Monday, March 27, 2006

The Consequence of Vice

This article in the San Francisco Chronicle caught my eye for several reasons. It details a “protest” initiated by popular youth leader Ron Luce in San Francisco against “the virtue terrorism” of popular culture. It was intended to draw evangelical students together for concerts and speeches designed to reinforce a biblical worldview of morality.

Sounds pretty good to me. I don’t exactly agree with Luce’s militant tone and his combative pitch, but it seems good to reinforce a movement that is counter-cultural in the ways described in the article. You can read about Luce’s program at its website.

It seems to me that the more the classical virtues are encouraged in teens, the better culture will be. But not everyone sees it that way. In fact, S.F. greeted the “protesters” with its own counter protest. And the invectives flew with alacrity. One city official called the evangelical teens a “fascist mega-pep rally.” From the article:

Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco,…told counterprotesters at City Hall on Friday that while such fundamentalists may be small in number, "they're loud, they're obnoxious, they're disgusting, and they should get out of San Francisco."

In an example of “fueling the fire,” this excerpt contains militant language from Luce and a backhanded reply by the article’s author:

"Are you ready to go to battle for your generation?" he asked, and the young people roared "yes!" and some waved triangular red flags flown from long, medieval-looking poles.

They were not just “poles” or “sticks,” they were medieval-looking.

What I want to reflect on, though, is exactly how corrupting immorality can be. I am not arguing that all the San Franciscoites quoted in the piece are overly evil, just that they subscribe to a worldview that is licentious, and extremely short on virtue. (Contemporary tolerance, by the way, is not a virtue.)

It is amazing to me that students who are striving to be good spouses, good students, good children, and good citizens are chastised as fascists. The reason this happens, I believe, is that when biblical morality is abandoned it is not long before vice becomes virtue and virtue becomes vice. This is a town that revels in public pornographic displays of sexuality and erupts in a tizzy of faux righteousness when they are called into question. Yet, when kids get together to not have sex or to not get high, they call it evil. To those from the worldview exemplified by many in S.F., the meanings of “virtue” and “vice” are completely and perfectly reversed.

In the kind of dizzyingly hypocritical comment that is becoming all too common these days, the S.F. Board of Supervisors acted:

Earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution condemning the "act of provocation" by what it termed an "anti-gay," "anti-choice" organization that aimed to "negatively influence the politics of America's most tolerant and progressive city."

In this statement, and so many like it, tolerance is an incredibly thin and narrow view of the world. And, darn it, if you disagree with it, don’t expect an ounce of tolerance.

Bravo to those students. And may they know that they are not only on the side of history, common sense, and good reason, but of the Creator of the universe as well.

Postmoderns, Christians, and Worldviews

I am in the middle of reading David Well’s final book in his wonderful four-book series, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ In A Postmodern World.  The book has a lot to commend about it, and though I am only just over half-way through, I thought a couple of things deserved comment.

At the top of the list is his dismay at certain circles in the church who apparently are trying to assimilate postmodernism instead of confronting it.  In a phrase interesting to those familiar with Niebuhr’s categories of cultural engagement, Wells states, “Yet confrontation is always at the heart of the relation between Christ and culture because that relation is one of light and its relation to darkness, truth to false belief, and holiness to what is fallen.” (p. 164)  That strikes me as right.  As he goes on to argue, instead of figuring our how to be relevant (in his words to “reach” our culture by becoming like it), we should be confronting postmodern culture on a worldview level.

In accord with what I have mentioned before, Wells argues in the same chapter that in spite of all its verbal wrangling to the contrary, Postmodernism is a worldview and deserves to be analyzed and critiqued as such.  A very long time ago I posted that Postmodernism contains in it the seeds of the destruction of the church if we become too Postmodern.  Wells agrees: “This casual embrace of what is postmodern has increasingly lead to an embrace of its spiritual yearning [one argument in the book is that it is individual spiritualism disconnected from truth and religion] without noticing that this embrace carries with it the seeds of destruction for evangelical faith.” (p. 158)  His specific examples of such embrace include Middleton, Walsh, and McLaren.  (A poster once remarked that if only I read Walsh I would understand how accurate the postmodern take on epistemology is.  For the record, I have read Walsh and that is why I no longer read much of Walsh.)  

One of Well’s takes on these seeds of destruction is a take on the Greek words for love, Agape and Eros.  Christian, God-like love is Agape.  It begins with God reaching down to sinful humans and their response is enabled by His grace and revelation.  We engage a Truth-something bigger than ourselves, universal, transcultural, and absolute.  Eros love is the only kind of love left when we have become postmodern.  Because there is nothing we can grasp outside of our selves, our love begins in us, looks like us, is in accord with what we want to believe, and ends with ourselves.  Given the epistemological and metaphysical nihilism inherent in Postmodernism, there is no Other with which to engage.  We are all we have access to and all we really need to have access to.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Are All Redemption Stories The Same?

