Friday, November 30, 2007

Less Charming Oddities

It is one of the less charming oddities of our times that, in many circles, atheism, or at least a declared agnosticism, is assumed to be the default position of disinterested ethical discourse.

--Richard John Neuhaus
First Things, Dec. 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Biblical Solipsism

Here is a link to an excellent article by J. P. Moreland, which discusses a problem I have been noticing for some time now among certain segments of the evangelical community. I call this problem Biblical Solipsism. It typically amounts to the claim that the Bible is not only the final source of authority for the Christian, but that the Bible is the only source of knowledge and authority for the Christian. Other possible sources of knowledge or authority such as personal experience, culture, or science are denied any relevance or legitimacy. To give an example, I recently encountered an instance of this view on another blog when a commenter there responded to something I said with the following statement:

Frankly, I care very little for scientific "factual" data in comparison with Scripture. Science has changed constantly, as it is a fallible human endeavor. But Scripture has never failed, never been proven wrong, and never contradicted itself.

It's not that there is nothing true in this comment, but it's more about a certain attitude or orientation that the comment reveals. There is, at best, a dismissal of the relevance of extra biblical sources of knowledge for the Christian. At worst there is hostility towards them. The notion that Christians can learn anything from science or that it might in any way help us in our interpretation of scripture is notably absent from this comment. I find such a view very troubling because it seems to remove the Bible from the world of our daily existence and place it in a vacuum. The Bible, however, was not written in a vacuum, but was written out of specific cultural and historical situations. It responds to and engages with the realities of human existence, and must be read in conjunction with the world of our experience. The Bible would not even make sense to us if we did not already have some experience of the world as it is.

Furthermore, even if it is true that the Bible has never failed, never been proven wrong, and never contrdicted itself, as the above quotation maintains, this does not mean that all of our interpretations of the Bible are or have been correct. If, however, we insist on ignoring the world of human experience and denying the legitimacy of extra biblical sources of knowledge, it seems to me we isolate ourselves from a major source of possible correction.

The Christian tradition, broadly defined, has always interacted with the reality of the wider culture and the world of human experience. To cut the Bible off from serious interaction with the world of our experience and to deny that Christians can learn anything from observing and interacting with the world around us leads to an anemic, provincial faith and may even lead to intellectual dishonesty.

Anyway, enough of my jabbering. Check out the article by Moreland.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Defense of C. S. Lewis

This piece was written in response to an attack against Lewis published in the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School/Trinity Graduate School student newspaper, the Scrawl. The attack was written by a first year divinity student named Aaron Adams. The piece in question basically implied that Lewis's Christianity was suspect because he did not embrace evangelical views on a number of subjects and that evangelicals should rethink their relationship to Lewis, which appeared to be a thinly veiled way of saying they should reject his writings. I was deeply disturbed by the spirit of the article, feeling that it exemplifies a certain attitude and mindset that seem to be prominent and even growing among a certain segment of the evangelical population in our times. I wrote this response immediately after reading the article. A few days later, I cleaned it up some and submitted it to the Scrawl. It was published in the following issue under the title "Mr. Adams and C. S. Lewis."

Mr. Adams and C. S. Lewis

Dear Editor,

Having just read Aaron Adams article concerning C.S. Lewis, I find myself deeply troubled. On the one hand, I do not particularly feel that Lewis needs to be defended. I think that the fruit of Lewis’s life and work testifies to both the genuineness of his faith in Christ and to the overall positive impact he has had on behalf of the Christian faith. Scores of people have become Christians because of the writings of Lewis. Scores more have had their faith strengthened or have remained Christians at all, including, by his own admission, Mr. Adams himself. Indeed, I find it strange that Mr. Adams could share how Lewis’s writing helped him through a difficult time spiritually, yet still find the temerity to all but pronounce Lewis anathema simply because he holds some views which Mr. Adams finds erroneous. This seems to me a very ungrateful and uncharitable attitude, and this is what I find most deeply troubling about his article.

