Monday, May 08, 2017

Skipping the Church

This post over at A Cry for Justice is indicative both of what I like about the site and of what makes me deeply uncomfortable about it.

The site has published an open-letter type response to an allegedly real letter from a pastor to an abuse victim (non-physical abuse).  I am not defending the pastor’s letter in any way.  I don’t know enough to say anything about the pastor’s situation at all.  So don’t misconstrue this as an endorsement of his letter. 

What I appreciate about the open letter is how clearly the real pain is communicated.  First, I do think pastors need to realize that often when a person speaks about a spouse’s emotional manipulation (I prefer that word to the term “abuse” so that we can keep the distinction between the crime of physical abuse and the sin of spiritual tyranny), he/she is already at the end of the rope.  The sufferer has reached the tipping point.  It is not a new problem in the marriage but a long-standing pattern.  Hope has been lost.  Second, I’m thankful for the reminder that when a pastor approaches marriage counseling, he ought to consider that one of the marriage partners could very well be a rank pagan.  Pretenders and hypocrites exist within our churches.  Pastors are probably the easiest to fool since we see the people the least.  Spouses witness the hypocrisy the most.  Third, divorce is a biblically acceptable outcome in some situations.  Divorcing couples are not a sign of a failing church or ministry; sometimes they are just the by-product of the depravity of man.

What I find deeply troubling about the open letter is its low view of the church.  And it’s regarding this point that I find myself unable to endorse this open letter (much less A Cry for Justice overall).  This letter begs the pastor to listen.  And he should.  But what the author basically is saying is, “I tried all the Christian stuff already, please grant me a divorce, now.”  Just as the pastor needs to understand that the wife (or whoever is the offended party in the marriage) is at the end of her rope, that person needs to understand that the church has only just now been apprised of the situation.  The church cannot jump straight to the end and just say, “I am sorry for you, here is your divorce.”  We can’t do that because ours is a “ministry of reconciliation.”  We can’t do that because Jesus Christ’s grace is real and can change lives.  It changed Saul into Paul.  It can change anyone.  We can’t jump to the end because, while the wife may have tried everything by herself, she has not tried anything with the backing and support of the church.  That fact is important.

The open letter makes clear that pain and suffering are real, and the husband in that case needs to repent.  He is acting sinfully.  However, the author’s efforts to change her husband are not the same as the church’s.  The church can add its voice to the call to repent, the call to recognize how much the husband’s behavior has hurt his wife and his kids, the call to turn to Jesus and away from sin.  One of the important lessons from Matthew 18 is that the one who refuses to listen is not to be treated as an unbeliever or a tax collector until after he has failed to listen to the church.  I do not see that attitude in the letter.  And that concerns me. 

Ultimately, what I am arguing for is to involve the church much, much earlier in the process.  Go to your church well before you reach the end of your rope.  If your spouse gives you the silent treatment at home, don’t endure it for months, involve the elders and pastor right then.  Is he yelling and screaming and blaming you for financial problems that are not your fault?  Call the pastor.  Did he kill a beloved family pet?  Tell it to the church.  Did he hit you or wave a gun at you or threaten to kill you?  Call the police.  The church understands and will support you.  Physical abuse is a crime and should be reported.  You and the church can work out the details of divorce later.
The open letter is right: pastors should listen.  The letter is right: the pastor was not aware.  But that is because he was never told.  And that is part of the problem.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Misunderstanding love and hate

Ben Mallicote writes about faith and politics at the group blog  His newest piece is written in condemnation of the phrase: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  I dislike the phrase, as well (it comes from one of Augustine’s letters, not from the Bible); however, I strongly disagree with his post. 

1. Ben misunderstands hate. 

I assume that he was motivated to write this article to address the hate he sees in the world.  I wish he had given it some context, because it’s been my experience that people use that phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” in order to take sin less seriously, not in order to give freer rein to hate.  Unfortunately, Ben did not define what he means by hate.  He does assert that those with whom we have relationships (children, friends) are ineligible recipients of our hate.  So from the outset, he conflates “hating the sin” and “hating the sinner” without offering any justification for doing so.  I would wager that’s the point where he loses his argument with the people who are enamored of the phrase.  Then he writes that since we are categorically incapable of hating our children, we should also refrain from hating people groups such as gays or Muslims.  (I don’t see the thought progression, there.)  Then he abruptly switches to talking about love.

