Sunday, July 29, 2007

Evangelicals for and Against a Palestinian State

The New York Times reports on a coalition of 34 evangelical leaders (including Fuller Seminary president, Richard Mouw, Gordon MacDonald, Ron Sider, and Christianity Today editor, David Neff) that supports the creation of a Palestinian state:
On Friday, these leaders sent a letter to President Bush saying that both Israelis and Palestinians have “legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine,” and that they support the creation of a Palestinian state “that includes the vast majority of the West Bank.”
They say that being a friend to Jews and to Israel “does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted.” The letter adds, “Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other.”
“This group is in no way anti-Israel, and we make it very clear we’re committed to the security of Israel,” said Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, which often takes liberal positions on issues. “But we want a solution that is viable. Obviously there would have to be compromises.”
The article quotes megachurch pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel, as claiming that "Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at that message" and draws attention to how differences in eschatology lead to differing stances on political policy with respect to Israel. Mention is made of a CUFI conference in Washington earlier this month that had an attendance of 4,500. Thanks to Collin Hansen, one of the guest bloggers at Between Two Worlds, for pointing to this video by Max Blumenthal who attended that conference (until he got escorted out by D. C. 's finest) to do some investigative reporting. Interesting viewing to be sure.

UPDATE: I just read Dr. Ben Witherington's thoughtful commentary on the video in which he lists what he considers its top five most chilling elements.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Gospel Coalition Interviews

Interviews with D. A. Carson, John Piper, Tim Keller, and Mark Driscoll, in which they discuss the formation and mission of the Gospel Coalition, the state of American preaching, causes of fragmentation in American evangelicalism, and a number of other important topics, are now available at the Gospel Coalition website. (HT: Between Two Worlds)

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007


If you haven't seen the Pyromaniacs' new line of motivational posters for emerging Christians, take a look

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Powlison on the Darkness of Depression

David Powlison of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation spoke with guest host Russell Moore about depression on the July 23rd edition of the Albert Mohler Program. (HT: Greg Linscott)

A Life Well Spent: More on Pete

The night before last I received emails from the sisters of my friend Pete (about whom I wrote last week) conveying details about his wake and funeral which will be held today and tomorrow. That news cemented the reality of Pete's departure more firmly in my mind and led to the further surfacing of sadness. Reading times and directions to the funeral home and church struck me further with the fact that later this week I would be standing beside my friend's casket, looking into the grieving eyes of bewildered family members and friends, and weeping with a few of the guys who years ago enjoyed each other's company at IHOP every other week. (For some reason that last line reminded me of the laughing fit we shared one morning while thinking about manly ways to order a particular specialty breakfast -- "Yes, I'll have the Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity.......and a beer.")

Along with the funeral information, one of Pete's sisters sent excerpts from an email he had written a friend a few days before he died. The recipient had forwarded it to Pete's sister to comfort her with the knowledge that Pete's last days were filled with the joy of the Lord and that he had no regrets about his choice of a more meager existence in Belize. I was greatly consoled by his words as well and with her permission, I share them with you:

I am right where God wants me to be... That is worth more than all the money, air conditioning and conveniences you could dream of.
. . .

This has been so hard, but God is pulling me in more and more. And when it says that His lovingkindness is better than life I know that it is true.
. . .

We have so much....So much in the States. Don't take your eyes off Him. This thing here has been so hard, but God rewards me over and over and over with His presence and love. Those are better than all the treasures of the world. I don't think I would have this intimacy with Him if I had stayed in the States.
Pete's words remind me of those of another brother who was slain in the course of heeding Christ's call, Jim Elliot: "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." The testimony of both men confront me with the disturbing question of how willing I am to loosen my grip on comforts and luxuries I've convinced myself are necessities for the sake of experiencing the superior joy of knowing Christ. It's a question of whether I trust that God is better than the greatest temporal pleasures I know. Everything comes back to the issue of God's goodness and our willingness to entrust ourselves to Him. One of our greatest weapons against sin and temptation is the conviction that God is good, that He is for us, and that the ways in which He calls us to walk, while not without sorrow, are paths of true liberty and joy. Calvin stated it well:

