Thinning the Ranks

Or weeding the garden, or doing annual reviews, or something.  Something has to give, because the ‘who’s who’ of acceptable personnel on the roster is getting too confusing.  One blog advertises messages from a Reformed conference; another blog asks a tough question: why was so-and-so invited?  And while one wants to appreciate the appreciation and recommendations of Todd Pruitt, one has to agree that Ken Silva’s scrutinizing query is a good one.

The dissonance (or contrast, or whatever) reminded me of some FB back-and-forth I saw when the Driscoll plagiarism scandal first broke a couple of months ago.  Some Free Church Scots were glad Driscoll was finally drawing some public criticism after the rumors of Mars Hill’s questionable leadership practices, and his over-the-top (no rumors needed–it was all online) approach to certain materials in certain messages, and odd claims of Holy Spirit-given visions.  But one FB commentater in the thread rebuked these critics of Driscoll for turning on someone who ‘is on our side’.  Meaning, we shouldn’t attack Driscoll (perhaps he meant publicly, or perhaps he meant ‘at all’) because he’s Reformed.  I would submit that it would be better to say, in any case, that he claims he’s Reformed.  Certainly the way the church is run, and the lack of respect he seems to have for his own office would indicate that his theology, ecclesiology, and personal spirituality are all a bit dodgy, let alone that he’s Reformed in more areas than simply that he believes in election (or any other tenant of Calvinism).

The problem seems to me to be twofold.  First, if a high-flying mega-church pastor with a lot of influence claims he’s Reformed, but is repeatedly the subject of controversy over basic doctrinal issues (like ER 2’s pushing of TD Jakes as orthodox), I say, we don’t take the dude’s word for it.  Let a person demonstrate he’s serious about the rules of the club before we tout him as an ambassador of the club–there’s a lot at stake when pastors are of such a high profile as someone like Mark Driscoll.

Second, even if a person’s demonstrated that he or she should not only be a member of the club, but a well-known representative of the club to the wider evangelical world, and even to the saecular world,  and seems to be earning the club good press, that doesn’t mean we ought to hang a medal on him that says, ‘Defend at all costs’.  That’s ridiculous; beyond which boundary do we begin to ask questions, do we begin to turn a critical eye on one of our own?  And the defending can include not only speaking out against critics and accusers, but allowing things involving the criticized or accused to go on as normal–acting as if nothing has happened.   Ought someone who’s been leading a ministry now under heavy fire and public scrutiny after many allegations of sexual abuse to be invited to speak at a conference with the club’s heavy-hitters as if nobody knows that this scandal has enveloped him?  Should not the case be settled, should he and the ministry not be cleared, before there’s a return to normalcy? And, after he has declined to speak in order to avoid bringing shame upon the gospel or trouble to his friends, should he still be invited, and should he accept an invitation, to sit in the front row with the big wigs?  This to me looks sketchy, and I can be called a ‘fan’ of some of these people.

What worries me is that folk seem to be more concerned about being able to do work and play with their friends, than they are about keeping a watchful eye for the sake of the gospel.  They ought to be willing to let the Reformed camp take a hit for the sake of the integrity of the church and reputation of the faith.  What good is it to pal around with celebrity church leaders who can draw big crowds and run big ministries, and ‘Oh goody!  He says he’s a Calvinist!’, when in the end they don’t even maintain a good Christian witness?  I know when things are personal, when you know people, and when we in the church public know less than the players, it’s complicated.  But there’s nothing complicated about having more loyalty to Christ than to a denominational or doctrinal brand.  If a guy’s private life, teaching or association with people who promote dodgy teaching (John Piper’s choice of conference companions [Rick Warren, Christine Caine, and folks from the exceedingly creepy IHOP]), or church/ministry leadership practices (CJ Mahaney, James MacDonald, Mark Driscoll) are sketchy, we shouldn’t say ‘He’s on our side.’  We ought to say, ‘This is a problem, let’s take a look, and maybe we’ll even do something about it.’ And until everything’s been cleared up, with all transparency and honesty, don’t invite him to conferences.  It may be time to clean house.  Let the Reformed camp be introspective, self-critical, frank.  And perhaps let the Hall of Fame be a bit shorter.  Heck, if a bunch of these guys aren’t good Christian pastors, or are falling off the bandwagon, what good are they as spokeskids for the doctrines of grace and the Reformed tradition?  I’d rather have a humble, accountable, gospel-preaching Arminian than than a cussing, overbearing, self-aggrandizing ‘Calvinist’ any Sunday.

