Archives For Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll is in the news (again) for making cringe-inducing comments about women et al (again). Even I have a line so you’ll have to click here to read about his comments on the ‘pu#@%$#@ nation.’

But, both because this past weekend we read Romans 8 in worship and because Mark’s all over twitter with a very different God than the One I find in scripture I thought I’d repost this from last summer:

Who is against us? Who will condemn us?

Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

For the Apostle Paul, they’re rhetorical questions.

They’re Paul’s way of implying that if you sense any ambiguity about the answer, if you feel any uncertainty about the conclusion, then you should go back to chapter 1, verse 1 and start over.

Reread his letter to the Romans-because Paul’s left you no room for qualification. There’s no grist for doubt or debate or indecision.

Don’t left the punctuation marks fool you because there’s only one possible way to answer the questions Paul’s laid out for you.

No one.

No one is against us.

No one will condemn us.

No one- no thing- nothing can separate us from Christ’s love.

Of course, as a preacher, I know first hand the danger in asking rhetorical questions is that there’s always one or two listeners in the audience who don’t realize that the question you’re asking has no answer but the obvious one.

The danger in asking rhetorical questions is that there’s always one or two people who mistakenly think the question might have a different answer.

For example, take this response to Paul’s rhetorical questions from Mark Driscoll: Play Clip from ‘God Hates You.’ mark-driscoll

I thought that would get your attention.

Or at least make you grateful I’m your pastor.

Just think, I make a single joke on my blog about Jesus farting and some of you write letters to the bishop; Mark Driscoll preaches an entire sermon about how ‘God hates you’ and thousands of people ‘like’ it on Facebook.

If you read my blog, then you know I feel about Mark Driscoll the same way I feel about Joel Osteen, Testicular Cancer and Verizon Wireless.

But he’s not an obscure, street-corner, fire-and-brimstone preacher.

He’s a best-selling author. He’s planted churches all over the world.

The church he founded in Seattle, Mars Hill, is one of the nation’s largest churches with a membership that is younger and more diverse than almost any other congregation.

     Ten thousand listened to that sermon that Sunday.

And that Sunday ten thousand did NOT get up and walk out.

That Sunday ten thousand listened to the proclamation that ‘God hates you, God hates the you you really are, the person you are at your deepest level.’

And that Sunday at the end of that sermon somewhere near ten thousand people said ‘Amen.’

Which, of course, means ‘That’s true.’

Except it isn’t.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

After all, technically speaking, it’s a ‘good’ sermon. It’s visceral. It’s urgent. It’s confrontational and convicting.

It’s the kind of preaching that demands a response.

     Technically speaking, I bet Mark Driscoll’s sermon ‘worked.’

I bet it scared the hell out of people.

     But what did it scare them into I wonder?

Because when it comes to Paul’s rhetorical questions, Mark Driscoll gets the  response dead wrong. So dead wrong that anti-Christ is probably the most accurate term to describe it.

He’s wrong.

But you know that already.

 I can tell from the grimace of disgust you had on your face while listening to him that you know that already.

You don’t need to be a pastor to know he’s wrong. And you don’t need to be a pastor to prove he’s wrong.

All you need are a handful of memory verses.

Memory verses like Colossians 1.15: …Jesus Christ is the exact image of the invisible God…’ 

Which means: God is like Jesus.

And God doesn’t change.

Which means: God has always been like Jesus and God will always be like Jesus.

So no, God doesn’t hate you. God has never hated you and God would never hate you.

You don’t need to be pastor to prove he’s wrong; you just need to remember that John 3.16 does not say ‘God so loathed the world that he took Jesus’ life instead of yours.’ 

No, it says ‘God so loved…that he gave…’ 

You don’t need to be a pastor to know that God isn’t fed up with you. God isn’t sick and tired of you. God doesn’t hate the you in you because ‘God was in Christ reconciling all things- all things- to himself.’ 

In case you forgot, that’s 2 Corinthians 5.19.

It’s true that God is just and God is holy and anyone who reads the newspaper has got to think God’s entitled to a little anger, but you don’t have to be a pastor to know that none of those attributes trump the Paul’s Gospel summation that ‘while we were still sinners, God died for the ungodly, for us.’ 

God has not had it up to anywhere with you.

You don’t need to have gone to seminary to know that; you just need to have gone to church on June 30.

That’s when we heard Paul testify from his personal experience that no matter how much we sin, no matter how often we sin, no matter how we sin, no matter how much our sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more.

So that,

     ‘There is therefore now no condemnation…’

     ‘We have peace with God…’

Whatever needed to be set right, whatever needed to be forgiven, whatever needed to be paid, ‘it is finished.’ 

That’s in red letters in my bible. Jesus said it.

His cross, the Letter to the Hebrews says, was ‘a perfect sacrifice, once for all.’ 

For all.

So there’s nothing in your present, there’s nothing in your past, there’s nothing coming down the pike- and just in case you think you’re the exception let’s just say there’s nothing in all of creation– there’s nothing that can separate you from the love of God.

You don’t have to be a pastor to realize that you can say this a whole lot of different ways.

But it all boils down to the same simple message:

     God. Is. For. Us.

     Not against us.

 

But you know that.

Mark Driscoll may have 10K people in his church but I’d bet every last one of you would run him out of this church.

You would never sit through a sermon like. You would never tolerate a preacher like that- you barely tolerate me.

You would never participate in a church that had perverted the Gospel into that.

God hates you. God’s fed up with you. God’s sick and tired of you. God’s suffered long enough with you. God’s against you. 

You would NEVER say that to someone else.

Ever.

But here’s the thing- and maybe you do need to be a pastor know this:

 There are plenty of you

who say things like that

to yourselves

all the time.

Not one of you would ever say things like that to someone else, but, consider it on the job knowledge, plenty of you say it to yourself every day.

Plenty of you ‘know’ Paul’s questions are rhetorical.

You know there’s only one possible answer, only one way to respond: God is for us.

And yet…

When it comes to you and your life and what you’ve done and how God must feel about the person you see in the mirror, your inner monologue sounds a whole lot more like Mark Driscoll than it sounds like Paul.

You may know this, but as a pastor I definitely do.

Even though you’d never say it in a sermon, you tell yourself that surely God’s fed up with you for the mess you made of your marriage or the mistakes you made with your kids or the ways your life hasn’t measured up.

Even though you’d never dream of saying to someone else ‘there’s no God will forgive that’ that’s exactly what you tell yourself when it comes to the secret that God knows but your spouse doesn’t.

Even though there’s no way you’d ever consider saying it to someone else, you still tell yourself that there’s no way your faith is deep enough, commitment strong enough, beliefs firm enough to ever please God.

Even though it would never cross your mind to say to someone else ‘God must be angry with you for something…God must be punishing you…’ many of you can’t get that out of your mind when you receive a diagnosis or suffer the death of someone close to you.

     God hates you. God’s fed up with you. God’s sick and tired of you. God’s suffered long enough with you. 

I can’t think of one of you who would let a voice like Mark Driscoll’s into this pulpit on a Sunday morning.

And yet I can think of a whole lot of us who every day let a voice just like his into our heads.

 

So here’s my question: why?

I mean- we know Paul’s being rhetorical. We know it’s obvious. We know there’s only one possible response: God is for us.

So why?

Why do we persist in imagining that God is angry or impatient or wearied or judgmental or vindictive or ungracious or unforgiving?

If it’s obvious enough for a rhetorical question then why?

Why do we persist in imagining that God is like anything other than Jesus?

Is it because we tripped up on those bible verses that speak of God’s anger?

Maybe.

Is it because we’ve all heard preachers or we all know Christians who sound a little like Mark Driscoll?

Sure we have.

Is it because we’re convinced the sin in our lives is so great, so serious, that we’re the exception to Paul’s ironclad, gospel

equation: God is for us?

Is it because we think we’re the exception?

Maybe for some of us.

But I wonder.

I wonder if we persist in imagining that God is angry and impatient and unforgiving and at the end of his rope- I wonder if we imagine God is like that because that’s what we’re like.

I wonder if we imagine God must be angry because we carry around so much anger with us?

I wonder if we imagine there are some things even God can’t forgive because there are things we won’t forgive?

I wonder if we imagine that God’s at the end of his rope because there are plenty of people with whom we’re at the end of ours?

I’ve been open with you in the past about my sometimes rocky sometimes resuscitated relationship with my Dad.

I’ve told you about how my dad and me- we have a history that started when I was about the age my youngest boy is now.

And I’ve told you about how even today our relationship is tense and complicated…sticky- the way it always is in a family when addiction and infidelity and abuse are part of a story that ends in separation.

As with any separation, all the relationships in the family got complicated. And as with many separations, what happens in childhood reverberates well into adulthood.

What I haven’t told you before is that I had a falling out, over a year ago, with my Mom.

The kind of falling out where you can no longer remember what or who started it or if it was even important.

The kind of rift that seemed to pull down every successive conversation like an undertow.

The kind of argument that starts out in anger and then slowly advances on both sides towards a stubborn refusal to forgive and eventually ages into a sad resignation that this is what the relationship is now, that this is what it will be, that this thing is between us now and is going to stay there.

We had that falling out quite a while ago, and I’ve let it fester simply because I didn’t have the energy to do the work I knew it would take to repair it.

And, to be honest, I didn’t have the faith to believe it could be repaired.

There’s no way I can say this without it sounding contrived and cliche.

There’s no way I can say this without it sounding exactly like the sort of sentimental BS you might expect in a sermon.

So I’ll just say it straight up and if it makes you want to vomit go ahead. I read Romans 8 late this week and it…convicted me.

And so I called my Mom.

‘We need to talk’ I said.

‘You really think so?’

It was a rhetorical question. There was only one possible answer: yes.

 

And so I began by telling her that I’d been reading a part of the bible and that I’d just noticed something I’d never noticed before.

 

I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before.

Romans 8.31-39 is, after all, one of the most popular scripture texts for funerals. I’ve preached on this scripture probably more than any other biblical text.

Yet preaching it for funerals, with death and eternity looming, I never noticed how this passage about how no one is against us, how no one will condemn us, how nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus- it comes at the end of Paul’s chapter on the Holy Spirit.

It comes as the conclusion to Paul talking about how we are to live according to the Spirit- according to Christ’s Spirit.

It comes as the conclusion to Paul talking about how we are the heirs of Christ’s ministry, about how that inheritance will involve certainly suffering but that the Spirit will help us in our weakness.

This ‘nothing shall separate us’ passage- it comes as the conclusion to Paul telling us how the Holy Spirit will work in our lives to conform us to Christ’s image so that we might live up to and in to calling.

 In all the times I’ve turned to Romans 8 for a funeral sermon, I’ve never noticed before that, for Paul, it’s not about eternity.

 It’s about living eternity now.

 

Who is against us? Who will condemn us?

Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

Paul’s questions might be rhetorical.

The answers might be obvious and certain.

But that doesn’t make them easy or simple.

I’d never noticed that for Paul here in Romans 8- it’s actually meant to be the kind of preaching that demands a response.

Because if you believe that God in Jesus Christ is unconditionally, no matter what, for us then you’ve also got to believe that you should not hold anything against someone else.

If you believe that God in Christ Jesus refuses- gratuitiously- to condemn your life, then you’ve got to at least believe that it should be ditto for the people in your life.

And if you believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, nothing in all creation, then you must also believe that because of the love of God in Christ Jesus then nothing, nothing, nothing should separate us.

From one another.

 

1000_1This marks my 1000th post on the Tamed Cynic blog.

I’d guess that the usual post is 500-600 words or so, which means that in the last two years I’ve committed half a million words to this site.

Other guys golf, I suppose.

UnknownI started the blog almost 2 years today exactly, beginning at Tony Jones’ encouragement and prodding.

What began on little more than a lark has taken on a life of its own, with thousands of readers a day from all over the world (73% from US), a global ranking among websites that isn’t half-bad and an above average rate of engagement.

Thanks to the blog my preaching is better and so are my questions, more aware now of your own questions. I’ve made ‘friends’ I’ve never met and discovered books I would not otherwise have read. Adding podcasts and guest authors this year has exposed me to leaders in the Church at large and given exposure to the gifts of my friends.

There’s absolutely no reason you have to spend time here. That you do, I just want to say thank you.

In case you’re curious or started reading the blog only of late, here are, in descending order, the most popular posts of all time these past two years.

You can click on them below in case you missed one of them:

What Do Our Prayers Sound Like to God?

A Pastor’s Wife Responds to Mark Driscoll

Surrendering My Wedding Credentials

Clergy Robes and Anonymous Notes in Church

Why Rapture Believing Christians are Really Liberals

Women Can Write Sermons, They Just Can’t Preach Them

Chuck Knows Church, But I Wish He Knew Jesus

Top Ten Reasons Christmas Doesn’t Need the Cross

Mark Driscoll in the Hands of An Angry Pastor

Stop Baptizing Homosexuals

Shoulder to Shoulder: Reflections on Marriage

FYI: If You’re a Teenage Boy (a letter to my kids)

 

r662738_4757386Perhaps not surprisingly, my sermon 2 weeks on (homo)sexuality in the Church prompted quite a few people to ask me for names and titles of reading on the matter, readings with substance and depth. My first answer is always Rowan Williams‘ 10 page essay ‘The Body’s Grace.’ It’s the best theological reflection on sexuality, marriage and grace out there. The nuance of Williams’ argument points out Stanley Hauerwas‘ contention that the Church should stop arguing about homosexuality until it figures out what we mean by ‘marriage.’

Here, Williams’ examination of sexuality through the lens of grace reveals how little popular, ‘biblical’ books on sex and marriage like Mark Driscoll‘s Real Marriage pay attention that most central of Christian doctrines.

imagesHere’s a snippet. You’ll have to click over to read the rest. It’s worth it.

