Tag Archives: Christianity

Aside

Yep, your position as an entitled consumer trumps your position as a Christian who is told to love enemies. Your position as an American trumps your duty to “the least of these,” especially those at the border. Cover the cross … Continue reading

Assessing Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church against the book ‘Twisted Scriptures’


Mars Hill Church might be more effective in its executive leadership’s goals if those leaders had read some of the books on abuses in the “discipleship” and “shepherding” movements as well as amongst garden-variety legalists and authoritarians in the pulpits and on the hipster contemporary worship stage.

That way, the executive elders would know what appearances and perceptions to avoid.

(They could learn quite a bit from the current and last White Houses when it comes to controlling information and giving answers so clever, even seasoned journalists gave the administrations a pass on sidestepping important isses, because the sidestepping was just so damn good you had to admire it. Makes you wonder what Janet Mefferd could do if she wasn’t working for evangelicals and, apparently, people who worship Tyndale House’s advertising money or Mark Driscoll’s influence more than the truth.)

For example, they could have readTwisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches that Abuse, a ground-breaking book by Mary Alice Chrnalogar. First released in 1997, it focuses on patterns of overbearing authority in U.S. Christianity as well as in some infamous groups like Heaven’s Gate.

I bring up the topic because 45 elders have left Mars Hill Church in the past 3 years:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/06/12/departed-mars-hill-church-elders-since-2012/

And I bring up the topic because Mars Hill Church uses pressure and fear to protect itself from former pastors:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/03/09/a-former-mars-hill-pastor-speaks-out-and-why-others-are-afraid-the-mars-hill-church-non-disclosure-agreement/

If you’ve already those posts, you’ll know why Chrnalogar’s list of questions, offered to readers who wonder if their church is abusive or authoritarian, is completely legitimate for the context.

In your group, Chrnalogar asks, did you see that…

》Leadership was excessively esteemed?

》Leaders were not accountable to members?

》You were led to think that good solid teaching outside this group was rare? …

》Your leaders had a corner on wisdom?  …

》Former life experiences and lessons were less valuable than what you learned in the group?  …

[Wow. Isn't that true of nearly every church that boasts a "high view of Scripture"? But as far as Mars Hill Church goes, I'm guessing some of those 45 elders (mentioned above) left because they realized, or were told, their time-seasoned insights weren't in line with Party doctrine.]

》 The prevailing attitude was that objections and questions from members stemmed not from reasoned and fairly objective analysis but rather from the person’s spiritual or emotional problems? …

》 Dissenting was always bad? …

[For the last two listed just above, see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/05/31/another-mars-hill-church-pastor-fired-reportedly-for-questioning-executive-elders/  and also see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/05/27/forced-out-for-asking-questions-dalton-rorabacks-mars-hill-church-story/ .]

》Members were rarely advised to seek professional counsel?

[Be sure to see  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2014/06/24/mars-hill-churchs-demon-trials-mental-illness-considered-sign-of-demonic-involvement-along-with-pedophilia-and-habitual-lying/ .]

Clarification on my previous post


So much for blogging by smart phone.

The first version of the previous post had a final paragraph in which I began to make comments about the composition of worship teams in contemporary services — and then, I accidentally published the post before it was finished.

Big fingers on a small device.

Due to that premature posting and an uncompleted final paragraph, I might have unfairly and unintentionally offended some people. I really didn’t mean to.

Sincerely, the point I was trying to make about worship teams in contemporary services was that the musicians and singers tend to be artsy and sophisticated people, and I was going toward the question of whether, in some cases, the fullness of a worship team’s efforts are lost on some visitors (and that might not be important, witness Babette’s Feast).

I should add, too, that I was not aiming the comments at a specific worship team.

Maybe it’s too easy to assume I’m aiming many posts at a local church, but I have attended numerous Sunday contemporary services in the Carolinas, including churches in Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte, Myrtle Beach, and Pawleys Island, as well as across the pond in London and somewhere in Hampshire County, U.K.

