Wednesday, October 18, 2017

#metoo—WWJD?

Imagine the original audience for the Sermon on the Mount. Now, picture a furrow-browed, intense young man (sorta like the rich young ruler) debating with Jesus...

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
~ Jesus of Nazareth (Matt. 5:27-29)

Gouging out an eye? To avoid lusting? Dang, Jesus, isn’t that just a little—you know—extreme?

And Jesus, I’m not trying to tell You how to do Your job—I mean, You being God ’n’ all—but couldn’t You throw in something a little more reasonable?

I have a few suggestions:
  1. How about blame the woman for how she’s dressed?
  2. Or maybe throw in a few words to the effect of: ‘Boys will be boys’.
  3. Just say something—anything, really—that deflects the responsibility from us guys and put the blame ’n’ shame on someone else.
What’s that, Jesus? Yeah, I remember the story of Job—he’s one of our heroes in the Old Testament! What’s Job got to do with anything?

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.”
~ Job (Job 31:1)

Is that all Job said, Jesus? Really? Nothing about how women are dressed, or…

Look, Jesus, I really don’t think You understand… yeah, You bet I’m getting angry! What else do You expect, when You keep throwing all the responsibility back on us guys?

Who? The ‘apostle Paul’? Never heard of him—wait, what do You mean by ‘spoiler alert’? What’s this Paul guy going to say?
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures...
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.”

~ Paul the Apostle, on behalf of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:19-25)
Okay, Jesus, I’ve tried to be patient, but You clearly have an anti-male bias. I’d prefer to get a second opinion, if You don’t mind...

Ask Lucifer? Great idea—where can I find him?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Of Pearls, Swine, & Strawmen

The Elder watched, eyebrows raised, as his young friend aggressively stirred the usual “fixings” into his americano.

He couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen the Younger so agitated. His own hands were cupped around his mug of coffee—“black, the way God drinks it”—and he waited in silence.

The Younger replaced his spoon on the table with an exasperated sigh, the sound of the metal utensil evoking a sharp protest on the wooden surface. The Younger paused for a moment, suddenly self-aware of his agitation.

“Sorry about that,” he admitted to his life-long friend. “I’m just . . . really frustrated with how things went the other night.”

“I’m all ears,” the Elder replied, nodding to acknowledge the other’s apology. “How did the topic come up, if you don’t mind my asking? And what was it about your friends’ comments that impacted you so negatively?”

The Younger picked up his spoon once more, tapping it on the table, spinning it around in his fingers, and tapping the table again with the opposite end. The Elder chose not to point out the unconscious action of his friend.

“Well, you know me and my friends—we love talking about our faith, life, and how the two interact. It’s usually a lot like the conversations that you and I have, at least most of the time. But last night . . .”

He flattened the spoon under his hand, and looked up to meet the Elder’s concerned gaze. “You’ve heard of the notorious ‘straw man argument’, I’m sure. It’s become its own meme, almost to the point of being a caricature of itself.”

The Elder nodded in sympathy, a rueful smile quirking at one corner of his mouth. “I’ve had a few run-ins with it, yes. I take it that a straw man was introduced into your conversation last night?”

The Younger shook his head, taking a hearty swig of his americano. “We were talking about the Atonement . . .”

The Elder whistled, his eyebrows arching higher. “The Atonement? You and your friends could never be accused of having shallow theological discussions.”

The Younger shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Yeah, we like the heavy topics, I guess. But as soon as I started talking about my understanding of the Atonement, I got shut down instantly. They said that anyone who believes in substitutionary atonement believes that God is a ‘cosmic child-abuser’, and nobody with any intelligence would worship a ‘monster’ like that . . .

The Elder sighed, leaning forward as he, too, swallowed some of his coffee before it cooled off too much. “Let me guess—the vengeful Old Testament God taking out His wrath on His unsuspecting and defenseless Son?”

The Elder continued as his young friend nodded wordlessly. “Well, it wouldn’t be any exaggeration at all to call that kind of terminology the most glaring and manipulative straw man fallacy that I’ve come across.”

He took a longer gulp of his coffee, and set his mug down firmly. “To be blunt . . .” The Elder leaned forward to emphasize his next words.
”Using the phrase ‘cosmic child abuse’ is, at best, infantile. And at worst, it reveals an arrogant refusal to engage in the honest, intelligent exchange of ideas.”
The Younger finished his drink quietly, listening to his mentor/friend with rapt attention.

