Thinking Out Loud

March 7, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate

While this is not a direct continuation of yesterday’s post, anyone who has interacted to any degree with the Christian blogosphere is aware that much strong opinion out there on a variety of topics. You can’t help but sense that many people are simply consumed by their obsession with people who don’t look like them or talk like them or belong to their tribe. Some of the best Christian authors and pastors are lined up in their sights and anything they write, say or even think is completely pre-judged. (I just deleted a blog from my computer’s bookmarks, because every time I clicked it, I found my blood pressure rising perceptibly from the first paragraph I would read.)

If you track with Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201, you know that I’ve been very slowly working my way through a four-book series by Michael Card, the Biblical Imagination series, and I’m currently in the one on the third gospel, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, which surfaces every few weeks. When I looked back to find the source of what follows, I couldn’t nail down a specific section to quote, but I don’t want to take full credit for this, Card’s writings have helped me put myself more into the picture of Jesus’ give and take with the crowd and the religious leaders.

Basically, today’s online haters are best described by the phrase, Modern Pharisees. As such they find themselves in opposition to people on two different levels.

Modern Pharisees Hate Sin

There’s no crime in that. Heck, God hates sin, right? But sometimes hating sin translates into hating the sinners themselves. To Jesus, a person’s performance record with reference to the standards of a Holy God was never in and of itself reason for condemnation. Rather, the term scripture uses translates as missing the mark. Our failure to meet those standards is part of larger nature that needs to be seen for what it is, and then, for those of us who are repentant of this, in our earnestness to please God and in our confession of that failure, we come to understand that we can’t ever make amends with God on our own. We need his help to lead a more God-pleasing life, but we also need is covering or atoning for our mark-missing which by implication means we need a savior. We find that in Jesus, we look to the cross, and then grant him Lordship over each and every detail of our life.

But this applies to everyone equally. Each one of us has that built-in, human tendency to stick our hand on the wall next to the “Wet Paint” sign. Or as Paul said it to the Romans, ‘All have missed the mark (or sinned) and come up short of God’s standards (or holiness.)’ So if you want to wave a placard that says ‘God Hates Fags,’ (which is not true), you need to also have one that says, ‘God Hates Adulterers,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Cheat on their Income Tax,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Steal Paperclips from Work,’ (all equally untrue) because basically, ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’

Except that God doesn’t hate anyone. He hates mark-missing because his standards are high. Very high. The highest. However, on the other hand, sending Jesus as an atonement was His idea. He lets us see our inability to achieve the standard and then, to as many as received that offer, to as many as believed on Jesus, he lets us off the hook, so to speak.

So hating sin is a God-paralleling thing to do. Hating sinners on the other hand is, well, sinful.

Modern Pharisees Hate Grace

And this is where it all gets weird. You would think that those who accept the offer are cause for celebration. Doesn’t the Bible saith that there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth? Yeth, it doth! So if the angels are having a party, can we do any less?

The problem is that the thinking of many is bound by bounded set theory. This is the idea that there is a line and some people are in, and some people are out. Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While there is some truth in the idea that a time is coming when the sheep are separated from the non-sheep — I don’t wanna be a goat, nope — it’s wrong to think that it’s up to us to decide, or that it’s even up to us to worry about who’s who.

So…at the least suggestion that someone from the fringes might actually be in, there is much consternation and concern. Clearly, we can’t have that sort of thing going on, and the best way to deal with people who don’t look like us, act like us, dress like us, read the type of books we read, sing the kind of songs we like, etc., is to condemn them as heretical.

Because if they are in, well, that just cheapens grace. And that would make us all look bad, right? Given the chance to rewrite scripture, Modern Pharisees wouldn’t celebrate the return of the prodigal son, and the thief on the cross wouldn’t stand a chance.

But that’s grace. That’s what grace is. And grace was God’s idea. If you don’t like it, talk to Him.


 

Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea 
Higher than the mountain 
Sparkling like a fountain 
All sufficient grace for even me 
Broader than the scope of my transgressions 
Greater far than all my sin and shame 
O magnify the precious name of Jesus
Praise His name!

