Friday, March 29, 2019

It is time to admit Seminaries are what they are . . . businesses.

Over at Gentle Reformation, President York of RPTS Seminaryresponds to Carl Trueman’s lecture about “Follow the Money” given at a convocation at Westminster Seminary California.  Trueman lists some problems, but he states them as descriptions as well.  Ultimately, Trueman is trying to argue for a greater Catholicity among the Reformed Seminaries, and I think this is where both York and Trueman fail to completely understand the basic nature of the seminary as a business.  Trueman openly admits that it is a business, but also says it is a “spiritual organization”.  He offers no proof for that nor does he state how the two interact other than occasionally saying that the business part militates against the spiritual part. 

York doesn’t outright deny the business nature of the seminary, but does seem to think seminaries can operate against the unwritten rules of business.  He argues that non-hostile competition is healthy.  York’s point is that one can learn from the other seminaries good points and benefit.  But is business competition ever really “non-hostile”? 

The answer is no.  There is a small pool of reformed students, and they are going to choose one seminary above another.  The minor difference marketing that Dr. Trueman opposes or feels unfortunate (and York agrees) is simply a fact of life.  It must happen or the seminary will not thrive.  Trueman’s main application to read more broadly including journals from other seminaries is really not an answer to the problem, but a symptom of it.  Seminaries have journals IN ORDER TO promote the minor difference, to communicate the ethos of the seminary.  It is the seminary’s version of “publish or die” from the secular academic word. 

York’s response to this with a call to build collegiality among seminaries and promoting the strengths of other seminaries is pie-in-the-sky fantasy.  After all if you have a pool of 10 students and you tell them all how great the other seminary is, then you should expect to lose all 10 students.  Trueman may be right that businesses don’t ‘rubbish’ the competition, but they don’t talk up the competition either.  Can anyone imagine Wendy’s talking about how great Burger King’s fries are?  Bud Light doesn’t talk about how Miller Light makes beer with corn syrup so that lovers of corn can see where to go to get a different beer, but to take away Miller Light’s buyers.  There can be no real collegiality between those in competition.  And competition is healthy, but not really non-hostile since the stakes are always going out of business and fading away. 

The complaints about seminary are good to hear from someone like Dr. Trueman.  The call to follow the confessions rather than the teaching of the seminaries is laudable.  But, as Trueman admits seminaries shape the student much more than denominations do.  And there in is the problem.  The denomination is the church, but has little influence.  The seminary is a business, and ends up shaping the future of the church.  So, it was disappointing that Trueman, as a historian, stopped so short and fail to take that next obvious step.  It is time to end seminaries.

The church after all existed and thrived for centuries prior to seminaries.  Pastors trained future pastors, and denominations examined them, sometimes sent them to other pastors, and the church carried on.  In this way, the need to meet the payroll is removed.  The business aspect is gone.  The denomination is back in control.  Why do we bother merge business with a spiritual mission?  Why is the church handing off training to businesses? 

The Parsonage Model answers all the problems Dr. Trueman raises.  It avoids the inbreeding thinking that has helped create divisions from insiders (he mentions Enns and Shepherd).  It protects the local church.  It places the Confessions back in the center and minimizes the minor difference.  It forces prospective pastors to serve in the local church.  It avoids the problem of debt and of mission creep into the realm of church (York sees this as a positive, but I agree with Trueman it is a negative).  It is in the business of the kingdom of Christ.  All of the problems go away. 

It is time to see seminaries for what they are . . . businesses.  And it is time to stop using businesses to train pastors. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Civility is Not Coming Back

We live in a day of uncivil discourse.  Hate and contempt along with blame and name calling are the norm.  You will find people calling for civility in discussion and discourse.  Those people are relics of the past who no longer understand the world we live in.  Yes, civility is dead.  And it is never coming back.

Allow me to explain.

In the past, civility was part of the expectation of participation in the public discourse.  When a person lost civility, even if the point he was making was good and valid, he was rebuked for being uncivil and speaking wrongly.  Even Machiavelli was against threats and insulting language, even if it was for self-serving reasons.  Somewhere that changed.  And it changed because the humanity of the opponent was taken away.  The opponent is sub-human somehow (usually through a position they hold or believe), and that status makes his worthy of scorn and contempt, and soon much, much more.  The opponent now is a target worthy of hate.

