Thinking Out Loud

June 3, 2019

Again Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:36 am

Nadia Bolz-Weber delivers the sermon at the funeral for Rachel Held Evans on June 1. YouTube screenshot via Religion News Service.

Abraham doubted. Job doubted. Peter doubted. Martha doubted. Even Jesus cried out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Condemning people who are thoughtful about their faith, who doubt & who wrestle & who cry out with questions, is legalism from the pit of hell.

Oh there are times I really miss living with absolute certainty, never questioning anything I believed or anything my pastor said, or any of my interpretations or biases or ideas. It was easier then. But maybe God doesn’t want easy.
– Rachel Held Evans, January, 2018

Yesterday I either watched or listened to all of the 1¾ hour video on YouTube of the funeral for Rachel Held Evans, as it had been streamed live the day before. I know I’ve already covered this topic when Rachel’s death was announced, but I can’t help returning.

I won’t embed those here as we did last time, but just note some highlights. If you want to find the original for unlinked quotations, try my Twitter feed. I unashamedly retweeted about ten of them.

Friend Jeff Chu wrote,

…The family asked for a funeral, not a celebration of life. Though ecumenical, the liturgy is based on the Episcopal one to honor Rachel’s adopted tradition. We gather to mourn and grieve, to look toward resurrection hope, and to worship. 

Religion News Service confirmed, “The service was ecumenical but drew from the Episcopal Church’s funeral liturgy, Held Evans’ adopted church.”

A podcast host I’m not familiar with, Amy Sullivan, wrote:

This is like our version of the Billy Graham funeral except that Rachel was 50 years younger and it is, in Rachel’s words, “a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at [God’s] table.”

I’m still pondering the comparison — not the Billy to Rachel comparison, but rather the funeral to funeral comparison — because both impacted different cultures, but both for the cause of the same Lord. Two very significant moments for two unique demographics; two subsets of Christian culture.

Writer Jonathan Martin said,

I don’t really have words for how holy this was. The atmosphere was dense with God—the weight of grace and grief, of Spirit crackling through the room between us.

Author Sarah Bessey, who participated in the liturgy, wrote,

It was a testimony to Rachel’s life to stand in a crowded (packed!) room and know this rowdy, deep, diverse, never-would-have-found-each-other-without-her community all showed up in Chattanooga, just so we could say goodbye together and to love her family. 

Rachel’s sister Amanda, who gave a Eulogy and performed a song — one that she had written for Rachel but never sung for her — tweeted:

How will I remember her? And what will I remember most? Hopefully, the wide-eyed wonder of our childhood. And the long history of love that only sisters share. I don’t have to remember …because she is a part of me. 

I hope that song can be posted at some point in the future with a proper recording. The audio for the live stream was very poor any time there was anything involving music.

Husband Dan posted on her blog:

…I want to be just a bit more like the person I see reflected back in my edited self. The person Rachel saw in me. She made me better than I was before I met her. She left the world better than how she found it. For that I will always be grateful.

Singer Audrey Assad also participated,

I have a crying hangover from [remembering Rachel] at her funeral today. And I’m filled with absolute gratitude that I got to come and say goodbye.

Shane Claiborne wrote,

After saying goodbye to [Rachel] today, mom & I watched the sunset for her birthday. I told her the best present I can imagine giving her is a set of Rachel’s books. (My mom is new to RHE). As sure as the sun will rise again, Rachel lives.

The anon Twitter account, Unvirtuous Abbey posted,

Watching people you’ve followed for years on twitter as they grieve a sister and testify to her life was a surreal yet powerful reminder that community is real. Seeing her family in the front pew was heartbreaking. 

Jeff Chu’s prayer include this:

God who is ridiculous, inexplicable love: Help us to know, feel, and embody that love, radiating it out into a nation and a world that desperately need it. As Rachel had posted over her desk, our job is to tell the truth—and the truth is that this world isn’t the just, kind, righteous place of flourishing for all people, all creatures, that you would have it be. We pray against all forms of hate, disdain, and neglect, and we pray for all who have unfairly suffered its consequences—for women, for refugees and immigrants, for people of color, for LGBTQ people, for disabled people, for poor people, for the unseen, for the unheard. Inspire us to be women of valor, men of valor, people of valor—living out our faith, cultivating hope, and shining love on all around us, as Rachel did.

