Monday, March 26, 2007
It turned out not to be a sales call but a call requesting donations for a campaign to protest violence in the movies and on television. So after going through her speech, she asked me something to the effect of, "Do you think movies and television is too violent?" And I said, "No, I don't." She started to stumble over her words, completely expecting that I was going to answer in the affirmative. Once she caught herself, and her breath, she responded, "You don't?" I said "No, I don't." She then went on with her pitch before I cut her off saying I'm not interested in her campaign.
Now that I think back, I wish I'd stayed on the phone with her a bit longer. I would've liked to challenge her a bit on her assumptions as I took her discomfort as a sign that she had never personally met anyone who disagreed with her point of view.
From my perspective, I agree that it's dangerous to allow little children to watch graphic horror, violence, or sexually explicit content. The mind of a child doesn't have the framework to interpret things accurately. That is why I support ratings on movies or television and rules that restrict theaters from selling R-rated or above, tickets to minors. However, whatever organization was behind this caller's campaign wanted a whole lot more than that. Their goal was for entertainment to be sanitized for adults as well.
This brings up issues of censorship, which I think is a slippery slope to a fundamentalist society where certain members of a society decide what is right for certain other members of society. But that's not my main concern now although that's a hugely important one. I am most worried about the numbing effect that sanitized entertainment has on our minds. Now I am fully aware that the lady who called me the other night would've said a similar thing while replacing one word, e.g. "I am most worried about the numbing effect that graphic entertainment has on our minds". But that is precisely my point.
I think that when we see the world as this lady wants us to see it, we end up not seeing the world at all. We miss out on reality and are then allowed to avoid facing what it is we deep down hate most, what it is we are trying to avoid and have our kids avoid, what it is that can hurt us most... humanity.
I've been watching the first season of Six Feet Under on DVD over the past week and in the show, death stares you in the face in every episode and as the major theme of the whole story. I haven't been able to get the thought of death, not just generic death but my own death, out of my head for the past week. And strangely, when I think (read: worry) about my own death, it is then that I feel most fully human, most fully creature, most fully alive, most fully corruptible, most fully hopeful... hopeful for resurrection.
Then there are the graphic sex scenes on the show, from the homosexual relationship of one of the main characters, to the adulterous relationship of one of the main characters, to the uncommitted friends with benefits relationship of one of the main characters, to the joy of a sexual relationship with unrequited love (reminiscent of the Asian girl in Babel) of one of the main characters. Here I feel most fully a part of humanity. If the playing field wasn't leveled in death, it is certainly leveled here.
If I avoided watching this and stuck to sanitized motion pictures I would feel like I'd have to stoop to get to the level of these sex-obsessed, death-obsessed characters. I would feel like I'd have to stoop to get to the level of humanity. Watching these graphic motion pictures reminds me that I don't have to go anywhere to be right next to them. I am part of them, they are part of me. This level is where life is lived. This unsanitized life is where death is present, but it is also where the gospel is preached and where resurrection takes place.
To sum up, go rent Six Feet Under. Just don't watch it with anyone as it will probably make you both a bit uncomfortable. But maybe that's a good thing.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
This is the first in a series of intermittent posts on the five points of Calvinism.
Before delving into what has been the Grand Canyon of Protestant theology since the Reformation, I want to stop and take a bird’s eye view of what I’m about to hike into. What I want to do is examine the principals of TULIP one by one. It is important in doing this, to take a forest and not trees approach to discovering what the biblical writers views on each of these distinct propositions are. Not only that but I think it’s important to ponder the questions starting with the most biblical solid point and then moving on to the less evident points. To say less evident is not to say less true, it is merely to say that some of the points are more pervasive and uniform in the Bible and there is no doubt as to what the authors opinions were, while other topics are not a point of emphasis that the biblical writers wished to dwell on, and so we simply won’t have as much information related to them.
Biblical Support & Logical Support
Now even though a strict Calvinist would agree with all of the 5 points, I think the honest strict Calvinist could equally agree that some points are more biblically solid than others. I think this is the case with any doctrine, so I don’t think this in particular is a point of contention. The contention comes when some see evidence in a different light or is satisfied with less evidence or alternately are too trusting of their intuitions.