Please understand, all is acceptable if the target is worthy of hate.  After all, do you really have to be nice to the devil?  Shouldn’t you kill Hitler if you went back in time?  So now, you can punch a person unprovoked in the face, if the guy is a Nazi.  You can say horrible things to people, if that person is horrible to begin with.  This is how actions are now justified, not on the basis of the action in comparison to an objective standard, but on the basis of the recipient of the action.  This extends beyond simple words, but even to shootings

The result is a vicious cycle.  In order to make sure one’s actions continue to be justified, part of the goal then is to continue to demonize the target.  Because if the target becomes accepted by the masses or somehow is humanized, then all of your actions that were previously justified are now all unacceptable.  This could in turn make you viewed as a target worthy of hate, and thus all someone else’s actions against you would now be justified.  So, there is never room to stop and talk as equals or what used to be called “being civil”.  Such an idea would tend toward making actions against that person unjustified and could create a situation that endangered me if the tide of opinion turned against me. 

Don’t think I am just talking about politics.  This is everywhere in life.  Everywhere.  There is a minor scandal in the Comic Book Industry about how people handle those who do not like their stories.  One creator tried to start a hashtag #comicsceasefire and got massive backlash.  A liberal MSNBC and Vanity Fair editor spoke up when a comic creator wished a critic had died in Afghanistan, and was amazedat the level of hate he received for speaking up.

Do I need to even remind anyone about sports now?  But even just stating an opinion like Hall of Famer Chipper Jones did the other day immediately is treated as worthy of hate and past sinful actions of Mr. Jones are brought up in order to show he is anobject worthy of hate.  What adultery has to do with gun control is anyone’s guess, but it does make one feel better about dismissing and treating him poorly.

If you want to see more examples of making a person morally worthy of abuse and then giving that abuse both Gamergate and the Sad Puppiescampaign against the Hugo Awards (science fiction awards) are fine examples.  Or go to Twitter and see the daily fights that often reward people with more followers for being completely uncivil and dehumanizing to one another. 

It should go without say why Christians cannot follow or participate in this trend.  We can never “dehumanize” someone made in the image of God.  But we ought to no longer expect that same respect in return.  

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Missing Churches in Low Income neighborhoods - Why?

This Atlantic article on churches in poor neighborhoods is an interesting read if you look past the find one emotional example that the author thinks proves his point that characterizes a lot of writing in the Atlantic.  The main point is that half of new church plants opened in wealthier areas and church attendance is on the decline among the poor.  And perhaps that is because it takes a lot of money to run a church and a church in a poor neighborhood might have more financial needs to help out the needy.  But has he really found the reason, finances that churches are down in low income neighborhoods?  Did he miss a very plausible explanation?

I think he did.  I will grant that low income neighborhoods might be less likely to receive church plants than in the past.  The rise in non-denominational churches probably effects this as they have no connections to help fund them from afar that a denomination would provide.  But I still think he has the causes reversed.  Churches are not being planted in low income neighborhoods because church attendance is down in low-income neighborhoods.  The author gives no proof for saying fewer churches leads to fewer attending when fewer attending can very well lead to fewer churches. 

And I think there is ample reason to think the low-income flight from church is a product of a highly anti-Christian culture.  Sociologically speaking, the poor or lower economic classes are quicker to take on the traits of the super-rich, or the culture makers of society.  This is true in almost every category.  Francis Schaeffer noted this in his books on culture.  You can see it in things like baby name trends.  The rich pick unique names, the poor then take up those names and they finally filter into the middle class, but by then the name has become common and the rich have abandoned it looking for unique names again (see Freakonomics). 

And what are the elite and culture makers saying about Christianity?  Christianity is the enemy more often than not.  Whether it is Christian bakers on the news as the backwater bigots or the evil group that empowered Trump, the enemy is evangelicalism.  Maybe they get it from movies like Dogma (1999) where the descendent of Jesus is an abortion worker and the entire thing is an attack on Christians, or more popular and subtle fair like Footloose (1984 remade in 2011), or in award winners like Brokeback Mountain (2005) with its positive portrayal of homosexuality.  Maybe it is from TV in the always award winning Handmaid’s Tale (2017-ongoing) or Modern Family (2009-ongoing).  Maybe it is from books like Da Vinci Code (2003).  The message is the same, church is not good, Christianity is the problem, not the solution.  So, the lower classes are responding and they are leaving church resulting in fewer in attendance and thus fewer church plants. 