But is should be clear that the discovery of joy means something rather more than the bare facts of sexual intimacy. I can only fully discover the body’s grace in taking time, the time needed for a mutual recognition that my partner and I are not simply passive instruments to each other. Such things are learned in the fabric of a whole relation of converse and cooperation; yet of course the more time taken the longer a kind of risk endures.

There is more to expose, and a sustaining of the will to let oneself be formed by the perceptions of another. Properly understood, sexual faithfulness is not an avoidance of risk, but the creation of a context in which grace can abound because there is a commitment not to run away from the perception of another.

The worst thing we can do with the notion of sexual fidelity, though, is to “legalise” it in such a way that it stands quite apart from the ventures and dangers of growth and is simply a public bond, enforceable by religious sanctions.

When we bless sexual unions, we give them a life, a reality, not dependent on the contingent thoughts and feelings of the people involved, true; but we do this so that they may have a certain freedom to “take time,” to mature and become as profoundly nurturing as they can.

We should not do it in order to create a wholly impersonal and enforceable “bond”; if we do, we risk turning blessing into curse, grace into law, art into rule-keeping. In other words, I believe that the promise of faithfulness, the giving of unlimited time to each other, remains central for understanding the full “resourcefulness” and grace of sexual union.

I simply don’t think we’d grasp all that was involved in the mutual transformation of sexually linked persons without the reality of unconditional public commitments: more perilous, more demanding, more promising.

Yet the realities of our experience in looking for such possibilities suggest pretty clearly that an absolute declaration that every sexual partnership must conform to the pattern of commitment or else have the nature of sin and nothing else is unreal and silly.

Decisions about sexual lifestyle are about how much we want our bodily selves to mean rather than what emotional needs we’re meeting or what laws we’re satisfying. “Does this mean that we are using faith to undermine law? By no means: we are placing law itself on a firmer footing” (Romans 3.31): happily there is more to Paul than the (much quoted in this context) first chapter of Romans!

I have suggested that the presence or absence of the body’s grace has a good deal to do with matters other than the small scale personal. It has often been said, especially by feminist writers, that the making of my body into a distant and dangerous object, to be either subdued or placated with rapid gratification is the root of sexual oppression.

I cannot make sense of myself without others, cannot speak until I’ve listened, cannot love myself without being the object of love or enjoy myself without being the cause of joy.

Thinking about sexuality in its fullest implications involves thinking about entering into a sense of oneself beyond the customary imagined barrier between the “inner” and the “outer” the private and the shared.

We are led into the knowledge that our identity is being made in the relations of bodies, not by the private exercise of will or fantasy: we belong with and to each other, not to our “private” selves (as Paul said of mutual sexual commitment), and yet are not instruments for each other’s gratification.

There is something basic, then as Freud intuited, about how we make sense sexually, basic for the fabric of corporate human life. But beyond the whole question of how the body’s grace is discovered is a further, very elusive question.

Sex is risky and grace is not discovered by all; and there is something frightening and damaging about the kind of sexual mutuality on which everything comes to depend – that is why it matters to locate sexual union in a context that gives it both time and space, that allows it not to be everything.

But, as I hinted earlier, the body’s grace itself only makes human sense if we have a language of grace in the first place; and that depends on having a language of creation and redemption.

To be formed in our humanity by the loving delight of another is an experience whose contours we can identify most clearly and hopefully if we have also learned or are learning about being the object of the causeless loving delight of God, being the object of God’s love for God through incorporation into the community of God’s Spirit and the taking-on of the identify of God’s child.

lt is perhaps because of our need to keep that perspective clear before us that the community needs some who are called beyond or aside from the ordinary patterns of sexual relation to put their identities direct into the hands of God in the single life. This is not an alternative to the discovery of the body’s grace.

All those taking up the single vocation – whether or not they are, in the disagreeable clinical idiom, genitally intact – must know something about desiring and being desired if their single vocation is not to be sterile and evasive.

Their decision (as risky as the commitment to sexual fidelity) is to see if they can find themselves, their bodily selves, in a life dependent simply upon trust in the generous delight of God – that other who, by definition, cannot want us to supply deficiencies in the bliss of a divine ego, but whose whole life is a “being-for,” a movement of gift.

There is the great freedom of the celibate mystic in deploying the rhetoric of erotic love in speaking of God; and, even more importantly, there is that easy acceptance of the body, its needs and limitations, which we find in mature celibates, like Teresa of Avila in her last years.

Whatever the cost, this vocation stands as an essential part of the background to understanding the body’s grace: paradoxical as it sounds, the celibate calling has, as one aspect of its role in the Christian community, the nourishing and enlarging of Christian sexuality.

It’s worth wondering why so little of the agitation about sexual morality and the status of homosexual men and women in the Church in recent years has come from members of our religious orders. I strongly suspect that a lot of celibates do indeed have a keener sensitivity about these matters than some of their married fellow Christians.

And anyone who knows the complexities of the true celibate vocation would be the last to have any sympathy with the extraordinary idea that sexual orientation is an automatic pointer to the celibate life; almost as if celibacy before God is less costly, even less risky, for the homosexual than the heterosexual.

It is impossible, when we’re trying to reflect on sexuality, not to ask just where the massive cultural and religious anxiety about same-sex relationships that is so prevalent at the moment comes from; and in this final part I want to offer some thoughts about this problem.

I wonder whether it is to do with the fact that same-sex relations oblige us to think directly about bodiliness and sexuality in a way that socially and religiously sanctioned heterosexual unions don’t. When we’re thinking about the latter, there are other issued involved notably what one neo-Marxist sociologist called the ownership of the means of production of human beings.

Married sex has, in principle, an openness to the more tangible goals of producing children; its “justification” is more concrete than what I’ve been suggesting as the inner logic and process of the sexual relation itself.

If we can set the movement of sexual desire within this larger purpose, we can perhaps more easily accommodate the embarrassment and insecurity of desire: it’s all in a good cause, and a good cause that can be visibly and plainly evaluated in its usefulness and success.

Same-sex love annoyingly poses the question of what the meaning of desire is in itself, not considered as instrumental to some other process (the peopling of the world); and this immediately brings us up against the possibility not only of pain and humiliation without any clear payoff’, but – just as worryingly – of non-functional joy: or, to put it less starkly, joy whose material “production” is an embodied person aware of grace.

It puts the question which is also raised for some kinds of moralist by the existence of the clitoris in women; something whose function is joy. lf the creator were quite so instrumentalist in “his” attitude to sexuality, these hints of prodigality and redundancy in the way the whole thing works might cause us to worry about whether he was, after all, in full rational control of it. But if God made us for joy… ?

The odd thing is that this sense of meaning for sexuality beyond biological reproduction is the one foremost in the biblical use of sexual metaphors for God’s relation to humanity.

lightstock_70152_small_user_2741517For our sermon series on marriage, I’m blogging my way through the Bible’s erogenous zone: The Song of Songs.

Today, I’m still reflecting on  2.1-17.

As I mentioned earlier, in chapter 2, verse 3 of the Song, the young woman sings:

   With great delight I sat in his shadow,
   and his fruit was sweet to my taste. 

And in case it’s not obvious to you, she’s talking about a vine of a different sort. This portion of the poem continues with imagery of mountains and gardens and, uh, “fruit-tasting.”

In my prior take on Song of Songs 2 I noted how the young woman who narrates her passion in the Song contradicts our prejudices of the Old Testament taking a mechanistic view of sex generally and a misogynistic view of women specifically. In the Song of Songs, we find quite the opposite.

The primary narrator is as bold and forthright in what she desires as any Cosmo article and the fact that her aggressive passion is not chastened but canonized tells us that her desire is good.

Even holy.

For my second take on Song of Songs 2 I notice not the woman’s 8 1/2 Weeks worthy word pictures but the fact that those word pictures have mountains and gardens in their background.

That is, I can’t help but notice not the novelty of WHO is speaking but Where she is speaking it.

Describing it.

To put it bluntly:

She’s describing her beloved and herself making love in the outdoors, with mountains behind them, naked, in the light of day, in a springtime garden.

Garden.

St Paul chooses the image of Jesus as the Second Adam to describe an alternative and antidote to the Fall in the Garden of Eden.

I think I like our narrator’s version in the Song of Songs better.

Certainly the allusions to Eden are one of the reasons the ancient rabbis included what would otherwise be a Madonna song in the holy scriptures.

And if it was one of their reasons, then this is more than this unabashed passion with the lights on is more than a passing allusion.

We can reason from the Song of Songs that shame is not intrinsic to sex nor was it intended by God to be such.

Irony is almost always tragic and no less is the case here, for shame is often the very thing Christians attach to sex.

Unashamed, unafraid lovemaking in the light of day is as homey an image of New Creation as any I can think of.

Just as irony is always tragic, from inferences always follow corollaries. If unashamed sex, outside, in the day, with the lights on best describes what Sin undid in Eden, then ‘Sin’ is anything we do to make sex ‘dirty.’

By ‘dirty’ I turn to Robert Jenson:

‘Sadomasochism, bondage and the like are not harmless deviations; they are attacks on humanity…the blessing of marriage brings sex within the gate of the coming new and transformed Eden, so restores its innocence.’

9fd2f25f6a96a760872a425d027134abNeo-Calvinist pastor, Mark Driscoll, infamously declared the Song of Songs to be his favorite book of scripture, an attention-getting claim if you’re speaking primarily to bible nerds. Driscoll even preached a long sermon series through the Song of Songs. That I’ve gotten this far in the Song without referencing that bile is a testament to my character.

Nevertheless…in one particular sermon Driscoll takes the graphic imagery of the Song of Songs, an erotic poem, a POEM, and uses it as a biblical mandate for wives to perform ____________ for on their husbands regardless of their own reciprocal desire.

He’s taking the Song of Songs and putting it back in the Old Eden.

Where it doesn’t belong.

 

imagesIs it because we have no TULIP of our own?

I wonder after reading this article in the NY Times about the Neo-Calvinist revival. I have my hunches. You?

Here’s the article:

For those who are sad that the year-end news quizzes are past, here’s one to start 2014: If you have joined a church that preaches a Tulip theology, does that mean a) the pastor bakes flowers into the communion wafers, b) the pastor believes that flowers that rise again every spring symbolize the resurrection, or c) the pastor is a Calvinist?

As an increasing number of Christians know, the answer is “c.” The acronym summarizes John Calvin’s so-called doctrines of grace, with their emphasis on sinfulness and predestination. The T is for man’s Total Depravity. The U is for Unconditional Election, which means that God has already decided who will be saved, without regard to any condition in them, or anything they can do to earn their salvation.

The acronym gets no cheerier from there.

Evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival. Increasing numbers of preachers and professors teach the views of the 16th-century French reformer. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Tim Keller — megachurch preachers and important evangelical authors — are all Calvinist. Attendance at Calvin-influenced worship conferences and churches is up, particularly among worshipers in their 20s and 30s.

In the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, the rise of Calvinism has provoked discord. In a 2012 poll of 1,066 Southern Baptist pastors conducted by LifeWay Research, a nonprofit group associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, 30 percent considered their churches Calvinist — while twice as many were concerned “about the impact of Calvinism.”

Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist.

But in the last 30 years or so, Calvinists have gained prominence in other branches of Protestantism, and at churches that used to worry little about theology. In 1994, when Mark Dever interviewed at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Washington, the hiring committee didn’t even ask him about his theology.

“So I said, ‘Let me think about what you wouldn’t like about me, if you knew,’ ” Mr. Dever recalled. And he told them that he was a Calvinist. “And I had to explain to them what that meant. I didn’t want to move my wife and children here and lose the job.”

Mr. Dever, 53, said that when he took over in 1994, about 130 members attended on Sundays, and their average age was 70. Today, the church gets about 1,000 worshipers, with an average age of 30. And while Mr. Dever tends not to mention Calvin in his sermons, his educated audience, many of whom work in politics, knows, and likes, what it is hearing.

“I think it is apparent in his teaching,” said Sarah Rotman, 34, who works for the World Bank. “The real focus on Scripture, and that all the answers we seek in this life can be found in the word of God. In a lot of his preaching, he does really talk about our sinfulness and our need of the Savior.”

That focus on sinfulness differs from a lot of popular evangelicalism in recent years. It runs contrary to the “prosperity gospel” preachers, who imply that faith can make one rich. It sounds nothing like the feel-good affirmations of preachers and authors like Joel Osteen, who treat the Bible like a self-help book, or a guide to better business.

“What you’d be hearing in some megachurches is, ‘God wants you to be a good parent, and here are seven ways God can help you to be a good parent,’ ” said Collin Hansen, the author of “Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists.” “Or, ‘God wants you to have a good marriage, so here are three ways to do that.’ ” By contrast, Mr. Hansen said, those who attend Calvinist churches want the preacher to “tell them about Jesus.”

Some non-Calvinists say that the rise of Calvinism has been accomplished in part through sneaky methods. Roger E. Olson, a Baylor University professor and the author of “Against Calvinism,” is the Calvinists’ most outspoken critic.

“One of the concerns is that new graduates from certain Baptist seminaries have been infiltrating churches that are not Calvinist, and not telling the churches or search committees who are not Calvinist,” Professor Olson said. According to what he has heard, young preachers “wait several months and then begin to stock the church library with books” by Calvinists like John Piper and Mark Driscoll. They hold special classes on Calvinist topics, he said, and they staff the church with fellow Calvinists.

“Often the church ends up splitting, with the non-Calvinists starting their own church,” Professor Olson said.

At its annual meeting in June, the Southern Baptist Convention received a report from its special Calvinism Advisory Committee, which addressed charges both of anti-Calvinist prejudice within the denomination and of unfair dealing by Calvinists.

“We should expect all candidates for ministry positions in the local church to be fully candid and forthcoming about all matters of faith and doctrine,” the report read.

While many neo-Calvinists shy away from politics, they generally take conservative positions on Scripture and on social issues. Many don’t believe that women should be ministers or elders. But Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, said that Calvin’s influence was not limited to conservatives.

