Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Ten Posts of 2012

Here are the posts I made in 2012 that received the most traffic.  All in all, I had 73,695 pageviews.  The following are just the top among this year (in terms of posts people specifically clicked on--I have no way of knowing if a person lingered on a post by generally looking at my site without clicking on the post itself).

Most of my specific page views have to do with items like the #1 item below that students doing searches find.  For example, my biggest traffic was from a 2008 post I did on Famous Rationalists as part of my forthcoming philosophy textbook (627 people clicked on it specifically).

10. Memory Verse Hermeneutics (June 10)
This was part of a series I did on my hermeneutical pilgrimage.  It is part of one of the feelers I have out right now for a possible book.

9. Edmunson on Online Education (July 20)
I get a lot of spam trying to comment on this post, trying to link to their online whatever.  Lots of things are changing in education and history will remember Edmunson's position as the sour grapes of a loser.

8. Wesleyan General Conference Decisions (June 5)
I was very happy with the decisions of the conference.  Sometimes I feel like I'm isolated in my sense of the obvious direction things should take, but more than once decisions have confirmed that the majority agrees.

7. My Dad's Funeral Sermon (April 2)
My father passed on March 26, a great man after God's own heart.  We sure have missed him these last 9 months.

6. Grudem on Inerrancy (September 8)
I've been blogging through Grudem's Systematic Theology textbook.  This was my treatment of his view of inerrancy.

5. Wesleyan Church's Divorce Decision (June 4)
In preparation for Wesleyan General Conference, I posted some of the perspectives Wesleyans might take on its coming decision on whether to allow for divorce in the case of abuse. The church didn't let me down.

4. New Testament Greek Pronouns (July 11)
I posted some of the lectures I did for my summer Greek for Ministry course.

3. Nashotah House Theological Seminary (April 24)
I visited this seminary in April and blogged on what a hidden gem it was, especially for Anglicans who are looking for something other than business as usual in the Anglican tradition.

2. Sermon in Shoes, children's song (April 6)
This was the title of the sermon I preached at my father's funeral in April.  It came from a children's song that had fallen out of use but is still quite powerful.

1. To know the good is to do the good. (March 17)
This isn't an exact quote from Socrates but it is often cited that way.  Students go crazy trying to find where it's from, so I decided to post the silver bullet for those trying to find it.

Les Miserables

We went to see several movies over the break, one of which was Les Mis.  I'm not much for musicals and didn't really enjoy Hugh Jackman or Russell Crowe's voices, but I think the story is very interesting.  I liked the Liam Neeson version better, but there were some things that stuck out about this one.

1. The first was how much better most of our lives are today than in the 1800s, even in tough economic times.  The laws of the land really do seem to protect most of us most of the time.  Sure, there is still injustice.  Minorities still face discrimination. Urban areas still give rise to no win situations where a person has little choice but to join a gang.

But I would like to think that things aren't nearly as unjust as they used to be. I would at least like to think that much fewer women get forced into prostitution. I'd like to think that most people can eventually find a job. I would like to think that most policemen really do follow the law and that most judges can't be bought.

Still, I fear a lot of injustice goes on that I am not aware of because I live in comfortable circumstances (despite how uncomfortable they may be to me at times).  A "great society" should have a path for anyone to make their way out of the mire.  I have an unfinished and unpublished post somewhere in here called "Bring back the WPA."

2. In keeping with what I have just said, I do not believe that American society is less pleasing to Jesus today than it was in the 1800s.  The world of slavery in the early 1800s was less Christ-ian than today's equal protection under the law.  (It is ironic to me that the idea of equal rights or equal protection somehow seems less Christian than, what?  What's the so called "conservative" alternative?)

The world of industrial revolution in the late 1800s was less Christ-ian than today's world of consumer and worker protection. (The problem with communism is that it doesn't work given human nature, not that the idea of "to each according to his need" is unChrist-ian).

Those who see America in a downward moral spiral are usually focusing on issues like sex or church attendance.  But Scripture tells us that the measure of morality is love of neighbor, not violation of moral rules.  The laws of America are more "loving"--giving rights to each as each would like to have rights--than ever before. Atheism is on the rise, but I consider that to a large extent the church's fault for making God look stupid and irrelevant.

3. I preferred the way the Liam Neeson version portrayed the Javert, inspector, character to the Russell Crowe version.  It wasn't clear to me in the recent version why he would commit suicide.  I thought the earlier version captured well the French sense of absolute law.  Someone must pay, so he kills himself.

This ridiculous sense of penal substitution among some Christians is similar to how many unbiblically paint God, unable to show mercy on his own authority, required to make someone pay (in our case Christ). Scripture doesn't have such a rigid view of God's justice.

4. I also was reminded that no human tribe is inevitably civilized.  Civilization must be perpetuated by education and by empowerment.  No human tribe is beyond revolution if some portion is disempowered and kept down for long enough.  A nation descends out of civilization if it does not pay attention to its despondent.  French history is an annoying illustration.  The wealthy must pay attention to the impoverished in their own self-interest.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

3c God the Creator

Biblical Theology continues...

Chapter 1
Introduction to Biblical Theology

Chapter 2: Revelation
2a From Text to Scripture
2b NT Understanding of Scripture
2c God's Speakings before Scripture
2d God's Speakings in the Old Testament
2e The New Testament Church

Chapter 3: Theology of God
3a God, the Basics
3b God Almighty

...Christians and Jews would eventually come to believe that God created the universe out of nothing. A majority would say this belief solidified in the second century after Christ, perhaps as Jews and Christians fought off Gnosticism. [1] Ever since, it has been common Christian belief that God created the world with no prior materials, and Christians have subsequently read the relevant biblical texts in that way.

You could argue that the idea of God creating everything out of nothing is the appropriate end point of the biblical trajectory on God as all powerful. If God created everything out of nothing, then God is responsible for everything that exists and certainly must have had as much power as what he created.  It would make perfect sense to think that nothing he created could truly present any real opposition or problem for him.

It is worth reflecting on this notion of God as creator in an age where we know that space, time, and matter are interrelated.  Space is not a static emptiness but it expands and contracts in correlation with speed and mass.  When we say that God created the universe out of nothing, we are thus implying something no one would have likely thought until the twentieth century.  We are implying that God not only created all the matter in the universe but the very emptiness in which that matter is situated as well.

God as creator is thus something fundamentally different from any human as a creator.  Indeed, it is to say something fundamentally different than someone who says the world evolved into its current state by chance.  In these instances, there are already existing ingredients and existing laws of nature to steer what we or nature might create.

But to say that God created the world from nothing is to say that he not only created the ingredients but the laws by which they interact and combine.  This has direct implications for God's power and knowledge, possibly even for his presence.  The most natural inference from creation out of nothing is that God has more power than what he created. After all, he generated all the power that exists.

God thus created the possibility of evil and the power it has.  Since he created it from nothing, there is no part of it he does not have power over.  There is no strength in the creation that can match his strength because all its strength was a product of his strength.  He is all powerful, omnipotent, in relation to the creation.

Similarly, God must know everything there is to know about the creation, from emotions to evil.  There is no part of the creation that he did not design from scratch. He made the ingredients from emptiness and formulated the laws for how those ingredients mix.

He created the very possibility of evil and suffering.  Therefore, God does not learn anything on the cross.  God knows how we feel.  God knows how Hitler felt to kill Jews. God knows everything and is "omniscient"...

