Archive for January 28th, 2009

Todd Friel simultaneously struck out and hit a grand slam the other day. The strikeout was by putting 2 and 2 together and getting 13.72349; the home run was in crystallizing one of the biggest flaws of ADM thinking in just a couple minutes.

On his TV show, Friel joined the OCRPIJNGWHTDHTFSTC* Society to dump on Rick Warren’s prayer at President Obama’s inauguration. Early in his prayer, Warren said:

And You are the compassionate and merciful one

Friel then said, “In fairness, [I] wanna take a look at Psalm 145:8″ and the verse was put up on the screen:

The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.

He then said, “In fairness, that may have been Psalm 145:8, although it’s not quite Psalm 145:8; it was different.”

(Gee, that’s twice that he’s said “in fairness”.  Methinks the TV host doth protest too much.)

How, according to Friel, was it different?  It turns out that most of the chapters in the Koran start by saying:

You are compassionate and merciful

Friel then states that this is “the exact phrase that Rick Warren used”.  Um no, Todd it isn’t.  To paraphrase you, “it’s not quite the Koran; it was different.”  The words “And”, “the” and “one” do not appear in the Koran.  Now I realize that this is nit-picking, but not any more than what Friel was doing by saying it wasn’t “quite Psalm 145:8″.

But hey, just because Friel picks nits, let’s not sink to that level.  What seems not to occur to him is that maybe Warren was simply stating a fact that happens to be similar to a Scripture verse and also happens to be similar to something in the Koran.

At least, I would hope that Friel would agree that God is compassionate and merciful.

In other words, maybe Warren wasn’t quoting anything.  See Todd, there’s this thing that some Christians do, where their speech is infused with references and allusions to things found in Scripture, but they’re not quoting it.  This is what happens to some people when their faith constitutes their entire life and isn’t relegated to a few hours a week.  (I’m not saying that none of that is applicable to you, but it does strike me as odd that the concept is so incredibly foreign to you.)

Friel went on to state that Warren twisted two other Scriptures when he prayed:

and we know today that Dr King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven

Yeah, “cloud of witnesses” is a familiar phrase.  But Friel states that Warren was quoting (and twisting) Hebrews 12:1 and Luke 15:10 (a major stretch) to come up with that sentence.  While I am personally unclear regarding the dead’s cognizance of human activity on earth, again we go back to the fact that maybe Warren wasn’t quoting anything.

But here’s the kicker, and how it’s indicative of ADM thinking.  In just a few minutes of video, Friel says the following phrases (some emphases are mine, but many are actually his):

  • that may have been
  • I don’t think
  • I guess only Rick Warren knows
  • seems to be quoting
  • I guess we’ll find out in eternity
  • I think what he’s doing there
  • I also think
  • maybe that’s what he meant
  • I think he basically

That’s a whole bucketload of uncertainty.  In fact, so much so that I have to question the point of even discussing it.  Yet he presents this information with so much certainty and pseudo-authority that it’s clear that he, personally, is uncertain of nothing, and the viewer shouldn’t be either.  He takes some coincidences, mixes in a lot of assumptions, and gives the viewer an (allegedly) undeniable conclusion.  This is the very foundation upon which “discernment” (as practiced by ADMs — not to be confused with actual discernment) is built.

A few other issues of note:

  1. In criticizing Warren’s reference to praying “in the name of the One Who changed my life”, Friel certainly holds in significant derision the concept of salvation being a life-changing experience.  Was it not that way for you, Todd?
  2. Don’t even get me started on Friel’s condescending laughs and sighs.
  3. Most error contains a good bit of truth; “a little leaven” and all that.  So to state that someone who said something that appears in the Koran is quoting (or even referencing) the Koran is ludicrous.
    • “This was more than I could understand.” — There, I’ve just “quoted” Mein Kampf at greater length than Warren allegedly quoted the Koran.
  4. In trying to bolster his “argument” of Warren being spiritually inclusive by (allegedly) quoting the Koran, Friel refers to the “Jewish shema”.  Funny, but every Christian Bible that I’ve seen has Deuteronomy in it.  By referring to the shema as Jewish, Friel denies the constancy and consistency of God.  I doubt that he actually believes that the God of the Old Testament is different from the God of the New Testament; but that’s the misinformation that he purports by that allegation.

There is one thing to credit to Friel, though.  The link to this video was on Slice and it opened by saying “As only he can” (referring to Friel).  And apparently that is so.  In contrast to the ADMs, when Friel starts retrieving certainties and conclusions from bodily orifices, at least he admits to his uncertainty.  Sorta.

* OCRPIJNGWHTDHTFSTC = “Oh, crap; Rick prayed in Jesus’ name; guess we’ll have to dig harder to find something to criticize”

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Out of curiosity I began googling the namesakes of denominations to see what the chances were that any of them were “saved”.   Turns out, online, nobody is guranteed salvation.

John Calvin…nope heresy.

Martin Luther…nope a fraud.

John Wesley…Free will deciever.

Apparently nobody has it right.  Dang it just when I thought I was good.

