Archive for the 'In Tone and Character' Category

In my younger days, I played a lot of video games on my computer. (Anyone remember Commander Keen and its cutting-edge use of EGA graphics in the early ’90s?)  The real drain on my time, though, came with the release of Wolfenstein 3D, one of the first FPS (first-person shooter) games to employ all three dimensions. Although it looked very cheesy by today’s standards, it was mind-blowing back then. It was also very addictive — I knew that I had stayed up too late the night before playing the game when I walked down certain hallways at work and would slow my pace as I approached an intersection.

As with all FPS games (at least back then), the basic scheme of Wolfenstein 3D was simple — work your way through various levels, killing the henchmen until you reach the ultimate battle against the “boss” (the head of the bad guys). Along the way, you could pick up items that would regenerate your health (if you had been non-fatally wounded), better weaponry, and random treasure. But the bulk of your points was earned by killing the henchmen. In some FPS games, if it took more than one bullet to kill a henchman, you would earn some points for wounding him, but then even more for killing him.

Fast-forward to 2013 and shift over to the real world.

A fairly prominent blogger has put out a couple of tweets recently that are salient to my (upcoming) point. The context is unclear, but — to be honest — it’s also irrelevant.  Here are the tweets in question:

You know, there’s a reason it doesn’t say “put on the smoking jacket of God, and take up the tea cup of daintiness”

You know, there’s a reason it doesn’t say “put on the faculty lounge discussion group suit of God”

He’s obviously riffing off the Scripture that advises the Christian to “[p]ut on the whole armor of God”. But there can be — and in that blogger’s tribe, there often is — a problem with applying that verse incorrectly. Because if you look at the whole verse, you notice some elaboration (emphasis mine):

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

And just in case it’s not clear enough what we’re fighting, Paul goes on in the next verse (emphasis mine):

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

You see, hearkening back to my illustration, the devil (and his demons) are the “boss”. But you know who the henchmen are? They’re people.

Are they being used to achieve the devil’s purposes? Sometimes.

Are they even doing so with full knowledge and willingness? Sometimes.

Is every last one of them a person for whom Jesus died? YES! YES! YES! 1000 times YES!

(Note: even if you’re a Calvinist who would cite your belief in limited atonement to object to that last question, you still don’t know who the “elect” — in your usage of the term — are, so practically, the answer is still “yes”.)

The “boss” needs to be killed — and Jesus will do that completely and finally one day. And if our actions in the meantime can cause a wound or two on the “boss”, that’s groovy.

But this is real life. This is not a game. We don’t get any points for (ideologically) wounding or killing the henchmen. Jesus did not come to give us “life, and life more confrontational.”

Stop it.

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Code words are such fun. For those unfamiliar with their usage by the critics of this site, its writers, and those who we dare to think might occasionally have something to contribute to the faith, here’s a handy-dandy guide. Some are adapted from the Bible, whereas others are lifted directly from Scripture (and then twisted like a contortionist’s pretzel):

  • sheep-beater: any straightforward pastor/teacher with whom I disagree
  • compromiser: all others pastors/teachers with whom I disagree, especially if I don’t like his Hawaiian shirts
  • another gospel: any belief with which I disagree, regardless of its relevance to the gospel
  • persecution: anything negative that I have to endure, regardless of its causation or its relevance to my faith
  • post-modern: any thought or belief whose inception occurred after my great-grandfather’s birth
  • emergent: anyone who is friends with anyone who is related to anyone who read a book by anyone who once quoted anyone who once ate dinner in the same restaurant as the fourth-cousin twice removed of anyone who has already been declared emergent (by this definition)

Although that last one is the most ludicrous (and the most common), it’s not my favorite. Rather, my favorite abuse of Scriptural language is to call someone an “enemy of the cross” when you disagree with them. So whence cometh that phrase?  I’m glad you asked:

Philippians 3:18
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

I’m pretty sure that every contributor to this blog has been labeled an “enemy of the cross” at one time or another. Yet, strangely enough, I’ve never seen anything even approximating “weeping” accompanying that accusation. The actual attitude of the labeler is left as an exercise for the reader.

