Friday, December 30, 2011

The Debate of Ages

Couple of days ago I was exposed to the Gospel in Chairs. It's a picturesque contrasting of two views of the crucifixion. One is labeled 'legal' (I've also seen it called 'juridical') and the other, 'restorative.' Brian Zahnd, the speaker, essentially popularizes the debate I alluded to in an earlier post-- popularizes and makes his case for the restorative view of the crucifixion.

Now without saying too much about the debate itself-- I see weaknesses in both positions, glossings over or ignorings of relevant scripture passages that would support the opposing view (like I said in my earlier post: a plague on both your houses) -- I really have to say that watching the video really got my dander up. There was an underlying message shouting louder to me than the chairs presentation that upset me greatly.

The problem came when Zahnd started to hold forth on the restorative view with all his gusto and passion. Passion that included supporting many of his statements with the phrase, "more biblical, more patristic" holding up the restorative view as the one to choose. Essentially, in an aside, he equates 'biblical' with 'patristic' and sets forth an underlying message that there is an ideal 'true' church that we all have to get back to. That's something I have serious problems with-- on lots of fronts.

First of all patristic is not necessarily biblical. For evidence let me submit this patristic writing. Justin Martyr's exaltation of the bishop in this passage borders on the obscene. Certainly, it carries any scriptural messages on the authority of leaders in the church to a ridiculous extreme. It flies right in the face of everything Christ taught about leaders not exalting themselves.

Secondly supporting your position terms by labels such as ancient and pillorying the opposing view as modern is as stupid as the opposite side calling your position old-fashioned and theirs, reformed. C.S. Lewis rightfully calls this sort of thing chronological snobbery. Essentially, you have exalted one age above another and given your audience to understand that everything from this age is better than that which comes from that age. (Hence the blog title) You have moved from serious debate (where ideas are weighed on their true merit) to a sales pitch. Yuck.

Thirdly, and to me, the most important problem with the idea of getting back to the ideal earlier church is this is a different age, culture and time. The issues addressed in patristic times are not the same as those needing addressed today. (Try St. Augustine's The City of God. Starts of with a refutation of polytheism.) Similarly the reformed view also comes from a different time and is showing its age. That is why videos like the one in question are popping up. Questions are being raised as we rethink some of the implications of what we've always been taught. It's a natural process. But what I hear when speakers employ chronological snobbery to push their point home, is that by returning to 'ancient ways' (how seductive that phrase sounds) we are not actually completing that process and answering the questions of our time in a way that we can truly embrace. If you want to embrace 'ancient ways' it's out there for you. The Catholic and Orthodox churches want to embrace you, too. Come home! Come home! Come home!

As for me, this is my age. I can't make myself into a Graeco-Roman of patristic times, nor yet a medieval. Too ornery, maybe.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Continuity and Commonality

I got a book for Christmas, written by a friend or maybe more precisely, a friendly acquaintance. After about three or four chapters, it seems like a pretty good book. It's Keepers of the Presence by Murray Dueck. I don't often read Christian literature any more. Most of such books are like extended sermons. That's not a bad thing per se, but I've grown up in the church and I find at forty-six, I don't need to absorb that many more sermons. I'll listen to them and even preach them when I get the chance, but it takes something fairly ground breaking for me to need to read one. Murray's book isn't that ground breaking; it's more of a practical encouragement to those who are spiritually sensitive and feeling overwhelmed by it. I know someone like that. Hope she we will like the book, because it's coming her way.

But the reason I mention the book, is it's got a mistake in it. No. Can't be. But yes, it does. Murray retells a story he's probably told a thousand times in his Samuel's Mantle teaching and he tells it slightly wrong. He talks about Elijah asking for a minstrel, and gives the bible reference. If you look it up you find that the prophet in the story is really Elisha. Interesting. A bit shocking, maybe, if you are persnickety about having all T's and I's properly crossed and dotted, (as an aside I always have liked the idea of dotting T's while I cross my I's) and I was shocked that an error like that would creep into a published work, but then I remembered that many of the sermons I have heard all my life have been guilty of similar pecadillos. I've been privileged to preach recently and I have found in moments of oratory, that I do the same thing. There's a looseness about making a point, where you make a generalization or draw on an example that might be slightly inaccurate, but the point of the message stands. And it even happens in the New Testament. Check out Mark 1:2,3 where he quotes 'Isaiah' the prophet and you find that actually the first part of the quote is Malachi. Hmm.

All of this brings me around (again) to my current bugbear, whipping boy, etc -- yes, you guessed it, inerrancy. Argument: The same Holy Spirit has been inspiring oral and written teaching and preaching throughout the ages. And those he has been inspiring have been imperfect. We don't get everything right, ever. And the idea that this group of writings called the New Testament somehow transcends that as if it was not after all written by people like us, is appallingly shortsighted, because like other cessationist doctrines, it disconnects us from ever really, completely being like them.