Liberal Christians, including some Congregationalists and liberal Presbyterians, may just take up other aspects of Calvin’s teachings, Dr. Jones said. She mentioned Calvin’s belief that “civic engagement is the main form of obedience to God.” She added that, unlike many of today’s conservatives, “Calvin did not read Scripture literally.” Often Calvin “is misquoting it, and he makes up Scripture passages that don’t exist.”

Brad Vermurlen, a Notre Dame graduate student writing a dissertation on the new Calvinists, said that the rise of Calvinism was real, but that the hoopla might level off.

“Ten years ago, everyone was talking about the ‘emergent church,’ ” Mr. Vermurlen said. “And five years ago, people were talking about the ‘missional church.’ And now ‘new Calvinism.’ I don’t want to say the new Calvinism is a fad, but I’m wondering if this is one of those things American evangelicals want to talk about for five years, and then they’ll go on living their lives and planting their churches. Or is this something we’ll see 10 or 20 years from now?”

9fd2f25f6a96a760872a425d027134ab…but he sure drives up blog traffic.

In case you missed them the first time ’round or want a trip down memory lane, here are the most popular Tamed Cynic posts of 2013 with a sarcastic post on Mark Driscoll’s parenting book coming in at #1 with over 37K readers.

Pastor Dad: A Pastor’s Wife Responds to Mark Driscoll

Surrendering My Wedding Credentials

Clergy Robes and Anonymous Notes in Church

Top Ten Heresies and Remedies for Them: #4

FYI (if you’re a teenage boy): A Letter to My Boys that’s Really a Reply to that Mom

scarlett-johansson-105aYou’d be surprised how many marriages suffer not because of money, infidelity or divergent life goals.

You’d be surprised how many marriages suffer instead because the man in the relationship would prefer to be a dude, frittering away the night’s hours…

playing with himself.

Not watching porn, mind you,

but playing…ahem…video games.

It’s- slightly- funny when it’s in a movie starring Seth Whatshisname. It’s quite the opposite when its real husbands and wives.

I heard on the news this morning that the new Playstation (4) sold over a million- what they hell do you call them…units, consoles, toys?- in 24 hours.

If you’re (not) scoring at home, that’s slightly more than hits on a Scarlett Johansson selfie in the same time period.

Not to mention Microsoft, in its ongoing quest to ignore how impenetrable are its software programs, is coming out with the new Xbox this week.

All told, it’s the best week for nerds since JJ Abrams signed on to ruin the latest installment of Star Wars (if the next SW episode involves time-travel, they might as well sub in Sydney Bristow for Chewy or Han).

Admittedly my perspective is colored by the fact that I never had a video game system as a kid, only played Duck Hunt on the first Nintendo a few times at a friend’s house and today get schooled by my 2nd grader at Lego Harry Potter on the iPad, but I found the following compelling.

And that the following comes from Mark Driscoll, my bizarro Gospel-world nemesis, should tell you something: 9fd2f25f6a96a760872a425d027134ab

“…for the young guys who spend most of their time watching television, eating chips and playing video games- we need you to undergo a cranial-rectal extraction immediately.

As you sit around with your buddies trying to battle an enemy, liberate a people, and usher in a kingdom in yet another video game, I need you to know that you are wasting your lives.

Those deep desires you have to be part of a tribe on mission to defeat evil and set captives free for the glory of a great king and kingdom are there for the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we need you on the front lines.

The faithful grandmas and moms are getting tired of holding the line.”

A Call to Resurgence 

 

 

 

9fd2f25f6a96a760872a425d027134abI’ve read that Josef Mengele Mengele, the Nazi ‘Angel of Death,’ who was one of the chief architects of the holocaust, also had a compassionate, some say charming, side to him.

It was not rare, for example, that Mengele would act in a caring, empathetic manner towards exhausted mothers and their children.

While they waited on ramps for the train cars to come and ship them to death camps.

We’ve all got our good side, right?

No matter how rotten the lemon at least a little bit of lemonade can be made.

Of course I’m exaggerating when I draw an analogy from the above to the (in)famous Seattle pastor, Mark Driscoll. Such a comparison is shockingly insensitive, snarky to the extreme, wildly overblown, willfully ignorant of the larger context and aimed only at scoring rhetorical points for the sake of your attention.

In short, it’s exactly the kind of sarcastic parallel Mark Driscoll would draw up himself.

And to be honest, I wonder if therein lies my love-hate-hate-hate-hate-stomach-love relationship with Mark Driscoll?

Minus his cro-magnon misogyny, Driscoll practices the very same blunt, acerbic rhetoric of which my heart is fond. As some of you, dear blog readers, have pointed out I can come across as an a@%hole on occasion and a quick Google search will show that that’s the consensus on brother Mark.

So maybe what I don’t like about Mark Driscoll is what I don’t like about myself.

Or, even more intriguing, is what I don’t like about Mark Driscoll what I DO LIKE about myself?

Whichever the answer, whenever I think of Jesus’ command to love our enemies…Driscoll makes the top ten.

A while back I attempted to read Mark Driscoll’s ebook on fatherhood in a spirit of openness and charity and blog about it. I think I managed one non-snarky post before the skuvbalon hit the fan.

Well, I’m doing some penance.

Mark Driscoll has a new book out: A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity have a Funeral or a Future?

If you can tune out the page % given over to homosexuality and Barack Obama (I’m no liberal but WTF?), there’s actually solid nuggets of bible wisdom in here, delivered up in true, tell-it-like-it-is Driscoll fashion.

Here’s one on the lack of generosity churches tolerate from their would-be Jesus followers:

“Next time you are in a store, imagine that, instead of a cash register, there was a bucket and a sign that read, “Pay Whatever You Want and If You Don’t Want to Pay Anything, That’s Fine Too.” 

How long do you think that store would remain in business? 

That is the business model of the church. Unlike the government, which simply takes money from you, or an actual business, which will have you arrested if you do not pay for a good or service you receive, the church depends entirely on generosity. But the statistics reveal that most professing Christians are not generous givers:  

More than one out of four professing American Protestants given away $0. 

The median annual giving for a Christian is $200- just over half a percent of after tax income. 

About 5% of Christians provide 60% of the money to churches and religious groups. 

20% of Christians account for 86% of all giving. 

Among Protestants, 10% of evangelicals, 28% of mainline folk, 33% of fundamentalists and 40% of liberal Protestants give $0.00. 

But-

Jesus devoted roughly 25% of his words in the Gospels to our use of money.

 

 

SG_DriscollSo far as I can tell, the stars haven’t fallen from the sky, the Earth is still spinning, neither the sun nor the moon have turned to blood, hell hasn’t frozen over and I’ve not spotted one pig flying.

But, holy crap, Mark Driscoll is actually right about something?!

And tempered and measured in his thoughts?

What gives?

Many of you know, Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

For his neanderthal Calvinism and his barbaric misogyny, he’s often a punching bag of mine. Not every one can always be wrong about every thing I suppose. Below, Mark Driscoll rightly points out the moral dangers in the increasingly extended adolescence of guys (formerly called men).

Here’s an interview from Neue Magazine.

Controversy has never been far behind Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Most notably, his outspoken support of a complementarian view has sparked debates anew around gender roles within the Church. And his infamous comments on Jesus’ masculinity—he has written that the mainstream church has transformed Jesus into a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that … would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell”—certainly pitted many against him. However, the reformed pastor has only risen in popularity and his loyal following has grown to include a large number of churches through his Acts 29 network, an average of 84,000 weekly podcast listeners and more than 61,000 Twitter followers. We talked to Driscoll recently about his new focus on doctrine, whether he regrets some of his more controversial statements and why he believes immature men are the Church’s most urgent crisis.

You are focusing on doctrine quite a bit right now in your writings and teachings. Doctrine seems like a word we should all agree on the meaning of, but that isn’t always the case. What’s your definition?

Doctrine is found, actually, in the Bible. Paul says, for example, at one point to watch your life and doctrine closely. So he connects how you behave and what you believe—that you need to pay careful attention to both because what you believe determines how you behave. So for me, doctrine are those core, essential, necessary truths of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation that help us understand who God is, and how the world was made, and our role in the world, and what went wrong, and how Jesus is our Savior and what God’s big plan is in the end. So it’s the big ideas that anchor the world, and God and our place in relation to God and the world.

What would you say is the difference between doctrine and dogma?

When I hear the word “dogma,” I think of the taking of secondary issues and making them primary issues. I always use the language that there are “open-handed issues” and “closed-handed issues.” Open-handed issues are those issues which Bible-believing Christians can debate over, disagree over, even discuss over, but not divide over. The closed-handed issues are those issues we really have to remain committed to, to remain Christian. So for me, in the doctrine book [Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe], I had to really work hard along with my co-author, Gerry Breshears, on those issues that should be in the closed hand, and also talk about the various issues that need to remain in the open hand. I think dogma is putting everything in the closed hand—being absolutely dogmatic and contentious about things that, quite frankly, aren’t as clear in Scripture as other things. So there are issues in the Bible, like eschatology issues surrounding Jesus’ return, speaking in tongues, some things like that where you can love Jesus, and believe the Bible, and disagree on and still be a faithful Christian. There are other issues, like the Trinity or the resurrection of Jesus, you have to be very clear on to remain Christian.

You’ve talked a lot about twentysomethings today living in a sort of extended adolescence. Why do you think that is?

I think, in particular, it’s young men. Perhaps to some degree it is young women as well, but we’re finding more women are getting better grades, more women are graduating high school, more women are graduating college, more women are buying homes, more women are doing things that are more adult and responsible. We’ve created this. It’s a sociological category. It used to be you go from “boy” to “man,” and now you go from “boy” to “guy” to “man.” There is this whole new creation of a “guy.”

It’s just extended adolescence, where 20s, 30s, sometimes even in his 40s, he doesn’t really want to get married, doesn’t really want to have kids, doesn’t really want to pursue a career. He has a lot of hobbies, got a lot of buddies, watches a lot of porn, gambles, has a lot of fun, maybe plays in some band or is in a guild of World of Warcraft, or something ridiculous like that. And they’ve even got little [mottos] like, “It’s all good” and, “Bros before hos.” It’s just this whole adolescent, juvenile culture. Kind of the Adam Sandler-esque view of life, and there is this whole genre of comedy movies built around these kind of inept, irresponsible, immature guys, and I think part of the problem is, as well, that the Church in large part has accommodated that.

Those guys tend not to go to church. If those guys do show up at church, it’s usually just to find a couple of gals to break the commandments with. And the Church doesn’t really know what to do with them, so the least likely person in America to go to church is a guy in his 20s who is single. Without knowing what to do with those guys, they commit crimes, they get women pregnant, they’re a drain on social services, they don’t raise their kids, they don’t contribute to church, they’re not getting ready to lead the next generation. I’d say it’s nothing short of a crisis, it’s a real problem.

What do you think has created this “guy” phenomenon?

Part of it is the unintended consequences of divorce. Forty percent of kids go to bed at night without a father. Not to be disparaging toward single moms, but if you’re a single mom and you’re working 60 hours a week, and you’ve got a boy, and he’s home all by himself with no parents and no dad, he’s just going to be hanging out with his buddies, feeding himself pizza rolls.

The number one consumer of online pornography is 12- to 17-year-old boys. What that means is he’s home eating junk food, drinking Monster energy drinks, downloading porn, masturbating and screwing around with his friends. That really doesn’t prepare you for responsible adulthood. That’s a really sad picture, especially if you’re a single gal hoping to get married someday. You’re like: “Seriously, that’s the candidate pool? You’ve got to be kidding me.” That’s why 41 percent of births right now are to unmarried women. A lot of women have decided: “I’m never going to find a guy who is actually dependable and responsible to have a life with. So I’ll just get a career and have a baby and just intentionally be a single mother because there are no guys worth spending life with.”

Several years ago, you were regularly in the press for your controversial statements on gender roles, but now it seems like you’re steering away from those conversations. Was that intentional?

I don’t know, I’m always getting in trouble for something. I’m just really focused on, at this point, men and women. It’s really interesting because if you took all the women in my church who were sexually abused, raped, molested, assaulted in some way, I’d still have a megachurch. I’d have a couple thousand victims. So a lot of my time is spent with women who are abuse victims, it’s a huge part of what we do, and guys who are totally responsible and part of the problem. That’s where my focus has gone in part because of the demand that’s in our church and because of the people who I’m dealing with.

Do you regret any of those statements about gender roles and Jesus’ masculinity?

Oh my gosh. I have been preaching and teaching now for 13, 14 years. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, he says it takes 10,000 hours of something to become an expert. Preaching and teaching, I’ve gotten in about 10,000 hours. I’ve published I don’t even know how many books, blogs—it’s a crazy amount of content. If I could hit control-alt-delete and go back and do like they used to in Men in Black and just hit a button to make certain people forget certain things, that would be awesome.

My hope, my prayer, my goal is to do better, by God’s grace, to learn, to grow, to be sanctified and mature—to be less shock-jock and more Jesus-centered. I’m turning 40 this fall, so I can’t get away with, “Oh, he’s young.” I’ve got five kids, I’m not young anymore, I’m a tired old man. But I’m hoping God gives me enough years, maybe 30, 40 more years of service, that when it’s all said and done, I will have had enough time to correct some mistakes I’ve made and learn how to more clearly articulate some things I believe. So I’m trying to learn as I go.

Our sermon series through Romans landed us in the famous, much-loved passage 8.31-39 this weekend. 

The audio is here below as well as on the sidebar of the blog. You can download it in iTunes as well under ‘Tamed Cynic:

      1. Mark Driscoll in the Hands of an Angry Pastor

 

Raised-to-Life-Pic-300x300-1     Who is against us? Who will condemn us?

Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

For the Apostle Paul, they’re rhetorical questions.