PS.  What is going on with RC Sproul, Jr?  He’s definitely one of the black sheep in the Reformed tent.



Overnight in a Tudor castle

Friday night I had the strange privilege of working and lodging at Thornbury Castle in Gloucestershire.  Beautiful?  Oh yes!  Stunning town, stunning countryside (replete with farm smells), and the great combination of still-in-use and overgrown ruined (some unfinished) battlements next to the gorgeous and imposing church and yard of St. Mary.  I won’t describe my duties in detail–polishing plate and cutlery is pretty much the same all over.  But toward the end of the shift, round about midnight, the manager asked, “How are you getting home?”  My reply was essentially, “I thought you would tell me!”  I had been under the impression that my agency was going to arrange transportation home (Thornbury is about 30-40 minutes from the city centre).  But wires got crossed, and I had no way to get back.  The manager disappeared, and reappeared with a skeleton key, to which was attached a golden fob engraved, “Duke’s Jewl Chamber.”  And so I stayed overnight in that beautiful place, where Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn lodged when on their tour of the west country almost 500 years ago.  o_O  Still can’t believe it.

My room was at the top of a dark and winding, though not long, stair, just past a room named after Anne B.   The moon was quite big and bright that night, and the keep walls across the yard from my windows, and the walls and tower of the church, were lit up by soft yellow ground lights.  It was spectacular and romantic.  I was quite warm from the long shift, so I took a short bath in the luxurious washroom (which was behind a great old wooden door with a pre-modern knob-and-latch), then settled in.  There were fleur-de-lis everywhere, even printed on the toilet roll.  I include pictures:ImageImageImage


^^You can see the ivy-covered castle walls just outside–on the other side is the church of St. Mary the Virgin.



^^the woodwork cabinets and door, from the head of the bed (it’s a bit fuzzy, alas for phone photos)




^^close-up of drapes and what I assume are custom-made tissues (with fleur-de-lis printed on them)







^^One side of the inside garden.  Just around the corner to the right is the door to reception; my phone ran out of memory before I could take a photo of the other side : /   You can see that the sky shows through the window above the two shrubs–this part of the castle is obviously not in use by the hotel, either because it fell apart or was never finished.  

Thornbury castle was (partially) built in the early 16th century.  When its owner & builder (a descendant of the Plantagenets) was executed by Henry VIII (in 1521, I think it was), all his property, including Thornbury, came under control of the Crown (with the keep and palace only partially completed, though the wing still in use today was ready as a family residence before the project came to its sudden halt).  Henry did stay in the castle when visiting Gloucester & the West, but it later fell into disrepair from neglect–for a long time, apparently, no one associated with the monarchy had anything to do with it.  After changing hands a few times, a restaurateur in the 1960s turned the castle into the hotel and restaurant that it is now.  But it ain’t cheap to stay! Long weekend in May for two, bed & breakfast style, costs from £330 a night.  But it is amazing.  The town itself is beautiful as well.  When I woke up early on Saturday morning and turned in my Jewl Chamber key to the receptionist, I came out into bracing, cold country air, and walked the short distance up Castle Street to the High Street, and had a lovely coffee and Welsh cake (in Coffee #1) before catching the bus back to the city.  It was so worth the initial awkwardness of not knowing at first what would become of me for the night.


If I have to see one more advert!