The Atlantic Article laments the fact that Christianity could help these people out physically and materially, yet the churches are not there.  But the lack of awareness of the real importance of Christianity and its message of Jesus Christ is striking.  For the author Christianity helps with “positive outcomes” and “assistance for struggling families”, but fails to realize such things are the by-product of the love of Christ manifested in the church.  It is by living out the faith that the Atlantic and Hollywood and many others have spent so much time tearing down. 

In the end, the article provides a beautiful picture into a mind that sees nothing beyond the material and understands little to nothing about the faith.  But it does see the damage caused when people begin to abandon that faith.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thoughts on the current protests - GUEST POST


I’ve been thinking a lot about the football players’ protests of the national anthem.  On the face of things, I don’t like it.  By any accounting, Americans are the most free, most wealthy, most generous people on earth, and we should be thankful for our citizenship here.  I think that this method of protest (disrespecting the symbols of our country) in order to make an unrelated political point so clouds the issue that many patriotic Americans can’t see beyond it.  And Trump’s nasty words had the result of making this past Sunday’s protests more about him than about anything else. 

But, digging a little deeper to consider the protestors’ motives, I agree that this country has a police brutality problem.  President John Adams once said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  As our society becomes increasingly more immoral, and as the citizens fail to restrain themselves, it follows that the heavy and inadequate hand of the government (the police) will do increasingly more of the restraining for us.  In such a climate, a few policemen (sinners just like the rest of us) become tyrannical, and a few become so jaded that everyone appears as a law-breaker.  Both situations lead to the abuse of the innocent.  How many times have we heard, on TV, in the movies, or in real life, a policeman say, “I AM the law?”  This perspective is very, very wrong.  I think there is almost no justification for a policeman to use his weapon against a citizen: only in the case of an immediate lethal threat to the policeman or an immediate lethal threat to someone else.  Unarmed people should never, ever be shot.  It is far better to err on the side of criminals eluding justice than the side of innocents dying.  This is an issue, a societal problem, worthy of our attention.

Whenever controversial issues like this one come up, I always do lots of mental gymnastics, trying to turn the situation around to see how I’d feel if the shoe were on the other foot.  Would I approve of a professional athlete taking a knee to mourn the lives of all the innocent children murdered in abortion?  Mmm.  I might.  I would also admit that doing so during the national anthem communicates an anti-patriotism that I do not support and distracts from (nay, even harms) the original point of the protest.  And it downright angers people for whom love of country is a more important issue (than abortion, racial issues, or whatever).  As mature, thoughtful people, we have to admit that all issues aren’t equally weighted for all people.  Isn’t that one of the things pollsters are always asking in the run-up to elections?  For me, abortion is more important than racial tension or school spending or minimum wage because if we kill a person as an infant, then his race, his education, his income are all completely moot.  We have to ensure survival before we bother about secondary things.  Now I have good friends, church friends even, who believe racial equality is the more important issue.  While I disagree (and am happy to debate the essential import of abortion), I do refrain from accusing them of allowing their priorities to make them de facto supporters of abortion.  As also, by the way, they should refrain from accusing me of being a de facto supporter of racism.  This brings me back to the beginning.  In our society, we seldom consider the other person’s perspective this way.  Many voices in the public square these days are saying that valuing a love of country over a desire to end police brutality is the same as being racist.  And that’s not true.  Just because opposing racism isn’t a person’s highest ideal does not mean that it isn’t an ideal at all.  I suspect that NFL players would find many, many more people would rally to their cause if they could make their appeal for the one thing without simultaneously disrespecting another.