Most of the time, the musicianship was outstanding.

My thoughts about the ubiquity, the near cliche’, of contemporary services are not intended to criticize individual musicians and singers and performers, or their abilities.

Twenty years ago, an early version of Crossroads Fellowship (a church that only had contemporary services) was meeting in Sanderson High School in Raleigh, N.C. There, I frequently heard an outstanding saxophone player who I remember to this day. I also recall a bass player who was good enough to play gigs (jazz maybe?) around town, in addition to his service at Crossroads on Sunday mornings.

Not all contemporary services have skits and short dramas, but back when Beach Church was Myrtle Beach Community Church, I played parts in two short performances, and I wrote a short play that was used in another Sunday morning service.

So, today, while I was out and about, when I realized the post had been published prematurely, I decided to delete the entire final paragraph as a quick and easy solution.

But I realized that some people might have seen the first version and, due to the uncompleted paragraph, might have thought I was ending with a snide remark about the worship teams. I wasn’t and I apologize for any undeserved offenses.

 

Could the evangelical crisis come from misguided outreach?


Note, 5:15 p.m. Eastern, June 12: Please also see my clarification regarding the first version of this post. 

For the most part, evangelicals have demonstrated themselves to be more interested in people who go to sports bars than people who go to museums.

That would probably be great if most evangelicals actually were going to sports bars rather than rapidly proliferating “contemporary worship services” on the pretense that the only thing keeping people from church is public order and pipe organs.

What if evangelicals offered as many soup kitchens as contemporary worship services? That would offer needy people something they actually need, rather than provide middle class families with more entertainment options.

Of course, that’s a bunch of generalization. Keep your contemporary worship service if you like it. But maybe the same energy and effort could answer specific, vital needs.

Crosspost: Voddie Baucham, Shy Kids, and Spanking 5 Times Before Breakfast


Colin Foote Burch:

First, my wife educates our children at home.

Second, the faddish curricula denounced by the author in her post below are indeed poisonous.

Third, something is extremely wrong with the Bible-believing Protestant outlook in the United States when Voddie Bauchman becomes an expert to anyone about anything (then again, he didn’t invent the idea of spanking little kids constantly for each minor infraction).

While Ed Stetzer and others try to revitalize churches in the U.S. through studious engagement with missiology and evangelism, they remain silent about the plethora, the hoards, the multitudes galvanized by dangerous kooks. It takes a certain amount of brainwashing, “groupthink,” or “social proof” for the galvanized multitudes to exist, but meanwhile, outsiders look at the child-rearing beliefs propagated by the dangerous kooks and intuitively know those beliefs are horribly misguided.

Let me be crystal clear: I’m not equating Stetzer and Bauchman.

But I’m not sure how Stetzer and his well-intentioned followers will distance themselves from people like Bauchman. Apparently, on the surface level, in the sense of daily language, the former believes nearly the same theology and doctrine as the latter.

I doubt there will be much success for Stetzer and his cohorts when “Christian” means everything from child abuse to self-help tips, and when the Bible can say anything, when any slender biblical phrase becomes an adequate foundation for a crazy interpretation – which sounds like a caricature of Freudian literary interpretation! Bauchman, Freudian literary critic — who knew? (Be sure to read the accompanying post below.)

The message of Christianity cannot be “spank your kids a lot, for every infraction.”

 

Also, consider: Maybe Stetzer would have more help today if Christian adults hadn’t years ago wrecked their children by following egotistical, over-confident men with Bibles and a smug sophomore’s ability to assemble proof from a text.

CAN YOU BUILD A MOVEMENT THAT CONSTANTLY POISONS ITSELF?

No — but don’t stop believin’.

 

Originally posted on H . A:

Crosspost: Voddie Baucham, Shy Kids, and Spanking 5 Times Before Breakfast

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 17, 2013.