Mr. Adams implies that the more “biblical” he has become, the less he has come to love Lewis. He all but directly states that Lewis was not a Christian. He seems to think that being “biblical” means giving intellectual assent to a particular list of doctrines based on the particular understanding of scripture which he happens to hold. Lewis, by contrast, though he may not have affirmed the correct evangelical view on every subject, was an avid Bible reader who sought to submit his life to the authority of scripture and to practice what it taught. This is evident to anyone who knows anything about Lewis’s personal life. Lewis’s writings also embody the biblical values of charity, humility, and graciousness towards those he disagrees with.

Mr. Adams claims that those of us who truly care about being “biblical” should “rethink” our relationship to Lewis, by which he pretty much seems to mean rejecting Lewis altogether. Again, I find this a strange perspective for someone who was helped through a difficult time in his personal Christian walk by the writings of Lewis. Isn’t it possible that, like all of us, Lewis was a flawed vessel whom the Lord chose to do His work and to positively impact the lives of many? Is it necessary to agree with everything a person thought and wrote in order to find spiritual value in their life and work? I do not agree with Lewis’s every view on every subject, but nonetheless I find great value and edification in his writings.

One can only hope that, in the future, those who disagree with the theological positions taken by Mr. Adams will treat him with more charity, humility and understanding than he has extended to C. S. Lewis. I am thankful that both the Bible and the kingdom of God are bigger than the narrow confines of Mr. Adams understanding of them.

Gordon Hackman,
MA CAC, 2004

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Post-Modernism 101 by Heath White: A Review

In Postmodernism 101, Heath White offers lay people an introduction to post-modernism and the issues surrounding it. White teaches philosophy at the University of North Carolina and claims that he was moved to write the book in response to the large number of questions he received concerning the topic. It is written in clear, simple, straightforward prose, contains helpful illustrations, and offers a basic overview of the major facets of post-modernism and how it affects different areas of life and thought.

White begins the book by briefly sketching out why Christians should care about post-modernism, discussing the issue of the church’s relationship to culture and the importance of understanding the culture we live in. He then spends a couple of chapters placing post-modernism in its historical context, showing the move from pre-modernism to modernism and into post-modernism. He then spends several chapters unpacking the ways in which post-modern ideas affect different areas of life and thought including morality, views of the self, language, interpretation, culture, and history. He concludes with a chapter which raises the question of how important post-modernism really is and which challenges Christians to seriously engage the questions it raises, even as he points to our ultimate hope in God.

The thing I appreciate most about the book is its even handed tone. On the one hand, it avoids the fearful reactionism and simplistic caricatures of postmodernism that seem to predominate among many conservative Christians, while also avoiding a wholesale embrace of postmodernism. White clearly thinks that much of the postmodern critique of modernism is correct and needed, but also sees that there are many ways that post-modernism presents problems and challenges for orthodox Christianity. Rather than simply offering out of the box answers and prescriptions, though, he continually invites his readers to further reflection and discernment on the matter. In every chapter, he attempts to reflect on the issues discussed from a specifically Christian point of view and offers helpful examples of some concrete and practical ways Christians might respond to these challenges. Questions are also included at the end of every chapter to help the reader process what he or she has read and to reflect on it further.

By ending the book with some serious unanswered questions to which he encourages Christians to seek serious answers, while also pointing to our hope in God, White demonstrates precisely what Christian intellectual endeavors should look like. Faith seeking understanding, secure in the truth of what we believe, aware of the limits of our own understanding, unafraid to face the reality of changing cultural situations and the questions they raise with generous hearts and minds. For now, this is the one book I would recommend above all others to anyone seeking a good, readable introduction to post-modernism and the issues surrounding it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"The Great Giveaway" by David E. Fitch - A Review