That continuity and commonality with Jesus' own earthly experience and later that of the apostles has become like a guiding principle for me. It's all still got to be true for this age and this time. We've got to have and be able to have all the resources they did, or the world will never be shaken the way it needs to be.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sad State of Contemporary Christian Music

I never listen to the stuff myself and now I know why. A couple of days ago I was performing the parental duty of attending my daughter's dance recital. (For the record, she did just great.) The studio, of course trotted out performances from every class, and therefore included two numbers from their 'worship dance' offerings. Yes, unless you didn't know because you don't attend such a church, worship dance is its own art form-- sort of drawing on a lot of different styles, inoffensive, intended to be uplifting, etc. They actually, by and large, achieve their goal.

But what I noticed was the songs to which they danced. You see, I do that stuff, too. I sing, I lead worship in church and I even write worship songs. And I was frankly turned off by what I heard. One song expressed that what we can really offer God is not much except ourselves (My Surrender - Steven Curtis Chapman) a sentiment that I agree with, even though the lyrics were not anything I could sing with integrity and the tune was mediocre at best. OK, if it means something to you. But then the production got me. I'm sorry, your real purpose shouts too loud and drowns out your apparent humility. The production was highly crafted to appeal to a certain kind of church audience for one purpose only. To sell.

The other song (You Are for Me - Kari Jobe) had the same effect on me. Song is all about God's faithfulness in the face of our weakness. Nice sentiment. Over-produced to sell.

Makes me wonder if I ever want to write another song myself. Is this what happens to 'successful' songwriters? Crappy, mediocre, essentially dishonest songs prepackaged for the Christian consumer -- because now that I make a living at it, it's just business? Hmm.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Basic Sexual Morality

"The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife." 1 Cor 7:4

This is a great nugget of wisdom which deftly encapsulates what I think is intuitive, even in our wayward culture, about sexual morality. Think about the romantic movies you have seen. Even if someone (hero or heroine) is leaving their spouse (i.e. in an adulterous relationship, giving away what belongs to the forsaken spouse)  for someone else, some twist of plot, some gimmick will appear to make this after all, ok. Frequently, the forsaken spouse, good, evil, or whatever, will conveniently die so that the plot is not embarrassed by his presence. (I use 'his' here in the correct generic sense.) Also if an unmarried pair of hero and heroine copulate in the process of the plot, they will frequently be married by the end of the movie, which somehow legitimizes their previous dalliance. How convenient. How much nicer for the viewers. But I think that Hollywood here, is not playing to the vestiges of a weakening Christian influence. I think that they are unconsciously paying lip service to an underlying feeling that straying from the reality as stated above by Paul, is distasteful, if not deeply offensive, to all.

A thought.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Another hack at the concept of inerrancy...

Titus 1:12 has an interesting problem for the inerrancy crowd. Here Paul quotes Epimenides the Cretan to demonstrate that the men of Crete would need a special level of severity in the correction and admonishment expected of Titus.

  • "One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith...

I will ignore the apparent contradiction, well documented on the web, that Paul is in for here by affirming the word of a Cretan who has just said that he, as part of the group of all Cretans, is actually a liar. That's just silly. Hyperbole is hyperbole and not to be made to walk on all fours. 

No, what bothers me or rather would bother me were I an inerrancy follower is that Paul says this kind of thing at all. It's blatant ethnocentrism, racial profiling and clearly wrong. I unashamedly use the modern terms. Recently light has fallen on those evils and we now have language for them and just because they weren't evidently wrong to Paul doesn't exonerate them in any age. But, stop me if I'm wrong, but inerrancy would forbid me from making a judgment like that against any part of the text of the New Testament. And that's also just silly.

For Paul is a human. A great teacher, a true apostle, sent out to spread the gospel as best as he knows how, largely unequalled in his influence, his insight, etc. etc. And still a human. His writings are inspired by God's Spirit and recognized as authoritative by God's Church . But inerrant? 

Hmm. Curve ball for you...
Maybe if I accept inerrancy, I should also accept the infallibility of the Pope.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Getting our Doctrine Right

A friend of mine put me on to this presentation by John Piper. It's a wonderful tribute to one of my very favorite authors, C.S. Lewis. But Piper's passion for certain cherished doctrines causes him to list off at the beginning by way of a disclaimer all the flaws in Lewis' message, so that he could clarify the ways in which he is not influenced by Lewis -- so that he can assure everyone that his doctrine is completely right despite also finding great inspiration in Lewis' life and writings.

Raises a question with me. How did we get to a place where having our doctrine, -- our theory -- exact to such a degree, is of such towering importance? Isn't our central call to repent, believe, love and obey Jesus? Good theory will come, it has to come, but isn't it a by-product of our pilgrimage?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Inerrancy. Another Hmm...