Never would Adam have dared to show any repugnance to the command of God if he had not been incredulous as to his word. The strongest curb to keep all his affections under due restraint, would have been the belief that nothing was better than to cultivate righteousness by obeying the commands of God, and that the highest possible felicity was to be loved by him (Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.1.4).
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Mary Ann also sent a link to a tribute page created by some of Pete's students at Belize Christian Academy. Their verbal and facial expressions bear witness to the beautiful power of a life yielded to Christ.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

New Henry Center Site

Many of us know of the CTU made famous by the series, 24. Readers may be less familiar with the other CTU based on the campus of Trinity International University. Last week, Dr. Douglas Sweeney, Director of the the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding, sent the following announcement:

It is with gratitude to God that I announce to you today the launch of a brand-new Henry Center website. As I hope you will see for yourselves, this site has a great new look, up-to-date details on the ministries of the Center, and important information about our mission and future plans, as well as an audio-video archives full of the Center's previous lectures and some video-taped interviews on pastoral concerns with some of the Center's recent speakers (downloadable for free).
I had the privilege of conducting the interview with Dr. Stephen Seamands about his book, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Take Care, Bud

Early morning telephone calls, at least in my experience, are rarely conveyors of good news. I was on the receiving end of such a call yesterday and it was no exception to the rule. I was jarred from semi-consciousness by the ringing of the telephone and immediately wondered who might be calling at such an hour. I thought it might be the person with whom I had a 9 AM appointment , letting me know that something came up that would preclude our meeting. If only it had been so minor.

On the other end of the line was my friend, Dave, with whom I have infrequent contact. He explained in a somber tone that his reason for calling so early was to reach me before I read my email. In the few moments between the conclusion of that sentence and the beginning of his next, I tried both to grip myself for whatever news he was about to share with me and to predict what it was. I failed on both counts. Dave proceeded to tell me that a mutual friend who has been
teaching history at a Christian school in Belize, Central America for two years had been brutally beaten to death while housesitting for a friend, a minister, who himself had been seriously beaten earlier this month. It's believed that this was a retaliatory measure by a native man in a relationship with one of the minister's daughters - a relationship of which the father disapproved. From what I've gathered from Belizean news sources, police are speculating that our friend Pete's murder is connected to the prior incident and that he may have been a victim of mistaken identity.

Pete's body was discovered in the backyard of the home beneath pieces of lumber. He was attacked from behind with a machete. There are no words to adequately capture the shock I experienced. It was nightmarish to think of someone I knew so well being the victim of such violence and contempt. It's almost unimaginable to think that Pete died so tragically.

Pete, Dave, a few other guys and I used to get together for breakfast on a biweekly basis almost 15 years ago to share what was going on in our lives, discuss theology and apologetics, and pray with and for each other. A local IHOP was our meeting place. A woman named Betty was our waitress. Over pancakes, crepes, scrambled eggs, and sausage we confided in each other about our temptations, dreams, joys, and sorrows. Oh, how I looked forward to those gatherings and hated when they ended. It was so good to have the company of brothers who shared a desire to know Christ better and who were committed to helping each other be more faithful to Him. At the time, Pete was working for the public works department of a local village doing janitorial work. From time to time he toyed with the thought of going back to school but he was filled with uncertainty and doubt about his ability to succeed. It was obvious to those of us who knew him that he was a keen thinker with a passion for learning so we encouraged him to pursue that aspiration.

Eventually, Pete did leave and completed a master's degree at Bemidji State University. At times he was shaken in his faith as he encountered historical scholarship built on the foundation of anti-Christian presuppositions. To his credit, however, this led him to increased study and prayer. He would frequently write to let me know about his interactions with fellow students (most of whom were younger than he) and professors. We exchanged many emails about matters such as the historical reliability of the New Testament texts, the sovereignty of God, election, epistemology, and an assortment of apologetic issues. The personal value of his correspondence, much of which I had saved and most of which he signed off with "Take care, bud," spiked with yesterday's news.