 

January 1, 2015

LifeWay, the SBC, #the15, and God

#the15As I mentioned yesterday, the latest “tempest in a Tweet-pot” involves a group calling themselves #the15, who have expressed outrage on Twitter against the retail arm of LifeWay, a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) publishing empire, because they sell so many things in their store of which #the15 does not approve, while at the same time claiming to operate by the highest standards. One blogger noted the company even sells a book by a self-professed mystic and Universalist.

In one corner, we have #the15. [Update] In an earlier version of this article, I mis-characterized them as ones whose Calvinism compels them to the most rigorous study of scripture which translates in the real world to acting as judge and jury on every published work, be it written by a blogger or national author. Like the Pharisees of old, they set the bar so high that very few obtain their seal of approval. Jesus said of such people,

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:4)

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.  (Luke 11:46)

[Update] After more careful study, I realized I had fallen under a misconception created by Ed Stetzer, and that the original #the15 were desiring to see the retail chain do a better job of being gatekeepers of what people see, than the usual Calvinist judge-and-jury situation which is more common. 

The problem of course, is what gets in and what’s excluded?

The debate has been going on for days now, with members of #the15 and those who align with them taking Route 15 highway signs as their Twitter profile picture.

Some of the books that LifeWay sells are easy targets, such as Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. None of us who work in and around this industry saw the controversy going in, but it’s now quite clear the title is theologically problematic. In the little independent store I oversee, the title will be taken off display tomorrow, though remaining copies will be sold as requested. I’ve emailed our staff over the holiday, and the consensus is that we’ve got to act responsibly in light of what is now so plain.

But there are others I feel are being unfairly criticized like Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker. In the book, Batterson borrows a story from Jewish antiquity about Honi The Circle Maker and propelling that story into a challenge to all of us “draw circles around” the thing or group of things that constitute our greatest needs or righteous desires. Admittedly, it’s not the analogy I would have chosen. But rather than meet with Mark and get to know him and what drives him, the analogy was just a little too outside the scope of conservatives, even though Jesus’ own story of Lazarus and the Rich Man contains elements of the afterlife which may or not be the case. (Commentators always point this out, that Jesus wasn’t indicating that people in Heaven and Hell can communicate with each other.)

Furthermore, now that he is branded, these same conservatives would be unlikely to touch Batterson’s new work, The Grave Robber, which is an excellent study of the miracles in John’s gospel.  (Actually, of all the stuff in the market, I’m amazed the DC pastor would be lumped in with Sarah Young and that he’s become such a target. I would dare these critics to check out the newer book, published by David C. Cook.)

In another corner, are those who are quick to jump on #the15 bandwagon and side with them in this, but this is more a vote against LifeWay than a vote for condemning books.

Still another group consists of people wanting to be identified as Calvinists who do not support #the15.

And finally, in the last corner, we have LifeWay itself. I have written about them before, and don’t wish to burden regular readers here with repetition, so you can simply check out these posts:

For them, it’s all about money. And more money. Regular commenter here and fellow blogger Clark Bunch replied yesterday:

LifeWay exists for one purpose only and that’s to sell you stuff. Any volunteer VBS director that has ever ordered materials knows that as well as anybody. A box of 15 paper whatevers are easily divided into “selling units” that cost 3X what you could get them for at Dollar Tree.

Heaven is for Real is a book they sell at LifeWay Christian *gasp* Bookstore. LifeWay is not a group of seminary professors or a board of trustees. It’s Southern Baptist Walmart. Our church uses LifeWay Sunday School literature for all age groups. Thom Rainer writes good stuff. But LifeWay should NOT be and I don’t believe claims to be in a position to say “this is what you should believe and teach others.” If you are a Calvinist, non-Calvinist or don’t know the difference, you can walk into their store and buy what you want.

If that’s all it is, a Baptist WalMart, then so be it. Let them stock whatever people are curious to read and throw in The Catechism of the Catholic Church and The Book of Mormon while you’re at it.