Filling in an online application at Christian Institution, I was, for the first time presented with a Confession of Faith I must agree with or explain why not. Here's my comment on one of the points
The only reservation I have with the statement of faith as given in the PDF of the Confession is with point two, which gives a coded nod to the idea of 'inerrancy' a concept which is so precious to fundamentalist Christianity. It is my decided view that such an approach to Scripture completely ignores the writings for what they are, inspired prophecies, histories, Gospels (a literary form unique, I believe, to the Bible) letters of counsel and instruction, etc. and views the whole as a word-for-word rule book. This has not been helpful throughout the history of the church and although I do indeed treat the Scriptures as authoritative, I reserve the right to view 'inerrancy' as doctrinal red herring. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Liimited by Leaders - Hmm

I was at a seminar for worship leaders today. Among several useful things said was this less useful statement: "You will never be able to go beyond where your pastor lets you." It's been bugging me since. Cause it's a pile of authoritarian hooey. The church is as much mine as it his. What kind of hierarchical mindset gives us ideas like this? It's crazy. We are selling ourselves and our people short by perpetuating this. Hey, just because the culture of bible times was patriarchal and hierarchical, doesn't mean that we have to mimic them any more than we have to baptize capitalism and say it's Christian because many (shall I say American) Christians embrace it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Preachers Take Monday Off

Well, I preached at my church this Sunday. It was a fulfilling, moderately successful experience. I got to explore stuff I'd dreamed of exploring; I got to do stuff I'd dreamed of doing. But I woke up on Monday and I didn't want to see or interact with anybody. That's the truth. Nobody. Of course, I'm not a career pastor or anything close to it. So I had to go work anyways. I went to work with a certain experiential understanding of the insular behavior of preachers on Monday. When you've prepared your best thoughts and delivered them to a crowd with some passion, well to put it mildly, that has the tendency to beat the snot out of you, emotionally speaking, and make you unwilling to interact with others for some time. Now I hope, as more opportunities come along, that I will pick up some stamina in this area. But for now, I'm glad I don't have this same fulfilling experience every Sunday.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Intercessor's Victory (with apologies both to JRR Tolkien, and those who love not his writings)

It has been told in the Quenta Silmarillion that a great host of Elves left the Blessed Realm to do battle against evil in Middle Earth and that they left with the blessing of neither the Powers nor of the One. Many and mighty though they were --kings and lords of great puissance--  their power and numbers slowly dwindled through the long ages of warfare, and evil held more and more sway over the land they had come to love. In that dark hour, salvation came to them not through the might of heroes, though many still walked the earth in that time, beset though they were by the overwhelming hosts of darkness. Instead, help came from one who sailed the trackless seas in search of the Blessed Realm, desiring to present supplication to the Powers on behalf of the peoples of Middle Earth, that the Powers would forgive the rebellion of the Elves, come to Middle Earth, vanquish evil and save the people from darkness. Yet even he, in the nobility of his heart, was not sufficient to breach the leaguer of the defenses of the Blessed Realm, set there lest the Elves should ever desire to return. Only when his wife came to him, bringing the first light of the Blessed Realm itself, bound up in a jewel, the silmaril she carried, was he able to come before the powers and plead for their mercy. So it was that the deeds of warriors proved insufficient while the prayer of the intercessor, carrying the very light of heaven into the throne room, brought the longed for victory and peace.

This tale is told with the hope that many more will take up the burden to journey to come before the One, the Father of All, carrying his heavenly light, to plead for his intervention on behalf his people here in Middle Earth, that he would visit us mightily to stir us anew and do wonders and miracles among us to draw many more from the confused masses to also receive his light.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

She Adores Him

It's the first time in a long time I've seen it. In our era of gender equality, you don't see it that often any more. But it's something to behold. When she's with him, her eyes are shining, her attitude is slightly shy, there's this amazing delicate pinkness in her cheeks and she looks, not like the cat caught the canary, but like Cinderella with her prince. She adores him.  She projects this sense of, "How in my wildest dreams, could I have deserved this?" And her natural beauty is trebled or quadrupled by what's going on in her heart. Wonder if the church could learn a thing or two...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More on Prayer

"And Jesus told this parable to teach his disciples that they should always pray and never give up."

I was reading the Bible with a friend last night and we came across the story of Moses, Aaron and Hur on the mountain supporting the Israelites in their battle with the Amalekites. Staff up: Israel prevails, Staff down: Amalek prevails. Intriguing. Also the story of the death bed of Elisha. "You should have hit the ground five or six times, then you would have completely defeated the Arameans" Similarly intriguing.

Much mind effort has gone into explaining (perhaps explaining away) the necessity of intercessory prayer. We are at some pains to explain to ourselves that really after all, God is all powerful. What difference could anything that we could do have on him and his sovereign program or plan? And yet, strangely he calls us into this exercise that our minds have just led us to think futile. Does he really want to shackle himself to our inconstancy? And if we don't pray, does his will just not get done?

