Archive for June, 2008

Still Breathing Heavily…

June 26, 2008

Well, the book hasn’t gotten much better.  Currently the authors are doing a quick and dirty deconstruction of the office of pastor.  Again, I’m fairly sympathetic here (despite my vocation as a pastor!), in that the New Testament is rather vague on the precise role of the pastor as differentiated from the body of Christ as a whole.

Still, when they make the broad assertion that all hierarchical spiritual roles are a direct result of the Fall, and completely fail to mention that God Himself creates the order of the Levites & priests in the Old Testament, it’s a little too much to swallow.  Once again, folks just want to ignore what God Himself has instituted in a certain time and place, because it’s inconvenient to their thesis.  Ridiculous.  You can cast plenty of aspersions on what the New Testament office of overseer or bishop or pastor looked and acted like without simply ignoring the Old Testament and God’s own way of arranging things.  Clearly, He sees some sort of value in a distinct clerical class, and this should be dealt with instead of ignored. 

Oh well.  I haven’t hyperventilated yet.  But I’ve begun skimming a little more, which is never a good sign!

Heavy Breathing…

June 20, 2008

Not like that.  Sheesh.

So the authors of Pagan are making a big to-do out of the fact that the Christians imported ideas from other sources – pagan sources – and ‘Christianized’ them.  Which leads me to wonder, must something be new to be wholly holy? 

So the basilica is based on pagan Greco-Roman design.  Is this, in and of itself, evil or wrong?

When Abraham was building altars to God after leaving Ur, were his altars new and unique, or did he build altars like he’d seen other altars – maybe altars he had built to other ‘gods’ in the past?  After conquering the Promised Land, when the Gaddites and Reubenites & the half-tribe of Manesseh go back to their lands east of the Jordan, they build an altar.  The rest of the tribes immediately assume they must be worshipping other gods already – they’re not even dry from crossing the Jordan again and they’re becoming apostates!  So there must not have been anything very remarkable about their altar to demonstrate that it was an altar to the God of Israel, rather than to Baal or some other local deity.  Yet, once the confusion is clarified, there’s no hard feelings, and the altar is left intact.

So Plato wrote about the virtues of light and space and color and sound.  Does this mean that a Christian church that incorporates these elements is automatically an apostate neo-platonic pagan shrine? 

Where is the place for natural revelation?  Where is the recognition that all pagan religions are deviations in some respect from the one religion of the Bible?  After all, Adam & Eve knew God.  Their kids knew God.  But at some point down the line, these ideas about God started getting twisted and out of kilter.  People were misled by false revelations and spirits claiming to be more than they really were.  Creation began monotheistically, and even pagan systems that seem to predate the Judaic history and theology are still merely aberrations of that original knowledge of God in Genesis.  What is truly ‘pagan’?

August Rush

June 18, 2008

We recently rented August Rush, and I don’t have a lot to say about this movie.

It wasn’t a bad movie.  I actually really enjoyed it.  It was a pretty vacuous movie, a feel-good, warm & fuzzy fest without any meritorious meat behind it, but I enjoyed it all the same.  Maybe it’s because I’ve always felt that there is something special – perhaps even spiritual – about music.  And that if there were a universal language of some sort, perhaps music would be it. 

But this isn’t necessarily the major push of the movie, despite what it attempts to claim to the contrary.  It really has no deeper level meaning, though perhaps it thought it did, or hoped to.  So it was just a relaxing view.

Once again, I reiterate that I personally find Robin Williams far more effective in the sinister/madman role than in the manic comic roles that launched his career.  He always seemed to me (even when I was quite young) to be about 30 seconds away from completely imploding, and all that would be left would be a small smouldering coal on the ground in the middle of a large blackened spot.  As he takes on more sinister roles, I find his manicness, his trademark squints and grins, to take on a far more believable air than when he was cast as strictly the Good Guy. 