The problem Ben has is that he’s using a worldly definition of hate in which hate appears to be the opposite of love.  But this cannot be.  God is love.  Yet God hates (Psalm 5:4-6; 11:5; Romans 9:13).  He hates things like lying (Proverbs 12:22), idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25), and arrogance (Proverbs 16:6-9).  He also hates people such as idolaters, evildoers, and lovers of violence. (Psalm 5:4-6, 11:5)  So then, what can the Christian know of hate?  Hate is an emotion, and it is not sinful.  It is a God-given emotion.  There is a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8).  Hate is an emotional opposing and a standing against something or someone (Psalm 26:5).  Thus we are called to hate the enemies of God (Psalm 139:21).  It can be easily misused, and when we direct it wrongly, we do sin.  We ought not hate simply because we don’t like someone’s actions.  Hate is rightfully directed against the unholy actions of those who stand against God.  It is also directed against the unbeliever himself because the unbeliever stands against God, and that stand is disastrous for the unbeliever.  I agree with Ben that it’s hard to separate the sin and the sinner; apart from Christ, the two are inescapably connected.  In hell God won’t be punishing sin; He’ll be punishing sinners.  Jesus reminds us of the dire state of the unbeliever when he tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-44).  Hatred of the enemies of God does not rule out love.  It does not rule out pity.  It does not rule out prayer.  We are emotionally opposed to those who stand against God, but we are also desirous of seeing them switch sides and come to faith in Jesus Christ.  We are against the promotion of sin, but that does not mean we are against repentance unto life.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be marching in a parade with a sign that says, “God hates (fill in the blank with pet peeve).”  The people at Westboro Baptist Church misunderstand hate, too.  They use the world’s idea of hate and impute it to God.  They seek to belittle, curse, demean, and vilify others.  That is not Biblical.  Our speech is still always to be seasoned with grace.  We cannot condone or excuse sin, but that does not mean our language should be unkind.

I need to point out that we ARE capable of hating those with whom we have a close relationship, such as our children.  People practice the worldly definition of hate on close family members all the time.  Just think of the neglected children or the spousal abuse.  Most crimes are committed against people the criminals know, and those could all be called hate crimes because love never motivates violent crimes.  Turning back to the Biblical definition of hate, we see that people are capable of hating their children in that worldview, too.  Proverbs 13:24 states, “Whoever spares the rod, hates their children.”  From this, we understand that failing to discipline our children is being hateful to them.  It is standing against them because it fails to drive the folly from them.  Or, in other words, failing to hate the sins of your children leads to hating your children.

2. Ben misunderstands love.
In this article he writes, “love from a distance, love in the abstract, love without being in relationship with those we claim to love is no love at all.  It is love in theory only, or self-righteousness masquerading as love.”  But in a previous blog post, Ben tells us that love is the absolute core of Christ’s teaching, and he concludes, “If your reading of Scripture allows you to be unconcerned about the Syrian refugee, you’ve enshrined your own prejudices over God’s law.”  So, in one case, love of distant strangers is self-righteousness masquerading as love, but when it comes to Syrians, love from a distance without relationship is obedience to the law of love.  His definition seems a bit malleable.  .
For the record, I am closer to agreeing with the current article, not the previous one; you can’t show love to a distant person you’ve never met.  How can I be patient and kind to someone I do not know or see or who is not near?

At least as regards children, Ben says love is “pray[ing] that God would give them the deepest desires of their hearts, that God would prosper them and make their lives happy.”  This definition of love seems to come more from the American dream than the Bible.  Ben seems to have forgotten that Jesus does not pray for us in such a manner.  In fact, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).  This is not praying for the realization of our deepest desires or the satisfaction of our wills; this is praying for the accomplishment of God’s will.  In John 17, Jesus prays for us, but never for our deepest desires, nor for our prosperity.  Rather he prays, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth,” (John 17:17).  He then goes on to pray for unity amongst the brethren and for their unity with Himself, but never for prosperity or happiness.  In fact, Jesus states that the world hates believers (v.14), and then he asks God to leave us in this world that hates us (v.15).  That was how Jesus prayed for his disciples, his spiritual children and friends.  And it was love that motivated him to pray such prayers.  I don’t ask God to give my children prosperity and happiness; I pray that God will save their souls and conform them to the likeness of His Son.  I pray that God will make the deepest desire of their hearts be to know and to love God.

The central proof text for this article is taken from the account in John about the woman caught in adultery.  Ben points out that Christ didn’t rebuke her sin until after he had publicly defended her and granted her mercy and after her accusers had left the two alone.  Ben asserts that our encounters with sinful people should also follow this pattern.  What about the time Jesus made the rich young ruler go away sad?  Mark 10:21 tells us that, out of love, Jesus brought that man to sadness by openly and publicly exposing his covetousness. Verse 23 makes it clear that conversation occurred in front of at least his disciples.  Or what of Matthew 23 where Jesus, speaking “to the crowds and to his disciples,” began to pronounce seven woes on the Pharisees?  He openly called them hypocrites, a brood of vipers, and white washed tombs.  There was no public support, mercy, or private rebuke there.  Even the Sermon on the Mount is a public correction (Matthew 5-7).  Take note of the phraseology: “It was said . . . but I say to you….”  Take note of all the warnings on how not to pray or how not to practice righteousness in front of others.  Jesus reminds his listeners, “Unless your righteousness does not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  And then, of course, there is the very public, very zealous, very merciless overthrowing of the money tables and the expulsion of the corrupt moneychangers from the temple.