In his excellent study “The Way of the Modern World,” Craig Gay observes that “it seems that the ideas with the most profound consequences are frequently taken for granted. They are the ideas that lie just behind conscious thought, providing a kind of foundation for the deliberations of everyday life.” In “The Great Giveaway,” Dave Fitch attempts to diagnose and offer correctives to some of the ways in which the evangelical church in North America has come to take for granted many of the unconscious assumptions and controlling ideas of secular modernity thus leading it to “give away” being the living Body of Christ in the world. He attempts to uncover the ways in which modern assumptions concerning such things as success, leadership, character formation, and justice have warped our understandings of them as Christians and have lead us to be unfaithful to the Bible and the gospel of Christ. He also attempts show how evangelicals have given away even specific practices of the church such as preaching, worship, and evangelism to the controlling assumptions of modernity, sometimes even when we think we are being the most faithful.

Fitch identifies some of the hallmark characteristics of modernity as being a fascination with technique, a fixation on efficiency and effectiveness, individualism, elevation of experience and self-expression, and an attachment to scientific rationality among other things. Fitch argues that these characteristic assumptions of modernity have infiltrated evangelicalism and have hampered our ability to be faithful to the mission of Christ in the world. For example, he argues that our view of leadership in the church has become more shaped by the CEO model of American business culture than by the teachings of Jesus and the model of the New Testament church. Or again, he argues that our understanding of spiritual formation and personal well-being has been overtaken by the categories of modern psychology.

Fitch is not the first person to express concern about the shape and character of contemporary evangelicalism. Fitch’s book differs, however, in the way he uses the insights of post-modern thinkers to expose and undermine the modern assumptions that have shaped the practices and character of contemporary evangelicalism. Many of those who have expressed concern over the state of current evangelicalism have specifically associated some of its negative character traits with post-modernity and have displayed an almost reflexive anti-postmodern attitude. While Fitch does not endorse post-modernism willy-nilly, he sees the insights of post-modern thinkers as a source of help for the church and as a means of deconstructing the pretensions of modernity that hold evangelicalism captive. In some cases this leads directly to controversy, such as Fitch’s claim that expository preaching, which for some evangelicals is synonymous with faithfulness to scripture, actually ends up giving away the faithful proclamation of scripture to the forces of modernity while leading us to believe that somehow we are interpreting scripture “objectively” and are therefore protected from error. In other cases, however, I think it clearly makes Fitch’s case stronger, such as when he uncovers the interpretive, narrative, non-scientific character of much of modern psychology and shows how it contrasts with the scriptural narrative that should be shaping us as Christians.

Since each chapter of the book deals with a different issue, it is possible to read and benefit from individual chapters without reading the whole book. My guess is that most discerning readers who are alert to the issues and problems of contemporary evangelicalism will find at least one or two chapters they agree with, even if they find themselves in violent disagreement with others. In my opinion, the first, third, and seventh chapters alone make the book worth purchasing. It is also my feeling that reading the whole book will lead to a better overall picture of the state of the contemporary evangelical church and the crisis it faces. If I had any criticism to make of the book it would be that I wish certain parts were better documented, which would make Fitch’s overall case even stronger, especially given the controversial nature of some of his claims. Overall, however, I think Fitch strikes a good balance between academic seriousness and accessibility to the layperson. I think he has rightly diagnosed many of the serious problems that currently plague the evangelical church and has offered some helpful suggestions for how we might begin to reclaim being the Body of Christ again in North America. I think this book is must reading for anyone seriously concerned about the faithfulness of the church in our times.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Theological Imagination (Or Lack Thereof)

Here is a link to an excellent short post on Peter Leithart's blog concerning the lack of theological imagination among some Protestant theologians. It expresses precisely something I have been thinking for a while but haven't quite been able to find the words for. Thank you Dr. Leithart.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Which Church Father am I?

Because I know it's been the burning question on everyone's mind . . .