Most of the performances here are pretty predictable.  Keri Russel seems to be sleepwalking through most of it, as does Jonathon Rhys Meyers.  There’s not a single truly passionate performance to be found, but that’s ok because, for the most part, it’s really just the story playing out that’s interesting.    Freddie Highmore seems like a clone of Haley Joel Osment, but maybe that’s just me (on an unrelated note, click on the link for Osment and check out the pic of him with sideburns. That’s just freaky.  He’s still six years old as far as I’m concerned!).  On the flip side, since it appears that he was 16 or 17 when this was filmed, maybe he’s a better actor than I give him credit for, since he’s playing an 11-year old kid.

Taking a Deep Breath

June 18, 2008

So I’m taking a deep breath. 

I began reading the George Barna/Frank Viola collaboration Pagan.  It’s one of those books that I hear of in passing and decide on the spur of the moment to order.  And after slogging my way through Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, I was looking forward to something a little more, well, Christian

Which is why I’m taking a deep breath.

If you haven’t heard, the book purports to expose the lurid origins of our carnal church culture.  Well, you get the idea.  Minus the heavy-breathing.  I’m apparently going to be supplying the heavy breathing, and not for the reasons I’d like to.  That is entirely neither here, nor there.

Having studied a lot of theology and a lot of history, it’s not news to me that our church practices are by and large not reflective of the Scriptures.  After all, while the New Testament mentions a lot of things in passing, it certainly doesn’t purport to be prescriptive about ways you have to do worship.  Paul attempts to correct some of the grosser errors of the first Christian congregations, but that was all he had time – or apparently inclination and Spiritual guidance – to do. 

So to effect a scandalized posture that *gasp* most of what goes on in churches today *isn’t* dictated in the Bible, is rather silly.  Anyone who has read their Bible should be able to tell you that.  But the idea of having a handy reference on the topic was interesting to me.

However, as with much of recent Christian popular publishing, the emphasis isn’t on description, it’s on prescription.  Not simply does church not look like it might have in the first century, it should never have looked the way it does now.  I’m not inherently disposed against that hypothesis, but tragically, the authors are presumably formulaic in their flailing efforts to disparage thousands of years of Judeo-Christian history and worship.

And I’m only about 20 pages into the book.  Which is why I’m taking a deep breath.

The first topic addressed is the issue of sacred space – a structural entity, an architectural anchor for a Christian community.  A piece of land.  A nice building.  Ok.  I’m personally disposed to be *very* sympathetic on this issue.  It sickens me how much of the faithful’s weekly giving (or hopefully, tithing) goes directly into paying the bills on a piece of property and a building which, if all goes well, should be woefully inadequate long before the mortgage is even close to being paid off.  Imagine the true good a Christian community could do if their resources were liberated to other purposes!  Imagine how transformative that could be in a community, what a compelling statement that could make to those who see Christians as self-focused, insular hypocrits.

However, the authors feel it necessary not simply to state that the Bible says nothing about church buildings.  That’s fine, since they could hardly have afforded them even if they wanted to.  Initially, they met both in the synagogues with their fellow Jews (since Christianity is really a sect of Judaism, remember?), and in small house churches.  Once official Roman persecution began, no later than 64AD, well, the odds of being able to build a church were pretty darn miniscule.  No big deal.  No big argument.  Sure, let’s trot out Constantine and his edict.  All well and good.  Life did change pretty dramatically for Christians once they weren’t being hunted down and imprisoned or executed.

But the authors feel compelled to take it a step further.  God had never dwelt in buildings.  God had never honored this clearly pagan Roman idea.  The Jews were wrong from the get-go, and only the early Christians and now the authors know the real truth.  Example of their argument:  Jesus’ outrage against the merchants in the Temple courtyard was also an expression of outrage that the center of worship was the Temple itself.  Curious idea.  They seem to have forgotten that the three Gospel accounts of the event all reference Jesus as quoting Scripture as His justification.  Each reference (Psalm 69:9 or Jeremiah 7:11) specifically refers to the temple as “my house”.  And since God is speaking in each of these passages, that would mean that God is calling the temple his house.  And let’s not forget that the Old Testament speaks of the glory of God settling in the Temple and inhabiting it (Ezekiel 43 for one, since I just recently finished reading that book). 