[1] We will discuss a biblical theology of creation later in this series.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bishop 5 (Bishops as Change Agents)

Now chapter 5 of William Willimon's Bishop, "Bishops Leading Change."  Previous chapters were:

1. Methodists, Alabama Conference in Motion
2. Summoned to be Bishop
3. Bishops Sending Pastors
4. Bishops Cultivating Fruitfulness

Highlights of chapter 5:

1. I suspect that tact isn't Willimon's strong suit.  There is certainly a time to use power to force change that a group of leaders believes needs to happen.  I don't doubt that the UM church needs a good slap in the face, but it sure feels like Willimon is a guy that enjoys slapping just a little too much. This sentence jumped out at me the most in this chapter, "I lamented to a DS that the  episcopacy committee seemed so willing for me to retire" (86).

Beware the cocky change agent, often with far less up top than Willimon.  At least Willimon is wicked smart and mostly right, annoying but probably moving in the right direction.

2. "After the storms I discovered that those who disbelieve in change for the sake of change are wrong, particularly in a moribund institution with so many means of self-protection" (71).  I suspect he is more right than wrong when it comes to the UM church.  When not to change means to die, you have to change.

I caught a few minutes of the remake movie, Poseidon the other day.  There's a scene where a group of people in an overturned ship can either stay where they are and die, or they can go through a narrow vent and at least live a little longer.  In that situation, there's no promise that change will allow you to survive, but you know that no change means certain death. That is the condition the UM church is in, according to Willimon and many others.

"Disruption is an essential component of organizational innovation" (72).  He speaks of how Martin Luther King, Jr. saw no way for change to happen without creating "a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation" (73).  Of course this is the philosophy of Hamas and the IRA as well.  King and Ghandi by contrast insisted on non-violent protest.

I think these things call for great wisdom.  Change isn't always positive or helpful.  And if it isn't done at the right time, it can hurt your cause or set it back.  "For everything there is a season." You can grow without shock therapy.

3. Willimon draws on Bridge's book Transitions.  "Change begins with ending" (76). Then there is a neutral zone between old and new when there is lots of complaining. Hopefully that resolves with new beginnings.

4. Here's a fun quote about the UM church: "Our church is full of people who think of themselves as theological liberals but who are organizational reactionaries" (81). :-)

5. More controversial quotes: "The most important task for a district superintendent is to overcome the clerical propensity toward empathy" (82). "Empathy causes clergy to go limp." Empathy "is an enemy of transformative leadership" (81).

Again, he puts things in the extreme to get things moving but I know what he is saying. I had an academic friend who didn't want to go on to do a doctorate. He was then shocked when his superior gave him an ultimatum. Enroll in a doctoral program or lose your job.  He was shocked because he thought the superior was his "friend."

It's great if a leader can be friends with those who work under him or her, but good leadership sometimes will require hard decisions that don't go the way others want.  Leadership can create a distance, which is what I believe Willimon is talking about.  However, I don't see this as a lack of empathy on the part of a leader.  I don't like the way Willimon frames it.

Sometimes a leader just has to make unpleasant decisions for the greater good.  But it can be done with grace.

Friday, December 28, 2012

So much you could say about politics...

... but what good does it do to say it?

If I did right now it would have to do with this: What does it say if Obama, Boehner, McConnell, Reid, and Pelosi can forge cooperation to agree on something to avoid the fiscal cliff and the Tea Party House Republicans prefer this?

I wish someone would take back the Republican Party!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What is Evangelicalism?

Scot McKnight on his blog today has an increasingly frequent discussion of whether evangelicalism is ending.  McKnight sticks by Bebbington and Noll's 4-fold definition of evangelicalism:
  • conversionism
  • activism
  • biblicism
  • crucicentrism
My problem with this approach is that it mistakenly thinks that there is some objective thing called "evangelicalism." Even worse, it plays into some self-perpetuating myth by which a particular social group can consider itself the true heirs of Christ, not unlike the Roman Catholic Church.  That's laughable.

In reality, this word will have multiple meanings at any particular time and its meaning will change over time.  So let's be clear, the question being asked is whether or not the particular social movement known as neo-evangelicalism, which rose in the late 1940s, is on the wane.  It is not a question of whether these four things are true and necessary (or, if so, how):
  • a personal commitment to God in Christ
  • a commitment to action so that the world transformed for God
  • a sense of Scripture as a sacrament of revelation
  • Christ's death and resurrection as God's focal mechanism of cosmic reconciliation
I am not sure that the social group that was twentieth century evangelicalism is on the wane so much as its heirs are changing.  My wording above in itself reflects some of the ways in which it may change.  I do doubt that evangelicalism as the Republican special interest group it has been will have much power going forward.  But, then again, I would have said that in 2000 right before 9-11 and would have been completely wrong.

Many would say the word is toast, too spoiled to use.  But as long as you'll give us a little lee way with it, it will allow many of us to continue to associate until some better term comes along...


Less than a week to get our new year's goals ready... what are you thinking about?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all!  May you have a day like Jesus' birth!  May you have a day when you think of those who are usually overlooked, like shepherds and the women in the birth story.  May you have a day when you believe God can and does still work miracles.  May you have a day when you surrender your authority to God, as the wise men did.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

3b God, the Almighty

My Sunday work on Biblical Theology continues.

Chapter 1
Introduction to Biblical Theology

Chapter 2: Revelation
2a From Text to Scripture
2b NT Understanding of Scripture
2c God's Speakings before Scripture
2d God's Speakings in the Old Testament
2e The New Testament Church

Chapter 3: Theology of God
3a God, the Basics

Now 3b God Almighty
... A biblical theology of God thus will organize biblical teaching both with a view to the historical and literary contexts of various Scriptures as well as to the trajectory God seems to have led his people throughout the ages. The Apostle's Creed gives us an excellent place to start as it highlights God as Father, as all powerful, and as creator.  All three are clearly characteristics of God in Scripture, and we can arguably derive almost all the other key Christian theological beliefs about God from them.

God's power is a good place to begin because arguably power and immortality were the earliest and most central features of divinity in history, including the biblical text.  We can perhaps see traces of God's power even in some of the earliest names of God in the biblical text.  The Genesis text remembers the very early title "El Elyon," which means "God Most High," from the time of Abraham and Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18).

This title for God reveals both the polytheistic background of Abraham (e.g., Josh. 24:2) and the henotheistic nature of official Israelite religion at one point, although polytheism clearly continued (e.g., 1 Kings 18:21).  Henotheism is the belief that there is only one legitimate God to worship, although other gods exist.  Thus Israel must not have any gods before YHWH their God (Exod. 20:3), but there is no denial that those other gods exist. The very imagery of Psalm 82 assumes the existence of the gods of the other nations, although God Most High (82:6) is clearly far superior to them in authority and power.

As Christians we would follow Paul's lead and think of these gods more as demonic powers (1 Cor. 10:20) than as gods per se.  By the later parts of Isaiah, the sole existence of YHWH as God even seems to be affirmed (Isa. 45:5). [1] This is a truly monotheistic position.  The rise of demonology in the centuries immediately before Christ then provided a category in which to place the spiritual powers represented by the gods of the other nations.

The original sense of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 is thus captured well by the NRSV translation: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone."  Nevertheless, both Jews and Christians alike have come to understand the Shema in terms of the sole divinity of God.  "Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one."  As Christians we affirm both the original and the theological sense that Jews and Christians later heard in this verse.  There is only one God, even if there may be subordinate spiritual powers.

