internetmonk.com http://www.internetmonk.com ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Fri, 28 Nov 2014 05:33:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer michael@internetmonk.com michael@internetmonk.com (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness internetmonk.com http://www.internetmonk.com/wp-content/uploads/monkposterx3.jpg http://www.internetmonk.com How I Became a… Fan of the Church Fathers http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/how-i-became-a-fan-of-the-church-fathers http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/how-i-became-a-fan-of-the-church-fathers#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 05:33:14 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52869
Tertullian

Tertullian

This week we continue my “How I Became a…” series. Today I wanted to tell the story of how I became a fan of the Church Fathers, more specifically, the Ante-Nicene Fathers. This is a collection of writings from the early leaders of the church, writing in the first three centuries and before (ante) the Council of Nicea.

I had grown up in a church that billed itself as a “New Testament” church. The prevailing attitude was that all was great in the way things were done in the early church up until Emperor Constantine made Christianity an official religion of the Roman Empire. In their opinion, things kind of went down hill from there, with all kinds of non biblical traditions being introduced.

I was in my twenties when I left this group, and not long after that I met my first Jehovah’s Witness, a young University Student named Clarence. Rather surprisingly, Clarence had similar views about Constantine. We found however that we had big differences when it came to our understanding of the deity of Christ. We started meeting weekly: I would bring in information that I had gleaned from Walter Martin’s book, “The Kingdom of the Cults”, and he would present information that he had gathered from his local chapter.

One frustration that I had was that I had no real way to evaluate many of the arguments that were being presented, by either Walter Martin or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was one of the factors (there were many others) that led me to decide to go to seminary. By this time I had developed a real interest in studying the deity of Christ, and was gathering up as much material as I could about the subject.

At seminary I resolved to take as much Greek and Hebrew and I possibly could. I quickly developed a love for Church History as well. It was in my first year at seminary that I received word of a Pastor who was selling his library. I have always had a love for books and decided to visit. The Pastor had developed some form of lung disease and had to retire early. Among the jewels of his collection was the 10 volume series of the Ante-Nicene Fathers which he sold to be for $60.00.

I devoured those books. I read every page, especially focusing on those pages that dealt with the deity of Christ. Contrary to the claims of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the deity of Christ did not arrive with Constantine, but was present throughout all the writings of the early Church Fathers. I also learned from these writings not to be so dogmatic about a number of things, including Baptism, and the alcoholic content of the communion cup.

In my 2nd year at seminary some Jehovah’s Witnesses had the misfortune of knocking at my door. They had a little booklet with them entitled, “Should You Believe in the Trinity?” It included a section on what the Church Fathers believed. I politely took the booklet and set up a meeting for the following week.

In the booklet were quotes from a number of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. I spent hours looking up each quote (no references were given) and comparing the quotations that they had provided with what the Fathers had actually said. They could not have done a better job of distorting and taking out of context the words of the original writers. Let me give you a couple of examples:

From the pamphlet: Tertullian – “There was a time when the Son was not… Before all things, God was alone.” –

The first part of the phrase does not even come from Tertullian, but from commentary on Tertullian. Tertullian believed in an eternal Logos, which took on the form of the Son at the incarnations. However Tertullian also believed that the incarnation was when God became Father. God “could not have been the Father previous to the Son, nor a judge previous to sin” (Against Hermogones, Ch. 3).

As to the second part of the phrase, here it is in its full context:

For before all things God was alone — being in Himself and for Himself universe, and space, and all things. Moreover, He was alone, because there was nothing external to Him but Himself. Yet even not then was He alone; for He had with Him that which He possessed in Himself, that is to say, His own Reason. For God is rational, and Reason was first in Him; and so all things were from Himself. This Reason is His own Thought (or Consciousness) which the Greeks call Logos, by which term we also designate Word or Discourse and therefore it is now usual with our people, owing to the mere simple interpretation of the term, to say that the Word was in the beginning with God;” (Against Praxeas)

Again and again they took texts that affirmed the deity of Christ and twisted them to mean the exact opposite!

When the Jehovah’s witnesses came back, I took out their tract, and then took out the Ante-Nicene Fathers. I had highlighted all the quotes from their pamphlet in the Ante-Nicene Fathers and had them read these quotes in the context in which they were written. Their faces started going white. I said to them, “Look, I don’t blame you for believing this. You are believing just what you have been taught. But the authors of this pamphlet knew exactly what the Church Fathers taught, and they are the ones who are intentionally deceiving you. You have just read for yourself that what you have been taught isn’t true. So my question for you is: What else have they been lying to you about, and what are you going to do about it? I would encourage you to step away and start to examine things for yourselves. Start to read more that what you are given by your group.”

They left very shaken, and I never saw them again, but I believed that I had planted some sort of seed in their minds that might help them have a different perspective on what they were being taught.

So that was the start of my love affair with the Church Fathers. Since then I have expanded beyond the Ante-Nicene Fathers, but they still are a resource that I go back to again and again.

A couple of final notes: The ten volume set of the Ante-Nicene Fathers is available from ChristianBook.com for the current price of $129.99. You can also read them online at The Christian Classics Ethereal Library. For those interested in the topic of the deity of Christ, I have found no better resource that the fairly recent book: “Putting Jesus in His Place: The case for the Deity of Christ” by by Robert Bowman and J. Ed Komoszewski.

As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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Creation Is a Many-Splendored Thing (5): Delighting in Creation’s Goodness http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52797 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52797#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 05:01:49 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52797 BBC-Life-4

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

• Psalm 104: 24, NRSV

• • •

It has been awhile since we’ve returned to our series from William P. Brown’s fascinating book on the many ways the Bible teaches about creation: The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. But Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. seems like a perfect day to look at the most extensive creation psalm in Scripture, Psalm 104, for as Brown says, in this psalm “creation is seen not from the creator’s perspective but from the creature’s, specifically from the standpoint of Homo laudans, ‘the praising human.'”

