Thinking Out Loud

May 1, 2014

Teacher Troubles

Every once in awhile I will cross-post an article from Christianity 201 here, to remind my larger readership that the other blog exists, or because I simply put a lot of work into a post that is deserving of wider exposure…

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, because you know that we will be judged more strictly. ~James 3:1 NET

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! ~Matthew 18:6-7 NIV

As I listened to both these verses in a sermon last weekend, I was reminded of a something that happened many years ago. The church secretary’s ten-year-old son announced at lunch that his Sunday School teacher believed in reincarnation. There’s a family mealtime conversation for which I would love to have been a fly on the wall.

Needless to say, an investigation ensued, the child’s report was accurate, and the teacher was relieved of responsibilities.

I’ve probably shared this story about a dozen times in the twenty years since it happened, but only today did I ask myself, “I wonder if anybody ever set the woman straight?” Obviously, removing the teacher from the classroom was the first thing that needed to happen, but someone also needed to set her straight on why Christians don’t see themselves as having existed before in another form and then, at the end of this life, returning to earth in another life-form.

About a year ago, I discovered something I had previously overlooked; namely, that in the various doctrines which join together to form a systematic theology (or as I prefer, a cohesive theology) there is a doctrine of man and for that the term used is anthropology, the same term we normally use to describe a particular discipline in the social sciences alongside things like psychology or sociology or philosophy. Perhaps you took ‘anthro’ in school but never thought of it in a doctrinal sense.1 In the list of branches of theology at Wikipedia, it’s listed as “Theological Anthropology”

  • Bible – the nature and means of its inspiration, etc.; including hermeneutics (the development and study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts and the topic of Biblical law in Christianity)
  • Eschatology – the study of the last things, or end times. Covers subjects such as death and the afterlife, the end of history, the end of the world, the last judgment, the nature of hope and progress, etc.
  • Christology – the study of Jesus Christ, of his nature(s), and of the relationship between his divinity and humanity;
  • Creation myths
  • Divine providence – the study of sovereignty, superintendence, or agency of God over events in people’s lives and throughout history.
  • Ecclesiology (sometimes a subsection of missiology)—the study of the Christian Church, including the institutional structure, sacraments and practices (especially the worship of God) thereof
  • Mariology – area of theology concerned with Mary…
  • Missiology (sometimes a subsection of ecclesiology)—God’s will in the world, missions, evangelism, etc.
  • Pneumatology – the study of the Holy Spirit, sometimes also ‘geist’ as in Hegelianism and other philosophico-theological systems
  • Soteriology – the study of the nature and means of salvation. May include Hamartiology (the study of sin), Law and Gospel (the study of the relationship between Divine Law and Divine Grace, justification, sanctification
  • Theological anthropology – the study of humanity, especially as it relates to the divine
  • Theology Proper – the study of God’s attributes, nature, and relation to the world. May include:
    • Theodicy – attempts at reconciling the existence of evil and suffering in the world with the nature and justice of God
    • Apophatic theology – negative theology which seeks to describe God by negation (e.g., immutable, impassible ). It is the discussion of what God is not, or the investigation of how language about God breaks down (see the nature of God in Western theology). Apophatic theology often is contrasted with “Cataphatic theology.”

But we’re digressing from our Sunday School teacher. I’m not sure at this point that it would be helpful to revisit a 20-year old discussion, nor to reveal I was party to something that might have been considered confidential at the time.2 But I am reminded of this verse:

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness… (Galatians 6:1 NRSV)

Brothers and sisters, if someone in your group does something wrong, you who are spiritual should go to that person and gently help make him right again. (same vs. NCV)

 

The context is more overt sin and wrongdoing, but the principle is the same: To gently guide that person to the right path, using scripture. (See my treatment of II Timothy 3:16, especially the final paraphrase.)

The chorus of the old hymn, “Brighten the Corner” describes this. While you might not fully understand all the nautical imagery, it’s easy to see the gist of the sentiment:

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

Our responsibility is threefold:

  1. To identify (discern) false teaching
  2. To remove the person caught in error from public ministry3
  3. To try to restore that person to sound doctrine

1Not having engaged in this study formally, I would suspect that at the most elementary level, it would entail some notion of the teaching that “It is appointed onto man once to die, and after that the judgement” Hebrews 9:27 KJV, italics added. A Christian theological understanding of man would assert that we don’t come back in some other form as taught in Spiritism or Hinduism.

2I have however in my limited contact with this person over the years encouraged them along the lines of deeper Bible study. It grieves me to think that someone could be in church for so many years and hold to views that are so far from orthodox. However, there are times when spiritual confrontation is appropriate.

3This is for their benefit (to avoid being under judgement, as in today’s opening verses) and to prevent them from causing “little ones”(which can be literal in terms of children, or figurative in terms of people new to the faith) to stumble. 