The creation narrative of Genesis 1 may also reflect a truly monotheistic perspective.  Unlike the creation stories of the Ancient Near East, creation in Genesis 1 does not involve conflict between gods in a struggle for power. Rather, Elohim (God) alone is involved and creation flows directly from his word alone. He speaks and it is done. His authority and power are unchallenged.

Christians and Jews would eventually come to believe that God created the universe out of nothing. A majority would say this belief solidified in the second century after Christ, perhaps as Jews and Christians fought off Gnosticism...

[1] However, even here we need to be aware that such language can be somewhat poetic.  For example, is Isaiah saying that YHWH is so far superior to any other deity that, for all intents and purposes, we can say he is really the only God that truly exists? Nevertheless, a case can be made that Isaiah literally means that the other gods do not really exist at all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Missing the Mayan end of the world

I know what it means if you miss the rapture, but what does it mean if you miss the Mayan end of the world?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How Language Works...

I was thinking this morning that the most transformative moment in my understanding of meaning took place when I finally understood Wittgenstein, helped my my philosopher friend David Mossley in England.  I continue to be amazed at even Bible scholars, people with PhDs in Old or New Testament, who don't get how meaning works.  In my mind, it is so incontestable that to disagree with it means you don't understand it.

And it's very simple.  "If a lion could speak, would we understand it?"  There's the famous dictum in a nutshell.  It's not enough to know the words someone is speaking.  It's not enough simply to translate the Bible into English.  If you do not know a lion's socio-cultural world, the world that gives us the "forms of life" of a lion.  If you do not know the "language games" lions play with their words, then you won't understand the lion.

The bottom line is that you and I can read the word "sacrifice" in the Bible, but few of us will understand it, because we don't have a form of life in our world where they offer sacrifices as they did in the Ancient Near East.  Meaning is always now.

That means that meaning changes.  I was reminded last week of how the meaning of the phrase "social justice" has changed in the last ten years.  Last week, some professors debated whether this phrase was appropriate at IWU.  Of course that's Glenn Beck's fault a few years back.  Anyone who thinks it isn't doesn't understand Wesleyan.

Before Glenn, the phrase social justice was standard lingo for the use of the word "justice" in the prophets of the Old Testament.  It is an overwhelmingly biblical concept without variation throughout the biblical texts (which is saying something). We had an assignment on it first semester in the seminary, and it was a pretty boring assignment.

Then Beck told his audience that they should leave any church that used the phrase.  He associated it with liberalism and it stuck. The phrase is the same. The background for the phrase is the same. But it now has a different meaning in a lot of circles.  We may have to start using a different phrase because it may be ruined.

Meaning is a function of how words are used and the use of the phrase has changed in many places.  That's why you can't judge meaning by current connotations.  The Germans could translate the response to their demand for surrender at the Battle of the Bulge--"Nuts."  But they didn't understand it because they didn't know the language game of the word in English.

It's not enough to know the English words of the Bible. Frankly, it's not enough to know the Greek and Hebrew behind the Bible. We will not understand the original Bible if we don't know the language games and forms of life in which those words were first written.  And unfortunately, we will never have full access to that ancient world.

And the Spirit often speaks directly to us because those words can take on different nuances in our language games and our forms of life.  We can hear God speak in new ways without even knowing they are new ways. But the "God said it, I believe it" mentality doesn't even know how different he or she is reading the Bible from what it meant to them even ten years ago.

It is usually completely unaware at the historical forces on its own interpretations.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brain Rule #6: Long Term Memory

My summaries of the book Brain Rules continue...
Chapter 6: Long Term Memory
In summarizing this chapter, it is perhaps easiest to begin where it ends.  It ends by returning to H.M., who was mentioned in chapter 5.  In the early 1950s, H.M. had his hippocampus removed in the center of his brain.  As a result, he cannot convert short term memory into long term memory.  He has no memories since the 1940s and doesn't recognize his own face in the mirror.

What is interesting is that he does not remember anything since about eleven years before his surgery.  The implication is that it can take over a decade for short term memories to solidify fully.  Even though long term memory is apparently stored in various parts of the cerebral cortex, the outer part of our brain, the hippocampus continues to be involved in its solidification for as much as a decade after an event occurs.  The process seems to work something like the following.

First, long term memory comes as a result of ongoing interactions between the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex, "multiple reinstatements" of the same memory (141).  It starts with "working memory," which has auditory, visual, and executive components.  The executive component keeps track of how the various components of working memory fit together.

Secondly, "These reinstatements are directed by the hippocampus perhaps for years" (141). Like the components of working memory, there appear to be different systems of long term memory as well, although the categories are less agreed on.  However, there may be "semantic" memory systems for details (126).  There may be "episodic" memory that have to do with past events.  An important subset of episodic memory may be "autobiographical" memory about your own past.

The key to conversion from short term to long term memory seems to be repetition.  "Repetition, doled out in specifically timed intervals, is fixative" (130).  When it comes to experiences, talking about an event immediately after it occurs significantly enhances the long term memory of the event (131). Otherwise, a great deal of memory loss occurs in the first hour or two after initial exposure.

After the initial learning, you should deliberately re-expose yourself to information in fixed, spaced intervals (133).  Do so "more elaborately" as you re-expose yourself.  "Increasingly limited exposures can result in increasingly stronger responses" (134), like a whiff of someone's perfume or music you associate with someone.

The first spark of memory will fade in about 90 minutes if not re-fired.  In the formation of long term memory, its "consolidation," there will have to be continued communication over years between the hippocampus and the cortex.  This can happen even while you sleep.  Neurologists aren't quite sure where exactly the memories are as the long term consolidation takes place.  One person called it "nomadic memory" as it may wander around the brain's "neural wilderness" (140). A memory may actually come to final rest in the same region as it started.

So, thirdly, a memory eventually becomes permanently stored in the cortex (141-42).  H.M. could remember things from 11 years before his surgery, memories that did not depend on the hippocampus at all.  But, fourthly, retrieving long term memories for the rest of us immediately makes them changeable again (142).  "When previously consolidated memories are recalled from long-term storage into consciousness, they revert to their previously labile, unstable natures" (127).  Unfortunately, "permanent storage exists in our brains only for those memories we choose not to recall."

For short term memory retrieval, we recall like someone going through the stacks in a library to find a book (reproductive retrieval).  But as time goes by, retrieving a memory is more like a Sherlock Holmes investigation (128). We have fragments of memory that we try to piece together and re-enact (fragmentary memory).  "Over time, the brain's many retrieval systems seem to undergo a gradual switch from specific and detailed reproductions to this more general and abstracted recall" (129).

Meanwhile, "forgetting allows us to prioritize events" (143).  Without the ability to forget, we would not be able to see the big picture.  Forgetting allows us to find the common points between things and discover larger, repeating patterns.

What impact does an understanding of long term memory have?  Medina suggests an experimental learning regiment that is quite intriguing.  He would divide teaching moments into 25 minute modules which would be repeated in 90 minute intervals throughout the day. Then every third or fourth day they would review material from the previous 72-96 hours. Then critical information would be repeated on a yearly or semi-yearly basis.  He even thinks it would be helpful to bring practitioners in the field into dialog with the university, creating life long memory refreshment.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bishop 4 (Grow or Die)

Moving on to chapter 4 of William Willimon's Bishop, "Bishops Cultivating Fruitfulness."  Previous chapters were:

1. Methodists, Alabama Conference in Motion
2. Summoned to be Bishop
3. Bishops Sending Pastors

Here were the things that jumped out at me in his fourth chapter:

1. This is a chapter about metrics and accountability.  A line he quotes from Lencioni sums it up: "People who aren't good at their jobs don't want to be measured... Great employees love that kind of accountability.  They crave it. Poor ones run away from it" (54, quoting Three Signs of a Miserable Job, 128).