Well I don't know. I almost don't want to know. More and more as I pray I feel myself burn inside. I long for this thing called the kingdom of God, this thing of which I have no clear picture, just glimpses and inklings and oh-if-onlies. I long that people would be able to grasp who Jesus really is and start to pursue him en masse. I long for powerful revelation to break the voluntary blindness of my generation, so that people would be without excuse and would cease to have the option of hiding behind science because science itself would be superseded by the author of all mysteries revealing himself in power. Yeah.

Well, all I can say is I'm thankful God lets me in on his work through prayer. I hope my apathetic rationality is really wrong and my prayers mean something to the coming of the kingdom. I trust they do.

One more butchered song

Once again there's a catchy tune that has grated on me with its false message every time I've heard it. So here's my version. For my Wendy.

The light shines down the valley
The wind blows up the alley
Oh and I'm happy to be lying
With the one I married

We took the pains of learning
And found what we were yearning
Oh and I'm happy to be lying
With the one I married

Married is the way
To learn what there is to know
And we're glad we decided to wait
A lifetime's not enough
To know all the ways to go
Always more love
That we can make, yeah

So now I'm not so lonely
I'm with my one and only
Oh and I'm happy to be lying
With the one I married

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reversion to Form and a New Angle

Recently I had the opportunity to serve communion. In our church we often have it in the form of a 'station.' As part of a time where people freely move about -- in this case we actually had 'stations' all over the church for people to interact with -- people can come when they feel that it's time and receive the communion elements and a blessing. I actually don't know how many other churches do it this way and so that's why I include a description of it.

Anyhow, it was my responsibility to serve the 'wine' -- in this case, cranberry juice -- and, as it was on my heart to pray for new vision for everyone who came, that was my part of the blessing. I suppose the other feature of communion in our church that should be mentioned is that we don't really have a standardized set of things to say as we serve the bread and the 'wine.' Given this reality, I found myself reverting to form, and using the I Corinthians 11 passage just like they always did in the church I grew up in.

  • In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me." For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
 Sums it up pretty well, yes? Yes, except there was something else I wanted conveyed from the passage where Jesus says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no part of him. Something along the lines of through taking communion, we are taking in Jesus himself into our whole selves and on the surface, the above remembrance seems a mere funerary pronouncement. But I used it anyway and it started to mean more than at first. The thing is, Jesus isn't dead, so remembering him is different than remembering anyone else. Yes, he died, and we remember his suffering on our behalf, but then we also remember that he's alive and right here with us while we take communion. From there we can go straight into receiving his essence, his presence, into every part of us, spirit, soul, body. Even our muscles can remember him.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Criticism

Criticism is like the ugly stepchild in our Christian practice. It's there but it's treated like it should never be there. For some it's like the ultimate sin against 'unity.' Some use it when necessary but feel guilty all the while. Some use it manifestly way too much and probably it's because of these that we are in a constant state of reaction to it -- "Well we don't want to be like so and so." But when something is obviously wrong, doesn't it need to be exposed? When we see some tendency that could, if followed to an extreme, hurt the whole group, must we not say so?

Where do we strike a balance? I completely understand the necessity for limiting a critical attitude toward our brothers and sisters and even leaders (I refuse to say especially leaders -- lots of people want to give them an eternally free ride) as they branch out and try new stuff with God. It really is possible to poison the atmosphere for everyone by coming in determined to find fault everywhere. But I've been there where criticism was completely outlawed. Just apply the right labels. "You're being divisive." "You're being soulish." "Come under the covering of the leaders." The result is as ugly as any situation where criticism runs rampant. Making criticism totally verboten creates a situation where people are truly sheep. And they mill around not being aware of what is unhealthy right in front of them until the whole show collapses and everyone wonders what went wrong. That can't be good either.

Rather than outlawing criticism completely, are any rules of the game we can bring to bear on the process of criticism so that it can have a positive effect instead of the effect that we fear -- that is, a general loss of focus on our Lord and the establishing of his kingdom on the earth and subsequently, that horrifying but observable state of having grieved away the Holy Spirit? Is there a way of making it OK to question practices and motives without shooting either the questioned or the questioner? Is it possible to be realistic, practical, objective and still loving? I mean without sober second thought, we run the risk of losing our integrity to the larger group and especially the leaders. Oh yes, the leaders. When things are great, the leader has the heady feeling of riding high. When things are not, the great thing is to keep up appearances so as to avoid criticism. Is this hypercritical? I think not. Leaders are human and subject to every human failing. If we don't watch for this kind of thing, we do damage to our own integrity, the integrity of the church and we don't help the leaders any either.