They’re Paul’s way of implying that if you sense any ambiguity about the answer, if you feel any uncertainty about the conclusion, then you should go back to chapter 1, verse 1 and start over.

Reread his letter to the Romans-because Paul’s left you no room for qualification. There’s no grist for doubt or debate or indecision.

Don’t left the punctuation marks fool you because there’s only one possible way to answer the questions Paul’s laid out for you.

No one.

No one is against us.

No one will condemn us.

No one- no thing- nothing can separate us from Christ’s love.

Of course, as a preacher, I know first hand the danger in asking rhetorical questions is that there’s always one or two listeners in the audience who don’t realize that the question you’re asking has no answer but the obvious one.

The danger in asking rhetorical questions is that there’s always one or two people who mistakenly think the question might have a different answer.

For example, take this response to Paul’s rhetorical questions from Mark Driscoll: Play Clip from ‘God Hates You.’ mark-driscoll

I thought that would get your attention.

Or at least make you grateful I’m your pastor.

Just think, I make a single joke on my blog about Jesus farting and some of you write letters to the bishop; Mark Driscoll preaches an entire sermon about how ‘God hates you’ and thousands of people ‘like’ it on Facebook.

If you read my blog, then you know I feel about Mark Driscoll the same way I feel about Joel Osteen, Testicular Cancer and Verizon Wireless.

But he’s not an obscure, street-corner, fire-and-brimstone preacher.

He’s a best-selling author. He’s planted churches all over the world.

The church he founded in Seattle, Mars Hill, is one of the nation’s largest churches with a membership that is younger and more diverse than almost any other congregation.

     Ten thousand listened to that sermon that Sunday.

And that Sunday ten thousand did NOT get up and walk out.

That Sunday ten thousand listened to the proclamation that ‘God hates you, God hates the you you really are, the person you are at your deepest level.’

And that Sunday at the end of that sermon somewhere near ten thousand people said ‘Amen.’

Which, of course, means ‘That’s true.’

Except it isn’t.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

After all, technically speaking, it’s a ‘good’ sermon. It’s visceral. It’s urgent. It’s confrontational and convicting.

It’s the kind of preaching that demands a response.

     Technically speaking, I bet Mark Driscoll’s sermon ‘worked.’

I bet it scared the hell out of people.

     But what did it scare them into I wonder?

Because when it comes to Paul’s rhetorical questions, Mark Driscoll gets the  response dead wrong. So dead wrong that anti-Christ is probably the most accurate term to describe it.

He’s wrong.

But you know that already.

 I can tell from the grimace of disgust you had on your face while listening to him that you know that already.

You don’t need to be a pastor to know he’s wrong. And you don’t need to be a pastor to prove he’s wrong.

All you need are a handful of memory verses.

Memory verses like Colossians 1.15: …Jesus Christ is the exact image of the invisible God…’ 

Which means: God is like Jesus.

And God doesn’t change.

Which means: God has always been like Jesus and God will always be like Jesus.

So no, God doesn’t hate you. God has never hated you and God would never hate you.

You don’t need to be pastor to prove he’s wrong; you just need to remember that John 3.16 does not say ‘God so loathed the world that he took Jesus’ life instead of yours.’ 

No, it says ‘God so loved…that he gave…’ 

You don’t need to be a pastor to know that God isn’t fed up with you. God isn’t sick and tired of you. God doesn’t hate the you in you because ‘God was in Christ reconciling all things- all things- to himself.’ 

In case you forgot, that’s 2 Corinthians 5.19.

It’s true that God is just and God is holy and anyone who reads the newspaper has got to think God’s entitled to a little anger, but you don’t have to be a pastor to know that none of those attributes trump the Paul’s Gospel summation that ‘while we were still sinners, God died for the ungodly, for us.’ 

God has not had it up to anywhere with you.

You don’t need to have gone to seminary to know that; you just need to have gone to church on June 30.

That’s when we heard Paul testify from his personal experience that no matter how much we sin, no matter how often we sin, no matter how we sin, no matter how much our sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more.

So that,

     ‘There is therefore now no condemnation…’

     ‘We have peace with God…’

Whatever needed to be set right, whatever needed to be forgiven, whatever needed to be paid, ‘it is finished.’ 

That’s in red letters in my bible. Jesus said it.

His cross, the Letter to the Hebrews says, was ‘a perfect sacrifice, once for all.’ 

For all.

So there’s nothing in your present, there’s nothing in your past, there’s nothing coming down the pike- and just in case you think you’re the exception let’s just say there’s nothing in all of creation– there’s nothing that can separate you from the love of God.

You don’t have to be a pastor to realize that you can say this a whole lot of different ways.

But it all boils down to the same simple message:

     God. Is. For. Us.

     Not against us.

 

But you know that.

Mark Driscoll may have 10K people in his church but I’d bet every last one of you would run him out of this church.

You would never sit through a sermon like. You would never tolerate a preacher like that- you barely tolerate me.

You would never participate in a church that had perverted the Gospel into that.

God hates you. God’s fed up with you. God’s sick and tired of you. God’s suffered long enough with you. God’s against you. 

You would NEVER say that to someone else.

Ever.

But here’s the thing- and maybe you do need to be a pastor know this:

 There are plenty of you

who say things like that

to yourselves

all the time.

Not one of you would ever say things like that to someone else, but, consider it on the job knowledge, plenty of you say it to yourself every day.

Plenty of you ‘know’ Paul’s questions are rhetorical.

You know there’s only one possible answer, only one way to respond: God is for us.

And yet…

When it comes to you and your life and what you’ve done and how God must feel about the person you see in the mirror, your inner monologue sounds a whole lot more like Mark Driscoll than it sounds like Paul.

You may know this, but as a pastor I definitely do.

Even though you’d never say it in a sermon, you tell yourself that surely God’s fed up with you for the mess you made of your marriage or the mistakes you made with your kids or the ways your life hasn’t measured up.

Even though you’d never dream of saying to someone else ‘there’s no God will forgive that’ that’s exactly what you tell yourself when it comes to the secret that God knows but your spouse doesn’t.

Even though there’s no way you’d ever consider saying it to someone else, you still tell yourself that there’s no way your faith is deep enough, commitment strong enough, beliefs firm enough to ever please God.

Even though it would never cross your mind to say to someone else ‘God must be angry with you for something…God must be punishing you…’ many of you can’t get that out of your mind when you receive a diagnosis or suffer the death of someone close to you.

     God hates you. God’s fed up with you. God’s sick and tired of you. God’s suffered long enough with you. 

I can’t think of one of you who would let a voice like Mark Driscoll’s into this pulpit on a Sunday morning.

And yet I can think of a whole lot of us who every day let a voice just like his into our heads.

 

So here’s my question: why?

I mean- we know Paul’s being rhetorical. We know it’s obvious. We know there’s only one possible response: God is for us.

So why?

Why do we persist in imagining that God is angry or impatient or wearied or judgmental or vindictive or ungracious or unforgiving?

If it’s obvious enough for a rhetorical question then why?

Why do we persist in imagining that God is like anything other than Jesus?

Is it because we tripped up on those bible verses that speak of God’s anger?

Maybe.

Is it because we’ve all heard preachers or we all know Christians who sound a little like Mark Driscoll?

Sure we have.

Is it because we’re convinced the sin in our lives is so great, so serious, that we’re the exception to Paul’s ironclad, gospel

equation: God is for us?

Is it because we think we’re the exception?

Maybe for some of us.

But I wonder.

I wonder if we persist in imagining that God is angry and impatient and unforgiving and at the end of his rope- I wonder if we imagine God is like that because that’s what we’re like.

I wonder if we imagine God must be angry because we carry around so much anger with us?

I wonder if we imagine there are some things even God can’t forgive because there are things we won’t forgive?

I wonder if we imagine that God’s at the end of his rope because there are plenty of people with whom we’re at the end of ours?

I’ve been open with you in the past about my sometimes rocky sometimes resuscitated relationship with my Dad.

I’ve told you about how my dad and me- we have a history that started when I was about the age my youngest boy is now.

And I’ve told you about how even today our relationship is tense and complicated…sticky- the way it always is in a family when addiction and infidelity and abuse are part of a story that ends in separation.

As with any separation, all the relationships in the family got complicated. And as with many separations, what happens in childhood reverberates well into adulthood.

What I haven’t told you before is that I had a falling out, over a year ago, with my Mom.

The kind of falling out where you can no longer remember what or who started it or if it was even important.

The kind of rift that seemed to pull down every successive conversation like an undertow.

The kind of argument that starts out in anger and then slowly advances on both sides towards a stubborn refusal to forgive and eventually ages into a sad resignation that this is what the relationship is now, that this is what it will be, that this thing is between us now and is going to stay there.

We had that falling out quite a while ago, and I’ve let it fester simply because I didn’t have the energy to do the work I knew it would take to repair it.

And, to be honest, I didn’t have the faith to believe it could be repaired.

There’s no way I can say this without it sounding contrived and cliche.

There’s no way I can say this without it sounding exactly like the sort of sentimental BS you might expect in a sermon.

So I’ll just say it straight up and if it makes you want to vomit go ahead. I read Romans 8 late this week and it…convicted me.

And so I called my Mom.

‘We need to talk’ I said.

‘You really think so?’

It was a rhetorical question. There was only one possible answer: yes.

 

And so I began by telling her that I’d been reading a part of the bible and that I’d just noticed something I’d never noticed before.

 

I don’t know why I’d never noticed it before.

Romans 8.31-39 is, after all, one of the most popular scripture texts for funerals. I’ve preached on this scripture probably more than any other biblical text.

Yet preaching it for funerals, with death and eternity looming, I never noticed how this passage about how no one is against us, how no one will condemn us, how nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus- it comes at the end of Paul’s chapter on the Holy Spirit.

It comes as the conclusion to Paul talking about how we are to live according to the Spirit- according to Christ’s Spirit.

It comes as the conclusion to Paul talking about how we are the heirs of Christ’s ministry, about how that inheritance will involve certainly suffering but that the Spirit will help us in our weakness.

This ‘nothing shall separate us’ passage- it comes as the conclusion to Paul telling us how the Holy Spirit will work in our lives to conform us to Christ’s image so that we might live up to and in to calling.

 In all the times I’ve turned to Romans 8 for a funeral sermon, I’ve never noticed before that, for Paul, it’s not about eternity.

 It’s about living eternity now.

 

Who is against us? Who will condemn us?

Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

Paul’s questions might be rhetorical.

The answers might be obvious and certain.

But that doesn’t make them easy or simple.

I’d never noticed that for Paul here in Romans 8- it’s actually meant to be the kind of preaching that demands a response.

Because if you believe that God in Jesus Christ is unconditionally, no matter what, for us then you’ve also got to believe that you should not hold anything against someone else.

If you believe that God in Christ Jesus refuses- gratuitiously- to condemn your life, then you’ve got to at least believe that it should be ditto for the people in your life.

And if you believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, nothing in all creation, then you must also believe that because of the love of God in Christ Jesus then nothing, nothing, nothing should separate us.

From one another.

 

mainRather than break my promise (reading Mark Driscoll’s crap ebook, Pastor Dad, in a charitable spirit that’s open to learning) I decided to avoid my promise. That’s right, I’ve (e)shelved the book.

So rather than posting another Driscoll rant, here’s a Father’s Day letter to my boys.

     Dear Gabriel and Alexander,

 

Another year has passed! Boys, the more I enjoy our time together the faster it seems to speed by. Even to the two of you- looking at the photos on our cork board recently, Gabriel, I mentioned how much older you look now than you do in some of the photos.

And you replied: ‘Yeah, you look older too.’

 

No matter how old I look to you, boys, I hope you’ll at least realize that in your Father’s eyes you two are perfect, just perfect.

 

I told you last Father’s Day how I stole this idea of writing you a letter from Dennis. I figure Dennis spends much of his time taking credit for my hard work and brilliance so turnabout’s fair play. Boys, the folks in the 8:30 service won’t realize I’m joking but I trust you do.

 

I also confessed to you last Father’s Day how normally I have strong convictions against celebrating cultural holidays in worship. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…they’re not Christian holidays. Christians have a different calendar and a different story I’ve always believed.

 

So in one vein you could say my writing you this letter for worship makes me a hypocrite.

 

But in another vein I think its a faithful act because if you two are not a means of God’s grace for me then God never spoke a Word.

 

Alexander,

 

You’ve been with us for three years now. It feels like yesterday and like you’ve always been here.

 

No longer do I need to hold you at night and reassure you that ours is your forever family. Instead you’re now content to hug me, pray your prayer, roll over underneath your covers and drift off to sleep.

 

This year thanks to those annoying place-mats your Aunt Andi bought you, you’ve memorized seemingly endless, inane Presidential trivia. You can tell us which President kept goats, which President was single, which President killed someone in a carriage crash.

 

And you do tell us, over and over and over, at every meal.

 

Sometime during this year, X, you finally got the hang of sarcasm. It was an answer to prayer.

 

There was the night I made polenta and onions for dinner and you leaned over your plate, inhaled the rising steam and said: ‘Man, I love polenta and onions.’

 

And there was the night after Christmas when we were stuck in New York City during the blizzard. I couldn’t see because of the snow and wind and I got us lost. And you said from behind your frosted hood: ‘Dad, you really know your way around New York.’

 

I suppose some parents wouldn’t want their kids to be sarcastic, but I thought it was perfect.

This year, X, I watched you on several Sunday evenings sit down on a love seat next to Eleanor, our elderly friend, and read to her. You had with her the same endless supply of empathy I see you display with your baby cousins.

 

I will forever remember the day before New Year’s, standing in the back of the funeral home and watching you kneel at Eleanor’s open casket and earnestly pray for her.

 

Far from feeling concerned for you, in that moment I thought you were perfect, just perfect.

 

This year, X, you’ve gone from not being able to swim at all to swimming Butterfly with the grace of, well, a butterfly.