Pete returned to Illinois in search of a job in which he could utilize his education -- preferably in a historical museum somewhere. While he searched, he worked as a customer service representative for a nationally known paint company headquartered in the area. During this time he, Dave, and some other guys consistently met on Saturday mornings for extended prayer for one another, their friends and families, and the body of Christ stateside and abroad. Born out of the realization that prayer is a means of waging spiritual warfare, this weekly meeting came to be known as "Fight Club."

A few weeks ago Pete had sent me and some other guys a draft of an email he had composed to one of his former students who was struggling with doubts about the existence of God. Pete was asking for input concerning any revisions we thought would improve it. I couldn't identify any. It was thorough, well-researched, and compassionate. His care for the young man to whom he was writing was evident as was the fact that he took his questions and concerns seriously. Pete wrote as one who knew well the mental and emotional duress that accompanies doubt. It was a joy to see his earnest, skillful attempt to feed another hungry soul with the fruit yielded from his own languishing for truth. In response to a letter I had sent commending him for his letter to his former student, Pete wrote back and told me that he had accepted a position as an adjunct world history professor at a local university. The school at which he regularly taught is closed during the summer months so he began teaching a summer class at the university earlier this month. A transcript from one of Belize's local news programs quotes the school's vice president:

Peter was a gifted teacher. The students were having so much fun in his class. Whenever I’d say, "Peter how is class going?" he would say, "This is so much fun." He just radiated excitement, he just loved to teach and the students were responding to that.
Pete regularly read this blog. To the best of my recollection, he never left a comment but he frequently told me how much he appreciated it, especially the links that introduced him to new sites. Whenever I checked site traffic by location and saw an ISP in Belize, I was pretty confident it was Pete. From now on, if ever I see a visit from Belize, I'll be certain that it's not. It was satisfying to know that by means of the blog I was pointing Pete to resources that were helpful to his growth.

In his email to me, Pete related the following insight that I share in hope that it might encourage and inspire someone:

I had this weird thing happen in the last 6 months where I gave into the realization that I am a good teacher, an academic and an intellectual. I was thinking of myself as the janitor and truck driver for a long time and the reality is I am not those things. I have been really pouring into apologetics like Schaeffer, Nancy Pearcey, Darell Bock, and reading that big book by [Craig] Blomberg on the gospels. Crazy thing is I am understanding what previously I had so much difficulty understanding. God is pretty interesting like that. Things come when you need them. He has told me not to fear these apologetics and big questions,but to dive in and explore.
By saying that he wasn't a janitor or a truck driver, Pete wasn't disparaging either or taking a stance of superiority. There wasn't an air of snootiness about him. He knew what it was to work hard and he had the utmost of respect and admiration for those who made their living so doing. Pete took the truth of every person being the image of God seriously and I never knew him to be one to shy away from associating with someone on account of his or her socio-economic status, race, or educational level. I think what he was getting at was that he had, by the grace of God, become what he once thought he could never be. Not only that, he also learned the invaluable lesson that to acknowledge what one is good at needn't be an expression of sinful pride but can be an honest and grateful assessment of the gifts God has entrusted to be used in His faithful service.
Pete's testimony reminded me of James Sire's book, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling, in which he relates his own desire to become an intellectual and the obstacles (both internal and external) to his achieving that goal. As to what an intellectual is in general and a Christian intellectual in particular, Sire offers the following definitions, neither of which necessitates formal education:

An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces, starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought, inviting them to dine and have a ball but also suiting them for service in workaday life.

A Christian intellectual is all of the above to the glory of God (27-28).
Farewell, for now, to a dearly loved Christian intellectual.

UPDATE - 7/19/07: A local Illinois newspaper has a writeup about Pete that includes reflections on his life from his dad.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Challies on When Sinners Say "I Do"

I previously mentioned my eagerness to read Dave Harvey's new book about marriage and the gospel, When Sinners Say "I Do." Tim Challies has (unsurprisingly) already done so and offers this review.

