Friday, April 25, 2008

I've Moved

So I know I've only had my own blog for a couple weeks now, but I am quickly kissing farismaticism goodbye.

But alas, it has not been for naught. In fact, I am kissing farismaticism goodbye because I have been asked to join Christians in Context, a blog run by Norman Jeune III and Damian Romano, and formerly Matt Wilcoxen. It's a pretty sweet opportunity and I've decided to take it.

So head to www.christiansincontext.org. Updates from one of the 4 of us (Wilcoxen backed out of it but still contributes occasionally) come up at least once a day, so it'll be better than the very occasional posts on this blog.

You should subscribe to that one even.

Thanks folks!

Monday, April 21, 2008

How Christians Ought to Talk About War ( or In Defense of Systematic Theology)

So here's something I'm tired of: anti-war Christians (a position I respect) defending their anti-war stance with the simple "Jesus said to turn the other cheek and love your neighbor" argument (and here I refer to people who are anti-war in principle, not just anti-Iraq-war specifically).

The most recent Relevant magazine has a pretty fascinating section where 8 or so prominent Christian thinkers (including Brian McLaren, N. T. Wright, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, and Chuck Colson, et. al.) give their thoughts on various issues in the church and culture. All frustrations with the fact that McLaren has never actually answered a question in his whole life aside ("Brian, do you want to eat at In-N-Out or Chipotle tonight, hunny?" "Dear, you're asking the wrong kind of question- we need to move above these polarizations and look at food in a more inclusive way; we need to form a dialogue between the Mexican and American cultures and the food they produce..."), many of the answers were relatively thoughtful, if a little Christian-culture-trendy. Even a couple of McLaren's "go above the question" answers had some insight that I had to be careful not to immaturely dismiss just because of who they came from.

That said, I was just shocked at how many of these folks wrote off war in a way that came off nothing short of shallow. I constantly read, "Jesus would not have gone to war. Jesus was about peace and love." And of course, they're not completely misreading Jesus- Jesus was (and is) about peace and love.

But then, so is the God who commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites. In fact, Phil. 4 calls that God the "God of Peace." And unless we deny the full deity of Christ and the unity of the Trinity (whether you want to restrict yourselves to those horrible canon-within-a-canon theological categories or not), then we must say that the Jesus who talked about loving your neighbor as yourself also talked about slaughtering the Canaanites. Come to think of it, didn't he get that "love your neighbor as yourself" business from Leviticus (you know, that book in the God-of-Canaanite-slaughter-authored Old Testament)?

My point is this: give Christian just war theorists a little credit. They read the Gospels too. They know what Jesus said about loving neighbors and turning the other cheek. I promise- they aren't skipping that part of the Bible. I am not even really arguing a position; I am arguing that we need to argue better.

So let me suggest a few principles that we need to address/keep in mind for this debate:

1. Don't just say, "Jesus was about self-sacrificial love, so war is wrong." This argument is totally oversimplified, and, as I've tried to say above, is bad systematic theology. Of course, I know systematic theology has fallen on hard times, but you have to reckon with the whole counsel of Scripture on this issue. There's just no way around that.

2. If you do use the "Jesus was about self-sacrificial love" argument, develop it better. Do not just say it and leave it at that. Christian pacifists certainly can appeal to Jesus to argue their point, but not if it is this simplistic. Be thoughtful.

3. Related to the first two, if you are a Christian pacifist, please explain the God-ordained slaughters of the Old Testament. Tell me what pacifism amounts to exactly (was every war in history necessarily evil, or is it only all war now that is necessarily evil?). Further, if you are a Christian just war theorist, tell me how I as a Christian could shoot someone who I am supposed to love and forgive unconditionally. There are difficult questions for both sides, and they should not be written off.

4. Don't start with the Iraq War- there are just too many ins and outs not related to just war theory itself. Start with the theory of a potential just war, attack or defend it, then apply those results and other thoughtful criteria to the Iraq War specifically.

5. Be gracious. This is true of any argument, but this is one of those that gets pretty charged. Just because someone believes in the possibility of a just war does not mean that he is a "shoot first and ask questions later" warhawk. Just because someone is a pacifist he is not necessarily a liberal sissy. Listen to each other.

6. Don't be a reactionary. It's cool to be a Christian Democrat now, probably large in part because people like questioning dominant assumptions. But do not just vote Democrat on an anti-war basis unless you can really honestly defend the position.

7. Don't be unthinking. It's easy to be a Christian Republican, probably large in part because it is the dominant assumption. But do not just vote Republican without thinking about having a consistent ethic of life.

Oh, and the systematic theology thing- I think that might partly be a pet peeve. But I do think this is a good example of a time where jettisoning systematics and "embracing tension" would make Christian ethical decision-making darn near impossible.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Dumbest Thing a Student Has Said to Me this Week

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I hereby present you with the inauguration of a currently planned weekly installment I'm calling, "The Dumbest Thing a Student Has Said to Me this Week."