I heard a fellow make an interesting argument on the radio this week regarding Islam and the rest of the religions of the world.  His argument belied two very deep misunderstandings and quite a bit of the bad reasoning so prevalent in our culture today.  His primary argument was that Islam should not be considered a religion because it did not have a theory of redemption (I must admit I am impressed he used the word “redemption”).  His support was that all the other major religions of the world have a theory of redemption that is peaceful, and therefore religious.  Islam, according to him, was violent and therefore did not have a theory of redemption and was then not a religion.

First, I think it could be argued that Islam most certainly does have a theory of redemption that is caught up in works that please Allah.  And in certain important ways, the path of redemption is a violent one.  “Convert or Die,” contrary to popular opinion today, was perfected by the Muslims well before the Middle Ages, and how often are we told that one of the reasons there are so many suicide bombers is their promised reward beyond death?  The fact that one path of redemption is violent does not exclude Islam from the category of “religion.”

The next problem was implicit in the fellow’s argument.  It was the assertion that the rest of the religions of the world were basically the same because their theories of redemption were basically the same.  That “sameness” to him was the peaceful nature of each theory.  That is a little like arguing that all political theories are the same because they are political-or that all people are basically the same person because most of them have two eyes.

The peacefulness or lack thereof in a religion’s redemption story is not a significant factor in determining their identities.  Christianity argues for a redemption process that begins with God speaking, moves to sinful humans responding in His grace, and finishes with God’s act of sacrifice securing resurrection.  Buddhist redemption begins with the individual deep in contemplation and meditation, and ends with a recycling of the soul back into this material world.  The two theories are completely incoherent with each other.  Either one is true and the other is false, or both are false.  It cannot be the case that both are true.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

ADHD Worship

I have encountered and classified a new form of worship.  I am calling it ADHD Worship.  It is classified by the incessant movement of people who not only break out into song from time to time, but use worship time to meet and greet friends, play at dancing together during the faster songs, and nearly never pay attention to the song or the worship leaders.  And of course, during the choruses of fast songs, you are required to jump up and down (the white man’s version of Gospel “creative movement”).

Now as many of you know I grew up in a Pentecostal tradition, and still am part of a worship tradition that is known for its penchant to move from time to time in ways uncomfortable for most Presbyterians.  I have seen rowdy crowds of worshipers, but that is not what I am talking about.

It is said that ADHD kids are OK learning while they are moving around.  So here we have a setting in which apparently the best way to engage God is to become mobile, social, and unfocused.  People often complain that evangelical worship is susceptible to being a concert-well, this is a concert.  In fact, most intimate concert setting I have been in have shown more decorum and respect than this experience did.

It strikes me that for all our evangelical experimenting with worship styles, this has to be one of the lowest forms on the food chain.  Take traditional church hymnody, remove 80% of the theology, simplify the melody and chord structure, never stress reverence and awe, encourage an incredibly privatized form of experience, open the aisles for “meet-and-greets,” and viola you have ADHD worship.  

I am interested in the sensibilities this creates in people, especially young people.  Will they have the capacity to encounter God in worship in reverence and respect?  Will they learn that encountering God is always a matter of emotional highs-even if they have to manufacture it?  Will they deepen their grasp of doctrine or will they develop only a devotional relationship with God?

What happened to God’s still, small voice?  Don’t we need to be quiet, focused, and attentive to hear that?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Jeremiah on Pastoral Plagiarism

I apologize again for the long time between posts.  It has been a busy few weeks.  But fortunately for me, I ran across this passage in Jeremiah this afternoon.

I have posted before on the problem of pastoral plagiarism, and how pervasive it has become.  With the volume of readily available sermons through tapes, radio and the internet, it is abundantly easy for a minister to copy sermons, if not point for point and joke for joke, take enough of the substance to actually plagiarize.  This passage from Jeremiah 23:30-31 makes my point clear.  I quote from The Message:

30"I've had it with the "prophets' who get all their sermons secondhand from each other. 31Yes, I've had it with them. They make up stuff and then pretend it's a real sermon.

In the larger context, God complains the false teachers/prophets are claiming to speak for Him when they haven’t even spent time with Him or in His Word (v. 18).  So the reason the “prophets” were not giving “original material” is because they failed to pay attention to God.

Do too many of our pastors today commit the same mistake for maybe the same reason?  Are some of them too busy being corporate executives and marketers to be listeners of God?

I know the issue of plagiarizing material on a book that has been spoken on billions of times is tricky, but surely we can call a spade a spade.  If a pastor, on a regular basis, does not do the work of trying to connect their congregation to God for this week, then something may be amiss.