In our store in 2012, for several months we had a section captioned, “Heretics Corner – Because every bookstore should have one.” It was my place to include people whose orthopraxy makes others uncomfortable, though we do not stock popular liberal theologians like Marcus Borg or Shelby Spong because they undermine the rest of what we carry. And that’s an important distinction. I wanted to allow other voices to be heard even if I disagree with some aspects: Matthew Paul Turner, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Webber and even Peter Rollins, despite the lack of a third name.

That’s the part of this story that’s so confusing. I find myself agreeing the book censors because I view LifeWay’s hypocrisy as the greater sin. But I don’t support a very narrow judgmental attitude where only a few books get in. I am always reminded of the Life cereal commercial where the kids say, “We’ll get Mikey to try it; he hates everything.”   I wish all the energy that goes into condemnation was being used to celebrate the good things that God is doing through a whole new generation of leaders and writers instead of mistrusting them. (Life Cereal, LifeWay…I’m sure there’s a punchline there just waiting…) And I’m sure God can use the little boy’s story in Heaven is for Real despite my misgivings, just as he used Left Behind to propel people into a study of the end times, even though it’s not my personal eschatological cup of tea.

So today’s discussion, for me at least, blurs the normal battle lines.

Either way, it’s the online story that ended 2014 and as of the morning of 2015 was still going strong on Twitter.

I’d write more, but I have to prepare my Rob Bell text for this afternoon’s Christianity 201 devotional. That’s right, Rob Bell. He wrote about The Good Samaritan and despite others’ misgivings about the direction he’s been heading, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Yes, in 2015 the lines are quite blurred.


Read more about one of #the15 protagonists here.

[Update] It gets worse: read more about him at this story.  This guy is a menace.

December 23, 2014

Calvinist Manifesto

Filed under: Church, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:54 am

Recently unearthed, or it should have been:

 

“Our goal is to completely dominate Christian publishing and internet media so that anyone, searching out any topic related to scripture or Christian living will land on one of our publications from one of our authors connected to one of our churches which is linked to our parachurch and conference organizations; and all quotations contained therein will be from the ESV.”

I want to continue where I left off yesterday. Consider this a two-part year-end rant.

I don’t mind if people want to believe differently on issues such as Bible translations, women in ministry, eschatology (end times), whether children should partake of the communion elements, the role of the laity in church life, or a host of other subjects. God knew what he was doing and his divine providence, he seems to have left a variety of things open to interpretation. Working out your salvation seems to involve a certain amount of thinking.

What I object to is the attitude that overshadows everything else when it comes to certain denominational tribes.

The problem with being so preoccupied with being right, is that it comes across Pharisaical, or to put it another way, not very Christ-like.

But all that is symptomatic. There’s also the issue of the underlying cause.

Here’s what I think: Some people simply want to be in control.

The nice thing about having God in a box is that once you have God all figured out, in a sense Christian growth has been achieved, the only thing left at that point is to amass further knowledge. When everything is word-based instead of Spirit-led, you end up simply wanting more words, more background, more truth, more axiomatic principles; and then there is no place for experience, no room for the Holy Spirit.

This then manifests itself in different ways, especially in print and online, and one of those is a very troll-like attitude, where there is, as we showed yesterday, a quote from an author you regard as outside your particular fence, and, like the proverbial kid with the finger who wants to test the ‘Wet Paint’ sign, you simply can’t leave it alone.

You have to defend the brand at all costs.

And you have to be seen as a brand defender.

And you have to re-post every article or book excerpt by the other brand-defenders because then you feel like you’re accomplishing something.

My point here is this: Try to identify this when you see it and resist the temptation to become absorbed into this mindset, resist the tendency to end up becoming like them.

Having God all wrapped up may look enticing. Having a God you somewhat control may be self-satisfying. But eventually, God breaks out of the box and you’re left with the wrapping paper strewn all over the floor. Because you never should have tried to contain him.