Ben also references how Christ washed the feet of his betrayer, using that incident as a model for how we should always treat our enemies.  But that isn’t the whole of Jesus’ interactions with Judas.  Jesus also labelled him a devil in front of the other disciples (John 6:70), and there was neither mercy nor forgiveness nor brotherhood for Judas in the end.  When we pick one or two incidents from Christ’s life and say this is how to love, we get a stunted understanding of love.  If we’re looking for the Biblical definition of love, we must interpret the Bible using the whole Bible, not using cherry-picked bits that support our own definition.

Additionally, Ben says love must be “demonstrate[d] in a way [fellow sinners] feel and understand; and it requires us to treat them not as the ‘other,’ but as beloved brothers and sisters.”  Truly we are to show love to our enemies and to everyone as God makes the rain fall upon the just and the unjust.  As I’ve mentioned, this love includes pity, prayer, and patience.  But loving someone as a brother and sister in Christ is reserved for actual believers in Christ.  The only people groups Ben mentions in his post are "gays", who may claim to be Christians, and Muslims, who by definition are not.  It seems that he thinks we ought to make homosexuals feel totally accepted before we ever mention repentance and forgiveness.  But it is definitely not loving to let someone remain in a state of sin that will result in eternal damnation (Revelation 22:15, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5).  It seems that Ben thinks we should treat Muslims as those who are going to heaven despite their belief that God has no son (1 John 2:23, John 17:3).  Again, it is a denial of reality to treat Muslims as beloved brothers and sisters when they are not.

I wonder what Ben would say if his example were changed to a people group whose sin he doesn’t dispute.  What if we were talking about slave holders?  In Ben’s view of love and hate, he advocates first publicly defending the slave holder, speaking out against anyone who would dare call the slave holder a sinner, and then, only after demonstrating love in a way the slaver can feel and understand and treating him as a brother would Ben dare to privately point out the abomination that owning another human being truly is.  Does that seem right to you?

3. Conclusion
For Ben, love seems to be some sort of unconditional acceptance, maybe even support, of all things.  But I can tell you this is wrong.  Love does not mean the acceptance of everything.  I love my children, but I hate it when they fight with one another.  I hate it when they are selfish.  I want them to hate it in themselves, too, so they can “mortify the deeds of their flesh.”  After all, I hate sin in myself and seek to put it to death (Romans 8:13
, Colossians 3:5).  It does not mean I do not love my kids, nor do I dislike them.  In fact, it is unloving for me to accept such sin in my kids or in myself.  It is indeed love that leads to an unbroken relationship with my children, forgiveness when they sin, and it is love that prompts and empowers my children, and myself, to change and put off the sinful old man and put on the new.

This different view of love and hate leads to a different view on life.  I can love the people groups Ben mentions (Muslims and gays) by treating them as people made in the image of God, showing respect, granting charity, mercy, and kindness.  But, love also brings with it the biblical hate or standing against.  I cannot accept those things that are sin, for the person’s own good. I must share the gospel of grace because they stand in need of it.  I cannot be close or intimate with them because two cannot walk together lest they be agreed (Amos 3:3).  What fellowship does light have with darkness or Christ with Belial (or, in this case, with Mohommed)?  The answer is: none (2 Corinthians 6:14).  Christian love cannot approve of that which God has not approved.  And this Christian love changes the world.  It is Christian “hate” that has chased out (or nearly out) of the world such things as slavery, human sacrifices, and bigamy.

I deviate greatly, not only from Ben, but from the “love the sinner, hate the sin” phraseology.  It reinterprets the gospel by lessening sin.  God is not just displeased with what you do, but with you!  With me!  What should strike us about our sins is not how awful they are, but that we’re the kind of people that do such awful things.  I don’t need my actions changed; I need my heart changed.  “And rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness,” (Joel 2:13
).  If the problem were only my sin, then tearing my garments might be enough.  But the problem is I am a sinner, so my heart is what needs to be torn apart and built anew by the power of the Spirit.  This is the beauty of the gospel.  We are reconciled to God in Christ.  While we are children of the world and sons of disobedience, God must stand opposed to (hate) us and our sin.  But He sent His Son to die for our sins AND to change our sinful nature (redeeming the sin and the sinner), so that we might be received into fellowship with Him.  No longer opposed, we are reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.  No longer are we enemies, but instead we are citizens of the kingdom and sons of the King, eating forever at His table.  It is this love that we must show, the divine love that reconciles through changing the sinner and paying for the sin.  Everything else is just whistling in the wind.

