Archive for the 'In Tone and Character' Category

And at times, our problem too:

Dogmatism As Christian theologians we are likewise faced with the temptation toward dogmatism.  We run the risk of confusing one specific model of reality with reality itself or one theological system with truth itself, thereby ‘canonizing’ a particular theological construct or a specific theologian.  Because all systems are models of reality, we must maintain a stance of openness to other models, aware of the tentativeness and incompleteness of all systems.  In the final analysis, theology is a human enterprise, helpful for the task of the church, to be sure, but a human construct nevertheless.

- Theology for the Community of God by Stanley J. Grenz, 13.

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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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God is allowing this to be unleashed because of America’s rebellion and the wickedness within His own church.

The “this” in the above declaration of God’s behavior is the accusation that someone has “rented several rooms at Washington’s Doubletree Hotel for their Sodomite orgy.”  It’s hard to say who posed this theological rot since no author was given.

But it does raise some interesting questions such as:

In what history is this person living that America was so godly in previous generations?  How is America rebellious now and she was not before?  Was America not in rebellion when she enslaved a race of people?  Was she not in rebellion when she committed near genocide for gold and land?  Was she not in rebellion when she persecuted people based on their religion and/or nation of origin?  The assertion that God is somehow so much more upset with us now, because the nation is tolerant of this sin as opposed to that sin is theologically retarded.  Such assertions remind me of the warning: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7).

Now, regarding “wickedness within His own church” – let me see if I have the logic correct?  God is allowing a group of homosexuals to openly flaunt there sin because of wickedness within the church?  Now “church” was not capitalized, so I am not sure if the author is thinking in terms of local churches or the Universal Church.  I have a hunch such theological distinctions are beneath our author… that, or they are not able to discern them -  but I digress.  So, we are to suppose God is allowing sinners to sin based on others sinning within his church?  Two questions: 1) for what are God’s purposes in this? 2) is this anything new?

Sure, the particular sin may be new, but that’s only real estate.

Finally, this whole declarative statement of what God is doing in Washington this week was preceded by “There’s no stopping them now” – the “them” being the homosexuals.  What a telling statement.  There is no stopping them… now?  Why because the President of the U.S.A. thinks they are not sinning?  Because Gos is allowing them to sin?  And have we ever stopped them before?  Is it our job to stop them?  Is calling their sin a “Sodomite orgy” really going to help win them to Christ – or just make “someone” feel better?

I find the thought of people lost in their sin(s) sorrowful – regardless of what sin it may be.  I find homosexuals trading the natural for the unnatural to be repugnant – whether they do it in groups or in pairs is irrelevant.  But I find the attitude of this unknown poster at Slice of Laodicea to be both.

[I am hoping this does not turn into yet another thread of comments on homosexuality - that is not the point]

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So what was it like to be in ministry prior to the internet?  Well Graham Cooke had his own ADM’s that followed him around wherever he went.  Little did he know that God was gonna use it to teach him and refine him.

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One of the books I read (and recommend) this month is Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Rom and Ori Brafman.  In it, the authors explore many of the common ways that humans and cultures derail rational thinking, along with ways of combating these behaviors.  It was a very fascinating read (at least for nerds like me), and has made me rethink the way I approach a number of situations.

One of the topics examined that I found most relevant to the discussions here, applicable to most Christians, ADM’s & non-ADM’s included, is Diagnosis Bias.  They observed this in multiple settings, from interviews to first dates to classroom instruction to NBA players.  [In the latter arena, they cited the research which shows that in the first five years of a player's NBA career, a player's draft order has far more impact on his playing time than the actual productivity, statistics and per-minute contributions of that player on the court.]

Each day we’re bombarded with so much information that if we had no way to filter it, we’d be unable to function.  Psychologist Franz Epting, an expert in understanding how people construct meaning in their experiences, explained, “We use diagnostic labels to organize and simplify.  But any classification that you come up with, ” cautioned Epting, “has got to work by ignoring a lot of other things – with the hope that the things you are ignoring don’t make a difference.  And that’s where the rub is.  Once you get a label in mind, you don’t notice the things that don’t fit within the categories that do make a difference.”

So, basically, humans tend to quickly label things so that they don’t have to continue to observe and evaluate.  Data that doesn’t fit the diagnostic label is discarded (or twisted to fit the diagnosis) and data that does fit is overemphasized.  Without intentionally, systematically and diligently working against this, though, you are in trouble if your initial diagnostic is off.

What does this sound like?