As with many psalms, Psalm 104 does not readily divulge its historical context. It is pure poetry, setting its focus on the world of nature, not on Israel’s history, and in a strikingly novel way. It offers an unabashedly positive view of the natural world that includes the wilderness, traditionally considered dangerous and chaotic. Instead of “Lions and tigers and bears, O my!” we have “Lions and tigers and bears, Amen!” (along with the coneys, onagers, and mountain goats). The psalmist celebrates the world of the wild and the God who sustains it all. (p. 144).

This psalm is an extended meditation about God’s repeated pronouncements in Genesis 1: “And God saw that it was good.” The psalmist agrees.

  • Verses 1-4 — the transcendent glory of the heavens: good
  • Verse 5 — the eternal stability of the earth: good
  • Verses 6-9 — the seas that fill the places God appointed for them: good
  • Verses 10-13 — the fresh waters that satisfy the thirst of God’s wild creatures: good
  • Verses 14-15 — the abundant food that God brings from the earth to feed his creatures: good
  • Verses 16-23 — the many and varied earthscapes in which God’s creatures find a home: good

The world so conceived by the psalmist is not so much a free range as a spacious home, and its inhabitants all share the earth as their common habitat. Psalm 104, in short, is a fanfare for the common creature. (p. 147).

. . . Place and provision, according to Psalm 104, are the fundamental features of creation that ensure the continuance of life. (p. 151).

Blue-WhaleAs the psalmist praises God and relishes the vastness, complexity, and beneficence of God’s creation and the astonishing creatures who find a home there, he even mentions Leviathan. Leviathan was the mythic sea creature who represented the forces of chaos. But rather than portraying this sea monster in terms of cosmic warfare and opposition to God, he says, There [in the sea] go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it (v. 26). So good is God’s creation deemed to be in Psalm 104 that even its most feared creature is described as frolicking amid the waves by God’s design!

Furthermore, and most significantly for our understanding of the world, even the death of God’s creatures is depicted, not as a curse, but as part of the natural life cycle of rebirth and renewal in the earth (vv. 27-30):

These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

p00rwzp9This reinforces the perspective I shared last week: that creation did not change in its nature, properties, or “laws” as a result of a “fall” or “curse” in Genesis 3. It was deemed “very good” by God in the beginning, and in this poem, the psalmist affirms that it remains “very good.” This does not change the fact that God acts in both judgment and salvation in the world. But God does that because of what we read at the very end of Psalm 104, not because creation itself has been placed under a curse that transformed it from “good” to “not good.”

So let’s look at the way this psalm ends. The one decidedly minor note in this symphony of praise proclaims that a single part of God’s creation threatens its goodness. Verse 35, an imprecation on the wicked, at first glance seems profoundly out of place: “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.” To this point, there has been barely any mention of human beings, much less talk of sin and wickedness. Why does the psalmist include this appeal for judgment at the end of Psalm 104?

Brown comments:

For many readers, this imprecation is a “damned spot” on an otherwise perfect poem. But for the ancient listener, calling God to exterminate the wicked made sense in a less than perfect world. By cursing the wicked, the psalmist transfers the evil chaos traditionally assigned to mythically monstrous figures such as Leviathan and places it squarely on human shoulders. Conflict in creation, the psalmist acknowledges, is most savage among the distinctly human beasts. (p. 144f)

The danger this good world faces continually is that human beings will corrupt it by “corrupting their way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:12). Humankind, given stewardship over the world, is called to represent the God of Psalm 104 in all the earth. This is the God who sustains creation by his wisdom (v. 24) and by the joy he takes in it (v. 31). Likewise, through humanity’s wise care and use of this amazing planet, and by taking delight in its wonders and never forgetting from Whom they came, we take our rightful place here among the manifold splendors of the cosmos and fulfilling God’s will on earth as in heaven.

So . . .

peaceablekingdomLet us give thanks to God for the divine wisdom and joy displayed in his good creation. Thank him for giving us and all creatures a home and a source of abundant provision.

As we give thanks today, let us confess our sin of bringing corruption into this good world, posing an ongoing threat to its marvelous ecosystems, ourselves, and other creatures by our predatory behaviors.

Let us thank the Creator that though the corruption we bring is profound, God continues to rejoice in the work of his hands and the goodness of creation still shines through, prompting meditation and praise every day.

Let us pray that, like our Creator, we will be wise in tending to the creation, delighting in its wonders and being good stewards of its resources.

And let us anticipate that day when sin and wickedness shall be banished from the earth, and all things will be gathered together and made new in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Randy Thompson: Alone with Good Luck? http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52747 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52747#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 05:01:35 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52747 groupdinner6-e1395720304904-1024x465

Alone with Good Luck? (A Thanksgiving Meditation)
by Randy Thompson

It’s a simple point, really, but one that needs to be made often, and that is, there’s a huge difference between giving thanks and having a good lucky feeling about life.

Having a good lucky feeling about our achievements and about our possessions, which define our achievements, is to be aware that life has gone well, that we are comfortable, and that life is pleasant.  It is to be aware, in a vague sort of way, of all the good things in life. Since the question of why these things were there in the first place hasn’t been raised, they are chalked up to “good luck.”  There are other ways of describing this attitude, of course. There’s “Life’s a bowl of cherries.” Or, “I’m blessed.”  Or, “I’m fortunate.” This attitude can be deeply felt, but it is an attitude where we are left alone in our own, private universes.

The problem is, feeling lucky is not the same thing as giving thanks.  Feeling lucky or fortunate doesn’t relate us to anyone outside ourselves.  Giving thanks joins us to others; it recognizes we live our lives in a web of relationships, that we live giving thanks and receiving thanks.  At the center of this vast web of relationship is the One who created us, God. We are not alone in our own personal universe of well-being.  Gratitude connects us with others, and especially so with God.

