Saturday, February 21, 2009

Quotable (part 2)

Dr. Vreeland has been a great source for witticisms and colorful commentary in every class I've taken with him. Here are a few I liked:

The creative, pessimistic, and humorous:
“Remember the difference between [Ezra] and Nehemiah: Ezra pulls out his own beard, while Nehemiah pulls out theirs.”

“I can spend the rest of my life sitting on my ever-widening, rapidly-passing-through-middle-age rear end without ever ‘lifting a finger to help with the burden’”

“Before sticking foot in mouth, it is best to untie shoelaces.”

“Why are you trying to unscrew the inscrutable?”

“For every silver lining there’s a dark cloud.”

“You’re having a fine dinner with fine china and somebody barfs on your plate: that’s an abomination.”

“My first trip to Israel, I didn’t know an Aleph from a swastika.”

“On thing about adopting a foxhole mentality is the bullets go over your head and not through it.”

“The glass is neither half full nor half empty – it’s shattered on the floor.”

“It’s like taking a shower in a raincoat: not much is accomplished.”

And the profound:

“God is interested in what he does with me more than what he does through me (I think).”

“If bad stuff happens to me, I deserve worse.”

“In God’s wisdom he takes isolationist, individualist people and sentences them to community.”

“It may be that your life is to serve as a warning to others.”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Quotable (part 1)

Okay, it's week seven of the quarter at NBS, and something I've learned about dealing with the pressure of seminary is that it's good to stop and laugh. So here are some quotes I ran across as I reviewed theology notes for an assignment the other day. These are the kinds of things that don't get into the actual body of the notes, they just come out in verbal form and I scribble them down because they're classic: either for humor or profundity. The source for part 1 of this series is Dr. Willsey. Here are some of my favorites - if you have more, please post them in the comments.

On the humorous side of the dial:

“We need a few good heretics around to keep us thinking.”

“If we keep improving on what we’re doing, someday we’ll get to the point of simple ignorance rather than profound ignorance.”

“Think of theology as a sport in which there are no timeouts and no end to the game.”

On understanding the topic of God’s plan: “If you ever feel satisfied, there’s something wrong with you.”

“That’s why I don’t write: I don’t want my contradictions to be in print.”

“I will defend my ‘am-ness’ all day long.”

On the question of why God created angels: “Maybe God just enjoys having a lot of beings around that don’t ask a lot of questions.”

Sometimes these things aren't planned, they just come out in passing, like here: “Last night I was looking up the word ‘homonculus’…”

Oh, yeah, I think about that word all the time...

And a few more that tend toward profundity:

“Once you’ve made a wise decision, don’t ever look back. There’s always some reason you can wish you’d made a different choice.”

“When I am thankful, I agree with God that the way things are is the way they ought to be.”

“People get really excited about miracles and forget that every breath they take is an act of God’s providence and deserves thanks.”

“The best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn them into a friend.”

Thanks for the laughs and the wisdom, J-dub.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In celebration of Single's Awareness Day

In the style of the mosaic generation, I'm going to start with a topic here and swirl off to a related topic that is not necessarily in sequence, but is loosely related by the associations in my own mind.

In an insightful CT article last summer on gender issues, on of the contributors pointed out that the complementarian camp has a tendency to emphasize strongly that a woman's primary role is in the home, as a wife and mother. This doesn't seem like a problematic statement to someone familiar with traditional western culture, until you start to think about possible situations. What about the mother whose children have grown and left home? What about the widow? What about the young, single woman who is yet to be married? Is a woman in one of these situations somehow "out of place" in the kingdom of God because she is not attached to a man? This is clearly not the case. Although marriage certainly gets good press in the New Testament, so does singleness. Women who make investing in their family and home life their top priority should be commended. After all, we have in our culture many more examples of success in a variety of career fields than we have examples of strong, healthy families that nurture children until they become adults who are mature disciples of Christ. But if accepting male headship in the home and the church means that women are not recognized for accomplishments other than being homemakers and volunteering for nursery duty, we have a seriously flawed view of what this means and are regressing from much positive progress western culture has made in the past century. Let us acknowledge and affirm in our thinking and from the pulpit the tremendous contributions that women make in all sectors of society, including, but not limited to the home. Complementarianism that packages a cultural limitation on women's roles in society together with the theologically-supported idea of submission does a disservice to the church and society. Accepting the timeless principles from Paul's writings does not mean railing against mothers who have careers, women who take leadership roles in churches and communities, or who - heaven forbid! - send their children to public school instead of teaching them at home. It simply means setting guidelines that expect male leadership in the top leadership spot in a church assembly and loving headship in the home.