I think we have to forgive Willimon for what sounds like a "capitalist business mentality" because the United Methodist Church is in the early stages of death. Willimon likens his role as bishop to that of a mortician at this stage of the church's history (46).  In the last five decades, they have lost nearly 3 million members and nearly 10,000 congregations. The median age of its membership is fifty-nine years old.

If he were talking to a healthy church, I would say he overdoes the numbers bit, but he is talking to a decaying flesh that could be saved if someone would just do something other than worry about nice little nest eggs for its career clergy.

2. "Few of our pastors know how to handle a congregation of more than 150 in attendance, shrinking a congregation to a size that is less demanding on pastoral leadership skills" (53). This fits with Lyle Schaller's old gem that different size churches require different styles of leadership. Someone in my own church suggested that most pastors simply weren't equipped to lead a church over 200.  His advice was that we do our best to identify those that can and focus church training energies on them.

There is another alternative, of course, which is for the pastor who doesn't have the gifts to pastor a church over 150 to give birth to other churches.  Church plants that are watched over by a mother church have a better chance of surviving than the stand alone plant.  Also, a church can "internally" plant churches by multiplying venues that more or less run themselves.

2. The Wesleyan Church, my church, doesn't look as bad from the trends of the overall numbers, but if you dig down, you find some interesting statistics about my own church.
  • 1 in 20 Wesleyans in North America go to one church, our largest church at 12Stone in Atlanta. 
  • 20% of all Wesleyans attend just the top 10 largest Wesleyan churches.
  • About 30% of all Wesleyans attend just the top 25 of our largest churches.
What these numbers reflect is the fact that the vast majority of Wesleyan churches are small, anemic congregations at best, growthwise.  The numerical success of a small handful of Wesleyan churches hides a host of congregations that may not be quite as old as the average UM church, but are probably not far behind. It is no surprise that Willimon's book got our attention.

3. So Willimon's focus on metrics is perfectly legitimate.  He is addressing a complete lack of accountability for growth in the UM church.  He reiterates over and over that accountability was central to Wesley's own approach to ministry.  He believes bishops should be accountable for something.  They aren't. Their job description is even somewhat vague.

He rejects appointment by seniority and guaranteed appointment as the bane of the church.  Rather, they should appoint the very best pastoral leadership to fulfill the mission of each congregation.  Obviously he supports women in ministry, but he is clearly sick of subsidiary concerns trumping the focal concern of healthy, growing churches.  "Concerns about an individual pastor's career advancement, familial and marital happiness, gender, ethnic heritage, age, and educational background must be subordinate to the responsibility to appoint the very best pastoral leadership for each church" (55).

4. Willimon finds Methodist seminary education sorely lacking.  Twenty new ministers he hired in Alabama had a collective debt of a million dollars.  Meanwhile, one pastor noted that, "My seminary education gave me complex rationalization for leading decline and called what it gave me, 'theology'" (53).  Methodist seminaries, in his opinion, are producing pastors suited for serving people in their sixties who are upper middle class or better.

5. I of course don't think the parable of the fig tree is really about numerical growth.  The parallel cleansing of the temple implies that Jesus is rather condemning the leadership of Israel's injustice toward the poor and the foreigner.  Nevertheless, there is a time to be slapped in the face for being unproductive and clearly Willimon is doing that to the UM church.

There's a lot going on today behind the decline of Christianity in the US. I don't think spirituality is the key to numerical growth, although it is essential.  But a lot of small, dying congregations have bags of spirituality... although probably not a lot of the ones Willimon is addressing, which probably are withered fig trees that are destined for Jesus' cursing.  But it will take good leadership and greater relevance for churches to grow in this day and age, in my opinion.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why Does God Allow It?

Last year, I wrote about 46 pages on the problem of evil, pretty much all but the concluding section.

So I thought I would write the conclusion today:
The problem of evil and suffering is the question of why God allows it.  Pain and suffering in themselves are not evil. God can actually use them to help us grow. Even death, from one perspective, is simply the beginning of a joyful eternity. It is those of us who remain who usually suffer the most.

Even then, some of our concern over the problem of evil comes from imagining our own suffering and death rather than from our own suffering per se.  We imagine ourselves in the shoes of those who may have suffered only for a moment. Sometimes our sense of the magnitude of the issue comes from fear as much as from actual suffering.

But if God loves us and is able to stop evil and suffering, then why doesn't he? Here again, we do not know the extent to which he does.  God may be intervening all the time, constantly, without us knowing it.  We are mostly aware of the times when he doesn't.  It is quite possible that they stand out to us in great disproportion to the number of times he does step in and change the course of history.

Why doesn't he step in every time?  We must ultimately trust that he has some larger reason not to step in.  We must believe that he doesn't step in because there is some greater good either for us or for humanity as a whole.

For example, one old explanation for the bigger picture has to do with moral freedom.  It is not a perfect answer, but it suggests that a world in which we can choose the good (and thus can choose evil) is a better world than one in which we are simply God's robots playing out a script he has written for us. But if some individuals will choose the good, then some will choose the evil, and suffering will result.

This answer to the problem of evil is the "free will" explanation.  In its classical form, it says that God gave Satan and Adam a choice between good and evil, and they made the wrong choice.  In Adam's case, the result was a world where people have a tendency to do wrong and where the created realm is enslaved to corruption and decay (cf. Rom. 8:19-21). St. Augustine in the 400s saw the evil and suffering in the world as a direct consequence of Adam's sin in Genesis 3.

As someone from the Wesleyan tradition, I believe that God still empowers us to make choices for good in this world.  We can of course go with the human default of selfishness, usually with a resulting detriment to ourselves and others around us.  But I believe God makes it possible also for us, both individually and collectively, to do good in the world as well, if we will.

A supplemental answer to that of free will is the "Irenaeus" answer, proposed some two hundred years before Augustine.  Irenaeus suggested that suffering can make us stronger.  Without hardship, our wills would not face the kinds of choices that enable us to grow and become morally great. We can understand natural laws as a mirror of the principle of freedom, where God allows the laws of nature to play themselves out without regularly intervening. Sometimes, those laws play out in a way that results in our suffering, and we face the choice to grow or become bitter.

But ultimately, it comes down to faith in the mystery of God's goodness.  By faith we believe that God is good.  I do not believe that God orchestrates evil or that he directly causes all suffering.  For reasons that are usually beyond our full understanding, he certainly allows it.  Sometimes he intervenes.  Sometimes he doesn't.

Ultimately, we must believe that there is a big picture that we often do not see.  We as Christians believe that, if God allows evil or suffering, he must do so because it is either beneficial for us in some way or that it benefits the big picture.  We do not see the big picture.  We cannot know how the alternative would play out.

We believe by faith that God is good and that the sovereign king of the universe will do right (Gen. 18:25).  Sometimes we can guess at why God might allow something, but we cannot be certain in this life.  We must have faith in the mystery of his goodness, that he is working everything for good in his ultimate game plan.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

3a God, the Basics

I thought I might continue my Sunday work on Biblical Theology.