UPDATE: Tim has also posted an interview he conducted with Dave Harvey at Discerning Reader.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Primary Emphasis When Interpreting Biblical Narratives

....biblical narratives are primarily about God and God's redemptive activity among humanity, and their authors' claim to reveal God truthfully. This may seem like a truism, but we often focus our attention on the ethical dimensions of narrative rather than on its theological dimension. In other words, it is too easy to ask the question of narratives, What should I be like? rather than, What is God like? or, What is God doing? The ethical question is not inappropriate. Yet, our primary interpretive emphasis should be theological. Our first question ought to be the "God question." As John Goldingay asserts, "The shaping of character is rarely the direct aim of biblical narrative; we are not told stories about Abraham, Moses, Jesus, or Paul chiefly in order that we might let our characters be shaped by theirs. The primary concern of biblical narrative is to expound the gospel, to talk about God and what God has done, rather than to talk about the human characters who appear in God's story." By centering our attention on the theological question, we will be in a better position to hear well the ethical stance of the text.

Our tendency to derive ethics apart from theology in the narratives of Scripture is nowhere more pervasive than in teaching the Bible to our children. We routinely teach Bible stories to children to make an ethical point: "Be like Samson, Ruth, and David. Be like Joseph and share with others just as he distributed food among the Egyptians." The latter point was expressly made in a curriculum I was to teach to the Sunday school class of my three-year-old daughter. What a marvelous lesson for self-centered three-year-olds: share! the problem, of course, is that Joseph also "shares" food with his long-lost family, while in the process not only hiding his identity from them, but also putting his own silver cup in their food bags, so that he can drag them back to Egypt and deceive them a bit longer (Gen. 44). This is not exactly the kind of sharing we want to inculcate in our children! In contrast, if we make our first question the theological question, not only will we teach that God is good even when human beings fail, but we will also provide the right point of view from which to evaluate the human characters of the Bible's narratives. 
               - Jeannine K. Brown, Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics, pp. 162-163

Friday, July 13, 2007

Interview with the Editors of A Theology for the Church

James Hamilton Jr. posts Part I of an interview with Peter R. Schemm and David P. Nelson, the associate editors of a recently released systematic theology titled A Theology for the Church. Here are their responses to James's initial question about why pastors should continue studying theology:
DPN: ....Pastors should read theology because the ministry of the pastor, from preaching to any number of pastoral acts, is inherently theological. So, the most faithful pastors will be good theologians, and good theologians are made through years of continuous reflection of the teachings of Scripture. I think it is important, as a professor of theology in a seminary, to pursue a lifelong study of theology. How much more important, then, for a pastor, who has the responsibility to feed God’s sheep, to study theology continually. We hope A Theology for the Church will aid and enrich such study of the Scriptures.

PRS: The most compelling reason that a pastor ought to read/study theology is that it is the essence of his vocation to do so. The nature of pastoral ministry is so directly rooted in truth and doctrine that the Apostle Paul can hardly write a paragraph of the so called Pastoral Epistles without referring to something like “the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1; cf. 1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 1:13). This makes sense since the church itself is “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). And, it is also why so many of the great pastors throughout the history of the church were theologians—from Paul to Augustine to Luther to Fuller. It is our hope, then, that TFC will assist in forming the next generation of pastor-theologians.
The interview also addresses the benefits of encouraging lay people to study theology and suggestions for cultivating a church atmosphere in which biblical theology is valued. Thanks, James!

John Piper on the Prosperity "Gospel"

A friend to whom I mentioned the Christianity Today article I linked to last Friday about the prosperity "gospel's" flourishing in Africa, pointed me to John Piper's passionate expression of disgust for such teaching and its being exported to impoverished countries. Let us pray for the day when content like this replaces the Trinity Broadcasting Network and other purveyors of gospel corruption on the world's airwaves.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sin's Disturbance of our Knowledge of Ourselves

This observation from Emil Brunner is relevant to the previous post:

The nearer anything lies to that center of existence where we are concerned with the whole, that is, with man's relation to God and the being of the person, the greater is the disturbance of rational knowledge by sin; the farther away anything lies from this center, the less is the disturbance felt, and the less difference is there between knowing as a believer or as an unbeliever. Revelation and Reason (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster, 1946), 383.