Although I’ve had some recent reasons for concern regarding the ministry of Nadia Bolz-Weber, her sermons are always right on the mark and her delivering the funeral sermon — something not announced prior — was no exception. Several have asked her to post the text. 

Carina Julig at Word and Way reported that Sarah Bessey and Nadia Bolz-Weber “displayed the tattoos they got in advance of the service. Those tattoos read, ‘eshet chayil,’ or ‘woman of valor’ in Hebrew, a phrase from the Bible that Held Evans popularized.”

Yesterday, instead of our regular devotional post at Christianity 201, I included some assorted elements from the liturgy. You can find those here. For a link to the full text of the Requiem Eucharist or a link to the full video, click here. But I do want to include the Benediction here. The final paragraph is Rachel’s own words:

Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are those whom no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex workers and the night-shift street sweepers. The closeted. The teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are those who mourn.You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.

I imagine Jesus standing here blessing us because that is our Lord’s nature. This Jesus cried at his friend’s tomb, turned the other cheek, and forgave those who hung him on a cross. He was God’s Beatitude— God’s blessing to the weak in a world that admires only the strong.

Jesus invites us into a story bigger than ourselves and our imaginations, yet we all get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of this moment and this place. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God. May we never neglect that gift. May we never lose our love for telling the story. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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May 13, 2019

Excerpt from Inspired by Rachel Held Evans: If Love Can Look Like Genocide

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

In the past year, Rachel Held Evans was not as prolific on her blog as she had been in the past, preferring  more interactive social media forms. So this book excerpt was actually among her final half dozen posts…

As always, it found her wrestling with the tougher aspects of scripture; this time in a book about the book, Inspired.


“If Love Can Look Like Genocide, Then Love Can Look Like Anything”: An Excerpt from “Inspired”

From Chapter 3: “War Stories” in Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, and Loving the Bible Again: 

“…The question of God’s character haunted every scene and every act and every drama of the Bible. It wasn’t just the story of Noah’s flood or Joshua’s conquests that unsettled me. The book of Judges recounts several horrific war stories in which women’s bodies are used as weapons, barter, or plunder, without so much as a peep of objection from the God in whose name these atrocities are committed. One woman, a concubine of a Levite man, is thrown to a mob, gang-raped, and dismembered as part of an intertribal dispute (Judges 19). Another young girl is ceremonially sacrificed to God after God grants a military victory to her father, Jephthah, who promised to offer as a burnt offering “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites” (Judges 11:31). Earlier, in the book of Numbers, God assists the Israelites in an attack against the Midianites, and tells the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child from the community. They kill all except the young virgin girls whom the soldiers divide up as spoils of war. Feminist scholar Phyllis Trible aptly named these narratives “texts of terror.”

“If art imitates life,” she wrote, “scripture likewise reflects it in both holiness and horror.”

Rereading the texts of terror as a young woman, I kept anticipating some sort of postscript or epilogue chastising the major players for their sins, a sort of Arrested Development–style “lesson” to wrap it all up—“And that’s why you should always challenge the patriarchy!” But no such epilogue exists. While women are raped, killed, and divided as plunder, God stands by, mute as clay.

I waited for a word from God, but no word came.

It was as though I lived suspended in the tension of two apparently competing convictions: that every human being is of infinite worth and value, and that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. These beliefs pulled at me with the gravitational forces of large planets. I couldn’t get rid of them, and yet I couldn’t seem to resolve them either. The tension was compounded by a growing confluence of mis- givings I had about the absence of women in leadership in my church, the shaming of young women perceived to be immodest or “impure,” and the insistence that God is most pleased when women are submissive and quiet. My home had always been a place of refuge, where the voices of women were valued and honored, but as I graduated from high school and entered college, I began to wonder if the same was true for the broader Christian community to which I belonged.