I agree that Jesus is the new temple.  I agree that He ended the sacrificial system, that He was the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King.  But that doesn’t mean that, at a certain point in time and space, God did indeed deign to manifest His glory and presence specifically in the Temple.  We don’t have to ignore the Old Testament in order to build an argument that today’s church is flawed in our attitude about what actually *is* a church.

So I need to take a deep breath.

Because I’m assuming the rest of the book is going to be like this, and I need the patience to sort through the crap theology and extract what useful history (and perhaps even theology) that I pray is there. 

I just hope I don’t hyperventilate in the process.

Jesus Camp 1

June 3, 2008

I’ve known about this movie for some time, yet I’ve avoided watching it.  However, after being asked to respond to it by one of the more outspoken atheists on iThink, I knew that I needed to just get it over with.

Funny how we put off things that we know we ought to do, but don’t want to do because of the evaluation process that will likely spring from it.  It’s simpler not to have to think about certain things, to re-examine our own choices and preferences in the light of a very different, but not necessarily incompatible or incorrect, set of choices and preferences.  I think that subconsciously I knew that I would end up challenged and threatened by this film, yet still called to embrace the people in it as brothers and sisters in Christ, even if I have disagreements on doctrinal and applicational issues.

My tradition of faith is Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).  Affectionately referred to by some within and outside our confessional polity as God’s “frozen chosen” – a reference to our stronghold of support in the upper midwest, & the colder climates of Europe, as well as our dearth of emotional expression in worship.  And in about every other situation as well.  The faith tradition was launched by Martin Luther in the early 16th century in Germany.  Lutherans have been heavily influenced and affected by the more stoic lack of expression characteristic of some Germans, Scandinavians, Swedes, etc.  We lack the warm-weather infusion of emotion more common to the Italians or even the French.  We lean towards intellectual rather than emotional expression. 

Jesus Camp is challenging in that it focuses on the polar opposite of our denomination in terms of worship experience.  The Pentecostal & Holiness traditions that emerged in the latter 19th century and early 20th century focus heavily on emotional expression rather than rigorous doctrinal thinking.  This movie highlights this distinction – not that these people are necessarily stupid, it’s just that for them, the life of faith is an emotional experience as well as a spiritual conviction.  I think many would be inclined to say that a life of faith without emotional experience and expression is in grave danger of not actually being a life of faith.  For our part, the LCMS tends to view these groups with a skeptical eye at best.  We poo-poo the lack of intellectual discipline and doctrinal emphasis in their circles.  Their emotional outburts leave us bewildered at an almost genetic level.  Their often-times legalistic insistence on signs & manifestations of the Spirit’s activity strikes us as a dangerous return towards the slavery of the Law that the Apostle Paul so joyously and emphatically celebrates our freedom from in Jesus Christ. 

LCMS Lutherans and the holiness movements tend to avoid each other with great suspicion, wary of completely dismissing the other as un-Christian, but seriously concerned that this might actually be the case.

So this movie was good for me.  Which is undoubtedly why I was avoiding watching it.

I watched it with three voices running through my head.  There was the LCMS born & raised voice that spent most of the movie wanting to run away screaming at all the unfamiliar behavior and attitudes and theology.  There was the Biblical voice, which attempted to compare what was said and done with Scripture, and which by and large found that these people can’t be completely written off as unScriptural – they have a great deal of respect and love and familiarity with Scripture, even if they choose to emphasize and embody it in ways that are different and at times even theologically incorrect.  And finally, the third voice was that of the people I interact with on iThink.  People who don’t get Christianity.  At all.  People who at one time *did* get Christianity, and were really hurt or burned or disappointed by it, and now are bitter and hurt and angry at it.  People that this movie must – as one of the main characters says near the end – must scare the dickens out of, to think that there are people who believe these things in such a radical and impassioned sense. 

These voices will be talking with one another for quite some time as they sort through the movie.  I’ll share those conversations and conclusions as they shake out.  In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to go and rent this movie.  If you’re a Christian, I think it’s important to watch this movie.  If you’re not a Christian, I think it’s useful to watch this movie.  The directors do a pretty good job of just letting the people speak for themselves, in their own words, without much editorializing or counter-preaching.  It seems clear the directors don’t share the convictions of these people.  But they made an honest effort to try and portray these people accurately – for better and worse.