Codependence. No More!

I recently listened to a Mars Hill Audio Conversation called Self, Society, and the Diagnosis of Addiction in which Ken Myers spoke with sociologist John Steadman Rice (author of A Disease of One's Own: Psychotherapy, Addiction, and the Emergence of Co-Dependency) about the concept of codependency. Rice maintains that codependency is not an objectively existing condition like a disease but rather a discourse that people adopt in order to make sense of their lives, particularly to describe the relationship between the self and society. Codependency, then, is not something that people have but is rather a conceptual framework that people choose in order to account for intra- and interpersonal problems.

Rice went on to describe how widespread the concept of codependency has become and how its definition has broadened since its origin in recovery groups such as Al-Anon. Melody Beattie, perhaps codependency's greatest popularizer, offers the following definition of a codependent person in her Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself:

A codependent person is one who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior (Hazelden, 1986, p. 36).
Beattie continues by listing a variety of ways that codependency manifests itself including obsessive helping, caretaking, low self-worth bordering on self-hatred, self-repression, excessive anger and guilt, and focus on others to the abandonment of one's self. Incidentally, to give you an idea of how influential a voice Beattie's is, Codependent No More, originally published in 1986, had sold more than six million copies by the summer of 2001 and, according to Rice, enjoyed a 152-week stint on Publisher Weekly's bestseller list. Beattie's own site boasts that an average of 15,000 people per month are purchasing copies.

Rice believes (I think with good reason) that the train of thought espoused by Beattie and another noted advocate of codependency theory, John Bradshaw (whose seminars you may have caught on public television), is dependent upon the thinking of Abraham Maslow (whose influence on Christian thought I blogged about here) and Carl Rogers whom Rice refers to as "liberation psychotherapists." Maslow, Rogers, and the contemporary heralds of codependency theory share two foundational assumptions. The first is that human nature is intrinsically either benign or benevolent. The second is that psychological and relational problems are the products of repression of the true self by external, familial and/or societal forces. Since the true self is at least morally neutral and at best predisposed to kindness, then any corruption of the self must be the result of its having been stifled by others. Referring to Beattie's description of the codependent person, the tendency to be obsessed with controlling others' behavior is not due to any intrinsic moral flaw in human nature but is rather the consequence of repression of the authentic self. The remedy to such repression is the pursuit of autonomy, liberation from the constraints of norms, expectations, and moral judgments that come from external sources.