When I turned to pastors and professors for help, they urged me to set aside my objections, to simply trust that God is good and that the Bible’s war stories happened as told, for reasons beyond my comprehension.

“God’s ways are higher than our ways,” they insisted. “Stop trying to know the mind of God.”

It’s an understandable approach. Human beings are finite and fallible, prone to self-delusion and sentimentality. If we rely exclusively on our feelings to guide us to truth, we are bound to get lost.

When asked in 2010 about Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, Reformed pastor and theologian John Piper declared, without hesitation, “It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.” Piper’s dispassionate acceptance represented pure, committed faith, I was told, while mine had been infected by humanism and emotion—“a good example of why women should be kept from church leadership,” one acquaintance said.

And for a moment, I believed it. For a moment, I felt silly for responding so emotionally to a bunch of old war stories that left the rest of the faithful seemingly unfazed. But this is the deleterious snare of fundamentalism: It claims that the heart is so corrupted by sin, it simply cannot be trusted to sort right from wrong, good from evil, divine from depraved. Instinct, intuition, conscience, critical thinking—these impulses must be set aside whenever they appear to contradict the biblical text, because the good Christian never questions the “clear teachings of Scripture”; the good Christian listens to God, not her gut.

I’ve watched people get so entangled in this snare they contort into shapes unrecognizable. When you can’t trust your own God- given conscience to tell you what’s right, or your own God-given mind to tell you what’s true, you lose the capacity to engage the world in any meaningful, authentic way, and you become an easy target for authoritarian movements eager to exploit that vacuity for their gain. I tried reading Scripture with my conscience and curiosity suspended, and I felt, quite literally, disintegrated. I felt fractured and fake.
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Brené Brown warned us we can’t selectively numb our emotions, and no doubt this applies to the emotions we have about our faith.

If the slaughter of Canaanite children elicits only a shrug, then why not the slaughter of Pequots? Of Syrians? Of Jews? If we train ourselves not to ask hard questions about the Bible, and to emotionally distance ourselves from any potential conflicts or doubts, then where will we find the courage to challenge interpretations that justify injustice? How will we know when we’ve got it wrong?

“Belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man,” Thomas Paine said.  If the Bible teaches that God is love, and love can look like genocide and violence and rape, then love can look like . . . anything. It’s as much an invitation to moral relativism as you’ll find anywhere.

I figured if God was real, then God didn’t want the empty devotion of some shadow version of Rachel, but rather my whole, integrated self. So I decided to face the Bible’s war stories head-on, mind and heart fully engaged, willing to risk the loss of faith if that’s where the search led…

Read the rest in Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, and Loving the Bible Again. 

May 7, 2019

A Sampling of the Tributes for Rachel Held Evans

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:30 am

This picture of Rachel, now widely circulating, was taken by her husband Dan.

At one point I found myself simply re-Tweeting so many things.

We didn’t have social media or even the internet itself when Keith Green died, but I think this will end up ranking on a similar level of impact for people who knew and love Rachel Held Evans. In a similar way, there were those who didn’t know Keith Green’s music until he died, and I see something similar happening with Rachel: People wondering who this woman is whose words so captivated so many; someone passing at such a young age with so much more to share… 

If you are interested in offering tangible support to Rachel’s family, the GoFundMe page is now over $200,000; but the needs — particularly of raising two very small children — will continue in the years to come. Click here to learn more.

First: less than 60 days ago Rachel herself posted this on Twitter:

Over the past few weeks I’ve received several very kind messages from people who confessed they had been suspicious or critical of my work for years, but when circumstances pushed them to pick up one of my books, they realized they had me wrong and they wanted to apologize. I’m not sharing this to toot my own horn or anything. I’ve written similar messages myself, to other authors/pastors/thinkers, and I’m certain I could write more considering how much my own perspectives have evolved, stretched, and changed over the last decade. I’m just sharing because it’s nice to be reminded that people change, and that some are kind and humble enough to apologize to someone they’ve never met for something I likely don’t even remember. We’re all in process. Myself included.