This feeling of being lucky is the attitude of a character in one of Jesus’ parables, one whom Jesus called a fool. In fact, the parable is commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Rich Fool” (You’ll find it in Luke 12:13-23).  In it, a rich farmer has had a very good year–a very good year indeed. His harvest has been successful beyond his wildest dreams. So, he decides that what he needs is bigger barns to store his harvest–or, to give it a contemporary spin–to store all his “stuff.”  He feels very lucky indeed; maybe even, somehow, “blessed.”  He says, pointedly, to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”

Raising-a-glass-with-friends-and-family-to-welcome-2010This rich farmer is enjoying his good fortune to the hilt. He is lucky indeed. “Blessed” even! Yet, if you know the story, it all goes south quickly. He is not alone in his universe of good luck. Unfortunately for him, he lives in God’s universe, and he’s oblivious to God, and to the many wonderful gifts that God gives, gifts such as good harvests.  The story ends with God getting the last word, and it turns out this rich farmer wasn’t as lucky as he thought he was: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

The point of the parable, of course, is that God intends for harvests–possessions–to be shared.  Ultimately, you will lose all your earthly blessings when you die; why not share them with others before them? Instead of hoarding them in your own private universe, live in God’s universe instead, and expand your heart by transforming your earthly blessings into gifts and blessings for others? Why not invest your heart in loving God by thanking him, and loving your neighbors by sharing with them?

However, for our purposes, the point of the parable isn’t the point that Jesus made here. Rather, we’re looking not at God’s judgment, but at the Rich Fool’s attitude that provoked God’s judgment.

The rich man here sees his goods, his success, and his wealth in relation to himself and not in relation to God. We don’t know whether he was literally fat or not – the Lord doesn’t provide that detail – but poetically, we can think of him as “fat and happy.”  All is well in his little universe of good luck, at least temporarily. But, “luck” is as stable as a Hollywood marriage; it doesn’t last. And if you don’t see your life in relation to God, that’s all you’re left with

Late November, of course, is when we celebrate Thanksgiving. (Corporate sponsors:  Butterball, Ocean Spray, and the NFL). Sadly, for many, it will not be a time of giving thanks, but a time of merely feeling lucky or fortunate—and luck doesn’t owe thanks to anyone; it just “happens,” or so it is thought.

The word we use to describe our autumnal foray into gluttony is “Thanksgiving.” But, it is a nonsense word unless there is Someone to thank. We thank people when they give us gifts at Christmas or on our birthday. (At least, we’re supposed to.) We thank people for their help and encouragement. We thank people who have taught us needed skills or given us helpful wisdom. (Again, at least we’re supposed to!)   We’re supposed to thank our Creator, too, for the universe we live in was created by Him, and us along with it. And, if we’re at all honest, His creation is quite a piece of work, despite what we’ve done with it. For that matter, each of our lives is quite a piece of work too, as the Psalmist suggests. We, each of us, are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Each one of us gifted by God with skills, aptitudes, and interests.

It is no great mystery and no new spiritual wisdom to note that the One to whom we owe thanks most of all is God.  It is God who gave us the skills and abilities to create wealth. It is God who put other people in our lives at just the right time so that we could begin a new, better chapter in life.  It is God who turned our painful dead ends into super highways of promise. And, of course, supremely, it is God who came to earth and gave us an eternal feast of bread and wine that bears the body and blood of His Son, where thanks-giving is fulfilled in communion that is eternal in nature.

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Biblical Marriage: BEYOND Traditional http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52769 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52769#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 05:03:32 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52769 chagall177

Song of Songs (1974), Chagall

In last Saturday’s Ramblings we had a story about Rick Warren turning the Vatican into a revival meeting in support of Biblical, traditional marriage. He did so with a scintillating 8-point sermon that followed the alphabet . . . . Well, he followed the alphabet until he got to the last point, and then it seems that Warren just couldn’t remember what follows “G”. (That’s ok, heat of the moment and all, believe me I understand.)

Anyway, Bishop Warren gave an eminently Power-Pointable list of action steps for Christian leaders and churches wanting to promote “Biblical marriage.” This is necessary, he said, because we live in a world in which “marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected and redefined” (nailed the alliteration, didn’t he?). One of his action steps to solve this problem was that Christians should:

Develop small group courses to support marriage

Now I know Rick Warren is a busy man, so in the spirit of Christian love and cooperation, I thought I’d help him out by writing an explicitly Biblical small group course for him. I call it, “Biblical Marriage: BEYOND Traditional,” because as you’ll see, traditional marriage as many of us see it ain’t got nothin’ on what the Bible actually portrays.

Here are some sample lessons. I’m sure you’ll see how practical and helpful they will be in advancing the cause of Biblical marriage that goes BEYOND merely traditional:

iBooks logoLesson One: Garden delights (Genesis 2-3)

Let’s start where the Bible does: with husband and wife frolicking about naked in a garden. If you want your marriage to be Biblical, outdoors nudity is essential. This lesson will give practical suggestions for creating your own private, outdoor retreat where the neighbors can’t spy on you, where you can play au natural to your hearts’ delight. Nothing will free you to express love, devotion, and commitment like walking, talking, eating fruit and gardening with each other in the altogether. Don’t be ashamed. Forsake those fig leaves that have kept your marriage from being all that it can be, and go BEYOND!

iBooks logoLesson Two: But what if I married a Nephilim? (Genesis 6)

No marriage is perfect, but sometimes you wake up and wonder if the person lying next to you is actually some fallen angel with demonic intentions. The Bible affirms that this is indeed possible. Perhaps you think you missed God’s will. You never found your “Noah” even though you dreamed of a righteous and blameless life partner with whom you could weather the storms of life. So you settled for someone who called himself “a son of God,” but now you realize he was really an alien giant with a heart as dark as the depths of the sea. This lesson explores how you can manage those pesky human/alien incompatibility issues. It will also reveal how God wants to flood your life with blessings in spite of the bad match you made.

Boaz wakes and sees Ruth at his feet, Chagall

Boaz wakes and sees Ruth at his feet, Chagall

iBooks logoLesson Three: Creative ways to pass on your heritage (Genesis, Ruth)

God designed marriage to be his chosen method of producing a godly line of descendents. This can challenge a marriage, and sometimes, we have to work extra hard to make that happen. We want to encourage you to get creative, and go BEYOND!