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As you are likely aware, Chuck Colson died on Saturday. There have already been many glowing eulogies written about the man from all corners of Christendom.

In slight contrast, a friend of mine remarked that it’s sad that most of the articles in the secular press focus on his Nixon/Watergate years. One such article even (essentially) admitted to having to consult Colson’s web site to see what the man had been up to for the last 35 years. In one sense, this is sad. But in another sense, it’s a good thing. Though Colson was a prominent figure in the “culture wars”, he apparently did his fighting in such a way that he was not the focus.

Put another way, when John Doe heard the name “Chuck Colson”, he had one of two responses — either (1) “who?” or (2) “oh yeah, that Watergate guy.” He didn’t respond with, “oh yeah, that bigoted, homophobic and misogynistic jerk.” What does that say about who (or should that be “Who”) was most obvious in Colson’s life?

OK, to be fair, one John Doe did have that response. But Franky Schaeffer has a history of selling entire books that bash on dead guys (like his own father) in order to prop up his own agenda. So one measly blog post is hardly noteworthy.

Outside of special cases like Schaeffer, the only people who seemed to have a major beef with Colson were from a segment of Protestantism that was far too uncomfortable with his work with Roman Catholics on ECT and the Manhattan Declaration. Now, it has been well established that Online Discernment [sic] Ministries [sic] are wildly Romophobic. So, I cynically asked some friends recently if they wanted to start a pool on which ODM would be first to dump on Colson for his associations with Catholics. After all, they have a history of using not-yet-cold dead guys to prop up their agenda, too.

Ya know what? As far as I can tell, none of them “went there”. Kudos to them.

So that’s all I have to say. I just wanted to praise the authors for not …

Wait …

What ?!?!?!

(And you thought this post was over ….)

There’s a very prominent Christian blogger out there — we’ll call him Tom.

As is my wont, I’m not giving his real name. My issue is with the actions/attitudes, not the person. Though I don’t have any real desire to give the person any Google juice either.

Several years ago — I think it was in a comment thread on iMonk’s blog — someone referred to Tom as being “irenic”. At first I thought that was a typo, but “ironic” didn’t fit the context, so I hit an online dictionary and found this definition for “irenic”.

favoring, conducive to, or operating toward peace, moderation, or conciliation

And I thought, “yeah, that’s a good description of Tom”.  While he had no “Randy Alcorn” moment of major reconciliation, Tom is (was?) a very even-keeled guy who would seek to get rid of the dividing lines in Christendom when they weren’t of primary theological importance. Further, while not specifically addressing their Romophobia, Tom had — on more than one occasion — spoken out against the ODMs for their tendency to wantonly bash their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Heck, he even once had a meal with Rick Warren and came to the conclusion that he is not the anti-Christ (contrary to what ODM authors seem to believe). Tom disagrees with Rick on several issues, but he did not let that stand in the way of genuine fellowship.

So it was rather surprising (and massively disappointing) to watch Tom throw that irenic nature out the window and go for Colson’s jugular. In his article, he expresses “surprise” that others’ remembrances of Colson are uniformly positive. While giving Colson some credit for some of his work, Tom then accuses him of working “against the Lord’s church”, laboring for “outright sinful causes” and “undermin[ing] the gospel”. All of his accusations revolve around Colson’s work and alliance with Roman Catholics and those of the Orthodox faith.

Sigh.

Now — ya want to take the irony up another few notches?  Another definition of “irenic” is:

a part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects

Yeah, I think we can stop applying that word to Tom from now on.


UPDATE: Since I started writing this, one of the ODMs did “go there”. But it’s pretty obvious from the ODM article that Tom’s article was both the impetus and inspiration for the ODM article. So Tom still retains a good bit of his uniqueness.

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First in a long series of Monday posts designed to incite the masses. Unless of course the mob wins. In which case, we’ll just have anarchy.

No, things were not better then and they are no worse now. I was reading an article about St. John Chrysostom who lived in the latter half of the 4th century and is known for his practical and relevant sermons. He’s got some good stuff that (with a little linguistic adaptation) could be preached this Sunday and you wouldn’t even know the guy has been dead for 1600 years. Spending too much time on sports or entertainment anyone? Need to spend more time around the dinner table talking about your faith with your family? Makes you wonder if there is anything new under the sun.