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Fight club, violence, and culturally derived notions of masculinity

I've been reading a little this morning from the revised and expanded edition of William Romanowski’s “Eyes Wide Open: Looking For God in Popular culture.” This is a great book that offers some good basic direction and insight for Christians looking for thoughtful and discerning ways to engage popular culture and popular cultural works. I own the original version of the book and I admit that I was not overly excited when I first saw there was a revised and expanded edition coming out. I assumed that the changes would be relatively minor and not necessarily worthy of my repurchasing the book. When I had the chance to look at the new edition, however, I was pleasantly surprised by how substantial the reworking of the material was. Almost every chapter of the book seems to have been reworked, and a substantial amount of new material has been added. Some of the original examples of popular cultural works have also been replaced by more relevant and up to date works. All these things make the revised edition worth purchasing for anyone who enjoyed the first edition, as well as for those unfamiliar with the original edition.

The section of the book that my eye happened to fall upon this morning dealt with the topic of our definitions of masculinity and how it is portrayed in popular cultural media. In particular, the author looks at the movie “Fight Club,” and how it relates to cultural stereotypes concerning masculinity and violence. This section of the book was both interesting and exciting for me, as I have blogged about both masculinity and about “Fight Club” previously. The topic of masculinity, especially in relation to Christianity, has become a topic of more intense interest to me over the last year or so.

In this brief section of the book, Romanowski argues that “Fight Club” is indicative of contemporary cultural associations between masculinity and violence. The main character, played by Edward Norton, feels emasculated by the cubicle culture of his workplace and the wider consumer culture in which he is a participant. To counteract this sense of the loss of his masculinity he creates an alter ego and founds an underground society, the Fight Club, in which men participate in the brutal violence of bare-knuckled fist fighting in order to recapture a lost sense of manhood. While many cultural observers have commented on the modern fixation with violence and sexuality, exemplified in films such as Fight Club, as a protest against the nihilism and meaninglessness of so much of modern life, I confess that this is the first time I had thought of the film as reflecting on the issue of gender identity. Romanowski observes that notions of masculinity as intrinsically violent are based largely on socially and culturally constructed myths rather than any necessarily objective understanding of masculinity. This is especially the case when such notions of masculinity are compared to a biblical understanding of manhood.

What really intrigued me about all of this was the immediate connection it created in my mind between these socially constructed and culturally promoted versions of manhood and particular notions concerning gender that have become very popular in certain sectors of the evangelical church. I am particularly thinking of the Wild at Heart phenomenon, in which the notion of men as necessarily violent or aggressive is elevated to the level of a universal, ahistorical, and even biblical norm. If Romanowski is correct, however, that such notions of manhood are more the result of social and cultural mythologies than they are of any objective or biblical notions of manhood, then the Wild at Heart phenomenon represents an example of how easily the church can be infiltrated by the values of the surrounding culture, which are then given a scriptural gloss and, in some circles, elevated to the level of moral and spiritual norms.

Flipping to another section of the book, I then discovered that Romanowski specifically addresses the Wild at Heart phenomenon in a chapter that deals more thoroughly with images of gender in popular culture.

Wild at Heart perpetuated Hollywood stereotypes, casting men as warriors wielding swords not plowshares, and not ambassadors for Christ carrying on a
ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-20).

In critiquing this view, Romanowski observes, “Christians—male and female alike—are expected to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23)

I am particularly interested in this topic for the simple fact that I have never been a Wild at Heart kind of guy, nor do I have any interest in being such. I am deeply concerned about the possibility of those who embrace such views marginalizing, in the church, myself and others like me who do not fit into such gender stereotypes. My concern, however, is not only personal, but also theological and ecclesiastical. It is my genuine belief that promoting such stereotyped views of masculinity in the church will be directly destructive to the church’s embodiment of the gospel and its being the sort of community God intends it to be.

