty and grandeur.

But Perriman blocks.

The obvious response to that claim is “Does it?” Does it really make us marvel at the righteousness and holiness of God? Honestly? Wouldn’t most people gape in horror? Wouldn’t most people draw quite the opposite conclusion—that a God who subjects people to endless torment must be a callous and contemptible cosmopath? How can we possibly expect people to be impressed by a doctrine of cruel and disproportionate metaphysical punishment?

Furthermore, he counters by saying Greear hasn’t proved his point at all with biblical texts and has actually made a stronger case for annihilation.

J.D. Greear is undeterred. With a swift combination he moves from the majesty of God’s holiness in the O.T. to the words of Jesus in the New.

…when you start reading the Gospels, you find that Jesus speaks about hell more than anyone else. In fact, if you count up the verses, Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. …If we want to avoid the idea of hell, we can’t ignore the problem by just focusing on “meek and mild Jesus.”

Perriman ducks, however, and escapes by following an entirely different line of interpretation.

Jesus certainly had much to say about the judgment of Gehenna, the judgment that would come at the end of the age, but he was not speaking about “hell” in the sense of a place of eternal conscious torment after death. The judgment of Gehenna is the judgment on Jerusalem and Israel that would come within a generation. It would entail immense suffering for the people—the suffering of siege, disease, famine, crucifixion, ferocious in-fighting and war—and not many would escape it. But this was a suffering that would end with death, not begin with death.

Boxing-Match-Between-Daniel-Mendoza-And-Richard-Humphreys,-29th-September-1790Chasing his opponent down, Greear moves in closer. It’s clear that he would also like to fight this bout on an intimate level, by appealing to the love of God and his purpose in creating people to know him forever. He puts Perriman in a clinch with two emotionally persuasive points: Hell shows us the extent of God’s love in saving us, and people are eternal.

Why did Jesus speak about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Because he wanted us to see what he was going to endure on the cross on our behalf. On the cross, Jesus’s punishment was scarcely describable: this bloodied, disfigured remnant of a man was given a cross that was perhaps recycled, likely covered in the blood, feces, and urine of other men who had used it previously. Hanging there in immense pain, he slowly suffocated to death.

And then, Greear surprises the crowd with a blow from the left.

C. S. Lewis once noted that hell is a necessary conclusion from the Christian belief that human beings were created to live forever.

Wow! That was unexpected! The neo-Puritan summons a punch from the training manual of Anglican C.S. Lewis! That is usually quite effective. What will Perriman do in response to this?

He gives Greear a look, and it’s clear he’s impressed, but in the clinch he just keeps on raining body blows on the pastor.

As to the cross showing the extent of God’s love, Perriman delivers a blow to the gut.

The point is vividly made, but it simply doesn’t make the point.

Andrew Perriman is utilizing his narrative training to its fullest. He notes that Jesus took Israel’s punishment as a representative punishment, not a unique punishment. He was one among many Jews who suffered Rome’s punishment and would suffer during the upcoming war with Rome. The whole point of his death lay in identifying with God’s suffering people.

And then he fends off Greear’s left by asserting that C.S. Lewis was simply wrong! What courage that took! “The gift of God is eternal life,” he quotes, hoping to destroy Lewis’s argument for human immortality.

It’s at this point in fights like these that some fighters begin to wear down. But not J.D. Greear. First, he lands a strong left jab: “In one sense, God doesn’t send anyone to hell; we send ourselves.” Then he comes back with a right hook, hoping to put Perriman on the canvas: “In another sense, God does send people to hell, and all his ways are true and righteous altogether.”

Hell is the culmination of telling God to “get out.” You keep telling God to leave you alone, and finally God says, “Okay.” That’s why the Bible describes it as darkness: God is light; his absence is darkness. On earth we experience light and things like love, friendship, and the beauty of creation. These are all remnants of the light of God’s presence. But when you tell God you don’t want him as the Lord and center of your life, eventually you get your wish, and with God go all of his gifts.

…We may be tempted to rage at God and to correct him. But how can we find fault with God? As Paul says in Romans 9, who are we—as mere lumps of clay—to answer back to the divine potter?

We are not more merciful than God. Isaiah reminds us that all who are currently “incensed against God” will come before him in the last day and be ashamed, not vindicated (Is. 45:24), because they will then realize just how perfect God’s ways are. Every time God is compared with a human in Scripture, God is the more merciful of the pair.

When we look back on our lives from eternity, we’ll stand amazed not by the severity of his justice, but by the magnanimity of his mercy.

Ah, but Andrew Perriman doesn’t even flinch at this flurry of rhetorical violence.

We’re getting to the thin end of a very thin argument here, and again, frustratingly, we are offered the gospel of C.S. Lewis and his eccentric views about a self-inflicted hell rather than anything of biblical or theological substance.

And again, he blocks the “lumps of clay” blow by reminding Greear that Paul was talking to Israel in Romans 9, and that the judgment to which he refers has nothing to do with hell.

Oh, and we’ll have to go back to the replay to verify it, but it appears that  Perriman also landed a sneaky blow in this exchange: “What is it with conservative American Christians and their obsession with Lewis?”

article-2314081-0063E3B900000258-203_634x366The clock is winding down on this fight and each fighter has one more chance to put his opponent down. J.D. Greear decides to go with the “depravity” punch. But he disguises it by using a contemporary move that contains a strong appeal to the emotions.

If you accept Jesus just to “get out of hell,” then you’d hate being in heaven, because only those who love and trust God will enjoy heaven. If you don’t love the Father, then living in the Father’s house feels like slavery. It would be like forcing you to marry someone you didn’t want to marry. The only way you’ll enjoy heaven is when you learn to love and trust God.

Only an experience of the love of God can rearrange the fundamental structure of your heart to create a love and trust of God. It’s not enough for God to take us out of hell; he must take hell out of us.

But Andrew Perriman sees it coming. And he is able to sidestep it once more, dodging this persuasive appeal by going back to his fundamental position.

Again, the argument tells us nothing about hell, but it highlights what is perhaps the core theological problem with this whole way of thinking—it is grounded in and perpetuates the view that Christianity is a religion of personal salvation, that it is all about getting people out of hell and into heaven.

Here we have one of the fundamental corrections that modern evangelicalism needs to make if it is to maintain any legitimacy as a biblical movement.

The object of the exercise is not to get people to heaven. It is to preserve the integrity and effectiveness of a new creation people in the world. In the biblical story, judgment and salvation are operative for the most part historically. A people is judged, a people is saved, nations are judged. The church subsequently—for complex reasons, not all of them bad—rewrote the corporate narrative around the individual and his or her personal spiritual interests. It has worked up to a point, but for the sake of both theological integrity and missional credibility, I think we now have to reinstate the historical grounding of the biblical narrative. Among other things, that means ditching the unbiblical doctrine of hell.

Ding! Ding! Ding!

Both fighters end up on their feet. This epic battle over hell ends with no knockout. That means the judges will have to decide the winner on points.

So we’ll turn over to you, the judges. What is your verdict? How do you call this fight?

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