Look hard enough and long enough and everybody every doctrine has cracks.  Lucky for me my salvation depends on one thing and one thing only…”Believe on me you shall be saved”.

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It’s no doubt that N. T. Wright is a brilliant, yet spiritually humble man.  There is also no doubt that being Anglican and wearing a collar he will be stereotyped and caricatured… regardless of what he actually says and believes.  Furthermore, some will undoubtedly take his Anglo way of looking at things, run it through and American-Evangelical-Modernist point of view and judge it lacking.  That said, when the issue of “What does N. T. Wright believe…” regarding what it takes for someone to be part of the covenant community, to be a Christian, the need to be “born-again” – I figure it best to by-pass those who talk about Wright and let him speak for himself.

Here then are some excerpts from a paper presumably written by Wright under the original title Simply Christian, the whole of which may be found here.  It is a very good essay and I am impressed by his use of imagery.  This is not to say that I agree with everything that Wright writes, this post is simply offered as clarity against the accusation that N. T. Wright is some/any kind of universalist, or that he has a low view of becoming and being a Christian.   In regards to Wright’s comment on how one becomes a Christian, emphasis will be laid on the section Waking Up to the Good News.

Wright uses the metaphor of awaking from sleep to illustrate the manner in which people are awakened to Christ.

There are classic alarm-clock stories. Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, blinded by a sudden light, stunned and speechless, discovered that the God he had worshipped had revealed himself in the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth. John Wesley found his heart becoming strangely warm, and he never looked back. They and a few others are the famous ones, but there are millions more.

And there are many stories, though they don’t hit the headlines in the same way, of the half-awake and half-asleep variety. Some people take months, years, maybe even decades, during which they aren’t sure whether they’re on the outside of Christian faith looking in, or on the inside looking around to see if it’s real.

Here Wright clearly shows his belief in, but not the requirement of a “Damascus Road experience.”  Some would require a person to be able to identify their moment of conversion as proof that it happened, Wright would not (nor I for what that’s worth).

That Wright believes in the necessity of salvation, for being born-again, for “waking up” is obvious in such statements as:

As with ordinary waking up, there are many people who are somewhere in between. But the point is that there’s such a thing as being asleep, and there’s such a thing as being awake. And it’s important to tell the difference, and to be sure you’re awake by the time you have to be up and ready for action, whatever that action may be….

So what is involved in hearing and responding to the Christian gospel? What does it mean to wake up to God’s new world? What does it mean, in other words, to become a member of God’s people, of Jesus’s people—of the church?

The gospel—the “good news” of what the creator God has done in Jesus—is first and foremost news about something that has happened. And the first and most appropriate response to that news is to believe it.

Wright basis this need on two theologically conservative requrement – the need for forgiveness and the need to repent.  Regarding the latter he writes:

When we see ourselves in the light of Jesus’s type of kingdom, and realize the extent to which we have been living by a different code altogether, we realize, perhaps for the first time, how far we have fallen short of what we were made to be. This realization is what we call “repentance,” a serious turning away from patterns of life which deface and distort our genuine humanness. It isn’t just a matter of feeling sorry for particular failings, though that will often be true as well. It is the recognition that the living God has made us humans to reflect his image into his world, and that we haven’t done so. (The technical term for that is “sin,” whose primary meaning is not “breaking the rules” but “missing the mark,” failing to hit the target of complete, genuine, glorious humanness.) Once again, the gospel itself, the very message which announces that Jesus is Lord and calls us to obedience, contains the remedy: forgiveness, unearned and freely given, because of his cross. All we can say is, “Thank you.”

There will be those who object to his references to being genuinely human, but that’s their problem and is mostly a tangential rabbit trail.  What is clear is Wright’s thoroughly biblical belief in the necessity of one to be spiritually awakened.

And if all that were not clear enough he concluded the section with:

…Whether you come to this faith in a blinding flash or by a long, slow, winding route, once you get to this point you are (whether you realize it or not) wearing the badge which marks you out as part of the church, on an equal footing with every other Christian who ever lived. You are discovering what it means to wake up and find yourself in God’s new world.

What’s more, you are giving clear evidence that a new life has begun. Somewhere in the depths of your being something has stirred into life that was previously not there. It is because of this that many early Christians reached for the language of birth. Jesus himself, in a famous discussion with a Jewish teacher, spoke of being born “from above”: a new event similar to, though distinguished from, ordinary human birth (John 3). Many early Christians picked up and developed this idea. As a newborn baby breathes and cries, so the signs of life in a newborn Christian are faith and repentance, inhaling the love of God and exhaling an initial cry of distress. And at that point what God provides, exactly as for a newborn infant, is the comfort, protection, and nurturing promise of a mother.

I anticipate some may object that he did not speak of what happens to those who are not awakened.  To which I respond, so what?  It’s not the topic at hand and any omission can easily be resolved by saying that is a question this essay did not set out to answer.