Disclaimer: I know Ben.  We attended school together until college.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Lacking Hope

There is a great need for the comfort and hope of the gospel today.  We can see it in the culture around us. And no I don’t mean politics.  Politics is downstream of culture.  I think it is most obvious in young adult literature and movies. 

Take a look at what is popular and for the most part is dystopian futures and zombies.  Both have been around for a long time, but never were they so popular.  You have your “1983” and “Fahrenheit 451”, but they did not start a rage in dystopian writings.  Even 1993’s “The Giver” did not jump start the idea, although Lois Lowery’s book did have the main character as a teenager, which is what future dystopian writings would capitalize upon.  Enter “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins in 2008 and we have our beginning.  This series of books not only sold millions of copies, but launched a film franchise that made big time bucks.  Also, it was followed by books like “Divergent” (2011) by Veronica Roth, and then the “Maze Runner” (2009) by James Dashner.  Each selling millions and spawning movie franchises although not quite to the same level of success as Hunger Games.  Those are just the big massive successes.  We could also count “Uglies” (2006) by Scott Westerfield, “Across the Universe” by Beth Revis, and “The Knife of Never Letting Go” (2008) by Patrick Ness just to name a few. 

All of those books have teenage heroes, fight against a corrupt system, everything is already ruined and will not get better even when the protagonist wins, and is easily comparable to aspects of high school (I am not the first to state such similarities). 

Now add in the popularity of zombies.  Again “Night of the Living Dead” has been around for sometime, but the genre has really taken off thanks mostly to “The Walking Dead” (2003) comic book, which is still on-going, and its resulting TV series, and “Resident Evil” (1996) video game, which has since become a film franchise as well.  This has helped spawn both movies and books such as “I am Legend” and “World War Z”.  The genre is popular enough that it also has some comedy books such as “Pride Prejudice and Zombies” (2009), which is now coming to a theater near you and “Shaun of the Dead” (2004). 

The majority of these books, movies, and games have little to no real hope and often the real threat is not the zombies, who seem to be more of the setting than the problem, but other non-zombie survivors.  “The Walking Dead” particularly dives into the idea of living in a world without morals because it is without structure.  What does civilization look like in such a world and is it even possible are regular themes. 

This is a change in what young adults have traditionally read.  In times past people read “The Chronicles of Narnia”, which is full of hope and goes from disorder to order, or they read “Little House on the Prairie”, which is about hard work and finding a good life without things, or “A Wrinkle in Time” which is a good vs. evil fight.  The difference in themes is stark and obvious.
It is not hard to see that this change reflects something lacking in our culture and something that speaks to young adults.  They are hopeless.  Just look at the ending of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  They have fought this profound evil of making kids fight to the death for sport to keep people in line, and when the “good guys” win, they want to re-instituted the same thing.  So, the heroine kills the new leader rather than the old one.  They are both the same.  No real hope.  Even the brief glimpse of her future she and her husband suffer from the scars of their life mentally.  Yes they have kids, but we learn nothing of the outside world then.  There is no real hope in it.

Or if you want more proof look at what has happened to a beloved movie trilogy in Star Wars.  “The Force Awakens” takes the original trilogy and makes it all for nothing.  The original ends with the Emperor defeated, Anakin redeemed, and the Empire crumbling.  Now we join in some 20 years later and what do we see?  The Dark Side has once again ravaged the galaxy.  Even Luke Skywalker could not stop the killing of Younglings again.  The Empire appears fine in the guise of the First Order, which whatever government or Republic was put in place could not stop and indeed it was so bad that there is a group called the Resistance in this government.  Han and Leia could not stay together, Luke no longer comes to the aid of his friends, and we are left to wonder how is the galaxy better off thanks to the Rebellion?  This is the culture we live in. 

Previous generations of both writers and readers have faced their share of hardships and toil, but produced far different literature, and literature with very different themes were popular.  Tolkien, Lewis, and Milne (creator of Winnie the Pooh) all fought in World War I, all got seriously ill, and yet they created beloved children’s and young adult literature.  Laura Engels Wilder lived life on a prairie, survived harsh winters, threat of Native American attacks, and illness without doctors, yet she wrote young adult literature that looked back on her life not with gloom, but with a sense of family, optimism, and hope.  One could argue that this generation of writers and readers has had a much easier life, yet they have created and enjoy a much bleaker style or writing.