And now for a note about the disproportionate percent of African American people being killed by police.  African Americans make up 13% of the US population.  223 African Americans were killed by cops last year, which is 21% of those killed by cops.  315,000 African Americans were killed last year by abortion, and that’s 35% of abortions.  Now, which of these is worse for African Americans, both in numbers of actual dead bodies and in percentages compared to other races?!?!  You can check my math on this, but I’m pretty sure that if you’re an African American, you are a gazillion times more likely to be murdered as an infant than you are to be killed by a cop.
- Jenny Jo

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tales from the Box Office

I keep up with the box office and movie industry.  I feel it gives a good pulse of society and culture.  I like to play arm chair movie manager just as much as the next guy, which seems to be a lot because people often write about the movie industry. 

The Atlantic has a piece about the horrible box officeincome of the summer, especially the last month, and while The Atlantic writer gets close, she misses two major things that show her leftist bent.  Misunderstandings like this are why the industry is losing money to places like Netflix. 

The first reason why the summer receipts are so bad is not so much betting on a few properties and putting lots of money into pushing certain movies, but rather the calendar itself has changed.  And of course we can always play the “maybe it would have been a better idea to put money behind the marketing of Captain Underpants rather than the Mummy”, I don’t think this is the real reason.  Rather, the changing calendar has changed the Summer Blockbuster window itself.  Take a look at the big money movies this year.  You won’t find an August opening movie until #22.  Yes, they are mostly still out, but in years gone by you would have found more higher on the list because August was still blockbuster season.  Why the change?  School.  Most kids are back in school by the second week of August now.  The time for movie theater trips is over.  Friday night football is usually going before September.  This is no longer movie time, but school time.  If you look at the list again you will find many pre-Memorial day releases.  Guardians of the Galaxy at #3, Logan at #6, and Fate of the Furious at #7 are both prior.  School is basically over for many by May.  They may be attending still, but meaningful school is over.  So movie time it is.  That gives them time to be out and well-reviewed by the time Memorial Day hits keeping financial returns strong.  Those movies also are all sequels so the movie goer is already invested.  No need to wait to release if the people are already waiting for you.  For movies appealing to younger children one can be released even earlier.  See Beauty and the Beast #1 and Lego Batman #8. 

And yes if you look at this by opening weekend alone it does not change much.  Still no August releases until #20.  Dark Tower was probably a bad movie and would have had massive drop off, but I bet its opening would have been better if it had been released in July.  The same is probably true for the Hitman’s Bodyguard, which is a typical summer movie fare, but only garnered 21 million opening weekend thanks to it being after summer was over because school had started back. Its nice performance on Labor Day weekend shows that it suffered, not from story, but from the fact August people don't see as movie time anymore.  

The other major omission from the Atlantic is the content of the movies that seem to make the most money.  Hollywood really does hate its main audience.  Just like political pundits cannot figure out how Trump won most of the country, they can’t figure out what makes a movie most of the country wants to see.  The top of the box office list is dominated by super heroes, which fundamentally are a good v evil tale.  The heroes are from the 40’s and 50’s and so are also fundamentally about American ideals including traditional morality.  That is half of the top 5.  In fact, every super hero movie released by Marvel or DC is in the top 10 including a Lego Batman movie.  The top spot is taken by an age old fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, which also then reflects good old morals such as not judging a book by the cover and such things that we used to want to teach our kids.  It did add in a few seconds of agenda pushing, but it was so in the background no one cared.  Dunkirk as well is about WWII where good fought evil and is about heroism in leaving no man behind.  Despicalbe Me 3 is a franchise for kids, and The Fate of the Furious is something like the 8th or 9th entry into its franchise and features the biggest box office name in the business today Dwayne the Rock Johnson. 
The only exception to the traditional morality and tales is at #10 in Get Out.  Now Get Out was universally loved by the Hollywood critics probably causing an uptick in its sales numbers.  And I do mean universally.  The only critic to be negative about the movie was Armond White, and he was lambasted on Twitter for failing to fall down in love of this movie.  The movie is about racism set in a horror movie genre using the suburbs as the backdrop.  The all white people are really racist, even the liberals, is not a theme that most people want to see even if it is done in a unique horror movie style.  Now it did make a lot of money, but it will fall out of the top 10 soon.  The movie will probably end up behind Boss Baby, another cartoon, and probably behind Pirates of the Caribbean too.  But the remake of “It” is clearly going to end up in the top 10 after the 3rd biggest opening weekend of the year in September.  This will knock all exceptions out of the top 10. 