I hate the very idea of Hollywood picking up a Biblical narrative simply to capitalize off of it by marketing it to Christians, while in the process thoroughly disrespecting it.  But we oughtn’t to be surprised that they do so!  This new film on Noah was worthy to be detested before anyone even spent the money to see it for themselves; there are resources out there, people who preview things, and can give us the scoop on whether the filmmakers have even bothered to stay true to the text, much less treated the people in it fairly.  When I read what the artists of the film industry did to a righteous man, I was determined not to fork over any dough in support of such disgusting misrepresentation.  Hopefully most Christians will know better, and scoff, when they see this portrait of Noah (like, he wasn’t clueless about God’s plan for repopulating the earth, and he didn’t contemplate infanticide of his grandchild).  Anyone unfamiliar with the account in Genesis may very well go out thinking, ‘Wow, why would God choose that kook?’  Thanks a lot, Hollywood.

And so, why is running a pop-up trailer for this film?  The big posters on secular bus shelters, well, those I try to avoid spitting on.  But why, oh why, Townhall?  You think this film is great for Christians, or conservatives generally?  Do your homework, please.  This film is a farce.

Update:  Of course, I didn’t delude myself into thinking I was the only person ‘talking’ about this.  Alan Kurschner wrote a piece or three (h/t Alpha & Omega Ministries).

On Friendship

Listening to the so-called ‘Women’s Hour’ on BBC Radio 4 is a bit like walking through a meadow of wildflowers that has incidentally grown over a minefield.  You could very well end up gathering quite a nice bouquet, unless you take a misstep.  Sometimes the program is infuriating, sometimes trite, sometimes nonsensical.  This morning’s topic, on friendship among and between women, included some interesting observations and intelligent comments from the interviewees.  But there was something missing which I think is very important.

Whenever they would offer up a quick-and-dirty definition of friendship, or of friends, they typically used phrases like, ‘friends make you feel better about yourself’, ‘friends are all about supporting and affirming you’, ‘friends share your values’, ‘friends stick by you no matter what’, and ‘they support you even when you’ve made a mistake’.  And when one woman was talking about trying to ‘drop’ a friend, it was because she always left the company of that friend ‘feeling bad’.  Friends shouldn’t ‘always’ make you feel bad, surely, but they oughtn’t necessarily to always ‘make you feel good about yourself’ or always ‘affirm you’.  I thought the closest the ladies on the program came to one very important aspect of friendship was the last remark on the list: they support you even when you’ve made a mistake.  This at least half-touches on the reality of friendship.

My very dearest friends have not universally affirmed me, and are not ‘all about’ making me feel good about myself, nor am I all about making them feel good about themselves.  Some of the most definitive points in my friendships with my girl pals were times when they told me hard, even painful truths about myself, or about something I’d done.  Of course they loved me, of course they accepted me, but they made free to tell me when I was wrong (and sometimes it was more than just making a mistake, I’d add).  And that was what the program missed–friendship is about truth as much as it is about anything else.  Friends who share values, especially if the friends are Christians, should foster relationships that help one another grow, and that means saying and doing hard things.  Support and encouragement are still there, but it’s not about always affirming, because that can lead to stagnation, or blindness.  Friends should help one another become better people, and that requires honesty, truth spoken in love.  Without the freedom to ‘call one another out’, friendship is just a giant tear-catching shoulder, or a mutual admiration society.

Is Anything More Abjectly Frightening than Abject Ignorance?