Some may also object to Wright’s metaphors and/or his hopeful attitude… so be it, but nothing herein is unbiblical, in fact it is thoroughly biblical and amazing evangelical coming from an Anglican.

And therein lies, I believe, the biggest issue for many…

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Being a preacher in a local church has given me insight that, frankly, I would rather not have when it comes to the church. I have met people in the church who are, I’m sad to say (and not that I am perfect mind you) who are among the meanest, most ungracious people I have ever met. That is a sad, sad, sad, thing to say; may God forgive me.

This is not to say, again, that I am perfect nor that I have never invited the wrath of some folks. There are plenty of times when my own weak personality, quick judgmentalism, forked tongue, and short temper have contributed much ammunition to the weapons used by these angry folks. I say with much regret that there are times when, as a preacher, I am as dumb as a sack of potatoes.

Grace is God’s on-going exertion of resurrection energy in the life of a justified individual to perfect in them the image of Christ (Colossians 3:9-10). It’s called sanctification. It is not an easy project by any stretch of the imagination. In some ways, I suspect that it is just as ‘painful’ for God as it is for the child. If God disciplines his children as a Father, and I believe he does, I don’t suppose it is any less hurtful for God, as Father, than it is for me when I discipline my sons. But what I have noticed, all too frequently, is that ministers are not afforded that grace. Congregants are; preachers are not. Preachers are not afforded the reality of being human thus when they are scrutinized they are scrutinized as a little above humans. And when they fail, they fail worse than the satan.

Shouldn’t preachers, I have a special place in my heart for them, be afforded the same courtesy of allowing that God’s isn’t quite finished with them yet?

Thus an entire genre of literature had to be invented in order to help preachers not only survive such massive assaults, but also to prevent them from going bonkers and winding up in the Psych ward of a local hospital. I just finished reading Well Intentioned Dragons which was a mind-boggling look at the stories of some preachers who had to endure such devastating pressure in their ministries. I highly recommend this book. Currently, I am reading The Wounded Minister by Guy Greenfield. I’m only just starting it, but Greenfield’s approach is nothing short of ‘in your face’. He takes a no-holds-barred, no-prisoners approach to writing about the insidious nature of those who have made it their ‘ministry’ to destroy those who serve in some ministry type position in the church or para-church.

I’d like to share a paragraph or three from this book with you. After listing seven characteristics of ‘clergy killers’ Greenfield writes:

Clinically speaking, who are clergy killers? What has made them this way? Several possibilities may exist. They may possess distinct personality disorders (for example, they may be antisocial, borderline paranoid, narcissistic). These conditions will be discussed in more detail later. It is also possible that clergy killers have been victims of abuse, either in the past or the present. Inadequate socialization (the process of becoming human), arrested adolescence, or violent role models may be behind their behavior. Some may have a perverse, voyeuristic, and vindictive taste for the suffering of their victims. Others have learned to throw tantrums to get their selfish way. They have learned how to distract, confuse, lie, and seduce to do harm to the vulnerable.

Clergy killers would or destroy either by direct attacks or by inciting others to inflict the wounds. Sometimes they induce victims to self-destruct by harassing them to the point of frustration and anger. This is the minister who counterattacks angrily from the pulpit. Most congregations will not tolerate for long a minister who expresses angry outbursts during his sermons, however justified he may feel.

Understanding how any person can become a clergy killer is complex and difficult. Most Christians in most churches have never known one, but it takes only one or two in a church to create havoc and bedlam. Because these people live in denial as to their true nature, they would not see themselves in this chapter if they were to read it. Clergy killers have surrounded and insulated themselves with a whole array of defense mechanisms and justifications for their actions. They firmly believe that what they are doing in harming and terminating a minister is the right thing to do. For them, it is the will of God. Nevertheless, they are sick and mean people. (30-31)

In my own experience, I can say that this is exactly the truth. What Greenfield is talking about is the local church (of which I am a big fan). Take these thoughts and extrapolate them just a bit. Imagine that the church also included an online community of several millions of people. Imagine that ‘local church preachers’ also happen to be ‘global church preachers’ because they write books or podcast sermons or pray at inaugurations. Online Clergy killers are no different than local church clergy killers. They may have a bigger audience, perhaps a little more clout, but they are no less sick; no less mean.

I can tell you that such activity in the local church has ramifications for the church’s witness and ministry in the community where it is located. I believe it keeps people away from the church. I can testify that in one church I served, a clergy killer went so far as to sit in a local restaurant and talk badly about the church, and the preacher (me), and do his best to persuade people not to worship with us. Now, extrapolate that thought and apply it to the internet and it becomes apparent what the problem is. Far from saving people to the glorious Gospel of Christ, online clergy killers are destroying the church–the body for which Christ Jesus gave up his life.

I believe in my heart that something is going to have to give sooner or later. At some point, online clergy killers are going to have to realize that they are not helping the cause of Christ because they are not promoting peace, not displaying the fruit of the Spirit, not putting their good deeds on display so that people might give praise to the Father in Heaven. Maybe it is time for peace.

Lord, help us. How, O Lord, how can there be peace?

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