Chapter 1
Introduction to Biblical Theology

Chapter 2: Revelation
2a From Text to Scripture
2b NT Understanding of Scripture
2c God's Speakings before Scripture
2d God's Speakings in the Old Testament
2e The New Testament Church

Now Chapter 3: Theology of God
The first line of the Apostle's Creed gives us the heart of what the earliest Christians believed about God: "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth."  We have here a statement of God's power and a reference to him as Creator. The fatherhood of God would have supported this sense of him as our point of origin and added a sense that he is an authority over us.  And while ancient fathers were not "Daddys" in the modern sense, fathers did provide for the needs of their families. They were thus loving in an ancient, rather than the contemporary, intimate sense.

In the centuries since the Apostle's Creed, Christians have refined their sense of God's characteristics or "attributes" as they are called.  The word "almighty" has become the formal sense that God is "omnipotent," that he has the power to do anything that makes sense.  He can make and lift any size of rock (and so cannot make a rock so big that he cannot lift it).

Christians came to believe that God knows everything, that he is "omniscient."  Almost all Christians would say God's omniscience certainly means that he knows everything true at this moment in time and everything that has happened and was true in the past.  Most Christians also believe God knows every possible scenario in the future, and most continue to believe that God knows what the actual scenario of the future will be, assuming there is only one.

Christians believe that God is present everywhere in space (omnipresent) and time (eternal).  The details have varied just as Christians' sense of how space and time work has changed over the years. These attributes, which tend to be of a more philosophical nature, were largely discussed and refined in the years after Scripture was formed. Thus God is self-sufficient (aseity) and some have said him to be "without parts" (simplicity).

Various passages in Scripture hint or sow seeds of such characteristics.  Certainly God's power is one of his central characteristics in Scripture.  His knowledge--or more importantly his wisdom--is a constant theme, although many parts of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, do not present him as knowing everything (e.g., Gen. 3:9). The Bible does not treat any location as beyond God's access (e.g., Ps. 139:8). And he certainly has both always existed and will always exist (e.g., Ps. 102:25-27).

But these are not the characteristics of God that Scripture most highlights. Scripture most highlights God's characteristics in relationship to his people. Passages that stretch across all the Old Testament affirm God as "gracious," "merciful," "slow to anger," and "abounding in love (Exod 34:6; Ps. 86:15; Jon. 4:2).  The Old Testament also describes God as "jealous" (Exod. 34:14), usually with overtones of his anger at those who are not exclusively faithful to him.

The New Testament primarily focuses on God as love (e.g., 1 John. 4:8).  But God's love often features against the backdrop of his justice (e.g., Rom. 3:25-26) and a coming judgment.  God's "righteousness" to some extent captures both features (e.g., Rom. 1:18), both his propensity to provide a way of salvation for those who will and yet also the fact that his "wrath" ultimately comes on unrighteousness.

The Bible does not present such characteristics of God from a philosophical perspective.  Such theological statements are generally made in informal ways in the manner of ordinary language. Sometimes we find them in poetic contexts, where one has to be particularly careful to watch for less than fully literal dynamics.

A biblical theology of God thus will organize biblical teaching both with a view to the historical and literary contexts of various Scriptures as well as to the trajectory God seems to have led his people throughout the ages...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Speakable and the Nameless

Twenty children are speakable this morning.  They are not in pain.  We don't fear of their eternal destinies.  We mourn their moments of terror yesterday.  Their families and the good who look on are the ones who now suffer.  The families of the dead are speakable.  The lives of these children are speakable, and we celebrate their lives.

Six, maybe seven adults are speakable. I don't know of their virtue. The martyred almost always become saints.  They are speakable for the injustice done them. They are not in any pain. We sympathize with their moments of terror and honor their lives. We celebrate their lives.

There is one nameless, once significant but now an insignificant loony, forever forgotten.

How do we move forward? Hire a policeman for every school? Use the opportunity to move forward with common sense gun control? Consider the culture of violence in movies and games we have allowed to overtake us?  Increase funding to deal with the mentally ill of society?  Probably.

What of God?  Was this part of his well-laid out plan, as some Christian pop-theology would say? I would rather say God allows such things to happen than orchestrates such things.

Faith in the mystery of God's permissive will at least gives hope. Those who abandon faith at this point are left with no hope of joy for the dead or sense of justice for the nameless.

We are reminded again of how little we are against the scope of all space and time, which of course also makes our death a relatively minor detail.  But today we celebrate the significance of twenty-six or seven lives.  We will celebrate them well.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Younger Evangelicals/The Boomers Strike Back

Ten years ago, Robert Webber's book The Younger Evangelicals really seemed to capture for me the state of evangelicalism.  I would have told you it was in transition.  I would have told you that the twenty somethings who were on a trajectory to become the evangelical leaders of tomorrow were characterized by interest in things like social justice and creation care, that they were interested in less church hierarchy and more "organic," informal ministry, that they couldn't care less about previous evangelical concerns like church growth or inerrancy.

It feels quite different to me today.  For example, are we seeing a culture of metrics rise in church hierarchy (as opposed to larger churches and their followers)?  It seems like there has been a wave of "crack downs" at various conservative colleges with regard to professors.  And given the Christian election dynamics, it sure doesn't feel like the social and environmental concerns of the then twenty somethings are in power.

I wonder if here's what has happened in part.  Boomer Christianity is now in its leadership twilight.  It spent the last few decades largely inwardly-focused, preoccupied pretty much with its own church and local church growth.  But for various reasons Boomers have now taken an interest in the trajectory of the broader church.  Perhaps in part they didn't like the rising values of the now thirty somethings.  9-11 also has to play in here somewhere VERY significantly, I think.

Here are my wonderings.  I don't think the values of the thirty-something evangelicals have gone away. I think they have gone silent over and against the VERY vocal Boomer evangelicals of these last days.  I suspect the election results in part support this hypothesis.  Boomer conservatives were shocked to lose the election because they had been so vocal and convinced the silent were on their side. Instead, to some extent, they had apparently created a climate where differing voices felt it was better to be silent.

I think the same dynamics are in play right now in the evangelical church.  The values of the thirty somethings have not changed but are lying dormant because of the "Boomers Strike Back" dynamic at work right now.  I predict it will be difficult for the Boomers in retirement to see what will happen when the thirty somethings finally come conclusively into power.

But what of the 9-11 generation that follows them?  What of the current twenty somethings?  I'm no sociologist, but I suspect that the climate of the last 10 years has created a much more "conservative" group of leaders that will follow the thirty somethings, at least in some areas.  That is, if they stay Christian.  That is the big concern right now.  They are conservative now, but they may be on some kind of crash course of faith that will eventually make them look much different than they look now.

So will the twenty somethings who remain Christian push a version of Christianity thirty years from now that is much like the Boomer Christianity of the moment?  I think it's quite possible in one scenario.  But we are also potentially facing a sharp rise of the non-religious in the next decade, and I predict Boomer Christianity will have little affect on that trend.

Here's what I wonder, will the thirty somethings facilitate a revival once they get conclusively into power in ten to fifteen years?  And will the now twenty something Christians who rise from that revival bring a shocking but vibrant and dynamic faith then that will both scare and excite those of us who are still living?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wise Serpents, Harmless Doves

There's a certain situation that always brings to mind the verse, "Be wise as serpents, harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16). It's usually a situation where a person who is committed to be good is engaged with the powers of evil in the world. If I dare to quote a certain character from science fiction, "Spock, I've found that evil usually triumphs [over good] unless good is very, very careful."