Note: Wikipedia is not the best place to go for Christian theology. Better to check out a textbook like Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology or Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, reviewed here. Even browsing the table of contents will give you a list that, while similar to the one above, will provide a more authoritative list of areas of emphasis.

December 1, 2011

Keeping Discernment Ministry People Off The Streets

I’m a huge fan of discernment.  I believe that, moving forward, it’s the supernatural gift to be praying for.  But regular readers know I’m not a fan of those who feel that God specifically called them to a ministry of critiquing and nit-picking their fellow believers.  However, if they feel they must, here are some things to keep them busy; some term paper assignments I would hand out if I had the opportunity to keep them off the streets internet for awhile.  This first appeared here exactly two years plus a day here on November 30, 2009.

term paperWow! The first semester of college is ending sooner than it began, so it’s time to hand out the topics for your term paper assignments. You’ve proved yourself more than adept at finding fault with Rob Bell, The Shack, Dan Kimball, Brian McLaren, “New Monasticism,” Rick Warren, “Emergent Church,” anything Willow Creek-related, “spiritual formation,” Donald Miller, and hundreds of others. (But never Joyce Meyer… that’s odd… ) But the topics listed below are things which, strangely, you never cover, even though their impact on Christian culture is huge.

You guys at CRI did really good term work so you’re exempt from the final essay. For the rest of you…

You say you’re a discernment ministry so let’s see some discerning; only let’s give all your existing targets a rest. Choose your topic:

  1. Twenty years ago your equivalents would be railing against Christian rock music. So let’s take a run at it, 2011-style. Check out the latest stuff and the complete back catalog from Switchfoot, Skillet, Hawk Nelson, TobyMac, Tenth Avenue North and Kutless and apply the same critical faculties you use with modern preachers and authors to some in-depth analysis of the lyrics Christian youth are listening to. To avoid distraction, use headphones and turn the volume really, really loud so you don’t miss any backward masking. Bonus marks for dissecting the worship songs of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, David Crowder and Hillsong United.
  2. You’re concerned about a whole new generation of authors and speakers who are speaking into the lives of Christians, but completely ignoring a huge genre. Pour yourself a chai and curl up on the divan with the complete works of Karen Kingsbury, Beverly Lewis, Randy Singer, Randy Alcorn (fiction only), Melody Carlson, Lynn Austin and of course, Ted Dekker. Don’t skip a single page. Bonus marks for a study of the Max Lucado Wemmicks series and all the Steeple Hill/Love Inspired pocket books released since 2006. Remember, it says ‘complete works.’ Let us know what you find.
  3. Every Evangelical will tell you that the deuterocanonical books don’t belong in the Bible, but how we do know this for sure? Without resorting to the historical decisions that led to their inclusion or exclusion from the Bibles of different faith groups, and relying entirely on the text and related commentaries, explore the Apocryphal books verse by verse highlighting such things as the possible inherent dangers in Methodists reading Bel and the Dragon. Be sure to spend at least a month on this, doing no other writing nor taking any phone calls during this period of intense study.
  4. What are we really teaching our children? Not one of the discernment ministries with any profile has noted any examination of what’s really being conveyed through the curriculum of Gospel Light, Scripture Press, David C. Cook, Standard Publishing, Regular Baptist Press, and Augsburg Fortress. Part one of this involves study of the publishers listed above; part two involves a more intense study of Group’s Hands-On Active Bible Curriculum by actually teaching a Sunday School class of elementary grade children for the next six weeks. After all, who better to teach kids than the head of a ministry that encourages kids to study God’s Word. (Note: With the kids, you must stick to the curriculum itself; your paper will be disqualified if you get into a rant with the Grade 3 class about Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen.) Bonus marks for all the theological errors you can uncover in the Veggie Tales series.
  5. The “study abroad” question: You’ll purchase airplane tickets to connect you with about fifty different venues between now and Christmas to study what’s really going on with Christian comedy. The comedians themselves are quite accustomed to having hecklers in the audience, so they won’t mind a few discernment ministry folk sitting in the front row shouting out, “I think that last joke was built on a flawed doctrinal premise.” A few of our Christian brothers do their comedy shtick in clubs with liquor licenses, so to not miss the ambiance of the whole show, be sure to order a drink or two before the first set. If you’re Baptist and haven’t touched alcohol before in your life, just give the bartender that information with the coded signal, “Make it a double.” Compare and contrast male and female comedians, and those working within the youth ministry paradigm. Just think Mr. Discernment Minister, you might be a redneck!

Your finished paper should be 650,000 words or more. That should keep you off the streets, and more importantly, off the airwaves and off the internet for at least 30 days. This is the kind of hard-hitting analysis you were born for.