Now look at the list of movies that littered the flop category.  It is littered with two types of movies.  Liberal garbage, which comes in two types: movies that preach liberalism (see Fifty Shades Darker, Emoji Movie, and the Shack) and movies that are starred in by those who spout liberalism so much they are hated by most people (ex. Snatched).  Detroit might be the best example here.  A limited opening garnered it critical praise for its police brutality and civil rights themes.  It then went into over 3,000 theaters, and still made less than 20 million dollars.  And the other type of movie is the movie with good source material that was changed, ignored, or tampered with to remove its traditional message that made them classics in the first place.  Now in this group I do place those remake of 80’s and 90’s cultural icons that were redone in such a way to show contempt and hatred for them.  CHiP’s and Baywatch are perfect examples.  I watched CHiP’s, but not Baywatch as a kid.  Regardless of whether or not you liked those shows, they were successful.  Remaking them into pathetic comedies that neither does justice to nor celebrates the source material is bound to fail.  If you hate something, don’t try to write a movie for it.  Many Hollywood people today hate American anything from its past, so expect it to fail.  Also King Arthur falls here.  The heroic Arthur restoring order, setting up the Round Table, and searching for the Holy Grail is not in this movie, and the movie failed miserably. 

You could probably add a third category of just awful story telling.  The Circle would fit that.  This movie ended in such an awful and unintelligible fashion that you felt ripped off from what up until that point had been a pretty good movie.  I still get mad just thinking about all the foreshadowing that was flushed down the toilet for an ending that I still don’t think I get.  I actually watched the bonus features on that DVD to see what happened, and apparently the people talked about all of this emotion building in their main character that I never even came close to seeing and in the end she didn't act on any of it anyway.  The movie they were communicating was completely different from what came across on screen.  No one wants to see such bad movies. 

What is the lesson?  The lesson is the culture makers in this country are redefining morality.  They are committed to it.  Most of the country would prefer it not changed, but most don’t fight it.  They probably don’t have the answer which is found only in Christ.  Lots of people follow traditional morality without a reason why.  The next generation is being shaped now by these culture makers.  They are going to be okay with all the moral non-sense.  They just won’t know how to tell a decent story and will have no idea what entertainment actually is.  

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

13 Reasons Why And the True Tragedy

13 Reasons Why has created a lot of discussion since its release on Netflix.  It is based on a book, which I have not read, but I viewed the shows.  People feared a contagion affect, and it now appears to have been happening.  It was not hard to see coming.  When the hero of the show is the one who commits suicide, then you are glamorizing suicide.  But the real problem of the show is not that.  The suggestions for removing the death scene fundamentally miss the point.
In my opinion, the problem is the accurate portrayal of high school in a non-Christian/Post-Christian world.  Yes, the main character Hannah gets every possible type of bullying, which is probably unrealistic, but almost everyone is going to have experienced a couple of those types of bullying situations.  Hannah does seek help in the last show from the guidance counselor, but he has no answers.  The problem is not that he is just too busy, but that he has no real solutions.  The show seems to come up with some sort of “we should love each other more” answer, but that is just hot air and kids today know it.  They know they can’t be totally loving, and they sure know that the people around them are not going to be super loving.  Maybe a suicide would help for a time in a school, but even that would not be a permanent fix. 
That is the problem with 13 Reasons Why.  It asks the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”  But it comes back with a different answer.  It comes back with “There isn’t one.”  When that is the answer, why keep living in discomfort?  Why keep going when everything is painful and hurts inside? 
The culture is learning that all the reasons suicide are wrong rest firmly on the Christian worldview that the culture is rejecting at every turn.  Without any idea of redemption, sanctification, divine love, thou shalt not kill, and being created in the image of God, suicide cannot be condemned.  The experts in those articles don’t want it to look peaceful, they want the suicide to show the pain and loss of the family.  But, the non-Christian world tells us to live for ourselves and that pain is bad.  Hannah was in pain, so she ended her pain.  Now her parents are in pain, they have the same option available to them. 
13 Reasons Why is a horrible show because of its non-Christian worldview.  But it does remind Christians that there are a lot of people out there that in pain, in search of comfort, and do not know the answer of belonging body and soul to the faithful savior Jesus Christ.  The church has an opportunity to reach those people.  To teach them about Jesus Christ and the cross. 