This is a post I began nearly a month ago, after a series of stupid comments on the internet (I know, I shock you! ) got me–steamed up.  As I’m a woman who doesn’t often get to shuffle out that 20,000 words a day (I think that’s the supposed average), there’s a lot of verbiage, being heaped up higher and higher in my brain, needing to be used, and when the ignorance on display (instantaneous thanks to the web) gets to me, the fingers just fly over the keyboard.  I typically try to avoid reading comments (especially on Youtube, the home of the proudly quick-clicking ignorant), but some are real gems.
Here are a couple that were posted beneath a ‘fake’ religious article published on a Nigerian news site.  The article sensationalistically declared that the current pope has done what many are probably fearing (maybe even reasonably so)–he’s denied core Christian doctrines (for example, the biblical teaching on Hell).  Skipping over the article here, I post below the top comment, and a young woman’s response to it:
Comment 1: “Wow!this is truly the last days,the great tribulation is about to start.the bible says that God is the same yesterday today and forever.His words never changes.God is not like man that he should change.instead of men to change and meet Gods standard now the church is changing and and forcing its members to conform with the dictates of the world.according to him(pope)as written here;’the Bible is now a beautiful holy book’ with outdated passages.Christain beware this is not the voice of a servant of God.He does not see the bible as the sacred word of God but a piece of literature with outdated passages.Those things the word of God and the bible condems he now embraces.The bible warns that nobody should subtract or add to the words written in it or else God will remove the person’s name in the book of life or add the plagues and diseases written in the bible in the person’s life.believers please watch and pray for the end is near.

calm down lol. the end is not near. honey the bible is equivelent to greek mythology. it’s stories with a message. the message is love. he’s preaching love, and acceptance of your fellow man. the end is not near, this is very much the beginning…. the beginning of us building our brotherhood and communities again. don’t fight it because of your silly stories. you’ll just be the one left out of the love.”

… Huge [SIC], by the way.  I know, it’s painful.

I will not comment on the first comment–I have only provided it for context.  For the majority of this post, I’m going to focus on the assertion(s) made in the second.  There were many more examples of shocking, mortifying ignorance on display in the comments section beneath this article, often expressed in lackluster language and writing (almost as depressing as the half-baked thoughts and assertions conveyed), ranging from allegations of hypocrisy against a Christian (I assume) in the comments thread, but it was difficult to know to whom it was directed.  It was posted by someone who is apparently a data analyst at [a?] state department of education, who, unfortunately, appears to be only half-literate (perhaps he turns off his brain when he’s online & logged into Facebook).

And then there was a long diatribe by a supposed witch, so excited by the *gulp* unity (?) Francis is promoting.  She was droning on and on about ‘energy’ a la Cesar Millan…with a such a huge gap in worldview between her and even a super-liberal Roman Catholic (setting the pope aside for the moment), how can she possibly think that this a sign of great things to come, and that all Catholics, much less all Christians, are going to recognise that the Wicca and spiritualists have been right all along, or something?  People really do come out of the woodwork and onto the internet to voice their baseless and ridiculous opinions.

Anyway, onto the reply comment.  As I’ve written in (hopefully fair) criticism of fellow-Christians before, people really should know what they’re talking about before spouting off in public forums.  Perhaps you don’t like religion, but if you can’t explain why, your opinion isn’t worth anything.  And if you choose to denigrate a religion by equating it to something you find ‘silly’ (an attitude toward an ancient religion which, this girl probably doesn’t realise, is extremely intolerant and condescending), but at the same demonstrate that you don’t understand the religion in question, or the silly thing, you have just disqualified yourself from taking part in the Exchange in the Marketplace of Ideas.  It’s probably time for you to just listen for a while.

Greek Religion and Christianity have a couple of things in common: they are belief systems [one of which is far more coherent than the other, for what that’s worth] which endeavour to make sense of the world; they provide a way for humans to relate to the Ruler(s) of the kosmos.  And that’s about where the similarities end.  One is polytheistic, one is monotheistic; one has an internally consistent, singular narrative of cosmology, while the other has a myriad of variations; one has a deity who has revealed Himself several times throughout history, to people in certain circumstances, as well as though Holy Spirit-inspired writing, that again is consistent, personally, morally and theologically; the other has many deities, with the potential for incorporating more, whose natures are unpredictable, whose individual power, influence, character, and righteousness are fluid, depending on the narrative, and depending on the stage/period of the culture; salvation, if, in Greek Mythology, there is such a thing (in most periods, there wasn’t), is gained by doing something impressive, or heroic.  But this was in myth, not necessarily regarded as something accessible to human beings.  In Homer, death was the great leveler: the afterlife was a dull flitting about in the underworld, to which everyone goes, and Achilles himself says he would rather be alive, a slave working a field, than a famous *dead* hero.