One of the traps that we got ourselves caught in was looking to religious leaders for guidance on how to raise our children. It’s ok to seek guidance, but we didn’t always check what we learned with scripture. We read a lot of books and went to parenting seminars/classes over the years:  Train Up A ChildShepherding a Child’s HeartTitus2.com, Ezzo’s Growing Kids God’s Way, etc.

We weren’t the only ones. Some of these books/classes were trendy and many churches across the states would jump on the bandwagon. During the mid 1990s, I spent time visiting homeschool forums online and I’d hear of new parenting books/programs popping up…

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Upset about gay marriage? American Christianity is the culprit


This brief podcast by The Week magazine makes an interesting argument from the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville:

Why I’m obsessed with Pastor Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism


I explained my obsession with Pastor Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism to someone on Facebook today:

Admittedly it’s a foolhardy endeavor, like spitting in the wind. If enough people like a minister, he can be as dishonest as he wants to be and get away with it, just like our elected officials. So far, Driscoll’s “accountability team” and alleged Christian publishing house Tyndale are A-OK with breaking standards that would get me fired, or get any kid in my classes a failing grade and a permanent mark on his academic record. I shouldn’t be so worked up about it, though, considering in the Roman Catholic Church, priests can rape children and the worst that will happen is they’ll get moved to a new church. So that’s the power of Christian ministry for you: cheat or molest, because either way, your job is secure! Praise the Lord, who must be sleeping.

As it would happen, a little more than 3 hours ago (from the time I’m writing this), NorthlandsNewsCenter.com in Minnesota posted “Bishop Sirba releases names of 17 priests accused of sexual abuse in Duluth Diocese,” which read in part:

Duluth Bishop Paul Sirba has released the names of 17 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in the [Roman Catholic] Duluth Diocese.

During a news conference, officials with the Duluth Diocese said the priests on the list have been removed from the church, are under investigation or were deceased before the accusations were known.

Officials also released the names of five other priests with ties to the area who have been accused while working in other ministries.

The Diocese says the the accusations of sexual abuse range from 1950 to 2013.

“The release of this information underscores a sad truth that must be acknowledged: Over the last 65 years, a number of clergy members in the Diocese of Duluth have violated the sacred trust placed in them by children, youth and their families,” says Bishop Sirba.

Read the entire article here.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already seen it, more book publishers and authors might have been victims of Driscoll’s plagiarism.

Andy Crouch’s ideological alchemy: turning facts into abstractions


Updated at 10 p.m. to include quotations from Robert Jay Lifton and Thomas Sowell, plus some rewriting and clarifying.

New allegations of plagiarism are dogging Pastor Mark Driscoll, but the way in which some evangelicals have defended him is equally troubling.

On December 10, Andy Crouch of Christianity Today wrote an article that gave readers the secret knowledge of what was really going on with the scandal surrounding Driscoll’s plagiarism.

The article, entitled “The Real Problems with Mark Driscoll’s ‘Citation Errors’,” revealed a frightening misunderstanding of plagiarism. I say frightening only because the misunderstanding was coming from Crouch, the executive editor of a magazine. He should know better.

The real problem, the article’s subhead told us, was not plagiarism. For the record, I have, and a far better scholar than me has, already argued that plagiarism is indeed a matter of fact in this controversy.

But that’s not the biggest problem, for me or for Crouch. Near the end of the article, Crouch says, “The real danger here is not plagiarism — it is idolatry.”

Stop. Carefully note this rhetorical move.

Crouch has moved us from a fact detectable by our senses (plagiarism) to an abstraction that can only be understood internally (idolatry).

Crouch has also claimed to reveal the inner motivations of Driscoll fans.

This quick, poorly defended move has historical and cultural precedent. It comes with the force of beliefs already firmly held by Crouch’s audience, and the force of assumptions long anchored in Western culture.

Like all good ideologies, evangelicalism depends upon its own special knowledge of inner motivations.