I heard another proverb once from Keith Drury, "Don't wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty but the pig likes it." I think of the Parable of the Unjust Steward.  A Christian in the halls of money and power is in a surreal world, an Alice in Wonderland.

The pacifists among us would say not to engage the worldly powers on their own terms. They would say that the person who dabbles in the world to try to do good inevitably infects themselves and cannot retreat.  You start trying to bomb just the terrorists but you end up blowing away a whole country because they're all your enemy.  Sinestro tries to harness the yellow energy of fear to fight evil but ends up evil instead.

I've never been able to go the whole way with pacifism or absolutism on these sorts of things. The Nazis are at your door looking for the Jews hiding in your attic and you lie even though you would rather not.  So what of that rich and powerful member of the congregation to whom you have to give attention even though in God's eyes he or she is no more valuable than anyone else?

It's an age old story. Does Jimmy Stewart take the job at the bank or stick with the building and loan?  In the movies, the most virtuous decision often prevails.  In real life, it often doesn't. Is it "no compromise or die"?  "Better dead than red"?

It's a quote about the circus of life--be wise as a serpent because the world is a surreal, strange place that will just as soon chew you up and spit you out. Be careful with power. Be constantly on your guard. Guard yourself when you get a little of it.  Be harmless as doves. Constantly check your true motives.  If you find yourself with venom in your hands, be careful who it gets on.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NT Blog: Beverly Gaventa to join Baylor

NT Blog: Beverly Gaventa to join Baylor: Beverly Roberts Gaventa is moving to Baylor.  Details here: Dr. Beverly Roberts Gaventa Appointed Distinguished Professor of New Testament.

This is fascinating.  A professor at a mainline seminary like Princeton going to a quasi-evangelical university like Baylor!

The jump is not nearly as great as it may seem.  Princeton is a faith-filled seminary and Baylor is not evangelicalism as usual.  Both are, more accurately, places of faith-filled scholarship.

By faith-filled, I mean both have an orthodox faith that is Scripturally centered.  By scholarship, I mean they are both committed to let the text say what it says rather than setting artificial boundaries to its meaning based on sectarian concerns.

You do wonder what is driving such a move, of course.  Is it significant, for example, that this is not the only departure from Princeton in biblical studies in the last couple years.  Meanwhile, Baylor has been building on an already good line up in recent days, recently adding Bruce Longenecker to its faculty.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bishop 3

I move on to Chapter 3 of William Willimon's Bishop, "Bishops Sending Pastors."  Previous chapters were:

1. Methodists, Alabama Conference in Motion
2. Summoned to be Bishop

Here were the things that jumped out at me in his third chapter:

1. Willimon sees three big problems bishops have in appointing pastors: 1) lack of accurate information, 2) lack of creativity, and 3) lack of courage.  He is quite clear about what he sees as the core problems with the UM church.  He sees a tendency for the system simply to watch out for the careers of pastors rather than the needs of local congregations to do the mission.  He sees leadership unwilling to make tough decisions in weeding out unproductive ministers.  He sees a lack of assessment of ministers, lack of consultation of lay leaders, etc.  He sees a lack of help from leadership to make appointments work...

2. He sees the guaranteed appointment of ministers as breaking the bank and thus bringing the UM church to its knees financially. He gave some sobering numbers based on the research of Lovett Weems.  A Methodist church needs to average 125 in worship attendance to sustain what is required to pay a full time UM minister.  60% of UM churches are under 125 in attendance.  

The math is obvious.  The UM church is rushing headlong off its own cataclysmic fiscal cliff.  It tried to make some of the necessary changes at its recent General Conference, tried to do away with guaranteed appointment, only to have its judicial system render the decision unconstitutional--typical UM health/mission-thwarting bureaucracy, from what I hear.

"The mission of the church is more important than the church's clergy" (42).

3. He talked a little about the kind of "First 90 Training" he put in place in Alabama, to try to help pastor and new church get better acquainted with each other.  One of the most entertaining--and sobering--parts of this section was his mention of the Peter Principle. The Peter Principle is the idea that people tend to get promoted beyond their competency and thus tend to get promoted until they fail.

Here was the fun fact. Promoting your top employees will result in a 10 percent drop in efficiency, while randomly advancing your worst employees will result in a 12 percent improvement.

4. UM pastors would no doubt find reason for fear with Willimon as a bishop.  He clearly sees a need to weed out the clergy of the UM church, based on assessment data.  "Multiple, short-term appointments are a sure signal that a pastor is a poor performer" (43).

5. I end with what I consider to be a great nugget in a footnote and something that organizations of all types should take into account when looking for new leaders.  I'm slightly changing the quote by William James, but it goes like this, "Good leadership is the bold willingness to make a decision even before all the facts are known" (172 n.8). After all, you can never have all the facts.

Wow!  I have known some leaders who would become completely paralyzed in fear that they would make a bad decision. They would want more and more data when all the good leaders in the room had already recognized what needed to be done long before.  Of course an equal problem are leaders who don't do their "due diligence" in preparation for a big decision. They can cause long standing institutions to close.  The key is the sweet spot in the middle.

P.S., He paraphrased the Shakespeare quote on p.31.  Here is a full, word for word version: "Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. Thy Fates open their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them."

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Grudem 11d: Incommunicable Attributes 4

... now to finish Grudem's chapter on God's "incommunicable attributes."
4. Omnipresence
Grudem defines God's omnipresence as follows: "God does not have size or spatial dimensions and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places" (173). God created space, so he cannot be limited by it.  He is present everywhere, although not necessarily present in the same way.

So he can be present to punish in one place, present to sustain in another, present to bless in another.  Grudem's sense seems to be that the times we tend to notice God is when he is active in judgment or blessing. But the rest of the time he is still there, sustaining everything. "There is no one place on earth that God has chosen as his particular dwelling place" (176). Even in heaven, God is not more present, only more manifested. When the Bible says God is present, it usually means "present to bless" (177).

Grudem believes that God does not have spatial dimensions. "We should guard against thinking that God extends infinitely far in all directions so that he himself exists in a sort of infinite, unending space" (174).  Rather God does not have size or dimensions in space.  "God relates to space in a far different way than we do or than any created thing does" (175).

God's omnipresence has to do with the fact that he is aware of and able to act at any point of space. Since we have a limited understanding of space, it is difficult to know exactly what the physics is.  Grudem is right that God can act to bless, sustain, or punish at any point in space (just as he can in time).  But we are not in a position to know the metaphysical details.  Grudem is surely right to say that God relates to space in a far different way than we do.

It is possible that heaven is more profound--and analogical (meaning we can only grasp its nature through analogy)--than Grudem thinks. He seems to think of heaven as a place in this universe. But could heaven in part relate to "where" God was before the creation?  If so, then it is not a place such as we can relate to but a reference to "wherever" God's "presence" most literally exists. Where created beings like angels or spirits exist "in heaven" remains a mystery, but it is not clear that it is within created space.

In the end, we are not in a position to say much about such questions. The same issue pertains to hell, which we probably should not think of as located within the spatial creation.  Biblical images of hell are thus surely very heavily analogical as well, a suggestion supported by the fact that most of the imagery of hell is drawn from ancient Jewish apocalyptic.

5. Unity
The final incommunicable attribute Grudem treats is his "unity," sometimes called his simplicity.  He defines it in the following way: "God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times" (177).