Later, things became a bit more complicated.  Some Greeks believed in reincarnation; some hoped to become permanent members of a god’s entourage through a mystery cult.  If you were extra special, you might be deified, and your family or village might erect a little shrine to you, present your shade with votive offering and prayers, the origin of many hero cults.  This also became trendy later in Imperial Rome: several of Roman emperors got to become divi, declared so by SPQR post-mortem.

As far as the meaning of life and nature of man, the world sucks and people do bad because of various things described in the Theogony–the gods wanted man to work, or to suffer for wrongdoing (it could have been because of a profane(d) sacrifice, it could be because of Pandora, or Prometheus– the explanations are varied).  At any rate, any sort of ‘relationship’ with the gods was reserved for the few.  Ritual and sacrifice were the focus for the devout, or even semi-devout, it was very much a matter of practice rather than spirit or heart, and was very much sort of civic glue, since religion was public rather than private, and involved the whole polis (with the exception of the hearth gods and mystery cults, which still involved the community attached to it) .   Narrative in Greek mythology concerned the shift of power between heroes, cities and empires, and speculations as to why power would shift from one people to another, and why the gods chose some to be successful, and others to fall (this did not depend on any given person’s or group’s ‘worthiness’).  Myth and history are intertwined in terms of how power works.  Certainly there were always developments in Greek Religion as such, especially after the arrival on the scene of the great philosophers, pre-Socratics through Aristotle and on.

But anyway, this person was speaking of ‘Greek Mythology’, so we’ll keep our focus there.   In Christianity, there is essentially a single narrative focus: God’s plan of redemption.  The Bible tells us exactly why the world is the way it is, and why mankind has been separated from God.  It tells us exactly how God responded to the Fall, and how he worked to set apart a people for himself, not because they could be good enough to deserve it, or because they in themselves pleased him, but simply because he chose to act in grace and mercy, and not to judge all the world, as He rightly and justly could have done.   After centuries’ worth of history of intervening for his chosen people, He sent His son Jesus Christ to take man’s place, and die to redeem all who believe in him.  Then Christ rose again, proving that he was the Messiah, the son of God and perfect savior.  Greek mythology has NOTHING on this (nor does any other faith, for that matter).   Regardless of what you think of either religion, they are not the same.  Sad that someone could assert the equivalent of, ‘this apple and this orange are the same kind of fruit, and oh, both are stupid’, and more than that, put it in writing and throw it up online.  Still sadder, in our world, someone can do that and (not wrongly) expect to be taken seriously.

All this, and we haven’t even talked about her interpretation of the Bible’s ‘message’ of ‘love’ and take on human nature.  Except for perhaps ‘lol’, I doubt she can explain anything she wrote.

After all that depressing grind, something positive is required.  But it is just a grey rainy day…

Listening to F4F, and for the first time in a long time listened to a Marty Python vignette in its entirety.  They included a reference to Montezuma’s Revenge, which reminds me of Chocozuma’s Revenge.  Which chuffs me.   (This email’s making fun of you!) But I have to admit, I did enjoy the pirate adventure.   Almost makes up for the terrible ThinkGeek ad Pirate Christian Radio runs: the supposed ‘geeks’ say that the makers of Star Trek invented ‘proton’ torpedoes.  So lame–why didn’t they find real trekkies?  We’re not that rare!  And even people who aren’t die-hard trekkies know that it’s ‘photon’.  Ugh.   I comfort myself with Haribo!

In our next post, we will discuss something more substantial, perhaps even query letters!