In the Beatitudes, given as part of Christ’s majestic Sermon on the Mount, Christ initiates what is sometimes referred to as “the great reversal.” As Dallas Willard points out in his book The Divine Conspiracy, the beatitudes flip typical human assumptions about who can be blessed by God on their heads. Whereas typical human wisdom views the wealthy, the happy, and the powerful as blessed and successful, Christ declares the poor, the mournful, and the meek as blessed in the in breaking of the Kingdom of God which accompanies his life and ministry. As Willard points out, the Beatitudes are not a list of traits to be cultivated, but rather the recognition that in the Kingdom of God, those formerly thought to be unblessable are now capable of receiving and living a blessed life. The church then, as the manifestation of this in breaking kingdom, is to become the place where the reality of God’s rule and reign is most truly manifested and those formerly considered unworthy of blessing are welcomed into God’s blessed life in Christ. Christ now becomes the model for a new kind of humanity whose character all believers, both men and women, are to seek to emulate. The fruits of the Spirit, as listed above, are one example of what this character looks like.

My problem with the Wild at Heart phenomenon then, is that it promotes certain socially and culturally based notions of manhood as necessarily definitive of what masculinity should look like. This means that, implicitly, if not explicitly, all those who don't fit this stereotype are considered defective or lacking. This means that the cultural status quo comes to define what is normal for the church, and, in effect, re-reverses the great reversal that Christ came to bring about by declaring unblessed all those who don’t fulfill its culturally based stereotypes of gender. Our churches then become places that can no longer truly embrace the stranger and where we marginalize all those who don’t fit our narrow and rigid stereotypes. As such, our witness to and embodiment of the gospel is damaged, if not destroyed.

In summation then, the dissatisfaction so many men (and women) experience with contemporary life will not be cured by conformity to socially and culturally defined notions of gender, which we then attempt to baptize and bring into the church. In fact, such notions lead to the opposite of the blessed life and undermine the gospel and the church. The blessed life comes from entering into the kingdom life made available in Christ and in seeking to cultivate the character of Christ as manifested in the fruits of the Spirit.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hauerwas on Marriage, Singleness, and the Church as First Family

It's been a bit since I posted anything on singleness, and so I want to post something new. This passage from theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas discusses the primacy of the church as the family of the believer, and how that shapes our notions of singleness and marriage. I like this passage because it not only gives a theological perspective on how the church validates both singleness and marriage, but it shows how the existence and meaning of the church redefines and transcends privatized and exclusive notions of family life. This stands in stark contrast to so much of the glorification of the privatized nuclear family in certain evangelical circles. The church is truly an inclusive community that offers God's hospitality to all and welcomes the stranger into its midst. The passage is taken from "The Hauerwas Reader," a compendium of Hauerwas's writings.

We, as church, are ready to be challenged by the other. This has to do with the fact that in the church, every adult, whether single or married, is called to be a parent. All Christian adults have parental responsibility because of baptism. Biology does not make parents in the church. Baptism does. Baptism makes all adult Christians parents and gives them the obligation to help introduce these children to the gospel. Listen to the baptismal vows; in them the whole church promises to be parent. The minister addresses the church with these words:

"Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include [those being baptized] now before you in your care?

With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.

We will surround [those being baptized] with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their services to others.

We will pray for [those being baptized], that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life."

With these vows the church reinvents the family.

From the beginning we Christians have made singleness as valid a way of life as marriage. What it means to be the church is to be a group of people called out of the world, and back into the world, to embody the hope of the Kingdom of God. Children are not necessary for the growth of the Kingdom, because the church can call the stranger into her midst. That makes both singleness and marriage possible vocations. If everybody has to marry, then marriage is a terrible burden. But the church does not believe that everybody has to marry. Even so, those who do not marry are parents within the church, because the church is now the true family. The church is a family into which children are brought and received. It is only within that context that it makes sense for the church to say, "We are always ready to receive children. We are always ready to receive children." The people of God know no enemy when it comes to children. (pgs. 612-613) (Emphasis in two sentences of last paragraph mine. Emphasis of the word always Hauerwas's.)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Skeptical Believers in a Credulous Age

Here is great quote from Malcolm Muggeridge's little book The End of Christendom, an important influence in the development of my intellectual life as a Christian. In this passage, Muggeridge rejects and reverses a typical assumption of the modern Western world.