It always disturbed me to find that Beattie's book was carried by so many Christian booksellers since there is nothing Christian about her diagnosis of or prescribed remedy for the phenomena to which she attaches the label "codependency." There are some scattered references to the Bible and "God" in Codependent No More but by no means are the Scriptures functionally authoritative in Beattie's framing of the issues. On the two pages in which Jesus is mentioned, there is nothing said about his redemptive mission. Instead, he serves as a spokesman for codependence theory. Commenting on Jesus' response to Martha that her sister Mary had made a better decision by sitting and listening to him (Luke 10: 38-42), Beattie writes:
His message might be that Mary made the right choice because it's more important to enjoy people than it is to cook and clean. But I also believe there's a message here about taking responsibility for our own choices, doing what we want to be doing, and realizing how we become angry when we don't. Maybe Mary's choice was right because she acted as she wanted to. (Hazelden, 1986, pp. 92-93)
In her more recent work, Finding Your Way Home: A Soul Survival Kit, Beattie claims that she considers herself "a member of the Christian faith," but it's obvious that she does not regard the Bible as any more authoritative or divinely inspired than any other religious text. In a section in which she advises readers to feed their faith, she states that she is comforted by reading the Torah and the Koran "in addition to the Bible." Never mind the fact that Christians consider the Torah to be part of the Christian Scriptures. Beattie claims that the holy books are "powerful texts" and advises readers not to worry if they don't understand them with their conscious minds because:
These books are deeply encoded with messages that will activate time capsules of faith in our Super Consciousness. The holy books speak the language of the soul (HarperSanFrancisco, 1998, p. 193).
Earlier in the book, on the same page on which she approvingly cites The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, Beattie's religious relativism is undeniable:
Whether you subscribe to the tenets of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Bahai, Hinduism or any other religion, the common ingredient is faith. It is the unseen force that strings together this thing called life. It makes religion work. It makes life work. It opens the door to miracles" (p. 190)
Beattie's popularity is due, in part, to the fact that she addresses attitudes and behaviors that are virtually universal. Who can't find him or herself somewhere in her sweeping definition of a codependent? Which of us doesn't let the behavior of others affect us and which of us can honestly claim that we do not sometimes try to manipulate the people in our lives so as to have them respond to us in desirable ways? Beattie has astutely observed how sinners act but her view of human nature as intrinsically pristine leads to her being greatly mistaken about the why and consequently about the resolution. As Ed Welch notes in When People Are Big and God is Small:
She obviously hit on a topic that was important to many people, yet it was basically the fear of man in a secular garment. Melody Beattie talked about the problem in terms of being controlled by or dependent on other people, and her prescription was to love yourself more (P & R, 1997, p. 18).
Beattie's solution is a conglomerate of humanistic pop psychology and New Age mysticism. Nevertheless, she is frequently presented to the Christian community as a trustworthy guide to help them interpret and resolve their problems. Consider, for example, that four of her titles, including the two mentioned above, are sold by (CBD) with three of them (at least at the time of this writing) listed as being on the top of their bestseller list.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

When Sinners Say "I Do"

Since learning of it I've been eager to read Dave Harvey's new book. The title hooked me and it's endorsed by men I admire and trust. Reading this interview with the author yesterday only heightened my anticipation. Here's Harvey's response to the question of why he's adding to the plethora of marriage books already on the market:
Though I’m grateful for some of these books, it’s common for marriage books to address the symptoms of marital challenges while neglecting the real problem. In this book, I say, “The cause of our marriage battles is neither our marriage nor our spouse. It’s the sin in our hearts—entirely, totally, exclusively, without exception. This is taught clearly and consistently in Scripture, from the first sin to the final judgment.” But don’t get me wrong—this book doesn’t merely bemoan the problem but exalts in the solution—the gospel! When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage avoids the psychological discussions that fill the pages of many popular needs-based resources. Instead, it encourages readers to develop the tools to diagnose their hearts and then flee to the gospel for help. The most helpful summary I think I can offer is taken right from the book: “God wants Christians to delight in marriage. And He has made provision in the gospel to do so. But we can’t truly understand the gospel, or even the basic problems of every marriage, until we come to terms with the undeniable reality of sin. Men and women (and me!) find real hope and help when we realize that God uses marriage to reveal the heart and change the soul.”
You can view the book's table of contents, foreword by Paul David Tripp, and preface here.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

A Contemporary Psalm of Confession

Paul Tripp's latest in an excellent series of reflections on Psalm 51 is a penetrating poem based on verse 17: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Tom Wright Talks

N. T. Wright was the guest speaker for the West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies' 21st birthday celebration. The two talks he gave at the event ("Thinking about God in Tomorrow's World" and "Whatever did St. Paul do with the Kingdom of God?") are now available on the Reformational UK site. (HT: Steve Bishop)