 

Watching you in the water, you look perfect.

 

You may not even remember, X, but one evening this winter after swim practice another kid looked at you and then looked at me, and he asked you if I was your “real” Dad.

 

I wasn’t sure for a second if you knew what the kid was getting at, but then you said ‘Yeah’ and you grabbed my hand and you looked up at me and you smiled and I knew you got it.

 

And in that moment I felt perfect, just perfect.

 

Gabriel,

 

I can’t believe the little hands I first held at Easter four years ago are now holding #2 pencils and doing worksheets at the kitchen table.

 

I can’t believe you’ve gone from playing with the plastic astronaut toys Charlotte Rexroad gave you to explaining the revolution of the earth to me.

 

I can’t believe that the Legos you used to shove up your nose you’re now using to do math problems. I wish I could take those Lego pieces and subtract the time that’s gone by too fast.

 

This year you’ve learned to make pancakes. And you’ve learned to ride your bike without training wheels. Actually, you didn’t learn. You just announced you didn’t need your training wheels anymore and then you did it.

 

Like so many other things, you did it on your own terms. That same quality that often makes me want to wring your neck I think will one day make you a leader.

 

This year, Gabriel, you gave me my biggest laugh.

 

When we were camping, one morning while I was making coffee you emerged from the tent with your hiking boots on, your footy-jammies unzipped and hanging down your knees, with no underwear on and, for some reason, wearing your enormous orange skateboarding helmet on your head. You stepped from the tent, gave me a knowing grin and then marched over to a nearby tree to do your business.

 

Your mother won’t like that I’ve shared that story and I’m sure someone in church will tell me it was inappropriate, but I think it was perfect.

 

Perfect because you make me laugh, Gabriel.

 

Whether its wearing your underwear on the outside of your jeans, putting on a red cape and pretending to be Nacho Libre as you jump off the back of the armchair or whether its the glee in your eyes as you ring Mark Gunggoll’s doorbell and then run away before he can answer.

 

Your sense of humor- it’s perfect.

 

For your fifth birthday, Gabriel, you asked for a kitten. You named her Karli, and you’ve displayed with her nothing but gentleness. It’s the same gentleness that wakes me up every morning with your smiling eyes on the corner of my pillow and your hand rubbing my hair.

 

Speaking of which, Gabriel, you keep telling us you’re too old to keep sneaking into our bed at night, but you’ve yet to make good on your words. As you get older, my share of the bed gets smaller and smaller.

 

Even still, waking up to your gentle, smiling eyes is perfect, just perfect.

 

One afternoon this April, Gabriel, you walked in on me while I was struggling to write a sermon and you found me crying. You asked me why and I told about you about a little boy who’d died.

 

 

You blinked and then gestured emphatically with your little hands and said: ‘Poor him. His poor family. It’s a good thing Jesus loves all the children.’

 

And you didn’t know it but you’d just given me my sermon and, just like that, you’d reminded me that you’re perfect, just perfect.

 

Boys,

 

A few months ago we were in the checkout line at Safeway. Sharon Perry was behind us. She hadn’t noticed us but, Alexander, you saw that it was her. I could see the little gears in your head turning.

 

Alexander, you pointed up at an issue of Men’s Health and you announced loudly so Sharon (and everyone else) would hear you: ‘Dad, his muscles are way bigger than yours.’

 

I feigned outrage and threatened to teach you a lesson. Alexander, you responded by saying: ‘Dad, you could not beat anyone up.’

 

Maybe that’s true now, but it wasn’t always true.

 

There’s a story I tell the confirmation kids every year. It’s more like a confession.

 

When I was in the sixth grade, I was bullied mercilessly for 3/4 of the year. I was the pimply, awkward, new kid on the bus, and every day- every day- a boy who was two years older and sat in the seat in front of me would shame me, spit on me, pick on me and hit me.

 

There are worse details I could share but if I did you’ll never go to middle school. He literally made that year Hell for me, and, as is the way in Jr High, I suffered it in silence.

 

Everyone called him Frog because he kind of looked like one. It never occurred to me that he was the way he was because he’d been treated the same way he treated me.

 

Anyway, after suffering nearly a year of his abuse, I decided to put a stop to it. One afternoon I didn’t get off at my bus stop. I rode for three more stops and got off at Frog’s neighborhood. And then I beat him up. Badly.

 

Boys, when I tell that story to the confirmation kids, I always build it up in a deliberate way; so that, when I get to the part about beating Frog up the kids- girls as well as boys- they always applaud. They always cheer.

 

They always think the way I handled Frog was perfect.

 

And then I tell them the rest of the story.

 

I tell them how what I did to Frog made him a sad, timid person who never again looked me or anyone else in the eye. I tell them how I became a Christian some years after that, and I tell them about the Sunday morning I heard Dennis Perry read from the sermon on the mount at Woodlake United Methodist Church:

 

“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Every year, boys, I tell the confirmation kids how, having heard Jesus’ sermon, I knew that if I was serious about being a Christian then I needed to ask for Frog’s forgiveness.

 

That’s what I did, in the parking lot of a grocery store where he worked as a bagger.

 

No one ever applauds when I end the story there. My Father’s Day wish is that one day you’ll become the sort of men who do.

 

Boys, in my eyes the two of you are perfect in every way. And I’ve no doubt God looks upon you with a joy similar to my own. But the hard Gospel truth is that the perfection God wants to see in us is a peculiar sort.

 

To be perfect is not to be sinless or without fault.

 

To be perfect in God’s eyes is to love those you’ve no inclination to love, to love those who do not love you, to love those who hate you and those you long to hate.

 

Jesus could’ve said it in so many other places in the Gospel.

 

When Jesus praised the generosity of the widow with her single coin, Jesus could’ve said: ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’

 

When the disciples ask him how to pray, Jesus could’ve ended his lesson with ‘Be perfect as your Father is perfect.’

 

Or when Jesus told the rich, young man to sell all his possessions or when he told the lawyer “to love your neighbor as you love yourself’ Jesus could’ve added ‘Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’

 

But Jesus says it here about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies and giving the clothes off your back to the person attacking you behind your back.

 

Don’t think, boys, this is about the avoidance of conflict. Because nothing will make enemies for you like a determination to love like Jesus, and that’s where faith comes in, boys.

 

After all, if you really did give your clothes to the person accusing you, then you’d be left standing there before a judge naked and that sounds ridiculous.

Except that’s exactly what Jesus did. You see it’s about faith, boys. Christians love their enemies not because its a guarantee our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

 

No, Christians love their enemies because that’s the same love that was nailed to a Cross. That’s the love God vindicates on Easter.

 

It takes faith- faith that if we love as Jesus loved then God will vindicate us too. Of course, boys, this sort of love is costly and counter-intuitive and doesn’t come any easier for your father than for anyone else in this world.

 

So I’m not the example you should be looking to. Instead you should strive to be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

-Dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

imagesChapter 7 of Mark Driscoll’s ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights into Fatherhood, is entitled ‘Protecting from Sin and Folly.’

Predictably Driscoll focuses so much on sexual sins you’d think this is the only subject which parents need to teach their children.

As a counter to Driscoll, I thought I’d post this old Father’s Day letter/sermon to/about my boys from 3 years ago.

Everything We Need: Galatians 5.1, 13-24

Dear Gabriel and Alexander,

 

First, my apologies. I had meant to write this letter and give it to you on Father’s Day. Unfortunately I have this job where I have to work most weekends so instead you’re getting it a week late. In any case, I hope you will take this letter, tuck it away somewhere and save it for a day when you want some advice and life wisdom from your old man. I’m guessing that day will not come until you are in your forties so make sure you store this in a dry place.

 

You might be wondering if this should not be the other way around. Maybe you should be the ones writing me a letter. After all, what kind of self-aggrandizing, cheese-ball writes his kids a letter on Father’s Day and then reads it from the pulpit? Gabriel, if you do happen to ask yourself that question, the answer is your godfather, Dr. Dennis Perry. I got the idea years ago when I was just a teenager, listening to the letters he wrote to Jess and Ben.

 

You should know I went through a phase in my theological development where I didn’t think it appropriate to talk at all in sermons about mothers and fathers and children. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day aren’t liturgical holidays, after all, and Jesus seemed to have had a complicated relationship with his own family.

 

I can tell you I’ve disappointed no small amount of church ladies with my previous refusals to preach Mother’s Day sermons. Obviously its because of you two boys but these days my thinking is changed. I can’t help thinking that if the Gospel has no bearing on our everyday, ordinary decisions and relationships then the incarnation- God taking flesh and dwelling among us- was kind of a waste of time.

 

Alexander, by now you’ve spent not quite two of your seven years with us. Just as if I’d held you at your birth, I honestly can’t recall a time you weren’t with us. As much as the extra weight around my middle, the weight of your head on my shoulder feels a part of me.

 

X, when I think of how far you’ve come since you first came to live with us and when I think of all the obstacles you have overcome, I’m filled with pride for you. And my faith is reinvigorated. I know your success is not because of your mom or me or even entirely because of you. I don’t often talk about seeing God at work in my life for fear of intimidating people who don’t see their lives that way. X, you are one case where I feel no need to be reticent.

 

Since we promised to be your forever home I’ve watched you go from just a handful of English words to turning the pages of Roald Dahl. This year I’ve seen you step out from your fear of getting something wrong to try new things- and, okay, maybe you should’ve been more afraid of skiing.

And this year I’ve discovered just how empathetic you are Alexander. With everyone. I can’t guess what path you will choose when you are older, but I pray its one in which you get to exercise this gift that God’s given you.

 

Gabriel, you make me laugh. I hope you always will. Some parents wonder what their children will be like when they are older. Considering how often I catch you hiding in the closet eating cheetos and cookies, I mostly wonder how big you’ll be when you’re older.

 

Gabriel, this year you’ve learned to ride your bike, your skateboard and to jump in the pool- all with reckless abandon. As the Fantastic Mr Fox says, that’s your trademark. This year you’ve also developed your potty humor and sarcasm to heights previously unmatched for a four year old. While some will say you couldn’t have inherited this from me genetically, I like to think it certainly has come by osmosis.

 

I can’t believe you’re four years old. I already miss the sound of you tramping down the hallway at 11:30 at night, wrapped in your red Nationals blanket, asking if you can watch Deadliest Catch with your mom and me.

 

But this year we’ve noticed other things about you boys too. For example, Alexander I’d no idea you could recite the Lord’s Prayer all by yourself, and Gabriel I don’t know when you learned to hold your hands out to receive- rather than take- communion.

 

I saw signs of your spiritual development all year, such as the afternoon this spring I listened to the two of you arguing in the backseat of my car about the nature of the Risen Christ. Alexander, I heard you positing that the Risen Jesus is ‘kind of like a Jedi, like Obi-Wan after he dies.’ Gabriel, on the other hand, you felt the Easter Jesus had more in common with Gandalf from Lord of the Rings because when he comes back from the dead ‘he’s sparkly.’

 

That’s hardly all. There was the evening at the dinner table when you, Alexander, matter-of-factly explained that Jesus and God are one and the same and, in your own words, you explained how Jesus was present at creation. Not too shabby for a first grader.

 

And there was the Easter night this Spring when we were all serving the homeless in DC with some church people when you, Gabriel, looked at me with complete seriousness and explained that we were doing what we were doing because Jesus had been homeless too.

 

When people hear this about you, its possible they’ll chalk it up to you being a couple of preacher kids. They’d never believe that in our house we actually talk more about bluegrass, baseball and the X-Men. Despite wearing a robe once a week and having some people call me Reverend, the truth is I don’t know how to plant this faith in you any better than any other parent.

No, the growth of your faith is a testimony to the Church- not just to Aldersgate Church specifically but to the Church with a big C, to the Church as a sacrament, to the Church a visible means of a grace we can’t see with our own eyes.

 

You’ll learn one day, if you’ve not already, that the Church is often easy for people to mock and parody. The Church can be easy to criticize and it can be a convenient scapegoat for disillusionment. Nevertheless, its every bit as true that the Church can transform people. Of that, you are already exhibits A and B.

 

Gabriel, one afternoon this summer while we were at the pool you pointed out how I had a couple of gray hairs on my chest. You then said: ‘Daddy, you’re old. Are you going to die soon?’

 

I like to think the gray hair is just part of my plan to look more and more like Sam Elliot, but even if that doesn’t work out for me the gray hair at least puts me in a better position to begin offering you sagely wisdom. Are you ready?

 

Here it is:

When you get older, one day and probably many times thereafter, you are going to wonder: DO I HAVE ENOUGH?

 

Enough what? you might be asking. Enough of anything.

 

I’m starting my 10th year in ministry and my 6th year at Aldersgate, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about people its that there’s one anxiety we all share. Its an anxiety about not having enough: money, time, love, health, security, faith.

 

You should know, boys, that question’s as old as the bible; in fact, they even asked it in the bible. A teacher named Paul wrote a letter about it.

 

Gabriel, you already know some of it. Thanks to Mrs. Mertins and the Aldersgate Day School you know all about the fruit of the Spirit. But somehow I doubt Mrs Mertins taught you that Paul writes about the fruit in the middle of a long argument about circumcision. I imagine it is hard to explain circumcision with construction paper.

 

If you were to read Paul’s letter now, I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me it was confusing, that you tripped over words like Flesh, Law, Justification and, naturally, Circumcision.

 

Here’s the thing- when you push all the confusing parts to the side, what you discover is that Paul is writing to people who wonder if they have enough. Only their question is: Is Jesus Enough?

 

These people loved Jesus. They believed in him and had faith in him.

 

They believed Jesus was enough to get them into heaven; they just didn’t think Jesus was enough to make sense of their practical, everyday lives. They wanted something else that would tell them what to do and what not to do, who to be, and where to go with their lives. So they hoped that something called the Law could give them the answers that, let’s face it, everyone wants.