From what I can see from my vantage point and limited study of the topic so far in life, it seems to me that the acronym is conveniently and coincidentally in descending order of amount and relevance of the biblical evidence supporting it. What I mean by this is that T is the most biblically supported point, followed by U, L, and I, with P finally being the weakest.
Parallel with this idea is the notion that each successive point in the acronym depends logically on the point before it. In other words, if T falls apart then ULIP falls along with it. However, logically, the reverse is not true. I think that if P falls apart, TULI can still stand.
To state both the idea about biblical support and logical support by way of an image think of TULIP as a house. T is the foundation. Not only is it the strongest part of the house (biblical support) but the other parts of the house can’t stand without it (logical support). P, on the other hand, is the roof. Not only is it the weakest part of the house (biblical support) but the other parts of the house can stand without it (logical support).
The following five points represent an outline of the theology that is now called Calvinism. I believe a helpful way of thinking about where these points fit within our theology is to think of each as describing a different aspect of the relation between God’s call and human obedience.
Total Depravity is far and away the most biblically supported of the five doctrines. I don’t think either a Calvinist or an Arminian would argue with my sentiment. While I do not believe a belief in original sin is necessary for a belief in total depravity, I don’t think one precludes the other. My bias is that the Total Depravity of human obedience is the reason we need God’s call.
Unconditional Election is hands down the most complex and nuanced doctrine of the five. As a result, it is hard to make a judgment on the biblical support for this one without first defining what we mean by the phrase. Again, I don’t think this particular sentiment is a disagreeable one to either side. So while I can’t yet establish the level of biblical support behind the phrase’s modern day meaning, I have to say that election, in at least the first-century sense, is strongly supported, as is the fact that this election had nothing to do with Israel’s status beforehand. My bias is that I believe that both God’s call and human obedience play an equally effectual role in the process.
Limited Atonement is not overtly biblical but I think we can eisegete this doctrine through proof-texting if we need to. I think both Arminians and Calvinists can agree that Christ’s atonement was not effective for those that reside in hell. But the real argument is whether in God intended his act of sacrifice for some and not others. From what I can tell so far, the real argument has weak explicit biblical support. My bias is that God’s call does not go out to any who he has not atoned for while many who are called respond in disobedience. My hope is that every man, woman, and child in history is atoned for.
Irresistible Grace speaks to the degree of God’s control over our decision to obey his call. I think we are getting to the roof of our shaky house of exegesis here, though I admit it does make sense to say that if sovereign God purposes to show someone his grace, that person can’t help but see accept it. My bias is that grace is the impetus for God’s call but those he has called may not respond in obedience.
Perseverance of the Saints speaks to the work God performs after our obedient response to his call. Here we have reached the weakest point of all, I believe, biblically speaking. This is the proverbial Pass of Thermopylae at which, if we can break through the ranks of the 300 we will have broken down the point that is Calvinist believes is the outworking of the first 4 doctrines. The system builds to this point and without it, TULIP is not TULIP, it’s TULI, which in Finnish & Estonian, means “something which can be used to set fire to something else; a flame”. And perhaps this flame will help light our way to a more Pauline understanding of the way in which God’s call and human obedience interact.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
- N.T. Wright, in the Romans 9:6-29 section of his Romans commentary
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
How Biblical is the Christian Right & Through A Glass, Darkly from Margaret Mitchell & Jeff Sharlet - A picture is worth a thousand words. What happened to that Republican party we all grew up with, knew and loved? The time article is more about the '08 election and I didn't think it was all that great, but I recommend these two articles for an in-depth look at the religious right. Both of the writers are bright minds. Check out their other work if you're curious. If you want to go so far as to read a book which you will be greatly rewarded by, I recommend Andrew Sullivan's "The Conservative Soul: How we lost it and how to get it back" which is as you can tell a lament similar to Reagan's in the above picture.
