Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Discipleship Changes Things - The Words We Use

When we become disciples of Jesus - or become serious about following him - all kinds of things are supposed to change. The Jesus way of life is a new way; a way of thinking, believing, and doing that is often radically different than other non-Jesus ways of doing things. So it would follow that discipleship to Jesus begins to transform our lives in ways we may expect, and in ways we may not expect. So, what kinds of changes might we expect if we begin to authentically follow Jesus? Over time I want to flesh out several changes, but here is one you might not expect.

Our vocabulary changes, and I don't mean we stop swearing. We may very well stop swearing when we become disciples, but I am thinking of a much more significant shift in the way we understand and use words. Words are powerful things. Language is more life-shaping than you probably think. At the very least, words signify things and ideas. When we use words we are verbalizing what is going on around us or within us. We express relationships between things in the world and we express what is going on in our inner states. We say, "The light is green," and we mean to say something about not only a certain colored light, but to also convey meaning. We are saying, "it is your turn to drive." We can say, "I feel anxious," and reveal something going on within us that another person may not know unless we say it, and we may be communicating a need for sympathy or reassurance. In either case, we use words in ways that we believe will communicate with other people.

So it is with our use of words and ideas that appear both in Scripture and in the common culture. What do you think of when someone tells you they spent Thanksgiving with their "family"? What ideas and images are conjured in your mind when someone talks about their "anger"? What about "friendship," "work," or "love"? The images and ideas that arise in your mind when people use those words with you are the result of years of contextual content-filling. In other words, those words have already been defined for you (in large part) by your background, education, language, culture, and so forth. Exaggerating a bit, you might say that whoever or whatever filled your vocabulary with meaning has also given you your view of how the world works.

There is an unavoidable tension here for the disciple of Jesus. Christian theology and practice wants to use words one way and the rest of the world wants to use them in another way. We live in a pluralistic culture, becoming more so all the time, and each corner of our culture wants to use words in different ways.  The more ways a single word is used, the more difficult it becomes to maintain a straightforward belief in the way "we" think that word ought to be used. To put it another way, if the church teaches you one thing about "love" for one hour a week, and media teaches you a very different thing about "love" 40-60 hours a week, which meaning will be easier to believe? And if you want to believe what the church teaches about "love" then you will need to work harder at it.

But then, it seems this is one thing the follower of Christ learns to do if they plan on being genuine disciples. If we are discipled by someone or something, we are taught a view of the world by them. The disciple is striving to learn the Jesus way of life, including the Jesus way of using words. This means that we learn how to begin with sound biblical ways of understanding words and their respective concepts and carry them into our respective niches of society. What normally happens is the reverse is the case. Church and Christian theology often feel odd or antiquated to us because we have let other things define the terms for us.

So, what does it mean for you to robustly learn and absorb the biblical meaning of "love" or "forgiveness" or "work" and then engage your world? We are all waiting to see, and we will all be better for it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Links with Little Context

What are the rights of Donor-Conceived People? by Alana S. Newman

We’ve created a class of people who are manufactured, and treat them as less-than-fully human, demanding that they be grateful for whatever circumstances we give them. While fathers of traditionally conceived human beings are chased down and forced to make child support payments as a minimal standard of care, people conceived commercially are reprimanded when they question the anonymous voids that their biological fathers so “lovingly” left.

Five Ways Liberals Ignore Science by David Harsanyi

It’s no big deal for us to ask Republican evolution skeptics to raise their hands or force a bogus Senate vote to try and shame Republicans, yet no reporter would ever think to ask a pro-choice politician if they believe life begins at conception. Sometimes denialism matters and sometimes it doesn’t.

Why It Matters That the Exodus Really Happened by Gregory Alan Thorbury

Truth matters. People want to know the answers: the who, the what, the when, the how, and the why. And without providing those little truths, they may never learn of the ultimate Truth behind them.

Molecular Biology Has Failed to Yeild a Grand "Tree of Life"  by Casey Luskin

Unfortunately, one assumption that these evolutionary biologists aren't willing to re-evaluate is the assumption that universal common ancestry is correct. They appeal to a myriad of ad hoc arguments -- horizontal gene transfer, long branch attraction, rapid evolution, different rates of evolution, coalescent theory, incomplete sampling, flawed methodology, and convergent evolution -- to explain away inconvenient data which doesn't fit the coveted treelike pattern. As a 2012 paper stated, "phylogenetic conflict is common, and frequently the norm rather than the exception." At the end of the day, the dream that DNA sequence data would fit into a nice-neat tree of life has failed, and with it a key prediction of neo-Darwinian theory.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Is The "Pastor as Leader" Paradigm Destroying Pastors?

In his refreshing book, Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul, Lance Witt collects several distressing statistics regarding pastors and their vocation:

1,500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each month in America. 80% of pastors and 85% of their spouses feel discouraged in their roles....Over 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living. Over 50% of pastors’ wives feel that their husband entering ministry was the most destructive thing to ever happen to their families. 30% of pastors said they had either been in an ongoing affair or had a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner. 71% of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis. One out of every ten ministers will actually retire as a minister.

There is a lot to be said about what these stats represent, and Witt does a wonderful job talking about the importance of restoring the pastor's soul and leading from the depths that can be created by God. But there is something more to be said. It is a frustration I have with the 'pastor as leader' model that has become a kind of talisman in the evangelical world over the past three decade.

Pastors are not CEO-style leaders. Yet they have been treated as such and expected to lead and produce results like captains of industry. My working theory is that one significant reason pastors have such an incredible failure and dropout rate right now is that they are pressured to be the kinds of things they are not by nature. Here is a nutshell version of how my theory works.

1. Our culture and our churches have almost completely lost a biblical definition of the role of pastor.
2. Our culture and our churches are enamored with the seemingly magical techniques of corporate management.
3. Because we lost the one and learned the other, we imposed corporate-style management on pastors.
4. That kind of leadership requires a certain kind of leader to make it "work" and most people called into the pastorate are not that kind of leader.
5. Hence, most pastors quickly become frustrated, depressed, and angry.

So, there it is. I hope over the next few days to tease out each assertion and make more sense of what we have done to pastors and the church and how, God willing, we can reverse course.