Related:

February 25, 2012

LifeWay: We Didn’t Know What We Were Talking About

Filed under: bible — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:58 am

So now LifeWay Christian bookstores are going to — officially — carry the 2011 revision of the New International Version after all. Profit over principle?

In some sense, yes, but buried in the story is also an admission that in making an earlier decision, the delegates to last summer’s Southern Baptist annual meeting did not have all the correct facts in front of them and went with a knee-jerk reaction instead of getting all the facts. Do that, and you’re always forced to backpedal.

With the strongly emotional issue of Bible translation, this type of response is all too common. A handful of self-styled academics have a legion of followers who believe every words they say about “other” translations, even though the facts — and real academics — don’t support their wild claims. But there are many people out there who would rather believe the worst, and I know this because they make a regular point of sending me email forwards that insist the sky is falling.

At issue is the updated edition of the NIV Bible and a motion that a delegate to the convention put forward in June recommending that entire SBC denomination ban the translation. Some SBC pastors who had been preaching from the revised text immediately discontinued its use.

The bookstore chain and its affiliated publishing company is owned by the SBC, and is a major cash cow. LifeWay’s trustees have decided to go against the recommendation of their parent denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, and continue merchandising and selling the 2011 revision of the New International Version of the Bible published by Zondervan.

But the USAToday story, excerpted below, says the chain “won’t endorse it;” which is a throwback to a controversy a few years ago where the company placed consumer advisory warning stickers on some products (i.e. The Shack) which it did not ‘officially’ approve. Next generation writers like Donald Miller were a particular target in October ’10; though it paled in comparison to a September ’08 decision to pull a music magazine from the shelves with a cover story on female pastors, while continuing to print and market materials by Bible teacher Beth Moore.

The comedic value of this, “We’ll sell it to you, but we don’t approve of it” policy is, like the policy itself, without limits. Lifeway could bring in just about anything in print, CD or DVD without having to sanction it; which means it could make forays into the wider ABA book market or carry CDs or DVDs which its customers enjoy and are buying elsewhere, without compromising principles.

But does a warning notice or sticker on the product exempt the company from those principles?  And isn’t that warning somewhat unnecessary when it’s dawning on SBC leadership that the new NIV isn’t guilty of the translation crimes of which it is accused?

Here’s the story from USAToday:

Complaints that the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) is inaccurate and too gender-inclusive are not going to stop one of the world’s largest Christian resource producers from selling it.

That translation was criticized at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix. Church representatives there approved a resolution asking Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources — owned by the denomination — to take it off its shelves.

Critics said the translation, which was updated in 2011, is filled with errors when it comes to language about gender, using “brothers and sisters” instead of “brothers” and “they” instead of “he” for a single pronoun. That kind of approach undermines the authority of the Bible, they said.

LifeWay’s trustees disagreed.

After having a committee review the 2011 NIV, they voted unanimously this week to keep selling it, while making clear they don’t endorse it…

…That decision disappointed the Rev. Tim Overton of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind. Overton wrote the resolution against the NIV that passed in Phoenix.

His resolution initially was rejected by the committee that vets resolutions before they are presented at the annual meeting. But he brought it to a floor vote, where it was approved.

Overton, like many other Southern Baptists, believes in verbal plenary inspiration — the idea that every word of the original texts of the Bible comes from God. Adding words to a translation undermines that belief, he said.

“If it says ‘brother’ and you say ‘brothers and sisters,’ you are adding to the Scriptures,” he said.

Marty King, spokesman for LifeWay, said a committee of trustees reviewed the NIV to decide whether it was acceptable. Under Southern Baptist rules, he said, they were not required to comply with the resolution, and representatives at the annual meeting had inaccurate information about the translation.

“People thought this Bible used female language for God,” he said. “It does not. We think that messengers* voted without accurate information.”

continue reading here

*insider term for delegates to the SBC convention

April 30, 2011

Eugene Peterson Defends Endorsement of Love Wins

Tucked away in a corner of the blogosphere since mid-March — until CT unearthed it this week — is this little interview with The Message translator Eugene Peterson on the blog Love and Judgment, a blog created to highlight perspectives on the Love Wins controversy.   Since Peterson is a highly respected Hebrew and Greek scholar, his take on Rob Bell’s newest title surprised many.   Here is the link to the article, as well as, below, some highlights:

…I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says.  But I think they’re worth saying.  I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people.  I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another.