We’ll study Lot, for example, and discuss the daughter-father connection. And then we will look at Tamar, who illustrates the more complex but explicitly commended Biblical principle of “my husband’s dead and my brother-in-law won’t sleep with me and I don’t have kids so I guess I’ll become a prostitute and seduce my father-in-law so I can become a mother.” As a bonus, we’ll discover how we as parents can be like Naomi, and encourage our daughters to go lay naked at the feet of drunk wealthy landowners until they wake up, fear the worst, and agree to marry them. The possibilities are endless!

iBooks logoLesson Four: Developing a way with words (Song of Solomon)

Ladies, ever wish your husband would speak more lovingly to you? That, for example, he would tell you your hair is like a flock of goats, your breasts like towers, your belly like a heap of wheat? Or at least that your feet look great in sandals? And men, wouldn’t you love to hear your wife compliment you for those ivory abs, those alabaster pillar legs you have? Wouldn’t you just love her to praise you as a gay gazelle, leaping over the mountains? Then you won’t want to miss this lesson. We’ll divide up into couples and challenge you to find creative ways of describing your partner’s body parts. Then we’ll come back together and share what we’ve come up with! It’s loads of fun and not embarrassing in the least. Then we’ll send you home to practice naked in your garden.

iBooks logoLesson Five: Marriage as Evangelism (Hosea, Esther)

God may sometimes call you to marry someone you would never naturally consider, just so that you can win them to the Lord and be an example to others. This was Hosea’s calling, and in this lesson we’ll help you men learn how to identify which broken, fallen women are just right for you. We’ll discuss strategies for the ladies too, taking our cues from Queen Esther. You’ll learn how to work up the perfect erotic dance moves so that you can capture the heart of the evil monster you’re eager to reach. Who knows whether some of us will be called to this kind of marriage in “such a time as this”? This is the time to go BEYOND!

• • •

Our crack staff will be hard at work developing other Biblical lessons too. We’ll suggest survival tips for concubines and demonstrate the best use of mandrakes to foil your sister-wife from sleeping with your husband tonight. We’ll show you how to keep a Levitical calendar and checklist to make sure your sex life doesn’t break God’s rules. For those of you forced to live with contentious spouses, we’ll show you how to make a corner of your attic into a proper place where you can hide, as Proverbs instructs. We’ll also study the prophets to see when it is appropriate to talk dirty and examine why Paul would rather stay single than go through all this hassle.

In every way possible, we want to encourage you to go BEYOND in your marriage! So watch for this ground-breaking study at Saddleback Resources in early 2015.

Take a stand for marriages that are BEYOND traditional — Be thoroughly BIBLICAL!

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To Be Well-Spoken http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/to-be-well-spoken http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/to-be-well-spoken#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 05:01:00 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52705 0525a151

 Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

• Jeremiah 23:29, NRSV

• • •

One of my personal goals in life is to be well-spoken.

I am tired of “lingo.”

I reject group-imposed boundaries around how to express what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what I’m considering. I want to find a way to say it so that it grabs, sticks, bites, hurts, heals. First, in my own heart. Then, if anyone should listen, in theirs.

Hell is being trapped in a world of clichés. Nothing is real. Nothing has weight or substance. Nothing penetrates. Nothing wounds or nourishes. I want words that bring the dead to life.

Bounded, insider language is a Christian problem.

Words create worlds. We live in those worlds and they define us. Someone using different words doesn’t fit in our world. We can’t listen to them. We find it hard to take in their foreign phrases, to translate them into something we can grasp. We summon the auto-immune response and reject them out of concern for safety. We watch, we listen to, we read those whose language fits the preconceived notion. We deem them “safe.” They will not disturb our world.

In this world, we get together day after day, week after week, year after year, and say the same damn things to each other! Imaginations atrophy as we sit there safe, sipping our iced tea.

These gated worlds!

I want words that shatter worlds! And speak new ones into being! Let there be light!

A coworker recently gave me information about a new patient and his family. Baptists, of the independent, fundamental variety. King James Only. White shirt, dark tie. Nothing but the blood Baptists. Straight as an arrow. Locked in a narrow world.

“I can speak that language, ” I said.

I made the visit. I asked the standard introductory questions, using their terms. I inquired. I listened. I showed respect. They allowed me to enter their world because I could verify the passcode. I knew the secret handshake.

bleeding-heartBut once inside, the conversation shifted. I sat in silence where one might have expected a platitude. Then I spoke a single turn of phrase that caught them off guard. Tears welled up. For a brief moment, a slice of raw humanity appeared through a crack in the gate. Their pain bled out a little. I’d like to think a bit of healing took place.

In that moment, no shibboleth was spoken. No Christianese. No lingo. Just a human heart bleeding and a wordless moan.

Many of us are not ready for that. I wasn’t, not for years. Even today, there are times when the reality is too sharp, too uncomfortable, and I blurt out some cliché. And my mouth tastes like dust.

The authors and speakers and friends I love rarely if ever fall into this trap. I never know what they’re going to say or how they’re going to say it. They speak epiphanies. They build metaphorical worlds that carry me away and I am along for the ride: rising and falling on an open sea inhaling sharp salt air one moment, feet sinking into a spongy forest floor the next. It’s fairies and rabbit holes, wardrobes and windswept plains, ball yards and small town backyards, hobbits and desert saints and boarding school wizards, slums and palaces and log cabins and creaky old Victorian mansions.

But it’s not just the pictures they paint, the metaphorical worlds they create, it’s the medicine they give: words fitly spoken. Words that turn my head, that cause my jaw to drop. Words that make me stop and turn around. That make me shiver. That wrap me in a warm sherpa throw. That make my heart bleed ’til it’s whole again.

Not the same old lingo. Not tired trade language. If ever they use such words, they do so only as a foil for that which is clearly genuine.

Don’t let me settle for it, Lord. Put fire and hammers and balm and blankets in my mouth. Heal the sick, raise the dead, comfort the brokenhearted. Make the story real and build a new world.

What a gift is language!

Oh, to be well-spoken!