What does this idea mean for Grudem?  It means that Scripture "never singles out one attribute of God as more important than the others" (178).  These attributes are characteristics of God as a unity, not characteristics of parts of God.  God is not a "collection of attributes" and his attributes do not add something to God.  Rather, "God's whole being includes all of his attributes: he is entirely loving, entirely merciful, entirely just..." (179).

The implication is that God is not loving at one point in history and then just at another.  "He is the same God always, and everything he says or does is fully consistent with all his attributes" (180).

The medieval doctrine that God does not have parts arose largely from the application of philosophy to theology.  It is not a clearly biblical teaching, which does not in itself negate it. Divine simplicity means that God does not have attributes but God is love, justice, etc.

Many of us will no doubt find this doctrine obscure.  Since it does not particularly come from Scripture, we may feel particularly free to question it.  Biblical statements like "God is love" were not saying anything of the sort but are metonymies, poetic sayings that equate God with something that is so closely associated with him that we can practically identify him with it.  It would be as if we were to call someone with an incredibly good sense of smell, "the nose."  "She's the nose," we might say.

The question of whether some of God's attributes take priority over others is a legitimate question.  We cannot wish it away.  Can God make an exception to his justice because of his love?  This is a legitimate question that cannot be wished away by some supposed doctrine of God's unity.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Pope and Me

Anyone who knows me knows that I am fairly positive toward catholicism.  I find the standard Protestant sticking points more peculiar than devilish.  Things like transubstantiation, saints praying for us, the perpetual virginity of Mary are more curious to me than something to get upset over.  Their official position on justification now isn't really too different from ours any more.  And Protestants who get upset about the role the Bible plays in Roman Catholic theology usually either don't really know the RCC position or have a blind spot with regard to the role theology plays in their own use of the Bible.

There is one area where I still pretty much let my low church Protestant biases have free reign and that has to do with the Pope. Now, mind you, I admired Pope John Paul II as a godly man, for all I knew.  And I know that it is only when a Pope speaks "ex cathedra" that he's supposed to be infallible (I don't know when the last time was a pope actually invoked that level of authority).  But I just don't like the amount of authority the RCC has invested in a single individual.

P.S. for you Wesleyans out there.  Our current single General Superintendent model isn't at all the same.  The General Board has more authority than our GS, unlike the College of Cardinals... real authority in my church lies with the General Conference.  Our current model is meant to promote delegation even more than when we had three General Superintendents.

So why am I thinking about the Pope?  Because a RC archdiocese in Milwaukee stripped a 92 year old Jesuit priest of his priestly duties for presiding over a Mass with a female "priest."  Pope John Paul II put it somewhat amenably: the church doesn't have the authority to do it.  Under the current Pope, however, it has become a grave crime to attempt to ordain a woman.

Of course I believe the RCC is gravely wrong on this one.  In fact, in my misguided optimism, I believe eventually the RCC will ordain women.  I believe this because I do not believe the RCC to be evil and to the extent a church is in tune with the Spirit, I believe it will eventually come around.

A day is as 1000 years with the Lord.  He is very patient.  A church can miss this (to me obvious) spiritual truth for a while.  But the spiritual equality of men and women in God's eyes, something the RCC accepts, must eventually work its way through to its full implications.  In patriarchal cultures, the full spiritual authority of women can lie dormant in practice. It can express itself in indirect ways because of the overall cultural blindness. This has been the case everywhere for most of church history, which is why the issue only emerged in full force in the 1800s.

But in modern egalitarian cultures like the West, the implications are open to the light.  It becomes a common sense.  Spiritually minded people in patriarchal cultures don't really oppose the ordination of women, because it isn't a cultural possibility. (Mind you, such cultures often still have a place for the "deviant" woman who is spiritually, perhaps even militarily superior to the men of her generation.)  Spiritually minded people in egalitarian cultures become conflicted and eventually see it is inevitable.

The current Pope represents a step back from the advances the church made during Vatican II.  I do not believe history will remember him fondly... even Roman Catholic history.  I say that because I am optimistic about the RCC's future.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Union for Adjuncts?

I had an idea for some entrepreneur.  What if there were an organization for adjuncts that coordinated between universities and the massive adjunct work force right now?  Here are some potential aspects to such an organization:
  • Maintained evaluative information on adjuncts--teaching evaluations, areas of greater or lesser expertise, past courses taught etc., belief/philosophy compatibility information
  • Provided teacher training to adjuncts (online/onsite, various online platforms), information on various universities and their beliefs/philosophies (what they're looking for)
  • Provided health care/retirement options for adjuncts
  • Universities would have to pay a slightly higher rate than normal for the use of this adjunct pool, who would presumably be a cut above random adjuncts, more dependable, etc. ($1000 a credit hour?).  
  • Presumably the vast majority of the teaching would be online
  • Part of the funding for the organization might come from endowment, grants, etc. This endowment might pay the salaries of a small infrastructure while also supplementing pay per course.
  • 8-10 courses a year might be considered a maximum load, taught throughout 12 months.
The goal would be to provide at least the possibility of a $40,000 a year option for a quality adjunct with health care.  I wonder if someone will do this...

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

10 Personality Disorders

I was surprised to find out yesterday that there are, officially, only 10 different personality disorders.  Which one do you come closest to?  I'm paranoid that I may have all of them.

Cluster 1
1. Paranoid
Thinks everyone's out to get them (not be confused with what I am, "perceptive").

2. Schizoid
Detached, aloof, prone to introspection and fantasy, may appear cold and callous

3. Schizotypal
odd beliefs, appearance, magical thinking (superstitious), suspiciousness, has unreasonable "ideas of reference" to him or her by others

Cluster 2
4. Antisocial
Callous unconcern for the feelings of others, lacks guilt, aggressive, no conscience (more common in men)

5. Borderline
Lacks a sense of self, feelings of emptiness and abandonment (more common in women)

6. Histrionic
Need for attention and approval of others, seem to be playing a role, as if in a drama

7. Narcissistic
Grandiose sense of self-importance, need to be admired, self-absorbed, selfish

Cluster 3
8. Avoidant
Sense of social ineptness, avoids people, doesn't want to be embarrassed, rejected

9. Dependent
Lack of self-confidence, need to be taken care of, ingratiating, self-effacing (can hook up with the narcissistic)

10. Obsessive-compulsive (different from OCD)
preoccupation with details, perfectionism, rules, black and white thinking

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Catholic Catechism on Property/Stealing

I thought this section of the Roman Catholic Catechism was fascinating...
I. The Universal Destination and the Private Ownership of Goods
2402 In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. the appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

2403 The right to private property, acquired by work or received from others by inheritance or gift, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

2404 "In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself." The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

2405 Goods of production - material or immaterial - such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.

II. Respect for Persons and Their Goods
2407 In economic matters, respect for human dignity requires the practice of the virtue of temperance, so as to moderate attachment to this world's goods; the practice of the virtue of justice, to preserve our neighbor's rights and render him what is his due; and the practice of solidarity, in accordance with the golden rule and in keeping with the generosity of the Lord, who "though he was rich, yet for your sake . . . became poor so that by his poverty, you might become rich."

Respect for the goods of others
2408 The seventh commandment forbids theft, that is, usurping another's property against the reasonable will of the owner. There is no theft if consent can be presumed or if refusal is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing . . .) is to put at one's disposal and use the property of others.

2409 Even if it does not contradict the provisions of civil law, any form of unjustly taking and keeping the property of others is against the seventh commandment: thus, deliberate retention of goods lent or of objects lost; business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another.