What does this tell us as the church?  It should tell us that kids seem to believe they are in a hopeless situation.  That young adults don’t trust the system (probably including church), and they seem in desperate search for meaning.  Thankfully, Christ is the answer.  We just don't seem to be communicating this truth the young very well.  It is the young who are growing up for the first time in a post-Christian world.  Their parents remember the vestiges of Christian civilization, but this new generation has been taught there is no truth in school, won't remember marriage before its redefinition, and live in a world that is hostile to the Christian faith.  The challenge for the church is how do we communicate meaning and truth in Jesus to this generation of people who are floundering without hope in the world today?  There is hope for the hopeless, and a name for the condition they rightly see the world suffers from: sin.  But we must make sure we are communicating to young people as well as adults.  This literature is telling us we had better not wait until they are adults to start communicating the gospel.  They are in need now.  They need Christ now. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rogue One and Thoughts on the New Direction of Star Wars

I saw Rogue One, and it is a good action movie.  It felt a bit more like a Star Wars film, but without any character development.  Droids still steal the movie.  It is not directed by J.J. Abrams so no need to worry about crazy light flares.  But it does fit with the new direction of the franchise set by Abrams.  So here are a few thoughts now that we have two movies from the new direction.

First, it is clear that the concept of the Force has changed.  The Force is now acting on its own, and has a will.  People seem to pray to it in Rogue One, and it can look as if Rey might be doing the same thing in Force Awakens to change the momentum of her light saber fight.  This makes the ground split between Rey and Kylo Ren have new meanings as well.  The Force did not want Rey to kill Kylo.  Everything now is part of the will of the Force.  It is taking the Force from a more Eastern mysticism to something closer to Christian conception of a personal god. 

This is different from Lucas’s view of the Force.  Even in the Phantom Menace where it is mentioned the Force has a will, but then it also obeys your commands.  Lucas used the Force as more of something that gave people abilities, and can be used rightly or wrongly.  Now with this new view of the Force having a will, it brings with it a host of complications.  What does it mean to return the Force to balance, as they discussed in the Prequel Trilogy?  Why did the Force allow the Emperor and the evil he wrought?  Vader killed younglings after all.  Why does the Force have a light side and a dark side? 

Second, these movies are no longer really fantasy kids movies.  Force Awakens was the first film to earn a PG-13 rating, and this movie, Rogue One, is a war movie where, well, when you see the end you will understand.  At least Rogue One is a self contained movie unlike Abrams’s Force Awakens where the mystery is never revealed. 

Third, the original trilogy was great in creating characters.  After all, we love those characters enough to have all these other movies.  It still stands as one of the best trilogies ever.  The Prequel was not as good.  Some of the characters failed miserably.  But, it did a good job of showing the government go from a Republic to an Empire.  That was well done.  The belief that councils and republics don’t work well continues in Rogue One.  Force Awakens showed us some great new characters, but gave us very little and left with so many questions that it was annoying.  Rogue One does not give great character development, but does a good job of showing the evil of the Empire and the nature of the war that does not come through in the original trilogy. 

Fourth, Rogue One should have had a slightly different ending.  Princess Leia being in that massive fight makes no sense.  Worse yet, the beginning of Star Wars now feels like stupid pathetic lies.  It seems as if Leia and the guy who said it was a diplomatic mission are a little like PR guy for Saddam Hussen. 

Fifth and finally, the technology of allowing dead people to appear in movies is amazing.  It will be bad in the long run as now the dead can be used to advertise beer or Snickers, but it is impressive technology.  The moral questions of who owns the likeness of dead people is what will be interesting.  Still, it cannot be denied that seeing some of the original people was fun. 

Go see the movie, and hopefully Abrams will give us a better movie in 2017.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Mockery in the Church

I recently wrote about the decline in discussion thanks to the rise in mockery.  It was in the context of why we have Trump vs. Clinton.  It turns out that Trump won and in large part because the middle of America felt put upon and scorned by the mocking left.  I was not surprised. 

But now I must say that I have long been bothered by the same trend in church.  Mocking is often now the way the church communicates too.  Douglas Wilson is excellent at it with a sharp wit and a sarcastic tongue.  He helped popularize the heresy of Federal Vision with his mockery.  But it has gone from the controversial to the church mainstream in the Babylon Bee.  I see this posted everywhere I go on social media.  
Some of the Bee’s stuff is quite harmless using well-worn jokes as fodder like the need to end a sermon on time.  Others are more satire directed at new evolving ways of communicating on social media.  But more and more are mocking of people directly.  And not always individuals but large groups.  Some were so popular they were fact checked by Snoopes. 