This brings me to my loosely associated topic: how does the evangelical emphasis (found even more so within the subcategory of fundamentalism)on "family values" affect the culture of our churches? In many cases, churches have emphasized being "family churches" and thus been a tremendous boon to families in their community who desired to live out their marriages and raises children in a way that pleases God. Props to these churches for making a difference on a family-by-family, grassroots level! (This is in addition to the political activism on family issues promulgated by many of these churches.) Families need support, encouragement, Biblical teaching and wisdom from Godly mentors and examples to be strong and healthy. I pray that a growing number of godly families develop in our country. But are there any side-effects to this emphasis? Is it in any way related to the fact that single people ages 18-30 are largely absent from our churches? (Since yesterday was February 14 and we observed Single's Awareness Day, this seems an appropriate time for the topic). Is it possible that the unmarried, the divorced, the single parents, the teenagers from broken families, etc., who visit our churches looking for a place to belong as part of a faith community are alienated by the "family values" emphasis? Are we in some cases so enamored with this issue that we forget to broaden applications of teaching and the structure of programs and events to include the listeners who don't have a "properly-arranged" nuclear family?

I do not raise these questions to say that we should in any way relax our stance in support of the biblical view of marriage, divorce, and parental responsibility just because so many in our culture are failing to match it, so that we don't make them feel bad. No, stand strong on these issues. I just have a couple suggestions.

To church leaders: Please be thoughtful to structure the church so that events, small groups, etc. provide a place for singles and "non-traditional families" to interact and be included. Please don't spend weeks and weeks talking about only marriage and family issues. Give us some other messages and applications, too. Teachers and preachers, you could even mention the positive opportunities coming with singleness that Jesus and Paul point out (more than just to say why they aren't an argument against marriage). Challenge singles to develop a vision for how they can use their situation to God's glory.

To church members: Please be hospitable to those who come in to your church alone. Invite them to be part of things, and make them feel welcome and included. Just because you are completely comfortable sitting in your regular pew with your family doesn't mean everyone feels at home as soon as they walk in the door. The young and single are gladly welcomed and freely accepted at bars and parties. They long for a place where they feel like they belong; church should provide it.

To the young and single: Don't abandon your church just because there aren't many people who are like you there. Interaction across generations is good for you. Your church needs you to pour your efforts into it, and to reach out to others in your age group and connect them to church life. And please, don't look for your friends in da club.

Perhaps I am just venting the collective frustrations of me and my friends who are young, single and evangelical. Perhaps we're just self-conscious and self-centered. Or perhaps there's something to this. Give me your thoughts, my friends.

I want to come back at you with some thoughts on what exactly it means to be a Christian family. But this is long-winded enough for today...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why I'm a Default Complementarian

I want to be a complementarian, because I don't like the idea of having to do a lot of explaining about why the words of Scripture don't really mean what they seem to mean at first glance. I don't want to tell people that what was believed in the New Testament church and has been held to throughout centuries of church history is not actually right because we are so much better at reading Scripture now, and so much smarter than those who came before us in the realm of anthropology. This seems quite arrogant.

I want to be an egalitarian, because my culture has taught me that every person has the right to be whatever they want to be, and I don't want to have to tell a woman that she can't have a certain job, or have to explain to a progressive-minded non-believer why I still hold to ideas from the Dark Ages.