Also, if you want to read further, one of her final Tweets was a link to this 2014 blog post. I think it really reflects her heart.

I also found this video, posted on the weekend to YouTube; not many have seen it:
  

Rachel’s sister Amanda has not been active on Twitter, but posted this shortly after Rachel entered the hospital:

And this was one of Rachel’s final Tweets: 

Now on to just a small sampling of general tributes: 

https://twitter.com/AmandaHeldOpelt/status/1120858228190007296 

https://twitter.com/PB_Curry/status/1125087394183749632 

https://twitter.com/jamieleefinch/status/1124824967638585345 

https://twitter.com/HeyMPT/status/1125017485198151681 

Peter Enns adapted this from The Book of Common Prayer:

Finally, this drawing from David Hayward:


This is the third of three posts regarding Rachel Held Evans. If you are a subscriber, you missed some content in the post from late Saturday night and there were some formatting issues. I was quite shaken up by the news. That post contained a quote from Rachel’s husband Dan, given to Ruth Graham at Slate. Click here to read.

May 6, 2019

Remembering Two Much-Loved But Diverse Authors

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:45 am

This past week Christian readers lost two very much loved authors, each successful by different metrics, but each unique, catering to two very different audiences: Rachel Held Evans and Warren Wiersbe. It speaks to the diversity or breadth of the Christian subculture that it includes such a broad range of writers; such a wide demographic.

Rachel Held Evans died on May 4th at age 37, after entering a coma following treatment for flu and a subsequent infection. The outpouring of love for Rachel on social media has been enormous. Her titles included Searching for Sunday , A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask (formerly Evolving in Monkey Town), and her newest Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. (Two published by Zondervan, two by Thomas Nelson.)

The first report of problems came on her blog on April 19th. “During treatment for an infection Rachel began exhibiting unexpected symptoms. Doctors found that her brain was experiencing constant seizures. She is currently in the ICU. She is in a medically induced coma while the doctors work to determine the cause and solution.”

Updates continued until May 4th,

Rachel was slowly weaned from the coma medication. Her seizures returned but at a reduced rate. There were periods of time where she didn’t have seizures at all. Rachel did not return to an alert state during this process. The hospital team worked to diagnose the primary cause of her seizures and proactively treated for some known possible causes for which diagnostics were not immediately available due to physical limitations.

Early Thursday morning, May 2, Rachel experienced sudden and extreme changes in her vitals. The team at the hospital discovered extensive swelling of her brain and took emergency action to stabilize her. The team worked until Friday afternoon to the best of their ability to save her. This swelling event caused severe damage and ultimately was not survivable.

She leaves her husband Dan, and two children. Dan told Slate’s Ruth Graham,

“She put others before herself… She shared her platform. She always remembered how others had helped her. She enjoyed seeing other people in contexts where they thrived. She didn’t hold grudges, would forget as well as forgive. She had little time for pettiness and a big heart for people. And these are all things I wish I had told her more while I still had the privilege to keep her company.”

News of her passing was carried at The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, People Magazine, and a great swell of tributes on Twitter at the hashtag #BecauseofRHE.

Read more at Slate, Health Updates, Religion News Service, CBN News, and the GoFundMe page set up by fellow-author Sarah Bessey.

Warren Wiersbe died on May 2nd at age 89. Anyone who has read the series of commentaries known informally as “The Bees” — Be Victorious (Revelation), Be Joyful (Phllippians), Be Mature (James), Be Real (1 John), Be Dynamic (Acts), etc. — knows Warren Wiersbe. (David C. Cook) There’s about 50 titles; which are also available in a two-volume hardcover set. Many of “The Bees” are also available in a study guide form — Wiersbe Bible Study Guide Series — for groups. A Wikipedia article credits him with over 150 books in total. Showing a sense of humour, his autobiography is titled Be Myself.

He worked for Youth for Christ, and pastored at Central Baptist Church in East Chicago, Indiana (1951–1957), Calvary Baptist Church in Covington, Kentucky (1961–1971), and the iconic Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois (1971–1980). He was very much involved in mentoring pastors, including a young Erwin Lutzer. He was also a much sought-after conference speaker.