I think the bottom line is to remove fear, if possible, from the equation. Fear has the effect of turning everything into an attack. If the honest critic fears that reprisals will come his way for saying what he believes needs to be said, he will naturally come defensively. The atmosphere of the communication starts to feel vaguely warlike. Similarly leaders, and lets face it, they receive most of the criticism because what happens is usually credited to or blamed on them, need to reduce the amount that they fear criticism because that fear will filter the most kindly meant and well presented counter-opinion and turn it into an attack. The warlike feeling becomes noticeably less vague. In place of fear, we need mutual love and trust, which do not happen by chance and are earned over long association, after truly getting to know each other.

Yes, there are bitter people who simply delight in finding fault. Like so many other situations they ruin it for the rest of us. Every freedom can be soured and unhealthy until it is removed. But let's be careful about throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as the old saying goes. I get a bit nervous when very well meaning people want to outlaw criticism, or a critical spirit, or whatever. I understand what it is they don't want, simplistically put, a negative atmosphere, and I don't want it either. But still I cherish the right and responsibility to speak out, to raise issues, or such like, hoping desperately that I do it in love, because the alternative, passive silence, is equally unacceptable.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I signed up for a twitter account this week. Picked a bunch of people to follow and let's see how this goes. Don't really get the zen of twitter. I can't see myself updating everyone as to where I'm eating or any such. Tweeting like there's no tomorrow. You know who you are. Anyhow, I followed up on a friend I hadn't seen for a long time and found his blog, learning to pray. Good stuff. Sweetness and light, flowers and forests. Contemplative. Nice. I really think so. I also really think it's not for me.

You see, for me, there's a difference between living in God's presence and enjoying him as you experience glories of his handiwork, and praying. I've run into this personal dichotomy before. Some people want to make all of life 'worship,' but I'd rather preserve the specialty and sacredness of times of worship by calling the rest of life something else; maybe godliness, or something like that. Just don't downgrade the high times we can with God to dismal equality with the day to day grind by calling it all 'worship.' Unfashionable or not, that's how I look at it.

So, prayer. Prayer (for me) is an operation not a contemplation. Prayer is working together with God, possessed by his desires, feeling his passions, and calling for results -- here and now (or as close to now as his plan allows.) The Lord's Prayer knows nothing of contemplation at least not by any definition of the word I know. A group of focused requests, or even commands. No waiting in silence, no long dark night (teatime?) of the soul. Prayer is the pain of "how long oh Lord?" brought to the forefront of my consciousness. Right now. Prayer is that which will, I hope, be mixed with incense and coals from the altar and flung to earth to shake it to the core. THY KINGDOM COME! THY WILL BE DONE!

After that, I have no problem with resting in the sweetness and the light. But I don't call it prayer.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vive la guerre...

I have made a self discovery that I want to share. I am at war. There are two selves in me, neither evil, but each intensely different. One (A) is a childlike dreamer, in love with all things otherworldly and spiritual, who starts to mist up and weep at the thought of the Lamb on the throne, the redemption of the Lost, the fulfilment of long held dreams and so on. The other (B) is a coldly evaluative sort whose passion is for truth, integrity, righteousness, rightness and just plain common sense. My wish for the outcome of the war is that somehow, if at all possible I might integrate the two selves into some sort of maturity or perfection that would be both, but I the outcome I fear above all is that one of these two selves would carry the day and I would be forever cast into one mold and not the other.

You see, I've seen people who have lost the war by losing one of the sides and I don't want to be like them. Dreamers, feelers, who don't care about structure and methodologies if only this moment can be right, and dry as dust sorts with their hearts seemingly blown right out of their chests have the same problem. They're both half dead. Just a different half.

ESP or the Resurrection? Maybe Both

Being at a geek conference (LinuxCon 2011 N. America) has once again rubbed my nose in the spiritual divide between atheists and Christians. Several speakers made allusions to the what they see as the superiority of 'evolution' over 'intelligent design' using the Linux development model as a sort of showcase of what they believe about the cosmos. A cosmos that must not under any circumstances, contain God. You see, we're scientific, we're superior and since God can not be demonstrated empirically, he's out. It's the same kind of thing one gets on dear old slashdot. How they love to pillory anyone that gives any room at all for God or the Bible in his worldview.

So what's the problem? How can I 'foolishly' cling to my beliefs in the face of a culture that clearly 'knows' them to be false? I was discussing this with my brother (also a long time member of geek culture) and presenting what I thought to be the main issue. Christians, in their pursuit and experience of God, allow for, and even value highly information not blessed so to speak by the scientific method. God is a person and just like your friend or worse, your significant other, is not to be treated like a science project. The information about persons is intuitively understood through time spent with the person, not experimenting on them. And how do we know we are spending time with God? Call it ESP if you like. I am aware of him, I feel a pull in my heart when I think of him, and language fails me when I try to describe how I know that he's here. I think that if atheists could include that kind of ESP in their worldview, they would soon know what I know.