Now mockery in and of itself is not sinful.  We do see it used in the Bible.  Surely Paul is mocking to some degree in Galatians 5:12 where he wishes those who would require circumcision would emasculate themselves.  God participates in a bit of mocking or sarcasm at least in his conversation with Job in Job 38.  God knows where Job was when he set the limits to the waters, and he knows Job cannot hook the Leviathan.  But it was used to make a point.  Job need his sense of importance and power torn down by God, which God did to Job’s spiritual benefit.  But we also see the Bible warn quite a bit about mocking such as Proverbs 3:34 or the incident in 2 Kings 2:23 where the she-bear tears apart some mocking children.  So there is a limit, a time and place, for the use of such communication. 

The problem today is the overuse of mockery.  Jesus and Paul could mock, but that was far from their only weapon.  It had a place and a purpose.  The majority of the conversation was to build up.  They mocked to bring a listener to change by laying bare his folly.  But they never ever left someone there.  Tearing down without building up is not good at all.  It clears out the strong man without filling the house with the Spirit.  Jesus mocked and so did Paul and Elijah and others, but can we find a Scriptural example where the mockery was not done in order to bring about change, but rather to bring about a laugh.  Did the disciples sit around and tell jokes to each other about the Pharisee who was eaten by a wolf on Saturday because he could not exceed the proscribed number of steps for the Sabbath?  Probably not.

And here in lies the rub, for me at least.  Do we believe this mockery is effecting change?  Is this tearing down leading to a building up?  Does anyone really think Joel Osteen is reading this, much less motivated to start using the Bible correctly?  Do we think this helped any followers of Osteen?  Do we think it helped protesters in the streets?  Are modern worship services starting to tone it down after seeing how they are likenight clubs thanks to the Babylonian Bee?  Is the mocking of the anti-gluten diet craze really changing minds?  Of course not.  But is the conservative Reformed crowd being affected by this mockery?  We don’t make these mistakes, but what is the attitude portrayed toward those that have contemporary worship or were so upset by the election they took to the streets?  Is it compassion and love?  Even Jesus loved the Rich Young Ruler when he pointed out his sin and shortcoming.  Does this form of communication, which seems to be just for our entertainment, moving us to help the protesters in the street who need to know from where the only comfort in life and death comes, or does it make us look down our noses at them because they need a participation trophy? 

And let us also hold up the “do onto others” mirror that the Bible desires us to hold up.  Would Adam Ford want to be at the end of his mocking satire?  He has often pointed to his anxiety disorder as part of his journey that was very formative for him.  He takes anxiety medicine and has openlysatirized those who think you should not be taking medication for suchdisorders in some of his comics.  Would Adam think it good and funny satire if someone wrote an article with a title along the lines of “Blood tests confirm levels of sin (just like Diabetes), Jesus pill the answer”.  Would he even allow such as post on his Babylonian Bee?  According to a search on the Bee's sight, the answer is apparently no.  I am not saying that people with anxiety should not take medicine.  What I am saying is that this is a more complicated question than comparing it Diabetes.  Again the more the mockery the less the discussion.  And the other thing I am saying is that if he would not allow such an article, then he is being hypocritical about his support of satire/mocking.  His goal was to mock from a place of love, but if you are doing something to others that you would not be okay with being done back to you, you have failed the biblical test of love. 

The problem I have with what goes on today in places like the Babylonian Bee is that mockery is presented for mockery's sake.  The main audience is not even those who it is mocking.  Rather, it is those who already agree.  It is not tearing down for the purpose of building up, it is tearing down so we can all have a good laugh at those fools over there.  

This is a worrisome trend especially in the church.  

Monday, October 03, 2016

Blame Jon Stewart for the 2106 Election

It is hard not to be confused by how the American 2016 presidential election has come down to Clinton and Trump. They are hated by almost everyone and have the highest disapproval numbers ever.  How did this embarrassment happen? 

Obviously the answer is complicated, but let me suggest one reason you might not have considered.  Jon Stewart.  Stewart, the former host of the Daily Show, helped bring America to its knees and has led us to the farcical match up of Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton.  Let me explain.

In 1999, Stewart took over The Daily Show on Comedy Central, a news satire and talk show, turning its focus away from pop culture and toward politics and the national media.  He interviewed political guests such as presidential candidate John Kerry.  As host of this program, Stewart repeatedly criticized Crossfire, a current events debate program airing on CNN.  Eventually in 2004, the hosts of Crossfire invited him to be on their program as a guest.  In that appearance, he stated that Crossfire was hurting America, and he called the hosts “political hacks” and worse.  He rejected the concept of a two part only (liberal-conservative) worldview, and in turn he rejected the political discourse that took place on Crossfire.  Within three months, Crossfire was cancelled by CNN.  A little over a year after Stewart’s appearance, his own Daily Show launched a successful spin-off, The Colbert Report. 

Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were comedy shows that garnered their laughs through mockery of politics, politicians, and political beliefs.  Both shows concentrated their jeering on conservatives with very little spent on the liberal/progressive side.  Originally this was explained by Stewart as simply a consequence of the Republicans presenting a bigger target since they were in power; however, when Barak Obama became President, both shows continued to focus their fire on Republicans, conservatives, and conventional values. 

The serious-minded debate show on CNN died, Daily Show ratings went up, especially among young people, and Liberal politicians noticed.  Not only did they all want to appear on the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, but this joking-at-the-conservative's-expense began to be imitated by Progressive Liberals.  By the time of the 2016 presidential campaign, Stewart’s method of dealing with political opponents with mockery is the main way politics is done, and it is not a coincidence.     

Bill Maher is another comedian who reflects this trend.  From 1993 until 2002 he hosted a show called Politically Incorrect.  It was not as contentious as Crossfire, usually incorporating guests from various viewpoints speaking together in a light debate style on various topics.  The show was canceled before Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire, but well after The Daily Show was growing in popularity.  Maher then launched his own mocking show called Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. This show has a much more liberal tone and jeers conservatives with jokes such as: “Conservatives don’t believe in facts.”  In 2008 he filmed a “documentary” titled Religulous, designed to make fun of religion and deter people from belief. 

In 2008 the people of Minnesota actually elected a comedian to the Senate, further bolstering this movement away from thoughtful, even-handed debate and toward sarcasm and mockery as a primary means of political expression.  The drive to destroy one’s opponents with ridicule rather than argumentation was well-established on the political Left and is evidenced in the fact that most people believe that Sarah Palin, Republican candidate for Vice President, said that she could see Russia from her backdoor, a statement which in reality came from a Saturday Night Live skit. 

Remember when then-candidate Obama was taking on Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination?  What helped sway the tide for Obama?  There are lots of factors, but one that stands out is Obama’s mocking, patronizing dismissal of Hillary as “You’re likable enough,” during a January 2008 debate.  Hillary’s likability became a regular concern for the rest of that election cycle.  It is a routine part of Obama’s arsenal, and he uses it effectively.  Rather than engaging in dialog and rational discussion with his rivals or even arguing like participants on Crossfire, President Obama ridicules his opponents a la Jon Stewart.

“But apparently they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion,” he said. “At first, they were too scared of the press being too tough on them during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”

In fact, this was a deliberate strategy of his campaign in 2012.  Ridiculing Mitt Romney became the path to winning.  It was implemented apparently on October 4.  He stopped speaking of lower expectations and began “adding a heavy dose of ridicule”.   Mitt Romney was caught by surprise when, during the second presidential debate on October 16, he was asked about his “binders full of women.”  The phrase was then used by both President Obama and Vice President Biden on the campaign trail to mock Romney. 

Hillary Clinton learned the lesson and now uses ridicule and mockery regularly.  Whether it is her “delete your account” tweet to Donald Trump, the hashtag #Trumpyourself, telling Trump she knows he lives in his own reality, or even her “basket of deplorables” comment, she uses mockery as a campaign tactic.  Secretary Clinton has imbibed deeply at the well of Stewart’s method of ridicule.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  This includes a time to laugh, but when we get confused and laugh at the wrong time, we end up with vanity and confusion. 

Jon Stewart’s rejection of political discourse in favor of sarcasm and ridicule as a means to promote political beliefs is an example of such confusion and vanity.  His behavior had the cover of “comedy” to prevent backlash or thoughtful disagreement.  Unfortunately, this approach has changed our culture so that comedy is now a weapon rather than a release and escape.  Jerry Seinfeld, a satirist in his own right, admits that he no longer performs on college campuses because the college kids don’t understand comedy and are too easily offended.  (And of course he was attacked for stating this.)  The reason, I believe, is that this generation of people in college grew up hearing comedy as a tool and a weapon.  Being the butt of a joke is not funny; it’s an attack.  Comedy’s purpose is now tearing others down, not making people laugh.  A similar incident occurred when comedian Jimmy Fallon interviewed candidate Donald Trump on the Tonight Show and good-naturedly joked with him as he does all his guests.  The progressive world, most notably Samantha Bee, the host of another Daily Show spinoff, attacked Fallon for his “softball” interview.  The next week Candidate Hillary Clinton appeared on the Tonight Show, and she mocked Fallon by giving him a bag full of softballs, but she did not complain when Fallon treated her just as he had treated Trump.  It is now expected that comedians use their comedy to accomplish a political goal.  Comedy is a weapon. 