Zhubert from Zack Hubert - This is a really helpful site for those of you who are trying to learn to translate Greek. It was created by a guy in his spare time to help anyone who wants to learn to learn. Check out the tutorial for the website and explore around.
Shas Seeks Harsher Punishment for Missionaries from Ynet News- Israel is at it again. Same intolerant agenda, harsher penalties now. As you may or may not know, it is currently illegal to evangelize to anyone under the age of 18 in the state of Israel. Now one of the parties in the Israeli government wants to extend the 6 month punishment to one year and if possible broaden the law's scope to include proselytism toward adults. Once again, I say, if only Americans bothered to take any time to go deeper than the media to see what is really going on in Israel, there is a gold mine of injustice to be found. As George Orwell once said, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
On the other hand, there are two dangers to cherry-picking. First of all we can provide a distorted picture of who that theologian actually was or is. I think especially of the rabid fans of Karl Barth, who I see quoted more frequently than anyone on the blogs I read. When we quote we've got to be careful that we are doing justice to the theologians true message. And though their quote may be reinterpreted to apply to our situation, they may have originally meant something ranging from somewhat to entirely different.
The second danger is that we paint into a corner these bygone characters in the drama of theological conversation. We either exalt or vilify them. Luther is made a hero and a saint, while Erasmus is a villain and a sinner. We draw the battle lines, as pastors to keep our congregations safe, as parents to keep our kids safe. If our kids and congregation look deeper they will see that the history of theology is more a history of slogging through shades of gray and less of a history of standing firmly on black and white. This not to say that to say anything about the nature of truth, lest you misunderstand me. This is to maintain a healthy sense of doubt that we, humans, are its perfect interpreters.
Considering the two dangers mentioned, I can't help but continue to encourage the benefits of quoting liberally those who have gone before us. We stand on the shaky shoulders of giants we may misunderstand, but we nonetheless stand on their shoulders. Evangelism is done in the dangerous gray trenches between black and white, while we remain clear on whose side we stand. This is not a call for easy universalism and raising the white flag of surrender, but neither is it a call for digging in and defiantly raising the flag of our own country. This is a call, in the midst of war, to ourselves enter with purpose and conviction into no man's land.
If you don't know the story of what happened on December 25, 1914, it is to my mind one of the greatest events and strangest stories in human history. The event is memorialized best by John McCutcheon in his song Christmas in the Trenches. You can read the lyrics here. This event is a depiction of what the gospel, the power of God, can be in the 21st century.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Recovering Civility from Al Mohler's website - Finally we here a Christian public figure stand up and speak out against something. Here Mohler calls out Ann Coulter for her use of the term "faggot". I'll admit, I use it in the derogatory sense as well, but Al makes a good point. The word is meant to hurt and how can homosexuals think anything but the worst of a movement that laughs at the use of this slur as the "conservative" group did at Coulter's speech.
Wallis Challenges Dobson from Jim Wallis' blog - Wallis is here challenging James Dobson to a debate on what the great moral issues of our time should be. Wallis has already debated Ralph Reed on this same topic. This new challenge is in response to Dobson calling for the resignation of Richard Cizik of the NAE for his statement that global warming should be a moral issue for Christians. If Dobson were calling for the resignation of a Republican party member I could completely understand this as this goes against the parties current position. However to ask someone to resign from a Christian organization for support of a policy which at worst won't do any good and at best could keep global warming at bay seems very odd. What's in it for James Dobson? Why, as a Christian is he so adamantly opposed to the idea of human-caused global warming? How is calling for controls anti-evangelical?
Martin Buber from Wikipedia - Just found out about this guy this past week through a reference to his book "I and Thou" in a Eugene Peterson book I am reading. I've added Buber's book to my wish list as the thesis of it is very similar to one of my favorite books, "Bold Love" by Dan Allender. Read the Wikipedia article for what "I and Thou" is about but I also noticed that Buber, a Jew, immigrated from Austria to Israel in 1939 (cutting it close there). Other than his "I and Thou" philosophy of relationships, it is also interesting that he was for a one-state solution to the Israel/Palestine question. This sparked my interest as I think this is the only solution to the problem even now fifty years later.