My brother put forward a different view. He said that the fact of the resurrection, easily the most documented, and theologically significant miracle ever, is the key to the whole thing. There is so much implied by that event that I can't even begin to fathom here. But suffice it to say, that as N.T. Wright has been so ably teaching (try Surprised By Hope some time. A great read) the full bodily resurrection of our Lord as first fruits for everything that can be hoped for both for us and for the renewal of all creation, is that which fired up the first Christians and it ought to fire us up too. So, touché, brother. That may  be the thing to emphasize. Once the fact of the resurrection is accepted, The worldview has to change. But it could be a chicken and egg scenario. God bless all the atheists and agnostics, too, with revelation! (or ESP.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

I've recently experienced a rather diverse coalescence of thought. A number of questions and answers have come, seemingly from unrelated sources, and welded into a single multifaceted idea. What connection could Jill Bolte Taylor, Adolf Hitler, Isaac Asimov's Robots and Empire, the tower of Babel, and large groups church dynamics possibly have? Strange grouping, no? But it's been a mental process affected by all of the above.

Let's get old Adolf out of the way first. I find it distasteful still to even mention his name, but a friend of mine raised a question recently, that stuck in my mind and demanded some pondering. The question is as follows: "How could the Germans, a people known for their cold hard-headed realism, a culture generally intolerant of hysteria, a nation not known for being motivated by emotion at all, have so abandoned all that they were and fanatically followed Hitler?" The whole episode is bizarre when you look at it that way, isn't it? I leave the question there.

Recently I watched to the now popular video of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor describing the life changing episode of going through a stroke and living in a 'nirvana' experience of functioning solely in the right hemisphere of her brain. She describes the sensation of losing a sense of definition of the typical boundary that is around all of us, that of her skin; the sensation of being huge, of being one with the life force of the universe, merely by dint of being cut off from her left hemisphere and having to experience everything in her right brain. The experience has changed her life. Her main focus, as I understand it from her talk, up to that time was to understand the brain so that she could understand and help her brother, who suffers from schizophrenia. Post crisis, what is most on her heart is to help the rest of the world experience what she did, without the stroke, obviously, because she now believes that if we could all get in touch with the peace, glory and sheer awesomeness of perception of living in the right side of the brain sometimes, the world would be a much better place.

Moving on to an episode from Robots and Empire. Giskard is a robot with telepathic abilities. In the service of his owner, Gladia, he has, at times, tentatively and cautiously, always within the bounds of the First Law of Robotics, made adjustments to the emotions of people around Gladia, to improve her chances of gaining their approval, to pave the way for her, and further her aims. He often finds this difficult, because, being constrained by the First Law, he can't simply run roughshod over peoples brains and leave them irreparably damaged, as would happen if he simply overrode their central intentions. And then one day for the first time, he is with Gladia as she addresses a large group of people altogether. He finds to his surprise that it's far easier to sway the group than ever it was to sway an individual. All he has to do is find one person who approves of what Gladia is saying, and strengthen that approval and suddenly the emotion spills over onto her neighbour, who joins in that approval, and the whole thing cascades throughout the group and reaches Gladia, who feeds back with greater and more inspired oratory... Well, you might wonder why I used a picture like this to depict what all successful orators, stage actors and performers already know about a crowd: if they are with you, and they stay with you, there's nothing you can't do. Well, I don't know why. It's a catalyst for what I came up with, and where I'm taking this post. It's a pretty good parable, all told.

For a moment let's go back to Dr. Jill and her experience of being far beyond the boundaries of her own skin. Now imagine that several hundreds of people around her were also having the same sensation, doesn't it make sense that their large selves would start to merge, and they would find themselves deeply connected with each other. Theorize further that some factor in the large group they are in is what facilitated the unconscious movement into right hemisphere awareness; something that caused a cascade into a blissful shared experience. It could be that the speaker or performer was a master at crowd dynamics. It could be something else. At any rate, let's look again at Dr. Jill after her experience. Even though her experience was in her right hemisphere, she is now driven by an extremely left hemisphere proposition -- she must share the experience because hopefully it will bring peace to many. Coming out of the experience, she, working through the left brain, framed it for herself and now she has been imprinted with a mission.

But think about the implications of this for people who have been unconsciously swept up into what I will now call communal exaltation, for whom the experience has been framed along pernicious lines like "you are the master race, you must rise up and rule the world, and rid it of Jews" and you might have an answer to the Hitler conundrum. Thousands of German youth, swept up in the promises and oratory, experience a bliss of unity and corporate identity, which are both, I put to you, right hemisphere perceptions, perceptions they've maybe never known before being from a very left-brained culture, or maybe never known at that level of intensity, and they will naturally credit it to the one who gave it to them. And he in turn leads them into his private insanity and imprints with his mission. "Hitler youth, you are MY youth!" (I shudder.)