Korea's Shameless Shamans

From a fascinating article in today's New York Times about the revival of shamanism in Korea:
There are an estimated 300 shamanistic temples within an hour of Seoul’s bustling city center, and in them, shamans perform their clamorous ceremonies every day. They offer pigs to placate the gods. They dance with toy guns to comfort the spirit of a dead child. They intimidate evil spirits by walking barefoot on knife blades.
“We used to do our rituals in hiding,” said Ms. Yang, who performs two or three rites on a busy day. “Our customers kept it secret from even their own relatives. Now we have no shame performing in public. I can hardly take three days off a month.”
Korean shamanism is rooted in ancient indigenous beliefs shared by many folk religions in northeast Asia. Most mudangs are women who say they discovered their ability to serve as a mediator between the human and spirit worlds after emerging from a critical illness. They believe that the air is thick with spirits, including those of dead relatives, a fox in the hills behind a village, an old tree or even a stove. These spirits interact with people and influence their fortunes.
So when tradition-minded Koreans are inexplicably sick or have a run of bad luck in business or a daughter who cannot find a husband, they consult a shaman.
Its syncretistic and cultural flexibility is credited with the practice's longevity:
“In our latest survey, we found 273 categories of gods venerated by Korean shamans. If you look into the subcategories, you find 10,000 deities,” said Hong Tea-han, a professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul who researches shamanism. “Korean shamanism is a great melting pot. It never rejected anything but embraced everything, making endless compromises with other religions and social changes. That explains why it has survived thousands of years.”
There are shamans who venerate Jesus, the Virgin Mary, even Park Chung-hee, the late South Korean military strongman. Under the pro-American military governments of the 1970s, there were shamans who took Gen. Douglas MacArthur as their deity. When MacArthur’s spirit possessed them, they donned sunglasses, puffed on a pipe and uttered sounds that some clients took for English.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Enslaving Africa in the Name of Christ

A Christianity Today article about the rise of prosperity teaching among African Pentecostals and Charismatics cites numerous factors contributing to the trend. Not surprisingly, American religious broadcasting is among them:
And then there is television. As Pentecostal-charismatic programming has flooded Africa, renewalist numbers have risen from 17 million in 1970 to 147 million in 2005. The continent's largest religious broadcaster is Santa Ana, California–based Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), followed by Europe's GOD TV.

As TV sets grow common in African cities, these broadcasters are gaining huge audiences. People who lack a TV often watch with neighbors, and viewing options are limited. In Zambia, only three stations click on: MUVI TZ, which airs reruns of U.S. shows and old movies; ZNBC, the Zambian National Broadcasting Company; and TBN. Television is becoming the continent's religious classroom.

"People turn it on and assume that TBN is American Christianity, and Americans know everything, so why not listen to it?" says Bonnie Dolan, founder and director of Zambia's Center for Christian Missions, a Reformed school for pastors. "[W]e have Zambians looking to the West for direction, and they associate TBN with the West. And it's killing our churches."
I guess Paul and Jan Crouch just aren't satisfied killing American churches.

In an accompanying article, Madison Trammel interviews Arlene Sanchez Walsh, author of Latino Pentecostal Identity, on the appeal and effects of the prosperity gospel on Latino-American churches. Apparently, TBN can take some credit here as well:
Latino prosperity denominations like Maranatha boast 400 churches worldwide. But prosperity might best be measured in terms of influence. I measure its significance by how many Latinos are influenced by prosperity teachings via the media, not only TBN, but also Almavision, which is based in Los Angeles and has more than 30 outlets in predominately Latino areas from New York to Charlotte to Washington state. People hear those teachings and incorporate them into their preexisting Pentecostal-charismatic theologies, creating a hybrid Pentecostalism that is typical in Latino churches.

Larry Crabb on Hermeneutics and Christian Counseling

I've followed with great interest Larry Crabb's movement toward a more intentionally and explicitly theological approach to understanding people and how to help them in distinctively Christian ways. I'm hopeful that he will be influential in provoking more of his professional peers, and the body of Christ at large, to give more serious thought to the conceptual frameworks functionally governing our evaluation of what is wrong with people as well as our efforts to help them change.