The following are also morally illicit: speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; corruption in which one influences the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property is contrary to the moral law and requires reparation...

Monday, December 03, 2012

Change Blog Name?

I suppose most of the people who read this blog would know what Wesley's Quadrilateral was.  This blog was originally called Schenck Thoughts when I started it in September of 2004.  It was a play on Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy.  Then I renamed it to its current name in May of 2008.

I was thinking maybe I should rename it again to something more mainstream.  I thought of Wesleyan Thoughts but that's taken.  Any suggestions?  No promises... just thinking...

Bishop 2

This is my second week reading William Willimon's, Bishop.  You'll find last week's post here.   Chapter 2 is called, "Summoned to be Bishop."  Here are just some things that jumped out at me.

1. Ministry is God's idea before it's ours (13).

2. Those who are most reluctant to be bishop should be (15).

3. Wesley and Asbury really tussled over the idea of bishop.  Wesley despised the idea. Asbury thought of it in apostolic terms. Asbury saw itineracy as the heart of being a bishop, moving around giving oversight. Quite interesting.

4. So Methodist episcopacy claims to be different from the Episcopal "monarchical episcopate."  Willimon calls it a "managerial episcopate."  Willimon tries to look at ministry in general as practical rather than "ontological," as if the office of minister or bishop itself makes a person intrinsically different in weight.

5. He mentions "evangelical whiners" who want the bishop to do more but would never give the bishop real power to do it.  You get somewhat of a sense of disempowered bishops, from his perspective. They make ministers and that's about it, you get the impression.

6. He has restorationist tones now and then. So the early church was "connectional" rather than "congregational."  He finds no evidence that it was democratic.

7. He believes the Methodist system is biased to pick ministers who, "follow instructions, preserve rigid rules, keep information sharing to a minimum, and develop a clergy system that privileges experience and credentials over God-given talent and sacrifices creativity for conformity" (25).  At one point he suggests that a bishop is more likely in the UM church to get in trouble for not meeting diversity quotas on boards than for not believing in the Trinity.

Willimon thinks it's a system prejudiced toward "uncreative bean-counters" (26). I had a brief conversation with someone at IWU recently who said bureaucracy was indicative of a declining organization, one that has passed its peak. Someone else told me that policies sometimes are meant to replace good leadership, so a system will run itself and you don't have to count on gifted individuals.

8. Willimon has an interesting take on seminary education, in fact one very similar to Kevin Myers' talk at our Wesleyan general conference.  Willimon believes it is the church conference's job to train ministers at practical tasks.  The job of the seminary, he thinks, is to be a seedbed of biblical interpretation, sermon preparation, theological discernment, biblical languages, etc. Basically, he sees seminaries as giving the theory and the annual conferences teaching the practice.

Kevin Myers said something similar when he said that the local church (or in his case the large church) is the place to train ministers. The implication is then that colleges and such would give the Bible, theology, and theory, but the local church would provide the training.  This is a model that certainly would improve on the predominant models, and Russ Gunsalus at HQ has taken up the offering quite vigorously.  IWU undergrad has been working with the KERN foundation to set up a similar model that would get a students to something like "MDIV equivalency" in competency in 5 years out of high school.

Meanwhile, Wesley Seminary at IWU has reformulated its MDIV around a practical focus and training as well. We try to do a critical mass of both training and classic theological disciplines in an integrated form. The key is that we require a person to be in connection with a local church as they go through our MDIV. Surely there are many ways to get to the goal. All these models agree on the competencies a minister should have. They just try to get there in different ways.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Jesus' Priorities

A sample day's devotional from the one I'm working on relating to Passion Week in Mark.  The previous 6 devotional books I've written are down to the right .
Scripture Passage: Mark 12:35-44

After all of Jesus’ debate partners have had a shot, now it is Jesus’ turn. He asks them a question that none of them can answer. Then he criticizes their pretenses to godliness, instead praising a widow who gives to God the little she has.

At the end of these three paragraphs, Jesus praises a widow for having the right attitude. In comparison to many others, she gives very little—just two small coins. But she gives just about everything she has, even digging into the money she lives on. She is the one God commends. God is no doubt happy with the fact that the wealthy give, but they are hardly worthy of great honor when their giving is at no sacrifice to them, even if they give what seem like large amounts to the rest of us. And God certainly doesn’t commend those trying to impress others with their smarts or religiosity. God commends this widow whom no one might even have noticed if Jesus hadn’t pointed her out.

The challenges of Jesus’ opponents in Mark 12 have come from almost every major Jewish group. They’ve asked him about doctrine, about ethics, about leadership. He’s bested them every time. Now it’s his turn. Who is David talking about in Psalm 110:1? Maybe they’ve been grumbling that he can’t be the Messiah because he’s not a descendant of David (not knowing that he actually was). Maybe he just wants them to know they don’t know as much as they think they do. But they have no answer for his question and are left silenced. No doubt most of us could use some silencing from time to time, especially when we think we have all the answers.

Mark gives us a hint of Jesus’ teaching about hypocrisy, which Matthew 6 gives us more fully. The teachers of the law in Jerusalem were apparently more interested in being admired by other people than by God. They dressed nicely. They took the best seats on public occasions. Meanwhile, they in effect robbed the homes of the weak and defenseless. How easy it is for us to follow this pattern of hypocrisy today, even with such clear examples before us. Jesus hints that we are not as likely to see godliness when we go to the “shiny object” that our eyes are drawn to but with what is going on in the less noticeable, often despised places.

Father, in the moment we are most tempted to think we have arrived spiritually, remind us of the widow who put those two copper coins in the treasury.

“It is in giving that we receive… It is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.”
St. Augustine

Grudem 11c: God's Incommunicable Attributes 3

... continued from Tuesday.  Taking so long to get through just one chapter...
3. Eternity
Grudem defines God's eternity as follows: "God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time" (168).  The fact that he does not learn new things or forget things (omniscience) follows from this aspect of his being.  "To God himself, all of his existence is always somehow 'present'" (169).  "All of past history is viewed by God with great clarity and vividness" (170).

God "has a qualitatively different experience of time than we do" (170).  In Grudem's diagram, God is above looking down at creation, the life of Christ, 1994, and the final judgment all at the same time (171).  Yet, by contrast, God somehow "sees the progress of events over time and acts differently at different points in time" (172).  This will be true of us forever, even in eternity (173).

Grudem's analysis of God's eternity is completely orthodox here also.  It would be unwise for most of us to speculate about the physics.  Grudem's diagrams (and anyone else's) will surely be a source of great embarrassment to him in the kingdom when God gives him a greater glimpse of how it actually works.

Grudem's use of Scripture continues to be out of context.  The idea of someone being "outside of time" seems anachronistic for biblical times.  It seems doubtful that any biblical author understood God to exist outside of time.  Such ideas arguably did not develop until later church history, and those who understand relativity today would no doubt even question the notion of medieval timelessness.

The biblical authors thus seem to picture God going through time as we do, as we would expect.  The passages Grudem quotes only suggest that God always has and always will exist.  God revealed himself in the ancient frameworks of those to whom he first spoke, so it is no surprise that the Old Testament sometimes pictures God learning new information, just as it sometimes pictures him knowing the distant future.  Arguably the more philosophical versions of God's timelessness came in later church history, when philosophy began to influence Christian theology more extensively. The biblical language is more poetic and anthropopathic, even though the biblical authors themselves probably understood it literally.