I knew that people would jump on me for writing the endorsement.  I wrote the endorsement because I would like people to listen to him.  He may not be right.  But he’s doing something worth doing…

…There’s very little Christ, very little Jesus, in these people who are fighting Rob Bell.

February 15, 2011

Movie Rights Available, I’m Sure

If this isn’t a television Movie-of-the-Week by this time next year I’ll be most surprised.  It’s a story that’s just quirky enough for the pages of The National Enquirer, and yet I’m not sure we can ignore it completely.  Or to put it differently, when life — or the blog Bene Diction Blogs On — hands you a story like this, don’t bury it in the Wednesday Link List.

But you’re going to have to some clicking to follow the thread of this for yourself.

So here’s where it starts.  There’s a woman who has a son who is five years old and goes to a church preschool.  They have a Halloween party and he decides to go as Daphne, a Scooby Doo character who is female.  So she decides to go along with all this — he’s only five, remember — and rents the costume.  The other mothers are not so supportive.  The woman has a blog, and a gift with words, and a few days later, on November 2nd, expresses her feelings about all this online in a post titled — with tongue firmly planted in cheek ’cause he’s only five — My Son Is Gay.

The blog post goes viral. Actually, it goes capital “V” Viral. I know some of us have blogs and have a list of “Top Posts for 2010,” but we’re talkin’ — as of last night — 46,180 comments on a single item.  That’s just comments. The page views were in the millions.

Then, ten days later on November 12th she returns to her blog to report that the response has been, for the most part, supportive.

And then there are you guys. I cannot begin to wrap my mind around this outpouring of support. It is incomprehensible to me at this point. Yes, there are some out there that think I’ve made a colossal mistake and should never have ‘let’ [him] be what he wants. I respectfully disagree. I am 100% certain I did the right thing.

Did I mention that her husband is a policeman?

Did I mention she was then booked to appear on The Today Show?

The story is really heating up, and as you might expect, by November 16th, she is now in a totally defensive mode.  Martin Luther nailed 97 theses to a cathedral door, and the comparison is worthy as this mom nails 20 points of information to her blog.

Part of the reason she does this, as it turns out, is that there’s a lot of stuff taking place in the background of the larger story.  Much of that has to do with how her church responded.  But she holds back writing about that until months later, on February 3rd, where we then learn that as all this is going on:

  • She’s been accused of lying
  • She’s been accused of “promoting gayness”
  • She’s asked to take down the original blog post
  • She’s asked to consider closing her blog
  • She’s told to apologize to the women she “slandered and libeled” (this even though she referred to them only as A, B and C)
  • She is barred from receiving communion
  • In all this, she is not asked how her son is doing

I’m sure there are certain aspects to this story which leave it unfinished.  But I’m equally sure that as a family, their lives will never be exactly the same.  It’s no wonder that BDBO (the first link at top) refers to this as “spiritual care in the form of bullying.” At the intersection of Parents Drive and School Boulevard (and Church Road) things have become so serious that we’ve lost the ability to lighten up now and then and remember that we’re dealing with kids.

And S., if you’re reading this; I suppose it was inevitable that a few people might want to knock you down for the choice you made all those weeks ago, but the people in your church should not have been among that number.  We in the church so easily shoot our own wounded. For those in the church who tend to rush toward judgment, I apologize.  A five-year-old should get to have the fun of being a five-year-old.

As for the movie rights, I’m thinking of something that’s a updated spin on the hypocrisy of “Harper Valley PTA.”  The kind of script where the people demanding apologies end up apologizing.

(I decided not to borrow the child’s picture, even though I like to have a picture in each story if possible; you will need to link for this one. I just didn’t want to add to the sensationalism of a story that’s already been sensationalized.)

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