It is one of the fantasies of the twentieth century that believers are credulous, sentimental people, and that you have to be a materialist and a scientist and a humanist to have a skeptical mind. But of course exactly the opposite is true. It is believers who can be astringent and skeptical, whereas people who believe seriously that this universe exists only in order to provide a theatre for man must take man with deadly seriousness. I believe myself that the age we are living in now will go down in history as one of the most credulous ever. (pg. 4)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Some good excerpts from Madeleine L'Engle

Here are a few excerpts from Madeleine L'Engle's book Penguins and Golden Calves. These passages really resonate with me. Some of them remind me of the way I have recently witnessed Christians on certain blog sites talking to and about one another. They also remind me of things I have seen in myself.

What I believe is so magnificent, so glorious, that it is beyond finite comprehension. To believe that the universe was created by a purposeful, benign Creator is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason. It is so wild that it terrifies some Christians who try to dogmatize their fear by lashing out at other Christians, because a tidy Christianity with all the answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God's love, a love we don't even have to earn. (pg. 31)

Right now "Christians" are filled with hate as they eagerly look for things to condemn in other Christians, descending to malicious name-calling and angry accusations . . . . .(pg. 71)

"Good" and "moral" Christians know exactly what the rules are, and any infringement, or seeming infringement, brings fear and its concomitant following attack against whoever has broken the rules or behaved in what is considered an immoral way. But what about Jesus? He knew what the rules were, and he cared about them; the law mattered to him. But when it was a question of love, love superseded law. He knew what morality was, and it mattered to him, but he cared more about love and repentance than legalism. Those Christians who are attacking other Christians are being obedient to an unquestioned authority and defining themselves and others by a rigid morality. Only Christ can free us from the prison of legalism, and then only if we are willing to be freed. (pg. 85)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Matzko McCarthy on Singleness Part II

Here is the second and last entry concerning singleness from David Matzko McCarthy's book "The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle-Class." In the weeks to come, I will be posting writings from other Christian writers and thinkers, so stay tuned.

If singleness is a state of life in its own right, sex within marriage begins to look different. In our culture of sexual access, sex is a basic drive and image of vitality and the "fullness of life." In an economy driven by producing more desire, sexual desire corresponds to a need to desire more and more. Sex becomes an image of economic excess and loose attachments, which give opportunity for restlessness and freedom. Sexual desire requires a kind of nomadic existence, where desire pushes us to imagine having what we do not yet have and living in a world that is not yet our own. The Christian life represents an entirely different kind of homelessness, where we accept hospitality as a gift and settle into a place. Christian singleness and marriage alike form an alternative. In each, we are called to resist self-serving habits, to give ourselves over to the needs of others, and to be critical of our own desires. We are called, even in marriage, to submit sexual desire to our greater desire for friendship with God, spouse, and neighbor.

If sex is a representative image of cultural excess and detachment, then singleness within the church is the contrasting image. We should accept that it is a mark against our faithfulness when we lack the kind of communities that can sustain the single life as one that is rich in friendship, intimacy, purpose, and love. In sexual matters, as well as marriage and family, we have before us the adventure of community and the gift of God's hospitality. When we are open to God's bounty, we are not able to follow Jesus alone. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are brothers and sisters before we are married or single. Before we are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, we are gathered as God's friends. (pg. 61-62)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Intolerably Prosaic

Historical Christianity has grown cold and intolerably prosaic; its activity consists mainly in adapting itself ot the commonplace, to the bourgeois patterns and habits of life. But Christ came to send heavenly fire on earth.

Nicholas Berdyaev as quoted in Eugene Peterson's "Reversed Thunder: The Book of Revelation and the Praying Imagination"

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Matzko McCarthy on Singleness I

I hope, in the coming weeks and months, to regularly share excerpts from different Christian writers and thinkers concerning singleness and it's value in the church. In many Christian churches single people seem to be implicitly viewed as fifth wheels, and in others they are viewed with outright hostility and suspicion. My desire is to provide encouragement for single Christians, and theologically and intellectually substantial material for reflection on singleness. Rather than debating pro-singleness vs. anti-singleness or pitting singleness against marriage, my hope here is to present a vision of singleness in the church that allows Christian singles (and anyone else interested) to re-imagine the meaning of their singleness and to see themselves as having an important and valid place in the Christian community.