This prolific author will be greatly missed. Learn more at Christianity Today and Premier (UK).

May 4, 2019

Rachel: She’s Gone

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:49 pm

Rachel Held Evans
Dan writes: May 4th, 2019 Update

Rachel was slowly weaned from the coma medication. Her seizures returned but at a reduced rate. There were periods of time where she didn’t have seizures at all. Rachel did not return to an alert state during this process. The hospital team worked to diagnose the primary cause of her seizures and proactively treated for some known possible causes for which diagnostics were not immediately available due to physical limitations.

Early Thursday morning, May 2, Rachel experienced sudden and extreme changes in her vitals. The team at the hospital discovered extensive swelling of her brain and took emergency action to stabilize her. The team worked until Friday afternoon to the best of their ability to save her. This swelling event caused severe damage and ultimately was not survivable.

Rachel died early Saturday morning, May 4, 2019.

This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story. I cannot express how much the support means to me and our kids. To everyone who has prayed, called, texted, driven, flown, given of themselves physically and financially to help ease this burden: Thank you. We are privileged. Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.


From the GoFundMe page:

This article by Ruth Graham at Slate will be Dan’s only other public statement at this time. Please give their family the space and time to grieve this tremendous, devastating loss.

“She put others before herself,” her husband, Dan Evans, said in an email on Saturday. “She shared her platform. She always remembered how others had helped her. She enjoyed seeing other people in contexts where they thrived. She didn’t hold grudges, would forget as well as forgive. She had little time for pettiness and a big heart for people. And these are all things I wish I had told her more while I still had the privilege to keep her company.”

October 29, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Orange Curriculum Parody Poster

Our graphic image theme this week is parody. The upper one is a supplement to the Orange Curriculum, a weekend service Christian education experience for children. You can click on the image and then surf the rest of the web page to learn more.

A bumper harvest this week; get coffee first.

The rest of the week Paul Wilkinson offers you a daily choice between trick at Thinking Out Loud, or treat at Christianity 201.

What a Mug I Have of Coffee

April 9, 2014

Wednesday Link List

New Pews

I am a linkoholicSo, if I go to see one of the many faith-focused movies currently running, can I skip church that weekend? While you ponder that, here’s this week’s link-o-rama:  Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the link list’s benefactor.

Paul Wilkinson’s writing the rest of the week is made possible by readers at Thinking Out Loud and at C201, and by viewers like you.

Between Services - Sacred Sandwich

Above: After a forever away from posting something new, Sacred Sandwich awoke as from a giant sleep.

Below: This is from the Abandoned Pics Twitter feed: @AbandonedPics and is a wooden church somewhere in Russia. 

Click the respective images to link. (Or the irreverent ones.)

Abandoned Wooden Church in Russia

January 31, 2014

Thomas Nelson Accused of Spiritual Deception

WND Faith

A conservative writer at WND (World Net Daily) held nothing back yesterday in an full-blown attack levied at Thomas Nelson, an imprint now part of HarperCollins Christian Publishing. In an article titled Beware the Bookseller Pretending To Be Christian — more about that headline later — Jim Fletcher writes:

Back in the day, with its marketing angle that touted the company’s roots (the company began in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1798), one got the feeling that its books were trustworthy.

Guess not.

He continues,

Thomas Nelson has seemingly not cared about being too rigidly biblical in its offerings for some time, and the current list of authors/books is disturbing to anyone who would identify as a conservative Christian…

He then systematically works his way through attacks — some detailed and others off-the-cuff — at Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, Rachel Held Evans, Brad Lomenick, Richard Stearns, Ron Sider, Donald Miller, Judah Smith, Leonard Sweet, and Bob Roberts, Jr. It’s hard to imagine that there was anyone left on the author roster that Fletcher hadn’t lined up in his sights.

As the article builds to a crescendo he concludes:

…They remind me of those thoroughbred running backs in college and the NFL, the ones who feint this way and that, stopping defensive backs in their tracks.