“For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”  - 2 Corinthians 5:4-5

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

I read the New York Times Bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, and it is a very good book.  It is well written, honest, and gives a glimpse into a life style many don’t know.  The subject matter makes the book tend towards sadness and pity, but has just enough humor in it to stop it from becoming overly depressing.  The book looks at not just the life, but the mind-set behind what we think of as Appalachia. 

Full disclosure, I grew up in Appalachia.  So much so that when I read the opening chapter of this book and he said his family lived in Ohio from Kentucky, I thought “That is not Appalachia; that is not the South.”  I had to fight against my own upbringing to be able to listen to this Ohio guy talk about Appalachia.  I have been to many towns like Jackson, KY, and my own hometown would probably be Middletown, OH if Eastman chemical ever closed.  I imagine Kingsport maybe a lot like the Middletown that his grandparents moved to when their factory was still open.

Remembering that I actually enjoyed the book, don’t buy the hype that this book is “a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election” as Jennifer Senior from the New York Times writes.  It really has nothing to do with the election.  It is a look into a forgotten group of people.  Maybe this forgottenness played a role in the election, but the book is not really trying to address any of that. 
It is a beautiful picture of a society that grows increasingly more lost.  The brokenness, the hopelessness, and the ever rising climate of drugs and violence are real.  I went home to Kingsport this year, the first time in four years, and the change is saddening.  There is such a thing as mountain poor, and this books shows it well.  It also ends up showing how that poverty does not stay in the mountains but ends up in places like Middletown, OH.  If you want a look at what poverty can do to people and to a community, then read this book.  It is revealing and eye opening.

However, the book is ultimately very frustrating for not only its lack of answers, which it is upfront about, but also its inability to see the real problem staring it in the face. 

JD Vance, the author, ends the book talking about some need for social safety nets are needed and how some problems the government can’t fix.  He is trying to advocate for some middle of the road kind of approach.  But, if he would just read his own book with a thought of Christ and the gospel, he would have the major portion of his answer.  Vance’s story involves a broken home, a mother who was a drug addict and a father who ran off.  Multiple marriages later, and more abuse than I care to think about, Vance escapes thanks to the GI bill and divine providence that goes unrecognized.  At one point in the book, Vance lives with his mother’s second husband and adopted father.  The father has found religion, admittedly a Pentecostal variety, but he is now married and with kids of his own.  Vance is surprised at how normal they are and how they don’t fight, they don’t scream, and they don’t hurt each other.  But, he does not stay because he feels he doesn’t belong and he will not give up his rock-n-roll CDs.  His own family, including grandparents, profess but never really go to church.  He often wonders why some make it and some don’t.  But, he often acknowledges the devastation of the broken home created by divorce and regrets the social ethic he learned of looking down on education and elevating fighting.  The problems Mr. Vance sees are sin, and the solution is Jesus Christ.  The problems stem from an unchristian worldview and can be fixed by the blood of the savior and following His worldview.  Yet, it is not really ever considered as an option. 

It is heartbreaking to think of generations of those trapped in the hopelessness of this environment.  But the solution is not going to be found ultimately in anything man invents.  The solution is the hope of Jesus Christ who redeems us from our sins and saves us from all the power of the devil.  Mr. Vance may have escaped Middletown, OH and Jackson, KY, but he has not escaped the problem.  Appalachia is a place where the reigning power of sin has beaten the hope out of people.  Their reality demands a hopelessness.  He has traded it for a world of money and power where the reigning power of sin feeds delusion and lies regarding the problem, the answer, and situation ending up in misplaced hope and shifting sand confidence.  Both places are under the reigning power of sin and subject to the wrath of God because of it. 

Without the gospel, the Hillbilly Elegy ends much, much worse than what he lived through.  Without the gospel it ends in damnation and eternal torment.  With the gospel, it not only avoids damnation and gives a better life after death, but it redeems life on earth and equips people to handle the situations faced even in the deep “hollars” of Appalachia.