Bringing up the idea that Scritural commands are "culture-bound" raises so many questions in my mind when related to these gender-issues texts. When I look at the instructions regarding marriage relationships in Ephesians, I do not see a lot of language referring to specific, situational problems, but to the Christian walk in general, as part of God's chosen people, the church, believers who have been saved by God’s grace. He compares both the love of a husband for his wife and the submission of a wife to her husband with the relationship between Christ and the church. Is this culture-bound instruction? What about children obeying their parents (the next verse)? Is that still relevant for our culture? When culture changes so that it is no longer common practice for the church to submit to Christ, should we stop doing that as well?

In 1 Timothy 2, when he speaks about church authority, Paul says that a woman should not have authority over a man because of two things: man was created first, and woman sinned first. This also seems to me like a principle he is drawing from Scripture, not merely an expression of culture.

If these are only situational, then Paul sure plays fast and loose with theological reasoning, throwing it around heavy-handedly to support these situational practices. If we have to move this far away from what seems to be the straightforward meaning of the text, where does our exegetical foundation go?

Some speak of our present, "enlightened" views as being part of the trajectory of the incipient principles of the New Testament. But just how good are we at perceiving and charting this trajectory without having Western/North American culture's concept of progress in society color our thinking? Equality in value does not logically imply uniformity in roles - unless you live in the affirmative-action climate we live in today.

However, I don't know what to do with "women must be silent in the church" if I hold to "I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man." I'm more comfortable with the one than the other. It also bothers me that Paul calls for head-coverings in Corinthians "because of the angels," since I don't really think that the angels have changed much in the past 2000 years. With all due respect to the Mennonites back in the state of my origin (Ohio), I'm not keen on the idea of telling a sister in my assembly she needs to put a hat on.

Despite these doubts, I'll tag myself a "default complementarian." I think I'd rather fall in line with the consensus of church history and the force of the imperatives supported by theological reasoning in the texts. I'll affirm that men and women are created with equal value and status - in God's image - but that we have different roles.

In response to Austin's posts:
In Genesis, you have a right to understand the text this way, but you better have more support coming than just a narrative passage which can be used pretty effectively on the egalitarian side as well.
As I read the second post, I allude to Dr. Vreeland and say that you are making an inference as big as the Grand Canyon, but if you want to build a theology on it, knock yourself out. The Law, large parts of the narrative, and many of Jesus' teachings assume an agricultural economy. Should we all be farmers because this is a more Biblical way to live?

In response to Richey:
I agree with your objections to the Galatians text, the descriptive and ambiguous references to women's ministry roles, and subordination within the Trinity as bases for egalitarianism. Thank you for saving me from having to explain them in my post.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Oh, brother, it's my neighbor again.

To bring to a conclusion the thoughts begun by the last two posts (And next post I'll move on to the topic Austin loves so much):

I find it a struggle to love my neighbor as much as I love mankind. "This makes no sense," you say. "Isn't your neighbor a part of mankind?" Yes, but I quickly forget this. And it's kind of easy to justify. Surely I can't take time to hassle with this one person who's asking for a favor for the umpteenth time this week, because I have many important things to do as part of my great and noble work to save mankind. I feel great compassion for the person I see in a photo-op picture and hear a touching story about, and I love to think of myself as a sympathetic person because I care so much about that person. But when I have to deal with a person's needs directly, I have to deal also with that person's faults.

While the Enlightenment era was in full swing, the president of Princeton, John Witherspoon, told his students to differentiate between two types of emotions: "'particular' affections for local places and specific people, and the clearly superior 'calm and goodwill to all.'" (See Lauren F. Winner in Books and Culture from Sept/Oct 2008). To be a cosmopolitan who acts for society, for mankind, for the common good, is a noble thing. We do well to remember, however, not only the cosmopolitan ideal but concrete acts of love for "local" people right around us.
"God so loved the world that he sent his only son," and when that son arrived he loved specific people who came to him with their problems and issues, and who caused inconveniences to his schedule.

The essence of what I want to say is stated much better by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, so I'll let his words close out the post. This is an idea, a reminder of how to appropriately resond to the problems that come from having sin in the world, that I probably need for myself more than anyone else reading this.

A character in THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV said:

"I love humanity,[...]but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular, that is, separately, as single individuals. In my dreams[...]I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion[...]and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together[...]I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity."

And one more zinger from Dostoevsky's great character Father Zosima:

"Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth."