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.