 

We do not argue too much about the Law anymore, but the fact is boys: every moment of your lives you’re being bombarded with messages about what to wear, what to desire and buy, how to think, who to fear, what to hate, where to belong, what is possible and what you should aspire to.

 

So its no different than it was in Paul’s day. Everywhere you are confronted with messages telling you that Jesus is not enough to make your way in the world.

 

In response, Paul says we should ‘live by the Spirit.’

 

X, you asked me not too long ago what the Holy Spirit is. And I said it was like wind or breath, something that is everywhere even if you can’t see it. I could tell from the look on your face that that was a singularly unsatisfying answer.

 

I think in general Christians are too sloppy when it comes to talking about the Holy Spirit because really its simple: the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus.

 

The Spirit is Holy because its Jesus’ Spirit. The Holy Spirit is how Jesus is at work in the world today. The Spirit does what Jesus did and if the Spirit allegedly does something Jesus would not have done then, chances are, its not really the Spirit.

 

When Paul says that we should live by the Spirit, he means we should follow Jesus: mimic his life, practice his teachings, apprentice our lives to his life. He is the mold we should pour our lives into.

 

That’s where the fruit of the Spirit comes in, Gabriel. Paul says that if we apprentice our lives to Jesus then our lives will be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, gentleness, and self-control.

 

Some bibles have Paul saying ‘There is no law against such things’ but, really, in the Greek, it says: ‘There is no shortage of such things.’

 

In other words, Paul is saying our lives will resemble Jesus’ life. And not only is that is enough for your life, really its everything you need.

 

God doesn’t give you everything you want- you’ve probably learned that already.

 

God doesn’t give you everything you need to be happy and free from disappointment and suffering.

 

But God does give you everything you need to follow him. That’s what we were made to do and that’s what the fruit of the Spirit means.

 

And that brings me back to the Church, boys- the Church with a big C. Because our lives are meant to bear fruit; our lives are meant to look like the life Jesus lived. So its not that your faith can ever be just one part of your life.

 

The moment you become a disciple your life suddenly becomes something for you to cultivate and grow. And you can only do that among the People we call Church. You can only do that by learning how to worship and pray, by learning how to give and forgive, by serving and sharing another’s burdens.

 

I hope when you are my age you have not forgotten that. I hope none of us have.

 

Love,

Dad

mainDick Cheney could’ve spared himself a lot of historical ignominy had he opted to force prisoners to read Mark Driscoll’s ebook Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights into Fatherhood rather than submit them to water-boarding.

The cumulative effect of Driscoll’s self-congratulatory screed has been to remind me of Robert DeNiro’s stepfather character in This Boy’s Life, the memoir/film by Tobias Wolf.

DeNiro’s abusive yet pathetically silly character, like Driscoll himself, haunted the Pacific Northwest.

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Chapter 6 of Driscoll’s ebook, ‘Instruction Followed by Correction,’ pretty much follows this theo-literary formula:

‘A wise and godly father SHOULD______________’ 

‘A wise and godly father MUST________________ ‘

Insert tenuous citation from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. 

I began reading this book to anticipate Father’s Day but Driscoll is such a boorish nag the book is better suited to Mother’s-in-Law Day.

The model of ‘biblical’ parenting prescribed by Driscoll presents a telling contrast to that other sacred text opening in theaters tomorrow, Man of Steel.

People who know me or read me will not be surprised that in the comic pantheon I prefer Batman, well tied with Hell Boy actually. Batman is dark and damaged. Cynicism leads him to vigilantism. The costume reveals his true self rather than masks it.

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Superman, on the other hand, has always been a bit too bright, too optimistic and Americana kitsch for me.

Except, I guess I should qualify that by saying I never really cared for Superman until I had kids.

Until I adopted kids, I should add.

My oldest boy, I should specify.

Most reflections (of a theological bent) on Superman focus on how Kal-El is a graphic, American Dream projection of our need to have a Christ-like Savior figure, one whose character is as pure as his powers are mighty. And sure, you can interpret Superman that way. I mean it’s not exactly subtle; Kal- El is a loose play on the Hebrew for ‘voice of God.’

But to read it only that way is, I think, to miss something else entirely.

Superman’s goodness, his kindness and gentleness, his (often unfounded) insistence on believing in the good inside people- all those attributes that led me to dismiss Superman when I was  a boy are exactly those things that give me hope now that I have boys.

Because those attributes of Clark Kent I found so bland and corny as a kid are attributes Clark acquired from Ma and Pa Kent.

His adoptive parents. article-kent-2

This is clear to anyone who’s read the Superman comics- and it’s what makes Superman Red Son, in which Clark’s spaceship crashes not in the Midwest but in the Soviet Union, so interesting.

Clark is the way he is, unfailingly kind (even to the point of naivete), gentle and good, not because he went to K-5 at the Fortress of Solitude Academy.

No, he is the way he is because that’s the example Ma and Pa Kent gave him as his parents.

Superman’s goodness is their goodness.

While Batman shows the life-long impact of tragedy striking a boy in one’s formative years, Superman, more so than any other comic superhero, demonstrates the power- the possibility- of nurture being just as formative in a child’s life as nature.

In the Church, we call that grace. It’s the good news behind Clark’s goodness. And it’s been the good news in our own family.

We adopted our oldest boy when he was a few days shy of his 5th birthday. His preceding years had given us every reason to expect that the proceeding years would be far from easy. Or happy.

The adoption world uses terms like ‘at risk’ and ‘special needs’ to name the possibility that whatever’s happened before this child crashed into your life likely cannot be undone by whatever love you nurture in him.

And often, sadly, that IS how the story turns out.

But I can give you at least two stories, one drawn in reds and blues and the other being told in flesh and blood, that turn out differently.

 

mainA friend recently suggested that reading Mark Driscoll is my guilty pleasure- he is, this friend observed, my Fifty Shades of Grey.

An apt analogy considering how, like Fifty Shades (I’m speculating here. It’s not that I’ve actually read it), Driscoll begins each chapter in a predictable, harmless way but before you know it you’re in the middle of something unholy that’s careening towards abuse and torture.

Even Hannibal Lector serves his victims dinner first.

Much in the same way, Chapter 5 of Pastor Dad comes with the title, ‘The Masculine Duty to Provide’ and begins with this sensitive, courting line:

‘It is dad who should be reading the bible with his kids, praying with them, and answering their questions- not just mom.’

But don’t be fooled.

Like the suitor of a torture-porn novel, this is just Driscoll’s way of hooking you so he can go on to his real interest of base objectification.  mark-driscoll

First, Driscoll cuffs women to his nostalgic rereading of scripture:

“Work is for a man an act of worship, just as his wife’s work is worshipful for her. this does not mean that it is a sin for a wife to work when a couple is first married, as they are getting ready to begin their family, or for a wife to make money on the side as a secondary priority while remaining at home with the children, or even for her to work once the children are grown if the motives are pure and her primary duties are not neglected.”

Ladies, don’t get your panties in a bunch because the only thing Driscoll is equal opportunity about is his reified gender roles. When it comes to gender stereotypes, Driscoll goes both ways:

“…there is no way anyone could read the bible and wind up with the silly notion that both the husband and the wife are to be providers and that daycares or relatives are supposed to raise the children of a christian couple. furthermore, it is completely impossible to read the bible and wind up with the inane idea that a christian father can be a stay-at-home dad while mom goes to work. anyone who thinks these things are acceptable is
by definition worldly.”

Inane?

Isn’t it more inane to impose your incredibly modern, incredibly Western notion of the nuclear family upon biblical texts that share no such presumption?

Isn’t it more inane to use scripture to privilege the Leave to Beaver ideal when a literal reading of much of scripture would mandate that Ward Cleaver enjoy the blessing of at least several Junes in his family?

But what’s the point of debating Driscoll? Like Fifty Shades, you don’t spend time with Mark for the thoughtful conversation. It’s the rough and tumble that his fans get off on. Take this role-playing experiment towards the end of his chapter in which Driscoll feigns a scene of domestic tranquility:

“One night while tucking my daughter Ashley into bed, I asked her, “what should a good daddy do?” Putting her finger on her chin to think, she said, “a daddy should make a lot of money, a daddy should read his bible, a daddy should teach his kids, a daddy should love his kids, and a daddy should be silly and have lots of fun.”

Fifty-Shades-of-GreyThat’s as misleading as Fifty Shades’ innocuous dust jacket. Just a normal Daddy-Daughter exchange you think at first, but before you know it you’re wondering ‘Wait, did his daughter just say a daddy’s first job is to make money?’

A lot of money even.

After reading that I asked my own boys (7 and 10) the same question, and I got this answer:

‘A good daddy loves his kids, teaches them things, teaches them about Jesus, farts (Gabriel) and buys us toys (Gabriel again).’

Maybe that’s not a Chicken Soup type answer but it’s real. Making lots of money would never cross their minds as a response.

So either Mark Driscoll is full of crap about that conversation, which would be sad to put such words in his daughter’s mouth.

Or, Mark is telling the truth and the first thing that struck his daughter about a father’s role is making LOTS of money.

While my boys included cracks about farting and toys, they also reflexively said something about Jesus. And that’s no small point of comparison when it comes to Driscoll’s Pastor Dad.

There’s nothing in it about Jesus.

Where I’d say my primary goal as a father is to nurture my boys into bearing the image of Christ to benefit the world, Mark argues its to provide- financially- for his children.

He calls his book Pastor Dad but in the ways that count there’s nothing really distinctively Christian about his book.

It just reads like a Dad, circa 1951, giving his son fatherly advice with a little scripture thrown in for gravitas.

What’s more, this and the previous chapters of Pastor Dad rely almost exclusively on quotations from Proverbs- a collection of pithy, koans of wisdom that have no context and are ripe for misuse.

When he doesn’t cite Proverbs, he defers to other Wisdom literature.

Fine. But thus far I’ve not come across a single reference to the Gospel stories. Nothing about Jesus- other than how a godly father’s job is to rear his children in the belief that Jesus died for their sin.

But there’s nothing here about Jesus as the 2nd Adam, a model or pattern for what it means to be human.

Surprisingly, a book ostensibly about fatherhood reveals the fatal deficiencies in Driscoll’s Neo-Calvinism.

Calvinism’s singular focus on justification by faith (which itself focuses exclusively on the death of Jesus) just has no other use for Jesus.

Like torture porn itself, once you get past the shock factor of Driscoll’s theology, you realize it’s pretty thin stuff indeed.

 

 

 

mainI’ve been marking the time up to Father’s Let’s Baptize Consumerism by Idealizing the Family Day by reading Mark Driscoll’s new ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights on Fatherhood.

On previous occasions, I’ve duly and honestly noted that, for me, Mark Driscoll is right up there with Joel Osteen, Bob Saget and Joseph Goebbels. While I’ve been accused from time to time of gross exaggeration, crass generalization and conceited dismissals of contrary views, I’m like a kid with sidewalk chalk to Driscoll’s Picasso.

A master of the arresting tweet and jaw-droppingly false assertions, Driscoll’s a one-man meme-maker with his straight-faced, ‘scriptural’ sermons about biblically-mandated BJ’s and liberal Christians’ limp-wristed,wimpy versions of Jesus.

While I get gripes from the bishop’s office for making a joke about Jesus farting, Driscoll gets ecclesial kudos and book deals for things that make George Carlin seem like Mr Rogers.

Despite the gag reflex Driscoll provokes in the back of my throat, I promised to read his book in a spirit of Christ-centered detente because lessons can be learned even from enemies. Right? mark-driscoll

First lesson learned- and a good one for fathers to pass on:

One should be wary of making promises they can’t keep.

Driscoll’s chapter 5, ‘The Masculine Duty to Provide,’ is like spilling Maker’s Mark are all over a recovering alcoholic. But today instead of ridiculing Driscoll with a glee that will be enjoyed only by me and a few others, I thought I would offer something more thoughtful.

And more Christian.

282568_150937788316009_5326304_nA friend and neighbor, Chad Pecknold, is a theologian at CUA and has a post at Ethika Politika, contemplating fatherhood. I believe this is the argument that Driscoll (if he had the conscience of the average citizen and the IQ of a mole rat) is attempting to make in much his book:

I am haunted by an even deeper crisis that must at least exacerbate, and may even be a root cause of the fatherhood crisis: a loss of an embodied faith and an embodied understanding of God as Father.  As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, it is not from human fathers that we understand what it means for God to be Father, but it is from the revelation of God as Father that our understanding of fatherhood is elevated and perfected.  Is it so impossible to think that a modern vision of God as Deus Absconditus has, inversely, defected and devolved our understanding of fatherhood?

In Charles Taylor’s extravagantly illustrated account of why it has become difficult to believe in God, A Secular Age, he calls the Reformation a “disenchantment engine.”  Martin Luther had famously rejected every attempt of human reason to know God.  Despite the teaching of the Apostle Paul, who said that the invisible God could be known by the things that were made, Luther stressed the unknowability of God through things made.  The god of the philosophers is always a fabricated God of our own making.   Since only God can reveal God, Luther severed the ancient dynamic between Athens and Jerusalem.

For many, the “disenchantment engine” at first made “optional” but then broke the relation between God and creation, as well as the complementary relation between faith and reason.  Sometimes this “break” is blamed on nominalism, the view that universals (invisible things) cannot really be known as anything other than fabricated relations between particular, visible, made things.  How did this happen?  For the nominalists that trained Luther, God’s intellect was unknowable. And since God’s will perfectly expressed his intellect, it was argued that his ways were inscrutable. This made it possible for later thinkers—against the backdrop of the Black Death and other natural disasters—to think about God’s actions in a capricious way.  Instead of understanding God’s actions as fitting the goodness of his nature (as Aquinas argued), it became possible to think of God as an inscrutable and unknowable sovereign, as one who does not necessarily act in accordance with his nature, but may act solely upon his mysterious will.  Fear of this inscrutable God made it easier for some thinkers to descend further into what Taylor calls “providential Deism.”