“Think about it this way,” the Elder kept his voice down despite his obvious passion for the subject at hand. “The most fruitful discussions—or dialogues, or debate—are characterized by both respectful dialogue and listening to each other’s viewpoints, and thoughtful interaction with the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing views. Iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17).”

The Elder paused for a moment, adjusting his spectacles. “Such an obvious and calculated straw man as ‘cosmic child abuse’ circumvents any meaningful conversation. It’s actually a very anti-intellectual approach, which has but one goal in mind: to shut down discussion. To prevent thinking.”

“And here I just thought it was a bullying tactic,” joked the Younger, his lop-sided grin not very heart-felt.

The Elder leaned back, finishing off his coffee with one prolonged swallow. “It certainly is that, no doubt. But even more so: it shows a profound level of hubris—arrogance—to ignore the theological giants of the faith who have wrestled long and hard to put language to our beliefs, by using such a simplistic and offensive caricature.”

He sighed, returning his friend’s grin with one of his own. “I could make a comment about pearls before swine, as Jesus did in Matthew 5:6—and His warning rings true in our time as much as it did in the first century. But I think there’s also a more redemptive approach that we should keep in mind.”
Ask your friends: what Scriptures led them to their current position on the Atonement? We all understand theres a certain level ofoh, I guess I would call it wrestlingwhich every theologian has to embrace. And I certainly hope your friends are basing their thoughts on Scripture and not merely on the latest philosophical trends. See if your friends would be willing to put aside their caricatures and invest some time in wrestling through the Scriptures together, as a group, and re-learn the lost art of respectful dialogue.”
The Younger held his empty mug aloft in a salute. “Having a respectful conversation? Wrestling through the Scriptures together? I’m all for it. I don’t even care if we all agree on everything, once we’re done. I’d just like to have a real, honest, strawman-free discussion about it!”

The Elder laughed quietly, his posture relaxing as a sheepish look crossed his face. “Just don’t tell them I called them ‘infantile’, okay? I really must learn to be more cautious in my choice of words . . .”

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Non-Confessional Movement

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)

Some people don’t like doctrinal statements, viewing them as a tool of oppression and exclusion. They would much rather be “non-confessional.” (Meaning: doctrinal agreement is optional, as long as people play nice).

Unfortunately, non-confessional movements usually end up looking like the picture at left.

What makes a doctrinal statement useful is its objectivity. It serves as an impartial standard, a measuring stick, a plumb-line by which all parties can evaluate their own doctrinal health.

There have been times, historically, when churches and movements have changed their minds and/or gradually wandered away from their core beliefs. The Old Testament also candidly records where God’s chosen people did the same thing—but it should be noted that the message of the prophets was to “turn back”, and in church history, terms like revival and renewal were linked to people “returning” to a faith they’d abandoned or allowed to atrophy.

Throughout church history, statements like the Apostles' Creed, and the Nicene Creed (among others), have served in similar ways, providing a much-needed litmus test so that movements could obey the Scriptural admonition to safeguard the church from doctrinal “alternative facts”.

For example, St. Paul’s warnings and instructions:
  • “I know that after I leave [Ephesus], savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)
  • “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” (1 Timothy 1:3)
  • “For the time will come when people 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 Timothy 4:3)
A “Statement of Faith” is vital for straining out doctrinal error, and the New Testament is replete with admonitions to be on guard against false teachings. St. Paul was not the only one to sound the alarm. Similar warnings were voiced by St. John (1 John 4:1), St. Peter (2 Peter 2:1-3), and also Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:10-11).

When a movement eschews a statement of faith, preferring instead to be non-confessional, they create an ethos where no teaching can be objectively evaluated, and where alternative (doctrinal) facts cannot be challenged.

However, something far more insidious results from a non-confessional approach, which inspired my choice of picture at the top of this post:
A non-confessional movement will always be controlled by the biggest bullies. It is inherently power-based and political in nature.
Without the objective standard of a Statement of Faith, the direction of such a movement will rest in the hands of those with the most political power. Appeals to Scripture or the history of Christian orthodoxy will fall on deaf ears. Alternative (doctrinal) facts can now flourish freely.

Anyone holding to a confessional approach can then be effectively ridiculed and silenced, usually by caricatures, shout-downs, and zinger-ology (I've written about these tactics before). Doctrinal questions and debates are settled by whomever can generate the loudest echo chamber, bolstered by the largest number of “likes” and retweets.

No, thanks. I’ll take the (confessional) antidote St. Paul gave to Timothy:
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2)