October 5, 2010

Absence of Compassion is Less Than Human

Even animals express some kind of sympathy, or grief, or compassion when there is a loss among their kind.

The family members associated with a small U.S. religious fringe group do not see it that way.   They see death as opportunity.   They argue their right to advance their agenda in the middle of a family’s sorrow is protected by free speech.

Free speech indeed; the men who drafted the U.S. Constitution would be horrified to learn what “free speech” is currently permitting.

The Westboro tribe claim they are using the attention to show how far down the road of moral decay American society has gone.   Instead, they are an example of it.    Their actions highlight the degree you can take the idea of one man’s inhumanity to another man.   And funeral after funeral, families simply have to let the voices of protest roll over them.

But not Albert Synder.   The father of a soldier killed in Iraq doesn’t want any other families to have to suffer as he did.   In what will certainly be a landmark case, the Supreme Court will rule on an argument for the privacy rights of grieving families.   The court faces the prospect of passing an “enough is enough” ruling, with the option of declaring a funeral to be a venue worthy of a greater amount of privacy, regardless of the public thoroughfares adjoining the church, funeral parlor or grave site.

CNN notes, “The Supreme Court has never addressed the specific issue of laws designed to protect the ‘sanctity and dignity of memorial and funeral services'”   Many of the Phelps family are trained in law.

Albert Snyder told the media outlet, “They are using the First Amendment as a sword and a shield. My son and thousands like him did not put their lives on the line so that someone could abuse the Constitution like this…”

Read the full story and watch the video at CNN.

Related Links:  Fred Phelps has turned up in this blog before; the first time in a piece about his son Nate;  the second time in a piece about is daughter Lauren.   One can’t help but hope the attrition continues.

Repeat of a personal notation in one of the above items: “…It was then that I observed a fundamental difference between Canada, where the Phelps phenomenon would never happen, and the U.S.: In the United States laws protecting freedom of religion trump any prohibitions against hate speech.  In Canada laws forbidding hate speech trump any protection of freedom of religion.”

June 8, 2010

The Westboro Children: Casualties in the Crusade of Hate

Much has been written about Fred Phelps, the man whose interpretation of scripture — the gospel of hate — represents about 0.000000001% of Christians, but somehow manages to garner an inordinate percentage of media publicity.

But what of the children that we see in the images of the Westboro protesters?   What absolutely warped upbringing are these kids experiencing?

ABC News decided to dig a little deeper and ended up at the home of Steve and Luci Drain and their three children.   After watching the nearly nine-minute segment, it was Lauren Drain who captured my interest; their estranged daughter, now in her mid 20s, who was voted out of the family:

  • “They sing lullabies about people going to hell,” she told Chris Cuomo in an exclusive interview.
  • “I saw some hypocrisy, and I mentioned them and they hated it,” she said. “You’re not supposed to question anything.”
  • Eventually, she said, when she was 21 the members voted her out of the church and out of her home, including her own parents… and the same night she was voted out she said her family sent her to stay at a hotel and cut off all communication.
  • A week later, Lauren Drain returned home to pick up her belongings and said she found that her youngest sister Faith already had been taught to hate her…”I raised her from the time she was born. I used to watch her every day. And a week later, she is happy I’m gone.”
  • As for the daughter they have lost, Steve and Luci Drain said they don’t miss her and don’t think they would ever allow her back.  “Why would I miss her?” Steve Drain asked.
  • Lauren Drain said she wishes she could speak to her younger brother and sisters, to tell them she loves them and that the hate they spread is not the true message of God.  “I miss them and I love them and I really care about them, and God doesn’t hate everyone. God has mercy on people, God forgives people,” Lauren Drain said she’d tell her siblings.

While much of the story focuses on her younger siblings, it is Lauren who gives the piece perspective.  Unlike Nate Phelps, about whom a lengthy post on this blog was published twice in 2009,  who has walked away from Christianity entirely, Lauren seems to have kept some core beliefs about God intact, or has worked to reconstruct belief, seperating truth from lies.

As I watched the parents totally “write off” their eldest daughter, I wondered how such people read the parable of the prodigal son; how do they reconcile the love that the boy’s father lavishes on him, even after the son rejected everything and squandered his father’s money?

I suspect that passage is never studied at Westboro.   Ditto the woman at the well in John 4, or the woman caught in sin in John 8.

You can read the ABC News report,  go directly to watch the video, or catch both, as I did yesterday at the N.I.F.T.Y. Christian blog.  (On the video, be sure not to miss the one child being hit by a car.  The authorities should remove these kids — the children are being put at adverse risk — and they should do it soon!)

And say a prayer tonight for Lauren, as she attempts to live a new life.

Lauren, if you’re somehow reading this, be strong in the Lord.

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