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Preparing for the New Church Year (4) http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52745 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52745#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 05:01:52 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52745 austin-lighting-advent-6

For our final post on preparing for the new Church Year, we will talk about some suggestions for further reading and practice. I’ve divided them into three categories. Some are my own suggestions, others have come from IM readers.

  1. Books that give an overview of the Church Year to help individuals, families, and churches grasp its basic concepts and begin participating in Church Year spirituality.
  2. Books that can aid believers in conforming their daily prayer and devotional lives to the framework of the seasons of the Church Year.
  3. Books and resources that focus specifically on the upcoming Advent season, so that we can get a good start this year.

What criteria did I use in selecting these resources? First, I am recommending books that I myself have found useful. Second, others are on my own “Wish List” because I have seen them and they look intriguing to me. Third, I am suggesting links to other resources because I have used some related materials (but not all) and have found them helpful. These may enable those in different seasons of life (for example, with young children) to find additional resources to meet specific needs.

Each of us is unique, so you will have your favorites and some of mine may not resonate as deeply with you. If any in our iMonk community would like to make additional suggestions, please feel free to do so.

My best recommendation for you would be to join a faith community that practices Church Year spirituality. As I will argue in my next post, this pattern is designed to enable Christians to experience his life, death, and resurrection not only as individuals, but also together with one another in God’s family. If you are part of such a community now, you should take your first counsel from the ministers and mentors in your own tradition, for each stream of the Christian faith has its own emphases and detailed practices. Your local church or denominational publishing house may be able to guide you more specifically than I can here.

Short of that, I recommend starting with incorporating a few simple Advent practices in your personal devotional life and/or with your family. Using an Advent calendar or lighting Advent candles along with prayers for the season has helped many believers enter into the practices of the Church Year.

THE CHURCH YEAR (Overview)

Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, by Robert Webber

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life – The Ancient Practices Series, by Joan Chittister

The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

The New Handbook of the Christian Year: Based on the Revised Common Lectionary, by Hoyt Hickman, et al

The Services of the Christian Year (Complete Library of Christian Worship, Vol 5), Robert Webber, editor
Copies available through Amazon links to other vendors

Children’s Activities for the Christian Year, by Delia Halverson

Anglican/Episcopal resources:

Book of Common Prayer online

Find other resources at Anglicans Online

Roman Catholic resources from Liturgical Training Publications:

Orthodox resources:

DAILY PRAYER/DEVOTIONS (arranged according to the Church Year)

Treasury of Daily Prayer, by Scot A. Kinnaman

The Divine Hours, by Phyllis Tickle
Various editions available for seasons of the year and occasions.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne

Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, by Bobby Gross

Eternal Seasons: A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year, by Henri Nouwen

Celtic daily prayer (online)

ADVENT

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas, by Madeline L’Engle

We Light the Candles: Devotions Related to Family Use of the Advent Wreath, by Catharine Brandt

The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, by Dean Lambert Smith

Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom, by Walter Wangerin

Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?, by Rick McKinley
Various resources for churches wanting to follow this approach to keeping Advent/Christmas are available at the Advent Conspiracy website.

The Winter Pascha, by Fr. Thomas Hopko.

From Holidays to Holy Days: A Benedictine Walk Through Advent – Albert Holtz

Living With Hope: A Scientist Looks at Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany – John Polkinghorne

Watch For The Light: Readings For Advent And Christmas

Sermons to the People: Advent, Christmas, New Year’s, Epiphany – St. Augustine

A Coming Christ in Advent: Essays on the Gospel Narratives Preparing for the Birth of Jesus : Matthew 1 and Luke 1 – Raymond Brown

No Trace of Christmas ? : Discovering Advent in the Old Testament – Christoph Domen

• • •

I hope these resources will give us all a good start at going deeper into understanding and practicing Church Year spirituality.

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Saturday Ramblings — Nov. 22, 2014 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52657 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52657#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 05:01:48 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52657 ChristMarketSaturday Ramblings, Nov. 22, 2014

Greetings from Cincinnati, where Gail and I have rambled this weekend to visit the Germania Society’s Christkindlmarkt, a traditional German outdoor Christmas market featuring German foods, beer and mulled wine, crafts, music, and traditional events such as a lantern parade and a visit from St. Nicholas.

These markets are common in northern Europe, and here’s a site, for example, that explains the history of those that developed in Austria.

Street Christmas markets have been held since the Late Middle Ages throughout Austria, Germany, northern Italy, certain regions in France, and Switzerland. They are well established in historic German-speaking communities in many U.S. cities and regions and are increasing in popularity each year.

While we enjoy a German pastry with our coffee this morning, have fun rambling wherever you are!

meatyard6_merton_2

Thomas Merton is our patron saint here at Internet Monk. IM friend Chris Smith has just taken up reading through his works, and is posting insightful quotes from them on a Twitter feed that you can follow @TMertonQuotes. Here are a couple of good ones so far:

“Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage and know-how.”

“How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields,in the rain,in the sun,in the mud . . . these are our spiritual directors & novice-masters.”

One great resource for all things Merton is The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, which is the official repository of Merton’s artistic estate. It includes over 1,300 photographs and 900 drawings in addition to his writings. The Center’s archives house more than 50,000 Merton-related materials. December 10 will mark the 46th anniversary of Merton’s death.

nf95i1-warrenpope

Pastor Rick Warren on Tuesday urged religious leaders to show their followers ways Christians can maintain their faith in a world with changing views about marriage.

“Today marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected and redefined,” Warren said. “We cannot not do something.”

Warren was the 28th speaker in a three-day conference at the Vatican focusing on marriage and family. It started on Monday with Pope Francis saying that marriage between a man and woman is a “fundamental pillar” of society and that children have the right to grow up with a mother and father.

Conference participants were selected by the Vatican and included leaders from 23 countries and 14 religions. Topics included traditional marriage, cohabitation and same-sex marriage.

Warren affirmed his position on traditional Christian views of marriage between a man and a woman.