I’m amazed at how much time we waste. Sure, with entertainment and what not, but more so with trying to get other people to see how we are right and they are wrong. About everything. Politics, sports, ministry, theology. Man, this is kind of flying in the face of inciting people to rant and rave in the comments. I guess I’m okay with that because we really wasted a lot of time arguing about stuff. Most of which didn’t actually have any bearing on our lives.

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Peter Enns: “Show me someone who expresses in anger his views of God, and I will show you someone who is deeply afraid of losing control of God.”

Here is the entirety of the article from which that quote comes.

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From the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:10 — emphasis mine):

When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

The Greek word for “accusers” is kategoros — meaning “to categorize”.  It’s also the same word used in Revelation 12:10, speaking of Satan.

Hmmmm. Categorizers.

Dare I say “labelers”?

Need I say more?

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R.I.P. Rich Mullins

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OK, I over-state my case, but I got your attention, didn’t I?

I have a friend who grew weary of people telling him that he was being “unloving” (based solely on his content) when he spoke the truth to a third party, particularly as it regarded man’s state apart from Christ. His response was, “so you want me to ‘love’ them (the third party) straight to hell?”

And my friend’s response was right. There is a large chunk of professing Christendom that has a poor grasp on the definitions of some pretty small words, believing that anything that isn’t Mr-Rogers-nice is unloving.

Ephesians 4:14 describes a very dire issue that Paul is trying to correct:

that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

Paul’s solution (in verse 15):

but, speaking the truth …

And there it is, right there. The ultimate response to error is the truth. No matter how much darkness there is, it cannot fully annihilate even the smallest amount of light. The reverse is not true, though (a sufficient amount of light can fully annihilate darkness).

And, after all, what can be more loving than the truth of the Gospel? That despite our fallen state, God loves us and provided — at great expense to Him and no expense to us — a means to get rid of that fallen state.

But wait, there’s more.

Repeating that verse again, but with two more words:

but, speaking the truth in love

See, I think that Paul knew that we could be … well … idiots. That we would grasp the truth and somehow think that this said something — anything — about us, rather than merely being evidence of God’s grace. Put another way, in the words of the late Michael “iMonk” Spencer, “[w]e have to match our belief in the truth with a humility about ourselves.”

Perhaps equal in error to the assumption that anything un-nice is also unloving is the assumption that merely speaking the truth, regardless of methodology, is inherently, sufficiently — and always — loving. If that was true, then that prepositional phrase (”in love”) is redundant.

If we were perfect, then that phrase probably wouldn’t be needed. But I’m not there yet. And 10:1, you aren’t either.

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Been thinking a lot about this, and it’s time to shoot off my mouth.  I’m calling “shenanigans” right now on anyone who says that this is just a thinly-disguised defense of Rob Bell, as this is applicable to several incidents in the last few years.

GROUND RULES

I’m going to concede a lot of ground to the critics.  In some cases, I agree with some of these points anyway, but I can make my argument even if I disagree with some of these points.

  • Let us assume that the criticized person is 100% in error theologically.
  • Let us assume that the critics are 100% accurate theologically.
  • Let us assume that everyone who does not disagree completely with the criticized person are sheeple who are totally lacking in discernment, will consume and espouse everything that the criticized person says, and desperately need the critics to straighten out this problem.
  • Let us assume that the error being disseminated by the criticized person is so grave that the critics have carte blanche to use any methodology they choose to confront it, without even the remotest possibility that they will err in their methodology or that their methods will turn off any of the aforementioned sheeple.
  • Let us assume that the method that Jesus gave in Matthew 18:15ff is totally inapplicable.

SIDEBAR

I find it interesting that the Matthew 18 passage gets batted down so quickly.  While I understand that Jesus was particularly referring to more “private”, one-on-one sins, I have searched several translations and have yet to find one with a verse where Jesus says “unless it’s a public sin, then all bets are off”.  The ludicrous speed* with which the applicability of the passage is dismissed speaks not so much of someone who wants to move on as it does of someone who is so loathe to try one-on-one confrontation, that any loophole is seized desperately as a lifeline.