But the result of the process doesn't have to be bad. What I'm describing is an amazing, built-in human capacity, not a failing from which to be warned away. You see, I've experienced this communal exaltation and imprinting before. I'm talking about wholehearted corporate worship of God in the company of fellow Christians in the presence of God's Spirit (the 'something else' I alluded to earlier,) which lifts all into if not Dr. Jill's nirvana, something akin to it, followed by inspired teaching, which frames the experience and imparts a sense of mission. I'm starting to believe that it's the answer to the question that recurs when things in church seem to lack vitality, "why gather at all?" We gather to worship corporately and connect with God at a deeper and higher level than we could on our own, and to be imprinted with his mission in a deeper way than we could have received it on our own.

And oh, what we couldn't do, the more of a deep, unified, corporate identity we achieved. Look at the Tower of Babel incident. God removing the very thing I'm talking about from a people because their 'mission' was not going to benefit them at all. It's like a parent locking the gun cabinet. We were just not ready for any such thing. But think of it. "Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them." If we had that kind of unity in our churches... But there is another thing about the story that needs to be said. God shut the whole thing down through changing a left-hemisphere factor. Language. I didn't matter how much fellow feeling one family had for another. If they couldn't understand each other, they couldn't stay together. In the same way churches that have poor fundamentals, poor structure, even though they may provide a wonderful experience, will eventually lose people over left-brain concerns. Hey, we can't always blame the structure. Over-focus on the niceties of doctrine will also lock us into our left hemispheres and we'll never experience the oneness with each other that comes from oneness with God.

But the implications of viewing gathering in this way for those in the leader/facilitator role in the church are worth a look. First of all, we can recognize that it doesn't take much to sway a large group. God surely sees our spirits, our emotions, etc. in greater detail than the telepathic robot in the story. If he can find a few in the group to give themselves wholeheartedly to him, then a cascade can happen. Secondly, information by itself is not a sufficient goal for the preacher. Some of us have been in church all our lives and have a pretty good handle on the truth. But our imprinting with God's mission can diminish over time. That's the direction our teaching/preaching has to go. Thirdly, for those for whom crowd dynamics come easy, those who intuitively know how to cause the cascade every time, the caution is to avoid demagoguery. Personality cults have come and gone and left wreckage in their wake. It's a heady thing to receive the approval of many. Try desperately to frame the experience so that you are not what the people look to. You are not to be the focus of the imprinting. Lastly, this is just a blog post, an expression of a current thought process in my head. Maybe it will spark a such a process in your head too...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Think We're Out of Our Minds

Church these days is replete with people (leaders and thinkers) who are looking at church culture and saying, "Ditch it. This doesn't look anything like Jesus ministry and I can't see what the point is when we get together every week for these same-old same-old activities -- sing songs, listen to teaching, have communion, etc." But I think we're out of our minds. First of all, just to clear this up because I think it appears in this blog, I've used the "doesn't look like Jesus ministry" argument myself in regard to the Roman Catholics, but I use it to question the RC claim of authority over the rest of us, not to question its validity in itself. Secondly, those who attempt to ditch a culture are really attempting to replace one culture with another. I hope they're doing it out of a genuine vision of something new. But I doubt it. The blogs on this topic don't give me any hope of it anyway. The practicalities of doing church at all over some 2000 years have brought us to this point and the result is before us. Hey, I've seen culture changes before. I go to a Vineyard, one of the biggest agents for culture change in the larger evangelical church of recent times. God was mightily with the Vineyard back when I first came, and I thought one of the reasons for his presence was the brand new culture. But now I'm convinced I was wrong. It was more like God was mightily with the Vineyard and that, as a by-product, powered the culture change. Because of God's presence we embraced the new models. But we really left our old churches because they had a missing ingredient. The evident and mighty activity of the Holy Spirit. This is the same missing ingredient in the churches of today, even in the Vineyard I am part of. That's why we're all questioning church culture -- when we should be crying out for revival...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Revival is like...

Revival is like a pot to which God is adding special and unique ingredients and stirring in response to our prayers. Sometimes he stirs a bit harder and a bit spills down on us and we get a taste of what's in store. Hopefully that will make us want to pray more so that God will at the right time have a free hand to dump the whole thing on us. ("Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need, mercy drops on us are falling, but for the showers we plead!")

Similarly, praying for revival is like taking turns hitting at a piñata at a party. You know the thing can't last forever, and you're hoping it's your swing that will bust it open. As the piñata starts to weaken, a few goodies sneak out of the cracks and anticipation mounts. Soon, soon, soon what we pray for will come. ("Jesus told them [the parable of the widow and the judge] to teach his disciples to always pray and NEVER GIVE UP!")

Sunday, August 7, 2011

One morning I woke up in a fighting mood...