I currently am employed as a substitute teacher at two schools, and each week I find that I have at least one encounter with a student who says something stupid. So I figure it's probably best to make fun of them. Of course, no names will be given.

Thing is, the simple fact of the matter is that students say dumb stuff all the time. There are, in fact, dumb questions, and we all know it. There are also dumb comments. It's time to let the world hear them. Note that my idea for a weekly installment is much less edifying and much more condescending than Jenny's "Wesley Wednesdays."

So without further delay, the dumbest thing a student has said to me this week:

After pestering me for days about why I don't like such sweet metal bands as Pantera and Korn and my consistent testimony that I in fact don't like metal in general, one student asked me if I like Led Zeppelin...

Me: "Yeah, I like Led Zeppelin, mostly their early blues rock stuff."
Student: "Oh, well there's a metal band you like! Led Zeppelin is totally metal."

And that, dear blog reader, is the dumbest thing a student has said to me this week.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Clinton the Determinist?

From an AP article recapping Hillary's appearance at a Pennsylvania presidential race event where she and Obama were asked about religion:

"When asked if she thought God wanted her to be president, Clinton quipped, 'I could be glib and say, well, we'll find out.'"

She must be some kind of compatibilist. Maybe we Reformed types ought to reconsider our political loyalties...

Not really.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

"Jesus Washing Peter's Feet" by Ford Maddox Brown

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."


Friday, April 4, 2008

Just call her a children's "pastor"

Ever notice that a man who runs the church's children's ministry is called a children's pastor, but a woman is called a children's director? Well if you hadn't, certainly my woman children's director friend has- and to her credit, she doesn't get real upset about little things like that (last I checked, I think she may even agree with it). In any case, the game is up: those children's directors really are children's pastors. They do all the same stuff, just with a different title to match the different anatomy.

Of course the people who come up with stuff like that are normally godly folks just trying to get the Bible right, and in the attempt to be faithful to 1 Tim. 2 et. al., pull the titular switcheroo. But I for one have always wondered what Paul would think if he came around our churches only to find that his Spirit-inspired concerns about gender roles in the church, at least at points, got so trivialized. (Well, maybe he'd be too busy telling all the egalitarians just how wrong they'd got his writing to notice how complementarians mess with ministry titles...zing!)

Harold Hoehner wrote an article for the December '07 issue of
JETS entitled, "Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher?" in which he makes a point of distinguishing between what the NT calls "gifts" and what it calls "offices." On a number of levels, the article is frankly not that good. Most importantly, Hoehner predicates the case on a false understanding of spiritual gifts (apparently he hasn't read Berding's book) that leads to the plainly counter-intuitive dichotomy between things like doing the work of an evangelist and having the gift of being an evangelist (766-7).

Nonetheless, one point is well-taken: the word-group translated "gift" or "spiritual gift" in English Bibles refers to something distinct from the church office titles of elder, bishop, and deacon especially found in the Pastoral Epistles. This leads Hoehner to conclude that a woman could have the gift of pastor-teacher (Eph. 4:11) and even be ordained as such without necessarily also being an elder, which Hoehner maintains is a position restricted to males in the church.

Despite the article's problems, the noted gift/office distinction still stands, and leads me to conclude this: a woman really could have the spiritual
ministry (a better term, following Berding) of a pastor-teacher, as long as it is within the Biblical bounds set for women's ministry roles, esp. in 1 Tim. 2:11-14 (Hoehner tries to get at something like this, but is simply not as clear). Specifically, if her authority is exercised over children and/or women, there is no reason that she could not be exercising her ministry of pastor-teacher.

One more correlating point should be added: "pastor" is an overused term in our churches today, compared its relative scarcity in the NT. Outside of the Eph. 4 passage, I am not sure of a text that refers to church leaders as "pastors". "Elder" (Gk.
presbuteros and/or episkopos) is the more common and explicit, most importantly within the Pastoral Epistles. That is to say, of course a woman children's "director" is pastoring those children. It does not mean she is exercising the ecclesiological male-only authority of an elder. This understanding of pastoring actually fits better with the Eph. 4 use of the term as a spiritual ministry for the edification of the church, rather than an office per se. There is something more active (for lack of a better word) about pastoring.

So go ahead ladies, call yourselves pastors, as long as you're not doing the stuff that the Bible says is only for males. The issue has a lot more to do with what you do than what you're called.
After all, there is no explicit "women can't be elders" text- that is a (reasonable) application from the function-in-action type boundaries set in 1 Tim. 2 compared to what the rest of the Pastorals say about eldership. Maybe the title change would even change the focus for women from "what you are not supposed to do" to "exercising your role in the ministry God has empowered and called you for." And that would be a nice change.

I should add one last comment: this would only work if we got back to the proper uses of the terms "pastor" and "elder" as delineated above. Otherwise, it will probably result in confusion. But I think it is worth going through with both changes together simply because of connotations. "Director" (or whatever other non-biblical word you choose) comes off in my view considerably more demeaning than the biblical term "pastor", and like I said, what we want to do is encourage both men and women to fulfill their God-given roles for the sake of His church.