WE NOW RETURN YOU TO YOUR REGULARLY-SCHEDULED POST

But let’s play nice.  As I said, let’s assume that Jesus’ command is inapplicable in this situation.  Does inapplicability automatically mean that we are commanded not to use this method sometimes?

Let me put it another way — the way that (sadly) seems to be the de rigueur method for how this is played out.

SCENARIO #1

  1. The criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates error. In his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 1000 sheeple. **
  2. The critics recognize the error and scramble to publicly disseminate the truth in response. ***  In their efforts, they manage to rescue 995 of those sheeple from the error. ( Highly improbable that the critics will turn around that high of a percentage, but hey, let’s be generous. )
  3. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates more error. Because of some past success, in his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 2000 sheeple.
  4. The critics recognize the error and scramble to publicly disseminate the truth in response. Their astronomical success rate remains steady so that, in their efforts, they manage to rescue 1990 of those sheeple from the error.
  5. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates more error. Because of some past success, in his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 3000 sheeple.
  6. The critics recognize the error and scramble to publicly disseminate the truth in response. Their astronomical success rate remains steady so that, in their efforts, they manage to rescue 2985 of those sheeple from the error.
  7. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates more error. Because of some past success, in his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 4000 sheeple.
  8. The critics recognize the error and scramble to publicly disseminate the truth in response. Their astronomical success rate remains steady so that, in their efforts, they manage to rescue 3980 of those sheeple from the error.
  9. Ad infinitum (or would that be ad nauseum ?)

So, at the end of six years (all but that last bullet), you now have 50 people who have bought into the errors disseminated by the criticized person.

This scenario is particularly self-damning for the critic who chooses to do a series of blog posts detailing the errors of the criticized person over the years. ****

But what happens if we change it up a bit?

SCENARIO #2

  1. The criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates error. In his efforts, he manages to reach and convince 1000 sheeple.
  2. The critics recognize the error. One critic approaches the criticized person and convinces him of his error.  The criticized person then disseminates a mea culpa, and manages to rescue the same 995 people that the critics rescued in the first scenario.
  3. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates truth in some manner.
  4. The critics only needed response is to praise God and send the criticized person notes of encouragement.
  5. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates truth in some manner.
  6. The critics only needed response is to praise God and send the criticized person notes of encouragement.
  7. Two years later, the criticized person espouses and publicly disseminates truth in some manner.
  8. The critics only needed response is to praise God and send the criticized person notes of encouragement.

Some other things that might happen if this second scenario occurred:

  • Because of the dissemination of truth by the criticized person (in steps #2, 3, 5, and 7), God is glorified and people are brought closer to the truth.  Hard to believe otherwise.
  • The criticized person and the critic (who originally approached the former) cultivate a strong friendship from which both benefit spiritually.  Hard to believe otherwise.
  • Let’s dream really big and assume that in six years, the critics and the criticized person are able to convince the original 5 (who they didn’t rescue originally) of the truth.

BOTTOM LINE

So, when a critic chooses to go with Scenario #1, he’s treating the symptom while the disease goes on unabated.  So what is he really trying to accomplish?  Is he really rescuing the sheeple *****, or is he just showing off his mad Bible skillz?  Is he really trying to “gain his brother”, or is he merely auditioning for some spiritual MMA league?

No, really.

* yes, that was a Spaceballs reference

** I recognize that these numbers are probably too small.

*** How they do this is irrelevant.  We’ve already established carte blanche in the ground rules.

**** OK, that one was, admittedly, about the Rob Bell situation.  But I’m not giving any Google juice to the critic, so if you don’t know specifically what I’m talking about, c’est la vie.

***** which, it is to be noted, quickly becomes Sisyphean

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John 12:20-26 (NKJV)
Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.”

If it had only been Martin Bashir instead of Andrew and Philip, I bet this evasive Jesus guy would’ve been nailed down.

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