The latest issue of Edification, a publication of the Society for Christian Psychology, contains an interview with Crabb in which he offers the following thoughts concerning the role of the Bible in counseling:

...I think my essential contribution to the counseling discussion is in hermeneutics. You can't go to the Bible and find verses about anorexia. As a result, people who want to stay biblical -- and I do -- but who have a limited hermeneutic, become very narrow when they find some application of the Bible to deal with problems that the Bible doesn't seem to directly address. I think that if we have a rich anthropology [doctrine of man], a rich hamartiology [doctrine of sin], a rich pneumatology [doctrine of the Holy Spirit and His work], then we will know how to "hermeneut." We will know how to interpret scriptures so that we discover ways of thinking, and categories for understanding. When I deal with a homosexual, my concern is not only to say homosexuality is sinful, so stop it, and let me hold you accountable until you don't do it anymore. Certainly that must be said. It is a sin, so it shouldn't continue any more than adultery should, or pornography, or any thing else that is obviously sin. But these are not the root sin. So my concern is to say to the homosexual, "What did God have in mind when he created them man and female?" And, "Let's explore the essence of masculinity. Let's find where your terror of not feeling alive as a man has resulted in your clenched-fisted determination to find some kind of satisfaction as a man without taking the risk of manhood, which then makes you vulnerable to homosexuality." Let's explore these deeper issues, which in my mind are not "psychology," but are very biblical, because God made them male and female.

God wants us to unpack and to interpret scripture in a way that does not result in a proof text, and not in a bunch of principle - do this, and don't do that - but in an enriched, deep understanding of what is happening in the human soul that has gone profoundly wrong that leads to all these difficult and sinful problems. You can apply it to homosexuality, eating disorders, panic attacks, whatever else. What is going on in the human soul, and how does the Bible give us categories for understanding this? So I think my major contribution is a hermeneutic that allows me to develop categories for understanding that don't come across as proof-texting or merely exhortational, but as liberating and releasing.
Crabb goes on to describe the idolatry underlying homosexual (and all other sinful) behavior:
It [homosexual behavior] is sinful, but the core sin is turning to God and saying, "You are not the source of joy, you are not the essence of goodness. There's a greater good than you." This is the sin of Adam and Eve, who decided that there was a greater good than God. So we have to get down to the essential sin in dealing with all of these problems, and I think my hermeneutic, which is very nonlinear and categorical, allows for a richer understanding of the human condition. It remains biblical, but in the minds of some looks like it's forgetting the Bible and going towards psychology. But my understanding of homosexuality, of anorexia, or multiple personality, is dependent on biblical categories and not upon psychological research, even though I find secular research to be very analytic and the secular thinkers to be very provocative. They make me think and ask questions that I wouldn't otherwise ask, but never would I regard them as authoritative.
Crabb is right to point out the vital necessity of having our thinking about the nature of human problems and their resolution substantively formed by the doctrines and storyline of Scripture. I find it alarming how frequently the explanations offered by Christians about what motivates people to do what they do sounds virtually identical to secular accounts which have no category for the activity of the heart with reference to God. When pressed, we'll acknowledge in some vague, generic sense that "we're all sinners," so as not to be thought of as unorthodox. But listen carefully to how believers talk among themselves or read some of the bestselling Christian pop psychology (frequently marketed under the heading of "personal development") and you'll find that we don't really expect the Bible's teaching on sin to be of much practical value in helping us get to the meat of the matter of our intra- and interpersonal problems. Consequently, as I've stated before, the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ is marginalized to that nebulous (not to mention, narrow) region of our lives designated as "spiritual." The gospel becomes icing on the cake of "real life" whose primary ingredients must be acquired at the mental health market.

I'm also glad to see Crabb drawing attention to the fact that how we answer the question "What is the Bible and how does God communicate through it?" has great consequence for the conclusions we draw concerning its relevance and the scope of that relevance for counseling issues. One of the main reasons that assertions about the Bible's sufficiency for understanding and addressing counseling issues is dismissed as being naive and simplistic is that people assume that the Bible is a compilation of atomistic verses (a view revealed by the frequently encountered request, "Show me a verse for....") rather than as a comprehensive lens through which all of life is to be interpreted. Crabb's reflection on this point resembles that of David Powlison who, in the current issue of the Journal of Biblical Counseling notes, "The writers of the Bible intend to provide eyeglasses that enable all seeing, not an encyclopedia that contains all facts."

Given the place of prominence that American evangelicalism has afforded psychologists, perhaps an affirmation of the Bible's sufficiency for counseling matters from someone like Crabb will persuade more believers to take it seriously.