Taylor rightly sees in this descent to “providential Deism” the eclipse of transcendent purpose, the erasure of supernatural grace in an immanent frame, the denial of mystery, and the refusal of a participationist understanding of our relation to God. No longer are we humans called to become “partakers of the divine nature,” or elevated by grace to become adopted sons and daughters of God.  Now God has become the Deus Absconditus that has created the world and simultaneously orphaned it.  Taylor argues that these shifts, among many others, are responsible for why it is more difficult to believe in God now than it was prior to the Reformation.  These shifts have not only made it difficult to know God as Father, but have also made it difficult for us to recognize the nature of human fatherhood in anything other than the basically nominalist and voluntarist modes of providential Deism.  That is at least one of the important reasons why Locke’s view of fatherhood becomes possible, and why liberal cultures that slavishly follow this trajectory will continue to want to hide the fathers.  The antidote is the revelation of the Father’s love for the Son.

 

mainI’ve been reading Mark Driscoll’s new ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights on Fatherhood. It seemed a fitting thing to read this time of the year. We’re a week away from Father’s Home Depot Marketing Blitz Day.

Thus has it always been so. Here’s the skinny on the origins of Father’s Day:

Americans resisted the Father’s Day holiday during the first few decades, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups did not give up: they kept promoting it and even incorporated the jokes into their adverts, and they eventually succeeded

I read that on Wikipedia so it must be true, or at the very least-as the stats bear out- it was written by men and is more accurate than the Encyclopedia Briwhatchimacallit.

Frankly, I don’t care that much about the crass materialism of Father’s Day since it means I will, in all likelihood, receive something from Williams Sonoma my wife would’ve otherwise forbid me from purchasing.

What does p&** me off is how these fake holidays got put on Sundays so that now God’s People are saddled with the expectations created by non-Christian holidays and must, in at least some tacit way, participate in the cultural lie that we all live in the United States of Pleasantville, do not have emotionally complicated families and that what God most wants from us is stable family units that will create a stable civic order.

But I digress.

mark-driscollBut the digression is not my fault. Chapter 4 of Driscoll’s book, Cultivating Kids, reads like he’s finger-pointing and shouting down someone (a liberal Christian woman or effete man, no doubt) on the other side of the room. It’s exhausting. I should’ve saved this book for Lent ’14.

In chapter 4, Driscoll cites as the Christian father’s sole duty as cultivating obedience in their children. Obeying your father is second only to obeying your Father in Driscoll’s assessment of the canon. So important is our children’s obedience that scripture- the Book of Leviticus- stipulates:

“If a child verbally curses or physically attacks a parent, they shall be put to death. Their blood is on their own head.”

We all know Leviticus has some doozies in it that make you wonder why the ancient Israelites needed such peculiar rules- I mean, were there a lot of people misusing their foreskin?

We all know the skinny on Leviticus, yet Driscoll actually cites this stipulation about infanticide with nostalgic fondness.

Who needs a timeout mat when you’ve got ritual killing waiting to play as a trump card?

Cultivating godly obedience in your children means a Christian father must make sure the Lord is glorified in all aspects of the child’s upbringing, Driscoll writes. Okay, I’ll not quibble with him there.

He goes on.

A godly father discern what’s best for his children, home-schooling or Christian schooling.

Or…?

Nope, not on the list provided by Rabbi Driscoll.

Because, as Mark Driscoll says in an assertion that makes Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann seem nuanced:

‘…public education was birthed by atheists such as John Dewey and Horace Mann.’

Didn’t you know?

And, says Driscoll:

if it wasn’t for Calvinists no one in America would likely be able to read right now.

I promised when starting this book that I would be charitable, open to receiving some insight from my enemy.

Yes, well chapter 4 is all goose-eggs and turds.

Therefore, in the spirit of what Mark Driscoll seems incapable of expressing I will spend the rest of this day, which is a gift from God, with my boys, who are both gifts themselves.

Sabbath rest and then we’ll throw something in the smoker.

And if that doesn’t sound like a good idea to my boys, I guess I could always just stone them.

 

mainAgainst every natural and holy impulse within me, I’m marking this advent season before Father’s Hallmark Day by reading Mark Driscoll’s ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights into Fatherhood.

As I’ve oft noted, Mark Driscoll is one of those people who calls to mind that piece of scripture from 2 Peter:

 The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.

For my response to chapter 3 of Pastor Dad, “The Fruitful Vine,” I thought I would attempt what Driscoll almost always fails to bother with : consider a woman’s point of view. My wife, Ali.

So then, I offer you both my reactions to Driscoll’s screed as well my wife’s likely reactions to what she surely would have a stronger and more derogatory term than screed.

Driscoll begins the third chapter in the beginning of the bible, the book of Genesis, telling us that fatherhood and a “biblical family” are rooted in God’s command to Adam to be “fruitful and multiply.”

This means, Driscoll explains with breathtaking generalization, that “godly men desire to have children and that those children would have much fruit in their lives with God.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Does ‘fruitful and multiply’ really mean having children, or do we read that in to the text because State’s more ancient than Rome have always had a stake in encouraging families? Might it just as easily mean our lives are to be about more than ourselves, having a multiplying, pay it forward effect? Does this mean Jesus was also taking about us spawning when he said we’re branches on his vine that should bear fruit?

Ali’s Reaction:

Nice, so Genesis is just a two-party conversation between God and Adam with Eve off doing….what? Doesn’t matter I suppose…to Mark Driscoll. Why in the ________ does he assume God only gave the command to Adam?

Next, Mark Driscoll cites the ‘cleaving’ passage in Genesis 2 to argue that only after a young man has grown up, started a career, and learned to govern his own life “is he qualified to pursue a young woman through father…young men continue to live at home, freeloading off their parents as boys who can shave, while they have sex with girlfriends that they one day may shack up with, and use birth control to prevent pregnancy or abortion to murder their own child because fools see children as a burden and not a blessing.”

Jason’s Reaction:

Let’s just ignore the unalloyed way he just equated all abortion with murder as though there’s no ambiguity on the issue. This is a surprisingly biblical justification for getting married later in life, but I wonder how he feels about the way this rationale rubs against the other biblical notion of chastity outside of marriage?

Ali’s Reaction:

Kudos for Mark Driscoll smacking down boys who want to remain boys into their 30’s, playing XBox, being mommied by women who should be grandmas soon, all the while having their ‘friends with benefits’ or their ‘baby mommas.’

Of course, any prophetic wisdom aimed at men who want to remain boys is lost by the way Driscoll treats women as completely passive objects in the transaction he calls ‘courtship, marriage, and fatherhood.‘

Pursued?”

Really, does this mean women who pursue men can never have a ‘biblical marriage?‘ No doubt Driscoll would have an S word for such women and it wouldn’t be ‘scriptural.‘

“As a general rule, single men should aspire to to marriage and fatherhood, and if they do not there is something seriously wrong with them.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

So, according to Driscoll’s construal of manhood, Jesus is extremely queer- definitely in one sense of the word and possibly in that OTHER sense of it?

Ali’s Reaction:

Weren’t the first Christians ALL single? As a way of expressing their commitment to Christ and their conviction that the community was now their family?

Don’t Christians believe we spread by conversion and baptism? New Creation rather than procreation?

mark-driscollNext Driscoll says:

“When I met my wife, Grace, I adored her and soon asked her how she felt about children, because if she was not interested in being a wife and mother who desired to stay home and raise her children, I was not interested in pursuing a relationship with her and did not want to waste my time.”

Jason’s Reaction:

As I often tell couples, your relationship with your spouse- not your kids- is your first priority. You didn’t swear a covenant with your children; you did with your spouse. You and your spouse are meant to be visible sign of God’s love for us all. Children are the fruit of parabolic, married love; married love is not the means to the end that is children.

Ali’s Reaction:

‘Waste my time…?’ Jason and I met when we were 15 and have been together over half our lives. We had no idea what the future held back then and we were no more naive than couples who meet in their 20’s or 30’s or 40’s. Love- and life- happens. It’s that willingness to step out into an unknown future with someone (whether it means kids or not) that is Christlike and faithful not finding someone to mate with. Did he inspect her teeth and forelegs first before breeding with her?

MD says:

“I wanted to have children and be a father who was the sole economic provider so that my wife could stay home with the children…[a wife whose] children praise her because she is a wise bible teacher who spends her time working hard to build their home and bless their father.”

Jason’s Reaction:

Isn’t ‘sole economic provider’ a bit of an anachronism? The cliche of the husband bringing home the bacon doesn’t really match the biblical context of an agrarian (not capitalist, market-based) economy where said bacon was literally bacon and was literally brought ‘home’ from the field next to the house, a field in which you can be damn scripture sure the woman worked in as well (see: Ruth, Book of).

Ali’s Reaction:

I’d LOVE not to have to work but pastor’s don’t make enough to support a family in an economy with an evaporating middle class. Not to mention, I reserve the right to work should I want to work and I claim the possibility that God might call me to do so in some particular fashion. If not everyone has the same gift from the Spirit, then why/how would God call all women to be stay-at-home moms? Some dads are superbly fitted to be stay-at-home parents, and homes with 2 working parents aren’t de facto bad families.

And then there’s this:  A WIFE’S JOB IS TO BLESS THE….

fATHER?!!!?

As in, her man not her God?

WTF?

Driscoll then moves on to discuss in nuanced, sensitive fashion the influence parents can have on their impressionable, ever-watchful children:

“If a wife is a nag who disrespects her husband by chirping at him all the time, then the children in that home will follow her example and become fools who ruin their lives by similarly disobeying and dishonoring their dad.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Sigh.

Ali’s Reaction:

Nag?! %&^%&&&&^$^&&%$###%^&**^&((^$$##@#&**!

To buttress his claims about the devastating effects of nagging wives upon God’s good creation, Driscoll cites as evidence:

“…anyone doubting this descent would be well served to simply watch one of the innumerable popular sitcoms on television where the husband is an idiot and the wife trash-talks him in front of the children…” 

Jason’s Reaction:

Does anyone really think today’s sitcoms are anymore reflective of reality than Rob and Laura Petrie from the Dick Van Dyke Show? I wasn’t alive, but did married couples with children really sleep in twin beds and know absolutely no black people?

Ali’s Reaction:

Nag?! %&^%&&&&^$^&&%$###%^&**^&((^$$##@#&**!

Bravely though, Driscoll places culpability where it’s due:

“….whose responsibility is it? ultimately, it is men who are responsible because they chose their wives.” 

Jason’s Reaction:

It’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything but marry a great gal.

Ali’s Reaction:

‘Chose?’ Jason and I dated each other. We fell in love together. We decided to marry each other. It was mutual, just like our marriage.

Apparently Mark Driscoll chose his wife off a shelf at the mall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastor Dad

Jason Micheli —  June 5, 2013 — 2 Comments

main
Looking ahead to Father’s Day, I’m reading Mark Driscoll’s new ebook, Pastor Dad: Biblical Insights on Fatherhood.

I’ve not understated my frequent revulsion over the words that come from Mark’s mouth and pen; however, I did promise, perhaps unwisely, that I would read this new book in a spirit of charity and with a willingness to find wisdom in it.

Perhaps God’s rewarding me for my hospitable disposition because Driscoll’s second chapter offers a needful contrary voice to how many parents think of parenting and faith.  Driscoll unabashedly calls parents on the carpet:

‘Our ultimate goal must be that our children would grow to love and worship our God.

As Christian fathers, we should long to see our children worship the same God we do.’

There it is, and as much as I normally loathe Mark Driscoll he’s right on this count.

I can’t even begin to count the number of ‘Christian’ parents I know whose immediate reaction would be to resist this conviction as indoctrination. Driscoll is a far cry here from the dominant American (mainline liberal) ethos which instead advocates introducing our kids to Christianity- but not enough to be harmful to them- but not not inculcating the faith in them.

‘I/We want them ‘to decide for themselves…’ I hear from parents (and engaged couples) all the time. While this is typically presented as caring for the best interests of the children, it’s most often rooted, as all things are, in self-interest.

‘I want them to decide for themselves’ really equals ‘I’m not sufficiently committed to the faith to persuade any one else to it much less my children.’

I mean, think about it. If you really believe your life is a gift from a good God, that the story of Jesus is the truest story of how we’re to live in the world and that the most important possible thing in the world is what God calls us to do in it, then why would you not want that above all things for your son or daughter?

I’m a huge fan of baseball; I love the Washington Nationals.

My children have no absolutely no choice, based on how I’m raising them, to be anything but Nationals fans.

They know the lineups, the stats, the radio commercials in between innings. I’ve exposed them to it and slowly I’m raising them into what it means to be a baseball fan.

Most Dads out wouldn’t quibble with this one iota. Cowboys fans would never think of raising their kids in such a way that they’d not grow up to be Cowboys fans.

But when it comes to Team Jesus most moms and dads are ambivalent.

Nice if it happens maybe but…

This isn’t me being cranky right along with Mark Driscoll. It’s empirical. The recent Survey on Religion and Youth found that the majority of young Christians in America actually practice what sociologists had to describe as ‘Moral Therapeutic Deism.’ 

 

God as a cosmic butler rather than an incarnate messiah that calls you to give up everything and follow him with your life.

Why do the majority of young ‘Christians’ practice MTD?

Drum roll…

Because their parents do.

Children don’t grow and drift away from Church to rebel from their parents.

Children grow up seeing whether or not their parents really walk-the-talk believe and, concluding not so much, they conclude the Church isn’t worth much of their time.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas calls bullshit on this cultural cliche about ‘letting everyone make up their minds.’

In addition to BS, he calls it moral cowardice, frequently telling his students that ‘they don’t have minds worth making up until he’s formed their minds and conformed them to his own.’ 228958_10150729303960096_564145095_20288493_4614542_n

Master teachers should care enough about the life-changing potential of their material to pass it on to their students. Once their students have ‘mastered’ it then by all means their lives can take whatever turns and detours an earnest life brings.