The Commitment Swamp

One of the other traps noted by the Brafmans is that of Commitment Bias – where once someone commits to a position, person, idea, etc., the cost of letting go becomes great enough that irrational behavior ensues in trying to stick to that commitment, beyond rational bounds.  This is sometimes called “throwing good money after bad…”

One demonstration of this behavior is called “Max Bazerman’s twenty-dollar auction” – where a professor auctions off a $20 bill to his classrom, where all bids must be in $1 increments.  The winner receives the $20, but both he/she and the second-highest bidder must pay out their bids for the auction.  In this experiment, typicallyt all but the top two bidders drop out quickly.  It is then not uncommon to see this bidding war go over $100…

Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman, who, together with Amos Tversky, first discovered and chronicled the phenomenon of loss aversion, offers a telling reflection of our psychology during such situations.  “To withdraw now is to accept a sure loss,” he writes about digging oneself deeper into a political hole, “and that option is deeply unattractive.”  When you combine this with the force of commitment, “the option of hanging on will be relatively attractive, even if the chances of success are small and the cost of delaying failure is high.”

We see this all of the time in blog discussions – where someone espouses a particular loosely-held belief.  This belief is criticized and, oft times, the original person then defends it beyond their “loosely-held” passion – making it more strongly-held than it originally was.  Eventually, they may have so invested in an argument that they cannot bear to lose face by backing down to their earlier “loose” position or non-position on the topic.  I’ve seen it happen recently in some of the “universalism” discussions (one one side of the spectrum), while seeing it most all the time at the other end of the spectrum (such as when clear evidence is brought to bear discrediting one of PB/Ken/Ingrid/other ADM’s arguments, and the individual just digs in much harder – refusing to admit wrong – or hurries to change the subject/divert the discussion elsewhere).


Recently, we’ve noted these (and other) ’swaying’ phenomena, along with instances where an ADM target and an ADM non-target can make the exact same statement, and one (the target) is lambasted, while the non-target is agreed with.  However, while we’ve tended to use such things as examples of the lack of the “D” (discernment) in ADM’s, what it really comes down to is poor diagnostics (the “d”iscernment part) with lots and lots and lots of blinders then entrenched with commitment bias and the fear of losing face.

Combating the Sway

Probably the most effective and notable way of combating these biases is to recognize them and call them what they are.

With Diagnostic Bias, when I read journal articles (religious or professional) that I suspect or know I have a bias for/against, I try to imagine that the person who wrote it either agrees with me and is a friend of mine (if I’m diagnostically biased against it) or that they are an opponent trying to persuade me (if I’m biased for it).  This has saved me on a number of occasions.

With Commitment Bias, particularly with blog discussions, I often take “time-outs” to discuss the topic IRL with someone I trust, to see if I’ve ‘dug in’ where I shouldn’t have.   Many times in threads I have had to issue apologies or partial-retractions because I’ve found myself defending something loosely-held far too strongly.  This isn’t because of any virtue I possess, though, but rather God using those around me to bring me back from an edge I’ve gone too close to, or crossed.  [You can also figure that if I've backed off and apologized, even if I don't mention it, I've received feedback (at least from my wife) that I'm over-committed on something.]

At a macro-level, this one is interesting.  For the first year of this blog’s operation, we/I fought rather hard in defending the right of emerging churches to exist and for the helpful voice they bring to the table.  As a result, we also had to consistently fight to try to demonstrate that we, ourselves, don’t consider ourselves “emergent/emerging”, and to fight that diagnostic label.  This past year has been some of the same, but some of the opposite, as well – where we’ve had to defend fundamentals of Christian teaching against liberal/lenient pressure, and then fought the “fundamentalist” diagnostic label.

Like so many things, I see the middle ground as somewhere important to hold.  Defying labels, and avoiding the diagnostic flaws inherent with labels.  Committing to positions, but not over-committing beyond the bounds of reason and Christian charity…

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(Note: This is not an indictment of the commenter that I reference here.  Several folks here and on similar and dissimilar blogs — myself included — have been guilty of the same thing.  This is an “if the shoe fits” observation.)

Earlier today, Jerry put up the first part of a multi-part post reviewing Rob Bell’s latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians.  Being the lightning rod that Bell is ’round these here parts, I fully expected the comment thread to degenerate quickly, and I wasn’t let down.

The third comment expressed disappointment that supposedly (according to the commenter) “those who have not read the book do not qualify for this thread”.  Jerry wrote over 1400 words, none of which (apparently) provided any ammunition for Bell to be crapped on.

So according to this commenter, Jerry just wasted his breath, because no ammo means no point in having a discussion.

God help us.

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I have nothing to add to that title.  I’m just curious about how this site’s detractors will argue with it.

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It seems only fitting that we have a Christmas Version of the “Learning to Listen” series, where we examine what non-Christian voices in the world observe about life, God, Jesus, his bride – or any combination of the above. Lest weaker brothers stumble, we are not fully advocating any artists, music or messages, nor are we fully endorsing anything/everything about them. We’re just trying to observe, in the same fashion as Paul on Mars Hill, the icons of the culture and how we might apply them to our own walk or to teaching about the truth of God.