But feinting can also mean one who intentionally deceives.

Deception.

Read the full article here.

It should be noted that whether you agree or disagree with the doctrinal state of Christian publishers in general, or Thomas Nelson in particular, WND editors committed a major blunder in creating the article’s headline. (Generally, writers do not choose their header.) The article is about the actions of a publisher, but the headline implies that booksellers — brick and mortar, or online — are complicit in spiritual deception, when perhaps they have simply trusted the Nelson brand over the years. Yes, local retailers try to practice discernment, but even in these scaled-back publishing times, they can’t be expected to read every book by every author.  

So what does an article like this accomplish, exactly? It’s certainly meant to be insightful and helpful, but it comes off like a rant. I don’t agree with every word that Rachel Held Evans or Donald Miller writes, but I do find sections of their books redemptive. To a younger generation, they represent a trend where key voices in the Christian blogosphere have graduated to print. And just as there are at least three major streams in the creation/origins debate, the fact remains that Christians hold different views on Israel/Palestine.

Instead, the rant reminds me so much of, “We’ll get Mikey to try it, he hates everything.” 

Or in this case, Jim.

The article’s tag line describes Fletcher as a book industry insider. With more than thirty years in the same business, I’d like to suggest that booksellers do indeed practice discernment. If you don’t like Thomas Nelson’s offerings, shop elsewhere, perhaps focusing on classic authors from past centuries. But I’ll bet the rent that there were books back then that were considered sketchy, a few of which are still around, but also bet that there are books today that just possibly could endure as long, and I think we’d all be surprised to see what’s still being read 50 or 100 years from now.

May 8, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Juxtaposed Advertising

This is the link list that the other blogs get their links from after we got them from them in the first place.

It’s a safe bet that neither party purchasing space on the above billboards were aware of the other’s presence.  Or is it?

  • Ravi Zacharias responds to the Boston tragedy and all the issues it raises.
  • And did you read about the Boston Marathon Saint; the guy who gave away his medal?
  • In New Zealand you can name your baby girl Faith, Hope, or Charity, but not Justice. It’s one of a number of banned names.
  • It’s got endorsements from Eric Metaxas, Ann Voskamp, Paul Young and Russell D. Moore. But is The Little Way of Ruthie Leming a title that would be considered a Christian book?
  • It’s not every day that a Christian school science test makes the pages of snopes.com, but then again you haven’t seen a test like this one.
  • Wanna know more about the Apocrypha, those extra books in the Roman Catholic Bible? Check out this podcast. (Click the link that says “Play in Pop-Up.) (Technically these are the deuterocanonical books, the term apocrypha can include other writings.)
  • And after adding that I found an article of a type that many of us would never see: A Roman Catholic blogger’s apologetic for the Catholic canon of scripture. (Which is by default very anti-Protestant canon.) 
  • If you read Christian blogs, you know the word ‘missional.’ Now here’s a reading list of the top 40 books on the subject.
  • Usually writers have to push their publishers for cool book trailers. This 2-minute video for Jon Stuff Christians Like Acuff’s book Start was a gift from a reader.
  • Quote of the week: “I knew what abortion was before I knew where babies came from. ” ~ Rachel Held Evans writing about a prominent US news story about an abortion doctor that isn’t playing much here in Canada or on the news elsewhere.
  • Also at RHE, Jennifer Knapp responds to some great questions from readers with some great answers. Sample: “I think it’s often overlooked, is that CCM’s genre is not a style of music, but rather it is a very specific message.” Quotation of the type you’re probably more interest in: “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ can be an acceptable working environment for some, but has also been used as legitimate financial weapon at times to enforce individual silence in exchange for job security.”  (Also, JK previously here at Thinking…)
  • And going three-for-three with RHE (it rhymes, too) here’s an interview she did with Christianity Today.
  • And for something much shorter than those articles on Rachel’s blog: Greg Atkinson on what pastors can learn from country music.
  • Here’s a pastor’s nightmare: When your small church is essentially a one man show.
  • Is your church looking for a pastor? Here’s ten signs your search isn’t going well.  Sample: Average time between sending in application and receiving rejection notice: 5-7 minutes.
  • Catholics are borrowing a page from Mormons, JWs and Evangelicals and doing door-to-door ministry. Advice to participants: Trying to provide too many facts about the Church may cause misunderstandings.
  • Here’s a fun 5-minute video for pastors wanting to develop their homiletic skills using a technique called preaching by ear. (A sales pitch follows.)
  • And wrapping up our ministry links, should a pastor know how much individuals give financially?
  • At a certain point (i.e. after the second chorus) this Eddie Kirkland song always reminds me of Coldplay.
  • Going to a summer wedding? You might want to look around at a critical moment so you don’t miss the best part of the processional.
  • Tony Jones loves Greg Boyd (no, not that way) and thinks you should also.
  • From the people who brought you the Top 200 Christian Blogs list, The Top 200 Christian Seminaries.
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April 15, 2013