• Erika I. Ritchie, Orange County Register

Maybe it was the jet lag, but Warren came one point short of a perfect 8 for 8 when he alphabetized his “action plan” for Christians with regard to this issue:

Affirm the authority of God’s word
Believe what Jesus taught about marriage
Celebrate healthy marriages
Develop small group courses to support marriage
Engage every media to promote marriage
Face attackers with joy and winsomeness
Give people confidence
T(?)each the purposes of marriage

Ah, nothing like evangelical preaching. One reporter remarked that Warren turned the Vatican into “a revivalist meeting.”

immigration_news

While Republican leaders blast President Obama for taking executive action on immigration reform, some prominent evangelical leaders are welcoming the president’s plans to keep about 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.

Evangelicals are a key voting bloc for the GOP, but on immigration some are taking a pragmatic step away from the party. They include Hispanic leaders such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez who say the time has come to manage what has become a “de facto humanitarian crisis” for millions of immigrants.

“This merciful action takes place because for years our government, under the leadership of both parties, failed miserably as it pertains to immigration,” said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

. . . Other Christian groups, such as Church World Service, welcomed the president’s move Thursday but questioned whether it goes far enough.

“However impressive 5 million people sounds,” said the Rev. John L. McCullough, CWS’ president and CEO, “the fact of the matter is that there still are 11 million … who wait with anticipation and have a deep concern about what will unfold over the course of this day.”

• Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

shutterstock_154291232

And now, a public service announcement from your friends at Internet Monk . . .

Your mom or dad probably told you to bundle up against frigid temperatures like the ones hitting much of the United States right now. That’s good advice if you want to stay warm and avoid frostbite or hypothermia — but they were wrong if they thought they were protecting you against colds and the flu.

“Grandma was being good-hearted to tell us to put on mittens,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine — but a person is not more likely to catch a cold or flu because they’re freezing, according to health experts.

. . . That’s because getting sick has much more to do with how people are exposed to cold and flu viruses. In fact, there are two main theories for why cold and flu season peaks in winter — and neither of them revolves around people being cold.

When a person with a respiratory virus coughs or sneezes, the virus escapes the host via a small droplet. In colder months, the virus can more easily remain in the air to infect another person, Schaffner said. “When that moisture evaporates, that virus in its little core can be in the air for longer … and then inhaled by party [two], which causes the infection,” he said.

It’s also likely that the more people stay indoors or in school, in close contact, the more chances viruses get to spread, Schaffner said.

. . . Schaffner said the best advice for people wanting to avoid getting sick this year is wash their hands often and be sure to get a flu shot.

• Gillian Mohney, ABC News

838322   LOCAL Carport c#53

All those urban planners who envision “walkable neighborhoods” in the nation’s great cities might hardly contain their delight Thursday on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

Hundreds of people from the South Buffalo neighborhood were afoot in force even before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo arrived to tour the area late in the morning. Then again, with some snow piles cresting at 25 or 30 feet above the pavement along vast stretches, there was just no room for a car.

Melissa Mune was among those out gathering supplies for elderly neighbors, even if she had her own concerns.

“My balcony is about to collapse and I’m going to have to replace about six windows,” she said, “but what the heck?”

And as dozens of city, county, Cattaraugus County and National Guard pieces of heavy equipment began attacking the area’s main drag, neighborhood kids took every opportunity to complicate the process – sledding down the massive piles into Seneca Street.

• Robert McCarthy, The Buffalo News

Over the River and Through the Wood, Matt Tavares

Over the River and Through the Wood, Matt Tavares

[A]n improving economy, more disposable income, consumer optimism and low gas prices are combining to create the biggest Thanksgiving travel rush in years.

Auto club AAA projects that 46.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home during the Thanksgiving weekend, a 4.2% increase over last year and the highest volume since 2007.

. . . More than 89% of holiday travelers – 41.3 million – will travel by automobile, a 4.3% increase over last year. Thanksgiving air travel is also expected to be at the highest level since 2007, with 3.55 million people flying to their destinations, AAA says. That’s 3% more than in 2013.

. . . Thanksgiving travelers are expected to spend an average of $573 over the course of their holiday travel, AAA says. “Lower prices are increasing disposable income and enabling families to carve out more money from household budgets for travel this Thanksgiving,” Doney says.

• Larry Copeland, USA Today

Heard while rambling around this week . . .

cslewis_photo_smNovember 22. Fifty-one years ago today. 1963. The world lost three prominent men.

  • U.S. President John F. Kennedy, age 46
  • C.S. Lewis, age 64
  • Aldous Huxley, age 69

“There’s no evidence that Huxley read Lewis, or that Kennedy read either—though his wife Jackie would certainly have read some of their books—but Lewis knew enough of Huxley to mention him in a letter of 1952 as an author of a future dystopia alongside H.G. Wells and George Orwell. The mental worlds inhabited by Kennedy, Lewis and Huxley—an Englishman translated permanently to West Coast America from 1938—were as mutually remote as their social worlds. Yet each devoted his energies to matters of universal concern, and together they form a curious triptych on the mortal condition.” (John Garth, The Daily Beast 11/3/13)

The week that was and is . . .

lake effect storm GEE14Watching the New England Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts Sunday night was like watching the major leagues vs. the minors. Total domination. I’ve had an increasing dislike for the NFL for many reasons, one of which has to do with the fact that there seems to be no definition of “good” anymore. When virtually anyone can beat everyone else at any time, well, some call that “parity,” but I call it “mediocrity.” The Patriots, on the other hand, may really be good. We’ll see. I haven’t been thinking much about Thanksgiving. I will be on call all week and so we’re keeping it low key. On the other hand, we’re gearing up to see most of the family over Christmas, which will include some travel, and I’m ready. I went to an open house for a friend’s new travel business the other evening and felt the old wanderlust rise within. If it were possible, I’d be on a train, boat, or plane tomorrow heading for some far horizon. A couple of days in Cincinnati is fine, but it takes me two or three days at least to shake off the stress before I can really start enjoying a trip, so this won’t give much real refreshment. People think I’m crazy, but I would love living in Buffalo. What an adventure! And what an opportunity to love your neighbors! One of my best days as a pastor was when we lived in Chicago and I spent a day going around the neighborhood with the church’s snowblower cleaning folks’ driveways after a big storm. Amazing what can happen when the sky falls, we’re all forced to slow down, and we have to get back to basics. It brings a certain clarity I like. Hats off to the good people in western New York.