I'd like to begin this series of reflections with an excerpt from David Matzko McCarthy's book "The Good Life: Genuine Christianity for the Middle Class." This particular excerpt offers an alternative perspective on a couple of issues that I have seen discussed and debated in discussions of Christianity and singleness.

Singleness, for Paul, represents an ideal, not for the sake of sexual opportunities, but because sex is excluded as a concern. This idea seems unreasonable to many of us. It reverses the way that Christians now typically think of singleness and marriage. Christians today tend to think that singleness ought to serve marriage. We ought to endure a sexless life of singleness in order to save ourselves for marriage. Marriage is the goal. Paul, on the other hand, assumes that marriage ought to look as much like singleness as possible. In 1 Corinthians 7, singleness is the goal. Singleness, for Paul, is an elevation of our natures that depends upon life within the family of God. Singleness is a sign. In our world, it can be a sign of loneliness and a lack of love. However, in the history of Christianity (until very recently), singleness is a sign of the riches of common life. It is the opportunity to give ourselves more fully to others in love of God and neighbor. It is freedom, not for loose commitments and sexual opportunity, but for deeper bonds to people whom we can love and serve, such as our neighbors, brothers and sisters, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned. (pg. 61)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Relational Cultural Myths of Post Y2K: Part II

In my first entry regarding this topic, I shared the first three cultural myths presented by my pastor at Life on the Vine Church, David Fitch, regarding singleness and marriage. Here are the other four. If the first three myths dealt with more general issues of singleness and marriage in our culture and in the evangelical church, then the last four myths deal more specifically with issues related to dating and seeking relationships. As before, both the bold statements and the commentary beneath are pastor Fitch's words with some slight editing in the interest of better clarity and form.

Myth 4: I just haven't met the right one

...someday it will just click...

An indefatigable faith that the next one is just around the corner and will be the right one. but we go from one dating relationship to the next, each one short-circuiting. Could it be that the problem is with me, my character, my vision of marriage, what I am looking forward to and the reasons why I enter into a relationship. Could it be that I require the skills and character capable of trust, discernment, forgiveness, self-examination, speaking the truth in love, and self-knowledge in Christ. Could it be once I begin to see my own growth and examination as a central part of a relationship, not just "getting what I want," that the whole dynamics of a relationship change into what God intended. (Eph 5:25-27)

Myth 5:I'm attracted to him (her), it must be love...

"We are all attracted to someone naturally. It is why we choose person A over person B. There is this chemistry that is the natural basis for a relationship that must mean it is love and we will live happily ever after."

But we are attracted to and desire the things we place a high value upon, we place importance in, things we admire. Often times these things we value are scripted from foreign places and need to be examined. Our attractions and desires may be off, the result of sin both past and present. Once we examine these areas of our lives, we might find the ways we are attracted changing. For example, once we begin to cherish certain character traits that are Christian we may find our attractions changing. Once we examine our physical body scripts we may find the same. the fact is, attraction often is the outworking of commitment and can develop, grow, and flourish if one is open to it. It doesn't always have to happen this way, but it can and most often does in later ages. "...I pray that your love may grow more and more with knowledge and deeper perception..." (Phil 1:9

Myth 6: I'll just know

"I always had the blind faith that I would know when it was right. My heart would just know."

But the reality is that "the intuitive know" is a confusing mess these days because we have accumulated so much junk, so many scripts, so many emotions that we aren't even aware of. We need a place to come clean, be pure, and allow the cross to heal us and unite us towards his common purposes. (Rom 12:2)

Myth 7: I need a (wo)man with A, B, and C

"I'm looking for A, B, and C. I need a good sense of humor. I need someone that won't make me angry. I need someone that is smart and stimulating. I am attracted to someone who looks like. . ."