Who Are You Sleeping With? Tim Keller at Gospel Coalition

Filed under: issues — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:16 am

On the one hand, I no longer give a lot of space here to what the New Calvinists are up to.  My feeling is that when they finally reach consensus on the question, “What is the Gospel?” they can send up smoke signals like they do in The Vatican.

But there’s no denying the wisdom and influence of Redeemer Presbyterian (New York, NY) pastor and author Timothy Keller.  So there was a lot of excitement over the weekend over a post by Derek Rishmawy who has a Patheos blog Christ and Pop Culture, and wrote ‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’ My Conversation with Timothy Keller.  

First, here’s the context:

…Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.

The major substance of the piece comes in the second section:

Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue. Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience. Honestly, as a Millennial and college director myself, I’ve seen it with a number of my friends and students—the Bible unsurprisingly starts to become a lot more “doubtful” for some of them once they’d had sex.

And it makes sense, right? When you’re engaged in behavior you’ve been raised to believe is wrong, but is still pretty fun, more than that, powerfully enslaving, you want to find reasons to disbelieve your former moral convictions. As Keller pointed out, Aldous Huxley famously confessed in his work Ends and Means that he didn’t want there to be a God and meaning because it interfered with his sexual freedom. While most of our contemporaries haven’t worked it out quite as philosophically as Huxley has, they’re spiritually in much the same place.

I’ve heard it said that one of the reason people love to debate Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the Whale is because they are looking for an out. If they can find a problem with the Biblical text in one section, it absolves them from responsibility in others. So much of the debate clearly is about something other than what it appears.

In one of the comments, I noted:

I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons churches are finding it so hard to get male volunteers is because a lot of guys don’t feel ‘worthy’ because of their online addiction to porn. Someone has already noted in the comments here its possible application in this situation as well.

In other words, spiritual intensity wanes as spiritual truth comes into conflict with actual individual behavior. 

Keller’s thesis did not sit well with Rachel Held Evans.  In a piece titled Is Doubt an STD? — the title itself confuses the cause and effect — she challenges the sweeping generality of Keller’s response:

Keller seems to assume that thoughtful questioning among young people are typically the result of sexual activity and their desire to justify it. This was not true for me, and it is not true for many of the young adults who leave college with questions about science, philosophy, politics, and religious pluralism that challenge the fundamentalism with which they were raised…

…Furthermore, learning that a college student is sexually active does not somehow discredit his or her faith experience.

But while she accuses Keller of being dismissive of the real spiritual concerns of young people, I felt she was just a little too dismissive of Keller.  I wrote:

Keller is teaching us to look for “the question behind the question,” not unlike Jesus with the woman at the well in John chapter 4. I think he may be on to something; but Rachel, I agree that this approach could backfire if it is dismissive of genuine questions and spiritual concerns. I think you have to earn the right to ask someone who they’re sleeping with.

There was a lot of push-back on Rachel’s take on Keller, and so yesterday, she published some of the highlights of the critiques she received.  You can read those here.

If you don’t know it, read the story of the Woman at the Well in John 4 here.

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