But how does this give us Trump vs. Clinton?  Progressive liberals have mocked and ridiculed the conservative right for over a decade now.  The progressive left appears to be winning the Culture Wars, and candidates from the right who try to participate in debate are mocked out of the public square.  Enter Donald Trump.  Trump was already rather famous for his insulting treatment of people on his TV show The Apprentice.  The primary campaign began, and one by one, the other Republican candidates fell away before Trump’s onslaught of ridicule.  Some tried to fight back with ridicule and the subsequent Republican debate went down in the books infamously featuring an exchange on the size of the candidates’ hands, which served as a euphemism.  Senator Marco Rubio experienced some of his highest approval numbers after that exchange.  Ridicule wins.  The people on the conservative right are now embracing fighting fire with fire.  Ridicule with ridicule.  Senator Ted Cruz, perhaps the best debater in the group, embodied the final vestige of reasoned debate and policy knowledge.  And he, too, fell.  Trump won the primary using the Stewart method and backed by an electorate that’s tired of being mocked and eager for a candidate who can fight fire with fire.

It should not be surprising that eventually the conservative side pushed back and adopted the same mocking methodology.  Nor should it be surprising that they picked a professional mocker to do it.   The war is on, but it is no longer a war of ideas; it is a war of ridicule. 

Jon Stewart helped introduce us to this age where ridicule is reason and comedy is policy.  Now, no matter who wins, we are going to have a clown in the White House. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More Hyde on the 4th Commandment

Hyde makes the claim that there is no way around the fact that the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath.  And the article and a good portion of the podcast are discussing the pronouncement of Dort concerning the Sabbath.  Rev. Hyde claims that this shows agreement with the Puritan position, and I disagree.  Now Dort is probably a bit closer than the Heidelberg to the Puritans and closer than the Second Helvetic Confession, and close to in-line with Jan Laski, but not in agreement with the Puritans. 

First let us remember that this is not the Synod of Dort that was all the Reformed from across the Continent.  This was the same synod, but the foreign delegates had left by this point.  It is what is called the ‘post-acta’ portion of the Synod.  So this is only the Netherlands.  A Netherlands that was in the midst of being highly influenced by the Puritans from England.  William Ames was currently ministering in the Netherlands and was serving as a help to the Synod President, and the Dutch had a church in London as well.  Thus the Dutch had internal divisions on this subject.  Gomarus was against the Puritan view and Voetius was for it.  Both at the Synod. 

Dort has six points regarding the 4thCommandment.  The first point speaks of having a ceremonial and moral aspect.  The ceremonial nature of the commandment that includes the “rest on the seventh day” and the “strict” manner of observance according to point 2.  Hyde states the ceremonial aspects as the “day on which the Sabbath fell” and the “strictness” (Regulae. pg.171 see article link above).  But that is not what the text seems to say.  The word “rest” is included.  Hyde’s formulation assumes the Sabbath will continue, but that is actually what is being debated.  The moral portion, according to point 3, is one day a week needs to use for worship and all that gets in the way of that should be rested from or stopped.  So note that there is no equation of the seventh day with the first day.  Just one day a week is required.  The fourth point is the Sabbath of the Jews is abolished, and Sunday is to be hallowed.  This is a follow up on the ceremonial points, this is all abolished.  Strict observance is abolished.  The Sabbath is abolished.  No mention of a new Christian Sabbath.  The word Sabbath is used only here to say it is abolished.  Point 4 does seem to be saying that Sunday is the day appointed to worship, but it is not the same as saying it is the Sabbath.  The fifth point now references the long standing tradition of worshipping on Sunday.   It is saying that it is now a well-established tradition.  That should have weight.  Point 6 then speaks of consecrating the day to worship by resting from servile labor and all recreation that gets in the way of worship.  It is not a call to rest form all work, nor from all recreation.  So this is clearly less than the Westminster.  Still, it does go further than the Heidelberg.

Just in case anyone thinks I am crazy, Douma comments on Dort and the fourth commandment saying “the Synod did not come up with a strictly Puritan pronouncement” (The Ten Commandments pg.144).  He too argues it is a compromise statement. 

It is not a Puritan interpretation because the Puritans make rest on the day as well as worship part of the continuing moral force of the commandment.  The Heidelberg does not.  This pronouncement from Dort does not.  It says you have to rest from stuff in order to worship, but that is not the same as what the Puritans are arguing for.  They want all work on the day to cease (including recreation).  Rest itself is part of the moral force not simply as an aide to worship, but rest for rest’s sake. 

It should be noted that Dort, as well as the Westminster, downplay the everyday portion of the 4th commandment.  The Heidelberg and earlier Reformers emphasized resting from your evil works all the days of your life.  It is not found in this pronouncement by Dort (although perhaps outside of its intention), nor is it mentioned in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.