As the Brit historian Paul Johnson has noted, Marx and Freud (not normally heroes in evangelicalism) claimed special insight. Freud, Johnson wrote, “believed in the existence of a hidden structure of knowledge which, by using the techniques he was devising, could be discerned beneath the surface of things.”

Johnson continued to say Marxism “was another form of gnosticism claiming to peer through the empirically-perceived veneer of things to the hidden truth beneath.”

Or, as Thomas Sowell noted in Forbes magazine, Nov. 18, 1996, “Hannah Arendt said that the great achievement of 20th-century totalitarians was to turn questions of fact into questions of motive.”

Ever since, one-upping an opponent has never been easier.

Here’s a hyperbolic hypothetical example: “You don’t even know your own motives — but I do! Because I have the secret knowledge, the insight, the gnosis, and because you haven’t studied this or that theory, I can blindside you, throw you off balance, shut down your point of view with a dazzling insight that feels like argument and slays like hypnosis.”

Is Crouch completely wrong? I would not say so. Is idolatry a real danger? I would say yes, it is.

However, Crouch’s rhetorical move places, in text, evangelicalism’s observable problem of gnosticism.

You see, Crouch suggests the material reality of plagiarism isn’t the problem. To put it another way, the plain, obvious comparisons between the source texts and Driscoll’s texts are not the problem. Our darling young evangelical, our fundamentalist leader with a hipster wardrobe, certainly cannot possibly be the problem.

What’s the real problem? The unseen, abstract, volitional, arguable yet unprovable issue of idolatry in the “heart” is the problem. And it’s a problem we all could have.

And here’s how we could carry-on with that line of feeling:

Since we all could have this problem of idolatry, since we all really do, we cannot throw stones, we cannot situate the hard evidence, we cannot hold this leader accountable.

Now everyone is looking inward, everyone is considering what sinners they are because of these invisible, internal feelings — and no one is looking at facts or evidence or the law.

Gosh darn it, Andy Crouch, you’re right — we’re all sinners! How can I ever point out the evil in the world around me when I ought to be feeling the conviction of my own failings?

Questions of fact turned into questions of motive.

Abstractions are more easily managed than facts.

Consider Dr. Robert Jay Lifton’s Criteria for Thought Reform, a tool that has been used to understand “brainwashing” regimes like North Korea during the Korean War, and to analyze groups that seem “cultic.”

A section of the criteria is entitled, “Doctrine Over Person,” and it is in this section that both Crouch’s article and Driscoll’s early handling of plagiarism revelations return a faint echo.

Consider these points from “Doctrine Over Person” (the boldface sections are my emphases):

 

  • Every issue in one’s life can be reduced to a single set of principles that have an inner coherence to the point that one can claim the experience of truth and feel it
  • The pattern of doctrine over person occurs when there is a conflict between what one feels oneself experiencing and what the doctrine or ideology says one should experience
  • If one questions the beliefs of the group or the leaders of the group, one is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to even question — it is always “turned around” on them and the questioner/criticizer is questioned rather than the questions answered directly
  • The underlying assumption is that doctrine/ideology is ultimately more valid, true and real than any aspect of actual human character or human experience and one must subject one’s experience to that “truth”

 

For example, go back and listen to the exchanges between Janet Mefferd and Mark Driscoll on the former’s radio show. Mefferd’s the one who kicked-off the big national fuss about Driscoll’s plagiarism. In fairness to Driscoll, he was caught off guard by Mefferd’s on-air confrontation. However, Driscoll certainly turned the questioning back on the questioner, saying she was grumpy and rude and not behaving in a spiritually appropriate manner.

Furthermore, “idolatry” has become a commonplace idea in evangelical and Reformed circles, to the point of becoming a thought-terminating cliche’. The idea has taken on a life of its own, has become everyone’s reflexive answer.