... and thought John Lennon should not have the last word on what to imagine.

Imagine Jesus coming
It’s easy if you try
Come with hosts of heaven
Filling up the sky
Imagine all the people
Living for that day

Imagine we’re in Heaven
It's not so hard to see
Evil forever conquered
The world forever free
Imagine all the people
Walking in his ways

Imagine there's revival
It isn't hard to do
Healing and compassion
And true repentance too
Imagine all the people
Seeking first the king

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine we can see Him
I wonder if you can
Give him all the Glory
The Righteous Son of man
Imagine all the people
Worshiping his name

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Apostles and then...

Brad Jersak, in his book Her Gates Shall Never be Shut has brings forward an interesting critique of 'Infernalism' as he names the belief, very common in the Christian circles in which I have been raised and still move, that all the unregenerate are destined for Hell, a burning and eternal hell. One of the aspects of that critique is a reference to that toweringly influential church thinker, St. Augustine. He says that very likely our belief in that Hell stems from a pastoral motivation on the part of the saint, who desired that no wrong liver should see any 'out,' so to speak, except through the grace of Jesus and the obedience to his church. Or something along those lines. (I may check out the actual quote later to be more precise.)

Whether you agree with Brad on this point or not, what he says about Augustine brings up a very interesting aspect to church doctrine that I've not till now properly examined. Are there doctrines that are merely put in place to avoid any further debate in that quarter? Doctrines that smack more or less of, "Don't raise that issue again! It's too dangerous to think about." --and from a pastoral point of view-- "Think of all the people who might fall into confusion if you ask a question like that!"

Well again and again, I have just such a question in mind. What about the canon of New Testament? To 'solve' this question from, I hope, a pastoral point of view, doctrines like Inerrancy have sprung up, trying to head off any inquiry before it actually happens. But I do inquire. From what does the authority of the New Testament come? Roman Catholics have a simple answer that makes sense from Jesus own commissioning of the apostles. It stems from the authority of the church that decreed that such a canon should be. It was the church's idea and why not? Certainly at no time did Jesus predict the existence of a book that would come after him. But it's a possible and legitimate invention of the young church to meet a need they had. Makes sense. Might I add that the needs that produced such an invention have not gone away. 2000 plus years after the events in the New Testament, we need a written memory of our origins even more than the church which preserved it for us.

Protestants on the other hand have to defend sola scriptura to the high heavens, because they fear that without it, they can't have the Reformation. If they admit that the church's authority created the New Testament, they fear that they have to accept everything else in the Roman Church. (Why they don't may be the subject of another post.) And so they make some passages truly walk on all fours, especially the the "All scripture is inspired" passage and other ones -- check out this-- in their attempt to make the New Testament teach us of its own necessary existence. I find it very interesting that as you read some of the articles defending this stance that they seem to indicate that Jesus' words to the apostles -- the whole church at that time-- should be only for them --"the Spirit will guide you into all truth"-- whereas specific instructions by apostles to specific churches would be universally applicable to all believers. Does anyone see any irony there? I also find that some of the arguments lame because they seem to assume a backdrop of "God will never speak to us again."

But Jesus promised the Spirit. He never promised the New Testament. That alone should give us pause. Furthermore if you defend the New Testament's existence based on the tradition of the 'scriptures' of 2 Tim 3:16, that is, the Old Testament, watch out. Among the affirmations of the Old Testament, and Jesus does affirm it, Jesus also warns, "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life... but you are unwilling to come to me and have life." Kind of calls into question that old gospel song "Beautiful Words, Wonderful Words, Wonderful Words of Life..." don't you think?

Pondering the above by a circuitous route brings me around to what I think is an even deeper question which both the Protestants and Catholics must give account. Where are the real successors to the Apostles? To answer Catholics present the Church, by which ultimately is meant the hierarchy all the way up to the Pope. But I still say, what about any part of Jesus ministry or teaching foreshadows that? Protestants present the New Testament. It's rather like Sikhism. A succession of ten gurus and the last one gives them a book as their guru. Taking that view in the church makes it feel rather like all the good stuff has already happened. I just don't think that's a good basis on which to proceed. So no, I can't accept that either.

I wonder however whether God himself in all of his church, the whole body, of whatever stripe, isn't simply enough. What if the body of Christ is the intended successor to the apostles? I know we need the New Testament. But it's not Jesus, and it's not the Holy Spirit. It's a historical source which gives us a truthful story of Jesus and the working papers of the young church. And yes it's inspired by the Holy Spirit. But not in some exclusive way. The revelation and inspiration weren't supposed to stop and you can't really make anything in the New Testament say so. More important than the words of the New Testament is the example of Jesus and the Apostles. Instead of revering their words, we need to do as they did. Dangerous as it may seem, we are the successors to the apostles, and with fear and trembling we have to listen to God and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit now so the story can continue.