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Conversation Enders http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/conversaton-enders http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/conversaton-enders#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 07:57:47 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52708 Twitter-CensorshipThis has certainly been the week where we have talked about words. We have discussed etiquette when commenting here. We have discussed Christians use of militaristic words. We have talked about Christian arguments. We have looked at the need to be careful when you speak. To be honest with you, I have not been that involved in the site this week. My daughter and I are on the West coast, where she is competing in the Canadian National Track Cycling Championships, and I am serving as the team driver.

There has been one thing however that has been on my mind concerning words, and that is how we put up stumbling blocks that end conversations could otherwise be about Jesus. Or in other cases say things that cause important conversations to never begin.

A young woman I know recently tweeted: “[Kid] next to me just stated that ‘there’s no proof for evolution anyway!'” She then used a hashtag that showed that she didn’t think very highly of this person because of the statement they made.

Strangely enough, I felt myself wanting to leap to the defense of the anti-evolution comment. But then I said to myself, how do I defend a comment that is indefensible?

The fact is, on social media I see Christians making comments all the time that make me cringe. The sad thing is that these comments are not conversation starters, but conversation enders. To give a parallel example, I have a friend who is big into conspiracy theories. He also runs as a candidate for political office. My (unspoken) thought for him is: “Do you think your advancing of political theories is ever going to advance your chances of gaining political office?”

I want to say the same thing to other Christians out there. “Do you think that your advancement of topic X, is going to do anything to help people to consider Jesus? Do you think it might hinder people from considering Jesus?”

That is not to say that we water down our message because it might be distasteful. I am not proposing that at all. But if our message becomes so obscured because of side issues, then are we really giving people a chance to hear the good news.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome. (P.S. – This is not a post about evolution, I could have used a number of different examples.)

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Another Look: A Word about Words http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52647 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52647#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:01:36 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52647 silence

Then [Job’s friends] sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

• Job 2:11-13

• • •

My dear friend,

Christians believe in words and their power. And well we should. Our sacred book begins with God speaking and bringing order to a chaotic world. The Gospel begins with the Word made flesh. Our very faith comes through hearing the word of God. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus, went through all the land, teaching and proclaiming God’s word about the kingdom of heaven. Great is the company of those who bring the word!

But we often forget the word of wisdom:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

laurel_hardy9Fitly spoken, he said.

  • Spoken at the right time.
  • Spoken when appropriate.
  • Spoken after listening.
  • Spoken after having given thought to what I’m about to say.
  • Spoken with proper understanding of the circumstances.
  • Spoken with sensitivity to the other’s feelings and concerns.
  • Spoken after listening.
  • Spoken after having checked my motives.
  • Spoken with due humility, realizing I may not know the whole story.
  • Spoken in conjunction with a willingness to do something to help.
  • Spoken in as few words as possible.
  • Spoken with carefully chosen words.
  • Spoken prayerfully.
  • Spoken after listening.

Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips. I am utterly dependent on God’s Word to cleanse me. Only through grace and the Spirit can I give a word fitly spoken.

Until then, shh. . . quiet.

Job’s friends did more good in one verse of silence than in thirty-five chapters of words.

That’s something to think about today.

In silence.

Set a guard over my mouth, LORD;
keep watch over the door of my lips.

• Psalm 141:3

Originally posted in February 2011

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Andy Zehner: How to win an argument . . . like a Christian http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52631 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/52631#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 05:01:13 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52631 lou arguing

Note from CM:  Andy and Damaris Zehner have been good friends for many years, and I have participated in any number of vigorous, vibrant conversations with them about matters of faith and life. iMonk readers have the privilege of reading Damaris regularly, today here’s a re-post of something Andy contributed back in 2011.

• • •

Chaplain Mike once wrote this nice post regretting what happens when Christians get “political.” By adding my own bit here I affirm what he said. Anything we do from a desire to score off someone else is wrong. But there’s another point I would add. It is too small a thing merely to avoid contentiousness. We do nothing good when guided by our ego, but even when ego is controlled we cannot be content.

i-despise-pinstripes0Doctrine and practice matter. The Old Testament is packed with proof — Cain’s vegetable offering, Nadab and Abihu’s unauthorized fire, the blemished sacrifices God despises in Malachi — that God doesn’t accept all that is offered to Him. God’s glory demands that He be worshiped in ways that are acceptable to Him. We latter-day believers worship in spirit and truth, but none of us knows how broad a license that phrase confers. “In spirit and truth” is not the same as “what works for me.” God allows us latitude in our practices, but when the fences are down the sheep will wander: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Tim. 4:3) We have a duty to stand firm for right doctrine and practice.

Before a church-league softball game years ago, I suggested to my teammates that we try to win the game. I said we’d honor our opponents by giving our best effort between the chalk lines. By their dropped jaws and incredulous stares you might have supposed I wanted to brush off their lead-off hitter with the old high, hard one or go into second with our spikes up. They seemed to think we did enough if we went through the motions, and that serious effort was unChristian. I suspect many Christians take the same approach — content to make the appropriate motions and noises without much care for the outcome — to discussions about religion and faith.

But here’s the delightful thing. Fervency for right doctrine and practice does not require us to compromise courtesy. We aren’t being pulled in two directions. It’s not a case of, “You put down your rock and I’ll put down my sword.” We aren’t required to give up anything except what impairs us. Fulfilling the call to be gracious makes us more effective in defending the faith. You catch more flies with honey.

My thesis is that we need to add a firm resolve to defend good doctrine and practice to the graciousness Chaplain Mike commended to us earlier. Let me back that up with a few principles showing how courtesy and humility go hand in hand with persuasiveness.