No, I don’t think evangelicalism is co-equal with Freudian thought or Marxism.

Except there’s one crucial way evangelicalism can be like other forms of ideology.

In Thank You for Arguing, Jay Heinrichs writes, ” ‘Ideology’ once meant the study of ideas; now it means a shared belief. Ideas become beliefs when people identify with them — when they help define the group itself.”

For a moment, consider a missionary ideology as a specific point of view held by a minority group that wants to convert the entire human race (it could be religious or political or something else).

Because of the lack of foothold this (or your or my) ideology has in this world, and because so few people have recognized The Truth, our leaders have to be right even when they’re wrong.

Our leaders have to be right, or else The Truth won’t go forward. It’s more important that The Truth carry on than the leader’s ethical lapse be properly adjudicated.

The end justifies the means.”

As many others have pointed out, the Soviet Union was for the people so much that it had to kill a few million people to make sure the people succeeded. (I know, right?)

The material reality of those political executions could not overcome the inner beliefs about The Truth of Soviet communism.

Inner beliefs overcame moral reflexes and basic human conscience and glaring, horrific evidence.

Beliefs were strong enough to allow atrocities to continue in the name of those beliefs.

Hey, I know, the Driscoll mess is just plagiarism and copyright infringement. Unethical, possibly illegal, but far from murder.

Crouch simply tried to draw attention away from plagiarism and to something he feels is more important.

Moral equivalence never was my point.

The move from facts to abstractions is treacherous — that’s my point.

Such a move can allow unchecked power to expand.

It’s an evil alchemy that takes place in the mind and causes people to submit, uncritically, to authority. The move from facts to abstractions is a treacherous move in little things as well as big things.

These days, you might argue, evangelicals are more likely to cut loose one of their own than to allow someone to get away with a moral lapse. You know what? You might be right.

(Although, so far, Tyndale House, and of course Mr. Andy Crouch of Christianity Today, and some mystical, so-called accountability bodies seem to be giving Driscoll a passport stamp and a big smile. “Write on, brother, write on!”)

Even so, big problems begin when alchemists turn facts into abstractions, when an iffy inner light, flicked on by presumptuous words, blinds the senses.

Peter Enns agrees with me! OK, seriously, he just might, maybe


I was frustrated with Tim Keller following my exchange with him about textual criticism of the Bible in university classes.

However, in this post from April, scholar Peter Enns talks about the need for evangelicals (generalized) to re-evaluate how they read the Bible.

(I know — the post appeared in April. But my despair about American Christianity steers me from reading blogs that might deepen my despair. One must guard against crippling depression if one is to provide for a family. One can only meditate upon The Sickness Unto Death so many times.)

I’m sure some readers will miss the overlap between the two posts, but at least to my way of thinking, how someone reads an authoritative text, and how someone applies that authoritative text, equally sit at the center of Enns’ post and my post.

However, I don’t approach all this from seminary training.

I speak from 40 years of Christian faith and doubt,

4 Christian schools (kindergarten through 12th grade) of various affiliations,

6 churches of various evangelical and charismatic and mainline associations,

Intervarsity Christian Fellowship small group leader training,

Small group student leadership for NCSU’s IVCF,

Summit Ministries Worldview Camp,

A full term at L’Abri Fellowship in Greatham, England,

10 years in a formerly Knight Ridder-owned newspaper newsroom,

3 years of owning and operating a coffeehouse-used bookstore-performance space,

and now 5 years of teaching in a state university.

But, hey, everyone can show me the abstract mathematical reasons why my previous concerns and warnings were wrongheaded.

In the above-linked post, Enns uses the familiar metaphors of ear to the ground and finger on the pulse to describe Keller’s sensitive awareness of evangelical culture.

Here’s another metaphor for the evangelical situation: You can have complete awareness of what’s going on in your house, you can know it like the back of your hand, you can master interior decorating and all kinds of home repair, and still miss the approaching EF-5 tornado.