In this installment, I’d like to examine “The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne, first recorded with the Chieftains for their 1991 Christmas album (which I own and enjoy) called “The Bells of Dublin”.  Below is a studio solo version (I wish I could find a good Chieftains version, but it will do):

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All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They’ll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all gods graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by the prince of peace
And they call him by the savior
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshiped in
From a temple to a robbers den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgment
For Ive no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

While Browne seems to have a dark, cynical view of Christians and the church, it is hard to argue with him, sitting here warm and safe in America.  Christmas, as a holiday, has taken on a life of its own that is far removed from Christ (one of the reasons I’ve written the De-Sanitization series), but the world looks on and sees massive cathedrals with the homeless sleeping in their shadows. It sees a health & wealth gospel providing limos, jets and jacuzzis for its practitioners, while more than a billion people are sickened from a lack of clean water.  It sees Christians hit just as hard, in the same numbers, as everyone else by the greedy behavior of overextended and sub-prime borrowing, unable to adequately assist in a time of poverty.

And it sees Jesus – for better or worse – as someone completely different from those who are called by his name.

But which is worse:

1) Sitting ignorant of how our actions appear to the world around us.
2) Understanding how we look, but turning an unsympathetic eye, because it’s not our problem.
3) Feeling paralyzed and guilty, but still doing nothing about it.

I have to admit, I often find myself in boat #3.  And while I do, the world is looking on and wondering why I, who claim the title of one who follows Jesus, sometimes seem to act more like those he rebelled against than fellow rebels in his cause.

But it doesn’t take all that much to turn things around.

I have been greatly appreciative and thankful for some of the high-profile efforts in the chruch, where it has been trying to demonstrate Jesus’ love an compassion.  One example of this has been with the mission to end AIDS in Africa, with Rick Warren and Bill Hybels as a public faces of the church – not for their own glory, but to try to demonstrate the kinds of things the church could be doing in the world that would give demonstrable flesh to the spirit we claim.  Another has been with the efforts to provide clean drinking water to impoverished communities in South America and Africa, where multiple Christian churches and individuals (like Rob Bell in the Everything is Spiritual tour, which supported WaterAid) have spearheaded efforts.

Let us be part of the rebellion, with the Rebel Jesus at the fore, and not part of the Empire, which seeks power, material wealth and insulation.

Let us be on the side of the Rebel Jesus…

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With stories like this one about real pirates who are killing people, one wonders if it is appropriate for Christians to have radio stations called “Pirate Christian Radio.” I wonder what some discernment sites would say if Pagitt, Jones, Bell, McManus, or Warren had such a station.  It kind of makes you wonder.  Please note, this post is not about the owner of said station.

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OK, I have a confession to make.  This confession will probably make some of you question my judgement, or possibly even my salvation.  But here goes.  I absolutely love the NPR program This American Life.  I have over 80 episodes on my Ipod, and I’m addicted to it.  I know that the all of the producers, interviewers, and reporters are bleeding-hearts liberals, but I still find the show funny, witty, and overall well-produced.

One episode that keeps on popping into my head as of late is one entitled, A Little Bit of Knowledge.  In the beginning of that episode, the host, Ira Glass has a conversation with Nancy Updike, a producer, about a time when she was in Europe with some of her friends.  She explains it like this:

A couple of years ago some friends were travelling through Europe, walking through these old buildings. And these people do not know anything special about architecture, but, you know how it is when you’re a tourist. So they’re walking through these buildings and they’re looking at these doorways and pillars and they decide that this one building has a very Moorish influence. They’re pointing out details, saying ‘the Moors this’ and ‘the Moors that’. And finally one of them turns to the other and says, “You know, we sound like we’re in a magazine. A magazine called ‘Modern Jackass’.”

So the basic concept behind being a “Modern Jackass” is that you know enough about a subject to talk somewhat intelligently about it, but there are parts that are just beyond your grasp of understanding, so you kind of just make up the rest.  Thus entering “Modern Jackass” territory.

I’ve noticed this quite a bit this past political season.  I think we’re all guilty of it to some extent.  I think the fact that so much information is available at our fingertips through the wonder of Google and Wikipedia just makes it so very easy to make it look like you know more than you do.  So perhaps, we all need to take a step back now that election is over, take a deep breath, and start peeling away the layers of informational defenses we have put up.  In the end, no one really believes us most of time anyway.

I admit that I have done this.  I have been guilty of braying the loudest sometimes.  I have been guilty of caring more about being right than actually showing love to me ideological opponents.  I, sadly, have been a Modern Jackass.

So as we move forward, let’s remember that not everything on the internet is true, and that there’s nothing wrong with saying those three little words – “I don’t know”.

Grace and peace.

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