Likewise, Christian parents shouldn’t be letting their kids ‘make up their own minds about Christ’ until their kids have mastered the messiah’s material. Of course, that’s very likely the rub. The Church has failed too many, letting parents’ languish so that they’re still no more than novices.

I’ve taken to applying Hauerwas’ wise (seriously, it’s wise) crack to rearing my own boys, making sure they’ll grow up knowing both the OBP of every starting Nats player and also knowing exactly what Jesus told another young man what he should do to inherit eternal life.

I should point out: my boys can only learn from me what I already know.

 

imagesAdvertising tells me that Father’s Day is fast approaching, that market scripted day of the year when I feel emasculated for desiring neither ties nor power tools.

In anticipation of this Father’s Day, I’ve chosen to do something against type. I’m reading a book about ‘Biblical F/fatherhood.’

Okay, it’s not completely against type. For one thing the book was free, a new ebook entitled ‘Pastor Dad: Scriptural Insights on Fatherhood.’ For another thing the book was written by Mark Driscoll, the rapid, hyper-Calvinist pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Seattle.

You can read it here.

The size of Driscoll’s church, 10K plus on weekends, is an auspicious reminder that the line between discipleship and delusion is a fine one indeed. I once mentioned one of Mark Driscoll’s sermons to my wife, in which Driscoll argued that it’s the Christian wife’s ‘biblical duty’ to give her husband a BJ whenever he wanted it. Seriously. And I got a call from the bishop for making a fart joke. Ever since I mentioned that to my wife any mention of Mark Driscoll sends her into a rage.

mark-driscollTo some Mark Driscoll is this century’s Billy Graham. To other, sane-minded people he is a hipper iteration of Pat Robertson- albeit a Pat Robertson who was dropped on his head too many times as a kid.

Jesus himself said that the word is like seed scattered on all kinds of ground, rock, sand and soil. Truth can sometimes take root in the unlikeliest of places- isn’t that the offensive lesson of grace?

So while I fess up to the honest disclaimer that I think Mark Driscoll is a d*&^%$ bag (a revulsion grounded in both my love of Jesus and my neighbors of the opposite sex) I will also begrudgingly admit that Mark Driscoll sometimes knows what he’s doing.

He certainly knows how to get his thoughts retweeted. He obviously knows how to build a large, other-focused church, and maybe, just maybe, in this Knocked Up, extended adolescent culture there’s a missional need to knock the heads of some ‘godly men.’

All this is to say, I’m reading Pastor Dad prepared to scoff and deride but also willing to be surprised.

Chapter 1: The Good Life

Driscoll’s first chapter is just 2 paragraphs, really it’s only worthy of 1 paragraph if you abide by the traditional rules of the English language. The concision of his opening paragraph has less to do with minimalist art and more to do with not allowing any ambiguity to enter what is his massive, controversial contention:

‘before a man can be a good father, he has to be a good Christian.‘

For a father to know best he must first know his Eternal Father.

Only good Christians can be good fathers, Driscoll contends. And a good Christian, he argues, is one who ‘realizes that God is his Father.’

Driscoll premises all this on the words of the Psalmist (David) that the good life for a man is to be blessed by God, a blessing that takes the form of worshipping God and caring for your family.

It’s barely 2 paragraphs worth of words, but already Pastor Dad is like Whack a Mole, provoking me with the dilemma of which target to strike first.

To go after the suggestion that only good Christians can be good fathers seems too easy. We all, I suspect, know good fathers who are not good Christians or even if they’re Christian they’re not ‘good’ Christians. Even if we don’t know any such people, I daresay we all know some good Christians who are not in any way good fathers. That Christians perform no better as parents or spouses is as well-documented as it is lamentable.

To go after Driscoll for extrapolating a rather large and incendiary contention from a Psalm (a poem written NOT by God but TO God) seems both a flimsy foundation and a misuse of the author’s intent. It’s like reading Catcher in the Rye and coming away with ‘principles’ for how teenagers should respect their elders and authority.

To go after Driscoll for basing this all on a patriarchal hierarchy that sets up a self-serving analogy between fathers and God is ground others have well trod before me.

It’s barely 2 paragraphs in so I’ll withhold judgment, but my first reaction is to rub against Driscoll’s view of and use of scripture. The Bible, as Richard Hays likes to quip, is about God. It’s about Jesus Christ and what God has done and is doing in the world.

To pilfer scripture for ‘principles’ for anything- parenting, marriage, success, happiness, serenity- is to profoundly misuse scripture even while appearing more ‘scriptural.’

Scripture DOES echo from beginning to end that our life is gift, that creation is what happens when God’s love pours out and that in the fullness of time God poured himself out completely, first in to Jesus Christ and ultimately upon a Cross.

It doesn’t make for an easy verse X of passage Y says Z therefore fathers should… principle, but it’s the most faithful approach, I think, to anything resembling ‘biblical’ parenthood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my sermon on Sunday for our Razing Hell series I mentioned how many people I’ve encountered in ministry who’ve been damaged by Christians talking fast and loose about Hell.

One of the first pastoral visits I ever made was to an 80-something woman who was only days from dying. Her niece was somehow connected to someone in my church and asked that I stop by to see her. Still a seminary student, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Long story short, I learned from the dying woman that 60 years earlier she stopped worshipping, stopped attending church, stopped practicing her faith all together, convinced God looked upon her with condemnation and would one day send her to Hell.

Why?

Because she’d divorced her husband and her priest told her matter of factly that she would go to Hell for it. And sixty some years hence she lay in an adjustable automatic bed on her enclosed porch, struggling to breath and swallow, but holding on to life because she feared the after life.

A corollary of God being the Word made flesh is that words matter.

What we say about Hell (and Heaven) can do harm.

This week NPR is doing a series of stories about the ‘Nones,’ those who report to pollsters that they identify with no religious tradition. The series is called ‘Losing Our Religion.‘ On Monday, the report included a young person who bailed on Christianity because of callous Christian speech about Hell.

Today, the report highlighted a widow who righteously rejected her faith after Christian peers tried to sugarcoat her grief by telling her that her dead husband was in a ‘better place.’

Here’s the transcript. Click here to listen to the story.

rich_man_and_lazarus

The Mile High Gliding facility at the Boulder Airport in Colorado is one of Carol Fiore’s favorite haunts. And it’s a perfect day for flying: clear, breezy and with a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains.

Fiore used to fly gliders regularly, but a few years ago she stopped. Flying them had become painful.

“I felt, in a way, that I was searching for something that wasn’t there,” Fiore says. “I was looking for that laughter and that incredible time that I had flying with Eric, and he wasn’t in the plane with me. I was by myself.”

Eric was Fiore’s husband for 20 years. After they married, he flew F-15s in the Air Force. Then the couple moved to Wichita, Kan., where he was a test pilot for the airplane manufacturer Bombardier.

On Oct. 10, 2000, the plane Eric was co-piloting crashed upon takeoff. When Fiore arrived at Via Christi Hospital, she learned that her husband had sustained burns over 50 percent of his body.

“Then I found out they had given him his last rites,” she says.

That wasn’t a surprise, since Via Christi is a Catholic hospital. But even after Fiore announced that Eric would not want anyone praying for him, a priest hovered and prayed, day after day. Finally, she kicked the priest out.

Bristling At ‘A Better Place’

“I think that was a turning point in the whole religion thing for me,” Fiore recalls. “That was the point when I said, ‘You know what?’ — and I told Eric this when he was laying there on the bed — I said, ‘Eric, I don’t care anymore that we have to pretend not to be atheist.’

” ‘We respected people’s religions our whole entire life and I can’t do it anymore,’ ” she told him. ” ‘People are going to respect you now, and you told me you didn’t want them praying over you, and that’s it.’ “

Fiore told everyone that she and Eric were atheists. And still, as he lingered near death for 36 days, people offered religious consolation. “God has a plan,” they told her. “Eric is going to a better place.”

“When he was in the hospital and they said that, he was lying in a bed with tubes coming out with 50 percent burns and no face,” Fiore says. “Is that a better place?”

Fiore continued to hear the sentiment after Eric’s death. “I’m an atheist,” she says. “Eric is in the ground, rotting. I know it sounds horrible to say that, but that is where he is. How is that a better place?”

After Eric’s funeral — which was held in an airplane hangar, not a church — Fiore was flailing. She was hardly able to take care of herself, much less her two young daughters. All the grief groups she found were attached to a church … so she tried the self-help section of Barnes & Noble.

“I was searching frantically for anything that would help me get through this,” Fiore recalls. “But everything I found had to do with God: putting your faith in God, believing that God had some sort of plan. I found nothing to help me.”

Fiore realized she would have to go it alone. She and her two girls moved from Wichita to Loveland, Colo., and as a coping mechanism, she began to write a book — not yet published — about her husband, as well as a grief workbook for atheists.

But mainly, it’s her daughters who give Eric’s tragic death some measure of meaning.

“I don’t believe in an afterlife and I don’t think I’ll see him anymore,” Fiore says. “But I just have to look in Tia’s eyes and hear her laugh, and hear Robin talk about history the same way that Eric did, and know that he is still there.”

Fiore’s daughter Robin, a student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, plans to go on to graduate school in science. She says she sees her father’s genetic influence in herself and in her sister.

“As an ecologist and as a scientist, we believe that when you die, your energy becomes part of a system again,” Robin says. “So there is a sense that he’s part of a system again. And in that way, I guess, people can never really be gone.”

And yet, her mother believes it’s harder for her to grieve because she’s an atheist.

When Mari Bailey’s son, Michael, was killed by an acquaintance in Phoenix in 2004, she lost not only her son but her faith as well.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty/NPR

“I often envy religious people who have that devout faith,” Fiore says. “They know that they’re going to see their … loved ones again when they die. But I don’t believe that. Sometimes, I wish I did.”

Faith Shaken, But Rarely Destroyed

This is a sentiment that Joanne Cacciatore, a professor at Arizona State University, hears often. After her baby died in 1994, Cacciatore started the MISS Foundation, a grief group for parents that has since extended nationwide. She also began focusing her research on how people grieve after a child dies.

Cacciatore says the group has observed that people with some type of spiritual base don’t necessarily cope more easily with the loss, but “they tend to take comfort or solace by the fact that they’ll be reunited with their child at some point,” she says.

Cacciatore says she’s seen nonbelievers embrace spirituality, and religious people wash their hands of God, in the aftermath of tragedy. But most often, she says, tragedy shakes your faith but doesn’t destroy it.

“What we find in the research — my own research and in other studies — is that their faith is generally challenged in some way,” she says. “And yet, they tend to come back full circle to a place of spiritual belief or faith.”

One theme is clear, Cacciatore says: Religious leaders are really bad at comforting people in grief. She surveyed more than 550 families, asking whom they found the most helpful during those first terrible days: first responders, doctors and nurses, social workers, psychologists, funeral directors or spiritual leaders.

“And of all of those, the spiritual leaders actually came in last,” she says.

This is something Mari Bailey can understand. She’s parked across from a brown stucco house in Phoenix. And while it isn’t her home, she knows it well.

“When you walk in, there’s a kitchen, a very small kitchen,” Bailey says. “And that’s where Michael was shot.”

Her only son, Michael, was 21, fresh out of the Navy and newly enrolled in culinary school when he was killed in that house in August 2004. Bailey’s last memory of her son is vivid, hopeful.

“Michael had changed into his chef’s uniform, with his checkered pants and poofy hat, and he looked so cute,” Bailey recalls. “He said, ‘Well, Mom, I’m ready for school.’ He said, ‘I love you,’ and gave me a big hug. And that was the last time I saw him fully conscious.”

After school, Michael went to a friend’s house. An acquaintance dropped by and started yelling and waving a gun around. He shot Michael close up, square in the chest.

“That was when my world just shattered,” Bailey says. Soon, her faith would follow.

‘I’m Alone In This … I Need To Save Myself’

After Michael died, Bailey sought solace at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, where she and her siblings were baptized and took their First Communion. The priest there told her, “We all have our crosses to bear,” and, “It was time for God to call Michael home.”

But Bailey thought a priest couldn’t possibly understand the pain of losing a child.

“I just remember thinking, ‘That’s it. I’m done with the Catholic religion,’ ” Bailey says. “I think it got more personal with God when I tried just praying on my own. Then I became more angry and I questioned, ‘Why do I need to be praying at all? Why is my son dead? And what kind of God lets a child be shot?’

“And, I think that was more me, not only just leaving the Catholic religion, but that was me leaving God, too,” Bailey says.

But that decision brought her no relief.

“It was hard. It was a really hard break from religion to, ‘Uh oh, what am I going to use to save me now?’ And I really came to the realization that, yeah, I’m alone in this and I need to save myself,” she says.

Bailey saved herself by learning everything she could about traumatic grief — the subject of her dissertation.

Education helps her, she says, because “even though you might be falling apart into a million pieces, you at least know why, and where you’re at in the process. And you also know what’s going to happen next, according to the research.”

The research suggests one of the best ways to heal is to help others. Bailey runs a grief group for students in the high school where she teaches, and another for parents whose pain is usually fresher than her own.

Bailey is also on the board of directors of Parents of Murdered Children, for which she leads a monthly meeting. At a recent gathering, mothers told of children whose end was too violent, too soon: a son killed in a random gunfight; a daughter killed by a burglar; a son killed by his cousin; a daughter killed by her jealous partner.

It is here, in the pain, that Bailey feels a little more whole. And yet, she can’t quite abandon the hope of seeing her son again.

“For the sake of Michael, I just need to believe that there is more to life beyond death,” she says. “Because if it’s not, than that means that my son’s life is over completely.”

Bailey wishes she could believe in God again. But, she says, “I just can’t.”