Paradoxes for Better Living, 9


Cover of "Orthodoxy"

Cover of Orthodoxy

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors and mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying. And it has held up ever since above the European lances the banner of mystery and chivalry: the Christian courage, which is a disdain of death; not the Chinese courage, which is a disdain of life.” – G.K. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy 

Aside

Just some interesting stats I discovered: Apparently, the high-water mark for Episcopalians — or membership in The Episcopal Church USA — was from 1959 to 1967. See the stats here. What’s strange, however, is the number of Episcopalian clergy continued … Continue reading

Kierkegaard versus the Christian apologists: faith and reason in genuine tension


“Religious apologists today might mumble about the power of faith and the limits of reason, yet they are the first to protest when it is suggested that faith and reason might be in tension. Far from seeing religious faith as a special, bold kind of trust, religious apologists are now more likely to see atheism as requiring as much faith as religion. Kierkegaard saw clearly that that faith is not a kind of epistemic Polyfilla that closes the small cracks left by reason, but a mad leap across a chasm devoid of all reason.

“That is not because Kierkegaard was guilty of an anarchic irrationalism or relativistic subjectivism. It is only because he was so rigorous with his application of reason that he was able to push it to its limits. He went beyond reason only when reason could go no further, leaving logic behind only when logic refused to go on.”

– Julian Baggini, in “I Still Love Kierkegaard

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Stephen R. Holmes on history and location


“Because of the doctrine of creation, historical locatedness is something good. The tradition we inherit is part of our location in history, and so in doing theology it is necessary to relate to the tradition.” — Stephen R. Holmes in Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology

Notice the assumptions in the title of the book: Theology is somewhat abstract and intellectual, while tradition is somewhat tangible and embodied.

Also, consider what Holmes is saying, and I’ll put my own interpretative spin on it: even if you don’t believe in “sacred spaces,” you can appreciate that many people have worshipped within a certain place, and you can appreciate that all the symbolism within a place points to Christ or to the Trinity, and you can appreciate that someone, whether the craftsman or just the purchaser, cared that tangible things would be symbols for God, for Christ, and for the glory of God. After all, in Christian belief, the printed word “Jesus” is not the Incarnated God, yet the word stands as a symbol for the Incarnated God. If words can refer to God, than other symbols can, too, and a place with many symbols can be considered special without being considered idolatrous. We don’t fix a flood with a drought, as Thomas Howard said in a quotation I posted the other day.

Why I argue with ministers


“The clarity and cogency that philosophy brings is accordingly something that has a potentially positive role to play in every impartial area of human endeavor, Christianity by no means excluded. No church can exist in easy comfort with its intellectuals and theologians, but no church can be a thriving concern among thinking people if it dispenses with their services.” — Nicholas Rescher, in Philosophers Who Believe

But I don’t think that requires an attempt to wear smartness on one’s sleeve. I’m thinking this through with a few questions: I’m already in my church, but would I join it today? Is my church the kind of place where I would feel comfortable inviting my colleagues? What if answering both of those questions affirmatively did not involve a conference on apologetics or brainy sermons? So what would it involve?

Revitalizing liturgical worship: Loren Mead on fads and worship


“When the new way is considered the only way, there is no continuity, fads become the new Gospel and in Paul’s words, the church is ‘blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine’.” — Loren Mead, in The Once and Future Church

The historical continuity and connections have meant the most the me, regardless of changes in the liturgy over time. The changes within various liturgies are no where near as radical as the changes in approaches to worship. As Mead suggests, emotional highs have taken the place of both the solemnity and the education within the liturgical worship services.

One should ask why emotional highs are important to God, why emotional highs are important to individual spiritual growth, and why (for many churches) worship has become inextricably tangled with emotional highs.

Why is my rock concert experience worth duplicating in church? Why is my Super Bowl experience worth duplicating in church? Our emotions ebb and flow but God remains constant.