There certainly is the issue of complementarity and the sharing of gifts and humor. the reality, however, is that if we are not united for the right reasons, around purposes of God for a marriage, no complementary gifts or personality traits can sustain a relationship. Instead, these things can often fall into line if we are both committed to the same purpose in coming together in Christ. We often, therefore, do an analysis on the person as to what he or she can offer me, as if it is some horse trade, when in reality we would profit from looking for a companion on life's journey towards wholeness and the fulfilling of God's purposes in Christ for our lives. Out of a search for this commonality, each one's gifts and personality can come to the fore. (Eph 5:29)

That's all of them!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Fear is the Mindkiller

Here is a link to an excellent short comment on Peter Leithart's blog concerning Christians and fear. This strikes me as a good and succinct diagnosis of what is, unfortunately, in my opinion, a major problem among evangelicals. Once about 8 or 9 year's ago, when I was an undergrad, I worked for a couple weeks between semesters at a direct mail marketing firm stuffing envelopes with various mailings, many of them politcal in nature. I remember seeing exactly the sort of thing he is speaking of here in some of the mailings I stuffed.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Relational Cultural Myths of Post Y2K: Part I

The following thoughts are from a presentation given by my pastor at Life on the Vine Church, David Fitch, this past Saturday, Jan 20, 2007. The presentation was titled "Singleness in the City of Endless Desire: Why it is Spiritual Formation or Die." As part of the presentation, there was a handout highlighting seven cultural myths about relationships/singleness/marriage that predominate in our society and in the evangelical church. I thought these thoughts were so good that I want to share them here with my readers. Both the sub-headings, and the text that follows are Dave's. In this post, I will feature the first three myths. I hope these are an encouragement to you or at least provide you with some good food for reflection. I hope over the coming weeks and months to offer a number of posts featuring encouraging and thoughtful theological reflections/writings on singleness by various authors.

Also a word of warning: To those who wish to debate the issue of the so-called "gift of singleness" or the mandatory marriage teachings and the like, please take it elsewhere. There are a number of sites where that issue is regularly discussed and debated if you wish to do so. At this time, I have no desire to debate that issue any further. I wasted a lot of time and energy following and being involved in that debate during 2006 and I found it to be a largely fruitless and rather acrimonious debate that generates far more heat than light. Any attempts to drag it up here will be summarily deleted. Rude remarks will also be deleted. You have been warned.

Myth 1: A woman or man is incomplete until (s)he is married. (then (s)he is finished).

American society reinforces that each person must have a soul mate, a complimentary partner who makes him or her complete, but this is neither Scriptural nor possible. The picture of marriage is one of spiritual formation (Eph 5), not soul complementarity, of growing in Christ, a oneness achieved over time. This is why marriage can in fact be forgone in anticipation of the completion of the Kingdom whereby in Christ we can live in his reign (Matt 22:30). Man and woman's ultimate true end is God, and his/her purpose is His glory/His purposes/His mission, not marriage.

Myth 2: I would rather die than face life not married.

Culture says"to deny ourselves sexually" is to deny the essence of life. It shapes us to believe "Who we are" is based a.) in marriage and children, and b.) in our job status. We can't imagine being single as a calling - a station to be embraced as vocation. Yet if we are ever to be in God's will in regard to marriage, we must also be in his will regarding being single. We have the MEANS TO RESIST THESE SHAPING FORCES (emphasis Dave's) via the nobility and superiority of singleness in the church. 1 Cor 7:25-35

Myth 3: If you're going to be in ministry you need to be married.

The message around the evangelical church is that you are not fit for leadership if you are not married. Yet this is a lie contradicting the apostle Paul. The prejudice should be for single pastors and ministers of the gospel. If you are single you have less encumbrances towards pursuing a life of service and mission. And it is in that service that the will of God for your marital future will be made possible (whether single or married). Matt 19:12