Speak the plain truth
Christian debate is infected with unkind and inaccurate hyperbole. Hyperbole is fun, but it isn’t honest. We need to stop using it. Contemporary worship services are not “cheesy rock concerts.” People who attend traditional services are not “corpses.” Liturgical services are not “hide-bound magic shows.” Old doctrines are not “medieval superstitions.” This sort of mischaracterization has no place in Christian discourse. Misquoting another person is false witness and sinful. Anyway, mischaracterizations don’t work. When we describe people in terms like these I’ve mentioned, they won’t recognize themselves and they won’t acknowledge the criticism as pertaining to them. The point we are making goes off track. If we care about persuading people and defending right doctrine we must give up what isn’t honest and accurate.

Speak graciously
CS Lewis says, in his Reflections on the Psalms, “It can be argued that if the windows of various ministries and newspapers were more often broken, if certain people were more often put under pumps and pelted in the streets, we should get on a great deal better.” But Lewis stops short of endorsing violent action. It would be an effective tool, but it is one we cannot wield. And neither can we accomplish anything good with aggressive speech.

The crowd came to be baptized, and John the Baptist called them a brood of vipers. Whatever John said to Herod Antipas got him imprisoned and beheaded. Jesus himself addressed the Jewish authorities as hypocrites, whitewashed sepulchers and blind guides. And the less said about Paul’s comment about the false teachers in Galatia the better. From these examples I would draw no lesson at all. Peter instructs the believers to always be ready to give an answer, but adds, “Do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.”

0626-piniellaListen and wait
Consider the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. James wasn’t the biggest name attending that meeting, but he made the vital contribution to the outcome by waiting until after Peter, Barnabas, Paul, and perhaps others, had finished speaking. James comprehended the whole debate before he spoke. And, clever fellow, he even brought Peter onto his side by citing Peter’s earlier statement in support of his own.

I have, on occasion, listened while another person stated his opinion, the preceded to find the obvious flaws in it and reverse himself without any input from me. If I had stuck my oar in, it would have been my ideas he reacted to and not his own.

More questions, fewer answers
My high school friend grew up as I did in a traditional denominational church. But he now declares hymns are unfit for church because, “They don’t know what a diadem is.”  When he said this to me in a recent conversation, I didn’t know how to respond. I should have asked him many honest questions: Who is this they you speak of? Is they the people who attend your services now, or an unchurched demographic you hope to attract in the future? How do you know what they know? Would it be possible to just explain that a diadem is a crown? Doesn’t the hymn you disparage for introducing an unfamiliar word in one line, “Bring forth the royal diadem,” clarify that word in the very next line: “And crown Him Lord of all?” If you reject this hymn as a means of teaching Jesus as King of Kings, how do you teach that important aspect of His nature? Are you only trying to update the vocabulary, or are you changing Christianity?

If I had asked and listened, I might have discovered that my friend is not as wayward as I suspected. Or I might have helped him realize for himself how slight his position is. Either way, our conversation would have been more pleasant and profitable. Some readers might think my questions are too provocative. But people like to talk. They don’t mind what you ask, so long as you listen to their answer.

Cite experts rather than your own opinion
As our conversation went round and round it became obvious my friend didn’t care about my opinion. But my opinion and his respect for it ought never have come into play. I ought to have preferred the more potent weapons and strategies that were available to me. History tells us that hundreds of French knights were slaughtered by arrows from English peasants’ bows at the battles of Crecy and Agincourt. Even as they fell in ranks, the French knights ignored the archers because their chivalric code demanded that a knight fight against another knight. Like the French knights, I suffered a defeat because I persisted in using the polemical weapons that preserved my dignity rather than those that would have succeeded.

My friend and his idea of church may be right or wrong. What is certain is that what he believes about church comes from Bill Hybels and the Willow Creek model. The fact that Hybels himself has disavowed much that he pioneered ought to matter to my friend. I should have avoided my own inferior thoughts and the desire to win my way, and instead quoted from Hybels’ Reveal report.

Avoid saying “They”
This one may be most important of all. Paul declares in the second chapter of Galatians, “When Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” Paul’s reproach was, no doubt, effective because he said what needed saying to Peter’s face and not behind his back. If our goal is to win arguments and persuade people toward right doctrine and good practice, we must be talking to those people. And yet most political talk (both the political political talk on the radio and internet news channels and the religious political talk on this forum and around the coffee hour table) is commentary about people who aren’t even present.

We abhor confrontation, so we avoid saying tough things directly to the people who need to hear them. But I think we need to train ourselves to do that, or to stay silent.

Know what you’re arguing about, and concede as much as you can
Have you found yourself arguing a point which, on later reflection, wasn’t the thing you wanted to stress? When that happens, I can often look back over the conversation and find the moment at which I dug in my heels and began arguing for argument’s sake.

I have a friend who is Orthodox, and once we were going around about it. I was prosing on about the importance of a cultural context for Christianity and how I had labored among the Kyrgyz to free them of Russian symbols and practices that were hindering the development of a true Kyrgyz heart-language church. I continued by stressing that America deserves a church free from foreign overtones as much as the Kyrgyz did. At last I paused, well convinced by myself, and my friend asked the only real question between us, which was, “Do you have any doubts that I am a genuine Christian?” I answered, “No, none at all!” And that was all that needed to be said.

lou-piniella-last-game-chicago-cubs-823jpgjpg-9362491de24bea2a_largeKnow when to quit
Let’s be honest. Some people are thick. But that only raises our obligation. The thick-headed man deserves a compelling explanation just as much as the wise and logical man does. Unpersuasive arguments such as “Take my word for it!” need to be set aside. I need to try harder, not less hard, when the nut is hard to crack.

But there is also the possibility that I’m not the man for the job. An antinomian heresy was spreading in Kyrgyzstan several years ago and I confronted the leaders about their error. Our conversation led one of them finally to say, “I just can’t understand why you say we aren’t right.”  And I came to the point where I said, “I believe you. You can’t understand it.”  But I must see it as my own failing and not his. I let him down.

• • •

I hope I have made the case that we need to stay in the debate over doctrine and practice even as we give up methods that don’t work well anyway. Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer . . .” And I’m sure he intended that the answer we give be correct and compelling. When he added, “But do this with gentleness and respect,” he was stipulating both Christian virtue and pragmatic polemical strategy.

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